Hush Hush Records # HH011 CD: About 38 minutes
Tracks: 1) Following, 2) Secret Angle, 3) Animal Totem, 4) Night Valley, 5) Looking Out, 6) Red Touch, 7) Inner Portal, 8) Kicking In, 9) Melt Down, 10) I’ve Got A Feeling, 11) Night Rising, 12) Myself Inside
I’m thrilled that Cock & Swan have a new album. With each release it’s apparent that their confidence is growing, and even better, they’re still experimenting. From their earliest albums like Drawing From Memory (2007) and Unrecognize (2010) their sound ranged from rough synthesized foundations, tape and microphone experiments to nearly extreme lo-fi acoustic recordings. The 2012 album Stash (I reviewed early last year) had moved their sound from more electronic towards “…a record focused on acoustic instrumentation…” For their forthcoming album (to be released on September 10th) Secret Angles they are combining the acoustic instrumentation with more of their electronic roots—the sound is fuller, rhythmically engaging and more up-beat. Secret Angles moves between many different genres: progressive, electronica, acoustic and electric folk, house, dance and many others—it doesn’t dwell in one realm for long, but the album is not at all disjointed—it’s quite cohesive.
The acoustic and analog roots of Cock & Swan are still strong, and they appear as Following begins with the sound of tape mechanisms and immediately a seductive pulse, electric guitar riffs and Ola’s soft voice initiate their hypnotic spell. By contrast the title track shifts to a darker, looped and gritty electronic foundation (and we are awakened briefly from our pastoral spell). Animal Totem is quite reminiscent of the latter day Everything But The Girl’s track Before Today from their album Walking Wounded, when ETBG’s music shifted from coffee house to a darkened house vibe, but C&S’s Animal Totem is earthier and more acoustic with broad clarinet washes added by Hungerford.
With Night Valley, the album shifts to an even glitchier more experimental sphere where Ola’s voice and some of the instrumentation are bent and shifted and the sound enters a mysterious territory. Looking Out continues with electronic, vocal loops, an almost Mellotron Brass sound and what I call “heavy drums.” As I noted with their album Stash—tracks like these are reminiscent of King Crimson’s earlier work as on In The Wake of Poseidon. The album also contains some short instrumental and vocal links (Red Touch and I’ve Got A Feeling) which are samples disguised elsewhere in other tracks.
Tracks often start with samples and a vibe that are then absorbed into the mix of a song; Inner Portal illustrates this with Ola’s vocal and breath loops coupled with what almost sounds like a ship’s steam-powered horn and it’s woven together with a heavy dub beat and coarse under-pinnings. The chorus adds an acoustic guitar (a contrast of the heavy with the delicate). This is a great track and one of my favorites on the album, along with the first three. By comparison Kicking In is quite stark in its percussion and rhythm section before gathering momentum into the vocals. Melt Down is the most electronically layered of the songs, and Ola’s vocals calm the mood and fill the spaces.
Only once did I feel like I had a sense of some monotony drifting in during the track, Night Rising—after a while it didn’t really take me anywhere…a bit like some of Edgar Froese’s (Tangerine Dream) solo work of the late 1970s. It’s a vocal and rhythm-section drone. The album closes with Myself Inside, which harkens back to Cock & Swan’s stark early work—an acoustic guitar (in the character of a child’s toy piano), a simple rhythm and Ola’s vocals layered with deep breathing.
Since I’m working with a promo recording, I don’t have access to the lyrics or the personnel list for the album, so I’m not sure if there are other musicians on the album besides Johnny Goss and Ola Hungerford. It’s also worth noting that Johnny Goss provides engineering and recording support for other Seattle-based musicians, including one band that recently caught my attention, La Luz (absolutely infectious 60s surf-pop) fronted by Shana Cleveland.
After Secret Angles, I’ll be very interested in hearing where Cock & Swan takes us next. Don’t miss this album, and seek out a copy of their last, Stash too.
Cock & Swan – Ola Hungerford and Johnny Goss – Photo by Angel Ceballos
This is a solicited review
The Royal Potato Family – RPF 1312 – LP, CD, Digital – About 35 Minutes
Songs: Side A: Stop Tonight, Mean Maybe, Love Stories, Young Men Promise, The Ceiling Side B: The Vanished Frontier, Julian, For Girls Who Love To Sing, What’s Out There
Sam Cohen: Vocals, Guitar, Bass, Organ; Annie Nero: Vocals; Brian Kantor: Drums, Percussion, Vocals; Josh Kaufman: Guitar, Organ, Vocals
Something different…and even better it has an excellent sleeve design and is available in white vinyl…
The new Yellowbirds album is: mysterious, drifting, lush, orchestrated, cheerful, danceable, hopeful, syncopated, witty, retro, autoharpy (I know, not a word, but very 10cc*), uplifting, sonorous, jangly, toe-tapping, catchy, spirited, amorous, languid, romantic, edgy, bathed in reverb, fuzzy, harmonious, bluesy, intimate, ragged, orchestral, stark, melancholy, reflective, sad (but wait!), buoyant, lively, driving, dramatic, thoughtful, inviting, tuneful, lyrical, spacey, philosophical and inventively melodic.
I love the combinations of organ, guitars, bells, zither, Mellotron, strings, bass-lines, and the (at times) witty vocals. Yellowbirds’ last album, The Color was exceptional, but this album is even better. Deftly crafted songs, and an supportive record label that takes care of its customers.
Volume One – SoundSignals – #HCC001
Notes and Detailed Credits: http://hearcapecod.org/soundsignals/
CD 1 (Time: 39:08): Sound Signals: Act 1: On Land, Act II: On Water, Act III: A Year, Coda: Route Six
CD 2 (Time: 46:24): Signals Remixed: 1: Goldmund, 2: Marcus Fischer, 3: Loscil, 4: Taylor Deupree, 5: Neara Russell, 6: FourColor, 7: Steve Wilkes, 8: Simon Scott, 9: FourColor & SoundSignal
Volume Two – Upstream by Fordham Wilkes – #HCC002
Notes and Detailed Credits: http://hearcapecod.org/upstream/
CD (Time: 37:08): 1) Gates of Summer, 2: The Language of Birds, 3: GP Road Resonator, 4: Dive Down, 5: Upstream, 6: June, 7: Shifting Sand, 8: Fog, 9: The Message
Sound Archive: http://www.hearcapecod.org/ListView.php
Recordings mastered by Taylor Deupree at 12k Mastering
Since the middle of 2011, Berklee College of Music professor, percussionist and Blue Man Group alum, Steve Wilkes has been working on a project to capture the sounds of Cape Cod over a year and to map those sounds as an aural history of the region (the far eastern end of Massachusetts in the northeastern United States). The project was funded in part by the Newbury Comics Faculty Fellowship. The region has undergone many environmental and man-made changes, from rising sea levels and coastal erosion to residential development. It was Wilkes’ feeling that the region is measured and analyzed in many ways (like bird population counts, temperature and sea levels), but there was yet to be a base-line environmental sound analysis examining animal, environmental and cultural activity in the region.
At this point, the project consists of 3 CDs: 1, a collection of regional sounds; 2, the sounds remixed by a number of musicians who will be familiar to many, and 3, a song-cycle inspired by the region at various times throughout the year (which also incorporates many of the environmental sound recordings and the detailed credit links give an excellent overview of the variety on-location recordings). The album artwork evokes pleasant memories of worn edged blue-green beach-glass.
CD 1 is a sonic time capsule, and at first it reminded me of a number of sound effects and spoken word recordings of the 1940s and 50s, and for a brief moment, I thought I was hearing a snippet of the old records by Bert and I. It also had the immediate effect of taking me back in time to the days when I summered on “The Cape” as a child with my parents in the early 1960s. The documentation of the region also harkens back to some of the expansive sound archive work by Alan Lomax. This CD chronicles the sounds of land, water and activities that mark the course of a year from a First Night Noise Parade to the calming summertime beach surf. It closes with the reading of the poem Route Six by Stanley Kunitz (being the road that travels down the center of the “flexed arm” of Cape Cod, reaching out into the Atlantic Ocean).
Having lived in a beach-town region in nearby southern Connecticut, I am also reminded that a resort region like The Cape has two lives—the times when the summer-folk occupy and the off-season when only the locals remain. The off-season is the time when locals can take long walks on the shore beaches and see very few people. Life goes on in a different way after the tourists have left in the autumn.
Taylor Deupree’s Remix
Wind Chimes Field Recording That Inspired TD’s Remix
CD 2 is a sensitively created set of interpretive remixes by many well known artists in the current electro-acoustic, ambient and electronic music communities (see list above). The field recordings from CD 1 are delightfully co-mingled with the offerings from each of the artists (well documented at the web link also noted above). I was immediately struck by the opening notes of the first track by Goldmund (Keith Kenniff), the piano melody being very reminiscent of Anthony Phillips’ Death of a Knight from Henry: Portrait from Tudor Times (from the album The Geese and The Ghost), before drifting into a dream-state with seaside, night-time crickets and Morse Code pulses.
Field Recording for FourColor Remix
Most of the remixes are by artists who have done work strongly connected with outdoor environs and water (as in the Flaming Pines label Rivers Home series), like Marcus Fischer, Taylor Deupree and Simon Scott (to name a few). The character of this disc ranges from contemplative to glitchy (FourColor) to playfully rhythmic (as in Loscil’s remix). The remix by Steve Wilkes includes the first HearCapeCod recording made in Truro at Corn Hill Beach in the summer of 2002. The CD closes with a collaboration of FourColor and SoundSignal (Wilkes) and is the most melodic and rhythmic of the tracks of the album. This CD forms a strong connection to the foundation provided by Wilkes’ research and recordings. As much as I’m tempted to suggest that this CD be made available separately, after spending time with the entire set, it is actually a quite inseparable part of the whole.
CD 3 Upstream, is a song cycle by the duo Fordham Wilkes (Ginny Fordham: vocals, Steve Wilkes: drums with Crit Harmon: guitars and Keiichi Sugimoto: guitars) and is inspired by years of memories of time on Cape Cod and it is the most personal of the three discs. Fond recollections of places run deep for many and they have different effects on people. This is where the project transforms from being objective (CD 1) to the most reflective and personal (while avoiding sentimentality).
The album has a sense of welcoming and ease, enjoying summer breezes, wading in tidal pools, walking in sanctuaries or along beaches. There is no heavy foreboding or hand-wringing of what was or could be; the feeling is that of the now and hopefulness, and Ginny Fordham’s voice brings a relaxing calm to the album. Gates of Summer opens CD3 and is forms an instrumental and melodic transition from the last track of CD2. The Language of Birds plays rhythmically with a juxtaposition and syncopation of the instrumentation and avian field recordings.
GP Road Resonator
The Field Recording Forming Basis for GP Road Resonator
The ever-present drone of automobile traffic is also a reality of summers on The Cape (whether passing over the Sagamore or Bourne bridges before necking down to Route 6 or at the half-way point to Provincetown, in Eastham) and these sounds are merged with fleeting views to salt marshes in the pensive GP Road Resonator. As in CD 1, there are songs of Land as well as Water, as in Dive Down and Upstream (as much a metaphor for returning to and rebirth of the area as it is the traffic on Route 6 that one is “swimming” against!).
CD 3 is also a reflection of CD 1’s A Year, The Cape in song over the course of a single circumnavigation of our Earth around the Sun. As the album progresses through the summer and into the end of a year (June, Shifting Sand and Fog) it grows more contemplative with the advancing of the calendar, melding dreams with reality. Each Spring many look forward the approaching time outside and then seemingly in the blink of an eye, Summer is over. The album closes with The Message, an inspiration left in a voicemail, which ultimately is the beacon announcing the sense of place of The Cape that inspired the HearCapeCod project.
