Sunday, July 14, 2019

Things Found on My Local's Jukebox # 405 Penetration

Local heroes find their way onto the jukebox.

Atlantic Records Rhythm & Blues 1947-1974 Boxset # 181 Betty Wright

Song of the Day # 2,001 RVG


Another fine band from Melbourne. They produced a great album last year with The Quality of Mercy but I think this, Alexandra, ahead I imagine of another, is the best thing they've ever done. There are always echoes of The Go Betweens in their songs and here too, which has something of Grant McLennan's unconstrained romanticism about it.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Atlantic Records Rhythm & Blues 1947-1974 Boxset # 180 Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway

Song(s) of the Day # 2,000 Purple Mountains

David Berman has returned after a ten year sojourn 'playing chicken with oblivion' with a self titled album as Purple Mountains rather than as Silver Jews, his previous creative incarnation which folded ten years back. The resulting record is as good an argument for prolonged procrastination as you're ever likely to hear in this or any other year. It's something of an instant classic. The ying to the yang of Bill Callahan's Shepherd in a Sheepskin's Vest, released a few weeks back. In many respects the two sound like companion pieces to me.

But while Callahan has found domestic contentment and calm, Berman most certainly has not. Purple Mountains is an extended metaphor on middle aged unease, not not mention chronic depression. The fact that it's also a highly entertaining record rather than a chore or a dirge is  testimonial to Berman's considerable gifts. The record serves as a panacea for our increasingly troubled times.

It's by turns funny, wry and profound, containing several of Berman's career best moments. This finds him, like Callahan pitching his tent in Leonard Cohen's kingdom, while also crafting a deeply felt personal statement. Take a verse of lyrics from opener That's Just The Way I Feel; 'I met failure in Australia. I felt ill in Illinois. I nearly lost my genitalia. To an anthill in Des Moines.' No one can write lyrics like these for the so called Post Modern existence we find ourselves experiencing now. Except perhaps Callahan. And as he's too well adjusted to do so in the here and now we can only be grateful that Berman still can and chooses to.

The record flows with sublime, if troubled grace. It touches upon areas that might seem like too deeply dark concerns for popular music such as musing on the loss of your mother in I Loved Being My Mother's Son, which deals with just that and the inevitable, phenomenal waves of grief that ensue after she has passed. That Berman manages to do so and the end product is warm and actually life affirming is really remarkable. In the words of a friend of mine and another devotee, 'he walks the line.' Better than anyone else right now.

So if Callahan is now a glass half full guy, Berman's is half empty. You could worry about him, but perhaps gratitude for accomplishing this record as a way of dealing with all this is a more appropriate response. Berman's father, David Berman is a political lobbyist whose organisation runs campaigns advocating reactionary responses to smoking, cruelty to animals, not increasing the minimum wage and on and on ad nauseam.  That this acts as continuing grist to his son's creative mill is an inevitable conclusion. That he manages to compose such a rich canvas from this and other life ingredients, his ten year time out to read books and experience depression that he's emerging from for starters, is a cause for celebration.

So this is a state of David Berman and also a state of the nation address at one and the same time. It succeeds in spades on both counts. The lyrics are sublime. The arrangements , (just Berman and a couple of members of Woods for the most part), divine. This particular series on It Starts With a Birthstone, has now reached 2,000, meaning I've now managed an unbroken consecutive run that stretches beyond five years and towards six. Purple Mountains is one of the very best records I've heard in all that time and is more than a fitting recipient for song(s) 2,000. Onwards and upwards.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Songs About People # 895 Billy Mackenzie

Great song for still much missed Associates vocalist.

Joanna Sternberg - Then I Try Again

The best thing about writing this blog is getting to interact, albeit briefly, with the musicians and writers I post things about on here. Like when Vivienne Goldman thanked me for writing about her when I made Launderette my Song of the Day. Or the time Simon Reynolds, the music journalist, reminded me that I'd missed Fleetwood Mac's Tusk off my end of series list when I'd been writing a set of posts about Melody Maker a few months back. Or Lawrence McCluskey of Bubblegum Lemonade thanking me personally for a review I wrote of his latest album Desperately Seeking Sunshine and told me how much The Stone Roses had meant to him when he first heard them.

