Thursday, November 30, 2017

Albums of the Year # 26 Hurray For the Riff Raff - The Navigator

From back in March:

'The two important British monthly music magazines, Mojo and Uncut  have been giving a lot of space recently to Hurray for the Riff Raff and their, (or possibly her, as they're very much driven by Bronx-raised Puerto Rican Alynda Lee) new album The Navigator. The band though are based in New Orleans and this very much makes sense once you give them a listen.

Now it's finally out and I'm listening through to it, it's obvious that it's entirely deserving of the hype. Here are just three songs from it, two live versions, one recorded. It's a triumph! A very, American sounding record, soaked in that country's traditions, roots and blood. A polemic against the tide of  history absolutely brimful with gutsy, angry, soulful songs.

Not dissimilar in perspective to Rhiannon Giddens' Freedom's Highway which I posted about on here a week or so back, The Navigator is steeped in tradition and ire and manages to be fiercely political without falling in to the  trap of becoming worthy. An altogether excellent and timely album!'

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 409 Chuck Willis

Song of the Day # 1,411 The Weather Station

Belatedly, two fine songs from the excellent Weather Station album of the same name which came out a few weeks ago and featured at # 4 in the Uncut Magazine End of Year Album list.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Things Found on My Local's Jukebox # 258 The Beatles

Apologies to a good friend and loyal supporter of this blog who hates this band. But it meant something to me tonight at Rosie's when I put it on.

Songs Heard on the Radio # 237 Morrissey

The B-Side to Suedehead with Vini Reilly providing guitar support worthy of Marr. A nice poignant bit of Morrissey from mid-afternoon radio.

Albums of the Year # 27 Amadou & Mariam - Le Confusion

Joyous but earnest new album La Confusion from veteran Malian couple Amadou Bagayoko and Mariam Doumbia. A pair of blind musicians, they've been putting out records since the eighties but if you're not familiar with their work this will serve nicely as an entree. A sound that Wikipedia told me mixes 'traditional Mali sound with rock guitars, Syrian violins, Cuban trumpets, Egyptian ney, Indian tablas and Dogon percussion. In combination these elements have been called 'Afro-Blues'. It's a heady mix, rising miraculously like a souffle in an oven.  

Twelve songs, six written in the morning by Amadou, six at night by Mariam, sung in French and Bambara, the celebratory tone of everything is a defiant response to the war-torn times the record documents. Following on from their 2012 album Folila, where they collaborated with Santigold, TV on the Radio and Yeah Yeah Yeah's Nick Zinner. In the words of the Mojo review of this record, 'a genuine masterpiece documenting the Malian unrest that is poignant, passionate, and directed equally at the head, feet and heart.'

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 410 The Eternals

'There's plenty of people who'll claim that you can't make a great rock and roll record about the joys of matrimony. Bullshit, buddy. This is one of the wildest, weirdest records I've ever heard, made by a group so obscure that they make folks like the Students look like talk show regulars.

The announcement that Babalu (apparently a household name in whatever universe this song is situated) is finally getting hitched sends an entire society into frantic activity. Some laugh. Some sigh. We learn that he met his fiance, Hoskie Bopalena, at a Milwaukee Braves baseball game. Then, it seems Babalu misses the ceremony because his cheapskate friend refuses to lend him a dime to call for a ride. So he goes to work with a trained monkey, who steals all the cash and runs away as soon as work is over. That's it.

In my own view, Babalu's Wedding Day ranks with the wedding scene in The Searchers as an epitome of how such ceremonies should be conducted. That is, if I've got any of the details right. Amidst all the racket, it's real hard to be sure.'

Song(s) of the Day # 1,410 Country Teasers

One from way back, from Scottish Art Punks Country Teasers.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Songs Heard on the Radio # 236 MGMT

New from MGMT and sounding uncannily like Chairs Missing or 154 period Wire with Japan's Mick Karn on bass. All in all, a very good thing!

Fresh & Onlys

More Fresh & Onlys artwork. It's consistently brilliant. Here's one where they'll be playing with Kelley Stolz which should be some night.

Albums of the Year # 28 Novella - Change of State

From back in March:

'Novella are one of the most consistent alternative guitar bands that Britain currently has to offer. Consistent to the extent that each track they play generates a landscape not entirely dissimilar in quality, texture and variation from the last. It's the layering process that make listening to their albums an experience akin to surrendering to a hypnotised state for the listener, (they actually use the phrase 'feel like I'm hypnotised'  themselves at one point, so it seems it's at least partially deliberate).

