Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Album Reviews # 102 The Raincoats - The Raincoats

 Sometimes you buy albums because you come across them by chance and think you should have them without really knowing them or even being sure that you'll actually like them. Such was the case with me and the eponymous debut from The Raincoats, first released in 197,9 when I chanced upon it in a German record shop about fifteen years later and sensed I should own it. I don't think I listened to it much at the time. I listen to it all the time now.

It was a landmark, for sure,(even in 1979), but not to everyone's tastes. Danny Baker of the NME described seeing the band play thus: 'they are so bad that every time the waiter drops a tray we get up and dance.' This is a perfectly valid opinion and a funny one, though of course it reflects the chauvinist world The Raincoats wandered into.Not everyone will like this record. It's made for certain ears.

Now it doesn't sound anything like as other-worldly or strange as it must have done at the time. Its rhythms and jerkiness, its awkwardness have become familar contours of the Rock and Roll landscape. Largely due to bands like The Raincoats who were brave enough to make the records they did back in the day, when it was a more difficult and dangerous thing to do.

In a memorable scene in the wonderful 20th Century Woman  a film about the changes of the late Seventies in terms of lifestyles and attitudes, the following interaction takes place:

the Annette Benning mother character comes into the boy's room and finds him and a female friend listening to the first Raincoats album. She can't understand why anyone would want to and the conversation goes as follows:
'Dorothea (Benning): What is that?

Abigail: It's The Raincoats.

Dorothea: Can't things just be pretty? 

Jamie: Pretty music is used to hide how unfair and corrupt society is.

Dorothea: Ah, OK, (sits on bed). So they're not very good and they know that. Right?

Abigail: Yeah. It's like they have all this feeling. And they don't have any skill. And they don't want skill. Because it's really interesting what happens when your passion is bigger than the tools you have to deal with it. It creates this energy that's raw. Isn't it great?

Dorothea doesn't respond.'

The Raincoats are not 'good' in the traditional sense. In terms of their technical proficiency or classically beautiful voices. They are good, no they're excellent, in the way Rock and Roll allows you to be like almost no other art form. They invent a new colour. The Slits, their prime antecedents and inspirations as an all female band who write and perform their own songs, are the natural comparison point. The two sound and don't sound similar at one and the same time. The Slits I'd say take their starting point as Reggae. The Raincoats by contrast sound very white and seem to take their lead from their own internal personal rhythms.

The Raincoats is jittery and skittery, like a band rehearsing for the first time,. Its fire is fuelled by the sensibilities of two quite different singers, Ana De Silva and Anna Birch. De Silva is more obviously Punky and abrasive while Birch has genuine chidlike innocence, sounding like a refugee fromSeventies  BBC children's programmes. Bagpuss or Noggin The Nog.

The album improves with age. Kurt Cobain, who was always a prescient listener, was quite right to seize on its charms. Its occasional scraping violins are reminiscent of John Cale's work on the early Velvet Underground albums and in some ways The Raincoats might be a Velvet Underground record with Nico and Mo Tucker allowed to sing all of the songs, as well as play all the instruments.

'Nothing is ever as exciting as the first time.' Birch said many years after the event. 'It's just so thrilling making your debut record. Nothing beats it.'The Raincoats next two albums before their original disolution Odyshape and Moving are both excellent records but Birch is right, nether of them are instilled with the primal thrill of true invention like The Raincoats is ,

There's plenty of serious stuff discussed here. Rape, the armed forces, gender roles, (the inspired cover of The Kinks Lola). But The Raincoats make it all sound like the best fun you can ever have with your clothes on. You get the sense that this will sound even better in fifty years time. 

Albums of the Year # 95 Nathan Salsburg - Psalms


One of the most original and interesting concept albums of the year. Psalms a record by Kentucky based musician and archivist Nathan Salsburg. A devotional journey into the nature of his Jewish faith, it's a series of baroque and intricate songs,  mostly given the title of one of the Psalms.

