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Posts tagged “Vocal

Some Recent Kitchen. Label Releases

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.

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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.

Homeward Waltz

 

Landscape With A Fairy

 

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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.

Constellation Live

 

Gathering

 

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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.

February Tale

 

Melodico

 

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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.

Of Symmetry

 

Interlude I (with Peter Broderick)

 

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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.


Review: Steve Hackett – Genesis Revisited II

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:

http://www.insideoutmusic.com/ & http://www.insideoutmusic.com/artist.aspx?IdArtist=458

Artist Websites:

http://www.hackettsongs.com/ & http://hackettsongs.sandbag.uk.com/

Photos of Musicians on the Album:

http://www.hackettsongs.com/gallerySub/gallery82.html

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 FoxtrotPlease 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!

Steve Hackett in 1981 – Spectral Mornings © by wajobu


Review: Roger Eno – Ted Sheldrake

Backwater Records OLKCD023 – Time: About 42 minutes (CD & Digital Files)

Record Label Website: http://www.backwaterrecords.com/

Artist Websites: http://rogereno.co.uk/ and http://rogereno.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 FarmRound 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 TrueSally 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.


Review: Will Samson – Balance *UPDATED with VIDEO*

Karaoke Kalk 69LP – Time: About 34 minutes (LP, CD & Digital Files)

Record Label Website:

http://www.karaokekalk.de/ & http://www.karaokekalk.de/will-samson-balance/

Artist Websites:

http://willsamson.bandcamp.com/ & http://wsamson.tumblr.com/ & http://willsamson.co.uk/

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.


Twigs & Yarn – The Language Of Flowers

Flau28 CD – Time: About 43 Minutes (Also available in 12” vinyl LP)

Artists Website: http://www.twigsandyarn.net         Record Label Website: http://www.flau.jp

Mastered by: Nick Zammuto: http://www.zammutosound.com

Tracks (*Note: Track order according to iTunes readout appears to be in reverse order, although the music order is correct.  The track order that follows is properly sequenced with the sound files on the CD and has been confirmed with the artist.)

1) Laverne; 2) Static Rowing; 3) If Were An Artery; 4) Conscious Strings; 5) Mermaid Wetness; 6) An Honest Moment; 7) Rosy Cheeked Pumpkin; 8) Bristle Of Mundane; 9) Flowers Thirsty; 10) Marigold Ride; 11) Strings Of Complacency; 12) Learning To Glisten

I sometimes listen to shortwave radio, late into the night, or in the early morning, as signals and sleep drift; voices and sounds emerge and disappear.  Every so often my radio will lock in on a clear signal, and for a time there are voices from foreign lands, interesting new music, field correspondents reporting, or the strange sounds of open carrier frequencies waiting for a signal to fill them.

The Language Of Flowers is the enchanting (and often quirky) new album by Twigs & Yarn, and it has some parallels to late night radio listening, a mixing of familiar sounds, music and fleeting recollections.  Both artists and musicians, Stephen Orsak resides in Texas, and Lauren McMurray is in Japan, and their work takes shape over the airwaves, satellites and international cables via computers and ftp servers.  I didn’t discover Twigs & Yarn on my own; I have Michael Cottone of The Green Kingdom to thank for introducing me to their works.  I come across new artists by exploring record label websites, visiting the few record shops that are left and (often the best method), word of mouth from musicians and friends.  I don’t yet have the LP version, but the CD is packaged in a letter-pressed hand decorated collage (each one is slightly different).

The album opens with the mysteriously diaphanous Laverne, which shimmers like filtered sound-light on a bright morning, then passes quickly into the gentle swaying of Static Rowing.  The fourth track Conscious Strings is both the clear reality of a solo acoustic guitar, combined with the meandering voices of a daydream.  Some tracks seem to blend together as observations shift, and there is peaceful warmth in the sounds of a given day, whether inward looking as in Mermaid Wetness (with ingeniously repeated cadenced sound-samples) or outward as in the strangely discordant An Honest Moment which merges into street sounds, bells, voices, and then into a tranquil music box and electric guitar reflection in Rosy Cheeked Pumpkin reminiscent of Daniel Lanois’ pedal steel work on his album here is what is.

Bristle Of Mundane is an unexpected contrast, which opens with a heavily-distorted music box, eventually settling into gentle waves.  The experience of late night radio listening is present in Flowers Thirsty, tuning in and out from pop-music radio samples to a distant ebb and flow of music and whispers, the mind drifts late into the night, until being awakened by the radio-alarm (this is my favorite piece on the album, mysterious and great keyboard sounds).  The gentle pulsing organ of Marigold Ride contains a soft repeated vocal, flowing into acoustic guitar of Strings Of Complacency (sounding a bit like some recent solo guitar work of Ant Phillips combined with light treatments from Eno’s Julie With from the album Before And After Science).  Learning To Glisten is the postlude to the album, the purest of all the tracks, with little sonic movement, and is a soothing close.

