Thursday, August 31, 2017

What I Did the Other Night - Parquet Courts & Ultimate Painting at The Wylam Brewery

The Wylam Brewery, across Exhibition Park, next to Newcastle University, is one of a number of new music venues that have been added to the city circuit recently. This is an indication that the live scene is flourishing here, always a good thing, and it's pleasing that alternatives are being supplied to the rather soulless Carling Academy, which for a while was  the only venue to see bands like Parquet Courts who'd outgrown The Cluny and Digital Underground's Think Tank in terms of the number of punters they could attract through the front doors.

The Brewery certainly has its share of soul. Set across the lake in the heart of the park, it has rolling gardens, still functions on most nights as a brewery and micro-pub for real ale devotees and has a large, atmospheric hall where the bands play. A number of people had told me that the acoustics were not what they should be, but having been a couple of times I can scotch that rumour, and as the guy who runs the place says to me, 'Opinions are like arseholes...'.

So, to Ultimate Painting, too good a band to be supporting anybody, but it's always great to see a fully formed unit in operation before the main event. I'm reasonably sure in any case that a fair few of the audience are looking forward to catching them just as much as the headliners, a young and very friendly couple I chatted with at the beginning of the evening for example.

Ultimate Painting are a union between the principle songwriting talents from Veronica Falls and Mazes, James Hoare and Jack Cooper. They're nothing if not prolific, having recorded and released three albums in two years together from Hoare's bedroom in London of neat guitar driven pop music of the type they used to make.

Looking, and sounding like a band who Creation Records would have signed up in the eighties, all hooped shirts and fringes, they're the missing link between The Velvet Underground, (during the phase that Doug Yule was in the band), The Kinks and Rubber Soul era Beatles. Neat guitar, lyrics, harmonies and driving rhythm section, they strike me as a group that haven't got the attention and acclaim they deserve, they would have blown many of those eighties acts off the stage for example, and that comes from someone who saw a fair few of them back in the day.

In terms of sheer songwriting, Ultimate Painting knock the spots off most of their contemporaries and a fair few of more revered forbears. Dividing things between Hoare and Cooper, (I'd say Cooper just shades it in terms of songs and charisma, though with these joint operations there's no need to choose, as the fact that they've got the dual point of attack is a central part of their appeal), they're looking back to forge forward, in some ways a simple, melodic response to an age where things are far more cluttered than they need to be.

They blow me away with Central Park Blues, (to my mind their strongest), which they play midset, a song in the spirit of Courtney Barnett doing Dylan, and one that she herself would have been mighty proud of coming up with. Then on to Song for Brian Jones and finishing a set which was just too short, with Ten Street which allows scope for appropriate full on guitar freakout to close.

 'We're the fabulous Parquet Courts from New York City', intones A.Savage into his mic half an hour later after the band have kicked off with Dust and Human Performance, the same one-two that sets off their album from last year. In contrast to Ultimate Painting who are all English self-depreciating diffidence and modesty in terms of their onstage demeanor, the headliners are non-stop 'attitood' from the moment they hit the stage to the moment they leave it and don't return for an encore.

They approach everything, absolutely everything, from an angle. If you like bands that go at everything from an angle, they, more than anyone currently around, are the ones for you. They've certainly got the songs to back up the swagger. Five years of intensively produced back catalogue which now allows them to pick and choose at will rather than kowtow to the demands of an audience baying for Stoned & Starving, to pick one example, (this isn't played).

Plenty from the Human Performance album is, an indication that they rate it as their best, more than a year after its initial release. As with Ultimate Painting, they divide attention and proceedings between Savage and Austin Brown left and right, with bassist and considerable presence Sean Yeaton centre-stage. This three pronged line of attack is considerably effective with drummer, A.'s brother Max providing a driving backbeat but keeping schtum between songs. He probably wouldn't be able to get a word in edgeways anyhow.

The moshpit is small but eager and mostly female, which I imagine the band would have appreciated. The banter comes thick and fast between songs, Brown and Yeaton conduct a bowing competition at one point. They are smart arse and eternally sure of themselves, 'too cool for school' as the girl at the cornershop artisan bakery, (who was also there), says to me when I stop off for my customary pain au chocolat the next morning.

They've earned a right to a certain degree of hubris. Starting off as a DIY proposition, they've come a long way in a short time and done so largely on their own terms. Tonight though I don't always find their cockiness particularly endearing, (I'm in the diffident Englishman camp with Ultimate Painting not unnaturally), I do enjoy the show, apparently the first they've ever played in an octagon-shaped hall. 

