Friday, 4 September 2015

Aarhus: 5

I'll keep this brief as I've just woken up and am about to miss... lunch.
Yesterday offered up a whole host of musical riches.
I have a confession to make. I was meant to be playing at an impromptu cafe concert at Bora Bora alongside Gustaf Llunggren, Tony Garnier, Grant Lee Phillips, Sylvie Simmons, Jim White, M Ward and a lovely nameless Swedish singer. Such was the wealth of talent and so underprepared was I (no guitar for starters) that I bottled it and reduced myself to the role of saving seats for Folmer and babysitting the lovely nameless Swedish singer's 5 year old; a charming little fella apparently named 'Move On'.  Anyway, I can't tell you how much of a chump I feel this morning for missing out on the opportunity of sharing the stage with those warm and wonderful folk. The highlights, amongst many, were Gustaf's introductory guitar pieces - it was great to see this brilliant accompanist finally taking centre stage - Jim White's two atmospheric contributions which conjured up a Wim Wender's world somewhere between Paris, Texas and Florida, (where he was ably vocally assisted by the sirens: Sylvie and Jim's lovely fiancé Megan). I also swooned a little at Sylvie's delicate presentation of a future classic that I remember only as 'Dancing'.
Every picture tells a story:




I had dinner with Sylvie where she entertained with tales of her colorful rock 'n' roll past. Fascinating first hand stories of Springsteen, Cohen and the pantheon; the struggles that she had getting her Serge Gainsborough Biog published, a biog that she's now so reluctant for Amazon to exclusively host that she's mischievously tweeting the book daily as a riposte. She also talked about her book of short stories 'Too Weird For Iggy' that Iggy Pop forced her to retitle because he thought it 'too weird'. Then as she walked me back to my show she quoted me verbatim, extracts from her new short stories that she's hoping Howe Gelb might put music. I love the lady; she's a coiled spring, a feisty nugget of benevolent nervous energy who has so many strings to her bow that I'm not surprised that she's chosen to focus and simplify her musicality on the 4 strings of her (not so beloved) uke.
Back at the Concert Hall Stefano Bollani was playing Gershwin with dynamic and emotional intensity and was later joined by Diego Schissi to tackle Gershwin's 'Cuban Overture'. And, of course, it wouldn't have befitted Diego for there not to have been some Tango references to his Argentinian homeland.
I then legged it down to the Voxhall where Howe Gelb 'The Godfather of Alt Country' was presenting 'Way Too Much Light'. Howe's musical curiosity knows no bounds; he's famous for his cantankerous approach to performance; throwing wild cards and curve balls at his band to see how they pass muster. I was intrigued to see how he would extend this questionable courtesy to his venerable guests: Grant Lee Phillips, Allan Olsen, Sylvie Simmons, Sonic Youth's Steve Shelley, Yasmin Hamdan and M Ward. Howe's house band were his own Giant Sand who also form local band, the brilliant De Soto Caucus. I'd had a drink with the band's leader Anders the previous night after 'rehearsals' for the show. I could see that he was exhausted and just a little frustrated at having to arrange and coordinate a structured day for the performers, overseen by this mischievous Prospero (Mr Howe) who famously sees rehearsal as 'the enemy'.
I'm not going to go into the details of the show (I want lunch) other than to say it was bewilderingly brilliant. I will note that a highlight for me was a mesmeric performance by Tasmine Hamdan of 'Hal' a song that concludes the beguiling Jim Jarmusch vampire movie 'Only Lovers Left Alive'. I've posted a clip of that film's moment at the bottom of the page beneath the evening's photos. The performers came and went, throwing themselves to the will of a willful man; their giddy surprise at the brilliant cacophony was plain to see, but kudos must go to the De Soto boys who gave substance to Howe's conjuring spirit. The double drum attack of Pete and Steve brought back memories of the Glitter Band, Thoger predictably underpinned things perfectly, Howe and Anders produced some of the most extraordinary guitar sounds I've ever heard ('That's the sound of a texted guitar') whilst Nikolas (pictured above right in a state of full HOWE? bewilderment) a brilliant guitarist in his own rite) was moved to keyboard duties where he poked and prodded to glorious effect.
I missed the encore of Cohen's '1,000 Kisses Deep' believing Howe when he promised the previous offering as the last of the night. I'll leave it to Sylvie to sum up the evening:


"What a great night. Looking at the clock, this must have been just before we went onstage for the first half. We ended three hours later at 12.30 am and stayed up another three hours afterwards and yes, there was alcohol, so I have a sore head this morning. 'Bewildering brilliant'? I'd say that was the perfect description. And no-one - no-one! - could top the encore version of Thousand Kisses Deep in bewildering goodness. How many people were on the stage? I was clamped between a viola and a mandolin and could barely move my head to see who was making those glorious sounds behind and around me. Guess I'll have to wait for the video!"











Thursday, 3 September 2015

Aarhus: 4

I woke up this morning... sorry, not a blues tune but... I woke up this morning with a holy headache and half a packet of crisps in my bed. What's all that about?
Yesterday was pretty full on. On paper, and for Aarhus, not a lot was happening. The only real musical offering was the intriguingly titled 'Information For Curious Citizens About Special Voices'. I didn't know what to expect but pitched up dutifully with Folmer to be warmly greeted by Hans (remember him?) my driver on the first day. Hans was very excited about the show. I'd already seen the night's three performers in the Efterklang Global concert on Monday when they were all out of their element in an ambitious international collaboration. Here they would be in their comfort zone; although 'comfort' proved to be the last thing on some folk's minds.

First up was Bae Il Dong, a Korean opera singer.
He was in the company of a jazz trumpeter and an Australian drummer who Bae II had apparently been mentoring in Korea for a few years. Dong's storytelling was dynamically expressive, comical at times as he wove his impenetrable tales and clicked his fan in time to an uncertain beat. And what a din Dong produced! (sorry...) There was much white eyed wailing and beating of the chest. My best description would be a kind of traditional, Oriental blues. Both Jim White and I were in accord: although an accomplished player, the modern jazz trumpet musings seemed out of kilter with the drumming and vocals; the disparity adding chaotic cacophony rather than coloring the piece. It was certainly engaging but a little disjointed for me.

Next up were my dinner mates Jessie and Jean, accompanying the irascible inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq who had earlier promised, whilst wagging a lobster tail at me, the she was going to 'rip things up'. Tanya wandered on stage resplendent in a delicate gold suit and demurely introduced herself and the band before shredding our nerves and nature over the next 50 minutes. It was one long piece of extreme invention. Jessie's violin was looped to produce rhythm and texture as Jean's scattershot drumming underpinned what only can be described as a volley of primal screams, whispers and moans from Tanya.


Her bellow wasn't just emanating from the throat; she dug deep to produce guttural groans that at times seemed borderline demonic. There was definitely a world of feminine angst unselfconsciously conjured up for us. Sex, childbirth, family drama, domestic violence, depression and repression all seemed suggested by an unbelievable wall of sound that rose and fell, often to a whispering wail of heartache. The physicality of Tanya's performance was breathtaking, literally; she breathed in and she breathed out with a percussive ferocity, producing rolling rhythms and intense shrieks of white noise. It made you wonder how she could maintain the vocal and bodily contortions over 50 minutes, let alone night after touring night. I seriously worried for her health at one particular 'Exorscist' moment, when it seemed that she was about to implode. The reaction of the crowd was interesting; there was nervous laughter alongside raucous affirmation and head banging. At the climax of the show the woman behind us broke out into an hysterical laughing and weeping fit; the whole thing was almost shamanistic in its intensity. My eyeballs and teeth hurt... but in a good way. The show was worthy of its standing ovation: I knew I'd seen something special but am buggered if I can put it in to the right words: indescribable and yet this was experimental performance art at its most profound. Earlier over lunch Tanya had teased sound man Peter for playing the Blue Nile at the soundcheck. I can now see why. I'm rethinking my plan to give her a copy of Happy Blue as a parting shot.


