Friday, 30 October 2015

Rod Stewart - Another Country, album review

I Normally Avoid Negative Reviews, However....

Rod Stewart’s latest is frustrating and annoying. It is because it should be so much better, but isn’t.

The opening two tracks demonstrate the potential [and I dislike using that word which seems patronising with respect to his musical history and talent, but…]. Opener Love Is is a Celtic folk pop number that works in the way Stewart’s pop music does: anthemic and here supported with fine violin. The vocal is, as ever, distinctly the same distinctive Rod rock rasp. Second Please is excellent: beginning rock guitar with sass that moves into a funky rhythm and beat, the vocal at its very best – a mellowing out of that rasp – joined by a soul chorus and then the magnificent falsetto of please which sets the aural hairs on end.

Two markers placed on the board saying 'Listen mate, I’ve still got it'. And there’s the rub. He has but for some reason replaces this with some of the worst schmaltz ever. Third Walking in the Sunshine isn’t a complete disaster, but it is a pop-lite lift-listenable littleness. The alliteration was only to give me something to say. Love and Be Loved is the requisite reggae tune, and it won’t be nudging Bob Marley down the list of anyone’s Reggae Favourites List for the next century or so.  But it is OK to pass the time of writing that last sentence. We Can Win is a piece of football patriotism, again with a Celtic flavour, and considering Scotland’s recent goodish European run, and Rod’s clear love of the game, this is also OK as a slice of Stewart sincerity.

Then we have the title song. This is a little twee. Plenty have commented on this already, with Rod himself offering his genuine rumination on the feelings of those who are actually in this situation – a loved one away and off to war – and its anthemic drive is bathed in more Celtic tones, perhaps losing some sense of purpose in the echo of sounding too much like the others. But next Way Back Home is painfully twee, its patriotism expressed in the most naïve and simplistic soundbites – not for me to question sincerity here – but I do questions someone of Rod’s lived experience and intelligence being prepared to peddle this commercial good old-fashioned British way of tarting-up drivel, the worst example with the end-sample of Churchill’s never surrender speech. And I don’t believe this is for the British market. I think it is to appeal to the American market where this kind of vacuous but compulsive declaration of patriotic fervour is fashionable.

Can We Stay Home Tonight returns to safer ground - though not hard after the seismic shattering of the immediate previous musical footholds - the sixties soulful chorus as a welcome and pleasant echo of the past, and Rod’s vocal genuinely beautiful. Is this sustained? No. Following this is another descent into tweedom with Batman Superman Spiderman, a song for his son that would be an outstanding tribute sung regularly at his bedside as a night-time lullaby of unconditional love, but not on a record – unless of course the commercial targeting of a similarly schmaltz-inclined market is entirely intentional. The vocal chorus that echoes the title line in a whispered musical hug is woeful.

I do like The Drinking Song that has a rawer sound, a chugging rhythm that reminds of The Faces in as much as one will be listening out for such, and the honest account of his drinking exploits is refreshingly direct and assertive: there’s no sentimental-older-guy-looking-for-redemption bollocks here.

The deluxe edition does have a great offering with the 'Python Lee Jackson with Rod Steward' extended version of In a Broken Dream, and it just proves my nostalgia is a great barrier to accepting the silly new on this album, though I will also stand by my better judgements. I do mention because I acknowledge many have loved and will love the material I have criticised – just read Amazon reviews where one, for example, thinks the Batman Superman Spiderman song is worth the price of the album. A worrying idea to my mind, but I sense there are those other than Rod Stewart who have encouraged a marketing to a certain audience over what should have been a sense of maintaining the integrity of what Stewart can and should do as a musician. As I have said, he is in fine voice. A shame he feels the need to dress it in comic-book presentations so often on this over-long album.

Two Faces Music Three

Nebraska 41 - Chris Smither - Crocodile Man (live)

A Dave Carter song, Crocodile Man is the one Chris Smither says he should have written, and it is a stalwart of his live set, as it was last night when he played at Topsham. I post here in the Nebraska and Omaha series, the city reference in its lyric which is wild with imagination.

Well I hooked up with a carny, little out of Memphis
Slavin' in a side show, pennies in a jar
Beetle-eyed jokers and hick town princes
Rhinestone rubies and rubber cigars

Wassled me a gator up in Omaha City
Did me another down in New Orleans
Tangled with the barker, ran off with the kitty
Crawled the Mississippi and I got away clean

Into the Distance Music 18

Chris Smither - Matthews Hall, Topsham, 29th October, 2015

Topsham Treat

Smither was in sublime form last night, the second time I have had the privilege to see him play live, and to see and hear him in such an intimate, local venue as Matthews Hall was the proverbial sweetness on the sweet-already cake.

The highlights were from the start right through to the end. Smither's guitar playing - primarily the blues - is an effortless masterclass, and surprisingly only a few songs are open-tuned. There is a simplicity to his blues-patterns, but the strength of his fingers in bending notes, and for the slower blues [like the beautiful What It Might Have Been] the perfection in tone, make his playing quite stunning.

And then that voice. The baritone that has a slight rasp or booms out its bass resonance on some songs, is as strong as ever. And then the songwriting: fifty years of sustained excellence.

All of this is linked by the ease of the seasoned raconteur, whether telling us about domestic realities or, of course, the history of songs: writing that song for his father which he did hear before he died - the most complex of his songs, I think, and beautiful, Father's Day - and those that have earned, for example, Love You Like a Man, famously covered by Bonnie Raitt, and more recently, as relayed through an amusing anecdote about this, by Kelly Clarkson. His stories are amusing and entertaining, as are so many of the witty songs, such as Origin of Species.

