Saturday, 31 March 2012

Okie


The old Oklahoma botanist has a squint,
indeed is a recalcitrant:
perhaps from his trammelled crania?

A medley of squints,
an artillery of facial whimpers
like stowaways inside the skin

escaping. Their vertigo
jumping overboard
is this Muskogee’s gerontology.

Surprise Songs

The Hunter, Ike and Tina Turner - The Hunter [1969]

I've only came across this version recently in my recent history of historical misses. Like many, I first heard this song on Free's Tons Of Sobs album [1968] as well as Blue Cheer's Outsideinside album of the same year. It was written and performed first by Albert King in 1967 [*] so there is a compactness to all of this.

Ike and Tina Turner's version is carried by the gutsy vocal of Turner, and the guitar licks are apparently by Albert Collins [which I discovered dipping into the Ronnie Wood Show] though some websites claim these are played by Ike himself. I'll go with Wood and Steve Cropper who agreed with him as they both listened to the song.

Like many again, I was most knowledgeable about Tina Turner from the Private Dancer era, which is no bad thing really, and she had her moment of singular and significant popularity, but in listening to The Hunter album I realise what a funky and bluesy past she actually had, especially on the title track.

[*] In doing some subsequent research, these are the writers of the song: 
Booker T.Jones/Wells/Al Jackson Jr./Donald "Duck" Dunn/Steve Cropper

Friday, 30 March 2012

Third Day


He began to trash the room
throwing paper, knick-knacks, pillows
and anything else his blindness could find.
The dog watched surprised.
All at once he sat down to rest -
stared into the mess he’d made
before moving again to pick up each bit
until darkness finally came.
Although things could so nearly be put right
it would never be the same
and on the next day there was this sense
of a sudden and permanent change.
But it was on the third day that he found
the photos he thought he’d lost forever.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Alexi Murdoch - Time Without Consequence


Conception Conduit

I don’t know how I have missed this guy - but then I do. I have written quite a bit lately about those superb artists I missed back in the 60s and 70s, so only catching up with Alexi a few years down the Big-Ass Music Road To Never Knowing It All isn’t such a tardy discovery. This debut album was released in 2006.

The surprise is in immediately connecting with his acoustic guitar playing as well as the strong tenor vocal. Commentaries I have already read constantly reference Nick Drake [a fashionable badge for any folk-based singer/songwriter] but it is quite apt here. There is also John Martyn in so much of what I have been listening to, and he is Scottish so the vocal has echoes of early Martyn before it was a wonderful jazz instrument and vernacular archive. It’s in the sparse orchestration – cello is common - and other production as well, but equally there are fuller and more eclectic additions, as with the psychedelic track Home that has fuzz and feedback bombarding around an Easternesque chant. When the song segues into Row, Row, Row Your Boat, it reminds of John Martyn’s own foray into Singing In The Rain.

Fifth track Dream About Flying is so steeped in that 60s/70s folk idiom that when written it must have automatically communed with the conception conduit of Jansch/Renbourne/Drake/Martyn – or more precisely  Pentangle with its mimicking percussion and double bass.

I’m not going to say much more now and will review his last release Towards The Sun of 2011 when I’ve listened a little more.  I have already mentioned other commentaries on his debut release and their references to Nick Drake – another vocal touchstone I noted was Colin Blunstone and that too works. I also noted a slight critical carping about the lack of variety on Time Without Consequence, but that has been exactly my preference as what you get is what I most like. 

