Saturday, May 28, 2011

What if she twisted the truth to fit in (Lene Marlin)

Success already! I tracked down another Lene Marlin CD on the weekend.

This one is from 2009 called Twist The Truth. It's very different to the first one I got a few weeks back (the comparatively lush Another Day from 2003). Clearly she wasn't having a great time in 2009. She might have called it Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now if that wasn't ripping off Morrissey.

The first track is called Everything's Good and it's positive in it's outlook but that good humour steadily decreases during the next 8 songs until the last track (You Will Cry No More), which deals with the aftermath of a death; maybe a better title would have been from the second song, I'm not feeling well these days.

Along the way we have Lene dealing with her insecurities, scars and regrets. And there appear to be a lot of them. Definitely not yer standard pop fare. It's awesome stuff.

Her vocals are fantastic and the instruments are sparsely distributed - mostly acoustic guitar from Lene (talented), piano (again Lene), violin, dobro, cello and you get the idea. There is nothing cluttered.

Lene writes all the words and music as well. Impressive.

So - two great (different) CDs. I'm looking forward to finding the remaining two.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Fields of ghosts (Bambino)

Bambino is a trip hop producer/musician that is always on high rotate in the Goo Goo G'Joob lounge. Been grooving to this one of late. Love these ethereal icy gossamer threads of sound. The vaguely disembodied ghostly voices create a perfect underlying support to the tune.

One of Bambino's best!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

He got caught in the spotlight (The Band)

Mark Beaumont recently posted on solo albums (featured on the Guardian's music blog). It was a really interesting post and was of the moment as I began listening to James Labrie's two solo albums. Neither of which I was aware of before I saw them at the Virgin Megastore in Dubai.
James is (I'm pretty sure the use of present tense is still right) the lead vocals man in the progressive rock outfit called Dream Theater (sic) for the uninitiated. I love Dream Theater's meaty metallic way with a prog structure. They are blessed with a fantastic guitarist and drummer (the necessary building blocks) and James has a great vocal range. So why would James do some solo albums? Maybe to branch off into another musical genre?

From the Beaumont post:

Time was, if a band's vocalist put out a solo album it meant only one thing: irreconcilable differences, singer and guitarist chewing each other's throats out over who slept with who's girlfriend, the beginning of the end of the band. Lennon released his first Plastic Ono Band single in August 1969 and the Beatles were toast within the year. Phil Collins and Bryan Ferry snuck off from their Genesis and Roxy Music motherships to build the groundwork for solo careers over some years, but ultimately it was the Other Blokes who got sidelined. And in pop the practice was even more mercenary – at least BeyoncĂ© gave her Destiny's Child brethren a farewell album and tour after the success of Dangerously in Love proved her the golden goose of the group. No such luck, The Rest of Boyzone.

The solo album was invariably a toe-dip into the murky pool of individual success, and if the waters were found welcoming, the singer dived in. But of late there's been a shift in attitude; solo albums have become legitimate pressure valves for singers' creative steam. Inspired by autonomic US collectives such as the Wu-Tang Clan or Animal Collective – where solo projects went hand-in-hand with group releases – the past 18 months has seen a positive glut of solo albums. Brandon Flowers, Julian Casablancas, Kele Okereke, Interpol's Paul Banks and Maximo Park's Paul Smith have all put out their own records while insisting their band is merely "on a break", and in the coming months Noel Gallagher, J Mascis and ex-Rascals and Last Shadow Puppets linchpin Miles Kane join the lone ranger ranks.
But why so many singers nipping off from their bands for a crafty solo album on the side? ...the most common reason is a fear of creative inertia or an inability to stop writing during down-time. After five years and three albums of solid touring and promotion, many bands crave a hefty dose of R&R, but frontmen, it seems, get itchy.
The most cynical view of the solo album, however, remains the mercenary front-person considering the shelf-life of their band and the attention span of their audience and deciding to cut loose the dead wood while they're still popular. And that, surely, signposts the end of the band?

Beaumont didn't include James Labrie in his list but he might have. Frankly, though, I'm puzzled. I really like James' first solo album - Elements of Persuasion. Only thing is it sounds just like Dream Theater. He's drafted in some other players who sound awfully like his mates in the mothership. Why couldn't he record with them? The songs are similar - he sounds the same: no acoustic folk or jazz stylings; no urban beats or synth washes here - just great sounding prog rock.

I could add any of the solo tracks to a mix tape with Dream Theater and defy anyone to tell the difference.

That's not a bad thing, just a weird thing. Wonder what the the other guys in the band think? Or are they off doing 'their own thing'  which sounds exactly like the band thing as well?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Two pressure cookers go insane (Alice Cooper)

I see recently that Ringo Starr (bless him) is touring the UK again with his All Starr Band.

Rick is third from left, next to Ritchie.
 This time around the band includes the amazing Rick Derringer who seems, like Mr Starkey, to be ageless. He's been around since the 60's (Hang On Snoopy), had some brilliant albums in the 70's and some key moments playing with the Winter brothers along the way.