Towards the end of the show Yeaton shakes himself out of  the frantic shugging, frothing mode he operates in for most of the set to remark on the judgmental Santa shadows thrown onto the backwall by the onstage overhead speakers. Brown thanks us for choosing to come and see them rather than Mac DeMarco at the Carling Academy, (he's playing there this evening, it's clearly meant as a slagging), and they're gone after closer One Man, No City, where they do their Marquee Moon style burning inferno, (the comparison is inevitable). As I said, no encore, but they've done more than enough.

So two fine bands and an altogether fine night!

Fresh & Onlys - Wolf Lie Down

The West is the best! Released just last Friday and to no great fanfare, San Francisco's Fresh & Only's sixth album Wolf Lie Down is well worth a listen. It's always refreshing to hear something new, in the well worn tradition of guitar, bass, drums and vocals and think, 'that's interesting' on first listen, not 'that reminds me of ...' It's not a particularly long record, eight songs in all. Says what it wants to and goes on its way. But what it does say is great.

If I had to describe the bands sound I'd say they've do a 'spooked frontier' thing. Probably their best known song Waterfall, from seven years back laid down the template for this. It sounds like a great lost eighties western single in the tradition of Theatre of Hate's Do You Believe in the Westworld, Wall of Voodoo's Mexican Radio and Gun Club's Ghost on the Highway. 

Wolf Lie Down follows this lead. Fresh & Onlys are driven forward by the partnership between singer Tim Cohen and guitarist and producer Wymond Miles and they produce a sound that puts a number of their higher-profile contemporaries to shame.

While a number of American bands such as Bon Iver, Fleet Foxes, Arcade Fire and War on Drugs have recently released highly anticipated records that frankly left me cold, largely through their sense of self-importance, (I must be honest, I didn't even listen all the way through to all of them because they didn't really make me want to), Fresh & Onlys are an entirely different, more modest, yet I'd say ultimately more interesting proposition.

So, eight lovingly crafted songs that I get the sense I'm going to return to on a regular basis over the coming months. Wolf Lie Down echoes within me every time I listen to it. Closing track Black Widow particularly, is one of the finest songs I've heard this year. Sometimes modest says more!

Alvin Stardust

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 500 The Heptones

Song(s) of the Day # 1,320 Neon Waltz

Anthemic is not generally my thing. Oasis, U2 and Arcade Fire for example can all do one for the most part! But I do have a soft spot for young Scottish band Neon Waltz, whose music definitely fits that description and who have just released their debut album Strange Hymns. Hailing from near to John O'Groats, as far up as you can go on the British mainland they're fresh-faced and filled with an optimism and vim that is highly enviable.

Most importantly, they're ambitious. And tasteful. Name-dropping The Band, National and Grizzly Bear as bands they'd like to emulate. Certainly a better path to follow than Embrace, Starsailor or The Sterophonics if they'd wished to choose British forbears instead. They're certainly fond of that barreling, echoing organ sound that Garth Hudson made their trademark all those years back.

Not all of the record works for me. There are songs which slip the wrong side of the bluster line. But when they're good, they're fine and certainly highly promising. You get the sense that they could really be a bit of a force a couple of albums down the line. I'll give you these three in the meantime.Sometimes youth knows!

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Things Found on My Local's Jukebox # 242 Buzzcocks

Here's the whole Spiral Scratch EP but it's just Boredom that's been added to the Rosie's jukebox, with it's wonderful attitude, lyrics and the famous two note guitar solo. One of the truly great early Punk singles.

Terry Hall

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 501 The Miracles

Song of the Day # 1,319 Pere Ubu

A song from Pere Ubu in the nineties that sounds as mighty as anything from their The Modern Dance debut.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Songs Heard on the Radio # 221 Hem

A nice song before bed!

Songs About People # 455 Sir Frank Crisp

English lawyer and microscopist. George Harrison wrote a tribute to him which appeared on his debut album All Things Must Pass. Crisp had once lived in Harrison's huge Victorian Gothic residence which he purchased in 1970 just before The Beatles split. Like much of the album it comes from it's simply beautiful.

Things Found on My Local's Jukebox # 241 Johnny Marr

The choice of Young Sean the barman yesterday. The sound of a genius at work.Johnny Marr, not Young Sean.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 502 Curtis Lee

Song of the Day # 1,318 Kashena Sampson

Some nice old style Country. From her debut album of the same name. Perhaps this year's Margo Price.