And so to Joanna Sternberg. A few days ago she sent me a friend request on Facebook which I was delighted to accept. I've been aware of Joanna, who's based in New York, for a few months now, since I first heard This Is Not Who I Want To Be, the first song to go public from her debut album , which is finally with us.

It stuck out from the pack on first play, quite stopping me in my tracks frankly, a beautifully wrought song, quite devastating in its simplicity and painful immediacy and I've been waiting impatiently for the long player ever since. And now it's here.

As so often when new musicians emerge with a truly great song, you can't help but wonder whether they'll be able to do anything to match it. I felt something similar when I heard Courtney Barnett's Avant Gardener or Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever's French Press.

But as with those two, I shouldn't have worried, because Joanna Sternberg has plenty more to offer as readily attests. The album starts with This Is Not Who I Want To Be and why should it not. It's clearly a pivotal song for her in terms of her development and growth as a writer and performer. A song written from a hospital bed when she delivered a full stop to one period of her life and began down the road she finds herself on from there.

The songs that proceed from here all share its sparse minimalism. Piano, acoustic guitar and Joanna's voice. The experience and expression of pain but gritty determination to push forward towards the light. It exists in a specific tradition; Connie Converse, Sixties Greenwich Village boho poets, Moldy Peaches. It's good to hear a new record that taps into this vein.

The album is sometimes difficult to listen to because of its sheer, raw honesty. It never pretends that life is easy. But it channels the experience of childhood and attempts to recover its purity. I frequently found the record quite beautiful. It's determined simplicity and wisdom is truly admirable.

Atlantic Records Rhythm & Blues 1947-1974 Boxset # 179 Aretha Franklin

Song of the Day # 1,999 Campfires

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Songs About People # 893 Stokely Carmichael

Prominent Black Panther leader. Features in Spike Lee's wonderful BlackKlansman,

Atlantic Records Rhythm & Blues 1947-1974 Boxset # 177 Beginning of the End

Song of the Day # 1,997 Sinead O'Brien

So what to make of this. A new song from Irish artist who has an obvious hip quotient and I imagine is going to divide opinion as she heads towards her first album. Early Patti Smith is the obvious comparison although she doesn't sound like her musically, but it's a comparison point in that her spoken delivery resembles poetry. It all rather irritates me personally but it's definitely something that will attract the attention of cool hunters.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Songs About People # 892 Gene Kranz

New Zealanders Charcoal Burners do one for the NASA flight director Gene Kranz, also known as 'White Flight'.

Atlantic Records Rhythm & Blues 1947-1974 Boxset # 176 Clarence Carter

Song(s) of the Day # 1,996 KOKOKO!

Charged! Now this is genuinely exciting. One of the best and certainly most original African records you're likely to hear all year. Kinshasa, Congo collective KOKOKO! and their debut album Fongola, just out. From the off it summons up a fantastic kinetic energy, rooted in African traditions as you'd expect, but plugging into something else too which  is what really grabbed my attention. The whole thing has a fabulous electro driven momentum.

As the record progressed I realised that one of the things it reminded me of most was Devo.  An impression only enhanced when you see pictures of the band dressed in striking matching yellow overalls. The energy of that and Kuti generated tribal rhythms result in quite inspired fusion. KOKOKO! have two main singers and they set off a call and response effect that drives the songs forward into wonderfully infectious open territory.

Recorded in ad hoc circumstances in Kinshasa and Brussels utilising all tools and means at the band's disposal, Fongola well and truly gets the party started although there are darker voodoo elements stirred into the mix of their incantation which only serves to broaden their appeal. KOKOKO!  embark on the European festival circuit shortly and judging by this and given that they tour with their own backing vocalists, dancers and performing ensemble should make a quite fabulous live proposition. Make sure you give them a listen.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Joao Gilberto 1931 - 2019

Sylvie Vartan and Francoise Hardy

Mark Mulcahy - The Gus

Way back in the mid-Eighties I was really taken by the early records of American band Miracle Legion, particularly their debut EP The Backyard. They existed clearly within the shadow of R.E.M. an apparent and immediate formative influence, but did good things with it, churning out a bunch of evocative and memorable songs.