The release date (May 28, 2013) for this set is at the unofficial “gate of summer” season, just after Memorial Day weekend. These albums will be available at: Booksmith Musicsmith, Orleans, MA: https://www.facebook.com/BooksmithMusicsmith , Muir Music, Provincetown, MA: https://www.facebook.com/muirmusic5 , The Cape Cod Museum of Natural History: http://ccmnh.org/, CD Baby: SoundSignals On CD Baby, iTunes: http://www.apple.com/itunes/ and Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/
Anthony Phillips: http://www.anthonyphillips.co.uk/
Ant’s friend and illustrator Peter Cross: http://petercrossart.com/
Ant’s (too occasional) collaborator Enrique Berro Garcia: http://quiqueberro.com/
Although he was 18 when he departed from the band Genesis in 1970, many still associate Ant Phillips almost exclusively with that band (despite his approximately 40 commercially released solo albums and collaborations since 1970 in addition to his vast output of library music compositions and commission work). I have been very fortunate over the years to acquire all of these albums, and each time I place one of Ant’s albums on my turntable or a CD player his music takes me to another place and time (the ups and downs of a life). Ant’s music has been a big part of my life and I owe a great deal of my own creative work to being inspired by his. I think Ant said it best on his second Private Parts and Pieces album Back To The Pavilion (released in 1980): “This album is dedicated to all those who still champion the “old fashioned” ideas of beauty, lyricism and grandeur in art against the tide of cynical intellectualism and dissonance.” Many of Ant’s earlier albums are now being completely remastered (from the source tapes) and reissued (often in double CD releases).
Ant and Quique from PP&PPIII – Antiques: Old Wives Tales
Also spinning these days are albums by:
Three Metre Day – Coasting Notes
I have a ceramic artist friend (Hayne Bayless at Sideways Studios) to thank for getting me to these folks (often the best music comes from referrals by friends). At times their music is somewhat mournful, but always reflective and passionate—this trio from Canada is Michelle Willis, Hugh Marsh and Don Rooke with guest appearances by bassist David Piltch and drums by Davide Direnzo. The album is up-close, largely acoustic in instrumentation and delightfully musical.
Rhian Sheehan – Stories From Elsewhere
At times the music is delicate and others it’s intense, but it’s always inventive and beautifully recorded. Rhian Sheehan is from New Zealand and has released 7 albums under his name as well as appeared on many compilations and soundtracks.
Iron and Wine – Ghost on Ghost
I sometimes find Samuel Beam’s work to be a bit too intense and serious, but his latest album is open, hopeful and at times playful. The first single Joy is beautiful.
Wire – Change Becomes Us
I kind of lost touch with Wire after their albums Pink Flag and Chairs Missing, but I rediscovered their more recent albums when I updated my original recordings with CD reissues. If this new album sounds a bit like it comes from the late 1970s and early 1980s post punk era it’s because many of the songs were written back then, and haven’t seen the light of day until now. The recordings and production are full, with great clarity and this album just makes me want to turn up the amplifiers.
You can listen to the entire album here: https://soundcloud.com/wirehq/sets/change-becomes-us
Montt Mardié – Skaizerkite
Record Label: http://hybr.is/
David Olof Peter Pagmar has taken many identities and until a few years ago he was Montt Mardié (his website is now defunct) and he has since moved on to new projects, but in early 2009 this was his album of excellent pop tunes and ballads—beautifully recorded and produced. The entire album can be streamed here:
Jonas Munk – Searching For Bill (Original Soundtrack)
Jonas Munk has released many great albums and collaborations as Manual and more recently as Billow Observatory, but this is his first soundtrack. The documentary Searching For Bill is Danish director Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s debut and it explores the meaning of life for those living on the edge of American society. It’s a sensitive and contemplative soundtrack.
Many of these albums are available directly from the artists’ websites or at online merchants like http://darla.com/
Happy Listening and Spring (finally)!
Concert: Zammuto with Valgeir Sigurðsson and Nadia Sirota at the Spaceland Ballroom, Hamden, CT March 29, 2013
Nick Zammuto – Guitar and Electronics, Nick Oddy – Guitar and Keyboard
Mikey Zammuto – Bass, Sean Dixon – Drums
Promoter and Venue
I missed the last Zammuto tour in 2012, so I was determined to go see them this time around—and it was a great coincidence that they ended up stopping so close by in Hamden, Connecticut at the new Spaceland Ballroom with promotion by Manic Productions from nearby New Haven. Valgeir Sigurðsson (producer and founder of Iceland’s Bedroom Community record label and Greenhouse Studios) and violist Nadia Sirota started the evening’s show with an introspective and sensitive performance of work from Nadia’s latest album Baroque and Valgeir’s album Architecture of Loss (in addition to some earlier VS work). I think that the performance would’ve been enhanced all the more with a better piano and subwoofer system, but their performance ranged from the contemplative (my son says “chill”) to visceral. I’m less familiar with Sigurðsson’s and Sirota’s individual works, but this performance was a great introduction. My only other hope for this new venue is that the lighting improves to allow one to see the musicians better during their performances (and perhaps some more tables and chairs).
I’ve followed Nick Zammuto’s work since his days with The Books, and have appreciated his mining for music and inspiration in unexpected places, whether from old or new family home movies to skillfully edited (often bizarre) instructional videos. The humor and wordplay also makes his work all the more attractive. The difference (to my ears) between The Books and Nick’s latest incarnation in the band Zammuto is that the music is even more rhythmically infectious and at times, downright joyful. I also appreciate that Zammuto has created in their first eponymous album music created by artists staying true to themselves and their work—always pushing the boundaries and seeking inspiration from the most unlikely of places…making the serious silly and the mundane musical…and to be doing it in beautiful Vermont is all the more enticing. Their work is also an example of what I see as a proper usage of auto-tune technology—not to correct a singer who can’t sing, but to enhance the statement of the art and sound.
Last night’s set was tight, energetic and enhanced by a multimedia show of short films synchronized to the music. Much of the songs were taken from the latest Zammuto album on the Temporary Residence (independent) label. We were also treated to some songs from The Books era, a Paul Simon cover and some unreleased tracks. This was the second performance by new guitar/keyboardist Nick Oddy and he has immediately absorbed the often intense and delightfully quirky parts that Gene Back (up until recently) contributed to the band—bravo!
Zammuto Set List: 1) Groan Man, Don’t Cry, 2) The Shape Of Things To Come, 3) Idiom Wind, 4) Too Late To Topologize, 5) Zebra Butt, 6) FU-C3PO, 7) Harlequin, 8) Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover by Paul Simon, 9) Yay, 10) The Stick, 11) Tahitian Noni Juice – That Right Ain’t Shit – from The Books The Lemon of Pink, 12) Classy Penguin, 13) The Greatest Autoharp Solo of All Time – A remarkable bit of video/sound editing!, 14) Smells Like Content – from The Books – Lost And Safe and the non-encore 15) The Fig and the Finger
If you haven’t seen Zammuto live yet, go see them—it was a very memorable concert. The link to their current tour is noted above, and I’m told that Nick is working on material for a new album.
Please note that all photos are by wajobu.com unless the image is suffixed with “IAB”, in which case it’s by Isaac Burns. We retain all copyrights to the images, but if you choose to borrow or share an image, please at least credit one or both of us. Thank you.
When is a musical work true invention? When is it referential? When is it derivative? Can a work influenced by previous work still be considered original or innovative? I suppose these are questions that could spark a (sometimes heated) discussion like: “What audio speakers sound the best? Is it the east coast or west coast sound?” Often, the proper answer is: “What ever speakers sound best to one’s own ears.”
Generally, I think that most art, design and music works are built on the foundations that came before them and there really is little actual invention, more on the side of innovation or variants of an original. Dig deeply enough and one even can see that Frank Lloyd Wright’s and other modern architectural works (many seemingly original) have been influenced by the works of others or by some reference to design in nature or distant history (like many of Wright’s LA houses of the 1920s being highly influenced by ancient Mayan temples).
I’m certainly not an expert on the extensive back catalogs of Roxy Music, Bryan Ferry, Porcupine Tree and Steven Wilson (including Wilson’s various side projects), but I have enough of their music in my collection to know that I generally like their respective work (some albums, in my opinion, being better than others—that’s the subjective part, like the what speakers sound better question). Bryan Ferry and Steven Wilson are from two different musical generations and have been influenced by different works and people, but there is some overlap.
Ferry has noted that much of his seminal listening, writing and songs were influenced by early and mid-20th century instrumental jazz (including Charlie Parker and Ornette Coleman): “I loved the way the great soloists would pick up a tune and shake it up – go somewhere completely different – and then return gracefully back to the melody, as if nothing had happened.” With these influences and those of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Pink Floyd, King Crimson and others, Ferry’s band Roxy Music (with a number of different musicians, including Brian Eno and later Eddie Jobson) would go on to create quite innovative and often influential art-glam-pop-progressive rock works in the 1970s and early 80s in addition to Ferry’s distinctive solo works.
Steven Wilson works within a cauldron of many genres (progressive rock, metal, ambient and jazz fusion), and it’s clear from his remixing/remastering work (such as the King Crimson back-catalog, most recently Larks’ Tongues in Aspic) that he has both a deep affection for those influences as well as a respect for the history behind them. Wilson’s latest album The Raven That Refused To Sing is steeped in a mind-bending brew of musical influences, yet stays safely on the side of creatively paying homage while avoiding pastiche or cliché. Throughout the album he tips his hat with musical phrases and instrumental sounds that have kept me looking back into my music collection for their roots (a most welcome research project).
Steven Wilson – Luminol
Steven Wilson – The Raven That Refused To Sing
Whether it’s a soaring guitar bend of Pink Floyd, a vocal introduction reminiscent of McDonald and Giles’ Tomorrow’s People, a Mellotron phrase from Genesis’ Watcher of the Skies, an electric guitar intro akin to the band Focus, acoustic guitar phrases of Ant Phillips’ The Geese and the Ghost or flute phrases of Jethro Tull, Wilson and his current band blend these deftly into the rather sullen tale of The Raven… I can also hear more recent parallels in the menacing track The Holy Drinker, to the works of (Miles Davis scholar) Bob Belden’s jazz-fusion Animation project (the recent post-9/11 track Provocatism from the album Transparent Heart). The musical and sonic success of this album is also thanks to the great live studio engineering care of Alan Parsons and gifted musicians Nick Beggs, Guthrie Govan, Adam Holzman, Marco Minnemann, Theo Travis and Jakko Jakszyk who have interpreted Wilson’s vision into a cohesive and often stunning recording. The dynamics and emotions are broad, from the aggressive percussion/bass opening to the somber balladic close of the title track. There are minimal overdubs on the album, except for using an original King Crimson MKII Mellotron (recorded at DGM).
The Bryan Ferry Orchestra – Do The Strand
In contrast, Bryan Ferry is reinterpreting his own past work with vocals removed, leaving the melodies and harmonies of the original songs, and they’re are filtered through a time machine that brings the listener back to Ferry’s earliest musical influences—the sound, orchestration and recording techniques of the roaring and often buoyant 1920s. Some fans of Roxy Music or Ferry’s original work don’t seem to appreciate the effort (especially the sound treatment, and the monaural recording), but being that I enjoy original pre-and jazz-age acoustic recordings, I think it’s a favorable re-examination of Ferry’s work while avoiding the temptation reissue yet another compilation for the sake of churning a back-catalog. In fact, the recording sounds almost identical to the hi-fidelity of that period, a Victor Orthophonic reproducer and Victrola.
