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!

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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’

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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!

 

 

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Richard Butler – Richard Butler – 2006 – Koch Records

Here is a completely missed record that is so lushly produced with such soaring tunes and carefully painted lyrics you will wonder how you ever missed it. I did but then again I had four youngsters and had only just returned from abroad and probably didn’t notice very much. I bought this record probably about 4 years ago from the local library ex loan CD sale for another solitary pound. What an extraordinary investment that turned out to be.

I had always rated the excellent Psychedelic Furs and thought that it might be OK but really had no idea but, hey, a tight git like me always loves a bargain. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. The Psychedelic Furs were one of ‘my’ bands in the late seventies early eighties and parts of those first two albums still make me tingle. Richard Butler was their singer and the band were quite successful throughout the eighties. He has lived in New York for years is a well respected artist. This was his only album and is really a collaboration with multi instrumentalist Jon Carin who is involved in lots of Pink Floyds work

I gave it a quick listen and it didn’t really properly register and so it sat of the shelf for another year at ‘Scrutinzer Towers’ and then I gave it another listen. It very quickly ascended to repeat in the car and was in there for months and generally used as an enthusiastic singalong as I soon knew all the words but curiously not how to get to all the high notes. It is now one of my favourite albums of the noughties and one that I seem not be able to tire of. There aren’t many records that do that.

The record was made either during or just after the pair of them lost their fathers and Butler’s marriage fell apart. The tunes maybe gorgeous but the lyrics are distinctly grim at times. A huge feeling of loss, the passing of time, bitterness and break-up punctuates his intricate lyrical pictures. Jon Carin appears to me an equal partner in this alliance. He paints as enthusiastically as Butler does complementing him with minimalist instrumentation using very sophisticated electronic equipment mostly plus a plain old acoustic guitar. He really is a fantastic arranger. ‘Last Monkey’ kind of turns into his instrumental track using his careful instrumentation and layered Butler voice tracks.

Most of tracks however put Richard Butlers voice way up front which really demonstrates his range more than anything that he ever sung with the Furs. It so suits him too. In this record he cant hide behind the rock band. The melodies are so strong in this record and he presents them beautifully. There are a fair share of thumping great stadium chords too but not to the extent that it feels ‘stadium’. This time it’s personal, really personal.

In ‘California’ he checks an old reference as he asks ‘make me a drink Caroline’ whilst he sings of advancing oceans, environmentalism and in passing the passing of his father ‘When the world is an old man with no time for the future’. In ‘Breathe’ (oddly also the title of an entirely different Pink Floyd track that Carin plays regularly) Butler also makes similar references ‘When you wake up in the morning of the last day in the world’ Heck! This really hurt!

On ‘Satellites’ he says that ‘Annie says I’m not the man I used to be’ and during the mighty ‘Broken Aeroplanes’ he highlights that he hears ‘every tick that passes’. On the desperate ‘Nothing’s Wrong’ he whispers to his lover to relax and lay down eventually yelling ‘shut up and let me sleep’   Wow. Richard is heartbroken. Annie was his wife and I believe was moving on at this point and Richard is plainly alone and watching the clock. Just as well he has the therapy the this album must have been

‘Milk’ really shows his range as its never been seen and the layering and arrangement of this track shows uncommon depth for just two people. It’s plain the all those years of New York living hasn’t kicked his Englishness into touch. His pronunciation is as Anglo as ever

As well as a bitter palette he also uses rather beautiful imagery too using his artists skills to maximum effect on Second to Second ‘ We follow the stars and the movement of insects, the arc of the sun and the turn of the tides’. Mmmmm nice.

By the end of the record there are two tracks which appear to be stitched together so well I tend not to view them separately. For all the top class tunes on this record this end piece  tops the lot. Sentimental Airlines is ridiculously tear jerking as he anticipates the end of his marriage ‘that last straw before I crack’. The soaring chorus see’s him throw his voice higher than the sun. The track builds and builds and crescendo’s into a single synth note that streams into Maybe Someday just when you think he must have used up all the emotional chords and words possible you can see him sitting alone staring out ‘sulking silent sitting in the corner….half the time you’ll see me staring at the sky….maybe someday…tear it all down’ and after that, an extraordinary pause and in come the lushest synth chords to cushion his words out to his final ‘maybe someday’

Please give this largely unknown album a spin. It is truly epic on a microscopic scale.

Here is the end piece. The poster of this plainly thinks these are inseparable too.