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Sena Ehrhardt – Leave The Light On


Father and Daughter Blues Brilliance

Great full voice and tight chugging backup band, this is another in the long line of modern blues groups fronted by the sass and suss of a young female singer with it all in her blood. Father Ed plays sharp guitar support throughout, providing much of the coolblues and funky sound, and he co-wrote all of the songs with daughter Sena. Indeed, this is the essential balance and complement: seventh track Last Chance exemplifying the standard with Ed’s soloing demonstrating considerable flair as well as the slow walkdown of the driving beat, with Sena’s vocal dancing emotively within – this is a superb performance. The band’s pulsing, wah-wah and staccato beats are the songs’ driving force and Sena rides them bareback with total control. If you keep your head still listening to this, consider yourself deceased.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Shape Poem

Amelia White - Beautiful and Wild


Familiarity Breeds Content

Amelia White’s album Beautiful and Wild is a pleasing addition to the female singer/songwriting pool, especially as it is unmuddied by the vocal penchant for nasal-and-other-noises affectation that sullies so many other contemporary songstresses [a critical penchant of my own].

It is folk/Americana/country and therefore familiar, but it is a pleasing familiarity in its sustained fine quality. Sixth track Mercy is a good place to start because its gospel chorus and vocals above the steel/slide guitar add that little bit of difference to this already mixed genre. I like that confident variety. There is a strong echo/influence of Lucinda Williams and Emmylou Harris in three early tracks - Lonely Sound, Beautiful and Wild, Saxophone Train – and this too is a pleasant familiarity. Second track Sidewalks is quite beautiful.

There is an interesting cover of More Than This, a song I have always liked until it became infected by knowledge of Ferry’s moronic political proclivities [this too is a critical penchant, and a burden], the song slowed surprisingly and the melody therefore revealing itself subtly in that crawl.

There are rockier tracks as well [opener Skeleton Key is quite funky], but it is the more folk-paced ones that have grabbed my aural appreciation. I think this is a grower as repeated listens absorb and then build upon its soft subtleties and familiarities.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

march sea at budleigh


the sea under sun is
blood pumped slowly
up to and along the
skin of beach as
my heart beats with this
ripple of waves
breathing in and
out following each
roll upon roll
over roll under
roll until it
breaks across clear sand

on one day at least
the world is serene

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Just How It Is

John Steinbeck - The Long Valley

I haven’t come across any direct link between John Steinbeck and Raymond Carver – apart from the obvious: American writers in the ‘realist’ tradition; and Carver clearly will have read and assimilated and so on. But I haven’t found any critical commentary that has pursued links, or writing from Carver that references Steinbeck in any detail.

I have been looking for this overt link because as I am reading Steinbeck’s wonderful short story collection The Long Valley I am constantly thinking of Carver, but only at a specific point. Steinbeck’s detailed descriptions, especially of the natural world either as an entity or in its relationship with any particular protagonist, are second to none. He must have had the most observant eye and retentive memory. Carver’s world doesn’t use or rely on this level of description. It is simply different, and where there is the need for detail it is more about people and how they act.  Both writers, of course, excel in the use of realistic dialogue. But that's not the critical point of comparison.

Where I have been making the key juxtaposition is at the endings of Steinbeck’s stories. In so many ways, for example in The Chrysanthemums, The White Quail, The Snake and Breakfast [I haven’t finished the book yet], Steinbeck adds explaining and/or alluding lines at the very end where Carver would have left the story ‘hanging’ more. He would have left the moment of clarity or confusion or, especially in his case, nothingness, to speak for itself.

Take Breakfast for example: a superb snatch of a moment. The final paragraph, spoken by the first person narrator, explains where no explanation is really necessary, 

That’s all. I know, of course, some of the reasons why it was pleasant. But there was some element of great beauty there that makes the rush of warmth when I think of it.

The last line of the preceding and penultimate paragraph is And I walked away down the country road. That’s where Carver would have ended it. The story about a shared, random breakfast in the early morning is a quintessential vignette: a moment and mood conveyed with palpable simplicity. As readers, we have sensed the ‘great beauty’ and ‘warmth’ as it happened, and in that respect there is no need to be reminded. The other stories I have mentioned have similar additions. Perhaps it is to do with the time and a reader’s expectation of explication. I don’t know.

