Joni Mitchell – Ladies of the Canyon – 1970 – Reprise

Its perfectly possible to choose any one of 6 of Joni’s first 10 records and totally immerse yourself in them. The quality of her back catalogue is stunning. Gorgeous tunes, great phrasing, breathtaking vocal gymnastics, inspiring lyrics and some interesting left turns away from her folk roots into the jazz inspired direction of her later records

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

Ladies of the Canyon is number 3 after ‘Clouds’ and before ‘Blue’ which is actually my favourite. However ‘Ladies’ is a really accessible album and is as light and airy as the breeze blowing down Laurel Canyon to which she had just moved from the Chelsea district of New York. It seems the Joni often writes about her surroundings usually with accompanying light, art, craft and keen observation of folk such as ‘Chelsea Morning’ and on here ‘Ladies of the Canyon’ with a wandering eye on her artistic neighbours in the canyon in late 60’s California

She is a master of description, character and stories all wrapped up in 4 minutes. ‘For Free’ tells of a meeting with a talented busker who is doing her job without payment with skill equal to hers. ‘Conversation’ is a heartbreaking tale of heart breaking unrequited love from the point of view of a friend supporting her unhappy male companion.

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

The difficult Jazz inspired Joni track is of course in evidence with the piano based ‘Arrangement’ but to counter that we also have the hits. ‘Big Yellow Taxi’, everyone’s favourite Joni hit shouts out from the rooftops to stop building over green sites and is as relevant now as it was then and still stands out as a great song despite hearing it so many times. We also have the best version of Woodstock (2 other versions are available) with an almost native American backing that perhaps originates in Joni’s Canadian past.

Finally another familiar song ‘The Circle Song which always sounds to me as if Joni is an ethereal school teacher having a right old Jamboree before the children go home. and that’s how she signs off

Gorgeous and available at knock down prices because of the amount that made it out during the seventies. Another bonus, Its in a gorgeous gatefold with all her delicious poetry in so you can sing along. As you should…

Advertisements

The Albion Band – Rise Up Like the Sun – 1978 – Harvest

 

Here’s a perfect slice of classic folk-rock that is cheap as chips on vinyl although my copy is on CD snatched from my local library media sale for a quid. I have just witnessed this on Ebay for 99p on vinyl and is on buy it now for £4.00. My connection with the Albion band goes way back to 1978 when I think they were on the Reading Festival when I was just a wee boy and went on one of the other days.

The Albion Band was formed by Ashley Hutchings from Fairport and at this stage in their development contained such folk rock heroes as Dave Mattacks, John Tams and Graeme Taylor both of whom went on to from the equally excellent Home Service.

This is very possibly the second best folk-rock album ever made lying just behind (but not by much) Fairport’s Liege and Lief, in my opinion. However am way open to other opinions.

Its a quite unfashionable album in that it brings synthesisers into folk but it works a treat. There is a fair amount of quite fiddly electric guitar work as well but it is always nail sharp sounding

Afro Blue/Danse Royale, Ampleforth and a fair amount of Lay Me Low are largely instrumental and demonstrate the bands effectiveness as a folk unit. Phil Pickett’s Pipes and fiddle are particularly haunting until Lay Me Low becomes a proper folk rock anthem with Linda Thompson, Kate McGarrigle, Julie Covington all joining on the chorus. It pays to be Ashley Hutchings, you know everyone!

Kate McGarrigle also duets with Tams on a House in the Country proving that the band can so achieve gorgeous melodies among their tricks

Ashley as I’m sure you are aware is a great keen fan of Morris/English dance tunes which is how the next tune ‘The Primrose’ comes over. Hankies can be seen in the minds eye dangling from every waving arm.

Gresford Disaster is a sprawling 10 minute epic of a song that ends the original vinyl album and therefore my review as one cant be doing with songs that weren’t intended. Tams as always sings beautifully, having one of the best English folk voices of all. Drama is brought into the middle section with Taylors sinister guitar mimicking the rather grim nature of the story of a Welsh mining disaster continuing on towards a sad refrain at the end

If you are at all interested in folk and like a bargain please picks yourself a copy of this record as it will never be regretted. A true classic of the field.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Third World – Third World – 1976 – Island Records

Now this a lovely record you can still pick up for a song. Recently picked this up for £2 in a charity shop. Vinyl for £2. Unbelievable. Believe me they are still out there.

This is a mango soaked, clear ocean slice of Caribbean sunshine appropriately enough on Island records – home of profitable reggae in the seventies.  I like to imagine this debuting in the red hot summer of 1976 with the ground cracked, Viv Richards batting his way to another century, ice cold lilt in the fridge and this record on the deck. Mmmm nice.

