Friday, 29 July 2011

RAndom Review #90 Neil Finn & Friends - Live At The St James

C2S6CD10 Sometimes live albums should come with a label that says, “you had to be there” to warn us that to the casual listener this might not be a good choice, but some could equally have a label that says “in case you could get there” and this label falls into the latter category but could have easily in the former.

Neil Finn (ex Split Enz and Crowded House) pulls together an all star band, Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam), Johnny Marr (The Smiths) Ed O’Brien and Phil Selway (Radiohead) to pay tribute to one of his former bands, Split Enz, and make some money for charity. They practice for a couple of days before playing a gig, you invite your older brother to play, (albeit Tim Finn), and even let your teenage son and his mates have a crack at a song. You can see how this might have been a disaster. However what you get is a load of great musicians having a great time with no egos in the room and it shines out of the album. There is a DVD of this album which adds some narrative to the album, and you see that the guys on this album all love playing music, Johnny Marr arrives at the practice rooms direct from the airport and a 20 hour flight, and instead of going to sleep, picks up a guitar and says right where we up to, Eddie Vedder has arrived early so that he can surf for a few days prior to the gig.

The CD is crammed with 16 tracks mostly old Split Enzs songs, but you get Johnny and Neil singing The Smith classic There Is A Light That Never Goes Out, (Neil Finn surpirsing doing a great job of the vocals) Parting Ways a Vedder tune and an encore of Don’t Dream It’s Over, the Crowded House Classic. Highlights for me are Anytime a newer Neil Finn solo track which is beautiful and Liam Finn (Neil’s Son) and his band running through the punkish I See Red, which was written by Tim Finn whilst in Split Enz, Tim helps out on keyboards but taking on vocals is Eddie Vedder, how cool would that be to in a band with your school mates and when you get a gig you get Eddie Vedder to be your vocalist!! Quietly playing on most tracks are the guys from Radiohead, arguably the 2 biggest artists on this stage however such is the feel of this album they do what they do best, play music with no fuss and allow the rest to the fancy stuff.

This concert was played in New Zealand and I suspect if this band toured they could sell out any concert hall at any city in the world, (I’d be there). They re-united in 2009 and instead of playing existing songs decided to write entirely new material, reviewing this album has reminded me that I need to buy the last album.

Whether a lover of Split Enz, Crowded House, The Finn Brothers, or just good music there a lot to like on this album.

Mark 9/10

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Random Review #89 22-20s - Self Tilted

C6S5CD5 In the light of the success of The White Stripes, stripped down blues influenced rock became all the rage. The Black Keys are possibly the most successful of the bands that evolved but others worth mentioning are, The Walkmen, Band of Skulls and the band I am writing about now 22-20s.

If you really want to understand where this type of music originates from you need to go back to the likes of T-Model Ford, R.L. Burnside, Cedell Davis, Robert Cage and the anybody signed to the Fat Possum Record Label. These guys all learnt their trade playing very basic blues in the Juke Joints of the Deep South, usually on their own for hours with only with an electric guitar banging out dirty blues for people to dance to. If you have ever seen the film It Might Get Loud, you’ll understand how these guys influenced Jack White who in turn made it acceptable to form a band without a bass player if you didn’t want one, showing with passion and an ear for a tune you could still be successful.

22-20s were quick out the blocks this album was released in 2004 and followed the blueprint written by The White Stripes. Dirty guitar playing, hook laden tunes, and the odd quiet number to break up the noise. This album opens with the albums strongest track and here lies the problem. Devil In Me is great and was quickly picked by a beer company Carling maybe? The advert was a giant street football match, skins versus shirts with people joining in as the ball got kicked from street to street. The music mirrored the frenetic nature of the advert and gave 22-20s a quick leg up into the mainstream. As much as the album continues with this vein nothing matches the quality of Devil In Me and quickly you find yourself wishing that the first track would come back on.

It looks like 22-20s released another album last year but the fact that I didn’t notice its release says a lot. They were supporting Band of Skulls last year which kind of tells you where they are at the moment as Band Of Skulls only released their debut album last year.

22-20s had a moment and that moment was a few years ago and I suspect they will fade away quietly. The Black Keys, Band Of Skulls and The Walkmen have all evolved this style and sound fresh because of it, and therefore always come to mind before 22-20s when I’m looking for this type of music.