After all of that sonic drama it was a relief to bask in the the passionate delicacy of Carmen Linares who commanded the stage with her sensuous and elegant interpretations of traditional flamenco. Her support was simple: piano, two female singers, alongside a flamenco guitarist of stunning dexterity.  The labour of longing never sounded so throat catchingly lovely.
Later back at the Radisson Hotel Folmer opened the bottle of single malt that I'd gifted him and we sat outside with Carmen and her crew until the early hours. Howe joined us briefly but ran for his sick bed after a shot or two. I did so too after a shot or two too many. I briefly considered trying to track down a Danish kebab but resigned myself to the edible contents of my mini bar.
And... I woke up this morning with a half empty packet of crisps in my bed.
If they weren't cheese and onion then my sheets need changing...

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Aarhus: 3

Blimey: I'm sleeping in later and later. I just made the final coffee call for breakfast yesterday and then it was lunchtime, which was shared with Peter (Yorkshire), Jean and Jessie (Quebec) and Tanya Tagaq, the Polaris Music prize winning Inuit throat singer. Never dull with these guys; the craic was good, although Tanya's clangorous assessment of repressed Brit's sexual repression as a nation who 'f*cked each other through a sheet with a hole in it' startled a few passing Danes and made me inhale a piece of chicken that is still lodged somewhere between the back of my nose and my left ear.

Before I knew it it was time to get to the Art Museum for one of the Aarhus Conversations. This would see Sylvie Simmons interviewing the founder of Elektra Records Jac Holzman. Jac talked in some depth about his founding of Elektra records in the 50s and Nonsuch as a classical and budget label later in 1964; his publishing of much of Woody Guthrie's early work and much of the early folk records of the likes of Jean Ritchie, Josh White, Theodore Bikel and Bob Gibson which would have otherwise been lost to us. He later moved from folk to rock and detailed his signing of the likes of The Doors, Paul Ackles, Fred Neil, Phil Ochs, Tim Buckley and Love. I'm a big fan of David Ackles 'American Gothic' album so was interested to later read his thoughts about the man: "I thought David was an extraordinary songwriter, but he really didn't want it enough. For some reason, I did not figure out until many years later where his passion lay. It was in the theater. I never should have done an album with David. (We did three.) I should have helped him create a theatrical show. I didn't get that at the time."
He was later responsible for the MC5 and The Stooges; music that he didn't really love, but realized that their success was more about volume and attitude, an attitude that effectively helped open the door to a new wave of music. Elektra merged with Warners in the early 70s but Holzman remained connected with the business, moving into the technical side of things because he knew nothing about it and wanted a challenge. Later in the 80s through his Pop Clips productions he and Mike Nesmith helped to formulate MTV.
On the night Jac spoke about funding the initial label "out of a cigar box', managing a then huge initial $90.000 dollar debt by only ever paying the first $300 of any bill. That way his debtors recognized a certain honor in his recognition of debt. His lateral thinking and instinct for survival saw him releasing the first ever sampler album and a million selling sound effects album; effects that can be famously heard in the intro of The Doors 'Riders on the Storm'. The competition was initially nervous but Holzman appeased them with the assurance that he 'only wanted to make the records that they wouldn't or couldn't make'. He clearly loved the early years, talking with great affection about the people who surrounded him: 14 employees was his max 'the perfect number to fit around the circular banqueting table at my favorite local Chinese restaurant."

He gave particular mention to designer William Harvey who produced all of those early iconic covers and he was gracious too about the competition; tearing up a little when talking about John Hammond who rebuffed Love's Albert Lee (I believe) who had offered him a better deal but, when Albert advised him that he'd shaken hands on a deal with Jac but that no contract had been signed, Hammond replied "And Jac will serve you well'.
Holzman is still busy mentoring Warner executives and is also involved in future planning. He's extraordinarily energetic and enthusiastic for a man who's been in the industry for 65 years. His advice to aspiring musicians was to 'persevere, love what you do and woodshed'. He wasn't particularly sympathetic to the question of streaming, telling a questioning young musician to 'learn to live with it. Make it work for you', insisting that 70% of all Spotify's royalties go back to the labels and the artists. If I'd have had the bottle I'd have questioned how much of that the label then passes on to the artist but... I liked him; he's obviously a man who gets things done but still holds great pride and affection for his abiding passion and those early years. And holds those memories close with almost total recall. Sylvie did a great job in marshaling the event and weedling some 'off topic' nuggets out of this driven and successful man who is obviously used to talking about only what he wants to talk about.
Back in the Fest Restaurant for dinner and Howe Gelb had arrived in the company of Jim White and his friends from local band The De Soto Caucus: Anders Pedersen, Peter Dombernowsky,  Nikolas Heyman and Thøger T. Lund although it seems that Thøger has recently been replaced by Henrik Poulsen by De Sotto on bass. Peter, Anders and Thøger are also members of Howe's ever evolving Giant Sand. These guys will be the backbone for Howe's musical presentation on Thursday night: "Way Too Much Light".
I left early to catch the 2nd of the Trio shows, again featuring Joe Henry and Rhiannon Giddens but this time joined by Billy Bragg and Grant Lee Phillips. It was another spellbinding set of performances. Billy Bragg's voice has dropped into a rich, syrupy timbre, giving an unexpected warmth to his performance which has me looking forward to listing to his latest Joe Henry produced platter. Birthday boy Grant Lee was his usual charismatic self (does he remind anyone else of the lion from the Wizzard of Oz?) and offered up a reliable set of gorgeously realized Americana but... beyond Joe Henry's reliable brilliance... the evening's high spot was Rhiannon's stunning rendition of the old gospel work song 'Water Boy'. This is a principled lady whose music is laced with grievous intent. Hers are not so much protest songs as songs of resentful enlightenment. She reminded me of Harry Belafonte and Lena Horne in her unbridled frustration at the racial injustices still rife in the USA. She is destined for great things.
Later at the bar Howe introduced me to Steve Shelley Sonic Youth's drummer who I have confess I know nothing about. I'm sure that it showed.
The night ended back at the hotel firstly in the company of a charming Irish dancer/singer Eofer (sp?) who was here to perform with Cormac Begley and an unusually chirpy Thøger enthusing about his house (and trees) in Tucson and regaling us with a near death experience he's just had with an Italian scorpion. I ended up in the smoking zone with the Trio ensemble who had clearly stuck a few Kroners on Folmer's Festival bar bill. Under the fog of cigar smoke Gustaf and I discussed our shared love of Boo Hewerdine's work whilst Rhiannon serenaded us with her raucous take on Italian opera. We lingered long until Joe and Rhiannon's taxi arrived at 4am to dispatch them for an early morning flight back to the States.
For a miserable Englishman I'm sure having a blast.
Here's Rhiannon with that 'Water Boy'.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Aarhus : 2

