Thursday, 31 March 2011

March Music Purchases

Elbow – Build A Rocket Boys like most of the world I have bought the latest Elbow release and it isn’t a disappointment. Elbow have officially become a Supermarket band and what I mean by that is they have become so popular the masses who buy most if not all of their music at the supermarket now like Elbow. Arena gigs and world domination await Elbow.

R.E.M – Singles Collected A compilation of R.E.M.s early singles A & B side’s £3 purchase and worth every penny. (Even if some of the B sides are a bit hit and miss)

Here is REM when they were gone.

Black Mountain – Wilderness Heart Canadian alternative rockers latest realise if it’s anything like the last 2 it will be epic.

Bread – Make It With You Bought on the back of Rumer covering Goodbye Girl, think my Mum or sister had a bread CD when I was in my teens, classic song writing, some tracks a little bit to twee for me but song great love songs on here.

Captain Beefheart – Trout Mask Replica I bought this on the back of the sad death of Captain Beefheart and everybody saying this album was amazing, well it might be but not to my ear. Horrible noise, avant garde? Pretentious self indulgent crap more likes. Sorry Captain!

Dirty Sweet – Spiritual America retro rock from a band who should have been born about 25 years ago. For lovers of The Trews, Jet, and Stereophonics.

Phosporescent - Here’s To Taking It Easy Beautiful Americana and one of the albums of 2010. Understated music of the highest quality

Lemon Jelly – ’64-’95 bought this in a charity song thinking it was Jelly Fish, who was a 90’s melodic rock outfit. Then remembered that Lemon Jelly were actually dance combo that released number of critically acclaimed dance orientated CDs in the 90’s. So not what I expected but good.

Low Anthem – Smart Flesh brilliant follow up to Oh My God Charlie Darwin which was also brilliant. If you don’t know this band yet checks them out.

Iron & Wine Kiss Each Other Clean again wonderful Americana from grossly underrated artist consistently good.

Backfield – Welcome to my DNA wonderful melodic rock from Porcupine Trees Steve Wilson with his partner in crime for this band Avi Geffen. Not a lot that Steve Wilson does that isn’t amazing when I mean not a lot I really mean nothing!
Noah and The Whale – Last Night On Earth bought as have the others and this albums seems to be getting a lot of praise but haven’t listened to it yet

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Random Review #37 Joe Jackson Live 80/86

C4S3CD11 This CD was picked by the ever wise @spurssimon who's blog Rumbles and Grumbles can be found by clinking the link on my site.

OK so Joe Jackson, first question where is he now? What a talent and what a nightmare for any record label who had signed him! Joe once released an 3 sided album I suspect this was commercial suicide the cost of pressing two vinyl albums but with content on 3 sides only! Jackson has also released classical music (Night Music) but has appeared not to have released any music for some time now.

Whilst we are talking about Jackson his autobiography A Cure for Gravity is an amazing read whether you are a fan of his music, if you are a music lover get it and read it!

So this album, covers the most successful and commercial period of his musical career 1980/86 the music is taken from four tours, The Beat Crazy Tour 1980, The Night and Day Tour 1982/83, The Body and Soul Tour 1984 and finally The Big World Tour of 1986. It has three versions of Is She Really Going Out With Him which again seems madness but when you hear all three and how Jackson re-invented the song then you will understand the justification of including all three. (the a capella version from The Day and Night Tour is my favourite)

The album trails Jackson's career from  early days as a 'New Wave' artist (lets say angry punk killer  tunes) to his progression to mature song writer of Steppin' Out the last song on this CD and everything in between.

I had forgotten how many great songs Jackson had written, aside Is She Really.... the hits just keep on coming, Beat Crazy, Breaking Us In Two, Different For Girls, and the aforementioned Steppin' Out but then you find Be My Number Two, Sunday Papers,  I'm The Man and Jumpin' Jive hit you and I realise that Jackson was a big part of the music scene in the 80's.