Of course the spell they conjure up is by no means unprecedented. Think Stereolab, Broadcast, Jane Weaver and Pram in particular,but for me with Novella the original template always seems to be Wire's glorious Map Ref 41 Degrees N 93 Degrees West one of the finest four minutes in art rock history which seemed to lay down the stones for the road that Novella make their way down on Change of State, their second album, just out.

In a way it's not a hugely different record from its predecessor, 2015's Land. It's merely a thickening and refinement of the ingredients and recipe there. As I suggested, one track very much merges into the next but this is a definitive strength here rather than a weakness. Fine record!'

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 411 The Drifters

Song(s) of the Day # 1,409 Mattiel

One of James Endeacott's records of the year. And he's right, it's a fine album. From a Georgia born, solo artist who has a very original Western twangy, electro album, (a tremendously inventive mix of the old and the new), that's well worthy of your attention.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Albums of the Year # 29 Tim Cohen - Luck Man

The second album on this list featuring Tim Cohen. He's also the leader of the Fresh & Only's who featured at # 46 with them. Here's what I wrote about his fine, understated solo album Luck Man, which came out at the beginning of the year:

'Ain't no clouds in the sky. But if you look just right you see a rainbow...'

'Coming up to the end of January and great, new records for 2017 are already piling up nicely. Like this for instance, Luck Man a side project from San Francisco's Fresh & Only's Tim Cohen and a pure gem. Solo albums from band members generally shape up as modest affairs but this is an exquisite record, using smallness as a specific virtue. It's occupied by busy, lovingly arranged songs that promise to unpack ever greater surprises and delights with repeated plays. But that's a pleasure ahead.

 Full of the thoughts, vague unease and spontaneous happiness of modern living  that succeed each other in all of our minds as we make our way down the more mundane pathways that life lays out for us as day succeeds day. But there's beauty in that as Cohen knows well. On the cover he stares out at us, unkempt hair, unruly beard, unironed shirt, an ordinary fellow pushing middle age but an artist nonetheless. 

As for the music, it's that warm, melodic well trodden path, going all the way back to the Lovin' Spoonful, The Beatles, The Byrds, Simon & Garfunkel, at one point Leonard Cohen through Belle & Sebastian to now. The album gets better the more I give myself up to it. I may have to write more about it at a later date. In the meantime on a couple of listens it's still mighty fine. January's not all bad!'

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 412 The Everly Brothers

Song of the Day # 1,408 Blue Rose Code

Stalwart Scottish singer-songwriter Ross Wilson, from his latest album The Water of Leith.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Songs Heard on the Radio # 235 Midlake

Something not a million miles away from today's Jefferson Airplane Song of the Day. From Midlake, and their album of the same name, which came out in 2013.

Albums of the Year # 30 CTMF - Brand New Cage

What I wrote at the beginning of November:

'Probably not an album that'll feature in many end of 2017 lists of records of the year. But it will certainly be in mine. CTMF,  one of Billy Childish's many recurrent projects, released their latest album a few weeks back and it's a must hear. Classic British Punk Rock in its truest sense, forty years after the original event. 

The reason it won't figure in other lists is probably partially because Childish is the man behind it. After all, he's churned out any number of fairly similar sounding records over the last forty years. Along with books, poems, paintings, films and pretty much everything else. Nothing if not prolific. But this is no reason for this album, Brand New Cage, not to be judged on its own merits. And it's a very fine thing indeed.

Estuary English Punk in the grand tradition of Subway Sect, Television Personalities, Swell Maps, ATV and Childish himself, it tells of the pre-story, story and legacy of 1977. With a photo booth snapshot of Childish at nineteen on its cover, it's twelve tracks of rattling guitar driven Rock & Roll of British literary and literate ranting and testimony. Social history with good tunes.

I heard the riffs of Substitute, That's All I Know Right Now, (Neon Boys) and Gloria lifted without a hint of regret. Plenty more has been pilfered for sure but it's of no matter. Childish works fast and this 'self-aware retroism' is the end result. If bits of it sound slapdash that's exactly as it should and is meant to be. What I think he's saying is that the emotions and energy of those distant days of Punks first explosion are as relevant now as they were then. They still live in the veins and souls of those who experienced them first time round and still sense and are fuelled by the same vigour on the streets of Chatham, (Childish's home town) and other dead end satellite towns that Punk electrified and that were destined never to be quite the same, ever again. 

