Thursday, 28 November 2013

Paul Carrack - Rain or Shine


Formulaic, safe, familiar, soothing, easy-going, sweet, nostalgic, soul-lite, satisfying, sustained superior vocal. 

Monday, 25 November 2013

Lucy Roleff - Somewhere

Sunshine Realism

Having a few days' break in Falmouth, Cornwall - the idea to combine this with meeting up with a good friend and review the poems we are co-editing for an anthology of poetry written about music, that is until on the first day, yesterday, I put my back out, badly, and thus I had to cancel that visit today as I struggle to recover and become mobile again. Sunday was dreadful.

The saving grace has been today's beautiful weather, the fact I could get in the car to drive locally for a coffee and to get some shopping, but also to go back to the coffee place directly on the beach for some lunch. But that was all I could manage and it didn't require much walking at the painful angle I am able to incline to, relieved somewhat by also getting some strong painkillers with that necessary food shopping.

Another pleasure today was reading Lucy Roleff's collection of poems in Somewhere - sitting outside in the sun this afternoon - a collection I acquired after also purchasing and reviewing her EP Longbows here, and where I enjoyed the poetry in her lyrics. To read these in the Cornish November sunshine was as soothing as the large dosage of paracetomal and ibuprofen.

Lucy's writing is best described as staccato snatches of what is observed, the poetry noun-heavy to reflect perhaps the illustrator aspect of her artistic make-up, but also, as referenced in her pamphlet's brief biog., her being 'obsessed with realism'. The poems are not then complicated by overwrought or overstated emotions: judgement and interpretation instead left to the reader of these vivid descriptive vignettes. My favourite is the title poem which is printed here in the photo, and if you can't quite read, then it is all the more reason to purchase the pamplet yourself here: this comes with a free download of Three Songs (Demo 2010) which provides further insight into the musical aspect of her artistic make-up, these similarly focused on vocal and lyrics as with Longbows, and I like particularly in these demos the reverb/echo of the guitar work. I do recommend Lucy's work and look forward to more in the future.

I also look forward to a recovered back.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Crosby, Stills and Nash - Colston Hall, Bristol, 17th October, 2013: encore

Excellent Review

There is an excellent review of the same CS&N concert I saw at Bristol in the current edition of Classic Rock magazine. The dropline quote is 'It's a swirling but unified set, more than the sum of its parts', and the article closes with 'if it really does prove to be their UK swansong, let it be marked as a great one'. The rest captures perfectly what I also heard and felt, though no admission of almost-tears: recommended.

Nick Harper - Riven

Dig With It

This is a rich and varied album, musically quite complex and adventurous at times, and elsewhere there is a privileging of vitriol over songcraft as with the satirical squashing of Nick Clegg in The Incredible Melting Man, and the angry attack on Kelvin Mackenzie in Plague of Toads.

Before this slant into chest-catharsis, righteous as it is, Nick Harper has written and performs soaring melodies that do inevitably remind of Dad Roy - in the falsetto and other vocal tones, and the guitar work, or the talking in second track Juicy Fruit Girl - but the production, including harmonies, are almost Zappaesque at times as on The Beginning is High, again on the latter part of the album, but opener and aptly named This Is The Beginning is more folk-based with sweet harmonies to privilege melody, here reminding of The Beach Boys!  It is quite beautiful. And I hear Bowie too, so there is an eclecticism to revel in whilst listening.

This is an album to unravel depths again and again, and it will be worth the aural digging.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Peter Reading - 27th July 1946 - 17th November, 2011: encore

In my post on Peter Reading's death here, I expressed my embarrassment at not having known he had passed, but I trust I honoured his memory with that post, as I return today and honour again on the second anniversary of his death. In the way these situations/occurrences can continue to throw up further depths, I have only just noted that with my celebratory review of Reading's book Shitheads here, I had written it only three days before his passing.

