CD: Darla DRL289 2014 Time: About 39 minutes
CD available at this link to Darla (To be released on September 9, 2014)
Tracks: Jane 12 through Jane 21 with track Jane 16 subtitled (For Pale Saints)
I took some time off from writing reviews; primarily to just take some time off, but also I have been awaiting preorders for a number of releases as well as getting more serious about making some music instead of just listening. It’s a hard road training old fingers to do new things, but it’s about the journey for me, not just the destination.
What a treat it is to return to a new album by Harold Budd (and I understand that another collaboration with Robin Guthrie has been recorded and will be released in early 2015, the title will be Another Flower). Jane 12-21 is another fine example of Harold Budd sitting at a piano (or other instrument) and just playing without rehearsal or embellishment, one take without revisiting and then moving on. There are some apparent treatments and minimal overdubs. It’s difficult for me to tell if the percussion is actual or keyboard-based sampling, but it does sound like actual percussion most of the time.
This album is simpler and less adventurous compared to Jane 1-11, and that’s not a criticism at all, just an observation. The cover design is also rather stark by comparison, with one panel by artist Jane Maru and minimal information about the tracks, recording and times, adding a bit to the somewhat mysterious nature of the album. Jane 1-11 was created in response to videos created by artist Jane Maru (which were later released as a companion CD/DVD: Budd Maru Collaboration ) so without the benefit of input from Harold Budd (so far), I wonder if Jane 12-21 was created as a response to further videos by Maru (see video for Jane 8 below).
The album contrasts between recordings that are intimate and those which are spatially broad, more distant (whether the distance and reverberation were achieved with actual spaces or electronically, I don’t know). To briefly describe each of the tracks on the album: Jane 12 is a stark and up-close, yet resonant piano with brief references to Debussy’s Clair de Lune. Jane 13 also uses a piano with light melodic percussion. After the first two tracks Budd moves to more experimental territory and Jane 14 consists of melodic percussion (bells, glasses) with reverb and has a very calming effect. Distance, like a dream on the edge of consciousness is how Jane 15 sounds, with hushed piano and a spatial reverb. Whether intentional or not, I do find some of the pieces referring back to other previous Jane 1-11 pieces. Jane 16 does this for me—reminds me of Jane 8. It’s placid keyboard chords with gentle piano accompaniment and minimal apparent treatments. The piano is responding to the chord movement of the keyboard.
Air moving through pipes is how Jane 17 starts, it’s a strong sound with treated piano and minimal percussion, and a pronounced flow and movement. Jane 18 bends and twists with a somewhat downcast sonorous keyboard. The melodic references to the first Jane series return with Jane 19, again keyboard and resonant chimes. It sounds a bit more reflective to me with shades of Budd’s earlier work.
Jane 20 has a breathy keyboard melody, somewhere between wind chimes and woodwinds along with a gamelan (at times sounding like vibraphone) and deep percussive overtones. This track more than any other in the series evokes a scene from a film with a vast landscape of mystery. Budd closes this collection with Jane 21, a modest and delicately resonant cross between piano and celeste and themes appearing in various other Jane tracks, making it part of the larger cohesive whole.
Harold Budd’s work takes me to a place where I like to be, and return there as often as I can. I think you’ll want to add this album to your collection.
…A Not-So Comprehensive List
2013 has been a quirky year; for a time I found that inspiration had vanished and I wasn’t interested in listening to music or writing about it at all (a rare occurrence). I’m guilty of having purchased less music this year (an economic curtailment of necessity). Nonetheless, there has been some great music in 2013 (and my slice is a tiny piece of what’s out there). This year I read some music-related memoirs by artists whose work I’ve admired for decades (Burt Bacharach, Neil Young, Michael Feinstein–of his time spent with Ira Gershwin and other books), some histories of Jazz Standards, Blues, Rock and Roll, and records labels (including one of my favorite indie labels, Merge Records). I was also fortunate to attend a number of live shows, and I’ve posted photos of some of those throughout the year.
Is it me or have record labels and artists reduced their output somewhat? Is it a lull in a normal cycle or a sign of the economic times?
