Sunday, August 20, 2017

Album Reviews # 71 Glen Campbell - Greatest Hits - 9 Where's the Playground Susie

Another of Jimmy Webb's, reputably about the Susan who also inspired MacArthur Park and By the Time I Get to Phoenix who ultimately rejected him and married another. An unrequited love song, they may be in a relationship at the time of singing but it's doomed not to last. Reached # 26 in the US Billboard Singles chart in 1969.

Songs Heard on the Radio # 220 Judy Henske

A small celebration of the wonder of Judy Henske on Sunday morning radio with Cerys Matthews where she eulogised Judy at length before playing this, one of the ultimate sixties counter-culture anthems. A single in '63.

Grizzly Bear - Painted Ruins

A friend of mine, (and long term supporter of this blog), commented a few weeks ago that there hadn't really been any truly great albums released thus far this year. I'd probably agree with him up to a point, although come November I'll start my own countdown of records I've really liked this year, and there'll be at least fifty of them. But to my ears, there have been a few that have really stuck out, and near the top of the heap is the latest from Grizzly Bear,Painted Ruins (their fifth since 2004, they certainly take their time).

They're a fussy band and certainly how you relate to them will probably depend on how you react to that fussiness. Everything is definitely in its place, exactly as they want it to be before they agree to let it out into the world. A sculpted sound. The contribution of individual instruments, (a classic four-piece sound augmented by all kinds of keyboards and percussion), clearly delineated in the mix.

With songs divided between Ed Droste and Daniel Rossen though all compositions are credited to the band, they're a fine example of a group which operates on democratic principles, (having become so with time after initally starting off as Droste's project). Although Painted Ruins is not an album which will surprise anyone familiar with previous records of theirs, as it's utterly consistent with the principles laid down there, it is a refinement, and for me already my favourite of all of theirs. They're a band at their creative peak.

They have a song, midway through Painted Ruins, called Aquarian, the title of which is as good a description of their sound as any. They're The Beach Boys, after they chose to record under the waves on the ocean's bed, rather than trying to surf upon them. There's also something of Steely Dan's nerdy detachment about the way they go about things though on this record they certainly allow more humanity to peak through. Also Radiohead, close admirers and friends of the band, who take similar care with their records, are another comparison point.

For me the record really makes the leap from goodness to greatness with Cut-Out and Glass Hillside, halfway through the second half of the record. Here they almost seem to have finally made their way to their own Atlantis which they've been, (knowingly or otherwise), seeking all of their career. While comparable bands like Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes have slightly over-reached themselves for me with recent releases where they seem to be trying too hard, Grizzly Bear here don't seem to be trying at all. They've entered their imperial phase.

From here on it's all a gentle run down a slight slope to the finishing line, like a Marathon athlete who's just made a conclusive break from the pack. There's even time for a first lead vocal for bassist Chris Taylor which slots seamlessly in with the mix. I'd also like to mention drummer and percussionist, Christopher Bear's contribution throughout. But really it's churlish to mention individuals.

Eleven tracks in all and never a foot out of place. One of the most immaculately produced albums you'll ever hear, Painted Ruins is the moment of Grizzly Bear's full arrival as truly big beasts. A  work of art!

'  Gathered together until relief arrives
Eyes on the lost sons trained in the tricks of the world
Fathers and keepers packed in that crowded room.

Upcountry drifters in permanent repose
Eyes on the lost sons trained in the tricks of the world
Strung out and restless until the feast arrives

The only ride in town
Object of all desire

This frontier town
The sound of nothing
Wasting time
There is no hiding
All is forbidden
All is forgotten'

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 511 Roxy Music

Song of the Day # 1,309 Black Springs

Sydney, Australia's Black Springs released their debut album When We Were Great earlier on this year and fortunately they still are. Great I mean! I wish I could post more than just this one track but this all that's available to me. I hope it will give something of a taste of what they're about and encourage you to investigate further because the record is a consistent and melodic listen which sounded highly more-ish on first listen. Eleven well crafted, dreamy, chugging songs, apparently divided between a couple of vocalists,  one or two of them between six and eight minutes long but I promise you won't notice and if you do, you'll probably want to thank them anyhow. In terms of sound you might describe Black Springs as Teenage Fanclub's slightly gloomier Australian nephews, the band themselves also mention Deerhunter, The Clean and The Church as touchstones all of which make sense.

Here's how they put it themselves: 

A I always have difficulty with this question! We are a pop band first of all but we have a propensity for wig-outs and repetition. It is simple! There is a lot of focus on the guitars which are kinda, jangly and kinda fuzzy. Our bass player has more of a funk background so the basslines are always very groovy. I would describe our vocals as honest.'

