Monthly Archives: September 2014

Review 30: My favourite things

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John Coltrane, Art Blakey & Miles Davis
Nominated by Jason Penn

John Coltrane on soprano saxophone,  Miles Davis on trumpet and Art Blakey on drums – what a band! That would have been something to see.

Mr Coltrane, on My Favourite Things, is fierce. Art Blakey is infectious rhythm and Miles Davis Relaxing is just cool.

I like jazz – I allowed myself to like it by not taking it too seriously. It creates an Etch-a-Sketch image in my mind’s eye, with the slender line jumping up and down, making lovely ellipses, and some jagged lines, and some softly wiggling ones too. And it can get a bit
3-dimensional too. I can’t sit still, it makes me smile and feel, well, groovy.

I think of Martinis, and looking and feeling smart, and bars with everyone just enjoying the music, all blissfully lost together in the mood. With the relaxation only interrupted by bouts of clapping, as one player finishes their part and hands over.

It’s a form of meditation, demanding enough attention to take you away, while rewarding you with surprising melodies and riffs. I’m so impressed by it.

As I have been impressed by everything I’ve listened to in the past 30 days.

True, I’ve found it harder to honestly ‘enjoy’ some artists than others but I respect their talent. ‘Liking’ is a reaction that’s impossible to control – it happens in a synaptic flash that you can’t decide or control it. Music is love at first sight.

So, while I sit here and bob along to Miles, can I say it’s been a challenge and a great, great pleasure to listen to and think about the music that means something to you.

My ability to critic the music itself has found it’s limits and I’ve shown my love of lyrics that make ‘sense’. Tell me a story, and let me sing along. Maybe jazz lets me write my own words to a musical adventure.

Thank you very much, I hope you’ve enjoyed it too.

Lifting the needle from the record for now…

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Review 29: Awesome wave

awesome wave

An Awesome Wave
Alt J 

Aha, my keboard will do it. ∆ – that’s Alt-J – the name of the indie rock band who met at Leeds university and won the Mercury Prize with this debut album in 2012.

I really enjoyed some of this – Mathilda is the stand out track for me – though it worked more as a background sound. It is interesting, with feedback and dissonance, in the music and the vocals. It engerised me in the morning but brought me down a bit on the way home.

The album cover is an interesting image, which comes from a multi-layered radar image of the Ganges river delta in Bangladesh.

My History of Art degree thesis was about the art of record covers, and ‘how they work as adverts before becoming prized personal possessions, filled with meaning’. That was in 1992 before MP3 players let alone Spotify changed how we access lots of our music – and made most of these reviews possible.

It’s been good over the past month to see the art of the record cover is still thriving. And vinyl is making a comeback: my niece went to university last week with her new record player.

∆ that is quite pleasing ∆ I hope it appears on PCs too… ∆

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Review 28: 20k on 25 Miles

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Northern Soul
Nominated by Ian McMurtie

Dammit, I could leap in the air and do the splits. I could jump, spin and flip and bounce back up off the floor.

I walked 20k today, for the MS Society walk from the Cutty Sark to Battersea Park. And I was propelled by listening to Northern Soul music on the way in.

The soundtrack to the film Northern Soul isn’t available on Spotify yet, so I picked a few tracks to listen to. If you don’t know about the Northern Soul phenomenon, check it out. ‘Heavy beat, fast tempo of the mid-1960s Tamla Motown sound’, which spawned a remarkable dance culture in venues such as the Twisted Wheel in Manchester and Wigan Casino in the early 1970s.

So many artists – many little known tracks were rediscovered. So many moves – true, some of the acrobatics were helped by amphetamines, but you can’t fail to be impressed.

Running out of time before I collapse into a well-earned G&T, so my main, big Northern Soul plug is Edwin Starr’s 25 Miles. He was so full of enthusiasm in all of his songs, and this is superb… watch out, I’m gonna go for a move….

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Review 27: Concerns for Van Occupanther

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The Trials of Van Occupanther
Midlake
Nominated by Nia Potter 

Van Occupanther had a tough time, judging by the second album from Texan folk rock band Midlake.

It’s about his struggle to go home, I think.

‘Oh no, I’ve stumbled, was I going too fast?
Some get angry, some of them laugh’

And it was long time ago, as suggested in Roscoe, the stand out radio-friendly opening track.

