It stands to reason that if your last album was called F*** With Sad Girls you’ve got a point of view. Whitmore’s latest release tackles issues that have been on her mind such as suicide, rape culture and pulling together America in these times. She goes on to say “My goal for this record is to inspire people to have hard conversations”. Frankly, I don’t know a popular music record that’s ever changed much but I imagine that if you’re seeking some inspiration for a song then these profound issues are a place to start. Whitmore’s played bass and/or toured with some Americana luminaries such as James McMurtry, John Moreland, Hayes Carll and Sunny Sweeney yet her own music is nothing like theirs but more of a pop rock sound: it’s terrific.
“The Last Will & Testament” starts the album with a thumping electronica bass line and soon we’re deluged with strings and horns as her delightful mellifluous voice adds to the cavalry charge whilst Scott Davis’ electric guitar adds an edge. Some beginning. Whitmore’s written or co-written nine of the ten songs here. All are swamped in melody; the arrangements give an exceptional breadth of sound. It helps if your voice is such a captivating instrument that when you apply it to any tune it holds your attention. “Right/Wrong” attempts to offer a way forward on the conflict that leads to divides in society. If that sounds a bit too serious the song is pop and propelled by horns and spirited drums. Fine is a love song with the same pop sensibilities with a dance rhythm, and an absolute ear worm of a hook – “Would I rather be lonely and change my mind a thousand times? / If you could just hold me, maybe that’d be just fine”.
After this levity we’re back to the dark and troubling “Ask For It” – “So go on and blame the victim! / Why should violence have consequence? / And each time you silence them /Recreates the same event”. The words are delivered over a driving rock beat with occasional frenzied guitars in the background. The profundity of the message contrasts memorably with the light tune emphasising how such violence may not always be taken seriously. “Love Worth Remembering” is a stand out with a 70s ‘blue eyed soul’ feel. This slowed funk ballad has a rumbling base line with short sharp hits of the snare as Whitmore croons sweetly over the top. A heartfelt message of comforting love – just magnificent.
This is such a crafted piece of work where interesting words have been bolted to memorable tunes. After that foundation is laid the work really started in the creation of complex and sophisticated arrangements for their showcasing. A very impressive release.
We all go a long way back with Reginald Kenneth Dwight. This second release saw the light in 1970. This was his first release in the USA. For an artist I now wouldn’t pretend to carry much of a torch for I’ve got 19 of his albums! My interest started with 1973’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and probably finished with 1983’s I’m Still Standing. Now well into his 70s he’s still touring, Covid allowing, but from what I’ve heard the voice has developed a ‘shout’ quality that takes away much of the sweetness and melody that made so many of his songs compelling. I saw him live once, at Manchester’s MEN Arena. It was November 1998. We’d driven across from Yorkshire and shelled out for expensive tickets. He strode on stage uttered something about never playing Manchester again because of something that had happened. He then proceeded to bash through a set without any breaks or talking to the crowd and then stormed off. Lovely.
Inevitably he’s scheduled to be there again in 2021. So he’s a man prone to tantrums and rudeness but a man who has been awarded a Knighthood for his services to charity and music. However, to complain he has one would necessitate dragging others into the conversation such as Rod Stewart, Mick Jagger, Ringo Starr, Van Morrison and Ray Davies of The Kinks: all of whom mystify me with their eligibility (and why not Mick Fleetwood?) But back to the plot there’s no doubt that he had a brilliant decade where the quality of tunes and Bernie Taupin’s words made for a staggering body of work. Out of his early catalogue I didn’t own this until 2020’s Record Store Day. The special release was a double with the second disc being of unimpressive and disposable outtakes. However the first album makes it worth the purchase. When you add, for the collector, transparent purple vinyl what’s not to like?
It starts with “Your Song” and it is one of the most attractive and sincere love songs I know. A self-deprecating reflection on a girl he’s besotted with. For one of Taupin’s earliest classics there are some dodgy lyrics that you’ve all sang a thousand times but never thought about: “If I was a sculptor, but then again no / Or a man who makes potions in a travelling show”.
The whole album is driven by John’s piano. The arrangements sound dated now. It’s drenched in strings and even a harpsichord gets an outing on “I Need You To Turn To”. “Take Me To The Pilot” borders on doggerel as a lyric – “Through a glass eye, your throne / Is the one danger zone” but the honky tonk piano that drives the song is perfectly complimented by the insistent message of ‘take me to your leader’. On later versions not least his live album recorded later in the year in New York (Elton John Live 17:11:70) he really rocks this and ditches the saccharine strings.
In an era when the genre of ‘singer songwriter’ was originated with the likes of Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Jim Croce et al this has many heartfelt simply accompanied songs such as “First Episode at Hienton”. (A quick Google Maps search finds nowhere in the world named Hienton!) A love song about a relationship that started in childhood but failed as she grew to be a woman. Seems perfect ‘bedsit’ material for fellow miserablists Cat Stevens or James Taylor.