Beautifully played guitar in the Folk tradition of Bert Jansch and accompanied by singing in Hebrew and English by Salsburg and his collaborators, it's a rather lovely, meditative study, Best listened to right the way through. Like the Psalms themselves, every track here seems to tell a different story.

Choctaw Ridge - New Fables of The American South 1968-1973 # 17 Jim Ford


Best Ever Albums - Top 1,000 Albums - 875 Robert Johnson - King of the Delta Blues Singers


The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 412 Oasis


You can almost hear Marc Bolan cheering them on.

Song(s) of the Day # 2,796 Smoke Bellow


Baltimore trio Smoke Bellow's latest album Open For Business is another that serves up reminders of the late Seventies and the early Nineties. This time of the more estoteric side of procedding. Also reminiscent of Nineties Post and Math Rock it has all the clinical precision of an afternoon in a laboratory.

A little clinical and cold for my own tastes for the most part, it's nevertheless very well done.When it opened up a bit more, and shows greater warmth and colour as on third track Anniversary, I found myself quite taken.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Patti Smith & Raw Power


The Eurythmics


Richard H. Kirk 1956 - 2021


Albums of the Year # 96 Heartless Bastards - A Beautiful Mind


With a countdown of my favourite 100 albums of 2021 starting on here in a few days, I'm still coming across records that seem to merit a place there and I don't doubt there'll be a few more in the next couple of months. 

Here's the latest contender. A Beautiful Mind by Cincinnati's Heartless Bastards. My first encounter with this bunch was at an ATP Festival in Minehead, Wales about ten years back. They were playing a lunchtime set, made a very pleasant impression on me and I've probably thought very little about them since.

A Beautiful Mind is their first album since 2015 and their sixth in all coming out on their own label Sweet Unknown Records. It leaves the same gentle heartwarming impression that seeing them that Sunday at ATP all those years agp had on me.

These are not songs that are in any way attempting to change the world. They are well crafted, dreamy, drifting things in the grand tradition of American Pop Rock songs of the Seventies and Eighties, Tom Petty, from whom the band got their name, seems to be the most natural comparison.

It's not alternative particularly. Not uneasy listening. It all will go down very smoothly indeed. It's great Sunday afternoon listening matter. I listened through to it on a Sunday afternoon and they seemed to go hand in hand together.

Choctaw Ridge - New Fables of The American South 1968-1973 # 16 Billie Jo Spears


Best Ever Albums - Top 1,000 Albums - 876 Caravan - In The Land Of Pink And Grey


The original Canterbury Sound.

The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 411 Blur


'Blur begat Brit Pop...'

Song of the Day # 2,795 Molly Drake


Old England. Molly Drake. Mother of Nick and Gabrielle.

Monday, September 20, 2021

Album Reviews # 101 Elvis Costello & the Attractions - Get Happy!!


Whenever I think of Elvis Costello, I think about the only time I ever saw him. Some time round about when I was studying for my A Levels, in 1983 or '84, in W.H.Smith's in Richmond, either alone, or possibly with his beau of the time, Cait O'Riordan. He was standing stock still on the shopflor wearing an enormous and slightly ludicrous hat that fairly much screamed, 'look at me, I'm Elvis Costello!'

Frankly I don't blame him. If I was Elvis Costello I'd do something pretty similar. Costello is one of the most prodigious talents these set of islands, or frankly anywhere else have ever produced in terms of Pop and Rock..His body of work, between 1977 and 1986 particularly, is just astonishing. The Dylan comparison frankly is almost inevitable and although Costello is not Dylan, (nobody except Dylan is), he still belongs in the first rank of Rock and Roll. Very few have been overflowing with such utterly realised talent as he had.

Listening to his 1980 record made with compadres the Attractions is as good a way as any of appreciating this. There's frankly too much going on for the conscious mind to process. Twenty tracks, twenty! On a single disc. He simply couldn't be contained.

The album came out shortly after one of the most infamous and certainly the most shameful incidents of Costello's career. His drunken, abusive and vitriolic verbal assault on the Stephen Stills band and particularly Bonnie Bramlett in a hotel bar in Columbus, Ohio the year before. 