The Bryan Ferry Orchestra – The Jazz Age – The Reinterpreted Tracks
Bryan Ferry – The Jazz Age – The Original Tracks
I like both of these albums very much, for different reasons, and while they are clearly influenced by works before them, they stand very well on their own. Are either as groundbreaking as King Crimson’s In The Court Of The Crimson King? No (again, my subjective opinion). On the positive side, after a somewhat cool start, Steven Wilson’s album has been growing on me (my favorite track, by far, is Drive Home), whereas I liked Ferry’s album almost instantly—I was hooked by Do The Strand. Are either of these albums what I would consider the best of 2013? It’s a bit early for that–let’s wait and see.
Steven Wilson – Drive Home
I need some warmth on these cold winter days…
Ron Sexsmith - Forever Endeavour
I love Ron’s work (another thoughtful Canadian songwriter—imagine that?!). He writes such great songs. My problem with his work, at times, is that sometimes his songs are just too sad, but Ron has a gift for making a sad song curiously uplifting, like Michael and His Dad from his last album Long Player Late Bloomer. I started listening to Ron’s work in 1997 with his third album Other Songs (produced by Mitchell Froom and Tchad Blake—coincidentally Froom produced Suzanne Vega’s Nine Objects of Desire the previous year, another favorite album of mine). Forever Endeavour is sparsely arranged, but strings, horn, percussion, pedal steel or electric bass are right there when they’re needed. Other than that, the songs are Ron’s voice, and his acoustic guitar. He has a gift for wordplay and expressing emotions with a deft efficiency that flow so naturally with his melodies. Some songs on Forever Endeavour are ironically upbeat, like Nowhere Is and Snake Road—in a sense, keeping the faith.
The CD has two bonus tracks (songs written with Don Black and recorded by Don Kerr), Life After A Broken Heart and Autumn Light, and they are just plain gorgeous additions to this album.
Nowhere To Go
Lorna - Heart of Wire
This is Lorna’s third album on the Words On Music label. The collective from Nottingham, UK creates dreamy contemplative songs with shy vocals and delicate harmonies. I’ve read of some comparisons to Yo La Tenga, but Lorna’s instrumentation tends to be more complex, and chamber-like at times. I think that this is their most direct album of the three for Words On Music—their sound is more confident, but they haven’t lost the softness and (at times) melancholy of their lyrics. I think the strongest songs on this collection are As She Goes By, Old Shanklin Sunset and Mina and Marco (with a delightful melodic phrase sample borrowed from composer Edward Elgar).
Daphne Lee Martin - Moxie
A woman after my own heart—part record store owner, part musician; for many years, Daphne has been part of the New London, Connecticut-based band Raise The Rent. Moxie is the first of two releases (the forthcoming being Frost), and is a sultry collection of songs of the (only mildly) lurid backstreets of her imagination (with the added bonus of occasional Mellotron accompaniment!). There are shades of the cheekiness of the Squirrel Nut Zippers and the “heat” of mid-1970s Maria Muldaur in this well-produced album. I have an idea for what to expect from Frost—counterpoint!
Heligoland - Sainte Anne
Sainte Anne is the latest EP from the Paris-based Australian quartet known as Heligoland. Their work in the last few releases has come under the wispy spell of producer and musician Robin Guthrie (who also plays occasional keyboards and bass), so it was only natural that I try their work. My favorite tracks on this EP are Sleepless and 22 Miles—peaceful ethereal guitar and bass balanced with gently pulsing drums and Karen Vogt’s warm and full vocals (channeling, at times, the sound of Christine McVie with a bit of vibrato). Other band members are Dave Olliffe (guitars and keyboards), Steve Wheeler (bass) and new member Antti Mäkinen (drums and percussion). Their previous albums and EPs include: Bethmale (recorded in 2010 and released in 2012), All Your Ships Are White (2010) and A Street Between Us (2006).
Corazón from their album All Your Ships Are White
And even more wonderfully creative releases from the Flau label in Japan… I can’t possibly buy them all, so one must be…somewhat…selective.
The Boats - Our Small Ideas (2012 Edition)
I have thoroughly enjoyed the various releases by The Boats (Craig Tattersall and Andrew Hargreaves with Danny Norbury, Chris Stewart and others). Our Small Ideas is a re-release and enhancement of an original 2008 CD-R. Contained in this work are the often quirky and sometimes fragile and nascent threads of pieces to be released later (and some are quite recognizable). This album is not unlike the approach of CD #1 of Tape Loop Orchestra’s The Words On My Lips Is Your Name/The Burnley Brass Band Plays On In My Heart.
Sound samples are here (since The Boats seem to eschew Soundcloud): http://www.flau.jp/releases/r09.html
El Fog - Reverberate Slowly
This is a solo project of Berlin-based vibraphonist Masayoshi Fujita, a light blend of acoustic instrumentation with a tranquil late night aura of electronics and subtlest of glitchy rhythms.
Masayoshi Fujita – Stories
Stories is an album of solo acoustic vibraphone works (with occasional violin and cello). Whether struck gently (as in Snow Storm) or bowed (as in Cloud), Fujita paints vivid, yet tender sound pictures. Some pieces are rhythmically playful, and could form the foundations for musical conversations (much like those between Bill Bruford and Michiel Borstlap on their album Every Step A Dance, Every Word A Song). This is an appropriate soundtrack for gently falling snow. The album is beautifully mastered by Nils Frahm.
Swan and Morning Dews
Graham Gouldman – Love and Work
Graham Gouldman has been writing songs since the days of The Yardbirds (For Your Love), and many others like Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders, before formally crossing paths with Eric Stewart, Lol Creme and Kevin Godley (Hotlegs) who later became 10cc with a long string of albums with sharp, witty and often sardonic songs. Love And Work is an album of twelve beautifully crafted and wide-ranging songs.
The album dedicated to the memory of Andrew Gold, and the song Daylight is about Andrew. They worked together as the duo Wax and earlier on some of 10cc’s later albums.
I’ve seen Graham and Ron Sexsmith appear together on BBC Songwriters Circle programs. Perhaps Graham and Ron will work together someday…
For Your Love
Happy Listening–Stay Warm!
Thank you to all the artists and record labels for such wonderful and diverse music.
This is one list of many, it’s my list, and it leaves off many other favorites that I have enjoyed over the year in addition to the thousands of other albums and single tracks that make up music throughout the World. What has helped me arrive at this list is what I have always loved about music: Does it move me? In addition, is it creative, well recorded and produced with a degree of care that makes me pay attention to it? There was a time when I was obsessed with highly produced and tightly engineered works, then I learned about artists such as East River Pipe and Sparklehorse, and many other genres of music were opened to me.
If you don’t see your favorite album on this list (or even your own album), it doesn’t mean a thing. If an album has been reviewed on my website this year, it’s meaningful to many others and me, but this is only a very, very small slice of the music world. Often people ask me about new music, and what I recommend. When I started this website in late January, 2012 it was first a means to write about music that I enjoyed, but also to get to know other artists and learn about new music that they create, so I could pass it on. Often, the best new music is that referred by a friend. Please feel free to send me your comments and recommendations.
Special note: There are still three or four late 2012 releases that are either enroute to me, have yet to be released or have just arrived. I need to spend proper time listening to and absorbing these albums. Rather than delaying this list further, and if after listening to those last 2012 releases I feel that they hit a sweet spot, I’ll review those albums in early 2013. I know of at least two 2012 releases that I’ll likely not receive until 2013.
I have three categories: Albums (12), Individual Tracks (6), and Special Releases (3) that don’t necessarily fit into a category.
Albums (Artist – Album Title – Record Label)
1) Twigs & Yarn – The Language of Flowers – Flau
2) Lambchop – Mr. M – Merge Records
3) Zammuto – Zammuto – Temporary Residence
4) Steve Hackett – Genesis Revisited II – Inside Out Music
5) Taylor Deupree – Faint – 12k
6) Billow Observatory – Billow Observatory - Felte
7) Gareth Dickson – Quite A Way Away – 12k
8) Pill-Oh – Vanishing Mirror – Kitchen. Label
9) Brambles – Charcoal – Serein
10) Almost Charlie – Tomorrow’s Yesterday – Words On Music
11) Cody ChesnuTT – Landing On A Hundred – One Little Indian
12) Stick Men – Deep – Stick Men Records
Individual Tracks (from other albums)
1) Library Tapes – Sun peeking through (from the album Sun peeking through) – Self Released
2) Cock & Swan – Orange & Pink (from the album Stash) – Lost Tribe Sound
3) Alex Tiuniaev – Daylight (from the album Blurred) – Heat Death Records
4) Kyle Bobby Dunn – In Praise of Tears (from the album In Miserum Stercus) – Komino
5) Kane Ikin & David Wenngren – Chalk (from the album Strangers) – Keshhhhhh
6) Olan Mill – Bleu Polar (from the album Paths) – Fac-ture
1) Celer & Machinefabriek: Maastunnel/Mt. Mitake, Numa/Penarie, Hei/Sou – Self Released
2) Birds Of A Feather: Michael Frommer – The Great Northern Loon, Porya Hatami – The Black Woodpecker, Darren McClure – The Black Kite, The Green Kingdom – The Great Blue Heron – Flaming Pines
3) Simon Scott, Corey Fuller, Marcus Fischer, Tomoyoshi Date and Taylor Deupree (Recorded live in Japan October, 8, 2012) – Between (…The Branches) – 12k
Record Labels Noted Above
Merge Records: http://www.mergerecords.com/
Temporary Residence LTD: http://temporaryresidence.com/
Inside Out: http://www.insideoutmusic.com/
Kitchen. Label: http://www.kitchen-label.com/
Words On Music: http://www.words-on-music.com/
One Little Indian: http://indian.co.uk/shop/landing-on-a-hundred-1.html
Stick Men Records: http://stick-men.net
Library Tapes: http://librarytapes.com/
Lost Tribe Sound: http://www.cockandswan.com/ Note: I have not listed the weblink to the record label as Google has noted that the website MAY be compromised.
Heat Death Records: http://www.heatdeathrecords.co.uk/
Kesh (Simon Scott’s label): http://www.keshhhhhh.com/
Flaming Pines: http://flamingpines.com/
Record Label Website: http://www.kitchen-label.com/
Soundcloud Page (Excerpts of Albums): http://soundcloud.com/kitchen-label/sets
Available at: http://www.darla.com/
I am always on the lookout for new music, especially from record labels that are doing something different, something special, and I don’t mind spending extra money for well crafted, limited or richly illustrated art editions. In a way, it’s my reaction against the trend of digital only releases, which include not only music, but e-books (I still prefer finely crafted, bound books).
I’ve missed some of Kitchen. Label’s earlier releases that have gone out of print, but to date I have acquired four albums from their US distributor, Darla (their first release being in 2008 and they are an outgrowth of their design firm Kitchen, founded in 2005). K.L is based in Singapore and specializes in releasing art-editions of talented emerging artists, and label founders Ricks Ang and April Lee take great care in all aspects of their work, from the engineering of the recordings to the diverse and creative designs.
ASPIDISTRAFLY – A Little Fable – Kl-007 – 2011
ASPIDISTRAFLY is composer and vocalist April Lee and producer Ricks Ang, and their work tells charming and delicate stories. Their second album A Little Fable was released in 2011 and it has the presence of a secret garden. I find the depth and airy quality of Homeward Waltz to be particularly enchanting–it’s like chamber music. Their first album I Hold A Wish For You was also released on K.L.