DSC_2902

Third World were a Jamaican reggae  band, or were they? Listening to this album sometimes you wonder whether you’re listening to the Wailers or some mid seventies soul train bound funk band. Make no mistake Third World were a classy band, smooth as silk, excellent musicians equally home with reggae pop as funk. This is a collection of their own songs and two corking covers.

The album begins with a gorgeous low riding version of the Abyssinians ‘Sette Messgana’. I have no idea why it is spelt so different on this record but it is a cover to die for with some incredible jazzy flute in the centre that really gives it swing.

 

After a wee bongo interlude along comes the other really classy cover of Burning Spears ‘Slavery Days’ which is every bit as good as the original with a electric piano solo worthy of of Herbie Hancock

In Brand New Beggar we walk a line straight through the genres of reggae and funk and step liberally all over each side

Flip over to side two and I swear Johnny Guitar Watson is all over the funky workout that is Cross Reference and during Got to Get Along you would swear they were the O’Jays or any of those classy seventies soul Philly groups doing full on soul ballad.

Next we glide along on a wave of Wailers type reggae pop for the final two songs. All in all a lovely warm classy record.

Oh and look at the insert….all that classic reggae!

DSC_2905

Kim and Buran – Kosmos for Children – 2004 -Solnze Records

What we have here is a perfect piece of Soviet science fiction picked up for under £4 from Normans Records in Leeds. Brainchild of Russian Slava Zavylov and helped out by his mate Igor Cvetkov, Kim and Buran use melodies only previously available on er…Barry Gray soundtracks.

All fully instrumental these jaunty tunes bring into mind comic book adventures of interplanetary travel. They are said to be influenced heavily by 1950’s Russian science fiction literature and what ever is going on in your head with that concept is exactly what you have here. Chock full of full of fully mature cheese each tune screams out to be loved and you cannot fail to have a massive smile on your face for the whole album. Even my wife liked it for goodness sake! Ridiculously toe tapping and with theremin cream filling this record also has great titles all staring in wonder to the skies.

DSCF2005

That’s right, you get the idea

My First Cosmic Love, Shepochkins Journey, Happy New Year Martians, Electromagnetic Secrets of Slave Transistor and Tania and Vania (how convenient to have rhyming names) are Flying to the Moon give you a pretty good idea about the various Cosmonautical activities that K&R are clearly obsessed with. They are also in love with fifties novelty (Secrets of Two Captains) sixties surf rock (Rock’n’Robot), seventies disco funk (Happy New Year Martians), nineties lounge (Dancing Cosmognomes) but mostly they are just so in love with cheesy tunes just like our Barry.

Buy this now because a. It’s ridiculously cheap and b. anything could happen in the next half hour.

Betty and the Werewolves – Teatime Favourites -2010 – Damaged Goods Records

This is the way it is, no argument. Three girls, one guy. One guitar, one bass, one casio keyboard one drummer.  14 2-3 minute pop songs in c86 style. Plenty of good tunes. Every song sounds similar. One is in French. One is about David Cassidy. They all kind of look quite cute. They all love a cup of tea and a bit of cake. They love their mums and dads.  The CD is one whole pound in my local library. Perfect. Listen in.

 

Fairuz – Good Friday – Eastern Sacred Songs – 1962 – Parlophone Voix de l’Orient Series

Not one to be shy of the odder side of recorded music I picked up this Arabic Christian collection of Easter hymns for 50 whole pence a few weeks ago.

I was immediately struck by the juxtaposition of the picture of the crucified Christ on the cover with stacks of Arabic writing beside it (my copy paired with a big ‘Anita’ on the back in bold biro). It was crying out to be bought. It just looked so interesting and it is certainly that.

P1110199P1110200P1110198

It is a collection of very down tempo hymns done in an almost East/West crossover. One can hear those church organs providing backing but Fairuz’s gorgeous faultless voice sings in a distinctive eastern  manner using Eastern scales. She also works at times without instrumentation with a choir in what appears to be a call and response fashion

It says on the sleeve notes that Good Friday is remembered by Arabic Christian communities in a very sorrowful way and the songs apparently reflect upon Christ’s suffering on the cross.

Fairuz is a well known Lebanese singer active from the 1950’s and started her career in her local church. She became an international star in the 1060’s and continues to this day to sell out huge venues on the strength of her Lebanese popularity.