The second day at the festival panned out nicely. After a late and lazy breakfast with Joe Henry and Italian festival promotor Carla I took to the streets of Aarhus for a lonesome wander in the rain. I wanted to try and find a quirky little 2nd hand clothes shop that Di and I had stumbled across on our first visit here in 2012. This bizarre was a coffee house/come charity shop crammed full of treasures or trash depending upon the length of your beard or memory. Back then I brought a pair of leather framed pilot's Rayban sunglasses that I assumed made me look Top Gun but their wearing actually made people cross the street nervously (never since worn). Also, a beautiful pair of alligator slip ons that I've worn locally a few times much to the mirth of my grey suited Beaconsfield friends. We'd made an instant connection with the owner and her assistant but had later lost contact; names since long lost to memory. Streets lost in time too; I ended up disoriented and soggy; not such a bad thing in this charming maze. It's a very conventional town that's occasionally inevitably coloured by that Scandinavian broad minded liberalism. The most popular poster in the city, currently hanging from the sides of churches and office buildings is a graphic graphic of a naked woman with a luxuriant muff, peeing into a wine glass. I'm unsure what services are being offered but it's certainly and eye catcher. Anyway... strangely in need of a glass of wine I eventually found myself back at the fest restaurant for lunch and hooked up there with Sylvie who was in the company of Canadian throat singer Tanya Tagaq who was waxing about her participation in the evening's main event: Imagery of Perfection - A Global Concert. This would prove to be a digitally interactive performance involving Tanya, opera singer Bae II Dong, Spanish flamenco singer Carmen Linares and a whole host of dancers and musicians both in the theatre and beamed in from around the globe onto large screens. We were joined by Japan, Italy, Australia and the USA. The evening was overseen by the boys from Efterklang who orchestrated the performances and urged the (occasionally confused) participants on. This was fearless, seat of the pants stuff. There was much initial wailing and bewildered fretting about form and tempo. Folmer whispered 'Yoko x 3' in my ear, but this was no insult, just a recognition of the adventurous spirits present in and out of the room. The time lag necessitated relaxed musical motifs and timing but produced moments of true magic as the dissonance resolved; particularly towards the end of the performance when the white noise faded to reveal a beauteous whispered lullaby emanating from a waif like lady in Tokyo. Gradually the band and the audience joined her sweet song in an emotional finale, a gentle but stirring climax for both the performers and a totally engrossed and engaged audience. It was wonderful, challenging stuff; free beer too.
Talking of freeloading: I later joined Folmer and friends for dinner at Jimmy Holm's fantastic Spanish restaurant 'Canblu'. 


It's tapas but not as you know it; there's a unquantifiable to his imaginative world fusion cuisine. Great wine too, courtesy of the ever generous Mr Jepsen. I broke bread with Sylvie Simmons, Joe Henry, Billy Bragg, Rhiannon Giddens, Gustaf Ljunggren, Tony Garnier, Grant Lee Phillips, Carla, and, of course Folmer; a beautiful benevolent bunch. Joe revealed that he had recently produced an album for Chaz and Dave and... Billy Bragg's 'Tooth and Nail' album. That'll be my next vinyl then... There was an unforgettable chuckle of conversation that will linger long.
Later, but all too soon, we squeezed into one big people carrier and sped back to the hotel to avoid the wet and wind. That wasn't quite the end of the evening. Outside the hotel entrance the garrulous Tony Garnier and I shared our love of Sinatra and then traded variable but enthusiastic Derek and Clive impressions. Dylan's bassist is a funny and lovely guy. Just as we were about to run for cover Sylvie whipped out her Ukelele. Apparently this new uke is male and can only be tuned by mannish hands. Tony and I feyly fumbled with the thing (obviously lacking the sufficient testosterone) before Gustaf gallantly came to the rescue. And there we stood, like happy sodden pups as Sylvie serenaded the storm - somewhat appropriately - with 'Famous Blue Raincoat'. It was all beautifully bonkers; a magical end to a cracking second day.
It's Grant Lee's birthday today so I'm hopeful of a shindig and shenanigans after tonight's Trio show with Joe Henry, Grant Lee, Billy Bragg and Rhiannon. That's a quartet I know but, who's counting?
Here's the song that put me to sleep last night. It's a beauty:


Monday, 31 August 2015

Aarhus: 1

I'm in Aarhus again.
My great mate Jens Folmer Jepsen is directing his final festival and I'm hoping to be a part of a grand send off. It's my 2nd day and I hope that it's as pleasurable as yesterday: off the plane to be driven into town by Hans. We shared a thoughtful and moving conversation about family, love, loss and disfunction. It sure beat the usual London cabby's banter. I checked into the hotel and then headed out in search of tickets for the week's shows. I stumbled into the festival office to embrace a delightfully disheveled Folmer but in my indecent haste for a Scandinavian man hug I managed to gracelessly trample over (and queue jump) the diminutive Sylvie Simmons​ who was patiently waiting in line for her tickets. Once I'd picked Sylvie up, dusted her off and apologized profusely... Folmer advised us that we were 'on the guest list to everything'.
Result!
Sylvie and I were then taken for a cup of the town's '2nd best coffee' by Max Kirkeby and the brilliantly monikered Mikkel Mol who enthused about their electronic band Keep Camping. Like a dutiful father I pressed The Blue Nile and Paul Buchanan​ on Max as my favorite example of that genre. I hope that he takes the recommendation.
A dinner of 'sheep' then on to the first of the 'Trio' gigs this week.
"Three world class musicians, three concerts and an impressive selection of guest appearances." proclaims the brochure. The 'house band' is just incredible: Diego Schissi (piano) who I played with here in 2012, Tony Garnier (bassist for Tom Waits, Bob Dylan and Paul Simon) and multi-instumentalist Gustaf Ljunggren, who also happens to grace my new 'Happy Blue' album. Tonight they were in stellar company: Sweden's Annika Norlin is new to me but was a genuine delight. With a whispering voice that echoed her countrywoman Stina Nordenstam she stayed just the right side of 'cute/quirky' and tugged a heartstring or two with her delicate nursery crime lullabies.


Rhiannon Giddens was a joyful firebrand; effortlessly genre hopping folk, blues, jazz and country but always firmly couched in her Afro-American roots.


Joe Henry​ oversaw the events with a calm and stately warmth. His performance was consummate and thoroughly engaging. He didn't announce it but I'd like to think that he played 'Our Song' not for his countrymen but just for me, although he later denied this over beer and a cigar. I'd hate to hail him a hero; that'd probably creep him out, but I can't think of a contemporary writer currently performing whose music and ethics I admire more. We are often warned never to meet our heroes as we are doomed to be disappointed. Having just shared a Danish pastry and breakfast coffee with Joe I can attest that a crock... he's great company, seriously engaged with his passion, articulate, attentive, funny and charming. I wonder what his production rate is?
Anyway, enough. I'm stepping out to see what the day has to offer. Sylvie Simmons​ is doing a book signing. I hope that she has a compass in her heel as yesterday proved her to have a worse sense of direction than both me or Di. She will hopefully be performing some songs from her fabulous Howe Gelb​ produced 'Sylvie' and later tonight Efterklang are featuring in a dystopian play. Sure beats 'Emmerdale'.
Meanwhile, here's Joe.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Happy Blue. CD available now!

Although the official release is not until early November, I'm happy to announce that the CD format of 'Happy Blue' is available NOW to 'Friends of Miracle Mile'.
That's you...

It will be available to buy via the Miracle Mile website store in early September but...
If you would like a CD copy NOW simply PayPal £10 to me:
mm@lisacottage.demon.co.uk

Or, you could post a £10 cq to:

'Trevor Jones'
18 The Green
Wooburn Green
BUCKS HP10 0EF

UK

This includes p&p to anywhere in the world...
The vinyl version (including a CD) will be available in mid September.
If you are a journalist and would like a promo copy please email me at:

Meanwhile, here's the running order:

First

Ghost of Song

Happy Blue

Lovers Never Tell

Naked as Adam

Three Kisses (CD Only) 


Weakness and Wine (CD Only) 

Cartwheels

St Cecilia

Battersea Boy

Misbegotten Moon

My Muffled Prayer

Last


Monday, 17 August 2015

Happy Blue: Vinyl Cut Today!