Landscape With A Fairy
FJORDNE – Charles Rendition – Kl-006 – 2011
FJORDNE is the solo project of Tokyo-based composer, Fujimoto Shunichiro. His work has a timeless richness that is brought to life with acoustic instruments and a laptop computer. Music for a quiet night of contemplation. Charles Rendition is his 5th album.
Pill-Oh – Vanishing Mirror – Kl-010 – 2012
Pill-Oh consists of electronic artist Hior Chronik and classical pianist Zinovia Arvanitidi, both from Greece have been working together since 2009. They each have established solo careers of composing for theater, film, documentaries, and art performances. Zinovia is recording her 2nd solo orchestral album, to be released within 2012. Their album Vanishing Mirror is like the soft and hopeful first-light of a spring day. The feeling is sometimes reflective, but not sentimental. In this music there is restful comfort along with accomplished musicianship. The track Melodico is my favorite.
Szymon Kaliski – From Scattered Accidents – KL-011 – 2012
Szymon Kaliski is a multi-media artist from Poland. From Scattered Accidents is his fourth album. His work combines familiar acoustic and invented instrumentation. His work has a tranquility that often evokes a suspension of time within a vast sonic depth of field.
Interlude I (with Peter Broderick)
The music at Kitchen. Label is never strident, but it can challenge some norms of straight-up ambient, post-classical or electro-acoustic genres. There are even some jazz influences (FJORDNE, especially), yet the compositions are often ethereal and filled with memories of nature and surroundings of daily life—rediscovering the forgotten in the familiar.
InsideOut Music 0506240 (Ltd 2 CD & Book, also 2 CD & 4 LP)
Time: CD 1: 73:18 CD 2: 71:27 minutes
Record Label Website:
Photos of Musicians on the Album:
Tracks CD 1: 1) The Chamber of 32 Doors; 2) Horizons; 3) Supper’s Ready; 4) The Lamia; 5) Dancing With the Moonlit Knight; 6) Fly on a Windshield; 7) Broadway Melody of 1974; 8) The Musical Box; 9) Can-utility and the Coastliners; 10) Please Don’t Touch
Tracks CD 2: 1) Blood on the Rooftops; 2) The Return of the Giant Hogweed; 3) Entangled; 4) Eleventh Earl of Mar; 5) Ripples; 6) Unquiet Slumbers for the Sleepers…; 7) …In That Quiet Earth; 8) Afterglow; 9) A Tower Struck Down; 10) Camino Royale; 11) Shadow of the Hierophant
It has been 16 years and many life changes since the last Genesis Revisited album by Steve Hackett (subtitled Watcher of the Skies) in 1996. Although the span of time recounted musically is similar, 1971 through 1976; the breadth of the work on GRII is far more comprehensive. It’s also worth noting that in 1987 Steve was a special guest on an orchestral reinterpretation album of Genesis work, We Know What We Like: The Music of Genesis (led by arranger David Palmer conducting The London Symphony Orchestra), although in that case it includes works after Steve had left the band (from albums And Then There Were Three and Duke). On that album is perhaps the best example of how well the work of Genesis transfers to an orchestral format: Can-utility and the Coastliners. As much as I love the instrumental section with waves of Mellotron on the original recording, the full orchestra adds great depth and power to that track.
I’ve read (and I’m paraphrasing) that Steve didn’t want to literally re-record these works (as some Genesis tribute bands so painstakingly perform), rather enhance them with the lens of time, since many were recorded somewhat hastily between concert tours in the 1970s. Another added benefit is that some recording technologies have improved, and this is quite clear in the warmth and clarity of GRII. Frankly, I rather liked many of the reinterpretations on the last GR album, and there was the added track Déjà vu originally penned by Peter Gabriel and SH, then set-aside, to be revived and beautifully completed with Paul Carrack’s vocals.
As much as I wanted the limited 4 LP vinyl set, I opted for the 2 CD version along with the extensively illustrated and annotated small format hardbound book—a quite worthy trade-off (designed by Harry Pearce of Pentagram Design). It’s clear that this album was an enormous undertaking (with a special mention for the co-production, recording and mixing by collaborator and keyboardist, Roger King), with some 30 guest musicians and vocalists (including brother John Hackett, SH Band alum Nick Magnus, and the members of the most recent touring and recording SH Band: Roger King, Gary O’Toole, Nick Beggs, Amanda Lehmann and Rob Townsend). I have provided a link above to a page on the SH Website showing a complete list (with photos) of all who participated on GRII. A matrix of the album track performers in included in the credits.
Throughout the album there are a number of acoustic guitar introductions (like the opening to the potent The Chamber of 32 Doors), variations and electric guitar solo fills by Steve that are not on the original recordings; they reflect journeys and musical influences from his many years as an artist. Horizons and Supper’s Ready are preserved in their pairing from the original Side B of Foxtrot. The solo acoustic guitar of Horizons has long been a mainstay of Steve’s live shows since the early days of his solo career, and here it’s just as pure, unrushed and striking as a morning sunrise or evening sunset at one’s favorite place to be. The vocals and instruments on Supper’s Ready are powerful, clear and Steve’s guitar is “up” in the mix (as it is on much of the album). The treatment greatly invigorates the original, and made me want to take the time to listen to the entirety of the track repeatedly. The Apocalypse in 9/8 and the closing section of As sure as eggs is eggs (aching men’s feet) just sends chills up the spine as from those concert days long ago.
The purity of Nik Kershaw’s vocals on The Lamia is different from Peter Gabriel’s more raspy treatment of the song, and to my ear it’s a stunning performance (brighter than the original). Again, the instrumentals have a clarity superior to the original (although, I’ll never turn my back on the Charisma/ATCO recording of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway—too many aural historic memories there). SH’s closing solo echoes the original while adding a smooth lyricism. I’d be interested in knowing how and why Kershaw was chosen for the track. After a brief acoustic guitar link of Greensleeves, Francis Dunnery’s (It Bites et al) vocals on Dancing With the Moonlit Knight are probably the closest to channeling Peter Gabriel and the Selling England by the Pound performance as on any of the album’s tracks. As has been the case during recent concerts, drummer Gary O’Toole performs the vocals on the Lamb’s two tracks Fly on a Windshield and Broadway Melody of 1974. Both are broad and authoritative performances. O’Toole’s voice is his own.
I have always wondered why Anthony Phillips isn’t credited as a songwriter on The Musical Box, since he and Mike Rutherford wrote and recorded the early demos in 1968, when the track was known as F Sharp, but anyway… TMB opens with an almost Raymond Scott-like musical box fantasy, before entering into the realm of the long ago Nursery Cryme album. Sung by Nad Sylvan (who also provides vocals on Chamber and Eleventh Earl), this interpretation has an intimate sound, chamber-music-like, with clustered and freer vocals, before breaking into the raucous guitar-centric bridge and to the familiar closing that was performed in concerts during the mid to late 1970s.
As noted above, I think one of the most powerful and diverse Genesis tracks from the early days, which is frequently overshadowed by Watcher of the Skies or Supper’s Ready, is Can-utility and the Coastliners. Steven Wilson (solo and Porcupine Tree) provides the vocals. This version has the “soft bits and loud bits” and combines the oceanic strings (violins/violas) and bass pedals with the rawness of Foxtrot. Please Don’t Touch (from the 1978 album) closes CD 1 and was a track originally to have been linked with the instrumental Wot Gorilla on the 1976 album Wind and Wuthering. One of the reasons SH left Genesis (well documented) was he felt at that time his contributions to the band were being overlooked, so when he appeared officially as a solo artist, this track was the perfect, aptly named, composition to strike out on his own. It has had many incarnations, including sections of a 1986 track Hackett to Bits from the eponymous GTR album with Steve Howe et al. I remember concerts from the late 1970s and early 80s that would end with this track at ear-splitting volumes. This version is dark and authoritative.
CD 2 contains many tracks co-written with single Genesis members rather than the full band (exception is Hogweed and In That Quiet Earth), and one of my personal favorites is the timeless (and still topical) track penned with Phil Collins, Blood on the Rooftops. For years, SH played small sections of this track as a teaser during his acoustic “breaks” at concerts, and then in the early 2000s, the full track appeared in concerts and live recordings. This piece has a great deal of meaning to me—like entering a time machine to another place. Steve opens with a small fantasy on his nylon string guitar before the track begins, and I consider it a great gift to his fans that it has been recorded again (vocals by Gary O’Toole and woodwinds by Rob Townsend).
The Return of the Giant Hogweed is a different type of track in the Genesis oeuvre that starts with an attack (or rather, an infestation!). It also displays SH’s early fret-tapping technique. Although this video is not the recording from the album, it has a similar spirit and same vocalist, Neal Morse (taken from the 2010 High Voltage Festival by Transatlantic with SH as the guest guitarist).
Entangled was written by Hackett and Tony Banks—the dreams and nightmares of an altered mind. The vocals (fuller than on A Trick of the Tail) are by Jakko Jakszyk with backing vocals by Amanda Lehmann (guitarist and vocalist in the SH Band, and Jo Hackett’s sister). Eleventh Earl of Mar (Banks, Hackett, Rutherford) has a much deeper and clearer sound that I always found lacking in the original recording (and all of the reissues…for some reason the David Hentschel engineering that sounded so great in the Seconds Out live album, just sounded so flat and compressed). Nad Sylvan also adds layers to the spirit of the original Phil Collins vocal harmonies and channels the voice of Noel McCalla at times. Nick Beggs’ bass energetically drives the piece. Amanda Lehmann skillfully adapts the Collins’ vocals on Ripples, adding lyrical depth to the chorus (also a tribute to the engineering, recording and mixing of co-producer Roger King). The instrumental sections are faithful to the original. Lehmann returns again on the closing track Shadow of the Hierophant, which was co-written by SH and Mike Rutherford on Hackett’s first solo album from 1975, Voyage of the Acolyte.
Grouped together are (Hackett and Rutherford’s) Unquiet Slumbers for the Sleepers…, followed by the group-written …In That Quiet Earth, and Tony Banks’s deeply melancholic Afterglow, the closing tracks of the last official album that Hackett recorded with Genesis (excluding the 1977, 12 inch EP Spot The Pigeon). SH improvises more freely on his guitar in …Quiet Earth and the solos that close (including Rob Townsend’s soprano sax) are more rugged than the original. The strong and familiar voice of John Wetton anchors the close of the trio from W&W.
It’s exciting to hear a reinvented A Tower Struck Down (from 1975’s VotA) with a true orchestral opening (Dick Driver on double bass, Rachel Ford on cello, Christine Townsend on violin and viola and John Hackett on flute). The solid bones of the Tower from Acolyte are present, but in a completely different, even darker skin. Steve Hackett notes that he had dreams of Genesis playing the chorus of Camino Royale (written by SH & Nick Magnus). This track dates from the 1982 solo album Highly Strung, and was always a great concert piece, from when Nick collaborated with Steve in the late 1970s and 1980s—full of spirit and rhythmic precision, a great addition to this collection. This track also includes jazz influences from the Hungarian band Djabe (Steve has collaborated with Djabe on some of their recent albums and concerts). As does Voyage of the Acolyte, Genesis Revisited II closes with Shadow of the Hierophant. This version is more up-tempo and potent, and Rob Townsend’s flute peregrinates throughout the shadows. It closes as it has since it was first recorded with the hierophant traveling on the long journey of seeking and interpreting the sacred and the arcane.