Again my Random Review blog has forced me to listen to an album I haven't listened to for some 10 years and also made me release that the 80's weren't all shoulder pads, bad haircuts and eye liner, (and that's just the boys!) Jackson would have been a killer songwriter for any decade and just sad that he seems to have disappeared.

Mark 8/10

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Random Review #36 Susanna and The Magical Orchestra - Melody Mountain

C6S9CD15 This CD was picked by my friend Clare who isn't on Twitter, but maybe if we give her some encouragement she might join the gang......

So what do I know about Susanna and The Magical
Orchcestra, zilch, nada, nothing, zero, rock all. Scandinavian I think? Susanna is her real name Susanna Karolina Wallumred but after than I'm struggling, I think this is the second of three albums and I have know idea why I bought this, I think I heard cover Love Will Tear Us Apart (more about this track later) somewhere on a free music magazine CD.

The style of this music is stripped back lo-fi with beautiful haunting vocals, all the tracks are covers some you might expect, Hallelujah (do we really need another cover of this song) some that you would never expect, Crazy Crazy Nights (Kiss) and It's A Long Way To the The Top (AC/DC) and some in between, Enjoy The Silence (Depeche Mode) and Condition Of The Heart (Prince)

I think it must be something about Scandinavian as I first came across Stina Nordenstam doing songs in this style (although not all covers) and also Hellsongs (from Sweden) who cover only Heavy Metal songs in the same manner and are definitely worth looking up. I guess the clever part is identify great songs irrespective of the genre and then delivering them in a different but spectacular manner.

The danger of doing an album of covers is that unless you add something to the original why bother, and opening with Hallelujah is either brave or stupid!. I believe it's the most covered song ever and I think I have at least 5 versions including Leonard Cohen's original and as far as I'm concerned the definitive version by Jeff Buckley. This is a good version if not the best but sets the tone for the rest of the album. Vocals that quiver at times with strips down arrangements that compliment the vocals beautifully. As mentioned we have a couple of rock songs, and a great Depeche Mode cover but we also have a couple of lesser know covers It's Raining Today (Scott Walker) and Fotheringay (Sandy Denny) show these guys know their music!

Love Will Tear Us Apart is as good as the original by Joy Division, I mean that as a compliment as I don't think anybody will ever surpass the original but Susanna and The Magical Orchestra do this amazing song justice.

This is late evening glass of red in hand chilling music it makes you relax.

If you like this then Hellsongs are worth looking up, their version of Run To The Hills by Iron Maiden is quite special.

mark 8/10

Friday, 25 March 2011

Random Review #35 Divine Comedy - A Secret History

C3S2CD7 It must be about 10 years since I have played this CD, I only have this CD of the artist and it's a 'Best of' CD. Neil Hannon (who really is The Divine Comedy) could only be British, his songs are quintessentially British, titles like National Express (about UK national bus service) Something For The Weekend (phrase relates to fact the barber shops used to be the place men would by condoms and barber would say Something For The Weekend Sir) and other songs are populated with Michael Caine talking and sheep noises!

Neil Hannon released an album a couple of years ago under the name The Duckworth Lewis Method and all the songs were cricket related. The name of the band is named after a formula used to work out who has won a cricket match which has been called off for bad weather!

The Divine Comedy are a bit like The Beautiful South for me, as much as I like them, they are a little bit to clever for me and a Best Of Cd is about all I need. Saying that the first 10 songs on the compilation are brilliant examples of how to write pop songs. National Express is genius and the has one the greatest lines ever "and it's hard to get by when your arse is the size of a small country"  Everybody Knows (Except You) is a great love song. Other songs worth mentioning are Something For The Weekend, Becoming More Like Alfie, The Frog Princess and Tonight We Fly.

I don't thing I will buy another Divine Comedy CD, I haven't been exposed to any of his recent music and don't actively seek out his music but I think I'll listen to this CD a bit more often!