I'd like to think Reading would have warmed to these ironies of ignorance and good intentions.  He certainly worked as a writer at the boundaries of good and bad taste, lyricism and fragmentary or functional language, and caustic to whimsical reflection. I trust therefore it is totally apt to put here two poems from Reading's 1994 book Last Poems, a self-reflecting but also projecting account of the death of a poet and his writing and language itself. I will post two: the first, Midnight, is for me wonderful in the way it can convey lyricism in describing an antithetical urban 'asphalt' location [the power of love, even in loss, dominant within], and second, Valedictory, where he plots decline in the harsh humour that reveals a way of coping:

                      a hotel bedroom, open window,
sibilant tyres on rain-washed asphalt streets
whispering a repetitious finish, finish.
You stroke your lover comprehensively,
who purrs contentment, clings to your neck and sobs.
Sibilant tyres on rain-washed asphalt streets
whispering a repetitious finish, finish.


This buffer's in full retreat,
had more than enough, wants out,
can't hack the hassle, the horseshit,
the bozos on mountain bikes,
the user-hostile high-tech,
the esoteric subculture
where 'The Gorgs plant binoony berries
which the Fraggles just can't stand!',
where 'T-Bag meets Dr Strangebag
and rapidly goes off fish!',
where each successive bulletin
is more wacky, sad, obscene...
This buffer's had more than enough,
wants out, is in full retreat.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Air and Light and Time and Space - Charles Bukowski

“– you know, I’ve either had a family, a job,
something has always been in the
but now
I’ve sold my house, I’ve found this
place, a large studio, you should see the space and
the light.
for the first time in my life I’m going to have
a place and the time to

no baby, if you’re going to create
you’re going to create whether you work
16 hours a day in a coal mine
you’re going to create in a small room with 3 children
while you’re on
you’re going to create with part of your mind and your body blown
you’re going to create blind
you’re going to create with a cat crawling up your
back while
the whole city trembles in earthquake, bombardment,
flood and fire.

baby, air and light and time and space
have nothing to do with it
and don’t create anything
except maybe a longer life to find
new excuses

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Lucy Roleff - Longbows

Brooding and Beautiful

Lucy took a punt and posted a link to her bandcamp site and EP details in a Comments section of this blog a while back. I have just got around to listening and have purchased a copy and will happily review now because I like what I have heard. Not that my modest audience is going to help her out all that much, but for what it's worth I highly recommend this to those that do read this review.

The five songs on the EP are slow and serious and in both respects I am being complimentary. For the former attribute, there are those who might hear these and wish for something more upbeat. If this were a full album I'd be agreeing, but in establishing a style/mood across these few I think the pace makes a valid statement where the focus is on Roleff's fulsome vocal - at times genuinely like Joni Mitchell at her lower register [in her early singing - not the cigarette-affected lost octave of her current mature voice] - as well as the injections/snatches of strings and clarinet: plucked, briefly puffed, clawed, apart from the more sustained strains [a relative term] of the light orchestration on opener Volkshaus. It really is a beautiful voice that is held in similar check to the instrumentation so I look forward to hearing her expand on this in the future. There are also delicate harmonies at work, for example in the penultimate song on the EP, In The Afternoon. For the latter attribute I suppose one could see/hear these as rather dour, but again I like what I have called the 'seriousness' of that focus, a lyrical storytelling that is linguistically rich and at times challenging. There is a brooding marriage of such lyricism and musical mood in fine opener Volkhaus, already mentioned,

and it gets dark sometimes
working in a mine
filling a trough of sediment
knobbly mounds of diamond
and blood black stone
waiting for a whistle cry
watching a speckle breasted bird
a ribcage through a lens of earth

It will seem faint praise, but there is none of the current fashionable female vocal affectations in Roleff's singing, and for those who understand my oft-stated disdain for this contemporary nonsense, you'll appreciate the genuine accolade in acknowledging its absence!

You can listen to the full EP and purchase a copy [either as download or actual cd - I have gone for the latter] here.