Costello's barbs and slurs have been exhaustively documented and frankly are enough to blacklist him from the playlists of any politically decent music lover and probably would have meant the effective end of his music career should it have happened now.

But why would you deny yourself of this? This review is not intended to pass judgement on that moment, although frankly I hope Costello's still ashamed of himself because he should be, but I'd rather focus on the charms and merits of Get Happy!!. Because frankly they're too numerous to document.

This probably isn't Costello's best known or celebrated record. Those came earlier. But it's certainly one of his and the Atractions most remarkable statements. Perhaps their greatest pure pop record, and given that they'd just put out Armed Forces that's some claim.

It's such a good record, sounding something like the rants of a man in a straightjacket in a sealed cell and begs the question, who exactly is mad and who is sane. He's a fighter in the flyweight category, one killer punch away from the heavyweight crown.

Costello had blown his chance, at least momentarily of breaking the States wide open with the Columbus, Ohio incident. He'd had to apologise, publicly, repeatedly and abjectly but it had still effectively killed the immediate momentum that he was building up over there. But Get Happy!! is neither the sound of a man licking his wounds or feeling sorry for himself. Far from it. The record is by turns giddy, punch drunk, exuberant and reflective. It's the sound of a man and a band at the absolute height of their talents and powers.

It's hard to pick out highlights because it's all highlights really. If there's a weak track among the twenty, I'm yet to spot it on my second play of the morning. It's an embarrassment of riches.

The album served up three hit singles. None of them huge ones. New Amsterdam, which strikes me as a bona fide Top Ten hit and one of the best things Costello ever wrote, only made Number 36 in the UK singles charts remarkably. His moment in the sun as a singles artiste were behind him now, not that he was in any kind of commercial decline. Again, far from it. 

The man had plenty of appearances on Top of the Pops ahead of him, but master as he was at the 45 form, he was always worthy of deeper and more concentrated consideration and  Get Happy!! is perhaps the best demand for that he ever put forward. The songs chosen for single release here barely stand out from their company at all. 

Of course Elvis Costello records are first and foremost about Elvis Costello. He has far too much to say and is far too greedy to share the spotlight with anyone. But Get Happy!! is also an opportunity for The Attractions to showcase their talents. Masters of any musical mode that Costello set for them, they have all of the tightness and joy of a Motown or Stax band.

In many ways this is a record I can appreciate more in 2021 than I might have done in 1980 when it came out. I know more about the sources of each track, Soul, Country or Rock. Musically I'm right at home.

Lyrical orientation has always been another kettle of fish altogether as far as me and Elvis are concerned. I've never been a very good crossword puzzle doer and he always specialised in the cryptic version of the form. Often I often really don't understand what he's going on about though I can generally grasp whether he's happy, sad, enraged, bitter or heartbroken. But here it doesn't seem to matter.

In the first year of university, the guy in the room next to me was probably the biggest Elvis Costello fan I've ever met. He was also a very smart bloke. We're still in touch and really I'd urge him to write his own reviews of this and Costello's other finest records because really I can't do the man complete justice.

In the meantime, while we wait for Rod's perspective, here is my first Elvis Costello review. I've realised during the writing of this that I don't listen to Get Happy!! nearly enough. That's easily remedied.

Julie Driscoll


Albums of the Year # 97 Altin Gun - Yol


Turkish band Altin Gun, based curently in the Netherlands are beginning to make some waves as they release their latest album Yol, their third in all. First of all, they're developing their fanbase, largely in Holland, Germany and not unnaturally their homeland, where they prefer not to be, given the extreme nature of the political regime there at the minute.

They're also getting increasing critical notice and acclaim, notable a five page feature in this month's Uncut Magazine. A listen to Yol is all it takes to grasp immediately why all this is beginning to happen.
This is one seriously funky record.

According to Uncut, Yol is notably less 'Psych' than the band's previous two albums. I'm not sufficiently personally versed to comment on this, not having heard their earlier records, but it certainly works well enough on its own terms for me. It's certainly rather kitsch in many respects, conjuring up images and sensations from Turkish B Movies of the Seventies and Eighties.