Monday, August 28, 2017

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 503 The Impressions

Song(s) of the Day # 1,317 Pinact

Two songs from the new Pinact album, The Part That No-one Knows. They're a Scottish band and young. Their sound is familiar, Nirvana, The Vaselines, Idlewild., very nineties, looking back from there to C-86 and Buzzcocks. But they do it with fuzzy enthusiasm. The record's a breeze from start to finish.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Things Found on My Local's Jukebox # 240 R.E.M.

A great elegaic moment at the end of the night. And a song that R.E.M. themselves weren't too sure about.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 504 The Impressions

Song of the Day # 1,316 Nev Cottee

I'm certainly not the first person to call Nev Cottee the Manc Lee Hazlewood, but it's the obvious comparison point to make. Here's one from his latest album, (recorded in India), from earlier on this year, Broken Flowers.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 505 Sam & Dave

Song(s) of the Day # 1,315 Kacy & Clayton

I like artists who endeavor to put out an album a year. It's what people used to do back in the day before global marketing kicked in with full force and the never ending merry-go-round of touring, talking to the media and milking every last drop out of each release kicked in, making one record every three years if you were lucky became the norm instead.

In this respect, I have reason I have reason to be grateful to Saskatchewan-bred duo Kacy & Clayton who have just released their second record, The Siren's Song, not much more than a calendar year after their first, Strange Country came out.

I chanced upon that first album late last year and liked it so much that I ranked it sixth on my end of year list and bought it for a Christmas present for a nephew, though he never got back to me to let me know whether he liked it or not. Now there's gratitude for you.

The Siren Song builds on the promise of that outstanding debut. Produced by Wilco's Jeff Tweedy, (n indication of rising profile), and supplemented by a full band it's a neat companion piece to Strange Country. The classic retro cover gives it a distinctly sixties feel, which is only enhanced by the sound of the songs which drift into Gram Parsons, Emmy Lou, Buffalo Springsteen, Byrds and Country Rock territory. I'm also reminded, as with their debut, of Cowboy Junkies.

The songs focus on classic folk and country themes, loss, temptation, the lure of the city and Kacy & Clayton deal with them sweetly, with due respect, but making the emotions seem fresh and real on eight self-compositions and a ninth track, an adaptation of a traditional, the closer Go & Leave Me.

Friday, August 25, 2017

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 506 Marvin Gaye & Tammy Terrell

Pop Culture Books # 6 This is Memorial Device by David Keenan

Sometimes you come upon a book that you've been longing to read and know is out there. Maybe something that you wanted to write yourself but perhaps couldn't or didn't for one reason or not. Because you lack the spark or the personal experience, vision or drive or connections or whatever, In any case, you'll be glad to find it and it will inspire you onwards in your own personal creative endeavor. Such is the case for me with David Keenan's debut novel, This is Memorial Device.

Set in Airdrie, Scotland in the early eighties around an entirely fictionalised scene of bands with entirely wonderful names and created histories, strung together as an oral history in chapters of personal reminiscences of adventuring and dreaming by the people in the bands and those that gravitated around them that may remind you of similarly published  factual accounts of Punk particularly Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain's Please Kill Me. 

Ok, so that idea might sound alright but to actually manage to pull it off is no easy trick. Decent novels about fictional musicians making their way in rock, or pop, or rock and roll or whatever you want to call it,are few and far between. Because you're flirting with cliche wherever you might choose to step. Partly because we all know the way these things go. If you're talking about a band, they meet, do small gigs, do bigger gigs, sign a record deal, become stars, drugs, groupies, ego blah blah blah.Or else the music just comes across as sounding awful and the whole exercise seems an act of somewhat desperate wish-fulfillment on the part of the author. I wish it wasn't the case because I like this stuff but it's very different to make a genuinely original statement and write a book worth reading in this particular field.

So why do I like This is Memorial Device so muchBecause it focuses on the genuine underground for starters, and not the classic hipster taste of the narrator of High Fidelity for example. The characters in This is Memorial Device are hipper than you and me. In fact they're hipper than anybody you've ever met or are likely to. And they all come from Airdrie, which you suspect is actually a rather dead end satellite town. But nevertheless, these people lived the dream in their late teens and early twenties. Or so they tell themselves and just as importantly other people, in the accounts they give to the pair they tell their stories to who are busily engaged in compiling the document.

These people are almost the novelistic equivalents of the narrator of LCD Soundsystem's Losing My Edge. Their taste begins with Can's Tago Mago, proceeds on through the 13th Floor Elevators,  Metal Box, the first Roxy album to Nurse With Wound and on towards Memorial Device, the fictional band at the heart of the book, the best band you've never seen but they did, who sounded like John Coltrane on guitar, bass, drums and occasional organ. All these people read the existentialists, the great Russian novels and the beats. They have ludicrous, excessive sex which they're intent on documenting in the most indescribably immoderate detail in an attempt to capture the moment all these years later.

