Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Random Review #64 Various Artists - Expressin' The Blues

C10S11CD1 Brings me near the end of my CD collection and another compilation that could be filed under Q for quirky!

This compilation sits somewhere between novelty CD and historical document and I prefer to call it the later as without this CD a lot of the artists would never have received the acknowledgement that their  music even existed. The compilation was brought together by a guy called Timothy Duffy who appears to have travelled into the Deep South looking for blues singers in Juke Joints, drinking houses, people’s living rooms and even nursing homes to record artist who were passionate about the Blues. What we get is 21 artists, mostly playing either self written or traditional songs beautifully packaged with 2 booklets, one giving details of the artist and another documenting Blues music and culture in the Deep South. Both are visually stunning and full of information and truthfully the photograph on the front of the CD case is worth the cost alone!

So now that you bought the CD for the packaging what’s the music like? Well you have artists with names like Capt. Luke, Cootie Stark, Precious Bryant, and Bishop Dready Manning to start with. and I must also mention Neal Pattman a one armed harmonic player who lost his arm in a wagon wheel accident as a child and Willie Mae Buckner who is pictured with a huge snake draped round her neck and was found by Duffy dancing and singing on a chair in a drinking house when she must have been near 70!

The recording of the songs is first class and they don’t sound like field recording which is a real plus. Most are just the artist with their chosen instrument, usually guitar or harmonic and vary in quality from OK to brilliant. Cootie Stark has a full band for his track Metal Bottoms and it’s a great blues track which is fit for any album. (If I remember rightly Stark went on to release a full album and on this track I understand why) Other mentions must go to Essie Mae Brooks who sings unaccompanied for her composition Rain In Your Life, it is just gorgeous and you can feel a life full of pain in that one song. This track is followed by the only cover on the album with Capt. Luke singing Rainy Night In Georgia which is close to the original other than the fact that Luke has the deepest voice I have ever heard!

This album is really for Blues lovers rather than casually listeners but I have to say as much as I enjoyed listening to it, it’s not the strongest CD for material however it makes up for this in being a document of some artist who have being singing the Blues all their life out of a love for the music and a want for people to hear them rather than for any commercial gain, and in the world of commercialism we live in now that isn’t a bad thing.

Mark 6/10

Friday, 27 May 2011

Random Review #63 Local Natives - Gorilla Manor

C4S10CD13 Picked by Neil Harvey A friend for nearly 40 years, Newcastle United fanatic, and someone why already thinks my taste in music is weird and this choice isn’t going to change his opinion!
Released in 2009 I discovered Local Natives after downloading a free track on Amazon, I had already been switched on to Grizzly Bear and Yeasayer around the same time who had established themselves and were releasing critically acclaimed albums,Vectimast and Old Blood, whilst this was Local Natives debut and although for me is as strong if not better than the other two mentioned didn’t seem to attract the same amount of attention.

It has all the hallmarks of the New York scene where all of these bands hail from, complicated instrumentation, quirky time changes, Beach Boy like harmonies and great tunes. Fashion wise they tread that path of looking slightly geeky all cardigans and moustaches.

There is a brightness to this album, listening to it again it feels perfect for the spring it’s full of optimism a positively skips along with dancing beats and soaring harmonies. Highlights for me are hard to pick out as the album is strong throughout but Wide Eyes, World News, and Camera Talk are three stand out tracks.

It appears Local Natives are busy recording their second album and I’m hoping that it will propel them to the level of admiration that is lauded upon Grizzly Bear, but in the meantime try this album it’s very good.

Mark 8/10

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Random Review #62 Easyworld - Kill The Last Romantic

C3S5CD8 picked by my best friend, who still thinks social media is having a drink with a journalist after work, so is unlikely to ever grace the virtual pages of Facebook or twitter but is debating setting up a blog. (I’ll let you know if it happens, as it will be a great read!)

Easyworld had passed me be until July of last year, when I read a review of a David Ford gig I had attended at The Cluny. The review mentioned he had played a song (This Is Where I Stand) from his previous band Easyworld. Although a big fan of David Ford who I have briefly mentioned in this blog before (see post on 19/02/2011) I wasn’t aware of Easyworld so as soon as I could I hit Amazon Marketplace and found 3 albums released between 2002 and 2004 of which this was the second. In truth Easyworld barely troubled the singles charts 6 top 75 hits, the highest charting (‘Til The Day) reached number 27 and is included on this album. I have seen footage of Easyworld playing Glastonbury in what looks like the NME Stage, so they must have been ‘contenders’ for a little while.