The jewel in the crown of the record is What About Brian, a tale of Childish and friends changing trains at Dartford Station to spot the plaque to Mick and Keith who famously met there but which fails to mention Brian Jones, (who after all formed the Rolling Stones but didn't live to tell the tale), and their subsequent rant as the train pulls away from its platform.  Several other tracks are barely a length behind. Every one tells a tale worth telling. Brand New Cage is a brand new friend.'

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 413 Elvis Presley

Song of the Day # 1,407 Jefferson Airplane

In American Pastoral, the recently released and unfairly maligned Ewan McGregor film, (he directed and starred in it), there's a memorable scene where the main couple return to their family home in the mid-sixties to find their rebellious and defiant teenage daughter playing this song at top volume on her stereo. It's a good illustration of the violent generation schism that opened up at that point in time in America. Jefferson Airplane are as good a representation of that moment in time as any, and it's a credit to the film-makers that they chose this fine  example of their early fire, a slightly obscure song, rather than the likes of Somebody to Love. The song is on Jefferson Airplane Loves You, a compilation of their material.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Albums of the Year # 31 '68 - Two Parts Viper

What I wrote about this back in August:

 'I find it incredibly refreshing when I chance across young bands in 2017 picking up the baton from the likes of The Stooges, The MC5, Black Flag, Nirvana, Fugazi, The Make Up and Jon Spencer Group and doing that noble tradition proud. Not merely by imitating their forbears, but actually in succeeding in pushing things onwards in terms of their own creativity, energy, emotion and sheer firepower.I know I sound like a seen it all and slightly stuffy fifty one year old, but still! This band make me feel younger than that and I'm grateful.

American two-piece '68 and their second album Two Parts Viper had that effect on me yesterday. It's a brilliantly inspiring record that makes you want to go straight back to the beginning again once the final track winds towards its end just like all great records do. Punk, in its purest form was always about something and '68 understand this only too well. It's a long time since I've heard such a fiercely committed, political new record.

In this respect they're aptly named. 1968 after all was the most politically furious year of the twentieth century. And as with those on the barricades during that year, frontman Josh Scogin has a wonderful way with slogans. The titles of the songs of Two Parts Viper are just great: Eventually We All Win; This Life is Old, New, Borrowed & Blue; No Montage; The Workers Are Few; Death is a Lottery. Under the Paving Stones the Beach. Oh sorry! That last one's not one of their's.

You get the idea anyhow. And the songs more than live up to their billings. Fast, furious, soulful and packed with energy, invective and righteous intent. And while the spirit of Kurt hovers over most things here, (in terms of Without Any Words quite eerily so, there's even a reference to the Neil Young lyric in the suicide note), it's rather as if Kurt had decided to join the MC5 rather than Nirvana and what a wonderful idea that sounds on Two Parts Viper. Ten songs. Ten calls to arms.Ten Manifestos for the moments in life when you need them. '68 deserve a place in the line of heroes I mentioned above. And best of all, they're with us now!'

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 414 Ricky Nelson

Song(s) of the Day # 1,406 Sir Was

Two songs from the interesting funky and soulful Sir Was album from this year Digging a Tunnel. 

Friday, November 24, 2017

Things Found on My Local's Jukebox # 257 Joy Division

Always a song to listen to when you experience personal loss which I have personally over the last couple of days. So it went on at Rosie's last night.

Albums of the Year # 32 Trevor Sensor - Andy Warhol's Dream

One I listened to a lot when it came out in July. A bit less since but it's worthy of a place here.

'Trevor Sensor is just twenty three years old but sounds an awful lot older. His hometown, Sterling, Illinois, featured in the video posted above, is an archetypal mid-west post-industrial wreck of a place where dreams go to die, which may go somewhere to explaining the wisdom beyond actual age, lived in, hurt quality of his songs. Sensor's debut album Andy Warhol's Dream, just out, is a big bruised, thick and warm thing that could have been made at any point between 1967 and 2017 but I'm just grateful that it's out now. It's a record that's characterised and stands out from the herd firstly by means of Sensor's husky, gnarled voice which might well remind you of Dylan and Mike Scott or others but has such character of its own that he's really established himself here as one to watch by this alone. In addition, the songs are so well crafted and imbued in earthy melody,and emotion  (Dylan and The Band's Wild Mercury Sound is again a good comparison point for the meaty forward momentum he and his band generate),  that I was hooked six tracks in and was half in love by the time I got to nine. Surely one of the debut albums of the year!'