Mark 6/10

Random Review #34 Elliott Smith - XO

C6S6CD6 Was picked by my Facebook pal and ex work colleague John Loadman.

OK I'm going to say it, I don't like Elliott Smith as much as I think I should. Sensitive singer songwriter, songs about lost love. Tragic ending to his live (he committed suicide) are usually all the things I like in a musician but try as I do, I still struggle with Smith. He struggled with drug addiction and depression for most of his adult life and a lot of this is reflected in his music.

I have three albums, this on OX, Blue Moon, and View From A Basement on the Hill, and try as I do every time I play them I never seem to play them all the way through, I find myself flicking to the radio and then back to CD.

If you have seen Good Will Hunting then you will have heard Elliott Smith his tune from the film Miss Misery, it was nominated for an Oscar, he lost out to Celine Dion
(it was Titanic year!) I suspect Smith wasn't very comfortable is performance at the Oscars he looks like a fish out of water. I guess what I'm trying to say is that Smith could have been a contender some of his music was that good and he could have been a household name. The dice fall another way and we are talking about someone who tragically took his life depressed and all alone.

So I tried with this album I tried to work out why I struggle with his music.I think it's the rhythm of the songs, they start and stop and the vocals are a a little light for me. My favourite songs are Baby Britain and Waltz #2 (XO) but I would struggle to pick any of the other songs to put on a play list.

If this exercise in picking random CDs has made me do one thing it has forced me to listen to music in my collection that if I had a choice I wouldn't really pick and when I do I am trying to work out who I wouldn't usually pick them. Elliott Smith is a great artist however there are many more I would prefer to listen to!

Mark 5/10

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Random Review #33 David Bowie - Station To Station

C2S7CD3 My love affair with David Bowie ended with the release of Never Let Me Down prior to that he could do know wrong in my eyes and I would defence his music to the hilt, I love Let's Dance and will even say that Pin Ups has it;s moments. Back Never Let Me Down and all that came after that Tin Machine ET AL has passed me by, but Station To Station is slap bag in the middle of my affair with Bowie and made up a third of the Berlin trilogy (unofficial title) with Low and Heroes. Doing this review made me realise that the 3 Berlin albums are my favourite body of work from Bowie, after these 3 albums are sandwiched between two live albums, David Live and Stage, David live signified the end of 'The Thin White Duke' and Stage put a full stop after the Berlin albums prior to Bowie moving into his next phase.

I have posted the original art work (the black and white picture ) and the remastered CD version. I thought I preferred the original cover but looking at them side to side I think the coloured version is better. Bowie B&W pic and the latest deluxe box set has been restored to it's former glory.

So to the music, 6 tracks 38 minutes (great album length not too long) of beauty. This album is complete with no tracks I want to skip. The opening Station To Station lasts 10 minutes and starts with Carlos Alomar replicating the sound of a train on his guitar, with the music building for over 3 minutes  before Bowie starts singing. the song is amazing unlike anything Bowie had ever done before. I could talk about the other tracks all day Golden Years, TVC15 were and are classic singles but it's the final 2 tracks of the album Stay and Wild Is The Wind that I want to talk about. Stay starts again with Alomar's guitar howling before the funky base kicks in a wall of sound is built until Bowie starts in with the vocals.It's a great track that played live takes on another dimension. Wild Is The Wind unlike the rest of the album is not written by Bowie it is written by Dimitri Toimkin and Neil Washington and was originally sung by Johnny Mathis, I haven't heard the version by Mathis but can't imagine that he could match the Bowie version. Bowie rings every inch of emotion out of the song a love song in the purest sense of the word.

I have always know I loved Bowie's music doing this review has made me reconnect with this album and  realise also how much I love the Berlin albums.I was maybe unfair to stop buying Bowie music as I'm sure some of his later work is good but truthfully I feel happy with music I have, I buy the odd compilation and live album that cover the period of work I like and life seems simpler that way. I wouldn't know where to start with his later music but if someone would like to suggestion something.....

