Saturday, 24 September 2016

Dwight Yoakam - Swimmin' Pools, Movie Stars..., album review


Just over a year after his album Second Hand Heart, reviewed here, Yoakam releases another, this a declared ‘bluegrass’ focus, revisiting his songs mainly and adding plenty of fiddle and mandolin and rousing harmony accompaniments, but in many respects these simply continue to present his totally distinctive sound, primarily in the vocal with its Dwight-yodel-twang [and there is a posting on the net How do I learn to sing like Dwight Yoakam? where people actually give advice….].

So these are largely older familiar songs liked loads then and just as much now remade, mandolin strums and plucks and fiddle rolls enhancing to their different effect – the vocals of Yoakam and band absolutely crisp and to the foreground and that is their brilliant collective strength. Sad, Sad Music for example is mandolin strummed and banjo finger-picked beneath the twang-rich lead of Dwight and the tight bluegrass harmonising, the fiddle doing a twirl. Two Doors Down resonates to Yoakam’s echoing singing, as it always has, those note-end upward vocal flips a sonic singing that defines Dwight Country. Same again with his classic Guitars, Cadillacs. The bass vocal from a bluegrass barbershop quartet adds depth to the tenor twang on Home For Sale. There's the comic percussion in an otherwise taut Please, Please Baby.

The only album ‘surprise’ then is closer Purple Rain, an impromptu cover, apparently, of Prince’s song. Yin Yang, I’m sure, for listeners. It rests perfectly within its bluegrass framing for me, a mixture perhaps of the excellence of songwriting that carries it wherever it goes; the distinctiveness that is Yoakam making it sit so easy in his singing [assuming one likes, as I do], and the pathos of Prince’s untimely death that still resides within our embrace of this dark year for such leavings.

Earth, Wind and Fire - I Am

Funk Off

Their ninth studio album, released in 1979. This got played very loud often in my final year of study at Oxford and for the street just outside the front window of my flat. Loads and loud. The year before I started teaching in 1980.

The best funk 'n' soul album ever? As I listen now, that sounds about right.

The funk of In The Stone and Can't Let Go; the sweet soul with jazz of After the Love Has Gone.

And then Boogie Wonderland! The title says it all. Is this the best boogie wonderland album of all time?

All the love in the world can't be gone
All the need to be loved can't be wrong
All the records are playing
And my heart keeps saying
"Boogie wonderland, wonderland"
Dance, boogie wonderland
Ha, ha, dance
Boogie wonderland

Of course it is!

Car Music 27

Friday, 23 September 2016

Devendra Banhart - Ape in Pink Marble, album review


There will be some diehard Devendra fans out there who won’t much care for this observation, but the opening track Middle Names on his new album sounds a lot like the band America, apart from the intentionally lo-fi and slightly dissonant sounds. I know this precisely having just listened for two/three days of car driving spells to a huge compilation of America songs I have made [and, by the way, what fine sustained songwriting – though a selection] and this is so similar.

But really it shouldn’t be a surprise. Banhart’s earliest work had such obvious echoes from the past – ‘’hippie’ folk music largely – and so this is going to continue though he has moved away from this more recently, as with Mala. Indeed, second Good Time Charlie does have a little of Donovan in there….

OK, I’ll stop. There is, in fact, a return it seems to me to the more naïve sound of his early work, again evident in the raw production, though this is ironically quite carefully intended. But there is a simplicity in the tunes, and the musical backdrops are kept bright and cheerful rather than complex. It is playful too, as with the rough reggae pulses of fourth Mara.

But for really playful there is Fancy Man, which is quite silly. This is followed by Fig in Leather, a disco/reggae tour de force, or tour through affectionate cliché. You know, tracks I didn’t select for my America compilation were the many reggae pastiches, but I believe these were considered serious musical appropriations; Devendra is enjoying the tease here and elsewhere.

I know my geography is going to sound awry in this next comment, but there is a gentle South American [Venezuelan presumably] feel to seventh Theme for a Taiwanese Woman in Lime Green, and the sweeping strings are redolent of the sixties in that Latin orchestral way common then. But this gentleness is appealing, and it continues in the pop sparkles and further discordant guitar strums with electronic dribbles here and there in eighth Souvenirs.

The final third of the album is really quite sweet, and the electronic soundscapes are again simply done but the depth of sound is expansive as backdrop to dainty melodies. Mourner’s Dance introduces oriental sounds, and Banhart’s vocal is layered prettily; Saturday Night foregrounds a fragile vocal fully in keeping with the directness of the songwriting, percussive pulses supporting the layered singing again, those familiar Devendra warbles in there too; Linda is acoustic guitar pacing a female persona’s latenight lament – this is beautifully plaintive, especially in the super-slowed ending; Lucky is more guitar work at a walking pace and injections of guitar struts and plucks and sweetslow licks, a chorus of another reason I am lucky as happy as it sounds, and the closer Celebration is precisely that of the album’s sustained simplicity that has grown to this gem: affecting guitar chords backed by the vibrato of other sounds, moving in and out of tune, the harmonised celebration trumpeted by the synth horns. 

Other Vehicular Music 14

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Petula Clark - From Now On, album review

Rug Again

Three years ago I reviewed Petula Clark's album Lost in You, and I now review her latest From Now On, so apologies to Incredulity Spotters for pulling the rug.

Three years ago I basically waxed lyrical about Clark's seminal pop hit Downtown that I still love for what it is and memories of listening to it way back then. I also made a passing comment to how after a few fine opening pop songs on the album, it did morph into Eurovision fare with an anticipation that Petula would be representing the UK at the next meeting. Well, that year it was Bonnie Tyler. Another from a past musical ascension, but not as far back as Petula's zenith.

Yesterday I was listening to another Clark great, Don't Sleep in the Subway. Obviously, these albums exist on that past brilliant pop success. Of the two, this is better throughout. There is an eclectic range of covers, for example the Beatles' Blackbird and Peggy Lee's Fever. The successes on this album are all down to the production, and it is polished as in the part-electronica of Sincerely, or take the opening elaborate choral work with organ on Steve Winwood's While You See a Chance, though after this it is a little twee. But I'm sure plenty will like this, and rightly so. Easy listening. So what.

But it may be some time before I return. However, I could listen to Downtown and Don't Sleep in the Subway every day and that deserves whatever repeats Petula wants to engage in after all these years.

Hands Music 13

Monday, 19 September 2016

Led Zeppelin - The Complete BBC Sessions, album review

Rug Pulling

This is one of those 'well, that's obvious' postings so apologies to Platitude Spotters for pulling the rug.

I'll therefore be quick: it occurred to me that there is genuine delight in finding those contemporary retro rock bands who hark back to the origins of the species, and we'll listen appreciatively and comment, if reviewing for example, on the many Led Zep touchstones in the music, usually but not exclusively a vocal that nurtures a Plant-esque echo.

And even in the day there would be the influences and repetitions. Equally, there were bands as great in their own right, but different, for example Free and Black Sabbath - or more dramatically an 'other' like Queen.

But when you listen to this newly mastered with additional tracks of BBC Sessions, you can't help but hear the very best of British Rock, especially live.