 

 

 

The Blue Nile – Hats – 1989 – Linn Records

Todays record is an minimalist, bleak, northern heartbreaker. I bought this album in a second hand record shop for a single solitary quid. That is  an entirely ridiculous price for one of the eighties perfect diamonds. The Blue Nile were, or maybe are, a band from Glasgow. Starting off in the early to mid 1980’s and their last album being in 2004 they have managed a staggering 4 records in 20 years. Quite the opposite of their compatriots the Skids who managed to make 8 singles and 2 albums records in those first two years.

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The Blue  Nile are a very different Scottish brand. No bagpipes guitar solos here. This is a lushly produced synthesiser based album (the guitars used here are solely in a supportive capacity). There is such care put into the production on this record. Each instrument has a specific purpose and is icy crystal clear. This is a record again that benefits from listening via headphones. The depth of sound is created by using not very many instruments very sparsely and building up the sound slowly. It is also very much a product of the 1980’s

Paul Buchanan and Robert Bell grew up together in Glasgow and met Paul Joseph Moore at University. They started life with regular instruments but soon turned to electronics out of pragmatism (they couldn’t play very well). Oddly enough by this time in their career they played incredibly well.

The themes are mostly love, lost love, walking around with your love, regretting love, wanting love……but in the darkest, wettest Glasgow winter you ever experienced. Lets have a look at the song titles. Over the Hillside (imagine if you will the Scottish hillsides, raining), The Downtown Lights (ah that would be at night then), Lets Go Out Tonight (er that would be night then), Headlights on the Parade (Headlights are on, that’s at night then….or its raining), From a Late Night Train (oh, that would be night then), Seven AM (night time for half the year) and Saturday Night (oh that would be night then). It’s pretty bleak but as smooth as silk.

So we have 7 tracks of neon illuminated heartbreak in 38 minutes. This is the bands second album recorded over 5 years. 7 tracks 5 years, 4 albums in 20 years. This is snail like progress. Look closer and we have all the hallmarks of obsessive perfectionism. They were not averse to chucking a whole album in the skip and starting all over again. I also have their last album which is also in the same vein but curiously not quite as impressive as this one although that could be that this one is so good. There has been no action since then

Every tiny hi-hat ’tisk’ is lovingly constructed. The instrumentation is then built on top so you can hear everything.  Their record label was Linn Records an offshoot of a very high end hi-fi producer (we are talking hi-fi equipment the price of a car here) and so this record has perfect reproduction in its blood. There are gorgeous sprayings of crisp guitar, distant trumpets, atmospheric synth strings and Paul Buchanan’s voice emerges directly from his aching Hibernian heart. He builds certain songs into incredible crescendos that send tingles straight up your spine. Just listen to ‘The Downtown Lights’, ‘Headlights on the Parade’ and ‘Saturday Night’ to get a flavour. This was a perfect showcase for Linns high end gear from the treble of hi-hat and snare to the very precise, straight line bass (there are no fancy runs here).

Unlike the Skids album this is a perfect record but of course the have every right to expect it to be after that amount of time. Do listen to it. I have rarely met folk that aren’t impressed with it (my wife lets me listen to this one outside of the headphones). It is an album for late nights. Saturday nights, yeah!

The Blue Nile – Hats

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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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!

 

 

Swans – The Seer – 2012 -Young God Records

Swans ‘The Seer’ is a monster record. Its an epic, a behemoth, an aural odyssey. It takes effort to do ‘The Seer’. You have to dedicate time to this one. You almost have to set aside a weekend. It’s like all the very best things in life. You have to really work at it but once you get it, it gives back in droves. I have been contemplating this particular review for weeks but ,as with every Swans listen, I have had to get myself in just the right place to do it. As I said you have to have time but also its quite an anti social record in a busy household and not everyone appreciates listening as much as me so I started open listening but was soon told in no uncertain terms to climb into my headphones (which is a great place to really appreciate what really happening in this record).

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Anyway this is a record I bought second hand last year after buying ‘To Be Kind’. I had seen it pass from a distance but had not looked very closely. I had heard good things about it but thought I should probably keep well away from old rockers even though Michael Gira had always been a very principled and forward thinking man. By 2014 the curiosity was getting far too much and ‘To Be Kind’ swooped in from left of centre to give me a big aural kick up the arse. It was a similarly epic record requiring application and from there I looked backwards.

The Swans have been around for years grinding out some of the ugliest music of the late eighties and nineties. Gira abandoned the Swans ship for a good few years to concentrate on ‘Angels of Light’ but then wished to go out touring again and brought together a band of what appear to be child murderers and circus freaks….I’m certain you’ll know what I mean when you view their picture. Norman Westberg was a long time Swans guitarist, Christoph Hahn and Phil Pulio also played previously. Chris Pravdica and Thor Harris, a gong banging hairy muscle bound percussionist, joined in 2010 to produce the ‘My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope to the Sky’ record.