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Album Reviews # 71 Glen Campbell - Greatest Hits - 8 Dream Baby

A fairly straight take on the Roy Orbison original which Campbell took to # 31 in the US Billboard Singles Chart in 1971.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 512 Gladys Knight & the Pips

Song(s) of the Day # 1,308 Steff Chura

This is Steff Chura, a slim young woman wearing striking big glasses, from Detroit, Michigan, whose debut album Messes I've been returning to and enjoying over the past few months. It's made up of eleven well-crafted songs that drift from alternative to pop to New Wave and serve to foreground Chura and her distinctive voice and lyrics and make you realise why she chose to go out under her own name rather than a band one, even though she's backed by a group.

Generally the band arrangements are sparse and minimal. The important thing is Chura. She has an incredibly versatile and expressive voice that sometimes give you an uncanny remembrance of other singers. Sometimes she sounds a bit like Chrissie Hynde, sometimes a bit like Stevie Nicks, at others an awful lot like Kristin Hersh.

Her songs similarly navigate a path between very different emotions and tempos. Sometimes edgy, sometimes energetic, sometimes vulnerable, sometimes wistful. Always concise and crafted and persuading you ultimately of their need to exist. It's a very solid debut that I imagine myself coming back to many times more as the skies darken and we head towards Christmas!

Friday, August 18, 2017

Andy Warhol & Bob Dylan

Songs About People # 450 Vladimir Putin

The stand out song, (or at least the most exuberant and funniest moment), on Randy Newman's new album Dark Matter. A lesson from a master as to why we should not be in awe of or kowtow to blowhards like these but why they should really be the objects of dark laughter instead.

Album Reviews # 71 Glen Campbell - Greatest Hits - 7 By the Time I Get to Phoenix

It's all in the unanswered questions. Where is he driving from (somewhere in California presumably). Where's he driving to? And why is he leaving her?  The use of the unconditional future nails the poignancy and pain of the whole thing. Just about everybody has had a parting of a relationship that they can use to relate to what's going on here. The song is two minutes forty four seconds long and not a word or second is wasted, there is no chorus to speak of but no need for one. Masterfully arranged and played, with the Wrecking Crew, for whom Campbell served so long before making a solo career for himself backing. It's worth pointing out at this point what a great guitarist the man was. A masterpiece. Remarkably, only reached # 26 in the US Billboard Singles Chart when it was released in 1967. Nevertheless, the song Campbell built his reputation on.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 513 The Marcels

50 Essential Songs from the Summer of Love (Uncut Magazine) # 50 The Smoke

Song(s) of the Day # 1,307 Linda Perhacs

A journey as deep into the heart of the late sixties hippie dream as you could possibly hope to take. This will doubtless leave some listeners cold but Parallelograms, the debut, and for a long time only album by Linda Perhacs, (actually released in '70), is certainly a remarkable document. The record was barely noticed and soon forgotten on its release but was later unearthed, as these things often are, partly through the encouragement of musicians it inspired, and listening to it you can well understand why it found its way back. It's an almost definitive 'love child' statement.

So light up a joss stick, take your shoes and socks off, sit cross-legged on your living room floor, (headphones of course are obligatory), inhale, exhale, close your eyes and take the journey within. Linda moved back to her career in dental hygiene on the album's failure, before being drawn back to singing on its re-emergence thirty five years on. As for my experience of the album on listening to it yesterday, I enjoyed it greatly, but certainly don't plan to move there.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Songs About People # 449 Truman Capote

Truman Capote, certainly no big girl's blouse. Strangely, it is Portland Oregon band Blouse paying tribute here however.

Album Reviews # 71 Glen Campbell - Greatest Hits - 6 Dreams of the Everyday Housewife

An ambiguous song this one. A tale of a woman going about her mundane life and ageing, dreaming of the alternative lives she could have lived. Told by her husband who has no real personal presence in the song and sounds as much of a jailer as a lover. You can't help wondering whether an affair is coming up. Still, it's a pretty tune. Written by Chris Gantry and reached # 32 on the US Singles Billboard chart in 1968.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 514 The Impalas

Featured, memorably, in Stand By Me.

50 Essential Songs from the Summer of Love (Uncut Magazine) # 49 The Charlatans

Song(s) of the Day # 1,306 The Chameleons

Manchester's The Chameleons occupy a special place in terms of the great cult bands. Fans have a tendency to ludicrously eulogise them as among the very best British bands of the eighties and though I don't share that judgement, I came across their final four track EP yesterday and it, more than anything I've ever heard by them before, validates the claims of greatness made on their behalf.