The quotes on the front cover of my copy catch the mood. 'I wanted to live in this book' says Kim Gordon. Irvine Welsh meanwhile states, 'It captures the terrific, obsessive, ludicrous pomposity of every music fan's youth in an utterly definitive way.' Telling testimonials from the kind of people who always make sure that they're on hand to offer the stamp of approval for the demimonde. But they're not wrong.

Most of all it's very funny. These characters are inevitably destined to remain thwarted. As it says on the back of the book, 'It's not easy being Iggy Pop in Airdrie...' but they do their very best. And in doing so, in attempting to vivify their memories of youth, they shine a light on the delusions of those really living the life at the same point in time in the more fashionable and actually happening scenes in New York, London and Manchester. This book is about music, but of course it's also about much more than that. The particular constituency it was written for will love it.

Song(s) of the Day # 1,314 Telstar Ponies

David Keenan Day on here. And to start with, Telstar Ponies, who he formed after leaving Creation artists 18 Wheeler in disgust when the other members started mentioning their ambition of supplementing their songs with string arrangements. Telstar Ponies swam with a particular tide in the mid-nineties, but it was a particularly Scottish tide. Fellow swimmers included Mogwai, The Delgados,  Arab Strap and Urusei Yatsura. Not household names. The Ponies spat in the face of Brit Pop, (which was what was really happening commercially in the UK at the time), and can best be heard on their wonderful debut album from, 1995 In the Space of a Few Minutes.

The record can be described as 'the sound of dread'. Drawing on the influence of the American avant gard, Sonic Youth and Slint, in particular, I remember it as something I always found slightly terrifying when I listened to it, (on a fairly regular basis), during a period living with my parents in the late nineties. It's definitely a lost and unjustly forgotten record. Its story is told in full and placed in context in a review here from the New Perfect Collection blog. 

The songs are phenomenally intense but also beautifully staged, all informed by the sense that you get when listening to Sonic Youth's Evol or watching classic Hitchcock, that something awful is just about to happen. Hear it! It doesn't deserve to be neglected.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

This is the Kit - Moonshine Freeze

'This is the natural order of things. Change sets in...'

Another fine record to have come out in the last few weeks is Moonshine Freeze the new album from This is the Kit, the alias for British musician Kate Sables and the group of musicians she's gathered around her, over a number of years. Her fourth album in all, and her first since signing with Rough Trade, it seems like a point of arrival. Beautiful folky meditations on life somewhere in the tradition of Vashti Bunyan which sometimes meander off into jazz territory. There's a stillness at the heart of what's going on here, which is always Sables voice. Very immediate, very warm, very pastoral, always staying within the realm of immediately relatable human experience. As she sings on 'Riddled with Ticks' a particular highlight midway through the record, 'I know what is true...' 

Instrumentals # 65 Bruxas

Inconsequential and slightly airport lounge music from a combo I think are from Brazil. You might find some involuntary hip-shaking going on.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 507 Jimi Hendrix

Songs About People # 454 Katharine Hepburn

And from the same record...

Song(s) of the Day # 1,313 Chris Staples

A record I really loved but never got round to writing about last year was Chris Staples Golden Age. A smooth, domesticated and comfortably middle-aged record. The picture on the front of the album tells its own story. 

A gentle, tuneful listen from start to finish. Staples is a defiantly ordinary looking person, resembling an estate agent more than a musician, who started off in Christian punk band Twothirtyeight. Hailing from Pensacola, Florida, he's mellowed into a mature, assured singer-songwriter. A chronicler of the strange comforts of domesticity.

None of the songs on Golden Age break the mood. As good a way to spend thirty five minutes of your life as I can think of right now, as I listen to it myself. It's a fluent and beautiful ride. A still point of the turning world.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Oh Sees - Orc

If there's one band working today that fully deserves the drooling, jabbering prose of the many devotees of Richard Meltzer, Lester Bangs and Julian Copes' writing in blogdom, it's surely Oh Sees, coming up to their twentieth anniversary if it hasn't already passed. Making Queens of the Stoneage on occasion look like lightweights, their latest album, smartly entitled Orc, (they know full well there are a large contingent of Dungeons & Dragon type obsessives in their audience), serves up exactly what their adherents want. Full on unhinged lunacy in the grand tradition of Sabbath, Hawkwind, Gong, Stooges, Savage Rose, Amon Duul II, and so on and so forth. I hope the list gives you the general idea.

