I have been ill, both physically and mentally, on and off for the past years.
As a result, I have lacked the physical and mental energy which I need to pass on to anyone, in any meaningful way, my enthusiasm for lots and lots of great stuff which I’ve heard, seen or read over that time.
I am about to attempt to remedy that in the next few days.
In the meantime, check out these tunes . . .
Steve Howell - Blue Skies
Vera Van Heeringen Trio
Leo Greenwood - Official Roadie
We have taken on Leo Greenwood as our apprentice roadie.
Leo is a terrific young man who loves music and his guitars. I have worked with Leo before and he is learning the trade. Hopefully, unless he decides that life with the three disfunctional musicians who make up the newly named Arnie Cottrell Tendency is bad for your health, he will end up knowing how to do everything. He has already learned (tutored by the subversive Graham) how to make up unflattering stuff about me. This will have to be nipped in the bud.
Helen Trimarco-Ransome is another astonishing local artist. She works in stained glass and what she produces is truly beautiful. She is always pushing through her own boundaries and challenging herself with fascinating ideas which may borrow techniques from a former time but which stand firmly in the world that we are a part of. Her stuff is great and, Like Debbie Ireland, she should be familiar to everybody. I am always astonished that I know such amazing artists. That's probably why I walk around with my mouth hanging open.
Check her out; you need to see what she does.
Yesterday evening, Graham and I went to Debbie's exhibition in the Link Gallery in Winchester. It represents "an emotional exploration of her relationship with her son who has high functioning autism."
Everybody should experience the power and emotional intensity and honesty of this remarkable exhibition, the creation of an equally remarkable woman who is a fearless activist in every sense of the much touted word. Debbie fights for women and for those for whom having a voice is something that happens only in dreams. In my opinion, she does what should have been done years and years ago; she makes you realise, if you come into contact with her and her work, that we can't sit back and watch. We can't pretend that those who struggle, those whom society considers to be not quite up to the mark, second best, difficult, hard work, shrill malcontents who should know their place, those who disrupt the comfortable bubble we float around in, are not our responsibility.
She is a fine, hard working and committed artist.
Talking about something you look at is like talking about something you listen to. It doesn't come up to its ankles. That's the problem with critics trying to talk about something which does scary wonderful things to your senses and emotions and isn't just words. They talk bollocks.
Everybody should go to the Link Gallery in Winchester and find out what I'm failing miserably to talk about.
It's beautiful, it's honest and it'll help us all take one magic step forward towards a world where we all feel we belong.
FOLLOW THE LINK BELOW!
My young sister, Berenice, turned me on to a young American standup breath of fresh air. Bo Burnham is different and funny and says stuff which is important and which needs to be said. He is uncompromising and he certainly touches something deep inside which demands commitment and trust. This clip is very funny, very exciting and deeply moving. Play it loud and don't let anyone distract you. This stuff isn't wallpaper.
s deeply moving and powerful
Some new albums by friends
Luke Daniels: Singing Ways To Feel More Junior
No links yet to let you hear this excellent album of songs, all written by Luke except for the very last number. I shall write more when I get the opportunity, but I can tell you that I love the album.
Luke Daniels: Making Waves
A stunning set of tunes all written by Luke and featuring Michael McGoldrick, John Doyle and Aidan O'Rourke and very, very different!
Steve Howell & Jason Weinheimer: One Hundred Years From Today
There is a terrific review of this album by my great friend Steve Howell and Jason Weinheimer in a previous blog. In fact there are some brilliant reviews from all over the world.
Paradise: Paradise E.P.
I've been waiting for this release for a long time. It's a new band and my friend Rob McVey, who was the leader of the Band Longview whose album Mercury is one of my constant musical companions is one of the main driving forces behind this beautiful music. He is also one of the most self effacing, genuine people I have ever met. Rob's guitar sounds are unstoppable and mighty and Sivert's vocals match that power and beauty. The whole band is a breath of fresh air and if any of you loved the fierce, uncompromising glory of Doll by Doll then you will be blown away by Paradise. Joel loves it too! The E.P. is everything it should be. I shall write more later.
Goodbye 21st: Century Live in Bristol
We all know that the search for the capo that requires no retuning is the guitarist's quest for the holy grail. My friend Steve in Texas has a large biscuit tin full of different capos as testament to this. I've tried so many different ones that I have nightmares about it. There are a few good capos out there and there are some that will cost you more than I usually get paid for a gig. I've usually ended up buying a new capo after spotting one of my heroes(male or female) using a capo I haven't seen before. Well, I reckon that capos are like guitars - one man's meat is another man's poison. My current favourites and the most reliable and accurate I've so far used is the G7th Newport. It is great and, if I put it on where it should be, it is really accurate. It's not expensive. Graham Bushell who plays lead guitar and mandolin with me uses the original style G7ths and a Newport and he uses a G7th on his mandolin.
I'm not saying that this is it; my quest is over. What I am saying is that,for me, the G7th Newport is the best capo I've yet tried and they have the right attitude.
Not only that but they do things right. The first Newport I bought started not working properly. They have a lifetime warranty, you don't have to send your defective capo back; they just send you a new one. I only found out about the warranty when I decided to see if I could mend the capo. I went on google/youtube and that's when I found out about the warranty. I didn't look at the packaging when I bought it originally. So I now have three of them.
I use Paige capos on my mandolin family instruments because they are really thin and my fingers aren't!
Harry Dean Stanton
Harry Dean Stanton died on Friday. He was a real character and one of my favourite actors and he certainly didn't become the icon he was because he was easy on the eye. A moment I shall never forget was the night Jerry Aubrey and I went to see Ry Cooder at Wembley Arena when he was touring the Get Rhythm album. When Cooder and the Moula Banda Rhythm Aces played Across the Borderline, came the moment when, on the album, Harry did the Spanish verse, and on to the stage from the wings walked Harry Dean Stanton in the Flesh and in his crumpled old pale linen suit and Panama hat and he did his bit right there. For me, it made my night. Ry Cooder and Harry Dean Stanton have crossed paths many times and iit was a heartwarming and magical moment. That night it was the same Harry Dean Stanton as the one who had introduced the Moula Banda Rhythm Aces to the Parrot and tired looking bar flies in the Club El Mundo Elegante in the fantastic video for "Get Rhythm". Harry Dean Stanton has been in more films than anyone will ever know and his presence whether fleeting or lengthy always added something special. Hell, I even named a pupil after him and the pupil (now a grown up) still remembers it and why!
Wherever you end up, they won't know what's hit them!
Enjoy this clip, everybody!
John Murrry and Lucas & King
My favourite blues singer/guitarist.
Just found this.
. . . and Skip James
These guys invented this stuff.
That's the point. So when you here white blues players slagging off tribute bands and cover bands, think about that.
Oh, and by the way, this is really funny.
Noam Pikelny, banjo picker extraordinary has done some solo albums and here are links to the two promotion videos. Not at all you'd expect and very funny.