The first immediate feature of Yol is that it might make you want to move your hips and feet. There's much here you can dance to, it's 'disco' in very many respects and I certainly don't intend that in any perjorative sense.This is Good Times music in many respects, regardless of whether you can understand the lyrics or not.

With an alternating, female and male vocal attack, there's plenty of variety here. Yol is a highly diverse listen. A record that's a joy to listen to. The politics of dancing in motion.

Choctaw Ridge - New Fables of The American South 1968-1973 # 15 Ed Bruce


Best Ever Albums - Top 1,000 Albums - 877 Elvis Costello & the Attractions - Get Happy!!


Elvis was something of a conveyer belt of quality goods by this point.

The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 410 Primal Scream


'rock is at its funniest when it doesn't know its telling a joke.'

Song(s) of the Day # 2,794 Plum Green


Out of Melboune, which currently is the Rock and Roll conveter belt. Somnambulistic, the lastest from Plum Green is an eerie treat. Marking out ground somewhere between Portishead and Mazzy Star, it's a sountrack for seances.

Sleepwalking is a good description of the atmosphere conjured uo here. Plum Green consciously walk the line between the known and the unknown. This is not competely unexplored territory but its a terrific record for anyone who's ever dressed in black for effect.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Big Star


Things Found on My Local's Jukebox # 484 The Triffids


Good to be back in Newcastle and back in The Newcastle Arms where they have a great new manager named Bryn. Also good to have Treeless Plain by The Triffids, (which I've inported) as a listening option.

Albums of the Year # 98 Steve Gunn - Other You


American guitarist and songwriter Steve Gunn is a quiet but clear talent. Consistent too. For a number of years he's been putting out albums of stark but beautiful clarity. The latest Other You maintains his high batting average.

With Gunn, hus guitar playing alone would be enough. He's one of the best guitarists working at the moment. His style is wonderfully spacious and distinctive, evoking the great American outdoors. The great American songbook.

On Other You he has songs to match. The record is a small joy. Working in the same field as the likes of Kevin Morby and Rydley Walker but eking out a definite territory of his own, this is a record of joy and wonder.

Choctaw Ridge - New Fables of The American South 1968-1973 # 14 Kenny Rogers & The First Edition


Best Ever Albums - Top 1,000 Albums - 878 Pixies - Come On Pilgrim


A mini-album essentially but worth noting and celebrating.

The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 409 Beck


'slacker poster-boy...'

Song of the Day # 2,793 Laurel Canyon


A wonderful song. Plundering Rock and Roll's past. Nirvana, early Jesus & Mary Chain, New York Punk. But plenty of fire of its own in its belly.

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Albums of the Year # 99 Superstate (featuring Graham Coxon) - Superstate


Graham Coxon's latest project, he certainly keeps himself busy.You get the feeling that he and Damon are pretty much pleasing themselves nowadays and that's just as you'd want it. Superstate is the soundtrack to a graphic novel of short stories bearing the same name.

With concepts like this you shouldn't really be able to process the whole picture properly without the book it complements. That doesn't really matter here though it does picque my interest to track that down.. In the mean time though, Superstate works fine on its own.

As with Gorillaz Coxon uses this as an outlet to be more eclectic than he generally gets on hiis own records. Here you see him trying out his break down moves, getting funky along with more conventional fare. It's all a lot of fun.

At fifteen tracks this is probably too much to process at one sitting but I very much like what I hear. One of Britain's more enduring and consistently surprising talents.

Choctaw Ridge - New Fables of The American South 1968-1973 # 13 Waylon Jennings & The Kimberlys


Best Ever Albums - Top 1,000 Albums - 879 Jesus & Mary Chain


Definitely hugely inferior to Psychocandy. They showed here that all they really wanted was to be like other bands after all. Still, they also showed what we knew already, that they could also write great songs.