There is an emerging artistic talent of note here, and perhaps I really mean emerging to a wider audience because Lucy Roleff has quite clearly grown up in and already developed independently from her culturally rich familial and other environments, as evidenced by looking at the Illustration, but more interestingly, for me, at the Writing sections found on her web-site here.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin - Mynd

Mark of Excellence

This is quite simply a beautiful and ultra-confidently performed set of folk songs, traditional in their musical composition and also occasionally contemporary in their intelligent storytelling, as with Last Broadcast that honours the American journalist Marie Colvin who was killed last year whilst covering the siege of Homs in Syria. Both Philip Henry and Hannah Martin are consummate instrumentalists, though I particularly like the harmonica playing of Henry: the instrumental The Nailmakers’ Strike Part 1, with guitar and fiddle predominantly, segues gorgeously into the bluesy but also lush harmonica driven The Nailmakers’ Strike Part 2, a song about the action of 1852 in Halesowen [though it seems there was considerable poverty and unrest for a decade in the Dudley area where nailmaking was a major industry]. The short instrumental Elegy has Henry on slide dobro playing an Indian-tinged song that is achingly gentle. The album closes brilliantly on James Taylor’s [You Can] Close Your Eyes, a beautiful song in its own right and brave to cover, and even braver with Henry on lead vocal [he is a fine enough singer, but Martin rightly dominates the album with her folk clarity], but the soft harmonising and again slide dobro create a reverential space within which these two make their own musical mark. 

Saturday, 9 November 2013

The Deep Dark Woods - Jubilee

A Lethargy of Liking

As long as these guys realise that a smattering of hats, anachronistic facial hair and occasionally sounding like Neil Young will not of itself bring musical recognition/permanence, there is enough in the suggestive other depths to the music on this album, their fifth [my first], to suggest a respectable longevity – if musical lethargy doesn’t completely consume their songwriting proclivities. For me, it is a slow album to start, though the irony of this comment will soon be apparent: the opening Young-esque Miles and Miles just an echo, second 18th of December a familiar folk sound with a storytelling someone like me will have to listen to more intently to follow, and getting there with third Pictures On A Wall where Ryan Boldt’s resonant vocal begins to establish its appeal, and then fourth Red, Red Rose where its Band-esque organ and vocal harmonies start to make more sense of the influences, arriving at sweet fifth Gonna Have a Jubilee where Boldt’s vocal – at times a sonic mirror of Raul Malo – takes centre stage with a supporting cast of more light vocal harmony and by now trademark organ also at the core.

Ryan Boldt

Sixth Pacing the Room tells a lovelorn tale in Boldt’s plaintive vocal beauty, Geoff Hilhorst’s Hammond M102 swirling throughout, and seventh East St Louis introduces harmonies from the familiar production hands of Jonathan Wilson who seems currently involved in all Laurel Canyon/60s-70s musical revisiting, the Country tinges holding these a little at bay, and then eighth A Voice is Calling continues the pleasantries: all pretty enough if overall rather sedately paced. Ninth I Took To Whoring has the dark tones of Josh T Pearson but is again prevented from rising to his angry peaks by the dirge of its gait, and the album could by now – well, sooner in fact – use some stamping and stomping. Tenth It’s Been a Long Time is again harmonious enough, the organ now becoming perhaps too formulaic, but its title exemplifies the album’s problem: the lethargy in pace more soporific than soothing. Penultimate The Beater is one of the more soaring in its vocal gorgeousness, but the danger is the listener has been sedated before arriving at this genuine gentleness, and album closer The Same Things is 10 minutes long and 50 minutes late in arriving, its blues leanings by this stage too inclined to falling over in a stupor of slowness, until it picks up at roughly nine minutes in. I think that’s too late guys, he said almost snoring..... 