The Making of Universal Favorite
Belatedly, two great musical documentaries
The Other One
How to Grow a Band
The Other One is a fascinating, heartwarming, eye-opening documentary and interview. The subject is, of course, Bob Weir but this is in no way self absorbed. This is about the Grateful Dead and how it all started and how Bob Weir ended up on the road at the ripe old age of 16 in that crazy, iconic band. The footage is extraordinary (Jerry Garcia scuba divng, for instance, and tickling and stroking a Conger eel - even dangerous sea creatures were his friends), concert footage, psychedelic era footage etc. It's really absorbing and a definite keeper.
How to Grow a Band - Deluxe Special Edition
The most inspiring and open music documentary I've ever seen. It's basically about the Punch Brothers forming and features Chris Thile (mandolin) with Noam Pikelny (banjo), Chris Eldridge (guitar), Gabe Witcher (fiddle) and Paul Kowert (double bass - original double bass player, Greg Garrison, left the band in 2008). Their uncomfortable UK debut at Glasgow's Celtic Connections in February 2008 where Chris Thile's string quintet "The Blind Leaving the Blind" was presented to a folk audience up for partying The documentary is up front about this and the band's post gig reactions. The Fruit Market audience is the only intolerant one and the rest, as they say, is history (in a quiet, unassuming way - these guys are at the top of their game and they travel the same way as the rest of us and, guess what, they're human beings!) The music is astonishing, the interviews are great, the whole vibe is warm and inclusive. Speaking as someone who is painfully aware of his musical limitations, this documentary didn't confirm those limitations, quite the opposite, in fact. I fell in love with music all over again. I had watched this on Netflix and then I finally sent off for the Deluxe, special limited edition. First off, it is genuinely limited edition; mine is number 881. I bought one some time later for my great friend and very gifted guitarist, Jerry Aubrey, and his is number 885.
The second disc in this edition is concert footage, rehearsals, throwing ideas about, talking about stuff that we all recognise. The music is not something you can describe in words (what music is?) but it is breath takingly beautiful.
Check it out.
This is Sonia's and my favourite restaurant in Southampton. The people who work there and keep the place bustling are lovely. This evening, when I went to collect a takeaway, I was absolutely knocked out to be told that the Telegraph had done a review. Here it is . . .
Bruce Hornsby & the Noisemakers
I bought an album by Bruce Hornsby about a year ago just to see what he was up to as he seemed to have fallen off the radar this side of the Atlantic. His stints with the Dead were all that I knew of. I know, I know, never end a sentence with a preposition.
Anyway, the album I bought was "Spirit Trail". WOW. What an album; I find it impossible to get bored and some of the songs are like lost Grateful Dead tunes; the album title fits like a glove. His music was better than ever. So I bought a load of other stuff; "The Solo Concerts", "Camp Meeting" (jazz covers), "Bride of the Noisemakers".
All of it's different and all of it's great.
So, somehow, along the way, I'd heard that he was playing Appalachian dulcimer. So I ordered "Rehab Reunion". What a great album. Not quite like anything I've ever heard before but involving lots of the elements that make me smile and wriggle about; great singing, terrific melodies, interesting and funny lyrics, beautifully recorded mandolin and fiddle, great electric guitar heavily influenced by Jerry Garcia, rhythmic punchy dulcimer, groovy bass and drumming and some great organ sounds and a terrific sense of dynamics. I love it. As always, this is not a review; I'm just telling you about an album that I can't stop listening to - you've all probably got it already and I'm attempting to teach my grandmother to suck eggs.
Steve Howell & Jason Weinheimer
A Hundred Years From Now
Out Of The Past Music
This is a wonderful review of the new album by my dearest friend, Steve Howell and Jason Weinheimer.
Steve Howell began his journey when he was what many might call, a child. He heard and fell in love with the fingerpicking style of Mississippi John Hurt at the age of 13, and things progressed from there. A stint in the Navy took him to South Wales, broadening his horizons even farther. He has a major love and a real affinity for the music, a fact that is evident from the opening notes of Fats Wallers' "Lulu's Back In Town" to the closing of Hoagy Carmichael's "Rocking Chair". The tunes on this disc were culled from among Howell's favorite tomes and were written between 1918-1922 and 1959. He is joined by Jason Weinheimer, a veteran songwriter & performer who has spent recent years recording and producing albums for other musicians in his studio, but finds the time to perform with a few bands including Steve Howell & the Mighty Men. That said, the two play beautifully together, bringing these cherished tunes to life to be enjoyed by yet another generation. There is nothing more beautiful than the inter-working of a pair of musicians with a true love for the music and the sensibility as well as the ability to allow the song to be the most important part of the equation...no egos getting in the way, no showboating and no high-tech gadgetry getting in the way. Tunes from Fats Waller, Jim Jackson, Mississippi John Hurt, Bo Carter, Jack Teagarden, Lightnin' Hopkins and more are delivered in a way that preserves the integrity of the tunes while, at the same time, breathing new life into timeless classics. The songs are every bit as valid and valuable today as they were when they were first written. Sometimes comedic and sometimes poignant, these stories of life, death and love speak to the heart now, as they did so long ago. Musicians of this ilk carry on in the time-honored tradition of the songster, the minstrel, whose purpose, other than putting food on the table was to preserve the music played in times past. Steve and Jason do a tremendous job. This is an album deserving of awards on many fronts. I recommend it highly to young and old alike. Fans of guitar or, up and coming guitarists would do well to give it a good listen.
Bill Wilson - Reflections in Blue
Keith & Allie & Hardee Abel on the porch of their house in New Orleans
This photograph was taken by Markham Dickson, Photographer
This is a photo of my friend Keith Abel and his family in New Orleans two nights ago. Keith was there when Katrina hit and this must be a nightmare for the people of New Orleans although they seem pretty resilient and Keith is certainly one man you'd like next to you in hard times.
To my shame, yesterday was the first time I got to see Grant in action. It's a humbling experience. Grant is a real satirist, unlike the pampered few who grace our airwaves. He plays great stand up bass and he is genuinely funny and he writes and performs songs which challenge and open your third ear, you know, the one which channels straight to the honest part of your brain.
He is, paradoxically (because we're not used to satire and activism being anything but cold and clever and self promoting), warm and charismatic and he challenges himself as much as he challenges us. He's brilliant.
Yesterday we played at Left Fest. This is the third year that Left Fest has been happening and it's a great atmosphere and the people who give up their time to make sure this coming together of people who believe that there has to be a fairer way for
everybody to be able to live, not just those who already have it all, are a terrific bunch of people. Mauri runs the car park and always makes you feel brilliant. Glyn Oliver and Jon Ellis who make sure it happens and, like Mauri, make you feel part of something really good (but it's we who should be thanking them for asking us to play).
All the people who speak and who perform and who do the sound in the two places (Tony Bunday in the acoustic tent and Tom on the desk in the hall) and Momentum and the Labour Party and Unite and Unison and the Palestine solidarity people and all the people who come along and who want to make a better world for everybody are so generous with their time and their enthusiasm and sharing, make you feel that this is the best place to be on a Saturday afternoon.
Thank you once again everybody that was there and thank you Jon and Glyn for inviting us.