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 415 The Jive Five

Song of the Day # 1,405 Saada Bonaire

Disco, Dub, African and Middle eastern potpourri and all rather wonderful.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Albums of the Year # 33 Faith Healer - Try

Edmonton duo Faith Healer put out a noteworthy album in 2015 named Cosmic Troubles. Unfortunately, despite the merits of the record itself they chose to house it in a sleeve blessed with a picture of an open mouth displaying a set of yellow and jagged lower level teeth. This was enough to put me off giving the record the attention it fully deserved though I did review it on this blog here.

Fortunately they're back this year with a new album called Try with an altogether more alluring cover which musically builds on and augments the charms of its successor. It's modern psychedelia to my ears. Try sounds like a record recorded in an echo chamber, with singer-guitarist Jessica Jalbert upfront providing a soft alluring melodic and lyrical bed for multi-instrumentalist Renny Wilson to supplement. The record is very much a piece, with the synthesisers melding perfectly with the more seventies styles of instrumentation used elsewhere. Thirty five minutes to just nod off and drift into dream.

Faith Healer are doing something pretty interesting and original here. Less in debt to the Velvet Underground than they were on Cosmic Troubles, (although there are still traces of Lou and the boys - never a bad thing in my eyes), they've moved into fresh territory with Try where influences still peek through but the overall sound is more distinctly their own. I've only discovered it in November though it came out a few months back. It's growing all over me on every listen!

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 416 Ann Peebles

Song of the Day # 1,404 Juana Molina

A funky little offering from Argentinian artist Juana Molina's album of this year, Halo. It's one that's hovering slightly under the radar in the English speaking world, probably partly because of where she hails from and the fact that she's singing in Spanish. Nevertheless, Uncut Magazine noticed it, voting it # 17 in their end of year Album of the Year list.  It's also just outside the Top 100 list on the Best Ever Albums Chart for this year, another useful gauge of these things. The record is certainly worthy of attention, a dark, rhythmic treat. This was the only song I could find to illustrate my point. I suggest you hunt down the rest.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

David Cassidy 1950-2017

Songs Heard on the Radio # 234 Sumie

Something fairly generic but appropriately late night before I turn in. From Sumie's Lost in Sight record which came out on Bella Vista a month and a bit back.

Songs About People # 499 Charles De Gaulle

'History will tear you down...'

American West Coast Garage band, from their fascinating new album Plum, of which, more soon.

Albums of the Year # 34 Mary Epworth - Elytral

From back in September:

'One of the most intriguing, exciting and genuinely edgy records I've heard for some time is Elytral, the second album from British singer and musician Mary Epworth. Coming a full five years after her debut Dream Life, she's clearly taken her time over this and the evident attention to detail and willingness to take risks bears strange but beautiful fruit.

More brittle and brooding than that album, Elytral is an uncomfortable listen for uncomfortable times. Drawing from free jazz, psychedelia, electronica and occasional pop sources, it's a cousin of Jane Weaver's recent album, Modern Kosmology , while being darker in tone than that record.

In her recent promotional photos Epworth is done up like a female equivalent of seventies Bowie. It's apt because there's a similar daring verve that places Elytral apart from most of its contemporaries.
A splendid, space age record that I hope will get the attention it deserves.'

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 417 Ben E. King

Song of the Day # 1,403 Golden Teacher

Hipper than thou Glasgow dance combo, from their album of collected tracks this year, No Luscious Life.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Albums of the Year # 35 Grandaddy - Last Place

Written in March, a few weeks before I saw them play a splendid set live and tragically, a few weeks more on, the passing of bassist Kevin Garcia:

'Grandaddy are back, with a new album and a tour and both events are highly welcome. Their new record, Last Place doesn't re-invent their particular wheel by any means, (it just does what we know this band are outstandingly good at anyway), but this is not something you'd want them to try to do anyhow. Having created a genuine classic, with their 2000 offering The Sophtware Slump, versions and refinements on the ideas and sounds on that would more than do and on first listenings, Last Place more than delivers on that promise.

Grandaddy are all about modern estrangement, (alienation somehow doesn't seem an adequate term for this anymore), and they do this strange, warm detachment thing as well as anybody. They're a band I've grown to love more over the years and I'm sure I'm not alone in feeling this way, their juxtaposition of kitsch and lyrical yearning for something that can't quite be named becomes more alluring with every passing year. A sense that technology and the advances it has made has somehow left us in cosmic limbo, unsure anymore of how to relate to the world around us properly anymore.