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‘The Seer’ was the second in this series of monster albums based not on jaunty pop songs but grinding noise terror and most importantly atmosphere. This band sound like no one else. There are elements of noise rock and metal and post rock etc etc but they are entirely indefinable. There are repeated themes, drones, masses of percussion including dulcimers and bells and layers and layers and layers of layers.

It all starts fairly tamely with ‘Lunacy’. Flick flack guitars and a passing screech produced probably by Hahn’s lap steel. Yes, a lap steel. Not played as you would expect. It is used to make yelps and squeals. The vocal brings to mind a Indian chant. Gira soon tells you that your childhood is over. You ask yourself what it is that he is trying to tell you. What he is saying is that its going to get a whole lot more difficult for all of us.

 

Apostate is a proper 23 minute epic. Air raid sirens are heard overhead. Appropriate for what’s coming. Its all quite subtle at first. This serves up as warm up time. I saw them in the summer and the first 20 minutes were dedicated to Phil Puleo playing cymbals and Thor playing tubular bells. For Gira build up and time taken are most important. Its all about layering until submission. Then after 5 or 6 minutes the power starts with what seems to be about 30 people hitting as many percussive instruments as possible progressing to great percussive thuds of guitar between what appears to be bursts of Thor and Pulio gunfire. It’s not until 13 minutes that any king of groove starts on Thor’s bells and Gira starts his vocal shouting, screaming ‘g g g g get out……. we’re on a ladder to God’ gradually progressing to what sounds like a coven of witches engaged in dark worship and a huge earthquake.

‘A Piece of Sky’ is an ethereal piece starting with fire or water or something elemental. A choir of Buddhist angels appear to hover over drones and then the dulcimers start again really adding to the ethereal feel (are there Christmas bells in there)leading to a fairly identifiable riff in turn leading to a rather tuneful ending unusually

’94 Ave B Blues’ commences with clarinet whale song that turns into rather sinister and darker wolves in the forest and culminates in an extraordinary percussive firework display. I’m not making this up

‘Daughter to the Water’ and Song for a Warrior’ are a couple of fairly standard tracks bringing in Karen O for ‘Warrior’ in a rather melodic end to the third side.

Back on track with Mother of the World. A repeated riff allows Puleo room to punctuate with sharp drum stabs as Gira breathes in and out and in and out. Avatar again brings Thor’s bells to the fore. The next huge tracks are the title track and ‘The Seer Returns’. Commencing with, wait for it, bagpipes, it is a master class in building tension. The mantra ‘I see it all, I see it all’ repeats and repeats while the band build behind droning up to pure sludge to a crescendo of huge hits each one sounding like an end chord for about 10 minutes extending the pain. And I can vow through experience that a Swans gig hurts. They are soooo loud you can feel odd chest movements as the hits burst through you. The final drones of The Seer pass directly into ‘Returns’ and see’s out the record. Of course the Cd version is entirely differently arranged with ‘Apostate’ last which I think is the correct position for it.

All in all this is an extraordinary lesson in drone and percussion. Puleo and Harris really excel and timing is everything on this album.  It rather pours water on any claim that 60 year old guys cant bring something new to modern music when you compare them with bands half their age happy to copy the music of the past. My son was certainly taken by surprise by them. The Swans are planning their last album as we speak. I, for one can’t wait to get another dose of this brand of (grand)dad rock. Oh by the way. Please go buy this album. Gira expressly asks you not to upload it onto the internet on the sleeve although it is there. So I will not direct you there myself as I think he’ll be round to kick my head in.

 

 

 

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

SE Rogie – Palm Wine Guitar Music – The 60’s Sound – Cooking Vinyl – 1988

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That’s…..how much?!

Well there I was decanting my most recent home made wine and I thought mmmm, I know, how about some wine music. Oh yes some warm wine music. Some Palm Wine Guitar music.

Enter stage left Sooliman Ernest Rogers or SE Rogie as he was known in his native Sierra Leone. SE Rogie was a bit of a national treasure in Sierra Leone being the premiere exponent of Palm Wine Guitar music. He was active in his native land in the 1960’s and 1970’s with his band The Morningstars and with a variety of local musicians banging gourds, boxes, maracas, congas and all kinds of improvised percussion which of course you must do if you are short of instruments.