This is a very good film and a very honest film. Nolan's decision to avoid CGI if he possibly could may have had the armchair historians foaming at the mouth: because Nolan chose to use real Spitfires, real Me 109s, at least one real Heinkel 111 and real ships (mainly) and real soldiers, there has been whingeing because you don't see 328,226 soldiers or 933 ships (the number of little boats that took part will never be known but the names of the small boats that sailed from the Solent and between them rescued 100 soldiers are written on the glass at Harbour Lights, Southampton as you leave the cinema). What Nolan did was concentrate on the stories, on what actually happened to people and he did this successfully.
Comparing this film, unconsciously, with the stories I was told as a forces nipper in the early 50s by men who'd actually been there (rather than men trying to sell a contraversial book), including my father at the age of 18, I found the whole experience deeply moving as did Joel, my son.
Go and see Dunkirk. It's brilliantly written, brilliantly filmed and the emotion is real; it's a film about young men doing their best in a very frightening situation and it doesn't judge.
Ignore the trailers.
Make your own mind up.
Graham and I went to see this film on Thursday and we loved every moment of it. That's the point. It's the first film I've seen in ages where there were no dips. It wasn't relentless action but the story line was good and I was totally engaged from the start and it was a cracking opening scene. I'm not great with films that feature children (there are exceptions: Whale Rider, The Dark Horse, Leon, The Round Up, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, (and some more I can't think of right now) but the young girl who can't speak is terrific (and really important) and a couple of the many top moments in the film feature her prominently. Caesar is great as are all the apes (including the new one) and weirdly, although they assume fairly traditional war film/pursuit/subversive and submissive roles, for me this is a lot more powerful than the equivalent when the main characters are humans. A lot of issues are tackled, the action is great and I experienced just about every emotion possible, several times over. I know as much about how films work as I know about how jazz works, or classical music; if it moves me then I love it; it doesn't necessarily mean that anyone else will like it or be moved, especially the critics - but then they don't pay do they? I think this film is brilliant.
Songs of Idiocy and Expediency
A belated mention of Rick Foot's wonderful new e.p. Songs of Idiocy and Expediency.
It's Wonderful; musically imaginative and rhythmic as can be, funny and serious all at the same time, political and poignant (great original folk song about some lads in the eastern part of this country and a disastrous ram raid), tangoable at least twice!!! There is nothing quite like a Rick Foot (recently returned from playing at the Isle of Wight Festival) album. Don't miss out. You'll love it. It's brilliant.
Revolve & Rotate – Luke Daniels
Revolve & Rotate is the second album of songs written predominantly by Luke himself and I love it.
Luke now plays guitar with flair and syncopation as if it were something he’d been doing since he was old enough to walk and I love his piano playing and as for the Polyphon . . .
The Polyphon is a thing of wonder and, having seen it in action, looking for all the world like something the Time Traveller would have created for his “in vehicle” sound system as he leapt the time barrier, I’ve felt the pull of its spell. I’m not going to try to explain it. Visit Luke’s website and you’ll get an explanation. It’s magical and it’s beautiful and it creates a “willing suspension of disbelief” with a musical clarity that our befuddled minds were never able to touch back in ’67. That possibly explains why my favourite ‘Revolve & Rotate’ part is ‘Part 2’ which has some very ‘Dead’ like electric guitar right on the edge of your ear sight.
This album is even better than “What’s Here & What’s Gone”; the lyrics cover a bigger universe and demand engagement in important, even vital stuff. The melodies are, at times, startlingly intense now that Luke’s vocal delivery has hit its stride!
The playing is great, never overpowering the song and always lifting the spirit no matter what the story. This album makes you want to get up off your arse and join the human race, not sit by idly and sneer, and never more strongly than on ‘Stone and Quarter’ – my favourite track and a serious contender for anthem of the decade if not the century.
Luke doesn’t need me to try to convince you all to get this album, far more erudite and important people than me are writing seriously good reviews of the album. If I’d been a bit less diffident, I’d have said all this two months ago when I bought the album at his Polyphon gig at the Railway in Winchester. Just buy the album; you won’t regret it.
While you’re at it, order Luke’s “Mother Glasgow” album – a collaboration of what can only be described as an eclectic collective of Glasgow based musicians. It’s warm and it’s lovely.
Luke Daniels Music
Rain Machine – Rick Foot
Now, this is my album of the year. As soon as I got the 6 track e.p. I became a believer; my mind has not been changed.
This album is not like anything I have ever heard, ever. A solo album by a double bass player that isn’t jazz? How could that possibly work? What would it even sound like?
O.K. It works so well that Rick, as I’ve probably said before on this website, can actually do it live, mutitracking himself so coolly that we never even spotted him tapping his loop station. To all of you that have never tried to do it, looping stuff is hard, as hard as playing the bones! Looping and playing an instrument which has no frets and strings so thick that us guitar players have nightmares about such a monster and we wake up crying is the most difficult thing I can imagine (apart from sitting through a whole Kevin Rowland cd).
It sounds beautiful, it sounds like everything you could possibly do with a double bass that is good all in one place at the same time; whatever it is that you love about the double bass (except playing it like a tea chest bass but I did use the word ‘love’), it’s all there; no-one bows like Rick and no-one feels rhythm in quite the same way as Rick when he plucks out a feel and, strangely, no-one makes it sound quite as deep as Rick does.
This album is funny and it sticks two fingers up at the saccharine coating that most people are happy to lick on a daily basis.
My favourite line in the whole album is
“The last time I saw Lucy she was walking up the road as if the road itself was getting in the way”
The same track also features great Latino, La Bambaesque, lead double bass.
‘Dreams of Noah’ which follows has an irresistible groove and ‘Everything Turns Beige’ does what it says and the massed Rick choirs are magnificent and somehow a single double bass line manages to make you think you’re listening to a whole band.
The songs are really strong and style wise they cover a lot of ground, but always with panache (notpanaché, a French shandy) and class.
Every time you put this on your player you will hear something new, usually several somethings new. I can’t really say I’ve ever experienced that before.
It grooves like the very devil (or Jesus I that makes you feel less guilty).
Oh and ‘Don’t go to sleep’ (one of my favourites) is magnificent and scary and the creepiest blues I’ve ever heard. Fabulous playing, brilliant groove.
I could talk about every track but that’s not what music’s about. You have to hear it not read me talking about it.
The recording on this album is beautiful, clear, aching, deep; there is so much space that you have no trouble at all getting right inside it.
I have bought 10 copies so far and I’m skint. It’s your turn to buy it now.
R.I.P. Muhammad Ali. You will always be the greatest.
It was so sad to hear that the mighty Dave Swarbrick had died; this time it was true.
His music was, so often, the sound track to some of the most magical moments of my life.
This weekend I'm going to see Boo Hewerdine at the Railway Inn in Winchester and then, on Monday I'm going to see the Bros. Landreth.
How exciting is that? All this wonderful music is down to Oliver Gray's enthusiasm and passion for class music. Big thank you to Oliver. Watch this space.
Joel Cottrell will be playing at the Dolphin Inn, St. Denys from April this year.