Some of the music on this list will be familiar if you have checked-in to read my reviews and some I have not reviewed. I also have some albums I’m still listening to and I haven’t decided if I’ll write reviews for them (an archival release by The Books, La Luz’s first LP, Mary Lattimore and others). One album in particular that I’ve enjoyed recently (although it was NOT released this year) is a live archive solo recording of Neil Young at the Canterbury House in 1968 entitled Sugar Mountain—the album is mostly material that Young wrote or co-wrote with Buffalo-Springfield, and it was recorded right after Buffalo-Springfield broke-up.
A double live CD has also just arrived of one of the last (very lively hot Jazz) gigs played by the house band at Eddie Condon’s in New York City before it closed in 1985—One Night at Eddie Condon’s (Red “The Commodore” Balaban’s Condon Band), with Ed Polcer, Dr Palu Squire, Jack Maheu, Tom Artin, Bobby Pratt, Dave Shapiro and Danny D’Imperio, recorded by Doug Pomeroy)–thanks to Tom Artin for sending this great piece of Jazz history!
The Lucky 13 (all albums purchased–not promos)
Yellowbirds – Songs From The Vanished Frontier – Royal Potato Family: This is my favorite album of the year—just love it–the vibe, the sounds. Please see my June review.
Harold Budd – Jane 1-11 – Darla: The music with companion videos release won’t be available until early 2014, but another beautiful album from HB. I reviewed this album in June, as well.
John Scofield – Überjam Deux – Emarcy: I reviewed this album in August—an excellent follow-up to the original Überjam, and a great vibe with Jazz, Blues and more!
Steve Hackett – Genesis Revisited: Live At Hammersmith (CD/DVD) – InsideOut: As I noted in my review of last year’s studio release of Genesis Revisited II, I feel like Steve Hackett is the keeper of the spirit of the work of Genesis during the 1971 to 1977 era. So many of the earlier recordings (weak on the engineering and mix, except The Lamb) were greatly improved and enhanced, and this comprehensive 3 CD and 2 DVD set documents the fabulous and memorable Hammersmith show in May of 2013 before the band traveled to the US for their fall tour. The SH Band will tour further in support of this in the southeastern US and Europe and Russia is 2014 (bassist Lee Pomeroy will be replaced by Nick Beggs, a familiar face to Hackett Band fans…I really enjoyed Lee on this tour, he really brought out just how musical Mike Rutherford’s bass lines are in these earlier Genesis classics).
Wire – Change Becomes Us – Pink Flag: I was a big fan of Wire in the late 1970s and then I just plain lost touch with their work. The Words On Music label has a compilation of reinterpretations of their well-known single Outdoor Miner from their 1978 Chairs Missing album, and then I noticed a post earlier in the year by Marc Ostermeier (of the band Should ,and WOM and Tench labels) that a new album was forthcoming.
Juliette Commagere – Human – Aeronaut: Late in 2010 Commagere released her album The Procession on Manimal Records—a diverse combination of songs with dense and gorgeous vocals instrumentation—part art-rock, progressive and electronica. Commagere has returned with another beautifully recorded album of lush songs with her strong vocals and support from husband Joachim Cooder, Ben Messelbeck, Amir Yaghmai, Ry Cooder and recorded by Mark Rains and Martin Pradler. The sound is deep, full, inventive and often fantastical—she is doing her own thing, and I love it (catchy melodies and all). There are times when she channels Elizabeth Fraser as on Low.
Roger Eno – Ted Sheldrake – Backwater: Thirty Years after his first work Apollo with brother Brian and guitarist Dan Lanois, Roger Eno compiled this tribute to friend and neighbor, Ted Sheldrake. Although I reviewed this album in November of 2012, it wasn’t officially released until January of this year.
Cock & Swan – Secret Angles – HushHush: I am eagerly awaiting my blue vinyl (Kickstarter-funded) copy of this digital release that I reviewed in August.
The Bryan Ferry Orchestra – The Jazz Age – BMG: Back in March I did a brief comparative analysis of this album and Steven Wilson’s latest (see below). I think this is a really spirited and fun reinterpretation of earlier works by Roxy Music and BF. Being a lover of old acoustically recorded 78s of the pre-Jazz and Jazz ages, I get this.