They definitely slot in neatly among the brigade of long coated guitar bands that dominated alternative music for the first half of the eighties in England. This was fundamentally a Northern thing and much more of a literary and poetic movement than it's generally been credited for being. It's almost impossibly to talk about The Chameleons at any length without also mentioning Joy Division, Echo & the Bunnymen, The Teardrop Explodes and The Smiths, because The Chameleons share much of their attitude, outlook and self-belief but never quite developed the coherent identify to achieve the commercial and critical success that those four did.

These songs, recorded in 1987 but only released posthumously three years later, tell a tale of what might have been. The EP was titled Tony Fletcher Walks on Water, in honour of the band's manager whose untimely death led to the break up of  the band. Staggering in its ambition and achievement, much of the record is reminiscent of Strangeways Here We Come, (I'd definitely say the mark of Johnny Marr is there, just listen to those chord changes), but the songs themselves are so blistering and wrought with emotion that I'd say any influence is transcended. It's a bold and remarkable closing statement!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Things Found on My Local's Jukebox # 238 Philadelphia All Stars

Another nice evening out for a couple of pints with Big Adrian. This was his selection and it was a very fine choice. Never heard this before!

Songs Heard on the Radio # 219 Babe Wallace

A remarkable record and probably Babe Wallace's most lasting musical legacy. Wallace lived some life. A bouncer, singer, actor, writer and poet over decades. He probably had a few stories to tell. Read his here

Covers # 85 Hinds

New from The Hinds. A cover of a Kevin Ayers song. But they make it all very Hinds-like.

Things Found on My Local's Jukebox # 237 The Velvet Underground

A lesson in life. When you're going through one of life's inevitable lulls don't go into your local and take it out on the other customers by putting Sister Ray on the jukebox. Great as it is of course, it's anti-social behaviour. I've done it on two or occasions, been soundly told off and will attempt never to do it again. Honest!

Album Reviews # 71 Glen Campbell - Greatest Hits - 5 Try a Little Kindness

As with Everything a Man Could Ever Need, this is necessary filler between the glorious peaks of this album. There's very little to say about it apart from noting its rather odd AAA, BBB rhyming pattern. But it's no Try a Little Tenderness, and its 'be nice to people, because it's a good thing to do and you don't want to be like the straights' message doesn't really wash. Because it's actually as straight as you can possibly get. Probably the weakest song on the record though I've never really noticed it despite listening to the album for years which indicates again that it slots in. It probably tells a tale about Campbell of a different sort from much of the rest of this album as an all-American journeyman. He did make over sixty records over the course of his career after all and you certainly wouldn't want to have to listen through to them end to end. Written by Curt Sapaugh and Bobby Austin, and from the album of the same name, it reached # 23 in the US Billboard Singles Chart in 1970.

Songs About People # 448 Edith Piaf

Edith Piaf, after all, said it better than most of us. But it's big of Sparks to put their hands up here ahead of their new album Hippopotamus, which comes out on September 8th, and this is a highly promising taster for that.

Guided By Voices - How Do You Spell Heaven

How Do You Spell Heaven the new record by Guided By Voices, is essentially business as usual. Fabulous, fridge magnet song titles, meaty, effortless guitar riffs, abstruse, wordy lyrics, inspired leftfield pop. We shouldn't really be surprised, they've been doing this for well over thirty years now.

In some ways they still sound like the missing lyric between Document era R.E.M. and Bob Mould, although there's always plenty of late sixties The Who, (perhaps leader Robert Pollard's most important formative influence), thrown into the mix. Anyhow, with songs called things like The Birthday Democrats, Steppenwolf Mausoleum, Diver Dan and Tenth Century and all the Prog/ Punk sloganeering, ('sociopathological liars invented the wheel'),  they're clearly having all the fun you could possibly hope for people still doing this at their point in life. A cursory listen will tell you they have every right. Amazingly, it all comes across as effortless, an act of  still impeccably fertile imagination and taste for adventure which is high tribute to them. An American institution!

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 515 Marvin Gaye

50 Essential Songs from the Summer of Love (Uncut Magazine) # 48 Country Joe & the Fish

Song(s) of the Day # 1,305 Dag

One of the mainstay TV programmes of my late teenage years and early twenties, (when you had more time and inclination to consume such rubbish), was Australian Soap Neighbours. A phenomenon, both in its homeland and the UK, it initiated the Pop careers of Kylie Minogue and (rather more regrettably),  Jason Donovan among many other things. It also brought no end of vaguely colloquial Australian slang to the British shores. Among all of this was the term 'dag', unfortunately originally a reference to faeces dangling from a sheep's rear end but then in time coming to indicate someone with eccentric or inept social behaviour.