He has several gigs and will have me as his wingman.
The dates are all on the gig page and the first one is April 13th. It would be great to see some familiar faces there to support him.
The political impartiality of the B.B.C.
John Trudell, February 15, 1946 - December 8, 2015
I felt so sad when I heard, yesterday evening, of the death of the Santee Sioux poet and political activist John Trudell.
As on so many previous occasions, I was in a different part of the house and it was that early evening time and Radio 4 was on in the kitchen and you just know, when you hear a piece of music, that the person who made that music is dead.
69 years old and he had fought all his life against the appalling treatment that Native Americans have received for centuries, first at our hands and the hands of the French and the Spanish, and later at the hands of the immigrants who now considered the continent to be willed to them by their God who simultaneously, according to the “philosophy” that was used to justify what followed (Manifest Destiny) had decided that the Native American people had no place in the future of this land.
He was the spokesperson for the United Indians of All Tribes occupation of Alcatraz in the late 60s, broadcasting as Radio Free Alcatraz. During most of the 1970s, he served as the chairman of the American Indian Movement
After his pregnant wife, three children and mother-in-law were killed in 1979 in suspicious circumstances in a fire at the home of his parents-in-law on the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes Duck Valley Reservation in Nevada (Trudell and others never stopped believing that the F.B.I. were involved), Trudell turned to writing, music and film to try to open people’s eyes to the injustice he saw all around him.
AKA Graffiti Man is a great album which will give you an idea of what John Trudell was all about. It features Jesse Ed Davis, whose father was Comanche and whose mother was Kiowa, on lead guitar and, in my humble opinion, when you buy this album you will hear some of Jesse Ed’s finest playing.
It is a powerful album which punches home its messages with great music. It features the best poem about Elvis and Rock n’ Roll ever.
Check out John’s biography. Buy the c.d. Hold John Trudell in your heart.
R.I.P. John Trudell; they can’t put you on a fucking reservation any more.
Rockin' the Res
Steve Howell & the Mighty men: “Friend Like Me”
Rick Foot: “Rain machine”
It’s always an exciting moment when a friend has recorded an album and you finally get your hands on it and experience that wonderful feeling that you used to get when you bought an l.p. back in the days when you had to save your pocket money to do it; if you were lucky and your mum and dad understood how important the new Beatles, Bob Dylan or Rolling Stones album was to you , then you got three a year; one for your birthday, one for Christmas and one you bought yourself with your hard earned cash.
Well imagine what it’s like when TWO of your friends put out an album at the same time!
Steve Howell & the Mighty Men (Steve on vocals, acoustic and electric guitar, Chris Michaels on electric guitar, Dave Hoffpauir (Arkansas’ answer to Jim Keltner) on drums and Jason Weinheimer on bass) have done it again; “Friend Like Me”, recorded on 2 inch, 16 track tape with all the warmth that brings to the sound, is as real as it gets. Once again, it’s all about the songs; I think Steve would get on really well with Dick Gaughan. Personal favourites on this new c.d. are ”Me and my Uncle”, the John Phillips (The Mamas and the Papas) song that became a Grateful Dead classic. Well I’m going to upset a few people here by saying that I think this is the best take on this great story song ever, likewise “This Old Hammer”; these two songs showcase the true quality of Steve’s singing – it touches your heart at moments like these and is only surpassed on this album on the spooky “Roustabout”; it’s some achievement to sing a whole song basically on one note and keep you totally hooked; hypnotic. Jason Weinheimer’s bass on “Take This Hammer” underpins Steve’s stately picking with flair and solid feel. Chris’ electric guitar drifts across it all with death defying tone. Chris is a great electric guitarist; he really understands the whole deal.
“Aberdeen Mississippi Blues” takes no prisoners! It rocks. “Oh Lord, Search My Heart “ is a wide open, shiny eyed take on a great song that set the Reverend Gary Davis’ heart ticking again. It’s fabulous.
I’m not going to go through all the songs - we’d be here all night. I love this album and I am in awe of the guys who made it.
These guys get it and so will you once you’ve heard this album. It’s a lesson in what the traditional music of America, especially the untamed musical spaces of the South, is all about; it tells a great story of heart and soul with no bullshit.
But I’m biased. Don’t take my word for it. Find out for yourself.
"Aberdeen Mississippi Blues"
We went to the launch night of Rick’s album “Rain Machine”. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen Rick nervous. It’s not something that you could ever do justice to in words; you had to be there. Rick played double bass as only Rick can; with fire, sensitivity, imagination, groove and two fingers aimed firmly at anyone who thinks that they know what a double bass can or should do. He operated a loop station like the best conjuror I’ve ever seen and he sang his songs and talked to us all as we hung on every word and note.
When I bought my copy of the album (half album?) and put it on my car stereo I discovered that he had played the album note for note; when you hear the c.d. you will realise what an incredible achievement that was.
This c.d. has been on my car stereo virtually non-stop, alternating with “Friend Like Me” and the thing is, every time you listen to it, you hear something you didn’t notice last time and it’s great.
You can’t get bored with this album.
Favourites? The Woody Allen “Sleeper” world of “Broke the Weather” opens up a crazy, wry can of worms world that makes me smile. The music is beautiful, great, warm, harmonic double bass picked and bowed ideas (there’s a surprise!!!) which underpin the gentle lunacy of the world you end up observing with Rick. The whole thing is like some smiley, weird “Hasn’t everything ended up fucked?” and goofy magical fairy story and if Rick’s relaxed about it then it’ll be all right. He sings it brilliantly with one eyebrow raised – if you know Rick you know what I mean. Everything is wonderfully recorded. Another favourite is the very groovy “Too Many Monkeys”; it opens quite Beefheartly before the groove kicks in and I love the almost painful clarity of the main bass line (there’s another surprise!!!). I love Rick’s vocals on this. In fact I love Rick’s vocals on everything; it couldn’t be anyone else. The back up vocals by the sheep are a masterstroke. Each of the 50 c.d.s has a different bonus track (mine is number No. 23 and tells a different part of the same musical story to Sonia’s No. 17). Mine and Sonia’s both feature the wide open spaces and beautiful music of Rick’s skill and infinite imagination.
If nothing I’ve said makes any sense, so much the better; you’ll have to get the c.d. to see what I mean and then you can try to explain it to someone else.
I love this album and yes I am biased.
How could I not be?
Maurice Dickson and Catherine Ashcroft
“Unconditional” (Maurice Dickson) and “Spirits and Dreams” (Mochara – Maurice Dickson and Catherine Ashcroft)
I’m sitting quietly getting ready to set off for a Doonicans gig down in the west. I’ve just put a new set of strings on the mandola and, as usual, my finger tips are bleeding because I always clip the surplus off the strings too soon. I’ve been listening to two albums all afternoon: “Unconditional” by Maurice Dickson and “Spirits and Dreamers” by Mochara (Maurice Dickson and Catherine Ashcroft).
Writing about these two albums is something I should have done long ago and my apologies to them both for taking so long to let them and everyone else know how much I love the albums.
