Category Archives: Music

Record Of The Week # 86

Bob Dylan – Another Side Of Bob Dylan

If I was bragging I’d tell you I bought my first Dylan album in 1974 – Before The Flood. I say this because we all know that any affection for Bob carries kudos for the follower. It suggests that you are serious about your popular music – its history, construction and icons. However, I haven’t dwelt on his catalogue until the last few years. Of course I knew a lot about Dylan through the 70s onwards. I’d collected a couple of the 60s albums but I’d only played them once in a while. If pressed I’d say that Blood On The Tracks was the meisterwerk. Now I’m starting to truly listen to his catalogue and trying to reconcile all I hear with his own personal development. The earlier stuff is exceptional.

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Another Side Of Bob Dylan was his fourth release and came out in 1964. By all accounts the ‘voice of a generation’, with his protest songs, disappointed the masses by abandoning his rôle as their spokesman. There’s still considerable profundity in most of the songs but none that you can trace back to the upheaval of 60s America. The upheaval came in the form of the Civil Rights movement, the Vietnam war, Kennedy’s assassination and the growing non conformity of a generation that regularly protested and abandoned the uniform of dress codes and short hair. Peace and love were just around the corner.

“All I Really Want To Do” is a beautiful tune and the words are still apposite for a boy pursuing a girl. He wants nothing serious or complicated but just wants to be friends. I think he’s underestimated as a leading composer of popular music in the 20th Century. A strength here is that his voice is crystal clear and his phrasing is unique but not yet raddled with age and cigarettes.

The record is still in his folk pre-electric phase. The whole album was recorded in one day and the instrumentation is harmonica, piano or guitar by Dylan. There would be literal tears a couple of years later when electricity crept into his repertoire. Many of the devoted folk music fans thought he’d sold out.

I’m attending an eight week night school at York University where we dissect some Dylan songs for their poetical content (after all he did get a Nobel prize for them). “Chimes Of Freedom” is one such. Over five verses his brilliant use of English conjures up faces, landscapes, traumas and emotions:

“Through the mad mystic hammering of the wild ripping hail
The sky cracked its poems in naked wonder
That the clinging of the church bells blew far into the breeze
Leaving only bells of lightning and its thunder
Striking for the gentle, striking for the kind
Striking for the guardians and protectors of the mind
An’ the poet and the painter far behind his rightful time
An’ we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing”

This seven minutes never drags. You savour each line to enjoy the brilliant pairing of words in often powerful or explosive couplets. If you’re not doing that then you are trying to extract a meaning. His acoustic guitar plays the tune with occasional mouth organ.

Another thing to boggle your mind is that this Rimbaud inspired lyric is written by a man barely 23 years old. He was a reader of classic literature but not a scholar or graduate. “I Shall Be Free No. 10” is a satirical talking blues. The “No. 10” is probably an acknowledgement that this tune and style wasn’t original. He covers contemporary topics with mentions of Cassius Clay (Mohammed Ali), Barry Goldwater, Russians and Cuba.

Despite the same instrumentation he’s shifting throughout to different types of melody and lyrical themes. He was a boy who’d absorbed folk music by learning and playing it. He came from the Mid West to NYC to play the clubs and learn from the major folk artists of the day. In fact he didn’t initially record his own songs. Eventually when he started to record you could hear traces of many early musical influences such as English, Irish, Scottish, South American and African American in the sounds he made.

“Motorpsycho Nitemare” is a rambling story. He’s on the road and needs a ”place to stay”. He knocks on a door. After hostility and suspicion a farmer gives him a bed. The generational divide is apparent as this free spirit collides with the middle-aged establishment. Complications arise when Rita, the farmer’s daughter, steps into view looking “like she stepped out of La Dolca Vita”. I think you can guess the plot and it’s complications from here. The album finishes with “It Ain’t Me, Babe”. A song subsequently widely covered. The folk pop song grabs you immediately with its hooks. Its simple melody unfolds as Dylan plays chords on his guitar. Of all the songs this allows the mesmerising quality of his voice to captivate you.

I can tell you from our night school class there’s enough in each of the 11 songs to make it into a potential classic. I‘ve talked about a few here but each one is important.