Since then, lead singer Mark Mulcahy the band's lead singer, has put out a number of solo albums of note. The Gus, his new record is just the latest. It's all languid thoughtfulness, both lyrically and musically, songs and sentiments most obviously grounded in the tradition of Dylan and Van Morrison and Mulcahy's own not inconsiderable ouevre. 

Songs stop and start, stop and start, a middle aged man considering the universe. There's no lack of melody here, always one of  Mulcahy's gifts and no lack of understated poetry either. He knows how to take note of the small random things that life throws at us, listen to Later for the Box, the fourth song on here for how we make our way through the small inventory of tasks that life lays before us and how they offer us the opportunity to detect the remarkable in the mundane. The divine in the detail. His glass is clearly half full.

The singer songwriter offers plenty of scope for the short story writer, (see the Neutrals review I wrote a couple of days back), and Mulcahy is a master of the form now decades into his career. There's nothing overweening here, his work never tips into the overblown. He's something of a skilled tightrope walker. Musically he isn't a million miles from artists I don't care for who work in a similar medium, but who operate in broader strokes and play to the back of the venue; Eddie Vedder, Counting Crows and Hothouse Flowers came to my mind. Mulcahy by contrast seems more intent to speak to those most immediately in front of him in the first few rows.

The Gus is unlikely to pull up any trees commercially but should find a ready and appreciative audience among the constituency that Mulcahy has established for himself. I definitely count myself among that number. It's another fine record to add to the pile of fine records he's put out over the years. We should treasure artists like this.

Atlantic Records Rhythm & Blues 1947-1974 Boxset # 175 King Floyd

Song(s) of the Day # 1,994 Hot Chip

Hot Chip have been putting out records for years now and are not about to re-invent their own particular wheel. Their latest, A Bathfull of Ecstasy, is wholly faithful to the template they've established over time.

So it's light bubbly indie dance music that sounds good on 6 Music on afternoon radio, not likely to make it onto anyone's Desert Island Discs list but also equally implausible as anybody's Room 101 trauma. I like it. Quite. 

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Atlantic Records Rhythm & Blues 1947-1974 Boxset # 174 Aretha Franklin

Song(s) of the Day # 1,993 Trash Kit

When I started this blog over six years ago and told a friend about it his reply was to paraphrase: ' Oh one of those. That people start writing and then stop...' Rather than acting as a discouragement his comment served as a spur. I became committed to this. Shortly afterwards I started this particular series which obliged me to write at least one post on a daily basis and as a result actively seek out new music rather than just chronicling the records I already had in my collection, as I'd originally intended, most of which I'd bought way back in the Eighties.

This has led to me becoming one of those people who trawl the music press and Rough Trade website for new releases meaning that I'm aware of exciting new ones like this, Horizon the new record by British indie three piece Trash Kit in advance. In short, I've become an anorak, and it's something I'm very pleased to be, although I don't own the particular item of clothing  as it means that I don't fall back on the old stand by for people of my age that music ain't what it used to be back in the day.

Because this is a brilliant response to that essential falsehood, a quite thrilling album and an example of what our age continues to throw up on a weekly basis. Artists who find a way of fusing inspirations from  range of sources from the past into enervating new forms. The three women in Trash Kit have played in and contributed to a number of projects as seems to be the way these days; Bas Jan, Bamboo, Sacred Paws and shopping all appear on their CVs, and while all of these bands are well worthy of exploration, this album immediately stands out from anything any of them have done before. It's a remarkably inventive and fluid album.

The immediately apparent sources of inspiration seem clear; lilting Afro Pop, (Thomas Mapfumo is someone the band have mentioned in interview), and the squat commune ethos of late Seventies and early Eighties Punk and Post Punk. The Slits, The Raincoats, Delta 5, Au Pairs, Scritti Politti and Orange Juice. But despite drawing on these increasingly remote starting points Trash Kit are to be commended in every respect, as far from coming across as an an act of archeology, Horizon is from start to finish, invigorating fresh.