This will sound like preference, but it isn’t. Both writers are brilliant; and literary heroes. It’s just something distinct that struck me today as I was reading.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Mississippi Bones - Tracks


Heavy In Ohio World

Here’s a stonking heavy stoner/country metal band and album, though calling them a ‘band’ is a misnomer in as much as it’s essentially two guys, Dusty Donley on guitars/programming and Jared Collins on vocals/bass/programming, so their sound, which is as heavy as the heaviest of heavy bands, is down to this duo and fake [it has to be, doesn’t it?] drums. The drums – are they digital drums then? – sound like they are being hit by a heavy-armed heavy-metal drummer. But they can’t be. They’re ‘programmed’. It’s a Brave New Heavy World.


They have some real people who play occasional real instruments too. Al Morris plays a real harmonica on the bluesy, and heavy, Jade Fire. Kjira Robinson guest-vocals for real on this as well as other consistently thunderous tracks. Sustained headbanging stuff for real!

There is a grunge sound rumbling through all the songs too, adding to the pervasive heaviness. Bill Mancuso adds some swirling organ to the booming and weighty ninth track Dungeon Hustle, wah-wah guitar just about emerging through the thick wall of sound.

It’s like Travis Tritt has been transported into another Country dimension and here is his Heavy doppelganger performing in this parallel musical universe that somehow looks and feels like Ohio.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

After Evening


Wiping sweat from the proverbial brow
or the toiled face not cooled by frost,
even ice in an unexpected seasonal shift,
we take each day as it comes – no more
or less than this – but somehow such things
have to be blamed on someone no matter
how much the storytelling takes over from
reality and the sheer simplicity in our lives.
So come the long day’s end into evening,
then poets are philosophers and preachers
punishing us with their deeper meanings
after the memories of their innocence.
It is in picking within such day-ends so deep
that searching sends the searchers to sleep.

The Sisters Brothers - Patrick deWitt

Fraternal Fighters

This is a wonderfully comic and enriching story about the brothers Eli and Charlie Sisters, killers on a job-related quest. Their lives and sustained survival are underscored by menace and mendacity, but the telling of the siblings’ mean and murderous journey is delivered with an opposing calm and honesty by Eli - and the simple but wholly absorbing narrative and dialogue of writer Patrick deWitt.

Their story encompasses brotherly love and hate, greed, frontier existentialism, drinking, weight worries, teeth hygiene [every dentist should have these extracts printed in pamphlets replacing irrelevant surgery magazines], killing with aplomb, the work ethic, commitment, altruism, and, of course, the journey through which this and so much more is variously embraced and rejected.

Care and concern for horses has a place in this tale too. Eli’s horse Tub features strongly throughout and is both absurdly and metaphorically central to the themes of friendship, reliance and pragmatism.

Eli is the younger brother, and though less coldly clinical in killing than Charlie, his temper makes him no less effective – however, fraternal love will always make them a deadly duo because there is such an instinctive bond when it comes to either hunting out their prey or dealing immediately with unforeseen interference in this. But it is Eli who ruminates on the killings afterwards and yearns for a different life.

Both serve the Commodore, their mysterious but powerful employer, and his retributive, murderous instructions are theirs to carry out without question and however far it takes them – in this story across gold-rush California in search of Herman Kermit Warm who has offended their brutal boss. At first we don’t know what this offence was, and it isn’t meant to matter to the brothers whose fame is based on their relentless expertise in fulfilling such duties. But we do find out and this is where the story begins its shifts and presents uncertainty into the Brothers Sisters’ world – well, at least initially into Eli’s thinking.

There is a redemptive ending yet at a considerable cost, but I won’t spoil the story by saying anything further on this. Needless to say, the reading journey following theirs is a delightful and rewarding experience. Thanks to J for recommending this book to me, and to the sun for coming out so I could read and finish so quickly.