Wisely or not, Dag, (a Queensland originated band, focused around Dusty Anastassiou), have chosen to go out into the world under this name. Although on the surface, this may indicate a lack of ambition, there's little further evidence of that on their outstanding debut album Benefits of Solitude. Quite the opposite in fact. It's a record that's plays like a fine novel or collection of short stories. It's all highly redolent of the thoughtful, literary, and landmark albums produced by their great Australian forbears The Go-Betweens and The Triffids thirty years ago. That's as high a compliment as I can give and its to Dag's immense credit that they're not shamed by either comparison. They remind me of these two great bands, not so much in terms of their sound, (though there is an occasional nod to the former in this respect), but more in terms of their scope.

Where they resemble The Triffids meanwhile is in terms of their content. Like Born Sandy Devotional and In The Pines, that band's finest records, this is an album that evokes the desolate vastness and risk of the Australian outback. Anastassiou was raised on a remote cattle farm in Queensland and Benefits of Solitude from its title and sleeve to the essence of its music, evokes all that loneliness, space, alienation and strange beauty. The record has enormous variety of mood in its favour too. It has a set of melodies and lyrics that don't give themselves up too easily, demanding considerable input from the listener in order to fully appreciate it, something of a rarity nowadays. Altogether, a very fine record indeed and one I suspect which will be high on the list when I come to compile my favourite albums of 2017 towards the end of this year.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Album Reviews # 71 Glen Campbell - Greatest Hits - 4 Galveston

The first of the three Jimmy Webb  'town' songs that are the cornerstones of this record and together mark Campbell's claim for greatness. His singing here is pretty restrained, letting the song and its lyric do their work. There was some controversy at the time and since over whether it's an anti-war song or not. Protest against Vietnam was pretty much at its peak at the point it came out. Given Campbell's innate conservatism it seems reasonable to suppose that it's just the story of a soldier doing his duty but missing home. The tune transcends such considerations anyhow. It was a # 4 Billboard Singles hit in 1969.

Songs About People # 447 Jesse Lee Kincaid

Marvelous occasional indie supergroup Cinema Red & Blue, made up of members of Crystal Stilts, Comet Gain, Pale Lights, The Clean and others according to their mood, pay tribute to the guitarist of The Rising Sons, from their 2009 eponymous debut.

50 Essential Songs from the Summer of Love (Uncut Magazine) # 47 Fifty Food Hose

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 516 The Impressions

Song(s) of the Day # 1,304 Display Homes

Whoever would have thought that Climate Change might be a good thing! It is in the hands of Australian three-piece Display Homes and their recent EP which goes by that name. The term Post-Punk can't be avoided here, but don't let that put you off for a moment. The title track is chuggy, melodic, good-humoured. Its title, (thrown off in wacky fashion), serves for it's chorus. Another hit single for that alternative universe. 

On second song Man, things get rather more more urgent. 'Is it OK to slap my arse. If you're gay?' spits the female vocalist, (she's also their drummer. an added bonus). The answer,we would assume from her tone, is resoundingly no. Then comes Bist Du Da? where she slips into German, never a bad move when you're doing this kind of thing. Over the three tracks at various points, Au Pairs, Pylon, Raincoats, Banshees, Slits and Life Without Buildings all come to mind, an impressive roll-call. But this is no mere apery. Display Homes are clearly having a wail of a time. Nine minutes of pure joy. A band you want to see play live as soon as you hear them. Highly promising. I look forward to more!

* I'm grateful to the wonderful Did Not Chart blog for drawing my attention to this. Here's its take on things.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Things Found on My Local's Jukebox # 236 A Flock of Seagulls

A very pleasant Monday night in Rosie's. This was Big Adrian's request. Never the coolest option back in the day, but I was surprised how much I enjoyed hearing this.

Album Reviews # 71 Glen Campbell - Greatest Hits - 3 Everything a Man Could Ever Need

Written by Mac Davis and the first single taken from Campbell's 1970 album Norwood. Perhaps a bit of a filler in the company it finds itself in on the Greatest Hits album but it slots in seamlessly. Only     # 52 in the US Billboard Singles Charts but Top 5 in Country. All-American contentment. Watch the clip for conclusive evidence.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 517 The Beach Boys

50 Essential Songs from the Summer of Love (Uncut Magazine) # 46 The Pretty Things

Song(s) of the Day # 1,303 Gold Star

A couple of songs from the latest Gold Star record Big Blue. Simple song titles, simple songs in the tradition of Neil Young's Harvest.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Songs About People # 446 Boris Spassky

Neat, atmospheric track from the soundtrack of Pawn Sacrifice, a 2015 film about the 1972 Fischer / Spassky chess match in Reykjavik.