Mark 10/10

Random Review #32 Hootie & The Blowfish - Musical Chairs

C4S2CD5 Hootie & The Blowfish are a very special band to me and I know a lot of people who only know only know me through Twitter will recoil in horror at that statement but I love them and to some extent some of their songs map out my life. 

Before I get started on the review I must tell you about the only time I have seen Hootie & the Blowfish live. They toured this album across the UK and I was lucky enough to have front row balcony seats at Newcastle City Hall. Hootie were the first headlining band I ever saw come out and play with the support band. I have subsequently seen Counting Crows and Dave Matthews Band do this but this was a surprising first for me. Hootie seemed really pleased to be playing music and this was borne out later in the evening.  Industry standard dictates that headline bands come on at 9pm and play anyway from 1 ½ to 2 hrs. Well Hootie & the Blowfish came on at 8.30pm and after a couple of songs announced that they had come on early as they had heard that the car park opposite closed at 11pm and they didn’t want anybody to miss any of the show. (the gig was at Newcastle City Hall and they were correct in that there was an NCP car park opposite where a vast majority of the audience would park and it did close at 11pm) as the gig continued the band started talking off mic, they then started to check their pockets and a member of the road crew was called onto stage, given something and dispatched.  Darius Rucker (singer) then said that they were having a great time and had therefore dispatched a roadie with the contents of their pockets (about £100 if I remember rightly) to find the guy managing the car park with a message that here was £100 keep the car park open as the audience would be late!! Sure enough they played well over 2 1/2  hours covering The Police (they always cover a band from the town they are playing) and KC and The Sunshine Band just because the guitarist started the rift and they decided to ‘get funky’. So there you go I reckon I have been to in the regional of 300 -400 concerts and I still rate this as one of my favourite gigs, I remember having a  ridiculous grin on my face for the gig and for hours after.

So to the music,  I have a Hootie and The Blowfish bootleg CD,  I have all Darius Rucker’s solo CDs (one that I would categorise as Nu-Soul and includes an amazing duet with Jill Scott and a rather dodgy duet with Snoop Dogg and his 2 forays in Country music Hootie with banjo’s) which kind of tells you how much I like this band!

Right if you haven’t stopped reading by now then I apologise and I’ll get on with my review! This was H &TBF’s fourth studio album if you include the album of covers Scattered, Smothered and Covers. They never really matched the sales of their debut Cracked Rear View but as the sold more than 15 million copies of that it was always unlikely that they would!

So to the music I always skip track 7 Bluesy Revolution the title says it all, it poor if I’m honest, the rest are typical Hootie, Darius’ rich vocals, great harmonies and songs about love, past, present, and future. My favourite track s by a country mile are, Only Lonely, What’s Going on Here, and What Do You Want From Me Now.  Only Lonely documents a relationship that will never happen  for any number of reasons but talks about “when you close your eyes in your deepest thoughts, do you see me”  I suspect that most people have felt like this at some point in their life and if you haven’t you're lucky.

I will continue to buy albums released by Hootie & the Blowfish and Darius Rucker as I will always find something to like, if I had guilty pleasures then this would be one, but I don’t so with my Hootie badge firmly on my sleeve I’ll say listen and love or at least forgive me as we all have some bands like this in our collection!

Mark 7/10 

Random Review #31 Natalie Merchant - The House Carpenters Daughter

C5S5CD5 Numbers picked by my good friend Zahra @fnafilms . For those who don’t  know Natalie Merchant was the singer in 10,000 Maniacs a band who despite their name produced in beautiful music and possibly the best of all the MTV Unplugged performances captured as Merchants swansong with the band as she left to left soon after to pursue a solo career.