 

The Language of Flowers is like rotating a radio tuning knob late at night, or peering into a window overlooking a secret garden, or ephemeral visions in a dream.  It’s an assemblage of existence all around, from the broadest landscapes down to the tiniest whispers, and even memories of childhood games as in the gently spirited and delightfully melodic third track, If I Were An Artery.  The music, field recordings, samples and instrumentation are assembled with an idiosyncratic aplomb that yield a very cohesive and soothing quality, like a less energetic, more contemplative version of works by The Books combined with gossamers of the dearly departed Sparklehorse.  So, it makes complete sense that Nick Zammuto (ex-Book) mastered this album; a symbiotic chemistry.

Videos

Static Rowing

 

Mermaid Wetness

 

Marigold Ride

 


Caught In The Wake Forever – Against A Simple Wooden Cross

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.


Squackett – Chris Squire & Steve Hackett – A Life Within A Day

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

****

PLEASE NOTE: Apparently, the Record Label has long since removed the track samples from Soundcloud, but I have since relocated the Divided Self Youtube clip.

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:

https://wajobu.com/2012/03/17/steve-hackett-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.

The songs:

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.


Somewhat eclectic listening today…UPDATED

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

#12K1057 http://www.12k.com/index.php/site/releases/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

http://www.kitchen-label.com/catalogue/ki007-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:

 


Cock and Swan – Stash

CD #LTS0011: Total Time: 43:25

Artist Website: http://www.cockandswan.com/

Record Label: http://losttribesound.com/

Recorded by: http://dandeliongold.com/

Soundcloud Samples:

 

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:

 


The Dwindlers – Allegories

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/

Member websites: http://www.michelleseaman.net/ and  http://www.benjamindauer.net/

Heart and Soul label: Allegories

http://heartandsoullabel.blogspot.com/2012/03/has002-dwindlers-allegories-book-of_15.html

Previous Album on FeedbackLoop label: Dreams

http://feedbacklooplabel.blogspot.com/2010/11/fbl008-dwindlers-dreams.html

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 WolfPeacock 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.


East River Pipe – We Live In Rented Rooms

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


Review: Michael Franks – Time Together

CD – Shanachie 5189 – Sleeping Gypsy Music – June 2011

http://www.shanachie.com/ & http://michaelfranks.com/

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…


Gareth Dickson – Quite A Way Away – *UPDATED Happy Easters Video*

CD 43:24 – 12K1070 – 12k Records

http://www.12k.com/ & http://www.garethdickson.com/

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:

http://www.12k.com/index.php/site/releases/quite_a_way_away/

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).

Noon

 

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.

Happy Easters

 

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


Lambchop – Mr. M – UPDATED

Merge Records – MRG 434 (CD & LP Versions)

More information and available at: http://www.mergerecords.com/artists/lambchop

CD: Tracks 1) If not I’ll just die, 2) 2B2, 3) Gone tomorrow, 4) Mr. Met, 5) Gar, 6) Nice without mercy, 7) Buttons, 8) The good life (is wasted), 9) Kind of, 10) Betty’s Overture, 11) Never my love

Note: Double LP version has 3 sides with the 11 tracks of the CD and a 4th side with 4 additional tracks, “Guess I’m dumb” and three remixes of selected tracks noted above.

Album is dedicated to: James Victor Chesnutt

Kurt Wagner is a humble and interesting character (and from what I have read) a former flooring contractor, now artist, painter, musician, songwriter…and…human, with all the flaws, working through life in his marvelous songwriting.

I came to Lambchop’s work relatively late (through a lateral association with Vic Chesnutt, Mark Linkous and F. M. Cornog’s works) about 5 years ago when I first heard “The Daily Growl” from the 2002 album “Is a Woman”.  I was immediately rapt with the music, instrumentation and the stream-of-consciousness lyrics (coming from a man who sounds like a reluctant singer).  In that song alone, I felt and heard a deep inner beauty and from there I immediately acquired as many of Lambchop’s recordings I could get my hands on, back to their first in 1994 “I Hope You’re Sitting Down/Jack’s Tulips”.  At times, Wagner’s song lyrics seem to have little relation to the apparent subject matter of a given song, or they form the basis for the emotion being expressed (with distracted interjections), and at times the lyrics form a connective thread for the music (like the song “Paperback Bible” from the 2006 album “Damaged”, which I have read is a transcript from a local Nashville radio station broadcast set to music).

Lambchop’s music is neither country nor folk, nor is it rock or alternative.  It’s rather indescribable, yet it is often introspective and has a strong sense of a given moment, emotion or place.  “Mr. M” is the eleventh studio album by Lambchop (a collective of musicians centered on Kurt Wagner).  The band is a core of familiar players: Scott Martin (drums), Matt Swanson (bass), Ryan Norris (guitar and organ), William Tyler (guitar) with guests (original co-founder) Jonathan Marx (credited with “noises”), Cortney Tidwell (vocals and collaborator on their KORT project) and others (see link to Merge Records above).

