Category Archives: Uncategorized

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

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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.

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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…

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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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.

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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

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.

 

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What kind of twisted mind…..

 

 

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Skids – Days In Europa – 1979 – Virgin

Now here’s an old trouper that’s taken me through some happy times from being a 15 year old in a group of lads all into one thing. New wave and punk music. My old mate Simon was the owner of this album when we were kids. We all owned different albums back then and listened to each others to keep variety alive. Again I had it on tape for years and never got round to buying it until about 3-4 years ago again buying it for pennies.

The Skids were a ‘new wave’ band from Scotland who hit the airwaves with ‘Into the Valley’ in 1979. A school disco favourite with us boys all in a row kicking our Dr Martens high in the air whilst singing ‘Ahoy Ahoy, Land Sea and Sky’ as Richard Jobson had demonstrated on Top of the Pops. By the end of the year the had released there first album ‘Scared to Dance’ (which is well worth your time and is probably the better of the two although I continue to waver on this point to this day) and this one as well as 8 singles in the 78-79 period. That’s hard work!

Richard Jobson was a wandering, stylish poet minstrel type and became more ludicrous as he progressed through the eighties becoming if I remember rightly a TV presenter. However back then (although this album is chock full on pretension) he made a great energetic front man. Ira Robbins puts it perfectly ‘Jobson’s hearty singing sounds like an eighteenth century general leading his merry troops down from the hills into glorious battle’. Precisely

Stuart Adamson as you will all remember was the man behind Big Country fondly remembered, for he died tragically young, for his anthemic guitar riffs and er…bagpipe solos. Why do so many Scottish bands sound like that?

These two are joined by original bassist William Simpson and Rusty Egan on drums Formally of the Rich Kids; later of Visage. They are also helped out by ex Bee Bop Deluxe member Bill Nelson who produces and plays keyboard.

Hey, check out this cover art. It is really gorgeous to look at. Yep, look how muscular and blond the gymnast on the front is, look how blond and fit the lady presenting the prize is. Oh yes and er… study the writing why don’t you. It does feel a bit Teutonic doesn’t it. Well that’s what a fair few of the press thought too and they accused Jobson of being a bit Nazi-ish. Where would they get that idea….the Eagle has Landed?

 

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Oh dear….

Anyway, the tragedy is that this fabulous piece of Art Deco cover work (no not this one above) was withdrawn and replaced by the most boring cover in vinyl history

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zzzzz

So, into the contents.

Splat goes the first electronic snare accompanied by big (country) riffs and what’s that? Is that lots and lots of synthesiser? Yes, Bill Nelson is so in the house rail-roading the Skids towards the eighties. This sound was met with a mixed response I seem to remember. It was thought that the Skids had sold out; that they were too polished. Actually with hindsight it sort of works and for some reason I just love this album. There are some great tunes on the record. Animation, Charade, Olympian and Working for the Yankee Dollar are dead catchy and the riffs are massively solid. Charade and Yankee Dollar were both big old singles both of which I bought at the time. There are big ‘ohh ohh’ sing-a-long chorus’s (although you can barely understand a word Jobson sings most of the time). I shall try to transpose. Try it. Its a hoot

ya baby paid to the interverse, capo wha and the few were there, go in fwer copa jerse, a ve the far bah for la jerse…..CHARADE…..CHARADE

Right, listen up! Time for pretension. There is a song with a latin chorus ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est’ based on a Wilfred Owen poem (actually rather touching concerning life in the trenches) and on the second side there is a song from Greek mythology ‘Thanatos’ meaning death. Oh Please Mr Jobson, behave. On Olympian he sings ‘Look at this man….an Olympian’ Could that be you Richard.

There are a few duller moments. ‘Thanatos’ and  the title track both appear to be a mid to end album dip and Home of the Saved is a bit lumbering but then right at the end I think they come up with a little gem although most will probably disagree because it could be seen as another of Richard’s vanity pieces. ‘Peaceful Time is a backwards track. All sort of Waterfall/Don’t stop (Stone Roses) vibe with Mr Jobson reciting his poetry. All in all its actually rather beautiful.

Oh for sure this is a flawed record but it first of all takes me back to teenage and gives me a great slew of memories. Its a good Skids album. I should know I have 3 (the first 3). I wouldn’t bother to look any further than that. Of course Richard Jobson went entirely nonsense and Stuart Adamson continued the Skids but called them Big Country and became stadium huge. But it all started with Doc Martens and the Youth Club.

