Thursday, 24 January 2019

Chris Smither with support The Suitcase Junket: The Phoenix, Exeter, 23rd January, 2019

Ruminative and Quirky Mix

Last night at the Phoenix, Exeter, was top-class as musical entertainment: headline act the great Chris Smither in ruminative form and playing a large slice of songs from his latest outstanding album Call Me Lucky [reviewed here]; and as is so often the case with a support act, the wonderful discovery of new-to-me talent, this time The Suitcase Junket, Matt Lorenz as a one man band igniting the evening with singing into the amped hole of his guitar – reverberating vocal yet never twirling his twirlable moustache though still indicating a set of evil delights. Well, evil if expressing love for a chicken called Jackie.

Starting with Lorenz, a clearly talented musician/performer who played on Smither’s latest album, his one-man instrumental set-up packed a punch, mainly percussive, with beats on his seat-suitcase, a high-hat, a pot and a circular-saw blade. 

With plenty of volume on the guitar and some effects, we were treated to cool slide and pulsing riff-rock as well as gentler acoustic songcraft. Lorenz is also a fine vocalist and has lines in setting his background and personal proclivities that engage as much as the music. The blues informed plenty of his playing, and a distinctive element of his act is throat-singing, inspired by a South Indian cooking class. He also gave us a sax solo via pursed lips. As I typed the above I have been listening to his latest album Pile Driver which is superb in capturing the live element of his playing with over-dubs and extras. What a treat and pleasure to be introduced to this musical artist – you can get Pile Driver here [Why So Brief? is a glorious, sweet blues]. 

The third time I have had the privilege of seeing Smither play live, this evening’s set was, as I have said, ruminative and illustrative, one narrative most insightful and honest about his songwriting process, leading into a gorgeous performance of Down to the Sound, that background story informing the lyric perfectly for its moment. Indeed, the live performance accentuates Smither’s lyrical talents, whether political – he did refer to ‘agent orange’ but also lamented, on our behalf, the current British political scene – or songs about love, those performed being quite affecting. On writing songs Smither refers to their transition through [or not] incoherence, but that seems an exaggeration when following the often poetic flows or even more social-commentary lines, though in Down to the Sound he sings ‘There’s no notion of order, it’s hard to arrange’ and that’s a writer’s/lyricist’s perspective on struggle and crafting.

Matt Lorenz accompanied Smither on a few numbers, with Chris asking him ‘you’re not going to do any of that weird shit, are you?’ It was a fond joke. They started off with a lovely play of By the Numbers, one of my favourites from Smither’s latest Call Me Lucky, a duet with a Lorenz whistle on Everything on Top, and also combined on another fav from that latest, She Said She Said. This was personally so pleasing.

Other songs Smither played from CML was the album’s opener The Blame’s on Me, the satirical Nobody Home, and a minor key cover of Chuck Berry’s hit Maybellene which Smither had explained as a typical approach to performing another’s song. It is a transforming take on a hot-rod song with a plaintive foregrounding of the lament in the lyric’s questioning.

A wonderful night, and if you can, do go to one of the following gigs, details here.

Saturday, 19 January 2019

Hands Music 46

Bill Evans - New Conversations

Layers of Mood

Released in 1978, I don’t know the two preceding self-conversations Evans recorded with himself, but I do like this, its mixed over-dubbing of acoustic and electric piano affecting a virtuosity there in the original playing [not that it is extravagant] but consolidated in that layering, and it shifts in and out of timings and rhythms – with occasional electronic piano puffs and pulses and reverb – and gets sassy now and again when turning bluesy.

Butt Music 14

The Nice - Live Sweden '67, album review


My introduction to The Nice was their 1968 album – one of my first – Ars Longa Vita Brevis [reviewed here] and though I do have and know a little their eponymous The Thoughts of Emerlist Davjack [on cd] this was much more recently, in relative terms, and you never get to remember in the way a teenage stand-out played over and over will have embedded.

Therefore, listening this morning to The Nice – Live Sweden ’67, it all sounds quite fresh and refreshing, that early experimentation and Keith Emerson establishing the organ as a main player, and fine guitar work from Davy O List. It is an excellent recording, the band having just finished a tour with Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd, and for broadcast on Sveriges Radio in Gothenburg. It is announced at the beginning that the band didn't expect to be playing the show and that the 'strange equipment' implies it isn't theirs...

I say ‘experimentation’ but in fact the covers are quite standard if distinctive because of the foregrounded organ, but I mean a track like Rondo where Emerson displays his trademark virtuosity. Great fun.

Thursday, 10 January 2019

The Delines - The Imperial, album review

Beautiful Weariness

The seemingly hopeful exhortation for Charley to ‘cheer up’ in the album’s opening song is surely as empty as a recession-closed mini-mall car park? Is it remotely possible that this sad man has never heard the full story before?

Don’t believe it Charley; don’t imagine reality is ever other than narrated as it is.

Ill fortune and fortuity are far too persuasive in this real world for false hopes. No matter how good and positive things might have been, the bad cousin will visit and spoil it all, as in Imperial Apartment 315, a habitation for everyperson.

Sonny knew this. Sonny just disappeared. What is the point? How can there be a way out when a scene of sudden dislocation is accompanied by

A woman carrying a baby walks by
Next to me there’s an old couple
Whose car won’t start
And the snow keeps drifting down

In these opening three songs – Cheer Up Charley, The Imperial, Where Are You Sonny? the horns of Cory Gray and Kelly Pratt fill the plaintive role normally supplied by pedal steel, though that is sure to come. This is exemplified further in the blues of fourth Let’s Be Us Again with its repeated yearning for a return to better times that cannot possibly be retrieved, despite the dreaming.

And once more, as with most Vlautin songs, this thematic certainty is reinforced in Roll Back My Life with such a melodic beauty that as listeners we somehow manage to keep our heads just above annihilation, the lyrics as spare and yet complete as always,

Roll back my life
Past all those years
Of just scraping by
And pour me a drink
Turn down the lights

And roll back my life
Roll back my life
So I can see where not to stall
I can see how not to fall
For those who I did fall
Roll back my life

In Eddie and Polly there is musical irony in its early 60s echo, a hint of the upbeat with the jingle of bells and a repeat chorus of can’t you see?, but in a storytelling that ends with such potent imagery as this is how the hurt become maimed we are in familiar territory, that pedal steel here now, it too ironic in ostensibly eschewing the lamentation.

It is wonderful to hear Amy Boone gracing the dark with her light, a vocal that speaks to the truth of each song’s narrative, not spoken but there are no lavish runs, and this clear-as-truly-felt delivery adds an authentic stoicism as well as tender understanding. Wonderful too that she has returned to performance from injuries sustained in a car accident.

One of the most dramatic of songs, musically speaking with its crescendo of determination, is That Old Haunted Place, a tale of failure and blame and the recurring theme of trying to move on from the inevitable, here a decision-making from someone who left home at sixteen who might just make it, away that is but likely not from the unavoidable to come.

Penultimate He Don’t Burn for Me is painfully simple and true, a soulful song of regret at the loss of love painted in the description of ordinary and everyday heartbreak. And oh those horns, swaying together in the melodic line to just about hold us all from falling, a final burst as the song finishes to massage as much as is humanly possible.  

Closer Waiting on the Blue is the poetry of late night inevitability, the slow sad keyboard of Gray wrapped tight with Boon’s beautiful weariness, the horns like distant sirens called out to the painfulness.

Another memorable album from Vlautin, Boone and fine band. Available right now here [and you can listen too].