Maurice is a truly fine and sensitive songwriter with a voice to match the emotional tension and frequent joy that shines out from his beautifully crafted songs. This man does not bullshit. Anyone who has seen him live will know this to be true and a quiet hour or two with “Unconditional” will move you with the honesty of what he and his music are all about.
The textures have an uncluttered depth which taps into the good places in your head and heart.
“Spirits and Dreams” combines all of this with the wonderful uilleann pipe and whistle playing of the stunningly gifted Catherine Ashcroft; she plays beautifully with empathy and fire combined and, when she plays a slow air, it grooves as strongly as the faster tunes; there are no throwaways in Catherine’s playing and the tone that she coaxes from any instrument that she plays is so pure and rich that it makes those hairs on the back of your neck bristle in that most addictive of ways.
I don’t do reviews but, as I have said before, there are times when stuff just has to be said.
These two warm, generous people are two of my musical heroes and you need to hear them recorded and see them live
Power to them both.
On behalf of immigrants
About a month ago Sonia and I sat in our local pub having a quiet drink with a couple of friends and had to listen to a chirpy Londoner who now lives in Southampton telling the world about a greedy, thieving (his words) taxi driver who tried to rip him off on a recent visit to London (by overcharging). Apparently, according to our chirpy real Londoner, this was because the taxi driver was Polish (or of any foreign nationality you care to choose).
Last Thursday Sonia and I spent a great evening with some friends in Cambridge. At about midnight we took a taxi back to our hotel. It was driven by a young, chirpy Pole and the company was a well known Cambridge Taxi firm. When we arrived at our hotel the meter read £6. 20p. I gave the cab driver a £10 note and before I could ask him to add a quid tip, he gave me a £5 note saying he had no change and that:
"Sometimes I get tip, sometimes I give tip. Welcome to Cambridge"
Of course we all know that overcharging is something which only foreigners do. No English cab driver has ever done such a thing. No English restaurant has ever overcharged, no British former public utility has ever overcharged, no British former public transport system has ever overcharged, no British former public telecommunications company has ever overcharged and neither has any British owned bank.
Let's face it, if overcharging were an Olympic event, Great Britain would win gold every time.
Kate's Café, Portswood, Southampton
I visit Kate's café fairly regularly, often on a Sunday morning with Rick after a hard night's gig on the Saturday.
The atmosphere is very chilled and wonderfully friendly and warm at the same time. All the staff are great, helpful and make you feel welcome (I've eaten breakfast in a lot of places and countries over the years and the welcome bit is often missing).
The coffee is seriously good and quick! The food is fantastic: locally sourced (I have yet to try Kate's mum's homemade marmalade but it's on my list of things to do before I die!) and delicious and perfectly cooked: Kate's breakfast hash is the best breakfast ever: the small, chunky fried potatoes which make up part of the tasty mound are absolutely spot on! Just right! The food is always fresh; if you have toast you get as much butter as you could possibly want. The sauces are in bottles (the same ones they start out in!). Scrambled Eggs Royales are also wonderful. Last Sunday I watched Kate take orders, help cook and serve every table all by herself AND speak individually to each table telling them exactly how long their food would be (a member of staff hadn't arrived). It was seriously impressive AND she was still smiling when I left.
Don't just take my word for it; try Kate's for yourself!
Vera Van Heeringen
For those of you who didn’t buy Vera’s first album, I’ve got some bad news: you’ve got two to buy now and, rightly, there are no two for the price of one supermarket deals. I’m not a music reviewer. It’s just that when I hear great music, especially when it’s created by someone I know and respect, I have to tell everyone about it because the music business won’t.
“Proper Brew” is a beautiful album of powerful songs of empathy. They speak universal truths. I am dead jealous of Vera’s ability to write songs (just as I am of Joel’s ability to do the same). No point in being mealy mouthed about it. Vera writes great songs and I mean great. “Milk & Honey” is a paradoxically beautiful song which I think must be about the forced migration of children to Australia after the second world war. It is a heart wrenching song which is long overdue and it’s hard for the emotion it evokes not to come bubbling out. What happened to these children, many of whom were used as forced labour to build the centres they were kept in, is shocking and shameful.
"Mad Jack" is another song about one of our national shames: the way we treat old soldiers; something close to my heart. There’s some beautiful fiddle on this incredibly moving song. Speaking of incredible fiddle, the opening track “Believer” features Jock Tyldesley doing what, in my book, only Jock can do and, if his understated fiddle break doesn’t move you, then your heart is made of stone. There is more than a hint of tremolo effect on the electric guitar too! I should state, at this stage, that I am a tremolo effect addict and that it is my belief that we British are far too scared of it; recording engineers more than most of us. “Cold Winter Evening” is a powerful ballad with Vera playing a powerful, beautifully recorded acoustic guitar figure, Kris Drever adding a great harmony vocal, Dirk Powell playing perfect piano and beneath it all . . . a luscious bed of unashamed tremolo guitar.
Vera’s guitar fine playing is even finer on this album: nowhere more so than on track 2, “Never Enough Time”. Great flatpicking: breathtaking! Great knee percussion from Sam Sweeney too! Life’s too short. A lovely harmony which makes you smile wryly as you think about mortality.
There is some stunning overdriven double bass on the sublime, haunting anthem “Wildest Truth”. It’s a great piece of mixing/production.
I could go on and on: just buy “Proper Brew” and, if you still haven’t got “Standing Tall” then shame on you! Vera Van Heeringen should be famous and she should be headlining festivals everywhere.
Make it so!
The Dolphin in St Denys
The Dolphin is under new management again. Steve and Inez are lovely, and in only a few days have already made the place vibrant and welcoming. They're very keen to resurrect it as one of Southampton's best live music venues, and deserve all the support they can get. We're playing there this Saturday, April 25. Hope to see you there!
GAK Ltd. : Guitar, Amp and Keyboard Centre Brighton
We decided to buy some QSC K12 active speakers to replace our old Box active speakers (they haven't died but their weight was killing us! They still sound great and have been 100% reliable). Anyway, after phoning around a few places and getting the usual flippant, unenthusiastic, more or less unhelpful replies, I stumbled across GAK in Brighton and spoke to Richard. What a breath of fresh air. Had it not been for the British accents I would have thought I was dealing with an American music shop such was their helpfulness, patience and, yes, matching enthusiasm! This blog is aimed at musicians. One of the worst things about so many British music stores is the way they piss on your fireworks when you've finally got that money together to acquire something you've dreamed about for so long. I remember driving my nipper up to a guitar shop in Stevenage to buy his Lowden - his dream guitar. The shop assistant/salesperson couldn't have been more disinterested. It was. I had to bite my tongue. It ruined the whole experience for Joel. The day you get the guitar you thought you'd only ever dream about should be such a special day.
GAK is the complete antithesis: Richard, who dealt with me very patiently and who helped me with an important logistical problem, couldn't have done more. The price he gave me beat everybody else hands down and was given without hesitation. Jim who dealt with a grumpy me first thing on a Saturday morning was equally patient and helpful (remember, he had to deal with an IT illiterate). These people get it!