Download Devil In Me and forget about the rest.


Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Random Review #88 Sufjan Stevens - Seven Swans

C5S11CD4 Not sure where to start with Sufjan Stevens other than the word GENIUS, maybe slightly weird genius, but genius all the same.

He is more known for his acoustic sensitive ballads, but he has released albums of hardcore dance music, and his last album was a psychedelic mix of both of these styles. It was heavily influenced by the bio-polar artist Royal Robertson whom Stevens had taken a huge liken to. He set out to write an album about all 50 States in the US a couple of years ago, but got sidetracked after 2, Come On Feel The Illinoise and Greeting from Michigan. He released a film and soundtrack based around The BQE - The Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (yes a road!) which came with 3D View-finder disc! (Does anybody remember view finders?) A couple of years ago re released a box set of the musical Christmas Cards he records for his family each year, which include a mix of original songs and Christmas Carols along with hand written cards all illustrated by Stevens and a photograph of Stevens resplendent in a Santa Hat holding an inflatable Santa. I think you are getting the picture now aren’t you. One final point if you have wondered what Snow Patrol were singing about on the track Hands Open when they said “put Sufjan Stevens on, and we’ll play your favourite song, Chicago bursts to life” wonder no more!

This album was released in 2004 between the Michigan and Illinois state albums and is what I would call a traditional Stevens album, simple acoustic tunes, with Stevens playing the banjo on a number of tunes. The music often seems to build as if on loops, the opening track All The Trees... being a prime example of this, a banjo riff being played over and over again, the Stevens starts singing eventually the backing vocals kick in but only to sing ‘dah da dah da da’ over and over again, the song builds as more instruments are added as the hypnotic rhythm drives on. Even though this is one of Stevens lesser know albums it is my favourite and includes my favourite Stevens song, Size Too Small, I am not going to try and interrupt Stevens lyrics but this opens with the line “I was The Best Man in a size too small” it doesn’t say suit, but implies that. It’s a beautiful song that makes me think of people at weddings in suits a little bit too tight as they only bring them out for weddings and job interviews. I’m not sure if that what it’s about, I’m sure it’s not but I love the song.

I was lucky enough to see Sufjan live this year at The Sage Gateshead and I have to say it was one of the greatest gigs I have even been to. We were taken on a psychedelic journey which included most of the band wearing angel wings and costumes daubed in luminous colours, Stevens dressing as a space ship and an encore that included hundreds of balloons some the size of space hoppers being released over the audience. I have posted some photographs from the gig on Flickr if you want to have a look.
Sufjan Stevens is a really special artist who doesn’t appear to believe in boundaries when it comes to expressing himself and this is a great album that is worth tracking down.

Mark 9/10  

Monday, 25 July 2011

Songs I Love #21 Glen Campbell - Whichita Lineman

In my humble opinion that this song is was of the greatest ever written, Jimmy Webb is a brilliant songwriter and in the line 'and I need you more than want you, and I want you for all time' is just one of the most beautiful lines ever.

I have included another version of this song, Campbell singing with The Stone Temple Pilots as his backing band......quite surreal but non the less good.

I am a lineman for the county.
And I drive the mainroad.
Searching in the sun for another overload.
I hear you singing in the wire.
I can hear you thru the whine.
And the Wichita Lineman,
is still on the line.

I know I need a small vacation.
But it don't look like rain.
And if it snows that stretch down south,
won't ever stand the strain.
And I need you more than want you.
And I want you for all time.
And the Wichita Lineman,
is still on the line.

And I need you more than want you.
And I want you for all time.
And the Wichita Lineman,
is still on the line

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Random Review #87 South San Gabriel - The Carlton Chronicles Not Until The Operations Through

C11S10CD11 I’m going to write 2 reviews of this album both are appropriate for the album but I suspect that both will appeal to entirely different audiences and if I mixed review number 2 with review 1 I think I might switch some people off so here we go.

Review number one....