Listening to the record today, I had a full on fixed grin glued to my face. The Oh Sees package gives you full license to believe that we're currently midway through 1970 and it's going to stay that way - forever. And that this state of play is entirely as it should be. In the same way as The Cramps did back in the day, this band provide a full alternative reality universe for you to utterly immerse yourself in. Hopefully. (in this case), in a home environment decked in lava lamps, bongs, incense burning and beads separating the kitchen from the living room.

As you'd expect, Orc never once lets in its provision of the 'full on' experience, even during its quieter lulls. There are plenty of others operating in a similar field. Ty Segall, White Fence, Night Beats, Meatbodies, Wand, The Black Angels blah, blah.. But frankly Oh Sees deserve consideration apart from these, fine as many of them are.

To sign off, the album really deserves some of the ragged rolling prose of the Meltzer / Bangs type I was talking about above but which I can't really churn out myself without feeling like a fraud. So here to provide that, a snippet from the Rough Trade Record Shops review. Hold on to you hat!

'The newly shorn Oh Sees waste no time in racing headlong into nightmarish battle with the mighty Orc and wouldn't ya know it, they've clawed even further up the ghastly peak last year's A Weird Exits stormed so satisfyingly.

The band is in tour-greased, anvil on a balance beam, gut-pleasingly heavy form, nimbly braining with equal dashes of abandon and menace on this fresh batch of bruisers and brooders, hypnotically stirred into the cauldron of chaos you've come to expect from, ahem Oh Sees. Fresh blood Paul Quattrone joins Dan Rincon to form a phalanx of interlocking double drums, alternately propelling and fleet footing, shifting ground to pinion Dwyer's cliff-face guitars to the boogie. Tim Hellman keeps it swinging like a battle-axe to the eyebrows. The tunes veer towards the violence of their live shows, with a few tasty swerves into other lanes.... heavy to lush, groovy to stately...throughout it remains sinister in its swaggering skulk, manic in fuzz-fried fugues... they hit all the sweet spots the heads foggily remember, and there's plenty to sweat over if you just hopped into the sauna, Ew. More evil... more complex ... more narcotic... more screech... more blare... more whisper... there's even more Brigid. Less 'Thee', but more of everything else.'

No frankly me neither! But listen to the record. In some ways it's the only way it can be properly described.

* A footnote to this. It's a very funny record and it's meant to be funny. One thing you don't pick up from the reviews of the album in either Pitchfork or Quietus.

Songs About People # 453 Alec Eiffel

For the designer of the Eiffel Tower and The Statue of Liberty. From Pixies Trompe Le Monde album.

Glen Campbell - Postscript

Perhaps one thing I didn't really do justice to in this review, is Campbell's considerable reputation and legacy as a musician, particularly in respect to his work with the Wrecking Crew. Co-incidentally there's an interview with Jimmy Webb in this month's Mojo where he does just that. Here he's talking about the Monterrey Festival:

'Lou Adler and John Phillips never edited us into footage of Monterrey Pop. They left the Wrecking Crew lying on the cutting room floor.

What we did was great. And the most popular act at the festival was Otis Redding. And Otis Redding was a traditional nightclub performer just like Johnny (Rivers). They were concentrating on Jefferson Airplane and all this airy-fairy, hippy-dippy stuff and Otis Redding came out and wrecked the joint. The reason he was able to do that is because he was an experienced professional musician. He'd been doing it all his life. Most of the people on that stage were dilettantes, Johnny-come-latelies. That's the reason Glen Campbell worked from dawn 'til dark every day on other people's records -it's because there were so few people who knew how to play. That's just a fact.'

Album Reviews # 71 Glen Campbell - Greatest Hits - 12 All I Have to Do is Dream

And then Everly Brothers to close. A song you can't go wrong with. Here he's joined by Bobbie Gentry, one of the truly great country legends who plays an essentially supporting role. It reached      # 27 in the US Billboard Singles Charts in 1969. So sweet dreams Glen.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 508 Aretha Franklin

Song(s) of the Day # 1,312 The Stevens

Calling your album Good is rather asking for smartarse reviews. Fortunately, with this, the second from Australian janglers The Stevens, we're on solid ground. It is good. Not great perhaps as you generally know where the band are coming from and what records they're likely to have in the collection. I'd guess Guided by Voices, Pavement, Wire, Parquet Courts and plenty of Flying Nun for starters.