The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 408 Snoop Doggy Dogg


Song of the Day # 2,792 Tommy Steele


A bit of levity for a Saturday morning. Thanks to university friend Liz once again for dredging this back into my memory banks. 

Friday, September 17, 2021



Albums of the Year # 100 John Denver Airport Conspiracy - Something's Gotta Give!


It is now 100 days until Christmas. Ludicrously, I am commencing my countdown of records of the year to celebrate this fact. It's not a difficult task. I have come across many more than 100 albums that I care for. There are doubtless a few more yet to be released that I will need to shoehorn in before the countdown is complete. I think it's been another great year for music but then again it probably always is if you dig deep enough. So, off we go. 

In the absence of a Brian Jonestown Massacre album this year, you could do worse than give Something's Gotta Give! the debut album from Toronto Psych Rockers, The John Denver Airport Conspiracy a listen. 

It's very much a join the dots exercise on what the Massacre do, but on less damaging drugs. Even their name sounds like it must be some kind of tribute.

Completely in thrall to the Psychedelic experience of 1965 to 1968, all chugging riffs and grooves, Something's Gotta Give! ransacks The Stones, Traffic, Buffalo Springfield, Electric Prunes, Cryan' Shames and the other usual suspects to winning effect.

Nothing on show here comes from beyond this particular window in time. In a world where the present makes little coherent sense, there are worse things to do than take refuge in the past. It sounds like everybody concerned is having a wonderful time. It's a happening. Far Out!

Choctaw Ridge - New Fables of The American South 1968-1973 # 12 Henson Cargill


Best Ever Albums - Top 1,000 Albums - 880 Brockhampton - Saturation 2


The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 407 Krs-One


Song(s) of the Day # 2,791 Colleen Green


Terrific new album, called Cool just out from Colleen Green. It could easily have made my Top Hundred list for the year which I'm commencing today. Sorry Collen. Just too late. No room at the inn.

Still it's just great. Unpretentious straight ahead Indie Rock. Buzzing synth, minimal guitar lines. Smart lyrics. Great fun all round.

Colleen hails from LA and is in her late thirties.  Cool is her sixth album as far as I can see and effortlessly fits that description.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Covers # 179 Johnny Hallyday

Will be raiding my university friend Liz's foreign language covers playlist for a while on this particular series. Here, the French Elvis, (or Cliff if you prefer), does his version of House of the Rising Sun.


Amyl & The Sniffers - Comfort To Me


Australians Amyl & The Sniffers nailed their colours to the mast with their eponymous debut album a couple of years. Unreconstituted Second Wave Punk Rock. Raw, quite consciously lacking the remotest sophistication, the kind of thing that Sounds readers would very much have appreciated back in 1978.

Now they've returned with second album Comfort To Me and it's very much business as usual. Development is a relative term where a band like this are concerned as they're not really looking to develop their sound and their audience probably don't want them to either.

The Sniffers are hardly aping bands that were the absolute top of the game first time around so it's difficult to enthuse overly over this record. Anyhow it does what it says on the tin and lets fly a few riffs and howls that The Saints, The Scientists and Radio Birdman wouldn't have deemed shabby. Much of it sadly spills over into Angelic Upstarts territory.  While this fulfils its objectives well enough for the most part it's far too predictable and doesn't really excite in the way that say the Civic album did earlier on this year.  I'll give it 7.

P.S. Taken on its own merits this is a fine record. It just depends where you stand on the whole concepts of growth and change.

Choctaw Ridge - New Fables of The American South 1968-1973 # 9 Nat Stuckey


Best Ever Albums - Top 1,000 Albums - 883 Townes Van Zandt - Townes Van Zandt


Te only Townes in this rundown. It's just great.

The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 404 Ice Cube


Song of the Day # 2,788 Pays P.


Just seven tracks long, but it just about qualifies as an album. Ca v Aller by French band Pays P is the kind of thing Sonic Youth would have got up to in their mid-career if they'd allowed Kim Gordon to shriek every song.

This was never completely my favourite thing but they do what they do very well. I suspect some of the angst is slightly put on but a thoroughly good time is clearly being had by all and frankly it's rather infectious.