The one thing some (purist) listeners might find missing in GRII is the grittiness of the original recordings, but the defects of these compositions from long ago have been deftly exorcized, and the sonic foundations treated with such care that Hackett not only preserves the legacy of his former band, but enhances it for future listeners. These recordings are not meant to replace the originals; they are akin to variations by composers of the past. In a way, Steve Hackett is the archivist of the musical spirit of Genesis from that time. Sit back and enjoy this brilliantly crafted set of recordings with all the 21st century enhancements. You will not be disappointed.
The Hackett Band will be on tour with many of these recordings in Europe, the UK and America in 2013. I can’t wait!
Backwater Records OLKCD023 – Time: About 42 minutes (CD & Digital Files)
Record Label Website: http://www.backwaterrecords.com/
Tracks: 1) You’re Just A Bloke; 2) All In A Garden; 3) The Old Queen’s Head; 4) There’s Something Wrong With Ted; 5) The Cold Night Is Over; 6) Marrers; 7) My Old Bike; 8) You’re Just A Bloke (Ted); 9) Moon Waltz; 10) Ever True; 11) Sally; 12) Bittersweet; 13) Ted’s Funeral Music
I find it hard to believe that my original LP copy of Apollo (Brian Eno, Daniel Lanois and Roger Eno) will be thirty years old in 2013, but there it is—one of the great albums of the ambient music genre. When I think of Roger Eno’s music over the years, three words come to mind: thoughtful, quirky and sometimes playful. Whether lyric or instrumental, RE’s works tell stories that can either be tightly sewn threads or loosely knitted yarns. Often, the subjects are quiet ruminations, but they can also be spirited and cheerful. His works can also be rather enigmatic, as noted in an autobiographical analysis from his website: [He is] “On an ongoing and heterogeneous musical journey which twists and turns and goes whichever way you think it won’t.”
Roger Eno entered the professional music scene with Apollo after music lessons and college to study music (as a multi-instrumentalist and singer), as well as running a music therapy course at a local hospital. In addition to working with his brother Brian, Roger has collaborated with artists including Bill Nelson, Kate St. John, Lol Hammond, Peter Hammill and Michael Brook, and has provided soundtracks for films and advertisements.
RE’s most memorable albums for me (of his 25 or so) include: Voices (1985), The Familiar (w/ Kate St. John, 1993), Automatic and Excellent Spirits (both with Channel Light Vessel, 1994 and 1996), Lost In Translation (1995), Swimming (1996), The Music of Neglected English Composers (1997), and more recently Fragile (Music) (2005), Anatomy (2008) and Flood (2008, a reinterpretation of a soundtrack constructed for Salthouse Art Festival in North Norfolk). I hope that Roger works again with Kate St. John and Bill Nelson; their work together on The Familiar is some of the most touching and enchantingly inspired work that I have in my music collection.
Ted Sheldrake is a departure from Roger Eno’s instrumental ambient work; originally a quiet neighbor and later a friend, it’s a tribute to a life, and even though it takes place in recent times, it could have just as easily taken place a hundred years ago—in many respects it did. It’s a familiar story in literature as well. In Victorian times, Richard Jefferies told the stories of common labourers, from the farm fields in his books like Green Ferne Farm, Round About A Great Estate (both from 1880), The Life Of The Fields (1884), and in newspaper articles during that time in the late 19th century. In the first half of the 20th century Henry Williamson also wrote of life in a West Devon village known as Ham (The Village Book and The Labouring Life in 1930 and 1932, respectively) and described the country life in the narrow village streets, fields and hedgerows, “local colour”, and stories of the “everyman”.
The compiled, mostly song-oriented work traces Ted in East Anglia (Suffolk and Norfolk, UK), being from a family of hearty stock, farm labourers and fishermen, and he spent his years working on an estate and living in a village where the pace of life was slower and the work was hard, but satisfying. In his younger days Ted learned to play a melodeon (hand organ), and as the years passed he became known for composing and performing songs in local pubs and village halls. In his later years, following his retirement, TS suffered the loss of his beloved wife, and something changed in him and it comes through in his music.
The album is divided, the way I see it, into two sections (observations and then reflections) and includes a number of recordings (songs, spoken word with accompaniment, and instrumental) made on location with cast of characters and talent connected to his life.
You’re Just A Bloke is an introduction to Ted’s work through the voices of others; a group interpretation of this universal and common man. This is the first indication that Ted’s work and life isn’t embellished with ornate descriptions, he’s the “real stuff”, with genuine words. Village life includes folks gathering in thatched cob or flint-walled cottages, village halls or pubs, and the jolly and perceptive All In A Garden brings this experience to life. Ted’s songs are also a bit like tiny memoirs, recounting special occasions and getting spiffed-up for The Old Queen’s Head.
As time passes, Ted’s meager existence and loss of friends weighs on him. Some around him sense a change in his countenance. There’s Something Wrong With Ted tells the worry of a friend, layered austerely with piano and a keyboard. The Cold Night Is Over is the beginning of Ted’s reflections of melancholy and pastoral memories of the farm fields and long views to the sea. Marrers (marrows or zucchinis) is perhaps the most beautiful track on the album—deeply reflective, and one of the main reasons Ted would still rise in the morning—for his garden; at first a lone piano, then an open and sincere expression of longing. The melodic theme is expanded modestly (and somewhat cheerfully at first), this time overlaid with memories in My Old Bike. Ted’s is a simple life in the village, never needing to leave East Anglia, and now missing his dear wife.
The original version of You’re Just A Bloke is rendered by Ted—directly, perhaps even more so than Hemingway. The last section of songs (with piano) present Ted’s most personal feelings, the endearing yet untrained voice, and uncomplicated romanticism of Moon Waltz and Ever True. Sally is an instrumental tribute to his wife, which is proud and forthright. Bittersweet is apparently Ted’s last song, interpreted by an ensemble of his mates (documented by local schoolteacher Miss Kemp—Ted didn’t write music, he just played it). The final tribute to his life is the piece Ted’s Funeral Music, which sounds like it’s played on an old harmonium or church organ.
So, slow the world down, set a spell, and get to know Ted Sheldrake and his humble existence. He might turn out to be someone you know, and it’s a simply delightful chronicle.
Ted Sheldrake will be released on January 7th, 2013.
Karaoke Kalk 69LP – Time: About 34 minutes (LP, CD & Digital Files)
Record Label Website:
Recorded & Mixed By: Florian Frenzel & Will Samson Mastered By: Nils Frahm
Tracks: 1) Oceans Are Wilder; 2) Cathedrals; 3) Hunting Shadows; 4) Eat Sleep Travel, Repeat; 5) Painting A Horizon; 6) Music For Autumn; 7) Storms Above The Submarine; 8) Dusty Old Plane
Some may recall my review of Will Samson’s last album Hello Friends, Goodbye Friends (there’s a link to it on the right of this page, near the bottom of the list or use the Search box). HFGF was timely; it rang like a beacon of hope. It was a pretty special thing to think that a 20-something had such an affect on this 50-something, but there are all kinds of wisdom floating around and sometimes age really doesn’t matter. I don’t mind admitting this at all, as it has been music that has helped me at many times throughout my journey in this life. So, at the first mention from Will that he had another album in the works, I was excited; resisting temptation to listen to early previews, preferring to wait for its full and formal release. So, I ordered the LP, with the striking cover photo by Scott McClarin.
It was worth the wait.
From the first celeste (vibraphone?) notes and soft vocal harmonies of Oceans Are Wilder, I knew that there was a great synergy in Will’s work with Florian Frenzel and Nils Frahm—complementing the music and lyrics so well. As the album progresses it moves from a soft state of consciousness to a deeper meditation (with one brief diversion). There is a lovely balance of instrumentation, vocals, ambient sounds and the outdoors. These are songs of friendship, strange journeys, and visits to places real and imagined. The mix of six vocal songs and two instrumental respites is a bit like Nick Drake’s second album, Bryter Layter.
Samson continues to use his upper register (and falsetto) voices prominently, although there are times when full-throated harmonies are blended. Vocals are also fuller in the mix of this album, and the overall sound is different; the result of using venerable analogue equipment, tapes (old cassettes, a Tascam 8-track) and working with Florian Frenzel’s salvaged organs, analogue tape delays and old microphones.
The ambiance of the analogue equipment is strongly present in Cathedrals, it gives a misty quality to the sound, a sense of the ancient, like the foxed pages and deckled-edges of aged books or the opening title sequence to an old film. In particular, I think the layering of sound is particularly strong, starting with simple acoustic guitar, then unadorned vocals, then vocal harmonies added ending with the lyric “That spin so separately…” and then an abrupt and lyrical chord change into “Impossible became much easier…” and shifting to an electric guitar drone to the end—it’s mystical and soulful.
Hunting Shadows is an outdoor walk, and the music and treatments take the place of moving light, shadows and the lightly moving breezes of a new day. Eat Sleep Travel, Repeat has the ambiance of being aboard a ship at sea late into the night, composing (acoustic) music by candlelight and the stars, with slow swaying movements, as does the more electric (with broad vocal harmonies) Painting A Horizon. The trombone solo in Eat Sleep is an impeccable complement as are the banjo and cello on Painting. There are similarities with the more plaintive side two of Brian Eno’s album Before and After Science, the three tracks Julie With…, By This River, and Spider and I.
Eat Sleep Travel, Repeat (Premiere Video)
The second instrumental piece (again, with cello) on the album is Music For Autumn. It’s as if the sun is lowering in the cool night sky and as the track closes, Samson adds a warming chorus of voices. The brief diversion noted above is Storms Above The Submarine, which starts playfully, with furtive notes, sounding a bit like some sonic experiments of Raymond Scott. Then a somber throaty organ mixes with Will’s overdubbed voices (which are treated to sound a bit like a mournful saxophone) and altered guitars. Dusty Old Plane (and oh so beautiful, it is) closes the album, with practically a whisper of droning keyboard, reverberant electric and acoustic guitars and Samson’s harmonies. Listen carefully; there are birds in the background. This peaceful track is a sonic blessing, and a farewell of sorts. I also note that this album is dedicated to his father.
Please keep making music Will; you have a true gift.
A postscript: I have only one (hopefully received as constructive) comment on what is otherwise a brilliant album, and that is to recommend to not let the desire to use aged and lumbering analogue equipment for ambiance shroud the quality and beauty of the music too much.
Hibernate Recordings - HB43: Time: 41:27 – Edition of 250 – Cover photo by Chris Gowers
Record Label Website: http://hibernate-recs.co.uk
More background information on the album: http://hibernate-recs.co.uk/releases/caught-in-the-wake-forever-against-a-simple-wooden-cross/
1) Scottish Grief; 2) The Quiet Beauty Of The Northern Lakes; 3) Waiting Rooms & Chemists; 4) After The Blackout; 5) Western Medicine Failed Me; 6) Last Of The Heroin; 7) Point Sands
Caught In The Wake Forever is the nom de plume of Fraser McGowan, who lives in Paisley, Scotland where he composes and records his works at home. McGowan has been recording music in various incarnations since 1998. I recently became acquainted with CITWF’s work through a Hibernate Recordings collaboration with Yellow6 (Jon Attwood), entitled The Slow Manipulation Of Dying Light (now sold out, but digital files are still available for download). And so, I started to dig further…
McGowan’s latest album, Against A Simple Wooden Cross is a surprisingly open and stark account of his recovery from a lifelong affliction with chronic anxiety, and ultimately a complete mental breakdown in 2011. As is often the case, the crash was not only debilitating to him, but also to family and friends (and I suspect the title of the album is a reaction to those who don’t often understand all the circumstances; a feeling of guilt that can also hinder recovery).