This is a meditative piece and becomes almost Gregorian at times. It would sound fantastic in the churches where it is meant to be heard with knee deep reverberation. On a record from 1962 you do loose a little depth to the sound and of course there are 50 years of crackles to contend with (but I never mind crackles – shows character)

All in all a fine piece of Eastern promise in a collection without enough of it and to top it all it turns out that this is quite sought after fetching between £15-20. Nice to know but I ain’t going to sell it now

 

Andre Previn & His Pals (Shelley Manne and Red Mitchell) – Modern Jazz Performances of Songs from Pal Joey -1957 (1991 reissue) – Contemporary Records

I am going to start including records that would normally be left at the bottom of the bargain bin and haven’t really got enough hip followers to raise them up in the fashion stakes to grab high prices because there are still plenty of really lovely records there staring you in the face at the price of about a quarter of a cup of coffee. Just what the bargain hunter needs and my hunting recently has been based of this very strategy as I find that as vinyl prices go through the roof and become more and more unobtainable there more I become interested in the bargain bin. I pulled this out of the back of my local record shop in his £1 (or 4 for £3) section.

P1110202

My first selection is a lounge jazz classic. I kind of went off jazz for a good while but am swinging back with a vengeance. My son is a jazz guitarist and has introduced me to so much more that I have again found my enthusiasm for it. This record is easy to like. Melodic, not too much lengthy soloing and a great swinging feel to the trio.

P1110201

It is recorded by Andre Previn on piano (yes him of the Mr Preview Eric Morecombe fame), Shelley Manne on drums and Red Mitchell on bass. The trio were apparently noted for their modern jazz interpretations of Broadway Musicals and this is their interpretation of Pal Joey. This was a Rogers and Hart musical opening in 1940. The trio recorded this in 1957 and were completely improvised at the two recording sessions.

The songs here don’t actually sound like Rogers and Hart songs although the tunes are good and strong. The trio manage to entirely reinterpret them as if they were simple jazz tunes. Oddly the one that sounds particularly like a Rogers and Hart tunes is the ballad ‘I’m Talking with My Pal’ that wasn’t actually used in the show.

Elsewhere on the record with have a little Afro-Cuban ‘What is a Man?’, blues on ‘Its a Great Big Town’, a gorgeous ballad ‘Bewitched’ but mostly up tempo swing ‘Zip’ ‘Do it the Hard Way’ and ‘Take Him’.  All through the record there is adept swing taking place demonstrating Previn’s considerable talents as a jazz pianist (for which he isn’t ever so well know). All in all a great addition for those quiet winter evenings

The Tubes – The Tubes – 1975 – A&M Records

This record appears to me the very embodiment of things changing in music. The bridge between progressive rock and the murmurings of punk rock on the horizon. I bought this record for 10 pence in a recycling centre. You can get this record for nothing all over the place and its extraordinarily unfashionable but brims with tongue in cheek nonsense and great tunes. It is ‘of its time’.

I first became aware of The Tubes in about 1978 whilst shopping for punk and new wave records as a 14 year old. I immediately became enormously fascinated with the contents of the inside cover of their ‘What do you want from Live’ record which has various pictures of women dressed in bondage gear with tape across their barely covered nipples and er, was that Fee Waybill’s Johnson sticking out of his silver pants. Endlessly mysterious to me at that stage.

I had no awareness of them in 1975. I was too busy absorbing my brother’s records; Traffic, Sabbath, Zeppelin, etc and listening to the Beatles which I think is a stage we all go through as record collectors. So here we go through the first Tubes album.

The cover kind sets the tone. The Tubes were  never shy of a little theatricality as I have alluded above . The back cover of this record shows a rubber clad woman with a tyre inner tube around her. Its a classic sexist 1970’s cover, almost ‘Scorpianesque’.  Another perfect record for adolescents.

P1110190

 

P1110189

The record starts with ‘Up From the Deep’ . Progressive pomposity with pretend sitar synths, genesis style keyboards, space noises, grand pianos, great thunder rolls of drums like a big symphony of the deep with orchestral sections. It’s great fun. Think a big Hawkwind/Genesis sandwich. Mmm tasty.

Haloes starts with simmering strings (synths of course, The Tubes were very synthy) and sounds  like something off John Barleycorn Must Die by Traffic with (synth) horns giving it a meaty feel mixed with the comforting West Coast warmth of Steely Dan.