Crickey; how exciting is this!
You know how, sometimes, mega moments can pass you by without you even noticing?
Well, today my new album 'Happy Blue' was cut to vinyl. I almost missed the moment until it was mentioned in passing by our soundmeister Peter Beckmann.
Beyond 'Bless this Ship', a 45 that I made in an early MM incarnation with Stephen Smith and Phil Philip Sands (a Radio 1 "Record of the Week' with Mike Reid back in the day) this is the first time any of my stuff has been committed to the black stuff.
Peter Beckmann donned his white coat and oversaw the operation.
He sent this along with "There you go. That's your actual side A right there.."
And here it is:
'Happy Blue'
Side 1
Bright and shiny and desperate to be loved...



Saturday, 15 August 2015

Aarhus Festival: Howe Gelb: Way Too Much Light

I'm off to the Aarhus Festival at the end of the month and really looking forward to this evening. Howe Gelb​'s band Giant Sand are a longtime favorite and I love the way his gigs unfurl. He kind of dismantles his songs and rebuilds them again in plain view. Sure, when he's done with them they are always a couple of screws looser, with the odd bolt unreturned to its former home but somehow... his creation seems improved by the process.
Snake oil?
Smoke and mirrors?
Or are we simply hypnotized by a charismatic show man?
Who cares when the results are invariably golden.
On this 'Night of Way Too Much Light' Howe's surrounded by some real talent to share in the alchemy...
http://aarhusfestuge.dk/en/event/howe-gelb-way-too-much-light

Monday, 1 June 2015

Lovesong: The Milk Carton Kids: Memphis

Catching up slowly here...
I'm still awaiting delivery of their new album 'Michigan' but I've just received my vinyl copy of The Milk Carton Kid's 2012 release, 'The Ash & Clay'.
It's a beautiful uncluttered thing, shimming with quiet poetry, deft touch and an intimacy of close harmony that brings to mind both Simon and Garfunkel and The Everly Brothers. Indeed there's a subtle tipping of the hat to Paul Simon's 'Graceland' in the closing song 'Memphis':

"This is ain't a trip with my son, there's no guitar shines in the sun, those days are gone, may new ones come before it's all just a museum . . . Graceland is a ghost town tonight, I guess it's been a long decline, God bless the souls that shook up mine"

These are songs to wallow in, for beyond the cool veneer is a worldweary wisdom that beckons, embraces and binds; taps into your heart and mind and refuses to leave.

The swing sets are empty like dirt turned the dark of the night
the center of this town it used to whirl in the glow of twilight
it might look like God's away with all the trouble these days
we'll come home before the girls are grown
we're coming home tonight
What, oh, have we done to run this country into such a sight
stolen from our brothers like we couldn't find a fair enough fight
you wait on promise you will say
won't forsake the ash and clay
let's come home before the girls are grown
let's come home to fight



And to add gravity to the the loving luster we have liner notes from Joe Henry who concludes:


"For within these songs is a man himself in motion –a traveler who dances in silent, halting circles. And what he does is quietly bear witness like a weathervane, to the carnival of souls by the wayside, his eyes cornered but his face always pointing forward, his voice in our heads. He moves through love but is alone; laughs at the wreckage, weeps with lust; throws and sweeps confetti, stands at cold gravesides; raises a hand in promise, then picks your pocket and slips quietly back across the border. He slides outside the law, bound by honor and duty, the pure product of a mad country working with all its heart at fevered cross-purposes.
In the end it is mercy he is after, the character in this play—the kind of mercy that attends grace when truly living in spite of the inevitable, when singing the unspeakable to the unlistening. ≈  And from Hiroshima to Graceland, this character knows that the whole of human foolishness must be witnessed, loved, and forgiven for that mercy to be ratified. 
Like Jesus and Harpo Marx, he does this for us all."

I like Joe...
I love The Milk Carton Kids.



Saturday, 11 April 2015

The Hat Club: Brooke Sharkey & Adam Beattie: Saturday, April 18th: 8pm


I don't know if you are aware of this but Di and I run a small music venue The Hat Club, in Beaconsfield, Bucks.
Musicians are having a hard time of it at the moment.
Why not make The Hat Club a habit?
It really helps Di and I (and the artists) if folk can commit early, pay their tenner and get their names on the club clip board.
This gives us the confidence of a decent turn out for the evening.
Guests are welcome.
Ring: 01494 671307

So, come on. 
Get the date in your diary.
Bring the family.
Bring a friend or two.
Spread the word.
Musicians are an endangered species.
Live music is a good thing.
The Hat Club is worthy of your support.

Future presentations:

Saturday 18th April - Brooke Sharkey/Adam Beattie
Saturday 4th July - Dean Owens
Saturday 1st August - Paul McClure & Pete Gow
Saturday 19th September - Chris Wood
Saturday 10th October - Boo Hewerdine
Saturday 14th November - Dan Whitehouse


The next Hat Club presentation should be something special.
Brooke Sharkey and Adam Beattie are up and coming and quite seductive.
Di and I first heard their delicate strains at The Union Chapel in Islington where they enthralled a packed house. We knew immediately that they'd be perfect for The Hat Club.
London based singer-songwriter Brooke Sharkey was raised between France and England.
At the age of 16, her musician Father gave Brooke the best piece of advice, which was go out on the street and start busking the first few songs she’d written.
Since then brooke has released 2 Eps and her Debut album ‘One Dress’ released in December 2012 recorded at Livingston studios in London. She went on tour the UK, France and Italy with her backing band.
Brooke has lured a considerable audience with her intense and expressive style, drawing the listener into her ever more narrative songs with a spacious backdrop of chanson, blues, folk and Latin music.
Her current band consists of Adam Beattie on electric guitar and backing vocals, a singer/ songwriter in his own right who will share the bill with Brooke.
Her new EP ‘I Crossed the Line’ was released on the 28th May at Wilton’s Music Hall, London.
Brooke is currently working on her new album and is planning a Uk tour in April 2015 and play the UK festival circuit. There are also plans to be in Spain and Italy in July.

Friday, 27 February 2015

Lovesong: Joe Henry — The Mystery and Adventure of Life and Songwriting

'Mystery' is the word... I write to discover... The poem has an intelligence that the poet doesn't have.'

I'd encourage all songwriters and lovers of song to listen to this wonderful interview. He manages to demystify the magical mysteries of the craft without breaking the spell. He also totes the challenges of opening your heart to others.
'If you exorcise your demons your devils will leave too.'
I'm thralled by Joe's worldly wisdom.
A master of words, a sculptor of sound and a huge hearted hero... and I don't do 'heroes' but... I like Joe Henry​:


Eye Level With the Stylus: An Appreciation of Miracle Mile

Songwriting’s a rum business.
It’s like firing arrows into an empty sky and hoping that they’ll lodge in a tender heart whilst not taking anyone’s eye out… all the time knowing that your missives often end up lost, lodged in some fallow field. You want those arrows to be sharp and true, and to carry hopeful messages to the heart of the matter. To heal and not to harm. I’m humbled and happy to hear that we’ve hit the target with Paul Woodgate.
Read his wonderful appreciation of Miracle Mile here on Paul's excellent site:
Eye Level With the Stylus

Monday, 5 January 2015

Friend of Rachel Worth's 'Top 30' Albums of 2014

'Friend of Rachel Worth' is David Ashley whose 'Cathedral of Sound' blog is sadly missed.
As you can see he still has an eclectic taste in music.

