Friday, August 27, 2010

I never look away, that's no lie (Phoenix Foundation)

I'm a big fan of songs that refer to the mythic nature of a landscape. Great Southern Land by Icehouse (Australia), In A Big Country - Big Country (Scotland), Haunts of Ancient Peace - Van Morrison (England), and Chuck Berry's The Promised Land are some that do the job.

NZ is so small and so young - we don't have a great tradition of this kind of thing. The Night Train Back to Waiuku (by the wonderful Murray Grindley) is a great song but it doesn't do a mythic job - more the ironic. A singer songwriter I loved in the 70s has a couple of songs that head in the right direction. John Hanlon is his name (where is he now? In Aus apparently - running an advertising agency) and he was a big deal there for a while in the mid seventies with his combination of John Denver style concerns for the environment (I Care and Damn The Dam) and Leo Sayer/Cat Stevens style rock.

His two best albums were Higher Trails (1975) and Garden Fresh (1974). The songs I'm thinking of are on the latter - I'd Rather Be A Bird and On A Hillside In The Rain.

How refreshing for an Auckland, NZ kid like me to hear a song that starts - 'Heading out of Auckland/ in the morning rain'. We'd heard songs for years about the rest of the world out there somewhere (I was a teenager growing up in middle class suburbia and had no clue about the world even though I gorged myself on American comics, music and films). The line hooked me and the mention of rain was specific (unlike the Beatles' Rain) and something I knew about.

Same with On A Hillside... I've always associated the song with growing up on the slopes of One Tree Hill in Auckland and the sound effects of the rain are judicious!

Here is his music, the setting is NZ, the adventurers are American.

Friday, August 20, 2010

You gotta go slow below the surface and gaze into the well (Dan Fogelberg)

Been reading Mojo magazine's latest edition. It contains a rhapsodic piece on Van the man's Astral Weeks album by Greil Marcus.

Will write about that in a sec. But first - time for another guilty pleasure. Dan Fogelberg. Yes I know he was sometimes a bit of an egotistical plonker but he made one album that I regard as a stone cold classic - Captured Angel.

No one really rates this album, except me. You can find it an any remainder bin you care to look in. Or you could. Silly me - I forget - no one actually goes to a CD shop anymore do they. No one cares about Dan anymore either (apart from Keegan who asked me for a place to start).

I suggested Captured Angel. It starts with glorious strings (Aspen - clear as a frosty morning)and then glorious acoustic guitars (These Days) and then gorgeous harmonies. All by Dan! He plays and sings most of it. The songs make me smile, strum my air guitar, sing along, feel good, and each song ends when it needs to. The rest of the album slides along effortlessly. Clearly a huge amount of creative effort goes into music but this album is so damned easy to love because it sounds so free and easy. Emancipator's music has the same effect on me.

Of course the associations of happy family travels as the album played over and over in the car certainly help elevate its place in my affections. I'd turn it up as loud as Jacky could bare and sing along on trips to Taupo with Keegan, Adam, Samantha, and Jade, at various times, on board. I'm sure it traumatised them all.

I've just played the album again and I've had a relaxed grin on my face the whole time.

I thought about Dan and my love for Captured Angel as I read the Marcus piece on Astral Weeks. In the piece he makes a lovely point about the synchronicity of all the elements coming together at one point to create a work of genius. He uses Bob Beamon's huge 1968 Olympic leap to illustrate his point (it was an act for which there are no parallels and no metaphors). Unfortunately for Greil, you can make the same point about anything can't you? The bowl of cereal I ate for breakfast this morning frinstance.

Astral Weeks is an album I've never been able to love. I dig it out once and a while and try hard(like right now as I type this) and, every time, it fails to move me the way Moondance and especially St Dominic's Preview move me. I find his voice too harsh on Astral (still in Them mode) and not the softer meditative soul voice he would gain later; the songs are too long and, for me, the music doesn't always suit the song. For me, there is no emotional core as there is on his other major albums like St Dominic's.

Hey it's all subjective. As Paul Simon says - one man's ceiling is another man's floor. At the end of the Marcus article he says as much himself - Astral Weeks became part of his life years ago and 'remains inseparable from it'. Astral Weeks was an album I came to while going back through Van's back catalogue. It's not an album I'm fond of in the way I'm fond of Captured Angel. I remain separate from Astral but Angel is in my soul.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Beneath the ever watchful eye the angels of the temple fly (Dream Theater)

Okay been back a while now and it hasn't taken me long to gnash my teeth at the paucity of CD/DVD outlets in my little corner of the world.

Before I left Taranaki had three places to go to find a CD - The Warehouse's music section (top 40 oriented, okay sales bins, reasonable prices, sometimes an unusual CD), Marbeck's (a pale pale shadow of what it once was - now top 40, poor sales bins, steep prices, sometimes an unusual CD), and Raw Records (niche stuff, no sales bins, steep prices, often an interesting CD).

In my absence Raw Records has closed down leaving only two places. For someone like me who likes to hold a product in his hands (records and CDs) this is a lousy situation.

Now I have to travel vast distances to get to JB HiFi (closest is a two hour drive to Palmerston North) or Real Groovy (closest is a five hour drive to Wellington or Auckland) OR shop online (my least preferred option).

Looks like the age of specialist music stores is over (Marbeck's being the only one within a three hour drive). I'm sad about that. I like to browse and look over the contents before I buy and love the chance of a bargain - a CD I've been hunting elusively. That's now gone.

Sad. Really sad!