Pepe Deluxe - Queen of the Wave


Musical Masochism

We are looking inside the heads of two Finnish musical time-travellers and pilferers who have gathered, assimilated, pigeon-holed – sometimes quite haphazardly and daftly – reassembled, dismantled, synthesised, lost, part-found, destroyed, injected with helium, consulted through imaginary operatic osmosis with Pete Townsend, plagiarised, deconstructed from a merging of Abba and The Beatles, psychedelicised, and then threw into the air and let fall through the assemblage of "The Great Stalacpipe Organ" (the largest musical instrument in the world), Edison's "Ghost Machine", Professor A.D. Conrow's "Psychical Predictor" and a 500 000 volt Tesla Coil Synthesizer, as the band’s website explains.

The result? An interrogative lacking the slightest aural foothold from which to provide a smidgeon of a sensible answer. An intuitive first response is to acknowledge that it engages and amuses. The madness of the method is impressive on the one hand, but disorienting on the other. For this listener, opener Queenswave introduces a modernised psychedelia that fully engages but which doesn’t last – obviously – as the contemporary operatic quest moves through its multitude of distorted influences. Depending on the musical era of your inclination – or planet of origin – you will be hooked by a snippet of reinvented musical mayhem, and then left aroused but possibly unsatisfied as the spaced-out spaceship moves quickly on.

If your musical masochism is to invite an aural pummelling, this is your violent visitor come with a gargantuan guffaw and gavel. 

Wallis Bird - Wallis Bird

Anthems

This is a powerful and varied third, eponymous album. Wallis Bird has a strong and malleable voice to facilitate her eclectic songwriting where themes move between personal confession to contemporary commentary.

She has an energetic rock vocal to shout out her angry anthems as with Who’s Listening Now with its simple logic of if you keep on pushing people then they’re gonna push back, and there is the clear and crisp folk vocal of acoustic stories like In Dictum, though this song quickly rises to its chorus of another anthemic declaration the more you hold on to me the less you can have of me – perhaps for Wallis these fundamental poles are the basics of how we live our lives, a thought reinforced by the closing track Polarised, an atmospheric and emotive song of echoing guitar and a sudden swathe of overwhelming sound. Bird’s vocal here really does work through its range to captivate the listener. The acoustic version of this track on the deluxe edition foregrounds Bird’s whispering to whiplashing vocal and it provides an impressive emotional quality.


A favourite from this album is going to be Dress My Skin And Become What I'm Supposed To, with its repeated assertive line you don’t know shit and the engaging vocal layers I have already described. That line gets an incongruous choric support, and with the occasional handclap and other punctuating sounds this is one of the cleverest songs on the album. When it is followed by the pulsing and funky I Am So Tired Of That Line, you know you are in for a lively ride across quickly changing terrains. I haven’t worked out yet if this song’s rousing anthem is ironic or serious.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Big Brother and the Holding Company - Live at the Carousel Ballroom 1968

Thanks Bear

Of course, you know what you’re going to get before you listen – the spine-tingling thrill that transfers like lightning from Joplin’s vocals – but you are still amazed and awed by the energy and joyous commotion of this performance by Janis and her Big Brothers.


This is sublimely raw too at times. Guitars are slightly out of tune here and there; the solos occasionally naive but fuzzed to nirvana by that energy and electrification. The opening four tracks are blisteringly brash, then you come to fifth Summertime where the guitars and Janis’ beautifully strained voice simply soar with soul and grace. This is a tight and controlled slice of early excellence. Sixth Catch Me Daddy returns us to a delightfully rougher ride.

So many of her great songs are here, and Sam Andrews provides powerful supporting and accompanying vocals, especially during Call On Me [both offerings] and Piece of My Heart. The whole band gets a sustained SF psychedelic work-out on eleventh track Coo Coo.

Ball and Chain is, well, spellbinding. Just imagine having been there in ’68 and hearing this [or in the unrecorded ‘67 Saturday afternoon Monterey set]. Mind altering - no drugs needed. When the James Curley guitar break comes in its empathetic pain is palpable.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Elliott Randall - Randall's Island

Elliott 'Reelin' In The Years' Randall

Elliott Randall is perhaps best known for his superb guitar solo on Steely Dan’s Reelin’ In The Years, a solo Jimmy Page apparently rates one of his favourites. He would know. Randall has been a widely used and successful session player – a preferred choice of work for him - for many years since this debut solo album of 1970.