I shall be dealing with them a lot in future and I would not hesitate to recommend them to anyone.
Onwards and upwards, GAK!
Some great gigs
The Barr Brothers, The Transatlantic Sessions (featuring Aly McBain, Jerry Douglas, John Doyle, John McCusker, Michael McGoldrick, Rodney Crowell, Tim O'Brien, Dirk Powell, Russ Barenberg, Patti Griffin, John Smith, Sara Watkins from Nickel Creek) Ryan Adams and Chris Wood.
Does that sound like some kind of ridiculous musical fantasy dream? Well it isn't. By the end of this evening I'll have seen them all in the space of a month.
Where to begin: well the Barr Brothers played the Railway in Winchester and it was one of the best, most exciting gigs I've ever been at. I love the new album but this was on a whole different level. A stunning performance by a group of incredibly gifted young musicians playing powerful songs which had a capacity audience spellbound.
The Transatlantic Sessions at the South Bank: Wonderful songs and tunes from the musical traditions of both sides of the Atlantic played by some of the finest traditional musicians in the world. What else is there to say: Tim O'Brien and Dirk Powell were awe inspiring. Highlights for Joel and me were the set of tunes that John Doyle, John McCusker and Mike McGoldrick did in the first half, and Dirk Powell's song - inspired by his grandfather - in the second half. My specs misted up and I wasn't alone.
Then, a week ago, at Hammersmith - Ryan Adams. Despite the best efforts of the sound person to sabotage the songs with a seriously dodgy mix, this was a night to remember. I went with Joel and Matt, his best friend, and I loved it all. Ryan Adams was obviously blown away by his reception, by the enthusiasm of the audience and their tuneful exuberance as they joined him on just about every song (but never intruding during the quieter, acoustic moments - not even on Sweet Carolina). He never stopped talking to us all (even interrupting songs) and he was funny, random and warm. It was one of those nights that stays in your heart for ever.
Tonight, Sonia and I are off to see the mighty Chris Wood. The last time we saw him neither of us could speak afterwards - we were absolutely memerised by his beautiful guitar playing, his singing, the songs and what had to say in between. It was a night we never wanted to end.
Trying to describe music is a waste of time. Even trying to describe the emotions it stirs is well nigh impossible.
I think I'm probably preaching to the converted.
"Do you Still Love Me - Ryan Adams" *****
Luke Daniels at the Pound Arts Centre, Corsham
Sonia and I travelled to Corsham for the last night of Luke Daniel's tour as a singer songwriter playing the songs from his fine new album "What's Here What's Gone".
We saw two gigs on this tour and the music was powerful, beautiful and not like anything I've ever seen before. For the second half of the tour, the lineup was Rufus Huggan on 'Cello, Yaffa Quan- Weinreich on second vocal (she also took the lead for four songs two of which were in Scots Gaelic), Rick (Foot) on double bass and Luke on acoustic guitar, zither banjo, piano and, on one song only , accompanying Yaffa on melodeon as she sang a hauntingly beautiful Gaelic lament. My favourite song of the night was "How Will I Know" - it's also my favourite track on the album.
I seem to have skated over Luke's instrument switch. His guitar playing has matured with his voice and he embraces a breadth of style and feel on his old Gibson that lead you to believe that he's been playing the instrument for years. His finger picking on the song based on the parable of the three servants would bring a smile and a nod of respect from Nic Jones and Chris Wood, two of my heroes of the guitar. His plays banjo with a relaxed assurance and a feel that's right on the money on "What's Here What's Gone". I love the piano on "What She Means". Don't just take my word for it. Check out Luke's website and check out the album. I happen to know that the gig was recorded from the desk (although Luke didn't realise it at the time), not for any major recording reason. I'd love to hear it. Luke never approaches anything in a half arsed manner, including playing instruments which are relatively new to him.
This was a very special night, however, and I found it very hard to pick out favourites. "I'm Not Afraid" was a standout for me however and the song based on a Salvation Army hymn at the end of the night could melt the hardest stones. The songs were mesmerising and powerful, Luke's voice has grown in strength and conviction and has a quality which cannot fail to move you. Yaffa, Rufus and Rick never intruded but listened to Luke and each other and created textures which matched and enhanced the nuance and gentle dynamic and emotional power of Luke's songs.
I'm not a critic and I've never studied music. I react instinctively to what I hear and I felt very privileged to be a part of the tiny audience who got off their arses to support Luke that night and, indeed, on this tour. It was a special night.
There is some saying that goes something like:
"People get the government they deserve." It's not something that I unreservedly agree with because I always vote so I don't think I fall into that category but it sort of makes sense.
Luke Daniels took a great chance to go out and tour an album of songs: It's opening your soul to a world which can be very hostile when the mood takes it.
When I look around my own town and see how many of the venues, which take a punt on stuff that's different (and which doesn't necessarily make commercial sense) are closing and when I sit listening to such stunning music surrounded by empty seats then I just wonder if I will ever understand anything.So here's something that definitely makes sense.
Ultimately, people will end up with the music they deserve.
Support real music or turn your back on it and let it fade into memory.
The Barr Brothers: "Sleeping Operator"
Sonia put this album on last night when we got back from the gig and Rick and I were blown away by it. There are a lot of influences but no pale imitations. This is a band from Quebec and they have very clearly listened to the Band with their eclectic approach to instrumentation and sense of melody and harmony both vocally and with that Salvation Army brass sound - great big majestic, heart breaking chords. There's even Gamelan and Tuareg blues feels in there (and I never liked Gamelan before - a result of my ignorance and musical narrowmindedness, not a judgement of any consequence on the musical worth of Gamelan stuff). It's a really great album and the final track will break your heart.
"Love Ain't Enough - The Barr Brothers"
If you get the opportunity, make time to show your support for the firemen.
The Velvet Doonicans at the Dolphin, St. Denys, Southampton
Last night's gig at the Dolphin in St. Denys, Southampton was all that we could have wished for. Lots of friends turned up and the atmosphere was warm with a lot of smiles. It was more than just a gig and it would have been really difficult not to deliver musically with such a strong vibe filling the place. I couldn't stop smiling as Graham and Rick produced stunning surprises at every musical turn. I am a lucky man indeed to be a part of this trio.
Matt and Jane have done a fantastic job in the three weeks they have been in the pub. The beers are great and well kept and they hope to make the Dolphin a place that is known for its beer, good food (ultimately) and good music. They have put an incredible effort into the place and they deserve every success. It's right next to St. Denys railway station so, if you commute from Southampton, it's a good place to chill before the last part of your journey home.
When the musicians do their bit and the people who run the venues make such efforts then it's down to everyone else to finish the jigsaw and help build that atmosphere that we all value so much and miss when it's gone.
If you get the opportunity, show your support for NHS workers.
