It's going to take a while folks, but I'm determined to sift my way through the A-Z of Albums that have touched me or moved me in such a way that they deserve mention. There will be stuff in here from the 50's through to the present day since my musical tastes know no boundaries. Any fascism I once had regarding music has gone and left me. I hope that if you have time to spare in your busy lives to read this blog, you may one day be inspired to pick these records up and, like myself, become enlightened by the power of music.

Sunday 11 April 2010

Dexy's Midnight Runners Searching For The Young Soul Rebels - Listen To Those Horns!

What a terrific album. Released in 1980, at the height of Northern Soul madness, this record draws on the Soul sensibility whilst also experimenting with Funk, Ska, and booming Pop music. It is truly a record of its time; a powerful statement by Kevin Rowland and his eight-strong army of "boys", whose intense, 3-D sound was a new wave of fresh air in a music chart dominated by Punk bands.

The album begins with the brilliant, crashing Burn It Down - a passionate attack on all those who dare demean the Irish and their heritage. Rowland reels off a host of Irish literary giants in defense of this great nation - Oscar Wilde, Brendan Behan, Sean O'Casey, George Bernard Shaw, Samuel Beckett and Lawrence Stern to name but a few. The horns are exquisite, and the vocals thumping. One of Dexy's finest ever records. It is followed by Tell Me When The Light Turns Green - a rousing number once again brought to life by a brilliant horn section. The Team That Meets In Caffs is a tremendous, moody instrumental demonstrating the true power of this band. I'm Just Looking is a gripping song of longing with a stunning brass section, followed by the immense sound of Geno - one of the band's staple super hits. A dance floor filler and genuine feel good record, Geno is one of those songs that is seemingly impossible not to like.

Seven Days Too Long is quite simply a Northern Soul classic. This cover by Dexy's on Searching For The Young Soul Rebels is every inch as rousing as the original. I Couldn't Help If I Tried is a gorgeous ballad sang with raw emotion by Rowland, who flirts with falsetto throughout. It is bluesy in parts, jazzy in others, but at all times utterly gripping. A superb change in tempo on an otherwise lively album. Thankfully Not Living In Yorkshire It Doesn't Apply - just about the oddest song title of them all - certainly lends an ear to the Punk movement of the time with its machine-gun bass, but the Organ, coupled with Rowland's fascinating falsetto vocal throws the overall sound back into the Northern Soul scene. There is even a suspicion of Disco influence in this track - another feel-good groover that loosens the limbs somewhat. Keep It is very Soul orientated; it is not impossible to envisage Otis Redding or Sam & Dave belting it out amidst their own set of classics.
Love Part One is a unique, spoken word track complemented by a solo saxophone in the background. Lyrically it is very poignant; "They all dedicate lines to you/Thin lines - easy to see through/Of course they do it to be like others who/All feel something I wont pretend just for you." The closing track on the album, There, There My Dear, is an exuberant performance featuring dynamic backing vocals and a great lyric. A storming closer to a storming album. Searching For The Young Soul Rebels stands alone for me. It is so different from everything else, and yet so passionately pieced together by so many dedicated musicians and artists. An absolute belter of an album, and one so often overlooked in these greatest album polls. A powerful piece of work that captures the time so well - go out and find it, I swear you wont be disappointed.