Needless to say his trajectory was skywards at this stage of his career. It’s easy to see why each album on this path is coveted and still as important today as when they were released.

Record Of The Week # 85

Lynne Hanson – Just Words

Canadian Lynne Hanson has been compared to Lucinda Williams and Mary Gauthier. That alone should be enough to grab your attention. For me it was one of those CDs that was so good it kept creeping back into the player. It certainly shortened a few long drives. I can now add she also reminds me of Mary Chapin Carpenter.

 The opening song on Just Words is “True Blue Moon”. It has all Carpenter’s tunesmith sensibility with a story about a failed relationship and her accumulated cynicism about love’s temporary nature – “happy ever after lasts as long / as a rainbow in June”. Despite her misery the melody is a real earworm and the band’s arrangement layered and slick.

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“Long Way Home” has another great melody and an arrangement that hangs off a steady bass and drum rhythm. Her voice is expressive with an attractive range and timbre throughout. Maybe it’s the recurring theme of the unshakeable grief and longing for a departed lover that makes her vocals yearning and soulful. “Just Words” is about verbal bullying: a modern and topical subject. In alignment with the angry and raw message the sound has rousing yet eerie atmospherics with some discordant notes that amplify the tension. All this builds up to another great guitar solo from Kevin Breit. His CV includes playing with Rosanne Cash, Cassandra Wilson and Norah Jones.

 “Lollipops And Roses” chugs into life with a raw electric guitar playing chords that signal something menacing ahead. The lyrics spit out words like “bury me”, “bitter train”, “scrub away” and “feel her hate”. Hanson’s melancholy regret is sung over a swamp rhythm that’s so hot that you can imagine the walls sweating. The breadth of some of the album’s sounds is confirmed with “Would You Still” (love me, miss me, remember me etc.). This has a funky off beat emphasized by the percussion and M J Dandeneau’s brooding and masterly bass.

 The whole album hits a compelling groove as it dovetails voice, instrumentation and melodies into something quite special. This sounds like an Americana artist at the top of her game.

 

Brandy Clark, The Sage, Gateshead – January 31 2020

I drove 100 miles north hoping to wallow in Brandy Clark’s repertoire about bored or beleaguered housewives, delicious revenge ditties and heart melting love stories. She has a beautiful voice and has written some classic country melodies, not least on her own albums. Previous concerts revealed a consummate but serious, and not particularly engaging artist. She was getting her time in the spotlight after years of stoking the star-making machinery by writing amazing songs for other country Royalty. However on the night, in front of an audience of over 400, we got a relaxed woman at ease with herself and beyond chatty!

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She was playing five European dates debuting her new album – Your Life Is A Record. (This is before a big US tour starting in February and continuing until May) The six songs from the new album were immediate as regards their impact. She’s said that the arrangements are different to her earlier releases, not least, for the inclusion of more strings. To achieve the sound with her backing band she brought along Kaitlyn Raitz on cello. There was a story behind her latest single “Who You Thought I Was”. Here it tells the end of a relationship but the title idea came from attending an award’s ceremony where John Prine was giving one of the accolades. He was taken aback by a standing ovation; with characteristic dry humour he commented, “I’m John Prine, but I’d like to go back to being who you thought I was”! The other five songs she played are a continuation of lyrical themes and quality melodies from earlier records. It’s released in March and you’ll be well rewarded.

The band also comprised Billy Adamson on electric guitar and Ashleigh Caudill on upright bass. They’d all met up in Oslo (at baggage reclaim) for the first time. They fitted in seamlessly: Adamson’s skilful and well placed flourishes and Caudill’s additional talent on backing vocals. Holding this all together was Danny Young on drums and vocals. The set of 23 songs showcased the first two albums equally. It was here that the humour of her take on life shone through with great introductions to favourites such as “Mama’s Broken Heart”, “Stripes”, “Daughter” and “Get High”. On the latter she commented that around the world fans would sidle up to her and tell her that the character in the song was their own sister!

The slower songs included my personal favourites of “Three Kids and No Husband” and “Hold My Hand”. The ability to say so much in so few words is a true gift. And then came the covers by Waylon Jennings (“Good Hearted Woman”), George Strait (“The Chair”) and Buck Owens (“Together Again”). She played “Blue Bayou” as a tribute to Linda Ronstadt. They were all homages to the influences of her own youth, which illustrated her early wonderment of country or great songwriters and vocalists.