Luke Daniels: "What's Here What's Gone"
This is not a review
If you only buy one more album this year, then buy this one. It's certainly the best album of 2014 by a long chalk, brimming with the qualities that make you feel the way you do when you don't want a fantastic book to ever end - I can't stop playing this album because it makes you feel stuff so intensely. Like Kelly Joe Phelps with "Sky Like a Broken Clock" and Robbie McIntosh with "Emotional Bends", Luke has made that leap of faith that takes so much musical courage: Kelly Joe, Robbie and Luke all made their names and gained international respect because of their unique instrumental skills. Deep down, however, you knew all along that people who played with so much soul had songs of their own that should be heard, and you knew that when you heard them, they'd be something very special indeed.
Luke's album is a cracking achievement on all levels and it really does touch your soul.
My particular favourite is "How Will I Know?". Talk about lifting! Another favourite, featuring some beautiful piano from Luke (he plays guitar, zither banjo, piano and mixes in samples on this album) is "What She Means". Luke's singing is strong and crystal clear and he sounds like no-one else (I used to think he sounded a bit like Nick Drake or Kevin Dempsey). I love it. His lyrics are spot on; the feelings they evoke, universal. The album sits beautifully alongside the other two albums I've mentioned.
Check out his website, go to one of the gigs. I would have loved to see him on the same bill as Dan Tyminski, but it will have to be Basingstoke.
Album of the year.
Buy the c.d. You won't find it, uninvited, on your iphone but then again, you won't be contacting anyone to find out how to get rid of it.
You can buy the album and find tour dates at www.lukedanielsmusic.com
The Friday October 17th gig at the Ropemakers in Bridport has, unfortunately, had to be cancelled due to two thirds of the trio's illness. Apologies to anyone who had intended going to the gig.
The Sunday, October 12th gig at the Seahorse is cancelled due to ill health. My apologies to anyone who was intending to go to the gig.
Last night the Doonicans were privileged to open for this fine duo at Talking Heads in Southampton. Maurice Dickson plays guitars, bouzoukis, mandolin and bodhran with fire and a mighty groove. He sings the fine songs that he writes - songs which reflect with sensitivity and warmth the world he has travelled - with a clear, beautiful and strong voice. He has a fine sense of melody and never sticks to the obvious in his firm grasp of rhythmic patterns. He only sang one cover and the nearest I can get to it is asking you to imagine a blend of Paul Brady and Van Morrison in one voice singing "No Woman No Cry": It was one of those "film" moments. Catherine Ashcroft plays uillean pipes and whistle with a powerfully sensitive feel for her instruments and the music she plays. The slow air she played last night was intensely moving and the battle she won with the arhythmic clapping of the audience as she broke into a fast tune had to be seen to be believed. I would have had to stop. Describing music in words is a waste of time but you should make the effort to see Maurice and Catherine if they are within striking distance.
I was very saddened to hear of the death of the man who was, for me, without peer. I don't think anyone came near Bobby Womack. He wrote, he sang, he played guitar, he produced. He was Sam Cooke's guitarist and also filled that spot on several of Aretha Franklin's earliest and best albums, he wrote "I'm in Love" which was recorded by Wilson Pickett and is, in my opinion, just about the best thing that singer ever recorded: great horn riff! He wrote the Rolling Stones' first number 1 "It's All Over Now". It's a toss up whether I prefer Pickett's or his own recording of that iconic soul number. He played guitar on Sly and the Family Stone's album "There's a Riot Going On", he wrote for Janis Joplin, he wrote the instrumental "Breezin'" which was made famous by George Benson, he collaborated with Wilton Felder of the Crusaders on his jazz-funk classic "Inherit the Wind", his own album "The Poet" topped the R&B charts and is a stunning testament to the depth of his musical soul. He recently collaborated with Damon Albarn on the third Gorillaz album. Albarn co-produced his last album "The Bravest Man in the Universe" with Richard Russell.
I'm probably preaching to the converted here, but I don't believe we will see his like again. In many ways, his approach to life was controversial and occasionally turned into something which we, from a safe distance, might point at with a sanctimonious finger and, inevitably, and although he conquered it in the end, he was, for some time, no stranger to the destructive chaos of heavy drug addiction.
Be that as it may, he will always shine brightly in my eyes.
R.I.P. Bobby Womack.
Paco de Lucia
This website didn’t exist until two months after the sad death of Paco de Lucia.
The saddest aspect of his death, for me, was exactly that: the way that Paco’s death was virtually ignored by the media in this country and that includes the “serious” music press.
He was an astonishing musician who played breathtakingly beautiful music. He was one of the greatest guitarists of all time, and he never stopped pushing flamenco guitar through every barrier imaginable. He performed and composed and recorded with musicians from other cultures long before the dinner party set decided that “world music” should be fashionable. Flamenco itself is a fusion of different musical heritages but to Paco de Lucia the world was a much bigger place than that.
Late one night I accidentally saw the Flamenco version of Carmen on television. Paco de Lucia played throughout the stunning production and he was the musical director of the film. If you haven’t seen it then shell out for the DVD. It is astonishing.
Chick Corea said of him:
“Paco inspired me in the construction of my own musical world as much as Miles Davis and John Coltrane.”
He was criticised by the purists for quite some time because of his belief that tradition should not be allowed to stifle the creative spirit.
He even broke the rules of technique as you can see from this extract from an article about him in Euronews:
“He later revolutionised the technique of flamenco guitar, putting the instrument on his right leg, instead of the left like his predecessors and classical guitar players. In this position the guitar is positioned horizontally, away from the body and leaving more room for the hand on the guitar neck. This allowed him to play melodies and chords previously impossible.”
We have lost something really precious with his silence.
Paco de Lucia live - Sevilla, 1992
His last album, Cancion Andaluza, was released unfinished in April.
"Into the Silence" by Wade Davis
Rick loaned me this book and it is one of the most extraordinary pieces of writing I have ever read. It's about George Mallory and the attempts to climb Everest in the early 1920s, within the wider context of the aftermath of the First World War and British and Chinese incursions into Tibet. Full of meticulous research, and a brilliant story. Highly recommended. There's a good review by Geoff Dyer in the Observer here.
The National Health Service
I have just been in hospital in Southampton for several days. The people who work in the National Health Service have been shown contempt on a fairly regular basis by certain elements in this country, both in the media and in political circles. My treatment couldn't have been better. My experience of the professional skill and commitment of every person working there, at least 50% of them immigrants, and helping me through serious pain and worry, touched me deeply. Support your NHS and let them know how much they mean to you. They don't get many thanks and they deserve so much more.
It was with great sadness I read that Wayne Henderson, the great trombone player who played at the heart of The Crusaders, formerly the hard bop Jazz Crusaders, died last month. The first ""jazz" album I ever heard was "In a Silent Way" by Miles Davies when I was about 21 (late developer) then, following a big gap someone played me the stunning fusion album "Southern Comfort" in about 1975 and I'd never heard a trombone played like it. What a band that was. I don't know or care what purists think about the Crusaders but Wayne Henderson, Wilton Felder, Stix Hooper, Joe Sample and Larry Carlton lit up many a late night for me. Rest in peace, Wayne. Onwards and upwards!