This is a record I bought probably in 1988 or 1989 and looking on the front got it for the bargain price of £1.99 in the Our Price sale. Unbelievably cheap for such gorgeous molasses sweet West African tenderness. I remember I had a cooking vinyl sampler at the time and recognised the name from that. I couldn’t believe my luck. This was a compilation done by the really eclectic Cooking Vinyl back then. Of course there was a bit of a African trend going on at the time with The Bhundu Boys, The Four Brothers, Kanda Bongo Man etc and I was really into all of those but this was a sound I had not come across. I was African music from a generation back. These days you could easily pay £20 for this original (1988…Ha!) version although I notice they have released another vinyl version at about £14.

I have alluded to the use of improvised percussion but I think the recording must have also been largely improvised because it all sounds like it was recorded in a toilet (solo) or in a village hall (with the Morningstars). This definitely does not detract from the quality here. All the better for it.

The album leaps off the vinyl with some massive chiming West African guitar chords and a driving bassline quickly joined by Mr Rogie’s great big fat baritone advising us to ‘Twist with the Morningstars’ I’m up for it Mr Rogers! This is a dance band playing to a hoard of slightly palm wine lightened Sierra Leonian teens in the local hall. You can see it. You can feel the heat off this record. Most of the rest of this side are more intimate numbers with SE and his wood banging chums. He has a seductive deep voice that makes every effort to pronounce his words fully. That seduction also gets a bit saucy at time as he asks his girls to do him Justice and the then get’s caught ‘…red hot’. He even offers excellent ‘Advice to Schoolgirls’. Now there’s a song title that wouldn’t go down so well today eh? He also does a fine job of romance with his most well know song ‘My Lovely Elizabeth’. I’m not sure if that’s her above on the cover. What a gal! And isn’t SE looking mighty dapper in his high waisters. He also notes that us guy’s ain’t very good at reading women on ‘Man Stupid Being’. This is a great track recorded in a Liberian Radio Store where he introduces all of his band members. It is one of my favourites with ‘Twist with the Morningstars’ ‘Baby Lef Marah’ and ‘Do Me Justice’

I reality all of these tracks are really top class mostly made up of SE Rogie’s primary sound of guitar and percussion immediately indicating the roots of that West African guitar. His melodious chord progressions go round and round complimenting his warm caressing tones occasionally punctuating the progressions with a little guitar break or indeed whistling.

Please listen to Mr Rogie. You wont regret it for its sheer joy. Unfortunately this album isn’t on You Tube but various tracks are. Here is my favourite Do Me Justice.

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I particularly like the high woman voice, low man voice introduction and have heard this in many African tracks from the Four Brothers, Devera Ngwena Jazz Band and others. Goodness only knows what that’s all about

Unexpected record haul

I love to get some bargains and today I scored some beauties. Went to a media sale in a local radio station and there were loads of bargains there of £1-2 per item. A selection of vinyl included two very beaten up albums from Mr Fox (The Gypsy 1971) on transatlantic and Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger and the Trinity (StreetNoise 1969) on Marmalade. These two are very desirable although in the condition I wouldn’t expect them to reach stellar prices. I also found albums by the B52’s (Whammy) Blondie (Plastic Letters), a much better version of the Undertones than my one, Rev Up by the Revillos, Marianne Faithful’s Broken English and several others and a CD or three all for about £15. That’s what I call a bargain!

Smog – A River Ain’t Too Much To Love – Drag City Records/Domino – 2005

Here we go again. I thought I can’t do all vinyl because that would be too ‘vinyl snobby’ so I stand in front of the CD shelves close my eyes and go right in pick out Million Mile Club by The Paladins, got half way through, abandoned ship and thought I need something easier to feel passionate about. The Paladins were great Rock ‘n’ Roll but nothing I can get my teeth into. So I looked around quickly and picked out Smog’s A River Ain’t Too Much To Love.

This barely qualifies for Thrift Store Disco as I actually spent full price pretty near its time of release. Still, no ones looking and you’ve gotta love Bill Callahan.

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Smog was Bill Callahan before he was Bill Callahan and everything about this record will tell you that this is Bill Callahan. It is perhaps the start of present day Bill Callahan. It isn’t my favourite Bill Callahan album but is the album that introduced me and so is very special to me. I completely missed Smog prior to this and first heard it on the amazing RTR FM radio station in Perth, Western Australia. The Smog back catalogue and Bill Callahan’s albums are all worth checking out especially the magisterial ‘Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle’.