 1891
They looked around the forest
They made their house from cedars
They made their house from stones

Is he going through the woods on the unsettling album cover? Is Van the guy in the yellow onesie, or the bloke sitting down with a bin bag over his head?

There are Bandits, My Young Bride, Branches, a camp, a hillside and Van the man looks up at his lost wife from several viewpoints. And there’s some deer, in the odd Chasing after Deer, which is superficially about chasing deer over a cliff (a sad image, well created) but probably more meaningful. Is it all about something I wonder, or not very much?

It’s guitars and folk and then suddenly gets more upbeat and groovy in It Covers the Hillside, as though he’s decided to come out of the trees for a beer in the late 70s. (Ok, it made me think of the Hart to Hart theme music …  a confabulation along the lines of the Neil Young/Kermit incident and hard to shift once it’s crossed my mind. That’s the power of music.)

Fleetwood Mac seem to be the biggest influence musically, though I’m sure there’s all sorts in there. Good melodies, pleasing vocals – I found it a nice listen… if I didn’t listen too closely.

Review 26: Mirrors on the ceiling…

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Hotel California
The Eagles
Nominated by me

I’m playing my joker. For a raft of reasons, I’ve not managed to listen to anything new today, so you get my favourite, Hotel California by The Eagles.

I don’t where to start with why I love this record. It’s not cool. But it was very big and it’s clever, with brilliant guitar riffs and lyrics that tell stories so well. And I love that.

It’s rock, it’s country, and it’s in my key. I can sing it from start to finish, and I did when my dad played it in the car.

I can see the cassette now, with his handwriting on the label (it was Steely Dan on the other side). We had such fun listening to it, all together.

Like when he used to break in time to Bat out of Hell, or did head-banging to Rockin’ all Over the World at Christmas, with a tinsel bandana around his bald head. And my sister and me arm waving in put-me-up beds to I am Sailing, and Mull of Kintyre, too excited to go to sleep.

Good? Significant? Nostalgic? MOR? ‘Classic’ rock? It was number one in the USA for nearly five months at the start of 1977, replacing Songs in the Key of Life by Stevie Wonder – now I know that’s a cool and credible album. You decide. I know I sing along loudly and get lost in a curious California I invented in my head as a kid.

I could take you through my favourite tracks, and list the lyrics, but maybe some of you already know it pretty well. If you haven’t listened recently, dust it off and give it a go.

One lyric made me smile, sitting in the courtyard this morning…

You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave…’

Remind you of anywhere?

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Review 25: King of the castle

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Diamond Mine

King Creosote and Jon Hopkins

Nominated by Matt Saywell

What a beautiful voice. I listened to Diamond Mine in the background while working today and I kept stopping and thinking that. How beautiful.

King Creosote (Kenneth Anderson) is from Fife, Scotland, and Jon Hopkins is an electronica musician from England. And they sound they produce is just, well, beautiful, and earned a Mercury prize nomination in 2011.

I won’t try to dissect this album (if I’ve managed that yet) because it washes over  you, in a lovely way. They create a soundscape, and layer it with kindly lyrics and melodies. They mention a cat along the way, which caught my attention because my cat, Roger, was curled up next to me at the time. And I think there are birds, and some loss, and Scotland, and lots of love.

Though different in many ways, it reminds me of listening to Sigur Ros, which also makes me feel all melty. I was fairly cross at certain points today and listening to this created a sense of ‘ah well’.

What the heck, I’ll say it again. Beautiful.

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Review 24: Foot-tapping thrill

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Can’t Buy a Thrill
Steely Dan
Nominated by Cecilia Smart

What a surprise. I thought I didn’t like Steely Dan but I was tapping my foot all the way home listening to Can’t Buy a Thrill.

It was a longer journey than usual, because I was coming home from the Soho Walk In Centre after getting a burn checked and dressed properly (see below for burns advice). It turned out my brush with a red-hot loaf tin on Sunday hadn’t done too much damage after all. What price home-baked bread?

Back to the record, a strong debut released in 1972. It includes some tracks I really recognised – Rolling in the Years, Do it Again, and Midnight Cruiser – and some interesting ones I didn’t know, like Kings – ‘We seen the last of Good King Richard’ – about a drug dealer who pretended he was a royal.