Monday, September 13, 2021

Covers # 178 Marion Maerz


A friend has send me a link to a wonderful playlist she's made of pop classics sung in non-English.languages. This, and Dusty Springfield is as good a way to start as any. Thanks Liz!

Saint Etienne - I've Been Trying to Tell You


Saint Etienne seem to be a group that improve with the years like a fine wine. With us for almost thirty years they're making their way towards small British Pop Institution status and latest album I've Been Trying to Tell You only confirms this process.

It's as different from their first records as you could possibly imagine and highlights how thoughtful Bob Stanley, Pete Wiggs are about what they do and why they're doing. The new record seems most of all to be an exercise in memory and how it works.

Eight floating, drifting soundscapes recorded remotely during lockdown. Probably best experienced by a listener of a certain age for whom the band themselves have associative memories  but I would imagine it also stands alone on its own merits.

Definitely an album that needs to be listened through to in its entirity. Probably the best 'experiencing of time' record I've come across in 2021 along with the Floating Points and Pharoah Sanders collaboration Promises.

Choctaw Ridge - New Fables of The American South 1968-1973 # 8 Charlie Rich


Best Ever Albums - Top 1,000 Albums - 884 R.E.M. - New Adventures in Hi-Fi


The last great R.E.M. album.

The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 403 Snoop Doggy Dogg


Song(s) of the Day # 2,787 Heartless Bastards


With a countdown of my favourite 100 albums of 2021 starting on here in a few days, I'm still coming across records that seem to merit a place there and I don't doubt there'll be a few more in the next couple of months. 

Here's the latest contender. A Beautiful Mind by Cincinnati's Heartless Bastards. My first encounter with this bunch was at an ATP Festival in Minehead, Wales about ten years back. They were playing a lunchtime set, made a very pleasant impression on me and I've probably thought very little about them since.

A Beautiful Mind is their first album since 2015 and their sixth in all coming out on their own label Sweet Unknown Records. It leaves the same gentle heartwarming impression that seeing them that Sunday at ATP all those years agp had on me.

These are not songs that are in any way attempting to change the world. They are well crafted, dreamy, drifting things in the grand tradition of American Pop Rock songs of the Seventies and Eighties, Tom Petty, from whom the band got their name, seems to be the most natural comparison.

It's not alternative particularly. Not uneasy listening. It all will go down very smoothly indeed. It's great Sunday afternoon listening matter. I listened through to it on a Sunday afternoon and they seemed to go hand in hand together.

Sunday, September 12, 2021



Michael Chapman 1941- 2021


Covers # 177 Denny Doherty


Another from the Denny Doherty record. A very loose take on the Hank Williams classic.

Good Morning - Country


I've featured Australian Good Morning on here before. They're one of the best down at heel Indie combos keeping the torch of Jonathan Richman & the Modern Lovers aflame that we currently have. Latest sngle finds them moving on to The Go Betweens who were also deeply inspired by Jonathan. This is the probably the best Grant McLennan song that Grant didn't write, quite self-conciously I would say and intended as a testament to his glorious gift. One of my favourite songs of the year this far. A new album Barnyard is coming n October too and I also awit that expectantly.

Elvis Costello & The Attractions - Spanish Action


One of the greatest concepts and most purely enjoyable records of 2021, Spanish Model finds Elvis Costello & the Attractions classic This Year's Model recast in Spanish by a set of Spanish singers, all laid down over the original studio performances.

It's an odd idea but it actually works. The originals are utterly hard-wired into any devotees skull. As Costello himself said, Spanish is the other great Rock and Roll language and every track swings and grooves just as they did on his Year's Model.

It's difficult to choose highlights because everything seems to work. A funky, funny and wired record that you should request they play it at your local Tapas restaurant post haste.

As a friend commented, a great way to celebrate a great record rather than putting out yet another overpriced boxset of inessential outtakes, Spanish Model is truly all the fun of the fair.

Choctaw Ridge - New Fables of The American South 1968-1973 # 7 Dolly Parton