The House Carpenter’s Daughter is sub-titled a collection of traditional & contemporary folk music. This was Merchant’s fourth solo studio and her most challenging work for both artist and listener! (Since this release she has spent 7 years researching children poetry painstakingly document the story and setting her favourites poems to music) but back to the random release.

I saw that this challenge for the listener from a very personal point of view, I struggle with folk music in its purest form, by that I don’t mean Mumford & Sons or Laura Marling who are making folk music fashionable, I mean Pete Seger, and the likes of Ewan McColl great great songwriters but truthfully not to my tastes. This album covers both spectrum's that I talk about and this is why I struggle with this album. It has been a long time since I have listened to it and I must admit I have enjoyed it more than I thought I would, as I counted the CDs  on the row I was praying that the numbers would stop before or after this CD as I thought I would be in for a rough ride.  

There is a awful lot of banjo’s on this album an as much I like a bit of banjo it just keeps coming back at you! Saying that House Carpenter skips along beautifully, and Down On Penny’s Farm is a absolute gem of a track perfect for square dance!

Don’t get me wrong as far as I am concerned Natalie Merchant can do very little wrong, her body of work stands up for itself  but  I would have to say this is my least favourite album start with Ophelia or Tigerlily or her best of simply called Retrospective 1990-2005 if you really want explore her music.

Oh yeah and if you get a chance to see Natalie live go she is one of most engaging live performers I have ever seen.

Mark 6/10

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Random Review #30 Marvin Gaye - Here, My Dear

C8S7CD7 Marvin Gaye was a troubled soul, or so most of the books and articles I have read have told me and they all can’t be wrong.

He always had a (e)strange(d) relationship with his Father (who ending up shooting and killing him) and I think this would impact on many of the decisions and relationships throughout  Gaye’s life. I think Marvin Gaye hated being told what to do, whether that be from his record label, (musical output) authorities (we’ll get on to that) or Government (he fled the US when demands for tax mounted up) His most coveted album What’s Going On was seen as a commercial disaster prior to release by Motown his record label and particularly Berry Gordy the label owner who saw success as single sales and had always been right in the past. They were horrified he was writing about politics something that hadn’t been done in Soul music prior to this watershed release. What is seen as normal now was seen as commercial suicide in the 70’s. The fact that What’s Going On was a huge success gave Gaye the ability to do what he wanted and that’s leads me to Here, My Dear.

The background to this album is that Marvin Gaye was getting divorced from the sister of Motowns owner Berry Gordy as he had fallen in love with another woman. He was ordered by the courts to pay a substantial amount of money to his ex-wife and in order to do this wrote this album! His opening words on the album “I guess I’ll have to say this album is dedicated to you, although perhaps I may not be happy.....” says it all! The album’s title Here, My Dear and then song titles:
  • ·         I Met A Girl
  • ·         When Did You Stop Loving Me, When Did You Stop Loving You
  • ·         Anger
  • ·         Is That Enough
  • ·         You Can Leave But It’s Going To Cost You
  • ·         Falling In Love Again
Map the end of one relationship and the beginning of another. Lots of artists have written break up albums, Bruce Springsteen Tunnel of Love and Bon Iver For Emma, Forever Ago are two that spring to mind as classics but this is album is too personal, all the dirty laundry there for everybody to look at and it seems to have been written out of spite and anger rather than of heartbreak and sadness like the other two I mentioned. Gaye turns himself from cheating Husband into the victim and this seems to have been a theme throughout his life.

There are touches of Gaye’s genius here A Funky Space Reincarnation and Sparrow smack of what is great about Marvin Gaye but the rest feels like Marvin getting too personal with the lyrics whilst going through the motions with the music.