Album Reviews # 71 Glen Campbell - Greatest Hits - 2 Gentle on my Mind

The rolling tune is great but it's the wonderful lyrics here that make this song:

'It's knowing that your door is always open
And your path is free to walk
That makes me tend to leave my sleepin' bag
Rolled up and stashed behing your couch
And it's knowin' I'm not shackled
By forgotten words and bonds
And the ink stains that have dried upon some time
That keeps you in the back roads
By the rivers of my memory
That keeps you ever gentle on my mind.'

That can't really be beaten. How somebody's mere presence and personality can provide a kind of spiritual peace for someone else. Originally written by John Hartford after watching Dr Zhivago. Released twice by Campbell in '67 an '68 it remarkably only reached # 39 in the US Billboard Singles but took on a new lease of life when featured as the theme tune on his syndicated TV programme The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 518 Ivory Joe Hunter

50 Essential Songs from the Summer of Love (Uncut Magazine) # 45 Love

Song of the Day # 1,302 Bill Baird

Texan oddball Bill Baird released a couple of wonderful albums a few weeks back. One a night-time, the other a daytime record. This comes from the former, Baby Blue Abyss.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Things Found on My Local's Jukebox # 235 Elastica

I've been spending rather too much time in Rosie's of late so I've got rather a backlog on this particular series. I've been listening to the first Elastica album recently and struggling with it. Such a big record when it came out, the fastest selling debut album ever in the UK, or something like that. For the most part it leaves me rather cold all these years on. There's always a certain nastiness about it along with the smut and the blatant steals from Wire, The Stranglers et al seem rather less cheeky inspiration and more mere theft at this distance. This though, the opening track, steals from Television, which I'm always rather prone to. There's pilfering from both Marquee Moon and Little Johnny Jewel in the first twenty seconds. I like it and will play it again.

Album Reviews # 71 Glen Campbell - Greatest Hits - 1 Honey Come Back

Glen Campbell died a few days back. This had been anticipated for a while as he had been suffering from Alzheimer's for a few years. Nevertheless, it was a significant moment, as he was a significant figure. An odd one perhaps as you wouldn't easily class him in the canon next to Lou, Leonard and David for example. He didn't for the most part write his own songs and he occupied a place in the middle of the road. Nevertheless, he was associated with some of the very best singles ever released in terms of Rock and Pop.

His Greatest Hits record, (the one you really need), is doubtless nestled in millions of record collections and highly treasured. It certainly is by me. I bought it in my late teens and played it a lot during my university years so it's fiercely entwined with the tug of memory for me. I love its flecked sleeve with Campbell's strangely inexpressive face gazing out from it. He's wearing one of those sixties shirts which mark him out as rather more straight than hippie. The song titles are listed on the cover as if that's enough. It is.

Honey Come Back is the first track. It's a Jimmy Webb song like many of Campbell's finest. It scraped the US Top Twenty in 1970.  An illustration of just how effective the spoken word can be in song. Glen has been dumped and is pleading his girl to come back to him. She doesn't appear to be listening to him. It's Webb at his simplest. He always had plenty of corn in his artillery and it's skilfully deployed here. The classic Country sentiment of how the bright lights are calling and how foolish it is to heed them. It's exactly three minutes long. The vocals appropriately, are honeyed.

Songs About People # 445 Jane Fonda

'Who Married Jane Fonda' ask Norwegian Velvets, Jesus and Mary Chain, and Spacemen 3 fetishists Rancho Relaxo on their 2015 album White Light Fever. The track in question is 4:58 in.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 519 William Bell

50 Essential Songs from the Summer of Love (Uncut Magazine) # 44 Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band

Song of the Day # 1,301 Chastity Belt

There are glass half full bands and glass half empty bands. Walla Walla Washington's Chastity Belt belong firmly in the latter category. Once a Frat Band of sorts with a fondness for vulgarity, they've become a much heavier and more earnest project over time. Their third album I Used to Spend so Much Time Alone has the same existential hanging unease as early Cure and New Order records. They're wonderful crafters of melody and mood but somewhat light on humour, (though they do seem to be thoroughly enjoying themselves in the promo video above). Nevertheless, probably one to play on a rainy day.