Saturday, 30 March 2013

Petula Clark - Lost In You

Yes, This Is Being Reviewed Here....

Well, in 1964, aged ten, and like thousands and thousands of people around the world, I thought Downtown was one hell of a song. When I can recall the impact such music had on me at that age, it says something about the song, obviously, but also my reception to being affected so musically at an early age [and I have mentioned similar regarding Oh Pretty Woman, also in 1964, and a ‘cooler’ song to reference as being memorable....].

Nearly fifty years later and aged eighty, Petula Clark has released her latest album, and my childhood attachment has kicked in its instinctive interest. Opening track Cut Copy Me is an excellent pop song, the production [autotuned perhaps] very effective in delivering a contemporary sound, the vocal certainly managed in some electronic way, but the acoustic beat and simplicity of strings creating a sweeping atmospheric tone: it is significantly more appealing than a host of other new and ‘young’ female artists plying their musical clone-trade – as a pop song.  Second and the title track is good enough too as a modern pop number, the vocal again managed for its modern sound. However, third, Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy reverts to Clark’s actual vocal – if that makes sense – and the clarity of enunciation seems at odds with the song as we know it, such a new version not adding a nuance to enhance. Indeed, that crisp articulation appears to struggle with the pace of words remembered from the original, and a sung ‘laugh’ in the lyric sounds theatrical.

Fifth track is a reworking of Downtown, and it as bad a version as it is an idea. The electronic pulse of its underlying rhythm, and the simple piano, seems to ape Damon Albarn and Richard Russell’s revamped sound for Bobby Womack, but without their clear success – perhaps not working for my prejudiced reliance on its original sound, but appealing to a new and younger audience?

The rest of the album is, not surprisingly, as one would expect of Petula Clark – conventional offerings of music reflecting backwards: again, good enough if you like and expect this [which is about as platitudinous as it gets I guess]. Two covers, Lennon’s Imagine and Presley’s Love Me Tender, are more in the conventional expectation vein, Presley’s song getting the worst karaoke spin, the whispered and clipped vocal once again veering to the stagey.  

Not a focus or review I would normally write, but it has given me a chance to confess to my high regard for the original Downtown and all of the happy hope it suggested in 1964. If the sound of the first two tracks on this album could have been sustained, we could have had an album that achieved something genuinely interesting. As it is, there’s a danger Petula will be our next entry for Eurovision....

The Black Lillies - Runaway Freeway Blues

Outstanding Decorum

I received my cd copy of The Black Lilies’ latest Runaway Freeway Blues this morning, sent in addition to the vinyl I ordered as part of the Pledge Music project they and many other bands now employ to assist with and advertise planned/hopeful recordings. In this download age and therefore easy but aloof access to music, I think this is a clever way to allow fans to engage with and feel, however small the actual impact, some connection in supporting a band.

This third studio album continues the stellar musical trajectory of their previous work [reviewed here], especially immediate predecessor 100 Miles of Wreckage, and pedal steel therefore infuses the many delicate songs on this release, narrative and melody aligned thoughtfully and atmospherically, and on a track like fourth Goodbye Charlie, the storytelling peaks in tandem to the pained grind of guitar above this layer of calm. Elsewhere, the consummate musicianship is sustained with a rousing guitar and harmonica combination on the Country stomper Smokestack Lady, and this is further enhanced by the vocal partnership of Cruz Contreras and Trisha Gene Brady that invokes Johnny and June – not so much in sound but in spirit.

That vocal dueting and the whole bands’ superb musicianship – this invoking as well, for example, Union Station and Old Crow Medicine Show, cited as an absolute compliment – have their Country genealogy and thus fit a pattern, but it is the quality of this which distinguishes rather than simply reflects. Seventh track Ruby is the quintessential band track, an Americana/folk tale about getting Ruby out of jail and drinkin’ corn liquor – so a rabble-rouser of sorts, Tom Pryor’s guitar scorching an empathetic tone – when at just over three and a half minutes into the song, the tempo slows to a gorgeous calm of acoustic guitar with weeping overlay, and then builds again to a tempestuous and virtuoso guitar out. Brilliant.

There is a horn assisted and uptempo jaunt with penultimate track Baby Doe, those horns blasting bursts through the funky core. This is contrasted with largely acoustic closer Glow, pedal steel again wafting its sweet infusions. There is an echo of Mathews Southern Comfort in its countryfolk gentility, a tender and pleasing decorum upon which to bow out on another fine album of sustained excellence. 

Friday, 29 March 2013

The Jimi Hendrix Experience, December 5th, 1967

Imagine this gig in 1967 at Green’s Playhouse in Glasgow: the final night of a 16-day tour featuring Pink Floyd, The Move, The Nice, The Outer Limits, The Eire Apparent, Amen Corner, and The Jimi Hendrix Experience.