Randall’s Island is a concept album of sorts, but more importantly it is a genre-hopping masterclass in class. Opener Sour Flower is a wonderful jazzfusion number with Randall’s fine opening guitar-work leading to a multi-tracked, and perhaps echoplexed, saxophone solo by Paul Fleisher. It then returns to more guitar a la Chicago Transit Authority’s Free Form Guitar fuzzed up sound, and then transforms into other guitar-effects psychedelia to establish this as a truly great instrumental artefact from this time.

Second track Life In Botanical Gardens (Oh Yes] is a polar opposite as a pop-psyche acoustic number with lysergic lyrics and flute [more echoing effects] presenting its pretty pastoral folk perfectly – life in botanical garden, yes, so covering its settee - and clear other echoes of Manfred Mann’s Mighty Quinn.

Third track Take Out The Dog And Bark The Cat changes tack again with a sparkling blues walking its absurd title with a funky guitar gait. Fourth Mumblin’ To Myself sustains the blues groove, with horn support and Terry Adams punching out organ bursts. Bass and drums support this funked-up rhythm by respective players Bob Piazza and Allen Herman from great band Ten Wheel Drive [reviewed elsewhere on this blog].

Fifth Brother People goes into more countryrock mode, with harmonising lead vocals. Sixth  Jolly Green Giant And The Statue Of Liberty returns to the playful titling as well as a more psychedelic sound with a manic spoken narrative, echoing and other effects [reminding me a little of The Chamber Brothers’ great Time Has Come Today]. This is superb, random fun. Seventh Bustin’ My Brains is back to countryrock with sublime wah-wah/fuzz guitar soloing and sax support and requisite virtuoso drumming.

This consistently brilliant album ends on the 7+ minutes All I Am’s. This is a ballad with sweeping strings and sweet singing. Fleisher’s flute gets another echoplexed airing before Randall intervenes with more guitar flourishes and the song’s rousing vocal chorus.

The following is widely circulated online so I trust it is OK to print again here Randall’s own observations on this album and his work:

What a strange and interesting crew this was! Paul Fleisher and I played together beginning in the early-mid 60's in NYC niteclubs including Trude Heller's, The Peppermint Lounge, and The Metropole. He and I co-authored the entire record. I'd known Allen Herman & Bob Piazza for quite a while too - before they joined The Island, they were members of Genya Ravan's R&B supergroup Ten Wheel Drive. Phillip Namanworth had been playing with Dave Van Ronk & The Hudson Dusters, and brought with him a boogie-thing that was just too contagious! Terry Adams of NRBQ guested on Hammond B-3. George Andrews handled the string arrangements; he used to lead a big-band in NYC, which was well... quite an education. Through the ranks of this band came Steve Gadd, The Brecker Brothers, David Sanborn, Lou Soloff, Chuck Rainey, and most of the Island crew. (Like I said - an education.) Andy Muson also guested on 2 tracks; killer jazzer, also played with Albert King for a spell before moving on to a hugely successful studio career in LA. Finally, the legendary Eddie Kramer, engineer/producer extraordinaire - for most of the Jimi Hendrix records, as well as Led Zeppelin, Traffic, and a host of others. Respect, Eddie!

Hitchhiker


As I round the curve to the open road

I catch her come-on thumb in the distance
and my thoughts begin to assess every possibility.

The approach is a targeting, homing in on those things that tell me
where she’s been, what chit-chat is liked and the music she listens to;

her hair will have the smell of a bedroom shared with another:
there in the dark curls, there in the lovelock across her eye, and

her long legs have walked the whole mile to this place at the roadside -
all of this is in a clear outline because I’ve seen it a thousand times.

Getting closer, I can taste cigarettes and red wine;
the chocolate she licked from fingers at breakfast after making love.

I know how later on she will rest her head on my shoulder
pretending to fall asleep, and I will look down at her tired, tangled legs

then back to curves along the open road.