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Thanking the audience and effusively confirming how much she enjoyed playing the UK, she treated us to an unplanned encore song. She name checked another 70s icon, Carole King, and sang “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow”: the crowd, now on their feet, said yes.

 

(Not) Record Of The Week # 84

Dustin Lynch – Tullohoma

Duncan Warwick the editor of Country Music People sent me an email asking if I’d review the above Bro-Country album. I responded in a grouchy way as I’d already given him four reviews for the month (and I don’t get paid for all this scribing). However, he wrote back “Sorry, I was getting so depressed by this and everyone thinks I’m a miserable bastard because I’m always slagging this kind of thing off I was hoping someone else might take it on… And I thought I’d give you a try being a bit cheeky. This is the kind of thing that makes me question whether I even like country music”. So I listened to it and wrote this review. It is truly execrable but it’s popularity as a sound is growing. I attempt to explain why:

Dustin Lynch is one of the manufactured male and manicured mannequins who clutters up Country radio. Eligibility for stardom is a serviceable voice, matinee idol looks and an age of around 30. Lynch found his way to Nashville’s Bluebird Café at the tender age of 16 years old. It’s been a journey where he’s had to ‘pay his dues’. It paid off; he had a debut number one album in 2012.

Continue reading (Not) Record Of The Week # 84

Record Of The Week # 83

Chicago Farmer – Flyover Country

Cody Diekhoff aka ‘Chicago Farmer’ opened for The Band Of Heathens on a recent tour. Eventually a conversation started about Diekhoff recording his 6th album of ten songs at the band’s Austin, TX studio. Thrown in was their accompaniment and production support. The result is a fine album of what makes up Country Americana.

The arrangement brings together the combination of Diekhoff’s blue-collar worker against the ‘man’ lyrics, some top tunes and a great band that’s capable of several styles and moods. “Flyover Country” is a phrase the Americans apply to the States in between the populated eastern and western coasts. His tremulous voice soars over a slow acoustic arrangement telling us about the people who live in these heartlands. Less serious is a current live favourite called “$13 Beers”. Diekhoff paints a picture we all know about attending a concert at a large venue: poor visibility, parlous sound and extortionate drink prices. After setting the scene he exits to find a smaller venue to listen to Robbie Fulks at $4 a drink.

Continue reading Record Of The Week # 83

Record Of The Week # 82

Robert Vincent – In This Town You’re Owned

Here is an album of quality melodies and layered acoustic rock arrangements. Americana is now a retail label applied, by PR agencies and record labels, to anything that needs a home when it obviously isn’t another genre. Had this album come my way in 1985 I would have called it singer songwriter/soft rock.

For all my pedantry then this is a splendid release where his infectiously catchy choruses are attached to thoughtful words. One such is “The Kids Don’t Dig God Anymore”, he says “in the old days people grew up with faith – now it doesn’t seem to be there anymore, so I start to wonder what there is now. I’m not particularly religious, but what’s gone out the window is people being less spiritual.” I think this is a great point and his analysis comes across in a long slow hymnal made interesting by some organ effects.

“The Ending” is an album highlight about the joy and healing properties of love. A lilting acoustic ballad driven along with an accordion and three part harmonies is a complete treat. This is a ‘put on repeat’ track. With his growing reputation this Liverpudlian’s been spending time in the USA and particularly Texas. On “My Neighbour’s Ghost” he channels his inner Buddy Holly with this 60s pastiche: no doubt inspired by his sojourn in Lubbock.

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Continue reading Record Of The Week # 82

Record Of The Week # 81

John Moreland – LP5

John Moreland is a blue-collar rough hewn soul who can write a melancholy lyric with such perception that you’re immediately drenched with pathos. His 2017 masterpiece Big Bad Luv set the bar so high that I approached LP5 with a little trepidation. The relief is that it’s another triumph.

His gruff yet mellifluous voice conveying memorable tunes over an acoustic guitar is his hallmark. He can nail a melody that captivates. That’s the formula here. However, this is a whole way more sophisticated sounding record. After sharing his production responsibilities with producer Matt Pence it appears the latter has brought a different feel. Pence drums and adds ambient percussive beats. Everything becomes lighter, flowing and uplifting.