Boz Scaggs - Memphis

Worthy Walk

I would appear to have it in for Clapton as I reference my disappointment in his latest album again, Old Sock, a 67 year old’s slothful walk to the corner store in his underwear. I do so because Boz Scagg’s latest Memphis is a 68 year old’s cool saunter to a late-night club in a smooth suited elegance. Much of this laid-back and groovy funk plays homage to Al Green, and is therefore delightful. Elsewhere it’s homage to slick production and a joy in the reinterpretation of well-known songs, rather than.....I’m not going to say it again. 

Jimi Hendrix - Electric Ladyland, 1968 - Top Fifty

Not Necessarily Stoned, But Beautiful

My aural encapsulation of Hendrix’s third album Electric Ladyland is not unique I’m sure, but it is specific in that it is Part 1 of the actual release as a double album because I could only afford – I seem to recall – a single copy at the time. What this means though is I have a distorted feeling for its tracks and their chronology because Sides 1 and 2 of Part 1 constitute the record as I know it, but they are in fact an odd sequence abstracted from the whole of the double album.

What this means in a dramatic sense is that the first four tracks I know and love of my Side 1 are Still Raining, Still Raining; House Falling Down; All Along The Watchtower, and Voodoo Chile [Slight Return], but these make up Side 4 of the original double. The next three tracks I know and love and relive as the psychedelic follow-on from my Side 1 to my Side 2 are Rainy Day, Dream Away; 1983....(A Merman I Should Turn To Be), and Moon Turn The Tides.....Gently, Gently Away, but these make up Side 3 of the original double.

That’s a bit convoluted, but critical because as I have written so many times, especially with Top Fifty selections that are primarily from my formative, teenage musical years, the sequence of songs are utterly embedded in memory and then expectation when listening to the album – and the myriad of precise memories links in to that sequence indelibly. Listening to the album as intended on my cd copy does not resonate, therefore, in the way I expect and treasure, and the way my Top Fifty notion of this album must be. The ‘correct’ sequence produces a corrupted and distorted emotion if I listen to it - as brilliant as that ‘version’ is.

For example, those first four tracks on my Part 1 album are the quad-core of the whole album’s more melodic, even ‘pop’ essence, All Along The Watchtower being a prime example. Fourth track for me Voodoo Chile (Slight Return) was the only version I really knew for some time, and yet it ‘should’ follow on, albeit at a distance, from the fourteen minute live version as track four on the original double: I say distance because it is the closing track sixteen on the original double. 

I’ll leave that exposition there because although it could be expanded, there’s little point when, I trust, the essential point is made. So for me, Side 2 of Part 1 is the psychedelic arrival for Hendrix, a sound presaged by the song Are You Experienced from his debut and realised here on his self-produced third album, Chas Chandler having thrown in the towel because of his disenchantment with Hendrix’s recording habits: irregular arrival/attendance, surprise invited guests, intense repeat recordings of numbers, his drug-taking. In terms of that psychedelic/differing musical trajectory, Rainy Day, Dream Away has, for example, the jazz saxophone of Freddie Smith dancing with Jimi’s guitar licks. And then 1983../Moon.... is fourteen minutes combined of outerspace narrative and effects wrapped around one of Hendrix’s more beautifully melodic tunes - all the echoes and distorted vocals, references to beyond the will of god, clanged bells, Jimi’s own echoed bass playing, swirls of spaceship and other sounds, and guitar/effects seagull squeals giving at the very least an impression of faroutness as a teenager’s mantra for living life from then. It is this extended musical psychedelia that introduced to me in 1968, aged 14, the kind of aural trip I could take in differing ways later on.

I know I haven’t mentioned in detail Voodoo Chile, but what more can be said of this premier guitar anthem? I will, however, just mention that I bought Crosstown Traffic/Gypsy Eyes as a single, CT being a radio hit which I thought very cool at the time.

Joe Bonamassa - An Acoustic Evening at The Vienna Opera House

Going Up

Where Clapton is content, or indifferent, to descent [Old Sock], successor, surely, Bonamassa maintains the quality control of his prodigious ascent on latest An Acoustic Evening at The Vienna Opera House where his impressive back catalogue is re-presented with a nonetheless large sound because of the attendant other acoustic players. These versions reiterate the class of Joe’s own musicianship, which is beyond question, and the genuine puissance of his songwriting skills. There is a notable depth to the overall sound provided in particular by the fiddle of Gerry O Conner, but the venue itself clearly contributes to the musical aura writ large by this performance.