Friday, 8 November 2013

Star Anna - Go to Hell

Keep Mother Fucking The Indie

New to me, Star Anna – full wonderful name Star Anna Constantina  Krogste Banford [or Krogstie Bamford, depending on source] -  sings/performs a folk rock, on this album at least, and the songs are generally salvaged from indie sensibilities by the raw power of her vocal. She started out playing drums aged 11 and progressed to high school punk bands and now offers up this current Americana, an excellent representation encapsulated by fifth song Mean Kind of Love with piano, acoustic guitar, dobro and male vocal accompaniment. Seventh Power of My Love adds punch with a hollered vocal and layers of female accompaniment, further pugilism from the stabbing music. There are some fashionable vocal affectations in eighth Everything You Know, but this seems an emotive rescue attempt on an otherwise rather indie-lite melody. Ninth Come On Up To The House is better territory for her natural grit, a bluesy honky tonk number, and the album ends on a punk stormer Smoke Signals which I rather mother fucking like, to empathise with the lyrics.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Dan Baker - Pistol In My Pocket

Tuna Fish and a Pack of Gum

Pistols and rifles: Dan Baker sings very occasionally about firearms because they exist, not because he’s trying to grab any mantle from Charlton Hestons’s cold dead hands. Based near Boston, in a town called Chelsea, Baker is a gritty singer songwriter in as much as he often snarls and shouts his songs, and the ghost of Dylan is in that growl somewhere, a lineage that seems important to me in reflecting musical authenticity, not that Dylan ever howled like a freight train as Baker does near the end of One of Them. The rawness of so many of the fine songs on this album also reflects another kind of authenticity, sincerity over polish, not that the performances aren’t carefully crafted, but just that their immediacy conveys honesty. I like the simple chronological observations of Up On The Roof that seem to evoke the power of music and even a spiritual suggestion, but it gets lost a little in the drawl, again as if any polish would spoil the sincere stream of consciousness in the lyric. Musically it is mainly a piano-in-an-empty-room fullness and the occasional emotive violin of Rob Flax. There’s resignation in the tone at times, not quite world-weary but pragmatic dismay, as in the album closer Not Gonna Say It. This is counter-balanced by my favourite, the comparatively lively Threw Me Down The Well – with Rob Flax’s empathetically tortured violin – and Baker argues against his lover’s mistreatment with all the pained anger of defeat. Brilliant. This is followed by another howling in Never Alone where defiance shuns irony for a genuine declaration of simple pleasures, exemplified in these opening lyrics I have unraveled a little from the seemingly intoxicated slur,

I got six strings, I like to strum
...tuna fish, pack of gum
and I got the moon shining on my soul
I ain’t ever alone

Saturday, 2 November 2013

David Munyon - Purple Cadillac

Soothing and Moving

As the NSA was surreptitiously [pre Snowden!] listening in on Angela Merkel in Germany, it’s a great shame they didn’t also pick up on another important resident there, ex-pat and apparently hidden fellow-son David Munyon, because frankly he could use the exposure for the folks back home, no matter how disreputable the finding.

Munyon is as authentic a singer-songwriter as they come, and whilst the Germans and others throughout Europe are privileged to know and recognise his talent, he would appear to be relatively unheard of and beneath the musical radar back home in the States, to continue the contemporary allusion just a little more. His current release Purple Cadillacs is a beautifully simple and yet rich set of self-penned songs, some from an impressive back catalogue for a revisit here, like the wonderful Song For Danko and Rosa’s Cantina.

David Munyon’s vocal is a distinctively inflected drawl that narrates his stories in a low register that warms like someone uttering universal truths completely devoid of showmanship. They can be endearingly homespun as with fifth track Kansas, telling the tale of bible reading Gladys who leaves Milwaukie aged 15 to drive her DeSoto to Kansas where the buffalo roam, and you can’t get more ethnic Midwestern than this. The song goes on to reference David’s grandfather, the Reverend Amer Stocking who preached in Kansas for over 40 years and who also has had a song named after and written about him, but not on this album.

The revisited Prayers of Elvis Presley continues the beautiful renditions, harmony vocals supporting the simple melody, and Help Me Krishna asserts Munyon’s broad but deep spirituality. The music is both soothing and moving because it never tries too hard, and this is its enduring strength. The album closes on the solemn but gorgeous Whenever You Fall In Love Again which is as soothing and moving as the best music can ever be.