Saturday, 28 February 2015

And More Hot Dog Music

The fact I had hot dogs for tea tonight [wrapped in smoked pancetta, baked, so that they taste dogs] makes the genuine fortuity and complete surprise of finding yet another hot dog on an album cover all the more weird.

Friday, 27 February 2015

Writing Gate

If the field gate is saturated and the garden soil too dry to
dig, my world is screwed. Having managed yesterday
to lay that pen for the second raised bed just before it poured,
such a reversal of physical law would destroy the triumph in
this job - especially as I had skimmed the turf like sheets of
lasagne because of the frost. If I cannot go out and measure
for a new one or dig the earth, I will stay here writing about it.

Anything can be buried whatever the conditions if you don’t
need it to grow, and a gate still hanging will always close.
Putting all of this to a bigger test, I set the house alight and
watched it glow, flames spreading along the lawn to take out
those oak pens, scorching border camellias and heathers until
dead, and then creeping ever closer to what it licks best, a
battle with the doused marinade of a bored gardener’s gest.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Larry Miller - Soldier Of The Line, album review

War and Minstrel Blues

Bluesrock firebrand Larry Miller has presented an album of great sensitivity, both in the lyrics and the more subtle playing compared with his trademark, certainly live, rip-it-up style. The album title, and title track, both present respectively the surface and then more expansive narrative of parts of the album. Opener One Fine Day is probably on more familiar territory musically, though even here the fine blues is swelled by the production with horns, but it is the storytelling in the next two tracks that take us as listeners across more emotive and empathetic terrain. Soldier of the Line begins with the echoing of gunfire, and the acoustic guitar with cello orchestration lays a solemn platform for the foregrounding of Larry’s singing, deep and plaintive, as he ponders as a soldier if he will make it home, and make it home to the loves and other reassurances he left behind. His persona ponders the reasons for fighting, and the predictable, but nonetheless poignant pondering on the reality of reciprocation in fighting for ‘king and country’ – making that sacrifice without questioning its true appreciation. This is followed by Failed Again where the persona – not necessarily the same or of that same time, initially the First World War – is concerned about other doubts in his private life where marriage and divorce symbolise a different kind of battle, and loss. The guitar work here is also plaintive in its simple but crying-long notes: yes, making one think of Gary Moore with his balladic solos, but for those who know Miller’s previous work, this is his own forte.  

The sound of cicadas introduce fourth track The Power You Have, and like the opener, we step outside the war context to pursue the heart of blues: relationships and beholding and the paradoxical pain of it all. It’s a driving blues, again beautifully produced, soaring rather than shredded guitar. Fifth Our Time is Coming is a riff-driven stomper, guitar solo clipped to perfection, and when it time-shifts to another blues riff, the slower repetitions grip, before we are returned to that former stomp.

Come Hell or High Water is a classic blues ballad that is sweet and yearning and full of love’s hope - before the fall - and we listen in such anticipation for the guitar to speak to this everyday pain. When it does come there is a gentleness to that playing, and we realise that Miller’s singing has carried the weight of the song’s emotion and done so with great feeling, the chorus confirming love’s conviction against all the signs.

Seventh Bathsheba V2 returns us to a war scenario, but this time sharing the arena once more with love and yearning, here lyrically in once-upon-a-time folklore territory with a King who sees and beds a beautiful maid and then kills her man, these lyrics somewhat stunted by that classical framing, but the guitar on this track is sublime, and an accompanying harpsichord is an anachronistic if intriguing echo of 60s pop, the building orchestration a considerable production surprise. I’ve only seen Larry play live one time [and that was stunning] and I can imagine him playing this on stage with a fully committed bluesrock minstrel’s storytelling zeal.

The album ends where we expect and want to hear Miller, pounding out a stonker in Mississippi Mama. This is an album of great variety, always rooted in the voice and guitar playing of a dynamite performer, but here showcasing songcraft of equally potent merit.