Trash Kit have already received deserved plaudits for their labours by being awarded album of the month status in the latest edition of Uncut Magazine, a status generally reserved for artists with a rather higher profile. It's good to see this happening in days where musicians working on this particular seam don't necessarily get the recognition they deserve. With luck this will see this fine record reach out beyond the band's immediate constituency to find a broader, appreciative audience.

I listened through to Horizon right the way through on the morning of its release and it had an insistent, coherent flow. Surely one of the best records that will be released from the catch all Indie umbrella category all year. Last year we had the Orielles, the year before that Girl Ray. This year it seems reasonable to suggest that Trash Kit's name seems set to be carved on the cup.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Things Found on My Local's Jukebox # 403 Paul Simon

For a friend.

Olden Yolk / Mega Bog

Songs About People # 890 Florence Nightingale

From the latest album by Henry Jamison which is a sufficiently good record for me to return to on here. In the meantime, here's one for Florence.

Atlantic Records Rhythm & Blues 1947-1974 Boxset # 173 Les McCann & Eddie Lewis

Song(s) of the Day # 1,992 Neutrals

My favourite new band, Part blah, blah, blah.. Yes, I know I say this a lot, but Bay Area trio Neutrals are quite definitely my favourite new band this week. And one of the reasons for that, apart from their obvious musical charms. are the fact that they are truly a  Bay Area band with a difference.

And that difference is that singer and main songwriter Alan McNaughton actually hails from Lanarkshire, Glasgow and, as the band's debut album Kebab Disco readily attests, you can take the boy out of Lanarkshire and move him to San Francisco but you cannot take Lanarkshire...oh you do the rest.

Kebab Disco is something of a concept, but trust me, it's not likely to be a concept album that you've heard before. Because it's a DIY Punk / New Wave concept in the best traditions of Television Personalities, Wire, Wreckless Eric, Patrick Fitzgerald, The Jam and Billy Bragg. With the added attraction of Scottish accents.

The concept in question is McNaughton's own story. So what we get is tales of smalltown Scottish life in the early Nineties moving on to McNaughton's shift across the pond after meeting his future wife at Glasgow's King Tut's Wah Wah Hut where he goes on to document San Francisco's growing corporatisation and remaining an indie punk as you experience middle age.

The man has a short story writer's eye for detail. Each song is a self-contained capsule of time and place, the journey from youth to experience. I could document it in greater detail but the tale is all told in this interview with The Sunderland Echo and by the record itself. Just splendid!

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Accidents Will Happen

Things Found on My Local's Jukebox # 402 Magazine

Rosie's, my local for the best part of the last ten years, is closed for refurbishment for at least the next six weeks. This leaves a confirmed regular like myself in a bit of a dilemma. I'll go out less but I've moved my local temporarily to The Newcastle Arms which is right next door to Rosie's. Part of its attraction is that it got the old jukebox when Rosie's inadvisably decided to update their's to a much shoddier version a few months back. This, and Magazine's Secondhand Daylight, the album it's on, have recently appeared upon it.

Songs About People # 889 Lindy Morrison

A song for Lindy Morrison. Quite right too!

Bryan Ferry

Atlantic Records Rhythm & Blues 1947-1974 Boxset # 172 Tyrone Davis

Song(s) of the Day # 1,991 Horse Jumper of Love

Boston's Horse Jumper of Love locate the soft spot between Nirvana and Sebadoh on their second album, So Divine, just out. Appropriate really, as like these two, they're a three piece band, and as Robert Forster so rightly surmised the trio, when they get it right 'can be the purest form of rock n roll expression'. 

Horse Jumper of Love 'get it right' on a regular basis on So Divine. They use various explorations of Pixies and Nirvana's fast / slow gambit to set up advantageous positions for themselves on the chessboard of Retro Alt.


That's not to imply that they're formulaic, because this is a neat record and they're a cool, inventive band. Here are four strong arguments in support of  the case for the defence.