Pentangle Basket Of Light, Jansch, Renbourn, and the Very Best Of British Folk

At the time that I discovered The Pentangle I was part of an acoustic house band in an Irish bar with several older guys who were buried in their acoustic roots. The name Pentangle kept cropping up in amongst the likes of James Taylor, Neil Young, Carole King, The Eagles, Crosby-Stills-Nash, Don McClean, Ralph McTell, and many, many others. I knew about pretty much everybody they were into apart from this mysterious group, The Pentangle, and so, being the inquisitive muso that I've always been, I made it my business to look into what all the fuss was about. I knew I'd probably like them if my fellow band mates did; our tastes were really very, very similar in that sense. However, my discovery was rather unexpected. I got hold of their most commercially accesable album, Basket Of Light, and upon first listen felt like I'd been struck by lightening. . . . . .twice. It really was that powerful. Definitely folky, but with middle-eastern influences too, and certain leanings towards Fairport Convention. John Renbourn and Bert Jansch were both semi-familiar names to me, though I had no idea why. Maybe my destiny lay in discovering The Pentangle all along?
The riveting opening track, Light Flight, (which found commercial success as the theme tune to the 70's BBC TV series Take Three Girls) is a hypnotising jaunt built upon a very unusual rhythmical hook. Jacqui McShee's vocal is sublime, giving the track a truly medieval feel, and the duelling guitar parts of Renbourn and Jansch are magical. The climatic harmonies are out of this world; existential almost. Once I Had A Sweetheart is a stereotypical, traditional folk song perfectly executed. Springtime Promises, sang by John Renbourn, is a bright, optimistic track enlarged by some wonderful acoustic playing. Lyke-Wake Dirge - an early English poem concerning the progress of the soul in the afterlife - is almost biblical in its interpretation. The mood is dark, but the harmonies stunningly beautiful.
Train Song is a very middle-eastern sounding lament for the passing of the steam train -essentially British thematically, but wonderfully constructed to demonstrate the broad musical influences on this versatile band. Hunting Song is based on the fascinating story of the magic drinking horn sent by Morgana the Fay to the court of King Arthur, sketching the numerous incidents on its way. Again, the music is entrancing. Such songs show the maturity of these musicians, exploring history lyrically whilst supplementing the story with such accurate sound-scapes. Sally Go Round The Roses is bass driven by the great Danny Thompson - another severely influential musician spawned by The Pentangle, whereas The Cuckoo is another marvellous interpretation of a folk traditional in which McShee's vocal sears. The closing number, House Carpenter, is a haunting Southern ballad derived from the English folk song The Daemon Lover, in which the lover is the Devil personified. It is an uncanny ending to a revolutionary record - one that anybody who has a love for the acoustic guitar should own.