David writes:
Happy new year and as promised / threatened here are my favourite lps of the year. Apologies this was meant to 20 but grew and , meant to be a line on each but has kind of got fat on the turkey , so feel free to breakup , cut down , etc...
I’ve broadened it out to give a top 30 , so in true “in with a bullet” fashion here goes:

30 - From Scotland with Love By King Creosote - A marmite voice and by the reviews a marmite lp. Made to accompany a film about Scotland , the songs delve into social history through stories. There is nothing jarring here , the instrumentation match the caress of Kenny Anderson’s voice. One for late night listening with a single malt in hand - start with “Cargill”

29 - Avonmore by Bryan Ferry - His solo stuff for me falls into two camps , the smoother than smooth , polished out of all personality that while pleasant and proficient lacks the flint that creates a spark or the left field experiments in jazz or big band covers that might as well come with a big “progress at your listening peril” sign. However this got good reviews and so I took a punt. The craft and polish is there however the tunes have been remembered and a quieter , haunted , almost strained vocal style really suits. Feels like an older brother to Avalon the only slight jar is with the 2 covers of Send in the Clowns and Johnny and Mary. I cant quite work out if they really work or feel like a strange add on - start with “Avonmore”

28 - World Peace is None of Your Business By Morrissey - I’ve got pretty much all of Morrissey’s solo output and I really like probably a third , find a third okay and despair at a third. Not a great hit rate for the amount I have. I had this theory that anyone with real talent that brings out the best in him - Marr . Vinni Reilly , Stephen Street he ends up falling out with and goes to find comfort in mediocracy. How else to explain the endless dirge like chugging guitars that smother any kind of melody. Well this was a glorious surprise . The production is sparkling (closest in sound to his Viva Hate his first and best solo outing). There is the humour that made the Smiths so much more than misery merchants and the music is full of surprising flourishes . Vocally it is again his strongest lp for ages. The edition I got has 6 extra songs on a second lp , all of which were strong enough to appear on the main one. Ironic then that again he finds himself dropped and labeless. Start with “Staircase at the University”

27 - Jungle By Jungle - Got this after seeing them on Later. Sounds like a 70s funk band has discovered a time machine and landed in a modern day recording studio. A whole lp means the songs do blend into one long groove , but I defy anyone to listen to Busy Earnin and not start twitching and longing for an age before any dance floor moves had morphed into dad dancing - start with “Busy Earnin”

26 Present Tense by Wild Beasts - Slighltly disturbing , slightly deranged , kind of reminds me of a sinister mid period Talk Talk. Largely electronic backing with a focus on texture. Lulls you into a sense of relaxation but with a nagging doubt that all is not well that just wont go away - Start with “A Simple beautiful Truth”

25 So Long , See You Tomorrow by Bombay Bicycle Club - I've got a real soft spot for this band, so this was always going to probably feature somewhere. This is a dense poppy record , full of sing along choruses , bright shiny crunchy music and euphoric harmonies. A bit like the band itself it can suffer from a lack of real personality, but if I still went out on Friday night this would help me to get ready. Although not representative - the calm in the storm , start with “I can’t take my eyes off you”

24 La Petite Mort By James - This is in here due to the fact I cant separate it from hearing it launched live at a 1000 people gig that James carried out with new songs sprinkled among old favourites, obscure b sides and fan favourite lp tracks. An lp about death but death as a joyous celebration rather than a funeral procession. All the James clichés are correct and present , the phrase repeated 3 times as a chorus , the slightly irritating lyrics, the soaring trumpet, the guitar and violin duels , the catchy as hell melodies , etc and that is only lead off single the glorious Moving on (check out the video if you have not seen it) . Wont win any new fans and provides plenty of ammunition for those who don't like them, not their best but better than most of the rest, start with watching “Moving On” or listening to “Bitter Virtue”

23 Frozen Sight By Paul Smith and Peter Brewis - Taking time out from their main bands day jobs , this is one of those side projects that somehow sounds loads better than it should do. Featuring a travelogue of diary entries set to chamber pop backing the lp features post cards and photographs from around the world. I’m not sure what came first although I suspect it was the lyrics as at times you worry that the music in trying to find the rhythm is heading for a fall, the gorgeousness of the backing means that it is forever interesting rather than awkward. The lyrics by focusing on the mundane sucks you into the surrounding. Start with “Philly”

22 Long Way Down By Tom Odell - For some reason I think Tom Odell brings out the music snobbery in a lot of people . Not sure whether it is age or having the tenacity to cover a John Lennon song for John Lewis , or the choice of early Coldplay/Keane type sound. I came very late to this. “ She got a new boyfriend ,a little too soon if you’re asking me” - who has not felt that about someone and the lp is full of those universal truths told in an ache of a voice that bely the slightly safe backing. Start with “Supposed to Be”

21 Endless Days Crystal Sky By By the Sea - This is for all those people who miss the sound of Liverpool 1982. By the Sea mine a sound of Care , Echo and the Bunnymen, Teardrop Explodes and the Wild Swans. As with those bands there is a delicious use of melody which means they get away without sounding dated .. just. If Flaming Sword and Bible Dreams mean nothing to you then I guess this will have you scratching your head . Start with “Emily Says”

20 Beautitude #9 By The Orchids - One of those bands that have hit a second wind. The have their roots in that twee indie Sarah guitar sound. But then again they can produce slabs of dancey electronic music , pure pop songs , dream like ballads and sometimes they can mix all of these into one song. This is full of top pop tunes , not going to set the world on fire but too good to be lost from the radar. Start with “The Coolest Thing”

19 No-one is Lost By Stars - I can never understand why this Canadian band aren't massive. Then again the bastard child of New order and Prefab Sprout may not be everyone’s cup of tea. This feel like a final throw of the dice as it has a now or never overtly commercial feel . It is as if they have tried to make lp of singles cliché. Everything is bright and catchy to an extreme ,all squeaky crystal clean. I know it has disappointed Toronto Tim and I think I can see why. It is like buying a greatest hits lp ie it misses the light and shade of the more interesting lp tracks . As a result it is like having a sugar binge , addictive and dizzy but can end up feeling a tad nauseous and empty. The only one on the list that maybe works better for the ipod generation in that the whole is less than the sum of the glorious parts. Start with “Look Away”

18 Clumsy Knot By Randolph’s Leap - mmm how to describe this lot - space folk, psychedelic country , country pop , who knows. Scottish band full of quirky songs with left of centre lyrics. Scabs are picked , the absurdities of life are explored, sores are poked , relationships painted in all their ugly beauty. Asked to explain why the singer doesn't like and ex’s new man , the response is “he talks like a weather man” and you cant argue with that. Start with “Weatherman”

17 Dizzy Heights By Neil Finn - I wasn't going to get this . I’d been stung by the Pyjama Club and the last Crowded House. The first single seemed to confirm all my fears , but then I saw him on later and got sucked in by both songs he did there. The lp does try something different in terms of sound , but it doesn't get in the way of the tunes and in Recluse, Flying in the Face of Love and Dizzy Heights he has written three of his best. Start with “Recluse”

16 The Breaks by Martin Carr - As the songwriter with the Boo Radleys , his songs flitted from purest pop to weirdest wig outs often in the space of a verse. Vocals were never going to be the strongest part of this lp , so to compensate we get simply belting hook laden pop tunes and harmony saturated ballads. An extra point also for a song attacking the noxious Katie Hopkins called “Senseless Apprentice”. Like By the Sea there is a mid 80s Liverpool feel to the production but this time for those that mourn the Pale Fountains. Start with “Santa Fe Skyway”

15 Everyday Robots by Damon Albarn - I could always take or leave Blur for every Universal there was a Country House and Goriillaz just felt a tad too gimmicky , so I am not quite sure why I took a punt on this. Apart from a Wings of a Dove type interlude , this is a very mellow , reflective down beat lp. The songs have subtle shading with electronica mixed in with the band instrumentation. The lyrics are grownup , with a sense of a mid life pause if not crisis. Its a low key affair and much the better for it . Start with “If lonely Press Play”

14 Ruckers Hill By Husky - Husky’s debut from a couple of years ago was one of great discoveries. A folk indie band of which there were many and they did seem to get lost in the crowd. Coming from Australia they have a slightly different feel to a lot of stuff in a similar vein. Their second lp is even better. There are more straight forward pop songs whilst still keeping the harmonies , the layered sound. Its a summer record full of pollen .Start with Rucker’s Hill