Last Place is a very strong set of songs indeed, with several that would slot in just fine on their aforementioned masterpiece. They take you to different places at once. With The Boat is in the Barn for example locating you in an agrarian American location that we're familiar with, even if we haven't visited it ourselves, while also voicing that strange modern anxiety that we're all subject too. A wonderful record and one I'm sure to come back to again and again over the coming year. '

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 418 Van Morrison

Song of the Day # 1,402 Robert Finley

Soul and blues man and recently diagnosed legally blind, Robert Finley from Winnsboro, Louisiana released his debut album last year at the age of 64. Now, a year later comes his second, optimistically entitled Goin' Platinum. Here's its opening track. He clearly has the voice. Now he wants the recognition!

Monday, November 20, 2017

Albums of the Year # 36 NE-HI - Offers

From way back in March:

'A couple of listens right the way through to Chicago band NE-HI's second album Offers yesterday during a rather stressful day at work made me a great deal happier and able to cope with all that nonsense. So the least I can do for the band in return is to post them a glowing review on here this morning. Offers deserves it. It's a meaty, clanging, riff heavy piece of alternative guitar music, with eleven tracks, not one of which lets the side down. It makes a better advertisement for being young and in a guitar band than pretty much anything else I've heard this year.

NE-HI are quite evidently pretty young, the biggest giveaway on first hearing are the urgent splurted vocals from the band's songwriters, guitarists and vocalists Jason Balla and Mikey Wells. The arrangements though betray no little craft, ambition and drive . The band's Spotify Playlists include Chameleons, Television, Mission of Burma, R.E.M, the Velvets, Bunnymen, Clash and Replacements, among its selections and this will give you a fair idea of where you're heading should you choose to give Offersa listen.  I'd add Let's Active, early Postcard and Factory Records to the mix as further comparison points. NE-HI are not entirely uncomfortable in this company, as lofty a claim as this might appear. They've clearly thought this through!

If the lyrical sentiments on display seem a little distant from my fifty one year old state of mind for me to fully empathise with, what the band might be going through emotionally, (sometimes one of the singers veers dangerously close to Clare Grogan territory for my personal comfort), doesn't really matter does it? There's wisdom beyond their years in the assembly of sound and emotion on here. 'Young Guitar Album of the Year' thus far on It Starts with a Birthstone. Made me feel like a nineteen year old there for a minute! Parquet Courts, watch your backs.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 419 Edwin Starr

Song(s) of the Day # 1,401 Damaged Bug

It seems that John Dwyer, also of the Oh Sees, is most prolific musical person of 2017, as he probably is most years, just pipping Ian Svenonius, (who Dwyer resembles in many ways). In addition to Oh Sees and OCS releases, here's his latest Damaged Bug release Bunker Funk in all its deranged and inspired entirety.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Songs Heard on the Radio # 233 Tom Lehrer

Diverting fare for a Sunday morning.

Albums of the Year # 37 Entrance - Book of Changes

I wrote this in June though the album came out in early 2017.

'The first album from Entrance, (Guy Blakesee essentially) for over a decade, (it came out at the beginning of this year), is a really evocative affair. To put it plainly. it's evocative of the mid to late sixties where artists like Dylan, David Blue, Leonard Cohen, Donovan and Tim Buckley did all they could to make music the very stuff of poetry. The record, Book of Changes,  sounds much like many of those, (despite obviously modern production values), in terms of its vision, instrumentation and sheer unchecked vaulting ambition.

It's not an entirely coherent album as there isn't really a sustained mood to it. Not even from one track to the next for the most part. Blakesee to some degree is cherry picking from his record collection. But its peaks are sublime. Songs about romance, rites of passage moments and emotions at their most stretched and vivid, in the place where everything seems to be at stake. Some of the melodies here are quite glorious.The stuff of dream.'

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 420 Johnny Rivers

Song(s) of the Day # 1,400 Lowtide

Two great and highly Shoegazey tracks from Melbourne's Lowtide.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Adrian Crowley - Dark Eyed Messenger

Three years back in 2014, my favourite album of the year was Irishman Adrian Crowley's Some Blue Morning. I bought it in October of that year and it haunted me and my record player from that point to the end of that year and beyond. Crowley's new offering Dark Eyed Messenger is just out, and it appears on first listening that it's destined to have a similar impact upon me if not quite such a monumental one as Some Blue Morning did.

It won't quite make my Top 50 this time round as it's come out too late, isn't as good as Some Blue Morning, too many good records are jostling for position and he's already had a Number 1 record from me so what more can he ask for! Nevertheless, what Crowley does is breathtakingly simple. Piano-led and sparsely arranged tracks with a lyrical voice that ponders the small wondrous moments of existence and the inevitability of our final destination. Leonard Cohen is definitely very much the pivotal inspirational point. But he's still his own man and I commend him to you.