Despair and melancholy permeate this album. Recordings vary from a six month period when McGowan was heavily medicated to a time when more effective alternate methods of treatment were found. As a result those pieces are more hopeful as resolve and clarity develop. There is also an ancient and timeless quality to the album (similar to Cock and Swan’s album Stash and other works by Sparklehorse AKA Mark Linkous…oh, I miss ML). In this case, it is the concept that recovery takes time, time for a worthwhile cause—rebuilding a life worth saving, on one’s own terms.
I am also attracted to this album in a similar way that I admire self-examination in the works of East River Pipe (F. M. Cornog); although the songwriting and atmospheric approaches are quite different. In particular, the stark simplicity of penultimate song on the album, Last Of The Heroin. Not being fully aware of all the circumstances (and not wanting to speculate blindly), I have made some notes on some of the tracks, but I think that some interpretation is best left to the individual listener.
Scottish Grief opens with field recordings from a holiday before his breakdown. As the tragic nature of the events is revealed, the piece transforms into a dirge. Conflict grows represented by increasing dissonance and ultimately a shredding electric guitar. Despite dealing with conflicting feelings and thoughts, there is a determination to keep moving and not give up, even at this early stage. The track builds in layers slowly, perhaps symbolic of the pace of treatment, and closes with an excerpt from (what appears to be) a demo where it is evident that hopelessness still weighs heavily.
The Quiet Beauty Of The Northern Lakes opens with a simple rhythm and acoustic guitar, where re-building a life begins. The struggles are evident: “It’s hard to keep a light on…” Eventually, piano and keyboards layer with McGowan’s almost-whispered vocals and a chorus of a Gizmo-like (bowed) electric guitar. Waiting Rooms & Chemists is atmospheric with acoustic guitar, and the feeling of endless waiting and being alone. After The Blackout starts with melodic rhythmic blips and then blends acoustic guitar and vocals. The track is reminiscent of Recorded With You In Mind (from the 2011 EP All The Hurt That Hinders Home**). Western Medicine Failed Me is instrumental, with acoustic guitar and a veil of electric guitar reminiscent of Frippertronics in Robert Fripp’s 1979 album Exposure (that which simmers below the surface).
Point Sands closes the album, and it appears to look back on the beginning of the journey to getting well, and as I understand it, the title of this track is taken from the location heard in the field recordings in Scottish Grief; a pleasant memory perhaps held onto and another piece of the journey back. Some might feel that this album goes too far into the abyss of despair and is too personal, but it is also the case that music such as this occupies a space that seldom gets explored, or even understood, as it is often hushed with whispers.
**Recorded With You In Mind from the EP All The Hurt That Hinders Home:
This is a solicited review.
Esoteric Antenna/Cherry Red Label: CD/LP/Stereo/5.1Mix EANTCD #21002 46:20
Label Website: http://cherryred.co.uk/
Chris Squire Website: http://www.chrissquire.com/
Steve Hackett Website: http://www.hackettsongs.com/
Squackett Website: http://www.squackett.com/
Tracks: 1) A Life Within A Day; 2) Tall Ships; 3) Divided Self; 4) Aliens; 5) Sea Of Smiles; 6) The Summer Backwards; 7) Stormchaser; 8) Can’t Stop the Rain; 9) Perfect Love Song
Collaborators include: Roger King (album producer, keyboards, programming, and 5.1 Surround Sound Mix), Jeremy Stacey (drums), Amanda Lehmann (backing vocals), Christine Townsend (violin and viola), Richard Stewart (cello) and Dick Driver (double bass). Songwriting credits are Hackett/Squire/King with Nick Clabburn on Divided Self, _?_ Healy on Aliens, Gerard Johnson/Simon Sessler on Can’t Stop the Rain and Johnson on Perfect Love Song
It took a while to get to these fair shores, and I resisted listening to the previews…
Progressive Rock is by now a fairly broad genre and I am quite happy that it has seen resurgence in popularity recently, with both younger and older listeners (thanks in part to artists like Steven Wilson and Porcupine Tree). At its worst, some Prog Rock tracks can carry on far too long and collapse under the weight of their own bombast, instrumentation or blatant commercialism, and at best can yield some really inventive music, pulling from a variety of influences and periods (rock, blues, folk, classical, instrumental, vocal…). This is not at all to say that longer pieces are all bad—far from it (my lasting fondness for the Genesis works Firth of Fifth or Cinema Show support this). Since my primary experience over the years has been with the works of Steve Hackett and Genesis, my point of reference is more Hackett than with Chris Squire and his band Yes.
This has been a busy and very productive time for Steve Hackett (SH), since the release of his album Out Of The Tunnel’s Mouth in 2010. Chris Squire (CS) appeared, somewhat mysteriously, on the tracks Fire on the Moon and Nomads, and again on the 2011 SH album Beyond the Shrouded Horizon on tracks Looking For Fantasy, Catwalk, Turn This Island Earth and bonus CD tracks Four Winds: North and Enter The Night. Some may recall my recent review of SH’s album Beyond the Shrouded Horizon:
The Squackett project had apparently been brewing for about four years while SH could settle personal matters and scheduling with CS. I more or less parted ways with the works of the band Yes at about the same time that Bill Bruford left for King Crimson; I remained laterally interested in their subsequent releases and followed Jon Anderson’s earlier solo career before his work got a bit too mystical for my taste (although I enjoyed much of Anderson’s collaborative work with Vangelis).
Chris Squire’s work comprises some twenty studio albums, ten live albums and numerous compilations with Yes in addition to his three solo albums and many collaborative works with Rick Wakeman and others. The Yes Album is perhaps my strongest connection to CS’s work. The song I’ve Seen All Good People, and in particular part b: All Good People (penned by Squire) and then later the driving bass line in the song Roundabout from the 1971 album Fragile.
As for Steve Hackett, in his long career, he has constantly reinvented and explored many music genres, styles and formats (having practically invented the “unplugged” album with the acoustic/instrumental Bay Of Kings in 1983). SH has also explored shorter format songwriting, having penned beautiful ballads like the early Hoping Love Will Last (from Please Don’t Touch) to the sardonic Little America (from Guitar Noir).
A Life Within A Day may be too song-oriented for diehard Prog Rock fans that desire longer instrumental works. With one exception, eight of the nine songs vary from four to six minutes in length. Squire, Hackett and Roger King (long-time SH collaborator) have produced an album of concise, well-crafted and accessible songs. For the most part, the album takes few breaks and stays sharp with minimal forays into a more (and often dreaded, in Prog Rock circles) “commercial” sound. I appreciate that the songs are for the most part NOT overly polished; there are some rough edges, quick key and rhythm changes (Jazz and Blues fills). There are enough familiar Prog Rock elements present for this album to strike a successful balance between the shorter format and instrumentation.
A Life Within A Day: Although not as stark in instrumentation or spoken-word, the opener has an air of the SH song Darktown about it; majestic opening, sudden rhythm shifts, aggressive percussion, sharp guitar, bass solos and SH’s clustered vocals with Roger King’s sinister (and familiar) orchestral production. This is the most aggressive track on the album.
Tall Ships: A nylon string guitar opening followed by vamping guitar, bass and percussion riffs (constructed similarly to works penned by Mike Rutherford, but with sounds of Robert Fripp and Bill Nelson-like guitars) sail with this ocean-going journey. CS’s vocals coupled with a rather catchy rhythm, guitar reminiscent of Steve Winwood’s album Arc of a Diver followed by a broad vocal chorus—funky too.
Divided Self: Instantly, The Byrds Turn, Turn, Turn comes to mind—homage to the 1960s? SH sings lead vocals with an infectious rhythm, catchy and quick guitar solo chorus and melodic bass line. Following the main part of the song there is a hauntingly playful ending like that of SH’s Circus of Becoming (with whistling). Some might also notice a similarity to the Genesis song Tell Me Why. This is a great song!
Not An Official Video
Aliens: CS is the primary vocalist and there are times that this easily could be heard as a Yes track (the vocal chorus is akin to Jon Anderson’s sound); the lyrics being of future travels and science fiction. The keyboard opening is a bit timid. This also has a sound that is similar to the opening SH’s Loch Lomond (acoustic guitars sounding a bit like zithers). It remains relatively tame. Layered vocals and guitar solo fills.
Sea Of Smiles: Clustered vocal opening, melodic percussion, keyboards, bass line, up-tempo rhythm that repeats. A guitar solo coda that eventually develops into a dense almost relentless rhythm similar to Group Therapy from SH’s 1982 album Highly Strung.
The Summer Backwards: Is the shortest track on the album and it has a comfortable and reflective quality. The opening is very similar to one of my favorite vocal pieces by SH, Serpentine Song, descriptive of the scene—almost a waltz (trading three and four beats)—no pencil-grey days here though.
Stormchaser: Guitar, bass and drums open with more sinister vocal treatments; reminiscent of Duel from Till We Have Faces. It is the sound of raucous pursuit.
Can’t Stop the Rain: CS is lead vocalist, and at first the processed vocals threw me (auto-tune I find to be a bit distracting), and then the pleasantly layered vocal chorus by Amanda Lehmann washed that feeling away and the contrast seems to fit. It has a rather relaxing, but steady beat with Jazzy acoustic guitar fills. It then shifts to a more somber mood as it blends into a reflective…
Perfect Love Song: This piece seems to me to be more of a building coda to Can’t Stop the Rain than a stand-alone song. The vocals are shared by SH & CS.
Long distance and long-term collaborations are often tricky (compromises made and sometimes continuity lost). At times, A Life Within A Day seems a bit safe for Hackett, Squire and King aka Squackett who have been known as musical innovators throughout their careers. Yet it is a spirited gateway to the rest of their collective works and a solid introduction, I think, to a wider audience. A great change of pace, and I enjoyed many of the songs on this album, almost immediately.
Will the Circle be Unbroken
On Capitol Nashville, various artists (Nitty Gritty Dirt Band et al…cast of many)
In honor of the passing of Doc Watson I’ve been listening to this (two CD set from 2002). It was originally released in 1972 as 3 LPs and 3 cassette tapes (my LPs were long ago worn out). My favorite is Doc Watson’s version of the Jimmie Driftwood song Tennessee Stud.
Dictaphone – Poems From A Rooftop
#sonicpieces013 – http://sonicpieces.com/sonicpieces013.html
The title taken from Iran’s Green Revolution…more on the album at the link above. Really interesting sonics, rhythms, instrumentation and delightfully quirky. My favorite on the album is Manami.
Video of the handmade limited edition CD cover:
Brian McBride - The Effective Disconnect
Kranky #KRANK150 – http://www.kranky.net/
Music composed for the documentary Vanishing of the Bees
One half of the duo Stars of the Lid. A really beautiful soundtrack and I’d love to find the film.
Small Color - In Light
Yusuke Onishi and Rie Yoshihara, really charming minimal electro-acoustic Japanese pop.
And then there’s this gem of an album…
Aspidistrafly – A Little Fable
The first edition has sold out. So a second edition of 2,500 copies will be released shortly. Both the book and music have a delightfully ancient quality about them. Ambient sounds, chamber music, vocals and electro-acoustic music. As one friend put it, “…it’s a lovely album.” It really is. There are sound samples at the link above.