13 Seven Dials By Roddy Frame - This year I saw the Boy Wonder play one of the best gigs I’ve ever been to in the High Land anniversary concert, which meant a sense of expectation was heightened even more than the long wait since the last lp. Seven Dials is a really good lp but sums up this year for me in music , lots of relly good lps but not too many great ones. Having said all that it is full of sparkling songs pulling on styles from throughout his career and it is great to have him backed by a band again. I’ve got a feeling that in 5 yrs time this will be one of the lps that has grown with age - Start with “The Postcard”

12 Loads By Alien Envoy - Why isn't Nick Kelly hailed as one of the song writing greats? There isn't anything radical here just song writing of the highest quality. Not boxed in by the usual singer songwriter backing, there are noisy rants , driving pop songs , sad snippets , caustic wit and heart stopping moments of beauty. start with “Small Loads”

11 Open up the Colouring Book - The Pearlfishers - So to the cottage industry that is David Scott. No changes to the beach boy harmonies sugar sweet backing template. You will either find this sailing close to parody or like me you will wallow in a sugar high. I know some feel differently but for me the quality doesn't drop over the 16 tracks. Start with the heart stopping “Her Heart Moves Like the Sea Moves” 

10 Herd Runners By Cherry Ghost. This was another nice surprise . I liked the debut lp in places but thought the 2nd one was a big disappointment. Herd Runners is a joy (even if the joy as an ache at its core). The tunes are back and the backing is beautifully timeless almost Bacharach in places. A soft and warm woolly jumper of a record full of love and loneliness . Start with Love will Follow You

9 Mutineers By David Gray - Maybe this is the year for artists who have been chugging along making okay records to rediscover their mojo , ignore the record company and go sod it. David Gray’s last 2 lps have been okay and if I’m honest I put this on my xmas list more out of habit than anything else. I’ve not lived with it long but it gets better with each play. This has the song at its heart and is full of care and craft. Just as you think you know where the song is going there will be touch of instrumentation , a melody build , etc. that takes it to the next level . Start with Last Summer

8 New Gods by Withered Hand - Withered Hand is the recording name for Scottish songwriter Dan Wilson. It has all the trademarks of a classic Scottish lp , guitars jangle with clever word play and melodies that get lodged in your brain. The lp starts with “Here go , Pigeon toed to the feather weight fight and before they knocked me down , did you put a horsehoe in my glove?” which kind of sums the whole lp up. As catchy as hell , sad and life affirming at the same time which is a hell of trick - Start with “New Gods”

7 Islands By Bear’s Den - Imagine Mumford and Sons (no come back) with all the good bits and none of the bad bits and with the added benefit of not simply repeating the same song 10 x on an lp, you have Bear’s Den. Nothing radical or reinvented but 10 tales beautifully told. Start with “The Love We Stole”

6 All the Luck in the World by All the Luck in the World - This irish band and they could only be from island have made an lp of haunting , fragile songs in the same family as Stornoway. a thing of eloquent beauty. At its heart an acoustic lp with the added instrumentation providing the light and shade supporting the intimate vocals. This year,s best debut by a mile Start with Haven

5 To the Bone - By Jones - This may well have been higher but I get stuck on putting Phil the Hat on endless repeat - my song of the year that captures everything I love about Mr Jones’s music Start with “Phil the Hat”


4 Morning Phase by Beck - I hadn’t got anything by Beck , finding most of his early stuff annoying at best and in Loser obnoxious at worst. He was one of those artists that critics seemed to love but I always got a squint of the emperor’s new clothes. However this is gorgeous , like being lost in a melancholy summer dream. Also it gets double points as it led me straight to the sister lp Sea Change - Start with Heart is a Drum

3 My Favourite Faded Fantasy by Damien Rice. - O was a classic , 9 was a tough listen and then nothing. I am a sucker for the sad songs as they tend to say it best , and this is an lp of sad songs. He has rediscovered some of the quirkiness of sound of O , but what saves it from 9s uncomfortable self loathing is the warmth of the production and keeping any woe is me ranting in check with the tunes. Start with “I Don’t Want to Change You”

1= Hendra By Ben Watt - I cant separate my top two and they are there for opposing reasons. First of all I was rejoicing that Ben Watt had picked up a guitar and put on hold the life of a superstar dj, but I didn't expect it to be quite this good. As with Tracy Thorn’s last lp (not counting the xmas one) this is a proper grown up lp. I don't mean coffee table , dinner party grown up , but the grown up of looking back with nostalgia and regret , looking forward with hope and fear. No Tracy but he picks his collaborators well . Bernard Butler’ s guitar provides texture and support whereas it could have dominated. He is much better at the personal and the only slight misfire is the anti gun lyric on one track, although the sublime guitar makes up for it. Lets hope the guitar is here to stay. Start with “Forget”

1= Lost in the Dream by The War on Drugs - I love this for exactly the opposite reasons I do
Hendra. I doubt anything I write will create any converts but here are the 5 reasons it is number one for me:

1- it has a song that I feel will stay one of my favourites for a very long time


2 - It manages the trick of wearing its influences proudly but still sounding fresh


3 - It is an lp of one continuing , flowing mood ,an lp to put on the headphones lie back and get lost in


4 - It feels epic and intimate at the same time


5 - it has those great 80s type lyrics that can mean nothing to everything


Start with Under the Pressure
So there we go Trev Happy New year
Friend of Rachel Worth

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Hissy Fit: Albums of the Year: Addendum

Never make lists in haste.
You'll miss the bleeding obvious:
The butter
The milk
The porridge
Somehow my Top 10 of the year omitted these 3 gems.
Haven't got time to wax lyrical.
Just let me tip my hat.
So, that's 14 in my Top 10.
Is that ok?

Cherry Ghost: Herd Runners:  Sweet soulful pop




Beck: Morning Phase: Mournful yet uplifting




David Bridie: Wake: Emotionally and intellectually stimulating.



Sunday, 21 December 2014

Hissyfit 'Albums of 2014': My Top 5

5: Passengers: Whispers

'I've a big old heart
This I know for sure
But I don't know what my love is for
I should know by now...'

This might raise a few eyebrows.
I'm not usually swayed by 'likability' but I found this guy irresistible. Mike Rosenberg wears that big old heart on his sleeve and sings out load and clear. These messages don't need decoding, Mike's got the sensibilities of a trembling 5th former - he wouldn't have fared well at my boarding school - but sometimes there's a guilty pleasure in the recognition of the bleeding obvious. There's certainly a calming comfort and reassurance in his predictability. He delivers exactly what you want of him and sometimes that's the perfect pop fix.
Whilst Ed Sheehan seems like a perfectly nice bloke his music makes my teeth ache.
Rosenberg sweetness is addictive.
In fact, let's call him 'The Haribo of Heartache'.





4: First Aid Kit: Stay Gold

"I could move to a small town and become a waitress
Say my name was Stacy and figure things out"

Not just because Miracle Mile mainstay Melvin Duffy colors it so beautifully with his keening pedal steel, but also because the Söderberg sisters have gone for a widescreen production that could have spelt disaster but simply spells the word 'wonderful'. 
For an album that's so sonically assured there's a slight dissonance in the song content. These are tales of regret, transience and uncertainty and yet the assured production and performance creates a strange alchemy that renders the rusty regrets golden.

"What if to love and be loved is not enough? 
What if I fall and can't bear to get up? 
Oh, I wish, for once, we could stay gold".




3: John Fullbright: Songs


I loved Fullbright's debut 'From the Ground Up' and 'Songs' was no disappointment. Di and I saw Fullbright perform this album in concert recently and he managed to breath some life into the King's Hall; the second most lifeless venue in London after The Barbican. (I'm with you on that Paul Woodgate!)
On 'Songs' he's ditched the acoustic turned to the piano for much of this hushed set. Don't be misled by the opening salvo 'Happy'. 

