Saturday, 29 October 2016

Azimuth - Azimuth, album review

Haunting Beauty

I wrote recently here of the surprise of seeing Norma Winstone perform and my subsequent research into her illustrious jazz-vocal career. I’ve now listened to this wonderful eponymous album from Azimuth with Kenny Wheeler, John Taylor and Ralph Towner and it is beautiful.

Mainly instrumental with Wheeler on trumpet and flugelhorn, Taylor on piano, organ and synthesizer, Towner on guitars, and Winstone on – to declare it also an instrument – voice.

Openers Siren’s Song and O are largely piano and voice pieces, Winstone not scatting but vocalising sounds, though on O, for example, she works in voice-tandem with Wheeler’s horn, matching the acrobatics of sound as well as echoing and debating. It is wonderful.

The title track is hypnotic, Taylor laying down a synth arpeggiator [though that may be a tautology] and this looped platform is layered with overdubbed vocals from Winstone – one, a series of sung sounds of long held notes; the other angelic harmonies hovering above – and then Wheeler’s horn joins in the fun to playfully dip in and out of the whole repeating and rising mix of sounds. 

Penultimate The Tunnel merges the preceding approaches with beautiful piano to start and Winstone adds words to her singing above a synth layer again – travelling forever in the dark, darkness into blackness, there and back its always black, flying along on a rhythm track, darkness into blackness, into blackness – then more discordant horn, synth and vocals emerging in a whirl of sound. Haunting. 

Friday, 28 October 2016

David Crosby - Lighthouse, album review

Measured Melodies

These are mostly low-key [delicately so] song stories rather than songs, and by this I mean the musicality is in the singing – with Crosby’s voice as distinctively sweet and resonant as ever, occasional West Coast harmonies rising – and playing which is mainly acoustic and measured throughout.

These are not songs that have a melody to the fore, though beautiful opener Things We Do For Love and eighth What Makes It So? are as conventional in this respect as we would expect to hear. The focus therefore is on the narrative and the mood created by the thoughtful reflection of most.

Then there is closer By the Light of Common Day which is a gorgeous melody that rises and falls, Crosby really quite timeless here and supported by pretty female harmony along sung lines and in the brief beatific choir. 

Monday, 24 October 2016

Blackie and the Rodeo Kings - Kings and Kings, album review

Great Stuff

This is an all-male guest ensemble as a mirror to the album Kings and Queens of 2011 reviewed here, and everything excellent about that then applies now - in a nutshell.

Great songs and great guest vocals, including Rodney Crowell, Eric Church, Raul Malo, Buddy Miller, Nick Lowe, Bruce Cockburn, Jason Isbell and Vince Gill.

If you think you require and/or deserve more, you are being needy and greedy.

Great band and songwriting.

Great invitees.

Great singing/harmonies.

Great jackets.

Bobby Vee - The Night Has A Thousand Eyes

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Cee Cee James - Stripped Down & Surrendered, album review

Blues Surrender

Stripped Down & Surrendered it might be, the acoustic pluck and slide telling us we have indeed foregone heavy electrification, but in James’ vocal there is enough power to propel the music for as long as it wants to run and with the title track pulsing out a work-team beat to an accompanying vocal chorus, a single tapping on metal, and a whipping echo in the chamber of this deep blues.

What does add extra pleasure is how next The Edge is Where I Stopped has James in a crisp tonal clarity, a gentleness that conveys the sweet timbre of her voice. It is all about possession of a true range, and Cee Cee certainly does. Partner Rob ‘Slideboy’ Andrews plays more blues-real acoustic slide on third Hidden and Buried, electric organ putting some swirl as well as a delicate draw from the power grid into the mix.

I have reviewed here James’ appropriate comparison to the vocal heritage of Janis Joplin, and on these acoustic tracks I can hear some of that tonal quality rather than in the more obvious grit of her rockier and raucous work. This is more about the range, and I do like the exposed ambition of this album. Love Done Left Home is absolutely gorgeous, Cold Hard Blues is swelled with affecting power in the core of its blues, and Glory Bound combines the elements of the whole with aplomb: acoustic slide, the female chorus, James’ sweet scream injecting emotional impact, urging holy father wash over me in the gospel of blues surrender. Amen.