Space Baby goes for another chameleon change when they start sounding like Bowie with Space theme to match ‘Space baby got no planet’ a big old guitar solo and a folk chant bridge in the middle. I kid you not, listen to it

P1110191

Then comes the utterly nonsensical Malaguena Salerosa, an oft covered Mexican ballad about a gent who is too poor for his lady together with (pretend) mariachi horns, freeform yodelling and a big ole at the end. As you can see this record keeps its enormous tongue either firmly in the cheek or enthusiastically licking the side of this black wax record.

Which brings us the Mondo Bondage, a PVC clad cock (space) rock classic informing us of the huge pleasure to be had from the fem dom scene. The film of this on You Tube has to be seen to be believed. Not sure how they away with it back then. They certainly weren’t afraid of a little controversy

Another Tubes classic tunes What do you want from Life? is a tongue in cheek view of commercialism that still resonates today as Fee states that every American household should have a ‘Gucci Shoe Tree’ and a ‘reconditioned third reich swizzle stick’

Boy Crazy is an all American pop song followed by White Punks on Dope which is the song that people remember with the Tubes doing a fair old job of sounding a bit like the up and coming New York Dolls. Its a song about growing up in Hollywood with the famous line ‘hang myself when I got enough rope’ adapted by the Clash to name their second album

Now this is no work of genius. Far too full of pomp but laden with masses of humour. It is hopelessly out of fashion but I kind of like that. People are far too reliant on fashion to state publically their music taste . So this is me pinning my musical taste to the flag and flying it high. Try it. You might like it. You’ll certainly like this video if you are a heterosexual gent (or 14 year old one).

 

 

Alasdair Roberts and Friends – A Wonder Working Stone – 2013 – Drag City Records

I don’t think I have done a folk album yet and I’ve chosen a real beauty today and a folk album that is decidedly weird. This is a record that to me sounds almost supernatural in places. Alasdair Roberts is a Scottish songwriter and here he is working with of excellent musicians who sound like a mutant country fayre band directly off the cast of the Wicker Man. There are fiddles and horns and accordions and harmonicas and reverbed classics rockabilly guitars and I even saw a reference to shrunken goats feet. No, this isn’t a traditional folk ensemble. I kind of imagine them dressed up in those worrying masks.

This is a record full of death with a big smile on its face. The Merry Wake celebrates the dead, ‘we’d rather sport with the gleeful deceased’, The End of Breeding has ‘doleful knells’, the Death Moth makes an appearance in The Year of the Burning, in Fusion of Horizons we ‘dance in the courtyard of the dead’ and in Give the Green Blessing we learn that ‘its no fun to learn in low bed of death’. Good point, well made Alasdair. The low bed of death has never been a good learning environment.

Having said that quite confidently don’t imagine this is a depressing record. Far from it. Alasdair’s guitar work is really bright at times and although there are some odd themes there are some really rousing jigs, multi tracked buoyant singalongs, New Orleans Marches. There’s everything here.

Talking of themes here there is all kinds of oddness going on in Robert’s writing. He has the gift of words and is plainly extraordinarily well read. He has the knack of writing lyrics you would swear are hundreds of years old. You’d swear that he had spent months hanging around Cecil Sharp House and found the oldest and dustiest catalogue of Scottish traditional tunes. Such is his intertwining use of old traditional tunes and jigs, airs and marches on the end of his songs you easily get confused and think the whole thing is traditional. He constantly uses old time references such as words like Linden, wren shilling and other odder words I’ve honestly never heard of and mixes it with Scottish theme, Gaelic and Latin language and Roman imagery. He is a very clever lyricist.

The Merry Wake is about celebrating the life of the dead and not mourning your loss. The song accuses a well respected trade of being the very definition of drunkards ‘drinking like masons, mixing the gunpowder up with the wine’. Its a great starter track following his usual flow of verse chorus, verse chorus and then a big old change as he cranks up his guitar playing

The Year of the Burning is a rousing song of the Highland Clearances with its Gaelic references ‘Here’s to you Ghillie Ruadh…..Come and march at the head of the clan’

Fusion of Horizons is an altogether more sinister sounding song and the Wheels of the World (the Human Conundrum) is another one of those Robert’s songs that changes tack at the end and has a fantastic bit of multitrack singing at the end with seemingly everyone in the band singing ‘these are the wheels of the world…for two thousand years they’ve been spreading destruction all over this land’ at different times in an ending similar to the Incredible String Bands’ A Very Cellular Song. It’s a proper old singalong that I have embarrassed myself in traffic with.

Along comes another corker in Song Composed in December that seems to opposed war against art and ends with the strangest of Welsh raps….yes Welsh rap.