This is available at: http://darla.com/
Homeward Waltz is my favorite piece:
CD #LTS0011: Total Time: 43:25
Artist Website: http://www.cockandswan.com/
Record Label: http://losttribesound.com/
Recorded by: http://dandeliongold.com/
Tracks: 1) Sneak Close; 2) Stash; 3) Raging Chisel; 4) Sympethizer; 5) Happy Thoughts; 6) Unrecognized; 7) Unserious; 8) Clear Sighing; 9) Remember Sweet; 10) I Let Me In; 11) Orange and Pink; 12) Walking Up Dandelions
Bonus MP3 EP: 1) Comfort Zone 2 (acoustic); 2) Raging Chisel; 3) Stash (Part Timer Remix); 4) End Sinister; 5) Random tracking; 6) Soft Setting; 7) Stash (Vieo Abiungo Remix)
Not so long ago I took a chance on purchasing an album based on a brief write-up and it turned out to be a real gem— Will Samson’s Hello Friends, Goodbye Friends. It has happened again with Cock and Swan’s Stash. I read a summary, and I also noticed the great care that Lost Tribe Sound had put into their limited edition release (cloth binding with mixed hand made papers). I could not resist, and what an enchanting surprise this album is.
Cock and Swan are Johnny Goss (bass, guitar, percussion, vocals and production) and Ola Hungerford (vocals, piano and clarinet). Supporting musicians include, Adam Kozie (drums), William Ryan Fritch (vibraphone, marimba, saxophone, flute and cello). Paintings are by Robert Klein and photography by Angel Ceballos.
Photo courtesy of Cock and Swan
There is something delightfully ancient and psychedelic about Stash. I won’t dwell for too long on what other albums I am reminded of—the percussion (including deep bass drums), woodwinds, soft and dreamy vocals. First, the ballads feel like they are drawn from the same cloth as Comin’ Back to Me from Surrealistic Pillow by the Jefferson Airplane (1967). Second, the drums—rough, full and sometimes behind the beat are very close to Michael Giles on both Cadence and Cascade from In The Wake of Poseidon by King Crimson (1970) and the alternate lyric version (by B. P. Fallon instead of Peter Sinfield) Flight of the Ibis from the eponymous album McDonald and Giles (also from 1970).
Some of the tracks on this album are acoustic remakes of more obscure electronic versions from their two prior albums (Unrecognized, Unserious, Sympethizer, I Let Me In, Stash, Tectonic Plates). It is evident that Cock and Swan were searching for a sound to fit the songs and I think in this album they have found it—softer, comfortable and more accessible (and with a hint of the sadly departed Sparklehorse).
Sneak Close and Stash both have guitars sounding like dulcimers, drum sticks counting time, whispering woodwinds, Ola Hungerford’s ethereal vocals and the overall sound of an old music box working against its well-used mainspring. Raging Chisel is an excellent combination of the obscure and edgy sounds of their earlier albums woven with melodic instrumental and vocal passages. Sympethizer is a short instrumental and Happy Thoughts moves slowly with a contrasting faster interlocking rhythm and subtle use of electronics. Tectonic Plates has a lush beat, sounds are layered (ambient and instrumental) and Ola’s voice floats in between. It’s easy to be drawn into this peaceful and dreamy realm.
The drums are strong, but never overpowering on Unrecognized and there is a charming mix with ambient sounds and solo acoustic guitar. The largely instrumental Unserious has a stately piano backdrop with woodwinds and soft percussion. Clear Sighing is a short instrumental percussion and woodwind link leading into the vocally and instrumentally beautiful Remember Sweet (with one of my favorite touches…a background of pin-piano during the choruses). I Let Me In has a rhythmically languid, but swaying vibe.
The standout piece on this album for me is Orange and Pink. Acoustic guitar, mallet-struck percussion and piano start with lightly teasing interplay until Ola and Johnny’s vocals feather into the mix and then yield to a hovering piano counterpoint before fading—it’s simply gorgeous. The album closes with the soft anthem Walking Up Dandelions, a combination of many of the sounds throughout the album.
While the arrangements are relatively simple throughout, the layering of the instruments, vocals and ambient surroundings give the album a lush quality. My only wish?—that a lyrics sheet were included. Other than that, this album is just wonderful.
Tectonic Plates Video:
CD: #has002 Time: 29:15
Limited Edition (50 copies per edition) on-demand published with illustrated booklet, poetry & credits. Review copy is from First Edition.
Band Website: http://thedwindlers.com/
Heart and Soul label: Allegories
Previous Album on FeedbackLoop label: Dreams
Tracks: 1) The Pelican and The Girl; 2) Monkey; 3) How The Ostrich Became a Girl and Her Bicycle; 4) Pickering’s Hyla; 5) Widow, Daddy, and the Wolf; 6) Peacock and the Kitty; 7) Dolphin
Spoken word recordings have existed since the advent of wax and foil cylinder recorders. In the 1920s as Jazz was developing as a musical genre, poets were exploring differing rhythms and styles in their works, breaking away from more traditional forms of meter and rhyme. These were the explorations of E. E. Cummings, T. S. Eliot, Jazz Poet Langston Hughes and others. Syncopated rhythms, phrases repeated, and with some poets, the rejection of traditional conventions of punctuation and manuscript.
The Dwindlers are poet Michelle Seaman and bassist composer Benjamin Dauer. Their collaboration started in 2002 in Chicago and they now create their work in the southeastern US. Their first album was the digitally released “Dreams” on the FeedbackLoop Label #FbL 008.
Allegories combines instrumental Jazz with poetry and includes printed poems (of tracks 1, 2, 3, 5, 6 and 7) with illustrations by Seaman and instrumentation (I assume) by Dauer. It’s a very interesting and challenging album and I find the approach to be quite refreshing! It is a relatively short recording, spanning between a long EP and a full-length CD. Subjects relate to fauna, instincts, desire, observations, phobias and inner monologues (without being self-indulgent). The printed poems appear to be a framework for the apparently improvised recorded performances (might there be further improvisations during a live performance?).
As Jazz music is about listening, sharing, improvising, and responding, poetry can be used as another instrument or voice in an ensemble for counterpoint or support. Beat Generation writers expanded on this, like Jack Kerouac who was sometimes accompanied with improvised music during poetry readings (composer David Amram was known to sit-in and jam piano or bongos during readings). Jazz and Jazz Poetry has also been about activism and in the 1970s Gil Scott-Heron emerged (being influenced by Hughes) as a powerful voice in topical and confrontational spoken-word Soul, Jazz & Blues. Scott-Heron (also a rap music pioneer) greatly influenced later hip-hop groups like Public Enemy.
Other artists have continued to explore the spoken-word with a variety of music and multi-media artists influences: Jim Morrison and The Doors (described as “electric poets”), Laurie Anderson, David Byrne, Harold Budd (as on his 1991 album By The Dawn’s Early Light), and more recently the 2011 collaboration of Brian Eno and poet Rick Holland on their album Drums Between The Bells, and the growling reflections of Leonard Cohen on his 2012 album Old Ideas.
The voices of Allegories are sultry with occasional interplay of the technically descriptive. There are changing points of view and perspectives—seeing through another’s eyes (not necessarily human). The way the words are phrased against the music; they sometimes transform into layered double-entendres. The often-hypnotic and stark instrumentation punctuates the spaces between the words with a foundation of acoustic bass, layered electronics and percussion, adding to the tension and release.
The Pelican and the Girl starts with a shimmering veil and then plays between female and male voices and further heightens an implied sexual tension as descriptions shift from bird to woman and back. There are points where the words lure one into an imagined scene only to be returned to a stark lesson on natural history. The drums and bass during Monkey are reminiscent of Morello & Wright’s vibe on Take Five (from the album Time Out) and voice, although monotone; is similar to the interplay of Desmond and Brubeck. Pickering’s Hyla is an instrumental break and sounds akin to a forest at the vernal pools at dusk. The second half of the album is more layered, electronic and ambient after a sensuous acoustic “theme and response” bass introduction to Widow, Daddy and the Wolf. Peacock and the Kitty and Dolphin gently pulse with Seaman’s voice stroking fur, feather and flowing through water.
Allegories is a provocative and engaging album of poetry—vivid and shifting with very musical, alluring and technical Jazz counterpoint. The recording has a welcomed softness that does not compromise the clarity. It would certainly be suitable as background music (and would likely pique the curiosity of a roomful of listeners), but I found it best played at the level of a live performance to fully appreciate it.
The Pelican and the Girl (and two others) - The Dwindlers
This is a solicited review.
Merge Records - mrg342 - CD – Released 2011 – http://www.mergerecords.com/artists/eastrp
Track Listing: 1) Backroom Deals; 2) Cold Ground; 3) Payback Time; 4) Summer Boy; 5) I Don’t Care About Your Blue Wings; 6) Tommy Made a Movie; 7) The Flames Are Coming Back; 8) When You Were Doing Cocaine; 9) Conman; 10) Three Ships
I don’t recall the publication, but I certainly remember the moment and it marked a turning point for me—I was ready for something different, musically. Much of the music I had been listening to, at the time, was from larger commercial record labels with corporate directors and production teams, where artists rarely could steer their music in a direction of their own making. As much as I admire well-produced, engineered and recorded works of all sorts, the review I was reading in the late 1990s intrigued me enough to find a copy of East River Pipe’s “The Gasoline Age”.
East River Pipe is F.M. Cornog (aka, Fred) and his early adult years were apparently rather dark and mired with substance abuse and a brief encounter with homelessness. Eventually, with the assistance of a woman named Barbara Powers, F.M. recovered and she helped him acquire recording equipment to write songs. Years later, F.M. would marry Ms. Powers.
F.M. does not play live, or tour and he records alone, initially in his bedroom and now in a compact home-studio. He has a small and devoted fan base. His equipment is mostly low-tech (at first a 4 track portable) and though he has updated to digital recording his set-up remains simple. He writes his own material, plays the instruments, sings, produces, records and determines the direction of his own artistic expression. As far as I have read, his label Merge Records lets him do what he wants with his work and material is released on no particular schedule except when F.M. says the work is ready. I admit that for some, his music will be an acquired taste, but he writes on subjects that often cut right to the bone with reality. Artists such as Lambchop, David Byrne, The Mountain Goats and Okkervil River have covered his songs.
F.M. tells stories; some are stark, tragic and perhaps echo aspects of his own past. He also captures a mood and its color with a remarkable depth that belies the simplicity of a given song. Many of his songs are short, some seem like hooks or choruses without verses like “Wholesale Lies” from “The Gasoline Age”. In many ways, Fred writes with a clarity and sharpness as Ernest Hemingway wrote. What one hears in the words, melodies and instrumentation is all that’s needed to express the thought, nothing else.
After “The Gasoline Age”, I purchased his earlier works “Mel”, “Poor Fricky” and the compilation of his early cassette tape releases “Shining Hours in a Can”. Then to his subsequent releases “Garbageheads on Endless Stun” and the rather dark “What Are You On?” Cornog songs can be sardonic and even political and often (I think) there’s irony in the upbeat tone of the music as a sharp contrast to the dark subjects of the lyrics like with the opening track of “Where Does All The Money Go?” on “Garbageheads…”
Married and now with a young daughter and a day-job at Home Depot, Cornog’s releases are less frequent (5 years since his last), but his songs are still keen yet with slightly more atmospheric arrangements. The songs on “We Live In Rented Rooms” observe human conditions, provide social commentary, defend the defenseless and for some dream about what is likely unattainable. Some might think the subjects are a downer, but in many of the songs there are glimmers of hope in a verse, a chorus or a catchy melody. They are the kind of songs that can make one stop and think about one’s own situation.