Anyhow, they certainly know how to construct a leftfield melody. Perhaps Good, at eighteen tracks, could have done with a trim. The songs that really shine don't do so as much as they might given a bit less clutter around them. But with repeated listens the hook sink their claws in and I suspect it's one I'll return to more than I initially thought given its generic quality because a few of the tunes are so great. So, a bit of a mixed bag, but there was plenty to take my fancy particularly as things came to a close after a lull mid-record. Think of it as a box of Quality Streets where you just go for the purple ones and the green triangles and leave the toffee fingers for someone else. So, certainly good. We hope for greatness next time round!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Songs About People # 452 Dimitri Mendeleev

Russian chemist and inventor who formulated the Periodic Table among numerous contributions to medicine and science. Here, oddball rapper Astronautalis from Jacksonville, Florida pays him peculiar tribute.

Covers # 86 Dennis Brown

                                                                     and a cover...

Wichita Lineman

And to follow that up, an historical account of the story of the song, from the American Songwriter website:

'Imagine pitching this song idea in 1968: There’s this guy who works on telephone poles in the middle of Kansas. He’s really devoted to his job. Rain or shine, he’s committed to preventing system overloads. It’s really lonely work, and he misses his girlfriend. Does this sound like a hit to you?
When Jimmy Webb wrote the first lines of “Wichita Lineman”…
I am a lineman for the county and I drive the main road
Searchin’ in the sun for another overload
I hear you singin’ in the wire, I can hear you through the whine
And the Wichita Lineman is still on the line
… not only did he not think he had a surefire hit, he didn’t even think the song was finished. An inauspicious beginning for a song that sold millions of records for Glen Campbell, has been recorded by everyone from Johnny Cash to James Taylor to R.E.M., and appears on several lists of the greatest songs of all time.
In late 1967 Jimmy was just about the hottest songwriter in L.A., based on two consecutive monster hits: The Fifth Dimension’s “Up, Up And Away,” and Glen Campbell’s “By The Time I Get To Phoenix.” “Phoenix” had been on the charts for six months, although Jimmy and Glen still hadn’t met.
“For all we know, ‘Phoenix’ could have been a one-off thing,” Jimmy told me recently. “Glen might never have recorded another song of mine.” They finally met at a jingle session. Soon after that date, the phone rang. It was Glen, calling from the studio. “He said, ‘Can you write me a song about a town?’” Jimmy recalls. “And I said, ‘Well, I don’t know … let me work on it.’ And he said, ‘Well, just something geographical.’
“He and (producer) Al DeLory were obviously looking for a follow-up to ‘Phoenix.’ And I remember writing ‘Wichita Lineman’ that afternoon. That was a song I absolutely wrote for Glen.”
It was the first time he had written a song expressly for another artist. But had he conceived any part of “Wichita” before that call?
“Not really,” Jimmy says. “I mean I had a lot of ‘prairie gothic’ images in my head. And I was writing about the common man, the blue-collar hero who gets caught up in the tides of war, as in ‘Galveston,’ or the guy who’s driving back to Oklahoma because he can’t afford a plane ticket (‘Phoenix’). So it was a character that I worked with in my head. And I had seen a lot of panoramas of highways and guys up on telephone wires … I didn’t want to write another song about a town, but something that would be in the ballpark for him.”
So even though it was written specifically for Glen, he still wanted it to be a ‘character’ song?
“Well, I didn’t want it to be about a rich guy!” he laughs. “I wanted it to be about an ordinary fellow. Billy Joel came pretty close one time when he said ‘Wichita Lineman’ is ‘a simple song about an ordinary man thinking extraordinary thoughts.’ That got to me; it actually brought tears to my eyes. I had never really told anybody how close to the truth that was.
“What I was really trying to say was, you can see someone working in construction or working in a field, a migrant worker or a truck driver, and you may think you know what’s going on inside him, but you don’t. You can’t assume that just because someone’s in a menial job that they don’t have dreams … or extraordinary concepts going around in their head, like ‘I need you more than want you; and I want you for all time.’ You can’t assume that a man isn’t a poet. And that’s really what the song is about.”
He wasn’t certain they would go for it. “In fact, I thought they hadn’t gone for it,” he says. “They kept calling me back every couple of hours and asking if it was finished. I really didn’t have the last verse written. And finally I said, ‘Well, I’m gonna send it over, and if you want me to finish it, I’ll finish it.’
“A few weeks later I was talking to Glen, and I said, ‘Well I guess Wichita Lineman didn’t make the cut.’ And Glen said, ‘Oh yeah! We recorded that!’ And I said, ‘Listen, I didn’t really think that song was finished …’ And he said, ‘Well it is now!’”
In a recent interview, Glen said that he and DeLory filled in what might have been a third verse with a guitar solo, one now considered iconic. He still can recall playing it on a DanElectro six-string bass guitar belonging to legendary L.A. bass player and Wrecking Crew member Carol Kaye. It remains Glen’s favorite of all his songs.
“Wichita Lineman” can serve as ‘Exhibit A’ in any demonstration for songwriters of the principle of ‘less is more.’ On paper, it’s just two verses, each one composed of two rhymed couplets. The record is a three-minute wonder: Intro. First Verse. Staccato telegraph-like musical device. Second verse. No chorus. Guitar solo. Repeat last two lines of second verse (“and I need you more than want you …”). Fade. There is no B section, much less a C section.
Why did such an unlikely song become a standard? There are many reasons, but here’s one: the loneliness of that solitary prairie figure is not just present in the lyric, it’s built into the musical structure. Although the song is nominally in the key of F, after the tonic chord is stated in the intro it is never heard again in its pure form, with the root in the bass. The melody travels through a series of haunting changes that are considerably more sophisticated than the Top 40 radio norms of that era. The song never does get “home” again to the tonic – not in either verse, nor in the fade-out. This gorgeous musical setting suggests subliminally what the lyric suggests poetically: the lonely journeyman, who remains suspended atop that telephone pole, against that desolate prairie landscape, yearning for home.'