Mahalia Barnes & The Soul Mates - Ooh Yea! The Betty Davis Songbook, album review

All Aboard

What riches: I reviewed the excellent Eliza Neals yesterday where her powerful vocals are variously graced with the fantastic fretwork  of Detroit axeman Howard Glazer and guest Kid Rock sideman Kenny Olson to produce the highest quality blues rock; and today I have been listening to another powerhouse chanteuse, Mahalia Barnes, howling out the raunchy songs of Betty Davis to the accompaniment of the phenomenon that is Joe Bonamassa, both in his work ethic and guitar playing, to produce the highest quality funk rock. Double trouble of the most enticing kind.

Ooh Yea! The Betty Davis Songbook delivers its own kind of supreme sass, although that musical impudence obviously has its roots in Davis' notorious if not, at the time, hugely successful singing and writing career. I'm not that informed about Davis as an artist but can recommend a superb review of Barnes' album here which is knowing about Davis [I wish I had written this] and will quote from that the line 'Returning to life’s ironies, however, the legacy of a woman who sang so often of pleasures down under has received a boost from just that location' in highlighting Barnes' own roots as an Australian and daughter of solo artist and Cold Chisel lead singer, Jimmy Barnes.

Various roots, influences and individual talents noted, this is an album of sustained high intensity where Barnes and Bonamassa pretty much belt it out like a train steaming forward without slowing, turning, running quiet, or stopping for fuel as it runs on the propelling vapors of its own music-making. Less varied then than Neals' Breaking and Entering, but there is little interesting mileage in making any comparison. Instead, you should just grab on to either journey driven by female singing of the most compelling kind, and in the album being reviewed here today, hear in Barnes a homage that takes on board its own fine vocal trajectory. Another great band in The Soul Mates too.

Toilet Roll

It was one wispy sheet draped across the chrome arc
of the paper holder, its inner cardboard roll disappeared,
and had been hung deliberately but without explanation
just before she too was no more. This is only a bathroom
where domestic dramas rarely unfold in the way the rest
of the roll had been unfurled – I have to guess - yet leaving
that page behind delivered a message if I was able to read
along the line. Sitting there, it became another dilemma.
Perhaps it had been in the decision to treat ourselves: the
quilt of its texture an elaboration we had not needed in our
time before this, and on reflection the money could have
been better spent on a magazine with dull stories about the
sudden disasters in other people’s lives, or on those maps
in the charity shop about places nearby we hadn’t visited.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Eliza Neals - Breaking And Entering, album review

Outstanding Crime

Breaking and Entering would be a crime if it doesn’t get wide recognition [oh, I hope I’m first with this punning….]. It is a superb bluesrock album, driven by the gruff and also at times refined vocal of Eliza Neals, matched by guitar rock as strident and sultry and sassy as that singing.

I like the acoustic, slide-guitar opening of Detroit Drive – no need to play all the hard-core blues cards just yet. However, when the chug of title track Breaking and Entering comes pumping in second, that bond of voice and wail is such a perfect full house. Third Jekyll and Hound consolidates that musical marriage, and the vocal harmonies demonstrate here, as elsewhere on the album, much fine songwriting – Neals contributing to all – as well as depth in the band performances. There is much of that guitar sass in the slide and fuzz on this track, and the gunslingers on the album are Howard Glazer and guest Kenny Olson.

I like everything on this album. But my stand-out on this high platform is You, Olson contributing the most glorious complement to Neals’ more ‘refined’ voice here, the tones merging in a sonic symbiosis that is both psychedelic and bluesheavy, the wah wah wailing in that beautiful pain right up there with the best of such hurt. This is a track with considerable production breadth, the choric vocal in support, right up to Neals and guitar finally in the stratosphere together. It’s an emotive ride.

Lest I seem just carried away in that previous, I will mention the – surprising – poprock of the track that follows this, Pretty Gritty, and in the context of the whole it is an engaging divergence, beats and handclaps reminding me of Hey Mickey – just a little! This is followed by Southern Comfort Dreams and we are back on original gritty ground, Neals’ vocal such a strong lead, as one would expect, and again there is some sweet harmonising backed by soaring guitar work. For yet more variation, there is the R&B of Sugar Daddy, skirting once more along pop sensibilities – with attitude. Next I’m the Girl is all funk.