“Tonight I’d rather think of you, try to close my eyes
And I’ll just wonder what’s so bad about happy.” 

For from what follows it seems that the boy's had his heart broken and the aching is stripped bare, unrelenting and quite delicious.
He's lost and lonely and these songs offer no solutions; all John can do is illuminate the heartache:

“As for lonely, I could show you how to live a life alone
All it takes is getting used to getting lost.”

He articulates the pain with an off kilter singular sensibility and tenderness that reminds me of a young Jimmy Webb:

“In my heart stands a scarecrow,
If he’s hurt, he doesn’t say so
When he chases everything he loves away
But at night when it’s colder
there’s a bluebird on his shoulder
And he whispers that he’ll hold her one bright day.”






= 2: Rosanne Cash : The River and the Thread

Yup, I bottled it; a joint second place for these two queens of country. 

"The things you push away when you’re young often become the very things you embrace when you’re older"

In her first set of original material since 2006's 'Black Cadillac' Cash's reconnection with America's deep south is key. After spending much of her youth distancing herself from her parents' overpowering influence she was bound to be drawn back to their roots. And the title 'The River and the Thread' suggests the flow of this tardy rights of passage; a confluence of influence and lineage, a returning to the source, so to speak.
It's a musical road trip of sorts, taken down the rivers and back roads of the Deep South with her longtime collaborator and husband John Leventhal, who took the cover shot of Rosanne on the Tallahatchie Bridge, made famous by that Bobbie Gentry song.
Cash remembers the genesis of the record:

"One day about a year ago, John and I started in Memphis and we drove to Oxford, Mississippi and went to Faulkner’s house. Then we went to Robert Johnson’s grave in Greenwood, Mississippi — what they think is his actual grave now, there’s some dispute — and then on to Money, Mississippi, where Emmett Till was killed. Around the corner, literally, is the Tallahatchie Bridge. I was standing on the bridge, looking at the Tallahatchie River. John took that snapshot from behind, and said, "That's an album cover." It's this vortex of profound musical inspiration and revolution. The civil rights era began because of Emmett’s murder, right there, right around the corner from the Tallahatchie Bridge. It's mind-boggling."

The twosome visit each musical styling with confidence and élan; never outstaying their welcome.
The focus, playing and singing are pitch perfect.




= 2: Lucinda Williams: Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone

'Pitch perfect' isn't a phrase that would rest easily with Lucinda Williams's lazy Louisiana drawl. You wonder if Williams has ever hit a pure note in her life but it's a wonderful wail. And you sense that Williams is having a wail of time trying to find the road to recovery. Where Rosanne is surely partial to sipping a Mint Julep or two you can bet that Lucinda is necking her bourbon straight from the bottle. But there's a persuasive poetry in detail and delivery that renders her surly slur both sensual and essential. You'd think as a double album (104 generous minutes) she might be in danger of outstaying her welcome, but every song is perfectly judged, even a 10 minute visitation of JJ Cale's 'Magnolia. It's also a guitarist's heaven with a masterclass from the finessed frets of Tony Joe White and Bill Frisell who bring subtlety and focus to the dense, swampy undertones.
Rosanne Cash sings "I'd like to have the ocean, but I'd settle for the rain" as if she's content with having the choice. You kind of know that troubled waters and grey skies are imperative as the natural backdrop to Lucinda's malaise.



World weary, weather beaten and a little wobbly she might be, but Williams remains spirited, vibrant and as vital as ever, buoyant amongst the flotsam and jetsam; proud and provocative, resilient and magnificently defiant, even in the face of the stormiest weather.




1: Joe Henry 'Invisible Hour'

No contest, although this was a slow burner. Because it's an album that demands your attention this took a while to insinuate itself. But once it lodged within it stayed long. I enthused about this in an earlier blog so won't bang on too much. This is popular music of the highest order; beautifully produced, artfully rendered, with songs that are lyrically dense, occasionally bordering on the impenetrable (we are dealing with with the mysteries of the heart) yet pitched by a voice that you totally engage with.
It's a 'relationship' album, concerned with the vagaries and minutaie of Joe's own marriage and “the redemptive power of love in the face of fear upon which this house is built.” It's a brave album because it mutters the unutterable, detailing the fallout when two hearts collide and blood is shed. We know that blood doesn't mix, even if it "tastes like honey". What pulls us together can push us apart. It's the fine detailing of these raw and often unquantifiable dynamics that makes this such an enthralling and challenging piece. There are no easy answers, no hearts and flowers, no lipstick sunsets. 'Invisible Hour' is about seeing the unseeable and recognizing its worth. In attempting to map such secret fault lines it casts a keen but troubled eye on the taboos and mysteries of life and love; the transience of passions; the way that time inexorably casts shadows on the heart whilst somehow unlocking and exposing every chamber. Offering more questions than answers its poetry is oblique and mysterious, often willfully unfocussed. Henry sings “I want nothing more than for you to hear me now,” in 'Plainspeak' and yet the meaning is far from clear. It's woozy ciphers are like sirens beckoning us into a dreamlike state and we can but be entranced; the aural equivalent of deliberately un-focussing your eyes to find the hidden image in a stereogram.


It's an album that you must engage with.
In fact it's an album that you don't really listen to.
You absorb it.
It's music stripped bare.
It's love stripped bare.
It gets to the heart of the matter and distinguishes it as flesh and blood... a bit of a pulpy mess.

'I take all this to be holy

If futile, uncertain and dire

Our union of fracture, our dread everlasting

This beautiful, desperate desire'


Celebrating both fragility and strength, 'Invisible Hour' looks love unflinchingly in the eye, recognizes its disappointments and imperfections, acknowledges the desperation of desire; totes the victories and defeats, runs its finger along the scars caused by those daily collisions and wears them proudly.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Hissyfit: 'Albums of 2014': Numbers Ten to Six

Bittersweet.
It's been a ho-hum kind of a year all round.
A little unrest goes a long way in our house.
We like things calm and settled.
The smallest troubles can cause unease so... when the wheels do come off big time we struggle.
Central to our unrest was the decline in Di's Dad's health.
Harry finally passed away in October.
If there's such a thing as 'a good death' his was one.
He was laughing with Dot, the love of his adult life (hip to hip for 64 years) and when she left the room (to answer the phone) Harry let go and left too.
No fussing.
Typical Harry Holmes.

Music is a balm and was never more so than in 2014.
Di likes to dance; I love a dirge.
Accordingly, I moved towards the sombre rather than the samba...
And those who know me know that I like a sad song.
Don't say you weren't warned.
Here's 10 - 6 of my favorite albums of 2014.
I'm not saying that they're the best.
Or even the best I heard.
They were just the one's that were there when I needed them...




10: The Delines: Colfax

Heaven? In the parlance of country music, if hell is other folk, then heaven is surely other folk's hell. In that land of endless opportunity, schadenfreude is a divine diversion from the minutiae of disappointment; relief from the mundanities of ordinary lives lived regretfully. Let's wallow in the misery of others and let's call it 'Americana'. This genre hosts a very American brand of unrelenting misery. There's no whistling kettle to call you home, no warm bath where the hot water tap is balmy hope incarnate. Here the dilapidated Diner's coffee is cold and bitter, the motel's plastic shower curtain remains ripped and stained, the trickling water, hard and lukewarm.

The Delines is a side project from Willy Vlautin. His prime persona will always be that of the lead singer with Richmond Fontaine, rampant reviewers of all things Americana, but Willy's so full of creative juice that there's little fear of him spreading his grits too thin. He's fast establishing himself as one of America's finest authors; his literary eye resting on the underbelly (or arse end) of blue collar America, with a particularly harsh focus on masculinity and what makes men cry. He's mentioned in the same breath as Raymond Carver and Sam Shepherd and it's no faint praise. Vlautin casts a similarly relentless gaze on the folks of 'Colfax'.