Easyworld seem to have been a vehicle for David Ford prior to him going solo, he wrote and sang all the songs and to some extent from the 2 albums I have it feels a little bit that Ford was learning his trade and identifying his style as there are signs of the David Ford I know and love on this album. For those not aware of Ford’s solo work, he writes beautifully crafty songs, with highly emotional lyrics, whether he is singing about love politics, or just everyday life. Live he is one of the most entertaining artists I have ever seen whether that be when he is playing or his conversation into between songs.

Listening to Kill The Last Romantic I understand why Easyworld didn’t set the world alight, the album is a bit all over the place, we have indie pop and sensitive ballads. It’s with the latter that Ford does the best and Drive, ‘Til The Day and Tonight could melt the heart of even the most cynical amongst you.

David Ford has gone on in my opinion to become an artist that you should all know and love (and for his sake own his albums!) he gets limited airplay on radio and this might be because he is prone to swear even in his most sensitive songs. ‘Til The Day is a beautiful love song where Ford sings about being in love and wanting to spend the rest of his life with someone but his ability to swear manifests itself in the line which is meant as a compliment “I would gladly put up with this shit for the rest of my life” In the context of the song it sounds perfect but I’m guessing it struggled to get airplay even when it hit the top 30 of the charts. This is something still present in Ford’s music to this day, my favourite being, Cheer Up (You Miserable Fuck)

If you like the video to ‘Til The Day buy the album by all means, but I would recommend that you start with one of Ford’s 3 solo albums which offer up this style of music by the bucket load, and are more consistent in quality.

Oh yeah and by the way the irony of this albums titles is not lost on me, as I suspect that Ford is actually the last romantic!

Mark 5/10 

Monday, 23 May 2011

Random Review #61 Calexico & Iron & Wine - In The Reins

C1S2CD3 Picked by @darlingdash, iPad game developer (Pitch ‘n’ Toss and the soon to be released Tiny Lights) worth a follow for a chance to play the games prior to general release.

So a collaboration album between two of the more established members of the Americana music scene, Calexico and Iron and Wine. Both are great artists with fine bodies of work to their name but prior to this release I wouldn’t have put them together as collaborators as their styles were very different. Calexico, who are named after a small town on the Mexican/United States border play music that is influenced by both cultures. Iron and Wine on the other hand is really a vehicle for the Sam Beam who prior to this album played hushed beautiful acoustic songs sometimes sung in nothoing more than a  whisper.

The album is short in length (28 minutes) but not in style. It appears to mark a real turning point in the career of Iron & Wine. When I first bought this album I had to decide where in my music collection I would sort this CD. As someone who sorts their music both by genre and alphabetically a collaboration album can cause quite a quandary, fortunately both artists fall into the Americana genre so that’s not an issue so the next question is which letter should it filed under C or I. On first listen I filed this under C with the rest of my Calexico  CD’s, the reason I did this was it sounded more like a Calexico album than it did a Iron & Wine CD. Although all the songs are written by Beam it sounded like a Calexico album with Beam adding vocals. Listening to this album and seeing where Beam has taken his music now, I wonder if this was a turning point for him to start the progression of his music into his latest album release, Kiss Each Other Clean which sounds very similar to this. On his latest tour Beam was backed by a substantial band and developed his songs into experimental free form versions confusing some of his hardcore fans, but delighting others and gaining new fans who were really impressed with the new sound. So I now wonder whether this album should be filed under I for Iron & Wine, I’ll worry about that later!

This album has 7 beautifully crafted songs, mixing the vocals of Beam with the brilliant musicianship of Calexico, the songs drift into each other and there is not weak link on this album. There are touches of blues (Red Dust) Jazz (Burn That Broken Bed) and country (A History of Lovers) but all are stamped with Sam Beam’s silky smooth vocals.

Both artists are worth looking up on an individual basis but this is a beautifully crafted album that shouldn’t be overlooked.
Mark 8/10

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Random Review #60 Zero 7 - Simple Things

C7S11CD14 Picked by @jazadal, exiled Bostonian, adopted Geordie, fanatical Red Sox, Celtics, and Newcastle United fan, oh yeah not a bad script writer either! 

This selection finds me listening to a CD I haven’t listened to for 8 or 9 years and I blame Channel 4 and BBC2 for this!