This is a beautiful album of Americana which is written entirely by someone called Will Johnson. He is backed by a stellar band of musicians and the main vocals are taken care of by Brent Best. The album is beautifully quiet and aches at points with playing that compliments the delicate songs. Mandolin, Pedal Steel, banjo and something called a Baritone Guitar all make appearances which is amazing as on most tracks there seems to be little other than the vocals and one or two instruments on the tracks. There are nine tracks my favourite’s being I Feel Too Young To Die and Stupid Is As Stupid Does.

If you like beautifully crafted music with a tinge of country about it then this album just might be for you.

Review number two......

This is a concept album that details one night in the life of a cat, called Carlton. It chronicles his attempts to catch Ron the Sparrow, woo Kittyphone his female cat he has a crush on, avoid Ranon the Dog, and a chance meeting with a Possum. It’s split into three parts, 1.A Conflict, 2. A Departure and 3. Atonement, although a young cat the night holds a number of events and as mentioned my favourite tracks are I Feel Too Young To Die and Stupid IS As Stupid Does and this details the scrape with the possum and ultimately him jumping to flee and breaking his leg.

Without the story and the pictures within the CD booklet you wouldn’t know that this was an album about a cat. The music stands up on its own right and the lyrics are so oblique that you aren’t aware they document the night antics of a cat!

This is a clever album made by some great musicians that deserves a bigger audience.


Random Review #86 Kelly Jones - Only The Names Have Been Changed

C3S6CD1 Stereophonics are a band that nobody admits to liking, and yet they have sold millions of records, can sell out any 8000+ capacity arena in most main cities in the UK and if you ever put their Greatest Hits CD on I can guarantee that most people in the room will be singing along. Funny that for a band that nobody likes!

Kelly Jones is the lynchpin of the Stereophonics and this album came to fruition whilst recording their sixth album and one track (Jayne) was tested out live as a band track as it appears on the album, Live From Dakota. The premise of the album is 10 tracks, all girls names, that were recorded over 2 days, some being written there and then in the recording booth. The songs are Jones and his electric guitar and on a couple some strings, but that’s it. A complete detachment from the rock tunes of the Stereophonics although Jones' voice is still the gravel laden constant. As the title alludes Only The Names Have Been Changed, which intimates that Jones knows the girls he is singing but this isn’t confirmed but from some of the lyrics it’s unlikely, but I suspect that somewhere between fact and fiction is where the story behind most of these lyrics lie.

The liner notes say that Jones didn’t record this album for commercial success and in truth it doesn’t have the hooks which make Stereophonics so popular. Ten tracks, 34 minutes and some of the songs feel like mere sketches of songs that could be developed into fuller songs if given time. It works on the whole although as mentioned some songs were written on the spot and song like that. Favourites of mine are Rosie, Katie and Jean. The album is a bit patchy at times my attention wavers at bit but overall it’s a decent album.

If anybody reading this has this album in the deluxe packaging that looks like a book keep it clean as it’s selling on the internet for £59 at the minute!

Mark 6/10

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Songs I Love #20 Massive Attack - Teardrop

My thrird Liz Fraser pick and non with her original band Cocteau Twins who are still worth looking up. This track is great made even better by an amazing video.

Love, love is a verb
Love is a doing word
Fearless on my breath
Gentle impulsion
Shakes me, makes me lighter
Fearless on my breath

Teardrop on the fire
Fearless on my breath

Nine night of matter
Black flowers blossom
Fearless on my breath
Black flowers blossom
Fearless on my breath

Teardrop on the fire
Fearless on my...

Water is my eye
Most faithful mirror
Fearless on my breath
Teardrop on the fire
Of a confession
Fearless on my breath
Most faithful mirror
Fearless on my breath

Teardrop on the fire
Fearless on my breath

You're stumbling a little
You're stumbling a little

Random Review #85 Fried - Self Titled

C7S6CD15 An album so good they released it twice. Or maybe an album that was expected to do so well that when it didn’t they repackaged it, shuffled some tracks about, added a couple and removed a couple and released it again. Alas the same reaction from the general public. I can remember buying this album in bargain bins and giving it to people as I thought it was that good!

A duo made up of David Steele and Jonte Short, now I wouldn’t expect you to know Short other than to say she has an amazing voice I know nothing more, but David Steele is another matter. Originally a member of The Beat, who had huge UK success with Mirror in the Bathroom amongst others, he then went onto global success with Fine Young Cannibals. Steel always manages to take a backseat role in the bands and I suspect he can still wander round unnoticed today. Even on the original artwork his image is blurred.