It’s very catchy, almost poppy, and then a little bit mysterious and complex when you start to listen to the lyrics.

From Change of the Guard:
‘If you listen you can hear it
It’s the laughter in the street
It’s the motion in the music
And the fire beneath your feet ‘

Maybe I’ve grown into them and their jazz-rock-funk sound. I was always amused by the source of the band’s name though – I’ll let you find that out for yourselves.

Burns advice: Always seek medical advice for burns, whatever size, according to the lovely nurse I saw. It’s hard to tell how serious they are and self-treatment can leave you feeling sore for longer, or worse. See a nurse and they’ll put on a special dressing, which can stay in place for 7 days.

And I would recommend the Soho Walk In Centre – it’s close, friendly and the wait was just an hour.

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Review 23: Eva, by heart

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Eva by Heart
Eva Cassidy
Nominated by Jackie Berry

After a long and testing day at work and being sardined on the tube with Arsenal fans, Eva by Heart was a welcome release.

I always wonder about posthumous hits. I am a very sentimental person and try to protect myself from this by applying cynicism. Does the poignancy of the singer’s death add to the appeal of the music? Terry Wogan played her loads, that’s why she’s popular. Sooty would have a hit record if Terry’s old geezers or gals heard it enough times…

To lift from Wikipedia, jazz critic Ted Gioia writes: ‘You might be tempted to write off the ‘Cassidy sensation’ […] as a response to the sad story of the singer’s abbreviated life rather than as a measure of her artistry. But don’t be mistaken, Cassidy was a huge talent, whose obscurity during her lifetime was almost as much a tragedy as her early death.’

I couldn’t say it better than that.

I really enjoyed this record, for its own sake. It’s really simple, with powerful traditional songs like Wade in the Water and How I can keep from Singing? balanced with more gentle ballads like Songbird and the lovely I Know you by Heart.

A beautiful, soulful voice. I hope she was imagining a confident and happy future when she was singing this – it sounds like it.

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Review 22: It’s Ryan Adams, not Bryan Adams…

Ryan Adams

Ryan Adams
Ryan Adams

Not to be confused with Bryan Adams, says the Wikipedia entry. Why not? It’s easily done.

Singer-songwriter + guitar + powerful vocals + ROCK chords + multi-generational appeal. Bryan Adams is Canadian, true, but that’s splitting hairs. ‘Husky and energetic’ could apply to them both.

This album is a great listen – it’s just really enjoyable rock (or alt-rock-country, as the Guardian described him).

He’s got an impressive back catalogue and is older than he looked hiding behind his fringe on Jools Holland last week.

The maturity shows in his music – he knows how to write a good melody. The opening track Gimme Something Good would have been on repeat play on the juke box when I was 18 (ok, that might not be the greatest testament, but I could imagine it being played over and over and over, like Power of Love by Jennifer Rush was. That doesn’t help. I’ll stop digging and hope you get what I mean).

Am I Safe is another great track, in an album of good tracks.

It’s all in there – U2, INXS, Eagles… and of course… Bryan… totally rocking out!

Love it.

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Review 21: Mmh yes

kate Bush

The Sensual World
Kate Bush

We listened to the Sensual World coming back down the M1. Though this time the sun was shining, I didn’t find this an easy first listening.

Ben said it took  few goes for him to ‘get’ the album, and that was aided by his adolescent memories of the Babooshka video. Anyone who looks that great has to sound great, always.

So Kate had to prove herself with this one for me. Title track Sensual World is sexy, mmh yes. She was inspired by Molly Bloom’s soliloquy in James Joyce’s Ulysses  (not got round to that one yet – maybe I will now) and includes Irish instruments. Love and Anger is fierce and fine, and another single from the album.

And This Woman’s Work is a work of genius.
‘I know you have a little life in you yet.
I know you have a lot of strength left.’

Kate Bush works best for me like this, where her soaring, powerful voice is used to propel a simple story, or even feeling. I got lost in some album tracks. Fog was just that for me, and a couple seemed too complex and conceptual. (I feel my ‘taste’ is emerging in these reviews, and it prefers music more neatly packaged and patterned).

She is a legend, as the response to her recent live shows demonstrates. The Sensual World, was her 6th album, and she’s never stopped developing. I’ll keep listening.

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