Gone Tomorrow (official video):

2B2 (official video):

Apparently, for a time Wagner considered not recording again until he was convinced by friends (including producer Mark Nevers) to go back into the studio.  Wagner was painting and doing other things prior to writing the songs and working on the recording (the album was recorded from 2009 to 2011).  Wagner’s paintings form the basis for the album’s artwork, from a series of black and white (heavy brush stroke) paintings entitled “Beautillion Militaire 2000”.  “Mr. M”, while another in the canon of rather quiet and contemplative works by Lambchop, is an appropriate and loving tribute to Vic Chesnutt.

In this work the lyrics vary from literal heartbreak to ironic wordplay and at times are layered with references to song arrangements having an effect (in real time) on Wagner, random thoughts, daily routines and things as mundane (yet real) as a coffee maker or trash on the motorway.  The instrumental “Gar” is a gorgeous and timeless interlude at the heart of the album, beautifully arranged with strings, woodwinds and Cortney Tidwell’s harmonic layered vocals.  “The Good Life” is reminiscent of Johnny Cash’s works of self-examination.  In some ways this album has a similar spirit of introspection and sound to Nick Drake’s “Bryter Layter”—another album of observations, hope, dreams and deep reflections.  Some may say that “Mr. M” is rather sleepy, but I think it’s a soul-cleansing meditation with many layers of symbolism to be discovered and understood as one listens more.  The strings and woodwinds arrangements are just right (similar to Robert Kirby’s on Drake’s “Bryter Layter”).

I am thankful that Kurt Wagner and Lambchop decided to make music again.


In Rotation

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:

http://www.polyphonyrecordings.com/

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:

http://www.polyphonyrecordings.com/camden_gallery.php

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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?


My Online Reviews Currently Appear At…

http://affordableaudio.org/Affordable$$Audio/Current_Issue.html and http://www.hifizine.com/   Stay tuned for additional online locations.


Will Samson – Hello Friends, Goodbye Friends – CD

2011 PLOP/NATURE BLISS Distributed in USA by Darla

http://willsamson.bandcamp.com/ & http://willsamson.co.uk/

Tracks 1) My Broken Mirror, 2) Panda Bears, 3) Meet me at Home, 4) Find me in the Ocean, 5) Violins and Polaroids, 6) Sleeping, 7) Friends, 8) Great Plains

I know very little of Will Samson’s prior project “Himalaya” other than some youtube video uploads, but I picked up his new album “Hello Friends, Goodbye Friends” after reading a description at online music merchant Darla.com, and I took a chance.  After a number of years of searching for, acquiring and tweaking various pieces of vintage and new audio equipment, I have finally turned back to finding new music as well as revisiting old friends and their new material on both CD and vinyl.  I like all sorts of music, except angry-man-head-bangin’ rap and heavy metal of a similar ilk.

Samson is of diverse national heritage (Chilean, Indian and Italian), born in England, lived in Australia and currently resides in Berlin, Germany.  I was instantly struck by the power of this deeply personal album.  It’s a real gem.  Most music takes time to grow on me, often with eight or ten listens of an album, and even then, I might have only two or three favorite pieces.

It is evident that the young Mr. Samson is on a voyage of discovery—both sonic and life.  I was also drawn to the story behind the music (journeying though Europe, Asia and the Himalayas at 19, one way ticket, self-doubt, celebration, loneliness & joyfulness), but only after hearing the album and wanting to know more.  Some might classify his work as ambient, folk, indie and when loaded into iTunes it curiously comes up classified as “pop”.  This music just takes the World and slows it down allowing for contemplation of the music and perhaps various issues that consume one’s own life.  The songs are beautifully crafted, in a way, similar to F. M. Cornog’s (of East River Pipe), yet they lack the edgy subjects and politics that F. M. often explores.

The first piece on the CD, “My Broken Mirror” starts with a shimmering of acoustic guitar and what appears to be a light electric guitar overdub used almost like a horn, to beckon the listener mournfully “Ooo…it’s going to get easier…”.  Yet the spirit of the music is uplifting and optimistic.  Later on in the CD ,“Friends” is reminiscent of Anthony Phillips’ beautiful piece “God if I saw Her Now” from his first solo album “The Geese and the Ghost”.  Every piece on “Hello Friends…” stands on its own, yet all function well together as a collective whole.

The recordings are stark (made with an eight-track recorder, a gift from his father before his travels and mixed by Samson) and there are many ambient sounds deep in the soundstage, footsteps across a room, the inner workings of a piano or the click of the recorder’s controls.  Will Samson mixes his normal and falsetto voices in various pieces, almost chants of sorts and for some this may be bothersome, but stick with it.  The supporting instrumentation appears to be parlor guitar, electric guitar with some effects, bass and piano with minimal electronic treatments and light percussion.

The album is an intimate personal meditation, yet is sonically broad like the mountainscapes depicted in the cover art.  The CD’s jacket is a small gate-fold LP, typical of many Japanese releases.  The album is little over thirty-eight minutes, which is far too short and leaves me wanting more, but one can be rewarded again with the replay button.  This is the kind of album that makes me want to buy copies and give them to as many friends as I can think who would appreciate something as beautiful and rare as this album is.

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Appeared in the September, 2011 Hifi Zine: http://www.hifizine.com/issues/september-2011/