It was memorable, and I am listening now as I type and loving it.

Special mention should go to Julian Piper who organised this gig, as he did when Chris last played locally, reviewed here. A great blues player himself, Julian has an impressive resume as musician and founder of the band Junkyard Angels, as well as guesting with many famous guitarists on stage and on record, but as local impresario he has over so many years brought amazing artists to the Southwest, and last night's was one of many performance feather's in a fellow musician's empathetic hat. Music events like this, and the pleasure it brings to many as well as the introduction to those who wouldn't otherwise have the opportunity, is quite brilliant. Thank you.

You can check out further details about Julian and his music here.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Belle Shnetzler Encore

Note of Nostalgia

With reference to my previous post, this is indeed the Bell Schnetzler who attended my American high school in Karlsruhe, Germany, and she did record about two or three songs so I hope that in some way fulfilled her senior year’s aspiration to have a ‘Career in Music (Voice)’ as stated in our yearbook Der Kavalier.

Whilst I actually knew and hung out with a few seniors and juniors – at the smoker’s area across from the school – I didn’t know Belle. To be honest, we were the ‘cool heads’ and I think Belle was studious and serious, cooler qualities in so many ways, so we never mixed, not even in passing.

As well as a few record cover photos which I will post at the end, I did translate - via the translate 'button', and it is as ever a fascinating manipulation of language and new oblique meaning - this piece of info from the original page here [in case you want to read in German], and it is all simply a small piece of personal history for me, and of course Belle, which I discovered today:

About Belle Schnetzler's short musical career can be found next to nothing. Belle then studied literature and Prehistory and Early History in Hamburg and Munich. Good thing the record company Hansa talks a little about them out of school ...

From American world Raumer City Huntsville comes the 23-year-old Belle shredder,
with "Forever - until death separates us" her first solo record submitted. Since 1966 she has lived in Germany and studied archeology and languages. "Sung I actually always been," she says, "but constantly in school and church choirs."

Only with the singing lessons came the desire to try it again alone.
Against the advice of her singing teacher, the Belle would rather have settled in classical music, she decided to try it with Pop. Peter Meisel heard a demonstration tape of her and decided - Belle is produced by me.

Two tracks from the American bestseller list has got the beautiful Belle for their German record:
"The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" is many weeks No. 1 have been in the US, as well.: "Follow me" is a sophisticatedly beautiful folk-rock songs from the US charts. No doubt: All signs point to an important career for Belle shredder.

Belle Schnetzler - Für immer bis dass der Tod uns trennt 1972

Pretty damn sure, but I think I went to the same school as her in Karlsruhe in 1967, though she was older, me in junior high and she in the Senior and therefore graduating year. Just been looking at my American school yearbook and she is there, mentioning her hope to have a career in music. Well, this would seem to have been a start. I will pursue.

The internet is really quite amazing, if you have the time and inclination.....

Baseball Music 2

Allison Crowe - Newfoundland Vinyl 3, album review

Riddle-I-Day Me Boys

I wasn’t aware of the preceding two Newfoundland Vinyl albums in the series, a folk focused celebration of the west coast of Newfoundland, and best described on Allison Crowe’s own site:

Conceived by Jeff Pitcher, Artistic Director of Theatre Newfoundland and Labrador, (TNL - the Atlantic Canadian professional theatre company founded in 1979), the hit stage show’s under the Musical Direction of Allison Crowe who’s been with the production from its launch in 2012.

Each Summer Allison Crowe delights in residing in the beauty of Gros Morne National Park - an UNESCO world heritage site located on the west coast of Newfoundland. In working with her wonderfully-talented cast and crew, Allison records a selection of songs to be included in the show repertoire. Once the play’s run its season, she selects some of her favourite tunes to share from this collection.

I am also discovering a side to Crowe’s performance – not entirely new – where a ‘restraint’ in the often impressive drama of her vocal allows, for me, the natural beauty in her tone and tremolo to be sustained throughout, with emotive pulses that have all the more impact for being occasional.

Opener Up She Rises is a generic folk song with strummed acoustic guitar, sweet but distant vocal choir and the rousing upbeat of the chorus. This is followed by Cliffs of La Scie, a wonderful traditional narrative from a male persona lamenting loss, even after he has found some happiness, Crowe singing empathetically, and beautifully, relaying the pain and sorrow [just a tired old man with his fond memories], the vocal choir here quite angelic. Third Lucky’s Boat is a sprightly Celtic romp driven by percussion and tight vocals racing through the rhymes and ‘riddle-i-days’!

Further jaunts and ‘me boys’ abound with Crowe bringing a joyous appreciation to the traditional folk roots of the songwriting and authentic presentations, storytelling to the fore. When Johnny meets St Peter in Johnny’s Moonshine, the angelic chorus takes on a more satirical support, and unable to meet the demands being placed on his entry to heaven, Johnny decides to take me moonshine can and trudge on down below.

The gorgeous Snowy White is a sweet centrepiece in the album, the acoustic guitar reminding of that other great Canadian artist Leonard Cohen, and the vocal partnership again of Crowe and the backing folk ‘choir’ in perfect synergy. The Green Green Grass of Home gets classic Crowe coverage where she does make such well-known songs her own with distinctive passion.

This is definitely traditional fare delivered with genuine, folk-honest class and I recommend. You can download the album here at a ridiculously cheap and therefore generous price!