Penultimate track Spinning [the album closes on a ‘radio edit’ of the title song] returns to bluesrock roots, riding the powerful tandem of huge vocal and fuzzed guitar, simple beats joining in as it pulses forwards. When we segue into that reprise of sorts, it is a perfect blues bookending. A mature album of considerable class.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Snow Stopping Before

Waking, she thought it was snowing outside, but it was her
dead skin cells floating around in the bedroom. When I later
looked out the window, snow was falling in flurries and it
seemed to me that I should run out there and collect all I could
before her complete dissolution, just in case she had made a
mistake and confused things. I cannot explain my prevarication
as, watching still, it did come and go, at times falling straight
down in large heavy flakes, yet just as quickly lost in the grey
of the sky behind and into running water along the ground.
I continued to watch, unsure. By the time I reconsidered, it was
definitely raining. If I was a surgeon, or a soldier, or even the
driver of a bus on a dangerous curve, I would need to be more
decisive. The fact we all think we can predict the weather does
not make me feel any better about my lack of professionalism.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

More Hot Dog Music

I kid you not - honestly - and you can verify here that I did do a posting on hot dogs on album covers - but I found this today completely by accident, and ever the completest.....

Friday, 20 February 2015

The Return of the Man Who Has Everything - Rupert Loydell, poetry book review

Waiting for the Plumber

Rupert Loydell needs things fixed but he knows this isn’t going to happen. Being broken is a natural order of things in his world and even the poetry – trying to weave the threads of disarray and disintegration into meaningful material – will not cope with the sheer amount of disrepair. Water is leaking in from somewhere, life is getting wet, and the plumber will not come.

But there is a will to make do, to make it better, and even fix what can be fixed as in the poem Broken Circuitry where

‘Now that we know how to fix the car
I keep a spanner under the seat’

As discerning readers we know the car and spanner are obviously a car and spanner and clearly not a car and spanner. Reality and metaphor will not sort themselves out, and the paradox of living with such ennui and triumph [I think I am being figurative/hopeful in overstating the latter] becomes the narrative for all of the poems in this collection that reject the coherence of narrative.

Much of that pervasive ennui is exemplified in the two poems Stay Home and Moodometer, the second an ironic creation because it doesn’t take too complex a gadget to gauge the emotions being consistently expressed. However, I do think an approximation to ‘triumph’ – such mood/feeling/spirituality has to be relative to the suffering – can be found in the poem Staying Afloat:

‘…..Varnish over the screws,
the truth and don’t worry about the small split
in the side of the hull: once in the water
it will swell up and everything will be alright.
There are stripes of pink and blue sky
in the sea towards St Ives, there are spots
in front of my eyes and the sun has not yet
burnt through the morning haze. We will
break our journey here, rest a while and then
move on. At last we are ready to sail.’

The way the poems as a whole express such tensions and occasional resolutions is through the noise and voices that are everywhere, the ‘general hubbub of the world’ [Karaoke Voice Removal]: those from unknown places, in a pub, within his head, the words speaking aloud from a letter, the TV/radio, lyrics in a song, words shouted or suggested from a book of poems, the confused sound of narrative – Loydell extrapolates from this babel the most conversational of heartfelt [though he would reject this term, read here] to apocalyptic truths about love and writing and work and death, and the rest. He writes poems that are ‘Climbing the walls to heaven/gym ropes to hell’ in order to reach those truths [Ill-Matched].

There are patterns in his technique. At times it is subtle, as in O Children where the lyricism moves into the direct observation of everyday, mundane life in the shift of a few lines. Elsewhere it is playful, as in the recurring jokiness of starting lines, for example, ‘I like the idea of siestas/but they only send me to sleep’ [Lipgloss & Shine] – and there are a number of other boom-booms like this; then it is evocation, as in ‘The fat man and his girl are in the angel’s doorway/blocking my line of sight as a moonlight voice/sings about winter’ [Premonition], and there are the teases, as here, ‘….If you think of madness/as not being sane then I am going mad’ [Photosynthesis] where this insertion in the poem of a seemingly off-the-cuff aphorism has a casualness made poignant by the shocking platitude of the line, and what Loydell has revealed about himself – well, whatever self he is occupying at that point from the great variety at his exposal/disposal -  in almost all of the poems.