Album Reviews # 71 Glen Campbell - Greatest Hits - 11 Wichita Lineman

'And I need you more than want you. And I want you for all time...'

Of course, this is the one. This song dwarfs everything else on the album even though several of its companions are truly great songs in themselves. But Wichita Lineman is a mountain in the Himalayas in pop terms, fit to stand shoulder to shoulder with anything else ever written over the past seventy years. Existential is a good word for it. A small figure working on a vast landscape, thinking incredible poetic, profound thoughts to convey his emotions the way we're all capable of no matter how ordinary and mundane we might appear on external appearances.

I wondered a few days back whether I'd listened to this song too many times over the course of my lifetime for it to have the impact on me it still should have. But then I realised this wasn't possible. It resists all wear and tear. It's also there for interpretation of course. My first important girlfriend, during my university years used to sing, 'Is still borderline...' rather than 'is still on the line...' every time we played it. Which was often. They were the Madonna years. Yesterday, in Rosie's when I chose it and it played, Dekka, the seventy year old wisecracking spliffhead regular, sang 'I am a linesman for Notts. County', (Notts. County are an English football club, curiously the one where I saw my first match). So, a song that captured two moments in my life over thirty years apart. I do think though, regardless of whether you get the words right or not, you can't fail to catch the imperishable longing of the song. It says something incredibly profound about the human spirit and our ability to love and to endure. A # 3 hit in the US Billboard Singles Chart for Campbell when it was released in 1968.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 509 Little Richard

Song(s) of the Day # 1,311 The New Year

April brought us the latest album from The New Year entitled Snow. Hardly New Year. It was already Spring. But there had actually been a much longer wait for this album. The band had been working on it and refining it for the best part of ten years. 

I won't say it's well worth the wait, for fear of a knock on my door from the cliche police, but it's certainly a fine record. With songs that unwind and stretch themselves lazily, melodically and confidently at their own pace, - some of them small classics, I'd single out Recent History, Myths and The Beast in this respect. All driven by the classic line-up of guitars, bass, drums, voice and organs. It's a lovely record at the most tuneful end of slowcore, reminiscent of Low, the slower songs of Pavement and Dean Wareham, but definitely doing its own thing.These guys, (the band is constructed around the core of brothers Matt and Bubba Kadane), have been at this game for some time, coming from the ashes of Bedhead, almost twenty years back and working together as The New Year since and their experience and know-how shows.

They're clearly a band that believe in simplicity. Blank record covers of different shades featuring only the name of the band and the title of the album on it, one name song titles for the most part, avoidance of unnecessary poetic frills in terms of the lyrics. It's a formula that works very well on Snow. There's a warmth and certainty about all ten tracks here. It's not an album that's going  to surprise you so much as reassure you that there are still people capable of making records like this and understanding the importance of doing so in 2017. Listening to Snow yesterday felt like sinking into a comfortable chair in front of an open fire, snow falling steadily outside the window with a tumbler of fine whisky on the table beside me.  And we all know what a nice feeling that is!

Monday, August 21, 2017

Things Found on My Local's Jukebox # 239 Kevin Coyne

Nice to see some Kevin Coyne on the jukebox at Rosie's. Not an album I know but this sounded good before the football came on.