Brother Seed rather disturbingly talks of Caledonian incest and Gave the Green Blessing talks of unhappy marriages (that’s what happens with Caledonian incest, I guess). These leads on the Scandal and Trace which is the oddest of the lot having its roots in New Orleans march and basing the tune on Red River Valley (yippee yay). There are horns and ‘Nashville’ guitar and another one of those rousing singalongs at the end ‘because all days will end in Joy, they’ll never end in evil’ giving the impression of a great big hoedown in the highlands.

The record ends with The Laverock in the Blackthorn. A love song to Scotland with a gorgeous fiddle air seeing us out

As I always say, this record is well worth the price of admission. One solitary pound at the local library clearout for me although I would happily pay full price such is the quality and strangeness of it. I have just realised I have now done three defiantly Scottish records. It is definitely time to change tack otherwise you will start believing that I have never ventured South.

 

Scandal and Trace

What kind of twisted mind…..

 

 

.

 

 

The Antlers – Familiars – 2014 – Transgressive Records

I have scored a hat trick, hit the treble twenty, gone threefold, bagged a triple. I naturally talk of three of a kind which is completed with todays review of  somewhat distantly festive The Antler’s ‘Familiars’. What, you may ask, is he jabbering about. Good question. The topic in question is records with enormous production and arrangements and attention to detail. I promise you we will go on a different path soon but a promise is a promise and I promised my son I would review this record which he very kindly gave last Christmas. What taste!

P1110004

The Antlers are a New York based band and Familiars is their 5th album although as a band it is their 3rd. The first 2 albums were solo efforts by singer Peter Silberman. He then started playing with Michael Lerner on drums and multi-instrumentalist Darby Cicci and broke with ‘Hospice’ in 2009. I bought this record for the same son a good few years ago and then 2012’s ‘Burst Apart’ I bought for myself. As you can see we really like this band. We have history.

This is another precise record. My wife confidently describes it as suicide music but us boys need a bit of that. We love a bit of emotion as long as it is only in music and we don’t have to actually live it or respond appropriately. The pair of us were a bit of a slobbery mess when we saw them last summer.  It is characterised by vocal gymnastics from Silberman in that he soars over several octaves right up to breathy falsetto oozing emotion, Cicci’s lush synthesiser and trumpet work and Lerners solid brush heavy drums.

This album seems to be a record of places. Buildings, houses, hotels, refuges, canyons and wells all feature but they start off in the grandest of all buildings. ‘Palace’ sets the emotional tone of this record with melodic piano and fairly soon Silbermans voice is soaring among the stars and settling in secret places and Cicci’s trumpet punctuates from across the sierra. Silberman appears to sing about supporting someone through break up but as with Silberman, he is difficult to follow at times. Hospice gives you a little idea of where his mind goes.

After such a heart stopping start ‘Doppelganger’ takes us to altogether more sinister scenes as he describes mounting paranoia ‘Do you hear the gentle tapping?’ he sings until he is ‘muted by the horror’. It sounds rather as if this song could have been conceived behind the radiator in ‘Eraserhead’. The trumpet is shoved so far in the reverb cabinet it emanates from the plumbing itself.

Intruder demonstrates the detail involved in this record. There is always Silbermans immaculate pitch and impressive range but in among it one hears, vibes maybe, Tibetan Bowls perhaps. Always there are sweeping synthesisers chords and lonely trumpet resonating on a nearby hillside.

The big epic of this record is Revisited which appears (I’m only guessing here) to be a story of break up set as a kind of yard sale. Sorry. I did tell you I was guessing here. Silberman is not keen on giving you too many clues. ‘when unfamiliar faces came to shop at our old house’. ‘I let them strip your mausoleum so nothing was left’. See what I mean.

Parade and Surrender are a perfect pair of emotional roller coaster songs and with Palace hit the three real stand out songs. I’ve an idea that Parade is about relationships but I couldn’t be sure but the delicious sweep from bridge to verse is pure genius. Surrender sees them enter almost jazz territory with smoochie trumpet and jazzy brushes. Again the relationship thing is (probably) examined with a great repeated couplet ‘we’ll step inside a world far less demanding, When we allow for something less commanding’

DSCN3864 webDSCN3869web

This is another record that demands attention and careful listening to fully appreciate the depth and breath of their unique sound. We saw them at the Green Man Festival last year and the sound was so much better than any band that played there. They’ve clearly spent years trying to perfect the audioscape and their complicated recorded sound is captured perfectly live. They really care so please give The Antlers a bit of a spin. You could take any album from Hospice forwards and get a really good idea of where they come from but I think this album is perhaps the easiest to like with the emotional feel and the winning melodic songs. Try the opener!