Originally released in 2004 there is a heavy influence on this record from Portishead and the trip-hop sounds coming out of Bristol at this time, Beth Gibbon even co-writes one song, but this shouldn’t detract from the work of Steele and Short who deliver 11 tracks of nu-soul of the highest quality. Steele is credited with beats on this album and even gets a help out from RZA from the Wu-Tang Clan on When You Get Out Of Jail. Short has a great voice soul voice along the lines of Shara Nelson on the first Massive Attack album. The stand out tracks are the aforementioned When I Get Out Of Jail and Things Change but this is a classy album filled with great songs that still sound fresh today.

I have a DVD of Nu-soul performances from Later with Jools Holland which has Fried performing When I get’s a fantastic performance full of life and stunning vocals.

I have no idea why Fried didn’t make it, they seemed to have the backing of the record company, the reviews were good and they had the TV appearances, maybe it was the name Fried? What I would say is this album is worth tracking down it’s a little gem of an album.


Songs I Love #19 Craig Armstrong - This Love

One time keyboard player with Texas, now, modern classical composer, and the maker of unbelievably good music, Craig Armstrong is somebody everybody should know about. This with the amazing Liz Fraser on vocals is one of my favourite tracks. Whilst looking up the lyrics to this song found out it was co-written by Jerry Burns. I have a wonderful album of hers from many years ago and was wondering just the over day what happened to I know!

This Love
This Love
This love is a strange love
A faded kind of
Day love
This love
This Love
I think I'm going to fall again
And even when you held my hand
It didn't mean a thing
This Love
This Love
This love is a strange love
A faded kind of day love
This Love
This Love
Doesn't need to feel love
Doesn't know it is love
Doesn't need a thing
This love
This love

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

My Year In Gigs......The First Six Months.

My intention this year was to only see bands I haven’t seen before over the next few paragraphs you’ll see how well I have managed to keep up to that promise.....

Smoke Fairies my year in gigs started with a total unknown band, recommended as one to watch by Classic Rock I wandered along to the Sage Gateshead and paid £9 to see two girls take the stage that looked like they were playing the end of term 6th form prom. When they started playing I was blown away. A bit like a gothic Clannad these girls have a style unlike anything I have heard before and can play their guitars with style. I was fortunate enough to see Smoke Fairies again at Evolution Festival in May and they delivered again. Watch out for them

Band of Horses were up next and impressed no end even though it was the first gig of the tour. Americana at its best with tight vocals. A great use of film show as a backdrop showed that these guys really know to put on a live show.

Teddy Thompson closed off January, in truth I wanted to see the support who was David Ford and going to see Teddy meant I didn’t break my promise so early in the year. Ford delivered an amazing solo set, and then played guitar for Teddy (a double bonus). Thompson was OK but his style is a bit all over the place, but I went home happy.

February started for me with The Hold Steady, a band I have wanted to see for ages.  I have full on man flu and nearly didn’t go. I did go and the Hold Steady did what they do best, bar room rock delivered on a mass scale and I’m sure they were brilliant, but all I could think of was when would the gig finish so I could take a Lemsip and go to sleep!!

Mogwai blew me away, Hall 1 of The Sage Gateshead was built for classical music but Mogwai’s wall of sound was equally impressive. 5 guys you wouldn’t recognise walking down the street made a noise like no other. Quite stunning.

Elbow were my first fail of the year. I was due to see Iron and Wine (a new band for me) but decided I couldn’t not see Elbow and the wonderful Guy Garvey. In truth I think I should have stayed with my first choice. Elbow were great and showed that you can make an arena seem small, but the set list was nigh on totally from the last 2 albums and they didn’t play Newborn, which is my favourite Elbow track. Don’t get me wrong Elbow were great but I wished I had gone to the Iron and Wine gig.

John Grant was the main man behind a band I loved The Czars who should have ruled the world, but broke up unknown penniless and with major addictions. John Grant is now receiving the success he deserves after releasing his wonderful album The Queen of Denmark. His live show was incredible. Backed only by another piano player Grant stripped his songs to the core, playing most of his latest album and a few tracks from is Czars back catalogue to an audience desperate for more.