A few years back I met John Renbourn in my local Arts Centre after he had played a gig with Robin Williamson of The Incredible String Band. What a great man! He was very humble, extremely friendly, and seemed to take more interest in asking about my own music than talking about his. He even told me that he'd been sat outside a local cafe having a coffee earlier that day and had spotted me walking by, and said he just knew that I'd be at his gig. The feeling was instinctive. He then told us several unbelievable stories about how he had jammed with Hendrix backstage, before reluctantly signing our records. His modesty was unreal. For a man to have achieved so much, and to have been one of the pioneers of The Pentangle - Britain's finest kept secret in my eyes, and yet so down to earth was just stunning. Basket Of Light is a fabulous reminder of this group's enchanting powers; a wonderful record that can only be described as a spiritualistic experience to hear. A gem.

Cream Disraeli Gears and the Clapton Revolution

How strange is this following sentence going to sound. . . . .you know what, I don't really care! Disraeli Gears reads like a Cream Greatest Hits - except it's better! Eric Clapton has been involved in some amazing projects over the last forty-five or so years, but this one (bar maybe his solo Unplugged) is the defining moment of his career. It charted Cream's progression into a psychedelic avenue of swirling Rock, and spawned two classic singles - Strange Brew and Sunshine Of Your Love - both Clapton masterpieces that have never faded in terms of popularity and influence.
Strange Brew, the album's opening track, is a brilliant, groovy Rock song built upon Jack Bruce's superb, cementing bass line. Clapton's guitar work is, quite simply, very special. Quite obviously drug induced, the lyrics are dreamy and ambiguous, yet clearly definable by the sordid background we already know of Cream, and particularly Clapton, whose drug problems nearly killed him. Sunshine Of Your Love is another song that provides a soundtrack to a jilted generation; a genius riff ably supported by stunning drum sequences from Ginger Baker, and an awesome duel vocal by Bruce and Clapton. World Of Pain is psychedelic through and through; a stoned reflection of one's view from a window: "Outside my window is a tree/They're only forming/And it stands in the grey of the city/No time for pity for the tree or me." Clapton's Beach Boys style, wah wah guitar lifts the song sky high.
Dance The Night Away continues the psychedelic feel, boasting a fantastic vocal from Jack Bruce, Tales Of Brave Ulysses is an amazing, ethereal, surging track of immense fortitude, featuring a mesmeric spoken vocal from Bruce, whereas Blue Condition is a total change in direction; Ginger Baker singing in his monotone Cockney style to a light hearted melody, echoing the Small Faces somewhat. Swlabr features more stunning guitar playing from Eric Clapton, We're Going Wrong is a powerful ballad in which Baker takes flight with his fearless drumming, and Outside Woman Blues, one of Clapton's finest and most underrated arrangements, is a booming quick-Blues. Take It Back is a rolling and tumbling, harmonica driven number with a melody reminiscent of late Beatles material. The album's closing track, Mother's Lament, is another comic-cockney ditty led by Ginger Baker - an odd ending to a storming Rock record, but endearing all the same.
Cream reformed in 2005 to play five sell-out nights at The Royal Albert Hall, London, for one last time. Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce did not look like well men. In fact, they both looked like luke-warm corpses. Clapton, quite ironically considering his terrible vices in the 60's and 70's, looked in great health. Regardless of their physical conditions, Cream as a cohesive unit were still absolutely untouchable - a marvellous reunion which will live long in the memory. Much of Disraeli Gears was returned to during this farewell residency, and why not. Music like this should never fade into obscurity - and believe me, it wont.