I suppose that one might have to be in a certain frame of mind for listening to this album. “Backroom Deals” opens the album is a piece about the annoying realities of making it through a workday for many. Despite the melancholy of the languid almost defeated rhythm of the piece it’s punctuated deftly with guitar and electric piano to make it to quitting-time. “Summer Boy” is possibly the reality of a local who watches the comings and goings of tourists and at the end of the season, being the one who is forgotten. “The Flames Are Coming Back” is of one who is trying to turn a life around and the struggle to keep things together for a family. “When You Were Doing Cocaine” gets right to it with the shock of a corrupted life affecting others and the piece is sewn together with an almost lullaby of a melody and the dreamy irony of a chorus that beckons for a better place.
In the music business today, many artists demand to be seen and heard, but F.M. Cornog as East River Pipe, true to himself, quietly sings of those who exist below the din of a world flashing by.
This review appeared in the January 2012 Issue of Affordable Audio: http://www.affordableaudio.org/Affordable$$Audio/Current_Issue.html
CD – Shanachie 5189 - Sleeping Gypsy Music - June 2011
1) Now That the Summer’s Here, 2) One Day in St. Tropez, 3) Summer in New York, 4) Mice, 5) Charlie Chan in Egypt, 6) I’d Rather Be Happy Than Right, 7) Time Together, 8) Samba Blue, 9) My Heart Said Wow, 10) If I Could Make September Stay, 11) Feathers From an Angel’s Wing
“Why must the present…Turn to past…So fast? The disappearing now…” from the song “Time Together”
This is long overdue, but better late than never…
While not always the case, some of the best songwriters, filmmakers and artists (in my opinion) have a solid foundation in literature and writing—having the ability to clearly express thoughts and emotions, regardless of the medium. I think it is also true that one’s own work is improved by knowing limitations and collaborating with others. Michael Franks’ work is a prime example of this, being a writer of finely crafted songs that tell stories, many of which include a variety of arrangement techniques brilliantly suited to a given song.
In his teen years in California he discovered poetry, picked up a guitar, and went on to study English at UCLA while learning independently about and listening to music: Brubeck, Getz, Gilberto, Jobim and Davis, among many others. For a time he wrote songs as a freelancer, and I learned only recently that his works appeared in films including Zandy’s Bride (starring Liv Ullmann and Gene Hackman). Others recorded his earlier songs and in 1973 he released an eponymous work (on Brut Records…my original copy long ago worn out) that was later reissued as “Previously Unavailable”.
I first became familiar with Franks’ work after he had relocated from California to New York when a friend recommended that I purchase “Burchfield Nines” (released in 1978). From there I went back to his first three albums “Michael Franks”, “The Art of Tea” (known best for “Popsicle Toes”) and “Sleeping Gypsy”. In total, Franks has released seventeen separate studio albums and there have been a variety of reissues and compilations including a 1980 live album “Michael Franks with Crossfire Live”. Most of his work has been recorded with Warner/Reprise (1975 through 1995), one release on Windham Hill in 1999 “Barefoot On The Beach”, 2003’s “Watching The Snow” on Rhino (then Koch Records) and “Rendezvous in Rio” on Koch Records in 2006.
Throughout his career, aside from Franks’ songwriting and singing (with his almost whispering mellow vocals), also of interest to me has been the variety of musicians, producers and arrangers he has collaborated with—a group of incredibly talented musicians and vocalists, too many to list here such as, Joe Sample, Larry Carlton, Wilton Felder, Astrud Gilberto, Peggy Lee, the Yellowjackets, the Brecker brothers, and producer/arrangers such as, Russell Ferrante, Jimmy Haslip, Matt Pierson, Jeff Lorber, Tommy LiPuma, John Simon, Rob Mounsey, Walter Becker, Chuck Loeb, Charles Blenzig, Mark Egan, and (my favorites) Gil Goldstein and Ben Sidran.
And mysteriously deposited throughout his albums have been songs from a (perhaps forever…waiting patiently) forthcoming Broadway musical “Noa Noa” based on the life of artist Paul Gauguin who spent time in the 1890s in Tahiti and wrote a journal of the same name. Many contemporary artists of the same period appear in the songs, like Vincent Van Gogh. Franks’ work ranges from acoustic to electric Jazz contemporary vocals, some funk and fusion (like with Jeff Lorber) to work that skims the edges of pop vocals (“Your Secret’s Safe With Me” from the album “Skin Dive”). Much of his most successful work has skillful wordplay, innuendo and humor (like “When Sly Calls” from 1983’s “Passionfruit”), but his most haunting and beautiful are my favorites like his duet with Peggy Lee (one of her last recorded works) “You Were Meant For Me”, exquisitely arranged by Ben Sidran.
With some minor exceptions, the album “Time Together” instantly became a favorite of mine this past summer. “Now That Summer’s Here” and “Summer In New York” setting an upbeat mood for a delightfully mellow summer, as Franks can do so well. Will we ever know if “One Day in St. Tropez” is fact or fiction?—a story of hitchhiking in France in 1963, narrator picked-up by Brigitte Bardot in a Jaguar XKE; the poetry and timing in this is light-hearted, romantic and the fantasy of it all, like a dream. “Mice” is a delightfully humorous statement on how perhaps the “lower” species can teach humanity about better behavior. For the first time (as far as I know), Franks dipped his toe into politics with “Charlie Chan in Egypt” reporting on the tragic state of affairs America found itself in as a result of recent military incursions. The album continues with other memories and romances of summers past as in “Samba Blue” and subtle advice on keeping things positive in “I’d Rather Be Happy Than Right”. Then the melancholy of summer, drawing to a close, as expressed in “If I Could Make September Stay”. My favorite of all 11 songs is the tender and loving tribute to the Franks family’s departed (rescue) dachshund Flora in the title track “Time Together” (Franks being a devoted animal lover and supporter of various animal rescue organizations). In this, Gil Goldstein’s arrangement is just stunning and a perfect complement to the lyrics and sentiments being expressed.
Here it is: Time Together:
Michaels Franks’ voice and music certainly are not for every listener, but I think that this is one of his best albums since 1993’s “Dragonfly Summer” or 1995’s “Abandoned Garden”. An album for any season, and especially for a gloomy and chilly winter morning as it is, as I write this…
CD 43:24 - 12K1070 – 12k Records
1) Adrenaline, 2) Noon, 3) Get Together, 4) Quite A Way Away, 5) This Is The Kiss, 6) Happy Easters, 7) Nunca Jamas (Never Ever), 8) Jonah
More beautiful music to disappear into, discovered this time by an association with a record label that I have quickly come to admire a great deal, 12k. There is quite a story behind this album by Gareth Dickson and it is told best, right here:
The comparisons to the sound, the voice and the music are immediate: Nick Drake, Bert Jansch and others, yet there are some distinct differences, some technological and some musical. I speculate that some of the tunings and picking are similar to techniques used by Nick Drake (whose work I am far more familiar with), but there are similarities to another guitarist I admire a great deal, Anthony Phillips (Geese and the Ghost, many others, and collaborations with Harry Williamson: Tarka & Gypsy Suite).
With the exception of instrumental piece Happy Easters, each song starts with an extended introduction on the guitar. It sets the mood, the color, space and even establishes a sonic incantation for the coming lyrics (much of which are of love, longing and searching).
The recordings have incredible depth (considering they are classified as “lo-fi”). I’m not sure how the album was engineered, processed or mic’ed, but there are some guitar sound similarities to Neil Young’s recent album Le Noise that was produced and engineered by Daniel Lanois. In Quite A Way Away the guitar sounds as an orchestra (whether strings are muted or being played at their fullest at the heart of the guitar). The instrumentation is as stark as Nick Drake’s Pink Moon yet the sound is as full as Five Leaves Left or Bryter Layter—so wonderful to hear.
Happy Easters, to me, is very strongly reminiscent of the acoustic sections of Anthony Phillips’ Scottish Suite as well as other pieces from his second Private Parts and Pieces series of albums. Quite fitting, since Gareth Dickson is originally from Glasgow, Scotland, and his voice also reveals his roots elsewhere on the album.
This is not an album of songs with guitar accompaniment nor is it a guitar album with vocals. Gareth Dickson combines both and reaches into the sonorous depths to create a passionate, deeply emotional and soulful music.
Links to other song samples here: http://soundcloud.com/gareth-dickson
Various albums are in rotation here at the moment, with some “classical” recordings (Bernard Herrmann, Aaron Copland and a Karajan rehearsal) on the way from an auction I recently bid on at Polyphony:
Printed and online catalogs become available (every two or three months) and Lawrence Jones (the proprietor of Polyphony) conducts auctions as he has since 1978 (reel-to-reel tapes, LPs, books and other items). The recordings are each graded for condition (as well as the covers) and auditioned by Larry, so one can rest assured that they arrive as described and carefully packaged. Larry has many rare items and often entire recording collections become available, like a recent, almost complete collection of Camden label LPs, here:
Before anyone thinks I’m listening only to ambient music these days, here’s a brief overview of things moving between turntables and CD players:
Medeski Scofield Martin & Wood – In Case The World Changes Its Mind (Live) – fabulous recording!
Van Der Graaf Generator – A Grounding In Numbers – It’s surprisingly good…and gritty.
Drums Between The Bells – Brian Eno and Rick Holland – The piece “Glitch” is remarkable, among others.
Nicholas Szczepanik – Ante Algo Azul – A twelve part suite of recordings along with artwork, custom sleeves and poetry that I am delving into now, fascinating.
Steve Wilson – Grace For Drowning – Excellent
Carolina Chocolate Drops – Luminescent Orchestrii (10″ 4 song vinyl EP)
Elizabeth Fraser – Moses (12″ vinyl EP) – I miss her voice from the days of Cocteau Twins
James Blake – his first eponymous double vinyl LP–really interesting and a (dynamically) challenging recording of great depth. With thanks to my son for getting this for me.
The Black Keys – El Camino – kicking some rock and roll and blues butt.
Yellow Birds – The Color
Fountains of Wayne – Sky Full of Holes – More finely crafted songs.
Tom Waits – Bad As Me – This album just rips.
Wire – Chairs Missing (revisiting a great album from 1978)
Montt Mardie – Skaizerkite – Really energetic songs (AKA David Olof Peter Pagmar) from Sweden.
The Bruford Tapes – From 1979, a reissued 2 channel FM broadcast by Bill Bruford and band.
Long Way Down – Soundtrack to the African motorcycle adventure taken by Ewan McGregor & Charley Boorman.
Leonard Cohen – Old Ideas – His 12th studio album…I’ve only heard excerpts and so far and I’m looking forward to this.
Michael Franks – Time Together (released in the summer of 2011) – some great songs from the humorous “Mice” to the heartfelt farewell to his family’s pup, Flora. Gil Goldstein’s arrangements on this are absolutely magical.
Trombone Shorty – For True – Get your funk on!
Taylor Deupree – his albums Shoals and Northern (on his 12K label), electronic/acoustic explorations, beautifully packaged.
Tomas Phillips + Mari Hiko – Prosa (on M. Ostermeier’s Tench label) – Dynamic recording and imagery.
John Zorn – The Gates of Paradise – inspired by the works of William Blake with John Medeski, Kenny Wollesen, Trevor Dunn and Joey Baron – A really beautiful, lyrical and mysterious work inspired by the mystic.
Martin Schulte (Marat Shibaev) – Silent Stars, Odysseia and Treasure – Atmospheric Techno
bvdub – Then – House, Techno, experimental and ambient
There just isn’t enough time in the day (nor money in the music budget). Anyone else have suggestions?
http://affordableaudio.org/Affordable$$Audio/Current_Issue.html and http://www.hifizine.com/ Stay tuned for additional online locations.