Apparently there's a Colfax Avenue in Denver, frequented by delinquents and broken spirits. This inspired the sense of place, if not the location for these sorry tales. Except here Willy brilliantly twists his viewpoint from tawdry testosterone to the one of a doleful female protagonist, as voiced by the beautifully mournful tones of Amy Boone from The Damnations. Where Springsteen offered 'magic in the night' as relief and 'wheels for wings' as speedy escape and redemption, there are some tramps too tired to run; or who simply can't afford the gas. Enter Amy Boone.


There's much weeping in these plangent laments. Although occasionally buoyed by the inevitable flashes of false hope, it's a sad illumination; the lights of home are nowt but futile fog, the lights on the horizon are the toxic glow of the local oil rigs. It's a dirty world of small towns, populated (or polluted) by hard drinkers and harsh truths. Sad souls bend or break; nothing is savored; food is fast, bottles are opened and emptied, cards are dealt and the game is seldom won; the only hope on offer comes from the jukebox in the corner of the smoky barroom. Although Boone plays many parts in this song cycle, she details the slow fade of her 'everywoman' with such candor and grace that you can't help but weep for her; she's probably too tired for tears. Witness her fading beauty in the the early morning half light as she prepares for another soul sapping shift. At the day's pay off you can sense her embarrassment at revealing her stretch marks and tired thighs to yet another one night stand. Hers is the flip side to the the sepia wide screened romances of Jimmy Webb and Glen Campbell. Way back then, fresh dawns and soft sunsets backlit the wholesome heartache of 'Galveston' and 'By the Time I Get to Phoenix'.  But there's no 'Witchita Lineman' to connect Amy to distant love here. Where are the sweet whisperings? 'And I need you more than want you, and I want you for all time'. There's no such nobility here, no beatific oaths and commitments in these sad tales. Each day is simply a struggle towards sunset. The abiding mood is one of regret and ennui in a world where the day's sole purpose is to foreshadow the next day's duties; as prophetic as the dots that join each pathetic dawning to the next. There are moments of spirited resistance to her circumstance and the company she keeps, “I ain’t riding through the night in broken down cars with skinny friends with dying eyes, in the violence of a losing streak,” and sure, there's dignity and grace in that struggle, but you kind of know that if our heroine succeeds in escaping the bad company she is destined to end up lonesome.
There are moments of defiance but ultimately the tone is one of resignation, acceptance and, inexorably, defeat.
The band plays loose and Boone summons up the ghost of Bobby Gentry.
All's not well, the heart aches, swells and breaks.
And it's a beautiful sound.
Heavenly.
And in Colfax heaven is other folk's hell.
Go figure...





9: Robert Ellis: The Lights From the Chemical Plant

"The lights from the chemical plant burn bright 
in the night like an old kerosene lamp"

Robert Ellis also offers sanguine observations on injury and recovery but although he inhabits a similar kind of environment as Colfax, Ellis's glass seems more half full than empty. And he's more likely to raise that glass rather than throw it at you.
There's a healthy dose of optimism to temper the troubles, perhaps benefit of Robert's ability to escape into his imagination.

"I'm a gunfighter, I'm a bull rider
I'm the captain of some pirate ship at sea
For a couple of hours I've got super powers...
God bless you Walt Disney, you were a father to me
You kept me company when no-one else had the time"

The music is still unmistakably 'Americana' but it's lighter, almost with a pop sheen. And yet the musicality can take a sudden sharp turn up a darker street, where there's always the shiver of strings to temper the twang.
'Steady As the Rising Sun' puts me in mind of a Gram Parsons of young Glen Campbell.


Ellis is not above finding refuge in a bottle of wine and a bag of cocaine and is worldly enough in his recognition of life's other comforts:

“Only lies can comfort you
Only lies will see you through”

It's the inability to catagorise this gently unsettling album that makes it such a joy. The tenderness and tension make for a heady mix. The easy pleasure is in it's lightness, but there's a real frisson of excitement in knowing that those moments are often a prelude to some gorgeous moments of darkness and despair. Misery loves company and Robert Ellis is great company.


In the final song on the set, the breathtaking narrative of 'Tour Song' reminds us of the raw heartache and bitter insecurity that underpins much of country music's sweetest moments. 

“Soon she’ll start to wonder what it is that I provide
And why the hell a husband can’t be by his woman’s side.”

These troubedours... they really do suffer for their art (tis so) and then they have the temerity to expose those wounds for us to pore over; sweet schadenfreude indeed. 
And love's sweet sorrow n'er tasted so bitter, yet the flesh wounds never seemed so recoverable as they do when illuminated by The Lights From the Chemical Plant. 





8: Adam Cohen: We Go Home

On a lighter note...
Who'd have thought that I'd be looking towards the Cohen family for light relief?
He has his father's dark looks and quivering bass timbre, and he too has a way with words and easy melody.
Leonard always was a lady's man and you get the impression that Adam's a chip off the old bloke; using his poetry and prose to impress the chicks as much as the critics.
There's certainly a Lothario's strut evident here:


And yet this album (his 5th) is full of big hearted melodies embellished with tasteful restraint. It's literally a 'home made' album; recorded at his family homes in Montreal and on the Greek island of Hydra. Despite his undeniable lineage there's no sense of entitlement on show. No histrionics, no musical parade and posturing. He seems at ease with what he's been bequeathed. He creates his ditties easily on Dad's nylon string guitar. It's that relaxed modesty that makes these songs so likable. He does reference Pater a lot (“You’ll be hearing his voice, like you’re hearing it now”) but there's enough about Adam and his easy charm to make him the first man here. Although this is an intimate offering there's a life enhancing positivity that just jumps out of the grooves and chirps 'like me!' Adam is your affable best looking friend. The one that always gets served first at the bar. The one that gets all of the beautiful girls, firstly as lovers and then as best friends too. And yet he'd be that one friend who, if push came to shove, would lend you his last condom.


7: Simone Felice: Strangers

I always liked The Felice Brothers although there was a tendency towards raucous 'Waitsism' that I often found unconvincing.
Simone left the band in 2009 to record as The Duke and the King which was more up my alley. The combination of unflinchingly observed storytelling and church chords was a sucker punch to my glass jaw.
And I love a tremulous voice.
All boxes ticked here on his sophomore solo album. It seems more focussed than his 2012 solo debut. With his literary bent to the fore, Felice's songs alternate between the sorrowful and the uplifting, although the apparent morbidity of closer 'The Gallows' somehow manages both at the same time.
I cannot source that wonder.
This isn't a bad second choice...





6: Adam Holmes: 'Heirs and Graces'

John Wood is celebrated for producing some of Folk music's finest marvels, including the classic early 70s albums of Nick Drake and John Martyn. Wood has been in semi retirement of late, running a B&B in Edinburgh apparently. One listen to Adam Holmes was enough to drag him back into the studio. And his alchemy is everywhere on this wholesome delight.

At 23 Adam Holmes is an old soul; I've met him and his is a well furrowed brow:

'Awkward silence fills a crowded room
You would understand if you were me
And I can't even hold a conversation
With a shadow where a man’s supposed to be'



And yet he unburdens his world weary troubles with a delicacy and compassion that's hard to resist. There's a pre-bile sweetness to the curmudgeon-lite wisdom that sings of the joys of the uninitiated. Perhaps this comes from being steeped in a Celtic musical tradition that celebrates everyday drama with laments of love and loss but won't tolerate self pity. This lightness is enhanced by Adam's admitted love of 70s songwriting troubadours such as James Taylor and Jackson Browne.
So, easy listening?
Indeed, but there's no saccharine here on Adam's excellent debut.
This is sweet soul music for folk who like their folk with just a little twist of bitterness.