"The Crusaders - Stomp and Buck Dance (1974)"
"The Children of Freedom"
I have just finished reading a book by Mark Levy: "The Children of Freedom". This is a book not quite like any that I have ever read. It is a novel in which most of what happens is drawn from historical fact with an intensity which I have never really come across before. It tells the story, in the first person, of a resistance network set up in south western France during the second world war by young, immigrant teenagers, many of them Jewish and all of them of a political persuasion which would have made them targets of the forces of the Nazis and the Vichy militia even had they not taken the decision to fight. It is an astonishingly moving book and it is beautifully written even in translation. It can be bought very cheaply from play.com (round about £3 a throw). This book is one of the most powerful books I have ever read.
I received attached to an email from my mate Pat Begley and couldn't resist posting it on my website. As a musician I have lost count of the number of times I have been asked to gig somewhere either on that basis or on a basis so close to the one below that the differences were a complete joke. I'd also like to say that I have done lots and lots of gigs at venues where the owner was obviously going to be out of pocket at the end of the evening but respected both musicians and the rights of working people. The irony is that most of us would be happy to do people like that a favour and, in fact, have done on many occasions. Read on!
The Flatville Aces
This is advanced notice from Jock Tyldesley about a Cajun gig to take place in August.
Just to give you advance warning that The Flatville Aces will be at The Talking Heads on friday 22nd August, featuring the Queen of Cajun Music, Sheryl Cormier and her husband Russell. If you missed them last time, they're awesome. She's a great accordion player and he's a wonderful singer.
Keep your diaries free.
My son Joel recently played me some tracks by Shearwater. Now he is young and so are most of his friends so you get a younger perspective on things and much newer sounds. Shearwater play American rock (in the broadest possible sense) with a singer who dares to be different, interesting, powerful and emotive music with seriously good lyrics. The three albums I've bought are "Rook", "FellowTravellers" and "Animal Joy". All of them are excellent: music that will take you to all kinds of places.
Amanda Shires is a young American singer songwriter who paints with a broad brush (musically, that is). "Down Fell the Doves" has captivated me from my first hearing and every track is different. She plays fiddle but don't expect yet another Alison Krauss sound alike. There is no bluegrass or old time on this album. This stuff is different and I swear the first track will make your toes tap!
At this point I should point out that none of this stuff is necessarily new, it's a case of "Just in case you haven't . . ." At some point we're going to make this a two way thing but for the moment you'll have to put up with my recommendations.
Next is an album I've had for some time but it's a real gem of an acoustic duo, no frills, nothing fancy but right on the money collection of "Americana murder ballads":
"Seven Curses" by Mark Erelli and Jeffrey Foucault.
I play it a lot and can't recommend it highly enough. Same with: The Graceless Age" by John Murry. Americana at its very best and moody as hell.
Some youtube links:
Shearwater - Animal Life
Amanda Shires - Look Like a Bird
John Murry - Little Colored Balloons
Cahalen Morris & Eli West
I stumbled across Cahalen Morrison and Eli West in complete ignorance and was immediately hooked. They are two young musicians from diagonally opposite corners of the U.S.A. and they play really exciting old time style music which is mainly written by them. Cahalen plays mandolin and banjo and Eli plays guitars and neither of them sound like anyone else. Their voices contrast beautifully when separate and their harmonies blend with a breathtaking subtlety that just makes you feel really good all over! The songs have the powerful sparseness of old time music but the melodies are full of musical surprises which will bring a smile to your face. There is no quirkiness for quirkiness' sake and the lyrics draw you into their world. Their three albums: The "Holy Coming of the Storm", "Our Lady of the Tall Trees" and the latest; "I'll Swing My Hammer With Both Hands" are available as downloads only and are all great. To quote Tim O'Brien:
"Music like this doesn't come along very often."
You can check them out on youtube:
Down in the Lonesome Draw
Two albums by people who aren't famous.
Vera Van Heeringen "Standing Tall"
Steve Howell and the Mighty Men "Yes I Believe I Will"
Now the first thing I should admit is that I know both of these musicians.
The only effect that has on what I feel about each of these albums is that I feel very proud to know such fine musicians and fortunate that I now have a website where I can tell you about two recordings which come from opposite ends of a rich musical tradition and which might otherwise have passed you by.
Vera's album is a beautifully written, played, recorded and produced take on old time music from the American country tradition. Her songwriting is a perfect example of the old adage that you don't put one of your own songs on an album unless it stands alongside the songs of the people who have inspired you. That's probably not an old adage but Vera's songs are as good as anything I've ever heard by trad/anon, the Carter family, Hank Williams or, indeed, in modern times, Gillian Welch or Cahalen Morrison and Eli West. She's got a voice which demands an emotional response and her playing is immaculate. Tim O'Brien and Dirk Powell agree. Check it out.
Steve, who is one of my greatest friends would probably admit to having a musical impetus originally inspired by the great solo blues pickers and singers of the early 20th century. When I first knew him he learned 2 new songs a week and I see no evidence that he's got lazy. We met in 1975, by the way. This is his fourth album and, although all of them are good, in this eclectic collection of powerful songs, I can hear a man who is happy in his skin, who has finally found the sound he's been searching for. If you like blues, rhythm and blues, the whole American song book, in fact, played with total respect for the importance of the song and by a group of musicians who have spent a lifetime listening and learning and honing their considerable skills, then listen to "Yes I Believe I Will". This is a stripped down/not a note wasted album and Steve and the Mighty Men set out their stall with a ballsy, no-nonsense take on Nick Katzman's "I had a Notion" and don't let up 'til the last note of "Rake and Rambling Blade". My personal favourites are the aforementioned "I Had a Notion", "Country Blues",Future Blues","Wasted Mind" . . . Strike that! They're all my favourites. "Yes I Believe I Will" has soul!
Whilst on the subject you should make a point of listening to
"Crow Orchard Road" by Foot Long
This is a short but perfectly formed cd by Rick Foot and Jo Long. Rick, as you know, plays double bass and, for the first time on a recording as far as I know, sings backing vocal to Jo's powerful but sensitive lead. Her singing on this outing makes this my favourite amongst her recordings. It's seriously good. Favourite three songs for me are: "Juanita", "Crow Orchard Road" (written by them) and "Beautiful Cosmos" a quirky Ivor Cutler number to which Rick does full justice on lead vocals. Beautiful enunciation! This recording, because of its sparseness, shows just what it is that makes Rick Foot's double bass so special. There is only one Rick Foot!
Japanese remaster of Astral Weeks
Following a review of the Ry Cooder box set and various anoraky arguments among reviewers about which version of which album was included in the box set, I took away the thought that my ignorance had blinded me to the existence of "Japanese remasters".
As a result I sought out the possibility of a Japanese remaster of Astral Weeks - one of my favourite albums but one which, to my ears, had always suffered when transferred to c.d. and which I always felt sounded not quite there on vinyl.
Japanese imports are usually really expensive but this wasn't and there is nothing dodgy or unofficial about it.
The album sounds incredible and you can hear every exciting nuance of every instrument. It is stunning and Rick and Sonia both reacted as I did. It's like listening to a new album for the first time and my second to least favourite track has now become my favourite:
"The Way Young Lovers Do"
I can't recommend it highly enough.
Play it loud!