One of my favourite albums is his All American Boy which includes, for me, his two greatest moments: Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo and Teenage Love Affair.

So much of rock and roll is about being a teenager. That seminal time in our lives when we only care about ouselves and we view the world with a chip on our shoulder. Most rock and rollers try hard to keep that spirit of teenagerhood alive in their music, well into their middle age and beyond (John Mellencamp's memorable phrase - hold onto 16 as long as you can is a constant aim of mine). I only need mention the oldest teenage gang on the planet - The Rolling Stones - to make my point convincing.

So many of my favourite songs are about that rebellious, angst ridden time; summed up by Pete Townshend's it's only teenage wasteland phrase.

Teenage Love Affair captures the essence of teenage lust, in this case lived vicariously. No way have boy-girl relationships been as easily consummated as Rick would have it. The song smacks of that teenage boy thing of bigging up sexual encounters. But who knows - guitars seem to have an aphrodisiacal effect on girls.

Another great teenage themed song is Alice Cooper's Teenage Lament '74.

Alice tells a familiar tale - trying to look cool in trendy (uncomfortable) clothes, trying to get a cool haircut and looking like a rooster instead, getting told to turn your music down (when that's one of your few ways to be independent) and wanting to get away from home but not really knowing what to do.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Like a hiding, like a shade (Lene Marlin)

Lene Marlin is my most recent discovery.

I love it when I chance upon someone new and they have a sizeable back catalogue for me to track down. The last one was John Mayer (see an earlier post). Now it's Lene's turn.

She came to my notice via a sampler called Divas. A double CD - it cost me 30 dirham from Carrefour and contained one amazing stand out song - Sitting Down Here. It was good enough to bear repeat listens and then to check out the credits to see who it was by. The voice is what hooked me. Her voice is so different but, paradoxically, it is also the sort of thing I'd hear on Radio 2 if I was in the UK.

Not knowing anything about her, I thought (like I initially did with John Mayer) that she was a pop oriented singer.

Not long after these repeat listens, I started to think about tracking down an album.
I managed to locate an album in the Virgin Megastore at Dubai's Mall Of The Emirates on the weekend. Called Another Day - it turns out it's her second album (she's got four out).

I was unprepared for the greatness of the whole album. Again - like John Mayer - it turns out she has hidden melodic depths and the voice that hooked me from Sitting Down Here is not found on the second album. It's even better. Weird.

I literally can't stop listening to the album. It's especially good at night - all swirly mood pieces and ethereal sounding. With only 10 songs on it I am left wanting more so I just hit play again after it ends.

Turns out Lene is from Sweden and that seems appropriate given the aural landscape she occupies on the album.

She is really unlike anything else I've heard. Usually you can trace a female singer/songwriters' DNA back to either Joni (the pop side) or Joan (folk) or Grace (the rock chick). She's not a folkie so discount Joan. She's not a confessional writer so that's a no to Joni as well. She doesn't make any of the normal rock moves so it's a third no to Grace. If anything there are hints of Aimee Mann in her vocal delivery. But they are only hints. And her songs are not similar to Aimee's in delivery or structure. Lene is one out of the box!

Exciting. A new discovery. Now I'm on a mission to track down the other three CDs.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

I fell for you like a child, oh, but the fire went wild (Johnny Cash)

I was walking around the Oasis Sports resort while Jacky was at the Equestrian Centre, listening to my ipod on shuffle. I know I've said it before, but I'll say it again - I LOVE THE SHUFFLE MODE!

The next song starts up - a kind of distinctive country chicken scratch-shuffle and the words:

Don’t call my name out your window, I’m leavin'.
The voice is even more distinctive - like no other on the planet. That of Johnny Cash.

It seemed incredibly appropriate that Johnny Cash's drawl should form the soundtrack for my circumstances. A cement-mixer truck had just emerged out of the twilight murk and barrelled past me, on a closed to traffic part of the road, scraying me with so much dust that I had to lift my shirt up over my face to avoid choking. Yet all the heat and dust was batted away by Johnny and his fine fine song. So much so that I ended up with a big grin on my face. Meditate on it.

In truth, I've only been a sometime friend to J R Cash over the years. I own vinyl copies of the prison albums (San Quentin and Folsom) and that's it, apart from tracks on various samplers (where Understand Your Man on my ipod must have come from).

But he seems to have always been there in one form or another:
  • a copy of his Ballad of a Teenage Queen 45 (produced the year I was born) lying around my cousin's bedroom when I was very young
  • those prison albums
  • The Johnny Cash Show in the early seventies
  • the Levis advert using Ring of Fire
  • Hurt and the renaissance years
  • and now my own children are putting Ring Of Fire on compilations for me. Full circle.

Needless to say Jacky hates him. In Dubai on the weekend she saw me looking at the J Cash racks and was horrified. She calls it Hillbilly music and the thing is I can kind of understand where that comes from. It's music she heard growing up in her mother's house and it's therefore old and because her mother liked it it's tarred with a brush called annoying that, for her, has also touched Neil Diamond, Jim Reeves and Patsy Cline, among others.