Live Music Night @ The Herald, Thursday 8th April 2010 - Little Wing/Emergency Blanket/The Arkanes

Last Thursday we (myself and Adrian Gautrey in the duo Little Wing) took to the stage in local venue The Herald to play a forty minute introductory slot for two bands - Emergency Blanket, a five-piece Peruvian Rock band who had literally stepped off the plane and into the venue - and The Arkanes, a four-piece, Scouse Indie/Rock band who had, by all accounts, been causing a stir for a good while. Our slot was, if I'm honest, a bit of a favour for an old mate. It turned out to be one of the great nights of all time for a multitude of reasons, and one that I am so happy to have taken part in. So, to the rather manic details. . . . . . . . . . . .

We arrived a little early - that is myself, Adrian, my mate Paul, and my mad mate Glenn. He had agreed to come in the blink of an eye when he realised the equation: Mrs away = beer + music. Unfortunately our set got delayed since the majority of unfortunate regulars were cheering on their ailing team Liverpool in the Toilet Roll Trophy, or whatever the competition is that they have ended up in. I didn't mind so much because there were plenty of interesting folk knocking about to meet, least of all the other musicians, and Glenn certainly didn't mind as he lay, mouth open, under the John Smiths tap. The venue really impressed me - an effective, long room with lots of character and flashing neon lights. A really good looking, great feeling place for live music. A large stage with all the mod cons added to its charm, as did the building atmosphere amongst a host of genuine music loving spectators. All in all, the kind of place that makes a musician feel good about going on stage and really giving it some.
By the time we took to the stage the venue had filled up suitably. The beauty about this place is that the punters want to hear original music - all so often you feel guilty about playing your own compositions because people just don't want to hear them. In certain places, which I wont even honour by mentioning, only Abba will do. This provided a much refreshing change. We journeyed through an eight song set that included seven original numbers from our recent debut album Alchemy In The Garden, and threw in a pretty epic, acoustic cover of Lynyrd Skynyrd's Free Bird for good measure. The atmosphere was, at that point, so good that I decided to pack away the gear as quickly as possible, run the car home, and venture back in for a pint. Or ten.
I arrived back just in time to see the second band take the stage - Emergency Blanket, all the way from Peru. There was a real buzz about the place for this one - it's not often that we have such bands passing through this little old town, let alone places for them to play. Full of energy and with immense, infectious personality, this tight five-piece blew the roof with their own Pearl Jam meets Led Zep meets Foo Fighters explosive Rock. Highlights from their set included the brilliant Next Passenger, and Shadows, both from their exceptional debut record, Combi + Nation. Front man Paco Holguin and bassist Lufo Armester shared a magnetic rapore on stage, aided by the mesmerising lead guitar of Jaime Urteaga. A top band with an undoubted future. Glenn and I, being Southport's biggest muso's, couldn't quite believe our luck. Balancing between glugging his John Smiths and doing his best Japanese tourist impression with his video camera, Glenn looked as bemused by the likelihood of the whole event as I felt.
Having indulged in rather a few Guinness by the time Emergency Blanket finished their riveting forty minute set, I looked around and felt like this could become a regular thing. Not long after, the final band, The Arkanes, took to the stage. A young and charismatic four-piece from Skelmersdale, these guys are one of the most impressive outfits I've seen for a long time. Full of mischief and archetypal Scouse cheek in between songs, lead singer/guitarist Chris Pate and backing vocalist/bassist Lee Dummett in particular played the crowd with consummate ease. Their fantastic, quirky brand of driving Indie/Rock, guided by the searing vocal of Pate, and supported by a rock solid backbone of Dummett, drummer Andy Long, and Adam Sheeran on guitar, was as refreshing a performance as I've seen for a long time. On top of that they had some tunes! The infectious Sharpshooter springs instantly to mind, as does the thumping Don't Act Like You Know Me. Their debut EP, also called Don't Act Like You Know Me, is a superb introduction to this promising, energetic young group. They even bring along a break-dancing, stage-diving loon known as "our Graham." Now that is a sight in itself. . . . . . .
And so, what a great night! Little did we know that it was only just beginning. After purchasing the necessary records as mementos of a genuinely unexpected evening, Glenn and I could come to no better conclusion than to have another beer. Ten minutes later, we came to the same conclusion. Then again, ten minutes after that (I think). By this time myself and the Peruvians are deep in conversation about music and the like, Glenn is taking a nap on the bar (blocking the bar staff in with his beer filled belly), and the other stay behinds are sifting through the tremendous (FREE!) jukebox, lining up anthem after anthem to take us deep into the morning. Before you know it the time is about 3am, we have the guitars out once again playing all sorts of common-love classics from The Beatles to Neil Young, and Glenn is stretched flat out snoring on one of the benches at the side of the pub. Honestly, you just can't take him anywhere. . . . . . . .
I woke up the next morning feeling like I'd had a pig defecate in my head. It wasn't good. However, I had two records lying by my bed - Combi + Nation by Emergency Blanket, and Don't Act Like You Know Me by The Arkanes - reminders of one of the best nights I've had in my home town, Southport, for many a year. I urge people to check this venue out - The Herald at the Lord St end of Portland St - simply because this is the venue to be for live music on a Thursday night. Dan Morrison, the brains behind it all, has seemingly performed miracles by getting anywhere near setting this thing up. I sincerely hope that all local musicians, muso's, fans of live music, and anyone with any interest in having a really good night out with a bunch of good people help to support the scene that is slowly building here. Live music can only exist if there is an audience to play to. I hope that we will be back to play there very soon, and that these nights continue to gather momentum in the meantime. I shall be doing all I can to spread the word. . . . . . . .

Wednesday 7 April 2010

Meet Sadie the Boxer Dog - My Best Mate Who Digs The Tunes With Me!!!

The best bloody nuisance I ever met. . . . . . . . . .

Sunday 4 April 2010

Tim Buckley Greetings From L.A - Just In Case Anyone Was Wondering Where Jeff Got His Extraordinary Voice From. . . .