Steven Wilson – The Raven That Refused To Sing (and Other Stories) – kscope: A strong album (I think it’s Steve’s best to date), beautifully recorded and engineered by Alan Parsons. My favorite song is Drive Home.
William Tyler – Impossible Truth – Merge: A brilliant solo guitar album by Lambchop and Hands Off Cuba alum, and a great follow-up to his previous Tompkins Square release Behold The Spirit. I reviewed this album in March.
Celer – Viewpoint – Murmur: As I noted when I reviewed this album in April, I find this album absorbing and romantic—a great piece for getting lost.
Ron Sexsmith – Forever Endeavour – Cooking Vinyl: I love Ron’s work–started listening in 1997 with his third album Other Songs. 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. Here’s a live recording of Autumn Light.
Two of my favorite new discoveries in 2013
Meridian Brothers – Desesperanza – Soundway: I heard about Meridian Brothers in an NPR Alt Latino podcast and was instantly hooked by this band from Bogata, Colombia–buying as much of their back catalog as I could find in physical releases. Their music is surreal and playful—a combination of Joe Meek, Esquivel and Raymond Scott.
La Luz – Brainwash (7″) – Suicide Squeeze: This is a single (my version is on clear vinyl) that was released by La Luz just prior to their new album It’s Alive—It’s infectious and fun! I got to La Luz thanks to Johnny Goss (one half of Cock & Swan).
LP/CD or Digital Time: 37:43 Hydrogen Dukebox Records: Duke 157djv
Released May 20th in Europe and July 2nd in US and Canada
Tracks: Side A: 1) Taking Steps, 2) Geometry, 3) Codewords, 4) Suspended Animation, 5) Ulterior Motives, Side B: 6) The Weather Inside, 7) Back to the Beginning, 8) The Artificial Cat, 9) Pulling Strings, 10) Beauté de Passage
Time plays tricks as one gets older…what used to seem like an eternity might now seem like months, weeks or even a blink of an eye. In the proper hands, time can bend under the spell of music. Transparencies, the last album by Roger Eno and Plumbline (Will Thomas) appeared about six years ago…seems like a while ago, but the memory of it is clear enough that hearing their new album Endless City/Concrete Garden, is like picking up a conversation with an old friend that paused mid-sentence and then continued, flow uninterrupted after an unexpected reappearance—like they never left. But something is different, new experiences have somehow changed things.
A paradox exists in this album, on one hand there is an apparent idée fix of love, loss and tragedy (as noted by reference to the curiously obscure works of the poetess Arlette Feindre) yet the album is not gloomy; it is woven with ethereal moments of warmth, reflection and comfort, beginning with the familiar gentle cascades of piano in Taking Steps. There are scenes of rhythmic playfulness, as in Codewords, with a gamelan-like opening. Also an ironic solitude is present in some tracks like Pulling Strings where one could be walking alone late at night in a city full of people and noise, yet remain focused on more powerful inner thoughts (a strange loneliness in a crowded place). Despite the calming softness to this album, it isn’t amorphous; it has a purposeful direction.
Like their album last together, Endless City/Concrete Garden has taken its form across an ocean and between time zones, the contrasts of cities (New York City and Los Angeles) and the countryside of East Anglia in the UK. The pieces this time around often have a foundation in more recognizable instrumentation: piano, guitar and even a koto, with arrangements including violin, cello, percussion and electronic treatments. Percussive mantras also form the basis of some pieces as in The Artificial Cat. Treated field recordings make appearances throughout (I could swear there is a train horn hidden within The Weather Inside). It’s not always clear from whose hands the sounds are created, but Roger Eno’s piano work is unmistakable, as in Back to the Beginning…it starts out like an etude and then moves on to tell a story. The haunting Beauté de Passage appears to open with what sounds like Frippertronics, but with closer listening, I think it could be a treated accordion…how appropriate, how French. C’est tragique, mais enchantant aussi.
Note: The album is being released as an LP with CD included or as digital files. It’s not yet clear to me if the CD will be available on its own—no word from the record label on this.
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.