Continue reading Record Of The Week # 81

Records Of The Year 2019

The editor of Country Music People asked for my ‘end of year’ list and I submitted my choices reluctantly. He was surprised as his other contributors enjoy the task. The problem for me is that I seldom have the time to really ‘live with’ an album as I did as a boy. In this way you start to have it penetrate your conscious and a true affection grows. This year I’ve worked my way through 450 albums. Of these then I’ve bought a number myself (out of the 74 then most are from charity shops: it’s a cheap way to hear an artist that you wouldn’t ordinarily bother with).

My selection is quite eclectic although I’m uncertain about what is Rock anymore, it seems to be very old artists on money spinning tours. If you do hear a new album then it is a parody of something earlier and better. The New Musical Express top 50 was a mystery. Lots of artists that I’ve never heard of. I think the majority of their audience are seldom listening to a full album. They stream tracks, which can be compilations, extracts, singles etc. I think that the bulk of new music is absorbed this way by those under 30 years old.

Here we go…

  1.  Erin Enderlin/ ‘Faulkner Country’/ Country
  2. Ten Years After/’The Cap Ferret Sessions’/Rock
  3. Morrissey/’California Son’/ Rock
  4. Irene Kelley/’Benny’s TV Repair Shop’/ Country
  5. Christone ‘Kingfish’ Ingram/ ‘Kingfish’/ Blues
  6. Rodney Crowell/ ‘Texas’/ Americana
  7. Daniel Norgren/ “Wooh Dang’/ Americana
  8. Micky & The Motorcars/ ‘Long Time Comin’/ Country
  9. Hannah James & The JigDoll Ensemble/ ‘The Woman & her Words’ / Folk
  10. Chad Richard/ ‘Worthy Cause’/ Country

Record Of The Week # 80

Gill Landry – Skeleton At The Banquet

There’s something enigmatic about Landry. His music has a poise and pace befitting a little mystery. His baritone bass voice luxuriates in this setting. It’s a voice that’s deep, rich and conversational. Parallels have been drawn with Leonard Cohen; when you add the crafted musings and uncluttered arrangements the comparison is complete. In terms of the album’s sound this is a similar outing to 2017’s Love Rides A Dark Horse.

Skeleton At The Banquet was written on the west coast of France a couple of years ago. Landry sought some sanctuary after a European tour. It was here, he writes, it “gave me an objectivity I didn’t even know I was looking for and led to writing this series of reflections on the collective hallucination of America and a few love songs for good measure”.

It’s a love song that starts the album – “I Love You Too”. He’s caught in a tender moment returning his lover’s declaration of love. Such is the sombre affirmation, over an atmospheric pedal steel on a tango-like rhythm, that you’re not quite sure he meant it. I found the ‘reflections’ he writes about in songs such as “The Wolf”, “A Different Tune” and “Nobody’s Coming”. These were allegories. They’re difficult to fathom. However the sound and tunes were attractive and seductive in their own right. Continue reading Record Of The Week # 80

Record Of The Week # 79

November 12, 2019

Luke Combs – What You See Is What You Get

Luke Combs’ Midas touch has propelled him to the top of the charts. What You See Is What You Get will shortly take its place on top of the pile. This domination is down to his voice. It draws you in and wraps its arms around you: it’s a weapon of mass seduction. 

It’s lucky he has this voice, as the rest of his persona is hardly formulaic for the charts. He’s burly with a scruffy beard. When you ply your trade in the pretty boy world of Nashville Country then this might be seen as a handicap. Maybe having the perfect face for radio matters more? 

This is a consistent listen and easy on the ear. However, due to the similarity throughout there are few standout tracks. It seemed to be a very comforting ‘white noise’ of what I think Country Pop at its best should sound like. The backing throughout is of a rock band with those overloud/over produced ‘slappy’ drum sounds. I think a Country album should have more fiddle, lap steel guitar and banjo: any appearance here is fleeting. His latest chart single “Even Though I’m Leaving” does have mandolin; it stands out as a different more complex and interesting composition. 

Continue reading Record Of The Week # 79