Tim Buckley was a force in music way beyond the recognition he has been given. If spawning the great Jeff Buckley wasn't proof enough, Tim left nine stimulating studio albums to document his tragically short career, having died at the age of just 28 from a lethal drink and drugs cocktail following the completion of a tour. To me, his music is fascinating. He explored so many genres and avenues throughout his brief career - enough to have satisfied a man three times his age. Buckley experimented with Folk, Jazz, Psychedelia, Soul and avant-garde Rock, but it was his 'Sex-Funk' period post 1972 - including this fantastic album Greetings From L.A - that captured my imagination most.
Greetings From L.A begins with the epic boogie Move With Me, in which an atmospheric mixture of sublime backing vocals, funky guitar, driving piano, and Tim's own commanding vocal creates a thumping introduction to this, his seventh studio album in just six years. Get On Top is a sexually motivated Soul-Funk groove demonstrating Buckley's extraordinary voice, with this vocal genius dipping into glorious falsetto with ease. It certainly shows why Jeff Buckley, his son, ended up with similar superhuman capabilities. Sweet Surrender is a fantastic, psychedelic ballad with a fantastic arrangement by producer Jerry Goldstein, once again showcasing Buckley's unbelievable ability to sear vocally. Night Hawkin' is an exercise in great guitar playing from Lee Underwood, and once again a compelling production from Goldstein. Devil Eyes is a bluesy shuffle driven by Kevin Kelly's Winwood-esque organ, leading into the sexy and mysterious Hong Kong Bar. The record closes with Make It Right, a brilliant Mediterranean feel with yet another stunning lead vocal and production.
Ironically enough, Greetings From L.A was one of a trio of albums (including Sefronia and Look At The Fool) that flopped commercially. Buckley's venture into this Sex-Funk genre was said to have alienated his largely hippy audience because it was deemed as 'selling out'. Its sexual lyrical content prevented the material from getting onto the radio, and it has been said since the musician's death that he himself disliked the album, and that it was released mainly for financial needs. I guess this is the beauty of music; almost forty years after the initial release of Greetings From L.A, I, a 27 year-old, cannot get it off my stereo. Different people see different qualities in all art forms, and whether it is true that Tim Buckley himself didn't rate this album or not, it communicates with me passionately. It is my favourite Tim Buckley record, although he as an artist is the major discovery - the back catalogue that he left this world is worth checking out regardless if Greetings From L.A is your first choice or not.

Eva Cassidy Songbird - A Posthumous Celebration Of A Wonderful Talent

I will never forget the moment that I first saw the video of Eva Cassidy playing Over The Rainbow on one of her few surviving live performances, Live From Blues Alley. As far as acoustic performances go, it really doesn't get much better than that. Her playing is spectacularly subtle, and her majestic, angelic vocal inch perfect. What is even more endearing is the genuine fear on her face, which fails to penetrate her unshakable professionalism. The world was robbed of a beautiful singer when Eva died of cancer aged just 33 in 1996 - nevertheless, like all great artists and performers, she left her mark on this planet with the beautiful songs collected on Songbird - the finest of her posthumous releases. Of course, as capitalist, big-wig record company execs will have, her name was catapulted skywards and many scratchy compilations have been released since to capitalise on her name. However, as The Guardian noted upon its release, Songbird is simply "indispensable."

The album opens with Eva's gorgeous rendition of Sting's Fields Of Gold; a heartfelt, sentimental interpretation which adds a feminine dimension to this beautiful song. She then slides effortlessly into the bluesy Wade In The Water - a song perfectly chosen and arranged to demonstrate the layers in Cassidy's impenetrable voice. Autumn Leaves is a wonderful, spacious acoustic ballad that can be best described as elegiac. Eva's performances on these delicate slow numbers are thoroughly unique. I don't think anybody I've ever heard sings them with the same feeling and conviction. Wayfaring Stranger is a moody blues, Time Is A Healer a lovely song of longing with killer harmonies in the chorus, I Know You By Heart an angelic ballad with captive violin playing from Dan Cassidy, and Oh, I Had A Golden Thread a jazzy, organ led foot tapper.

The title track, Songbird, is a brilliant cover of Christine McVie's Fleetwood Mac hit. As good a version as songwriter McVie performs, it is nothing to touch Eva's incredible interpretation. Interestingly enough, Mick Fleetwood, legendary drummer of Fleetwood Mac, loved Eva so much that he used to sit in on drums for her whenever she played his club in Virginia. People Get Ready has been covered by a multitude of great artists - most notably Rod Stewart and Aretha Franklin - though Cassidy's version on this record stands up to them all. Curtis Mayfield's timeless, semi-religious song cries out for a beautiful vocal, and Eva certainly provides it here. The album closes with the incredible aforementioned Over The Rainbow, though there really are no words to describe it. I would just urge you to sit back and listen. It speaks volumes for itself.

I mentioned in an earlier blog written on Johnny Lang that I don't usually warm to albums comprised of cover versions. Originality is the most appeasing thing to demonstrate as a musician. However, certain singers cannot be ignored. Eva was not a prolific songwriter, but her outstanding, timeless interpretations have breathed new life into some wonderful old songs. This really is an album that belongs in any collection; an album to laugh to and to cry to in equal measure. A record that stands as a beautiful epitaph to a beautiful singer.