Album Reviews # 71 Glen Campbell - Greatest Hits - 10 It's Only Make Believe

The second of three covers on Side Two, all of them 'dream' songs. The original of this was by Conway Twitty. Campbell's version reached # 10 in the US Billboard Singles chart in 1970.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 510 Cyndi Lauper

Songs About People # 451 Farrah Fawcett

After that video, very seventies, this would seem appropriate.

Song of the Day # 1,310 Selena Gomez

'Just like the Battle of Troy. There's nothing subtle here...'

This is a cool song. The intro is the opening few bars of Talking Heads Psycho Killer with David Byrne's consent. He might well have ripped that off beforehand from Roxy Music's Love is the Drug. The video is very good too. Classic High School stuff and a Britney Spears, 'Hit Me Baby...'  theft to give it a real touch of totally modern larceny

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Instrumentals # 64 Cluster

Album Reviews # 71 Glen Campbell - Greatest Hits - 9 Where's the Playground Susie

Another of Jimmy Webb's, reputably about the Susan who also inspired MacArthur Park and By the Time I Get to Phoenix who ultimately rejected him and married another. An unrequited love song, they may be in a relationship at the time of singing but it's doomed not to last. Reached # 26 in the US Billboard Singles chart in 1969.

Songs Heard on the Radio # 220 Judy Henske

A small celebration of the wonder of Judy Henske on Sunday morning radio with Cerys Matthews where she eulogised Judy at length before playing this, one of the ultimate sixties counter-culture anthems. A single in '63.

Grizzly Bear - Painted Ruins

A friend of mine, (and long term supporter of this blog), commented a few weeks ago that there hadn't really been any truly great albums released thus far this year. I'd probably agree with him up to a point, although come November I'll start my own countdown of records I've really liked this year, and there'll be at least fifty of them. But to my ears, there have been a few that have really stuck out, and near the top of the heap is the latest from Grizzly Bear,Painted Ruins (their fifth since 2004, they certainly take their time).

They're a fussy band and certainly how you relate to them will probably depend on how you react to that fussiness. Everything is definitely in its place, exactly as they want it to be before they agree to let it out into the world. A sculpted sound. The contribution of individual instruments, (a classic four-piece sound augmented by all kinds of keyboards and percussion), clearly delineated in the mix.

With songs divided between Ed Droste and Daniel Rossen though all compositions are credited to the band, they're a fine example of a group which operates on democratic principles, (having become so with time after initally starting off as Droste's project). Although Painted Ruins is not an album which will surprise anyone familiar with previous records of theirs, as it's utterly consistent with the principles laid down there, it is a refinement, and for me already my favourite of all of theirs. They're a band at their creative peak.

They have a song, midway through Painted Ruins, called Aquarian, the title of which is as good a description of their sound as any. They're The Beach Boys, after they chose to record under the waves on the ocean's bed, rather than trying to surf upon them, (of course, Dennis, was famously the only actual surfer in that band). There's also something of Steely Dan's nerdy detachment about the way they go about things though on this record they certainly allow more humanity to peak through. Also Radiohead, close admirers and friends of the band, who take similar care with their records, are another comparison point.

For me the record really makes the leap from goodness to greatness with Cut-Out and Glass Hillside, halfway through the second half of the album. Here they almost seem to have finally made their way to their own Atlantis which they've been, (knowingly or otherwise), seeking all of their career. While comparable bands like Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes have slightly over-reached themselves for me with recent releases where they seem to be trying too hard, Grizzly Bear here don't seem to be trying at all. They've entered their imperial phase.

From here on it's all a gentle run down a slight slope to the finishing line, like a Marathon athlete who's just made a conclusive break from the pack. There's even time for a first ever lead vocal for bassist Chris Taylor which slots seamlessly in with the mix. I'd also like to mention drummer and percussionist, Christopher Bear's contribution throughout. But really it's churlish to mention individuals.

Eleven tracks in all and never a foot out of place. One of the most immaculately produced albums you'll ever hear, Painted Ruins is the moment of Grizzly Bear's full arrival as truly big beasts. A  work of art!

'  Gathered together until relief arrives
Eyes on the lost sons trained in the tricks of the world
Fathers and keepers packed in that crowded room.

Upcountry drifters in permanent repose
Eyes on the lost sons trained in the tricks of the world
Strung out and restless until the feast arrives

The only ride in town
Object of all desire

This frontier town
The sound of nothing
Wasting time
There is no hiding
All is forbidden
All is forgotten'