But perhaps he is just angry. Fed up. Bored. Honest.

All the poems in this compelling collection illustrate these opening observations in varying degrees of content and mood. Catching Up is about the collage of writing/life, piecing together extracts and the disconnected found, like piecing together the disparate experiences that make up who we are – but only at the moment of composition? It is making poetic sense of the ‘ghost society that inhabits/our subconscious’, but as fleeting perhaps as the spectre that drifts in and out of what we hear and experience on any ordinary, repeated day [and that, I acknowledge, is quite a pompous line, something Loydell always avoids and why these poems are so convincing in their conversational flow and directness].

Waiting for Luke is about having a drink before a book launch he may or may not attend - such is the uncertainty at every level, it seems, of his life in these poems – but then suddenly he writes ‘….And why/does the depression that so many of us share/break up marriages and tear the world apart?’ That could sound a little trite out of context, but it comes after a series of similar questions that occupy the ordinariness of the event recalled and yet their collective weight of uncertainty is quite - I could say profound, and it is, but it doesn’t sound so which makes it real for the reader and therefore empathetic.

That further empathy for the reader of my age is how the poems concern themselves with the other dissolution - getting older. Under the Radar bothers itself with how things change and how it is harder to keep up with this. It links the world of work that never pays enough, nor rewards enough in other ways, to considering – more implicitly than explicitly - why we endure this and other diminishings in our lives:

the door lock became a swipe card
and the whole marking system changed.
The journey toward summer is more
convoluted and confused, no slipping
out under the radar this time it seems.’

There would appear to be the explicit consideration of that link between work, pay and well-being in the poem Fourteen Days to Pay, but it isn’t as simplistic, nor naff, as that. This is a poem again about the passing of time and experiences and the ability to experience, so there is that persistent sense of loss, but also being ‘safe’ in the immediacy of counting the days before pay to settle the bills whilst also being hugely aware within that domesticity of how redundant these pay-offs – literally and figuratively – are in the larger scheme of things. This mix of realities is summed up in the closing lines:

‘…..The trouble with growing up
is growing old and knowing that we do,
the trouble with listing your troubles
is that however many times you read them
you still don’t understand exactly
how they work out the final bill.’

Lest this seem overly morose material - which it is not as a collection, and the humour constantly buffers/counters - there is the next poem to write in full as it defines quite simply, and again without any pretence, a more accepting outlook:

Ahead of the Game

I have already marked
next year’s submissions
but am worried about
timetabling the year after.
I have rehearsed tomorrow
until it has replaced today
and have forgotten to say
goodnight. You do not seem
to think it important, but
I wait for every kiss and touch,
have been visiting the future
to see how it goes. Look:
that’s me, way over there.
I haven’t changed at all,
have decided not to die.

And there’s another boom-boom to remind of the lightness [not that any of these apparent excusing caveats are intended as such, and Loydell is rightly confident in whatever the moodometer wants to hear in his work], the ‘Gravity was everywhere back then/but I didn’t let it get me down’ from The Taller You Are The Shorter You Get, a poem that seems constructed from a variety of sources, as so much of his work always is, presumably the title here from the album by band My Dad is Dead.

It seems to me that the real mix of moods is articulated though the cohesive wrestling with being weary and being creative – a simplistic pole to draw here as near conclusion, but that has been the core dynamic as I have read. I have lived comfortably with these poems over the last few days, always wanting to read more, always seeming to connect with those variously manifesting moods and being compelled to do so by that conversational creativity which informs these poems as a whole [important to state as Rupert Loydell’s work to date is expansive in the way it can be experimental – another term he would reject in the same interview referenced earlier – and stylistically varied]. My actual conclusion will be a mention of the poem On the Other Side of the Mountain - the intention to tempt others to want to read as well - and it is the observation that this poem is perhaps the most lyrically conversational exposition of the existential I have ever read.

Take that to the edge and enjoy.

You can buy the book here.