This album is a lonesome sparsely instrumented organic record from nature. Bill Callahan has often been sparse and pretty low-fi, for goodness sake checkout ‘Apocalypse’ if you want proof. Bill has a fixation with nature spread throughout many of his albums. Look at the cover of ‘Dream River’ and ‘Sometimes I wish….’ if you want to know where Bill comes from. He comes from the woods, from the river, he flies with the birds. My daughter and I also have this feeling about Midlake. They are always tramping through the woods in winter and appear to be from long ago. Bill does the same but seems to do it today not in the eighteenth century. He also comes across a lot of bramble. He has a fair old crew with him too. Joanna Newsome plays piano on ‘Rock Bottom Riser’. I believe they were dating at the time. Thor Harris from the Swans plays hammered dulcimer on ‘I Feel Like The Mother of the World’. Jim White from The Dirty Three plays drums throughout. Not than anyone much plays much of anything. The instruments are always played simply and just enough. Jim White is particularly subtle.

The record commences with a guitar from a lonesome cowboy on Palimpsest (a manuscript or piece of writing material on which later writing has been superimposed on effaced earlier writing). God knows what Bill means but he immediately introduces one of his favoured subjects, birds. ‘A southern bird that stayed North too long’. Next he sings about rebirth on Say Valley Maker ‘Bury me in fire and I’m gonna phoenix’. The Well sees Bill discovering a well in the ….er…. woods of course, shouting down it ‘Everyone’s got their own thing to shout down a well’ and then having a drip fall on his neck. Imagine….!. Next he speak of his family’s support for him in Rock Bottom Riser followed by, what is for me the album highlight I Feel like the Mother of the world’ made all the more special by the sound of Thor’s dulcimer beating. It almost makes it other worldly. In the Pines is a gentle country stomp…er in the woods naturally and Drinking at the Dam evokes childhood memories of teenage misbehaviour. He then waltzes off into the country with Running the Loping and dreams of rural life ‘Oh to be in the country, With a chicken….and those other things’! What other things Bill? Goats, Geese, Sheep…He gently fades away with more and more quiet reflection in the final songs like a small baby falling asleep.

Its strange that. We have a friend who would play Bill Callahan to his little lad when he was a bit fractious and it worked every time. he was forever know as uncle Bill from the time.

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Here’s some pictures of a very dapper Bill (my wife thought him very handsome) and a gorgeous green strat live in 2014

Matthew E White – Fresh Blood – Domino Records – 2015

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I start this review knowing it actually will be read.

My daughter came home for the weekend. I told her about blog. Said I might like her to get involved and any requests and quick as a flash she said Matthew E White and Fresh Blood. One of our favourites from this year and one that I was given for my birthday this year from my wife advised fairly and squarely by my daughter. I am hoping she will also comment. The more voices and opinions the better. Its only 34 years later than my last post.

The first thing to say about this record is that this is smooth. Oh yes, it’s smooth and silky in every aspect. Just look at Matthew in his elegant house and his beautiful flowers. This tells us that Matthew loves things in order; clean, and organised. This record reflects that. Look how gorgeous the packaging is. There is a letter from the desk of Matthew that oozes class and tells us that some of these tales on the record are terrifyingly personal stories. There is a lyric sheet in pink print. The vinyl is heavyweight and well pressed. Impressive Matthew. Impressive Domino

Matthew E White is a resident of Richmond Virginia and this is his second record following 2012’s Big Inner. He founded a collective of musicians under the name Spacebomb who he uses throughout this record.

This is a white boy soul record over all. Matthew whispers to us seductively on many of the tracks. He is super cool and relaxed. At times he is kind of Barry White telling us how much he cares for his baby (is he a relative), he does hint at Barry’s sexy content too as he sings ‘I’m pumping fresh blood for you’. He also has his very own Love Unlimited Orchestra in the Spacebomb strings and brass ably punctuating his vocal stroking whilst elegant chorus are added from sensual female voices.

We saw him this year at the Greenman festival and he didn’t have all the Spacebomb strings, brass and chorus. Instead he appeared to have kidnapped the entire Deep Throat Choir (about 15 women) and had them doing the Ya ya ya chorus on ‘Feeling Good is Good Enough’. His more rockin’ tunes on this album ‘Rock and Roll s Cold’ and ‘Feeling good….’suited the festival better than his half whispered lerve tracks which are probably better in an intimate club. Songs like Tranquility, Holy Moly show his ability to build a tune and maintain emotion and Circle Round the Sun appears to reflect a gospel upbringing. Perhaps his most appropriate festival song is fruit tree, ‘You and Me in the middle of a field’.

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 and here is Matthew and the Deep Throat Orchestra  them and us in the middle of a field. We were worried his hair might snag in his strings