My last gig in March was Rumer and what a gig it was. I can safely say it was the worst gig I have ever had the misfortune of going to. I bought the tickets on the back of all the hype around Rumer, talk of Dusty Springfield and Karen Carpenter encouraged me to buy the album, but when I heard the album I wasn't so sure. I hoped that the dull CD would be delivered with passion and vigour that would make the gig great but boy was I wrong. Dull audience, dull band, they looked like they were asleep and in Rumer a front person with no personality. If I could have left I would have a real dirge of a gig!

April was quiet but John Waite finished the month off nicely. Famous for 80’s soft rock hit Missing You, Waite has made a very successful career out of delivering classic melodic rock music and I was hopeful for a slice of this and I wasn’t disappointed. The Cluny is a great small venue in Newcastle that must hold about 200 maximum. As I walked in a familiar face passed me on the way to the toilets, I could place the face so just took my spot in the crowd. The band arrived on stage and my familiar face was playing guitar but why did I know him? I placed him just before John Waite introduced him Kyle Cook, guitarist with Matchbox 20. How if you don’t know, M20 are a huge band used to playing to 10,000+ crowds. To see him playing in such a small venue was amazing and shows that it’s not all about the money. Waite was brilliant an old hand with all the moves. A great night.

Wild Beasts took me to my first new venue of the year, Gateshead Old Town Hall, they were picking venues they thought were beautiful buildings and they weren’t wrong. The band promoting their third album Smother gave a professional and confident performance. The band remind me of The Associates at times and say they are heavily influenced by Talk Talk all of this is music to my ears and I think Smother will be high on all the music magazines Albums of The Year.

Up next James Vincent McMorrow and a sold at gig at The Cluny 2. A singer songwriter from Ireland McMorrow armed only with a guitar and a cup full of red wine, he held the audience in the palm of his hand whilst running through most of the material on his debut magazine and a few carefully picked covers. McMorrow could easily be new singer songwriter of choice for every Tesco’s shopper he is that good. Watch this space.

May continued on with Sufjan Stevens I narrowly missed seeing Stevens in October in Seattle and was devastated to read the stunning reviews of his show, so I anticipated much and Stevens delivered that and so much more! 2 ½ hours on a cosmic journey as Stevens called it. This was simply one of the greatest gigs I have ever been to, space ships, angels wings and a encore of Chicago coupled with hundreds of balloons being set loose from the ceiling, left me leaving the gig with a smile from ear to ear and a belief I had witnessed a genius at work.

On to Low and a special mention to Sleepingdog although Low gave a good performance I was absolutely taken aback by Sleepingdog a duo fronted by Belgium Chantal Acda they make beautiful fragile, landscapes of music that everybody should know about. 

May ended with Evolution Festival a great 2 day festival held on Newcastle Quayside, each year, although the line up is more aimed at a younger audience I have to say Two Door Cinema Club surprised me with a tight energetic performance, I spent most of my time at the Third stage which is held in a big top tent. As Mentioned early Smoke Fairies were great, Karima Francis was adorable (if you don't know her music look her up) and at the recommendation of my Nephew and Niece I when to see Bellowhead who had the whole of the tent dancing and reminded me of The Pogues in their early days.

June and onto my second fail of the year as I went to see Ron Sexsmith its maybe 10 years since I had seen Sexsmith in a very small venue on Newcastle Quayside. At the time Sexsmith came across as a very humble man happy to me doing what he does, and although the size of the venue has grown 10 fold he still seems to have the same beliefs. The gig was good if not a little functional. I enjoyed it but suspect it will be another 10 years before I see him again.

Writing this I realise that May was an epic month and I suspect that it will be very to replicate that again either this year or any other year.  I have already seen a couple of gigs in July and have another 12 lined up so far between now and December, most are bands I haven’t seen before and I’m hoping that Bon Iver in Edinburgh may be my ‘Sufjan Stevens’ for the next 6 months. I have a couple of ‘fails’ already lined up but couldn’t go without seeing Danny and The Champions of The world and David Ford who are both amazing live performers.

When I can I take photographs at gigs, I only use a compact camera and don’t profess to being a photographer but if you want to have a look here is a link to my Flickr account.