“Sixty Years On” is a classic but the album standout where the strings and choral backing works to perfection is “Border Song”. A killer tune drive by his large and hard played chords and that is tinged by gospel. It therefore comes as little of a surprise that Aretha Franklin covered this in 1972. This must have been a significant boost to help John get a wider audience so early in his career. “The Cage’ keeps up the soul with a heavy dose of pop. For consistency the album is solid and provided a wonderful foundation for the next gems of Tumbleweed Connection, Madman Across The Water and Honky Château.
I was musing with the Mighty Jessney about how we couldn’t drive anywhere nowadays without relying on Satellite Navigation. He countered about the astonishing emergence of the ‘miracle’ website back in the day where you could type in an address and get a route to it. From here you’d print it off as a map to help you. I think back to some of the car journeys I made shortly after learning to drive in the 70s, how the hell did I find places in Cornwall and London?
Similarly the resolution of small technical matters can now can be resolved easily. I was sat in Halford’s car park wondering about, the mystery liquid, AdBlue. I only took an interest in the stuff when the warning message came up on the dashboard. A quick Google answered all questions of what it is (a mix of urea and deionised water), what it does (reduces diesel engine nitrous oxide emissions), how much to buy, how to pour it in and a video providing advice on when the warning message would switch off. Frankly any hostile nation could bring the world to a grinding halt by switching off the internet: forget bombs, tanks or a virus.
On the subject of bringing the world to a grinding halt earlier this week I was out on an autumnal evening at a Chinese restaurant near Pocklington. I’d often driven past the Plough Inn but never realised it contained a delicious restaurant. The food and service were exceptional. This large establishment had many ‘covers’ but only five customers. I was glad to discover this place but I genuinely wonder whether I’ll go again. It surely cannot survive on such poor patronage? Its fate is simply a function of folk staying at home due to the pandemic.
Whenever I discuss Covid-19 then nobody’s complacent about the virus. They’re befuddled by what you can or cannot do but are all minded to respect the restrictions. However, like me they ruminate whether the tighter restrictions and the fatal damage to so many businesses, the elevation of mental health issues and the lack treatment for those with other chronic conditions is a price worth paying for the not inconsiderable risk of certain groups of people dying from the virus.
Maybe it’s easy for me to say that as I’m not ill with the virus or haven’t lost a loved one. But if I were to have any ‘skin in the game’ then I’d comment that I lost a hugely enjoyable job and impressive pay cheque when the 2008 Financial Crisis came around. Work wise my life never recovered. One might suggest that I was near enough to retirement and had so many other plans for the future that it didn’t work out too badly. That will not be the case with the many ‘casualties’ of closing down our economy again.
As a consolation it does provide moments of levity. BBC’s Charlie Stayt’s incredulity when interviewing Matt Hancock that the latest NHS App wouldn’t be available to people without smart phones! (No shit Charlie…) Also the ‘comedian’ who suggested that students wouldn’t be allowed to go home for Christmas.
With Anna we visited one of her ‘aunts’ in East Yorkshire. The lady and her husband are 87 and 92 years old respectively. Eric is writing up his life story by hand. Before I’d seen the hundreds of pages he’d already written I volunteered to type it all up. Maybe an error! However I’m currently engrossed in the life of a Cottingham schoolboy and his wartime experiences. During the war Hull experienced 1,200 deaths and around 3,000 casualties. On two nights alone in May 1941 around 400 perished. As a consequence 95% of the housing was damaged and 152,000 people made homeless. Obviously not a place for an eleven year old you’d think. In between the air raid terror he collected, during daylight, razor sharp shrapnel from all the bombs and shells that rained down on the city. These were taken to school for swapping purposes. Land mine craters became play areas and the procession of bomb disposal soldiers provided entertainment from the kerbside as they stacked unexploded ordnance near to his home. What’s clear is that today the government would be under immense pressure to pursue unconditional surrender from everyone on social media rather than experience one day of this hell.
We had a ‘staycation’ in East Anglia for a few days. Suffolk is largely a very attractive and unspoilt county. Lavenham was a great and unique place to stay with its ancient preserved houses. From this base we explored the coast and did this in the finest way: on bike. Anna rode the 55 miles brilliantly from Framlingham to Aldeburgh and then to Southwold before back to the start. It wasn’t very flat and she certainly gained her climbing legs. From here we relocated to North Walsham in Norfolk and cycled out to Mundesley, Cromer and Sheringham. This cycling trip was again in brilliant weather but the traffic and folk out and about was immense for a Monday. We know more about a part of the country I’d never properly spent any time in before.
Continuing with cycling I had a blissful three weeks watching the Tour de France. It was run later this year because of you know what. The scenery as it wended its way through France remained captivating.
As usual the weather was hot and sunny. I was lucky to spend nearly two weeks cycling up the country in July and it is a fine place to be whenever. My schedule was to watch the race live for a little while in the afternoon or watch the highlights in the evening with Anna. It was a terrific race ultimately between two Slovenians with the dead cert favourite, Primož Roglič, losing the race on the penultimate stage. I cannot imagine how crushed he must have been to have got so close but lost it. He had the best team and the man he lost to had no team! The way this works is that despite the individual’s talent they need a team to support them if they stand a chance of winning. Tadej Pogačar ripped up the rule book at the tender age of twenty one. There’s still the Grand Tours of Spain and Italy to watch next. Bring them on.