The reason I blame these channels for this, is that on the whole these channels are the producers of interior design and food programmes and as I listen to this CD good as it is I can’t help myself wanting to pan round the room looking for a vast expanse of beautiful looking bowls and plates overflowing with tasty treats or a spotlessly clean kitchen that has cost more than would cost to feed a family of 4 for the year! The reason this CD evokes that reaction in me is that the songs from this CD have been used extensively for that type on interiors programme that reflects a 30 something lifestyle of 2 happily married professionals with too much time and money on their hands so they decide that the only marble suitable for their kitchen must have been hand crafted in Italy by a blind man to ensure it has the right ‘Feel’ for their kitchen! I not condemning this type of behaviour (well maybe I am) but 10 years ago I would have been one of those very people!

So rant over lets detach the music from the emotion (something I sometimes find very hard to do) and talk about what a great album this is and that at the time of its release it really captured the hearts and minds of the general public (and then programme sound trackers!) A mix of songs either with male vocals (Morez) female vocals (Sia) or instrumentals, the constant theme is a very chilled vibe that washes over you like a warm wave on the beaches of Ibiza where I suspect this album has been played to death. 

The music is rich in sound, and layers, the vocals are immaculate and you find that once you start listening to this album you continue to the very end and everything seems ok with the world. It’s aurally the equivalent of a full body massage, if you get my drift. This album is beautifully put together and arranged, acoustic guitars, lush string arrangements, and loose bass lines that hold the songs together and make for an album that's great to listen to and makes me want to be sitting in the sun with a beer in my hand.

I think Zero 7 released another album and I know Sia has released a number of albums but truthfully my love affair with  Zero 7 began and finished with this album, a bit like Moby's Play a bit too much of a good thing can make you hate it! (for a while at least)

Right I’m off to tile the kitchen or bake a cake but if you want your house to sound like an episode of Grand Designs then this is the CD for you!

Mark 8/10

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Random Review #59 The The - 45 RPM The Singles Of

C7S3CD4 picked by @dazlee1 a lover of good music with a slight obsession for not throwing anything away (an extensive collection of cassettes proves testament to this!)

This album as the title implies is a collection of The The’s singles from 1982 to 1995 with a couple of unreleased tracks and a re-recorded track to keep diehard fans interested.

The The are/were a vehicle for the wonderful talent that is Matt Johnson and I say were as I don’t think they have released an album since 2000 so if anybody knows the whereabouts of the mercurial Mr Johnson please let me know.

So where do I start? Well I’ll start with track 3 as this is when I discovered The The. Sweet Bird of Truth was the lead single from the album Infected and this started a dalliance with the charts that would last for Johnson’s next 2 albums Time Bomb and Dusk. These albums were full of political observations, Sweet Bird Of Truth (Gulf War) Infected (AIDs) Heartland (UK relationship with the USA) delivered with a pop sensibility which I suspects meant lots of people were singing along with the lyrics without realising what they were singing! The lyrics of Sweet Bird of Truth are chilling even after 25 years as they are as relevant now as they were now. Johnson tackled the same subject in 1989 with Armageddon Days (are here again) when he sings “Islam is Rising, The Christians Mobilising’  and ‘If the real Jesus Christ were to stand up today He'd be gunned down cold by the C.I.A’  Johnsons observations are very telling and in some ways way ahead of their time. Whether you agree with Johnson or not you can’t get away from the quality of the tunes.

Johnson was assisted by Johnny Marr on the albums Time Bomb and Dusk and he adds some beautiful harmonica on Dogs of Lust and  Slow Emotion Reply as well as his usual consummate guitar playing.

Throughout these three albums Johnson received the commercial success that his music deserved but this faded with the release of Hanky Panky from which track 12 I Saw The Light is taken. The album was a tribute to Hank Williams Junior and all the tracks on the album were covers of Williams’s songs although all were far removed from the country originals.

Of the other tracks he critically acclaimed Uncertain Smile is worth a mention although steeped in 80s instrumentation it sounds slightly dated now. The Texas like Decembersunlight is interesting a duet with Liz Horsman (not sure why I know the name but I do!) who adds beautiful vocals to make would could have been an average track very good.

The version of the album I have comes with an additional CD of 12’’ remixes of some of the tracks featured on the main disc. These vary from basic elongated versions of Uncertain Smile which just extends the drums and loops some of the keyboards, to Armageddon Days (are here again) which bares very little resemblance to the original version. Although it’s enjoyable listen it’s no replacement for the original disc.

It seems a shame that Johnson appears to have stopped making music at least commercially but this is a decent place to start if you are new to his work. Listening to it again has made me realise that it’s not enough for me and once I have finished writing this I’ll be logging on to Amazon to look for the 3 albums I used to own, so you have been warned, listening to this album may cost you more than you anticipated!

Mark 7/10