Try ‘Peaceful Times’ put together with another art deco classic

 

And here’s the whole album with dull cover!

 

 

MC 900 Ft Jesus – One Step Ahead of the Spider – 1994 – American Recordings

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The rumbling of storm clouds signify the  start of this truly odd piece of work. This is a CD I brought a few years ago but had on tape for years. A mate of  mine used to do a radio show and threw this one at me to listen to at the time. I recorded it. Kept it as a car cassette for years and finally bought it for pennies about 4-5 years ago.

Here we have a thoroughly unclassifiable album of music….or is it music. It is by degrees jazz, funk, electro, hip hop, spoken word, poetry, film music etc etc etc. MC 900 Ft Jesus or Mark Griffin was a Texan classically trained trumpet player turned rapper. He plainly has a love for Miles Davis and words. This was his last album and soon after this he withdrew from the music industry. It’s a shame because Mark Griffin is clearly someone with something very very different in his head.

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As I said the rumbling of storm clouds are heard as this album starts its sinister first track which sounds like a mangled road movie. You can see the end of ‘Vanishing Point’ in this title track; the eleven minute story of a girl driving out by the New Moon. You can feel the dust of ‘Two Lane Blacktop’ as the insistent repeating jazzy bass and drums support the telling of this sorry tale with a little free organ on the top. A minimalist drum solo fading away with the dark builds suspense and the bass struts back in to announce that things are going to get nasty ‘Fix the stare straight ahead’ and on ‘One very loud tick of the clock’ the mayhem of a car accident is recounted as ‘1000 startled crows erupted’

Now Mr Jesus doesn’t sing us these things. He tells stories. He is a poet. He is described as a rapper but this fella isn’t classic hip hop. Oh no. There is not a hint of street pretence here. This middle class white boy doesn’t speak of these things. No fast cars and fast girls. Well perhaps girl in a fast car but then throws her into the nearest hard object. He doesn’t have a classic rap style. He just says it. He sometimes says it through a megaphone. It’s sometimes fairly disturbing but  and sometimes intensely hilarious.

He dismantles a definite album theme immediately with a catchy piece of funky electro with a jazz flute solo in the middle in ‘But if you go’.

His next offering is another piece of funky electro but this time with an entirely daft vocal about ‘er gee whizz, if I only had a brain’

Then we are in repeated minimalist mode with ‘Stare and Stare’. Wah wah guitar and repetitive bass line go round and round until towards the end the guitar sounds like Frampton talk box at half speed. Very Odd

It is not until ‘Buried at Sea’ that we begin to hear his hip hop influences. The beat and sampled sax get you right in the mood for some ‘Rebirth of Cool’ style trip hip hop and….er… Mark gets his megaphone out and delivers almost one syllable at a time. Always contrary!

Time to change style again and you can now hear that he is a trumpeter and is rightly obsessed with Miles Davis. Bitches Brew/On the Corner funky saxophone back up Mark as he leads a one man tirade against you. The plainly obvious crazy guy. Mmmm look in a mirror MC.

‘Do not make the mistake of believing that I am the person speaking to you’ ‘Do not obviscate with science or other baloney sandwiches’ Please do not change colour when I am speaking to you’ and so on. Its a gas!

Gracious Pepe is a little slice of Spanish electro with add Marimba and Rhubarb is a load of industrial noises whilst a guy talks about the 1980 comedy piece ‘Rhubarb Rhubarb’. Yep. Of course it is

The real epic is the immense ‘Bills Dream’ in which Bill, a corpulent opinionated Ignatious J Reilly (Confederacy of Dunces) character yells at the TV on New Years Eve whilst the band emulate some of the best moments of ‘In a Silent Way’ That Miles feeling is really intense during this one. It should be the last track but that goes to Rhubarb with its storm clouds that now bring rain filling up already swollen puddles.

To be honest although I love this album for its sheer oddity, nonsense, smooth jazz sounds but something about it’s whole doesn’t quite work. The album hasn’t quite got enough strong tracks however I find this fact just underlines the whole contrary nature of it.  So if you want something truly original that you wont have heard before immediately find and listen to this album

Try this for starters