Playing this album has only made me want to play What’s Going On or Let’s Get It On classic Gaye classic soul and seminal albums that everybody should hear. I’ll never throw this album out but I can’t say I’ll play it again soon (or ever)

Mark 4/10

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Random Review #29 Big Elf - Cheating The Gallows

C2S3CD7 Think we need to get one think very clear here, Big Elf are a bit mad, their real names are, Damon Fox, Duffy Snowhill, Ace Mark, and Steve Frothingham (Froth) which is strange enough in the case of Ace Mark but for the album they are called Professor Diablo, Sir Oliver Leftee, Commodore Kreivi  IV and Sergeant Major 710 respectively and I guess this sets the tone for the album, it’s a bit mad!

If you mixed up Pink Floyd, T-Rex, Black Sabbath and Queen with a dash of pantomime then you might get close to how Big Elf sound and if that sounds strange well it is, but strange in a good way. I like bands like Black Mountain and The Mars Volta, who play unstructured (to my ear) rock music that disappears in different avenues  of rhythm and seem to weld 3 different songs into one but make it a really  exciting and fresh. I think this is why I bought this Big Elf album that and a good review in a magazine.

There is a lot of Queen in this record String Quartets, an Orchestra (The Gallows Orchestra obviously) but I have to make it clear this music is original (as original as any music can be these days). I have listened to this album a lot this week and have enjoyed it more and more as the week went on, I think when I first bought it I thought it was a little too heavy for my tastes but I have  realised that’s not the case, and the album has a lot to  like on it. 

Superstar is a pure pop song that sounds like T-Rex, Blackball is epic and changes direction about 3 times throughout its 7 minutes of madness. The album closes with Counting Sheep an 11 minute masterpiece that has Pink Floyd written all over it.

Linda Perry is involved doing backing vocals on a couple of tracks, and if you don’t know who she is, she is one of the top songwriters  for hire in the music industry and was originally the main force behind the 90 band 4 Non Blonde's who had a huge hit with What’s Going On. 

I definitely need to be in the mood for this album however if you like any of the bands referenced in this review then I’m sure you will find something to like on here.

Mark 8/10

Random Review #28 Neil Young - Zuma

C7S7CD7 It took me a long time to get into Neil Young I decided a long time ago I hated his voice, he was a bit like Bob Dylan for me I appreciated him as a songwriter and a key figure in modern music over the last 40 years but struggled to listen to him. I own some great cover versions  of Neil Young tracks, Paul Weller covering Ohio and Natalie Merchant singing After The Gold Rush are as good as the originals (don’t kill me Neil Young fans) and Warren Hayes guesting with The Dave Matthews Band Live at Central Park playing Cortez The Killer is the moment my obsession with DMB started. So backed with my understanding that Neil Young wrote good songs I eventually relented and bought Harvest for £3 in a local supermarket after all nearly every music magazine says Harvest is outstanding and album and for the price of a pint of beer I thought I would take a chance.

So 31 albums, a few DVD’s and an Autobiography later I guess you could say I’m a Neil young convert, I don’t have all his releases but I have a fair representation of his catalogue of work, from solo acoustic, to grudgy full band (Crazy Horse) Neil Young is always trying to push himself, changing musical direction, (he was once sued by his record label for giving them an album that didn’t sound like Neil Young!) or lyrics, Living With War (very political) and Fork In The Road (All about a car) 

This album is a perfectly good album from Neil Young but I always expect more from him and that’s the issue. Recorded with his backing band Crazy Horse (who released music in their own right) it’s good in parts Pardon My Heart is a beautiful song that could sit  easily on Harvest and Cortez The Killer is a Neil young at his epic best (but the live version on Weld is better see video below) and the closing Through My Sails is trade mark Neil Young, great harmonies and sensitive arrangement, but the rest is generic Neil Young and is ok but washes over you without making an impact. I don’t hate this album but think I would be better putting the 3 tracks I love on a play list rather than play the whole album again. Neil Young has dozens of better albums than this one, but I’m also saying that a lot of artists won’t record anything as good as this album such is his standards. Does that make sense?

If you want to get into Neil Young get his Greatest Hits or better still get Harvest or After The Gold Rush you will fall in love with him and then 31 albums later.......

Mark 5/10