Jacky made a remark to the salesman that was a kind of a laughed apology. But what she doesn't get is that Johnny has always been different to those other names, and that succeeding generations (like the shop assistant, and our own children) actually like the cool songs of Johnny Cash.

You hear me talkin' honey?

Friday, May 6, 2011

I'll be there for you like I've been there before (The Rembrandts)

I was thinking about TV theme songs a while ago and day dreaming about how lucky The Rembrandts were. Well maybe it turned into a curse but I bet they were thrilled to betsy when some TV executive rang them up and said, "Guess what fellas - we want one of your songs to be the opening theme of our new TV show called Friends".

Maybe the Rembrants have a long and distinguished career and many hits that I know nothing about. Maybe. But I'm willing to bet not. They got saturation coverage every week for years and their song became inextricably linked to the show.

My favourite theme songs share this characteristic. They are all from the golden age (or more accurately - my childhood TV viewing years). If I just had the sound without the pictures I can tell you what show they were from no problem.

Enjoy mine (yours were?).

Can you hear us pumping on your stereo? (Supergrass)

This is my 100th post on this blog. That's fairly significant I think. 100 rants about music.

What should I do to celebrate? Maybe a list of 100 somethings? Mmm no - that might be a bit of a bridge too far.

Maybe I could do a greatest hits type post of my favourite posts so far. Mmmm no again - they're all there if you want to dip into my back pages.

Instead I'd like to return to the beginning of it all and that was a post on April 13 in 2009 - just over two years ago.

Here's what I wrote:

So we (Jacky me and Samantha) were sitting in our favourite lunch place - Lush in New Plymouth's centre city - and Samantha was asking about my blogging for family/friends and why I didn't put more music posts on it and I said because a lot of wozza's place people don't read that stuff so I was limiting that from now on and Jacky (God bless her) said, "Why don't you just do a music blog and..." (I had drifted off into a distant realm). I think I said in a dreamy far away voice, "Of course - a blog just for my rants on music. But where do I start". Samantha helpfully suggested I start from the beginning!

The beginning - The beginning for me is watching the Ed Sullivan Show on New Zealand TV in maybe 1965 or 1966 (whenever NZBC got around to showing it. I was about 8 or 9) and wozza's place readers will know what effect that had on me. No surprise then that this blog is named after Lennon's walrus sound. The hooks were sharp and deep!

Actually - that wasn't, strictly speaking, the real beginning, now I come to think of it.

The real start of my musical adventures would involve my parents and their love of piano jazz and swing music. I would hear their choices around the house and gaze at the covers of the albums they owned long before The Beatles crashed my consciousness.

These would include albums by Dave Brubeck, Oscar Peterson, Errol Garner, Duke Ellington, Jimmy Smith, Glenn Miller, Woody Herman, and Frank Sinatra (my mother's favourite).

I guess what I meant, in that first post, was that the first music that was mine was the Beatles on Ed Sullivan.

In that first post I also did my own responses to the regular 'All Back To Mine' quiz in Mojo magazine. Seems timely that I do an update.
What music are you currently grooving to?
I'm still constantly buying and listening to music - right now I'm listening to my latest purchases, all of which I've picked up cheaply in the local Al Ain supermarkets: The Crowded  House waifs and strays compilation Afterglow which is excellent - their cast offs are better than some band's whole careers; A compilation entitled Saturday Night Divas (Tina Turner's Steamy Windows and Lene Marlin are on there so it's pretty fine); another compilation called Metal For The Masses (Lacuna Coil, Strapping Young Lad keep Deep Purple and Scorpions company); and a Supergrass compilation of hits - Supergrass is 10. I love their chirpy Britpop fun songs.
What, if push came to shove, is your all-time favourite album?
In all my various best of lists two albums have always vied for best ever - The Beatles white album (really called 'the Beatles'), and John Lennon's 1970 solo album - 'John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band'. The shock of the invention and honesty in each makes them my favs by some distance.

What was the first record you ever bought? And where did you buy it?
I've an unreliable memory on this. I've always thought it was The Hollies single 'Hey Willie' that I bought from the record bar in 246 (a large mall in Queen St, Auckland). However this was in 1971 and I'd already got some albums before that for Christmas 1970 The Beatles 'Hey Jude' - from a record shop in Otahuhu and I also had a clutch of albums including a best of The Cowsills, a Monkees album and a Hollies album around this same time.

Which musician, other than yourself, have you ever wanted to be?
The Mojo questions are often given to musicians of course and I'm not one. However for a while there after seeing Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee in concert (I was about 10 feet away at Nambassa) I bought a blues harp and wailled along with Sonny - desperate to be as cool as he was.

What do you sing in the shower?
I wish I could sing, but a man's gotta know his limitations.

What is your favourite Saturday night song?
Let's have a Party by Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs is the finest thing to twitch around to that I know. Don't Let Go redone by Cold Chisel on their live album is also damn good.

And your Sunday morning record?
Currently it's a good time for some Jazz (Dexter Gordon), Buddha Lounge chill music or Rumer's excellent Seasons of My Soul album (makes me long to be in England too).