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Joni Mitchell

January 17, 2013 Leave a comment

Joni Mitchell Blue album coverI came late and slowly to Joni Mitchell. The first of her albums that got me was The Hissing of Summer Lawns. I thought this must surely be unique. None of the observations made, narratives plotted, music played or notes sung could possibly be repeated or form part of a greater body body of work. I thought I’d discovered her best work and everything else would either be sub-folky nonsense like Big Yellow Taxi or obscure wishy-washy jazz.

About ten years later I listened to Blue for the first time. For the next three or four months I listened to it at least once a day and drove my family demented with the sound of it.

About five years on from my Blue revelation, I’ve now discovered Hejira and it makes me feel warm when it’s cold outside.

For me, Joni Mitchell is among the greatest musicians/artists/songwriters there are/have ever been and, along with Kate Bush, represent the very pinnacle of what women produce in the realm of music. Like Dickens, I’m happy to leave long gaps between absorbing more of her. I need to know that when I’m sixty, seventy or beyond there will still be gems of hers to unearth and immerse myself in.

Categories: music

The Rough Guide To The Music Of Scandinavia

October 21, 2011 Leave a comment

One of the many great things about working in The Nomads Tent was that it stocked Rough Guide CDs and they were the staple background music of the day.

The Rough Guide to the Music of ScandinaviaEach one provides a selection of about wenty tracks from various regions of the world. I love the music of Okinawa, Eastern Europe and Tango, but my very favourite has to be the music of Scandinavia. There’s a wide and rich variety of music on there from fairly traditional to complex orchestral and vocal arrangements, to songs where you can see the origins of heavy metal and prog rock among the strands of folk music.

Of the many great songs on this album the one that stops me in my tracks is the last one: The Icelandic Symphony Orchestra With The Langholt Church Choir, Conducted By Jon Stefansson: Lofsöngur (Icelandic National Anthem). Once you’ve gotten through all the wierdness and beauty of the other songs, this one comes with the reward of bliss and peace. There’s a section about two-thirds of the way through it when the choir modulates up and it catches you and makes your eyes water.

I was tempted to post a link to the page where you can listen to samples of the tracks from this album, but I’d be doing a dissservice as they all must be heard in their entirety for full appreciation.

Categories: music

Teenage Fanclub

August 26, 2011 Leave a comment

At the very start of the nineties in Scotland I was in a band. The one to beat was Teenage Fanclub. Noone else was producing a racket like they were. Few bands were producing rackets actually, opting instead for super-smooth production that wasn’t likely to disturb a dinner party.

Teenage Fanclub

It wasn’t long before a legion of similar sounding bands came out in their wake. After the guitar experiment that was A Catholic Education, Bandwagonesque was followed by Grand Prix and Thirteen – all sparkling and glorious albums with strong songs. The vocals started to take shape and we saw the development of one of the greatest harmony pairings since, well, Phil and Don. They obviously enjoy playing guitars and bashing drums – and why not?

Other bands fell by the wayside (including my own) as Teenage Fanclub settled into their groove and kept releasing a steady stream of excellent albums to their devoted and diverse fanbase. They’ve always stayed the right side of global domination. They will never be U2, thankfully.

Categories: music

Grandaddy – Sumday

July 6, 2011 Leave a comment

I overheard this album in a shop, got a copy and listened to it until it was thoroughly embedded in my head – and have continued to listen to it without tiring.

Grandaddy SumdayIt’s got a kind of grungy, country feel to it that I was instantly drawn to. The instrumentation is occasionally odd, but not gimmicky. The vocals are reedy and supplemented by nice harmonies. You’d be forgiven for thinking this was a concept album, given the way the songs on this record share themes or cover similar ground, like a musical Venn diagram. A dissatisfaction with the sterility of working and a yearning to break free, to re-engage with nature, are underpinned by the inevitability of decay. The songs start off upbeat, optimistic and humorous, but follow a downward trajectory into darkness, gloom and hopelessness.

Apparently Sumday is not as good as The Sophtware Slump. I listened to the latter. It was good but didn’t connect with me in quite the same way.

I played this to a friend of mine who had heard an interview with Grandaddy, but had not heard any of their stuff. He told me that in their interview, they revealed that their ‘guilty pleasure’ (how I hate that phrase) was ELO and, right enough, I can hear bits of Jeff Lynn-esque production etc in there.

Categories: music

The Pixies

June 10, 2011 Leave a comment

Who knows what music would be like if it weren’t for The Pixies? Taking a wild guess at this, I’d say it just wouldn’t be as good.

The PixiesTheir early albums are pure arthouse punk, but what takes them onward from the likes of Sonic Youth and Bob Mould is the way the songwriting developed. Black Francis (or Frank Black) seems to combine an unflinching approach to lyrics and subject with the sensibility of a great writer. Gil Norton steered their sound from the raucous, abrasive sonics of early classics like Debaser, to the raucous and not quite so abrasive sonics of later classics like Subbacultcha.

Kurt Cobain was a huge fan and said that Smells Like Teen Spirit was really just a riff he came up when he was trying to sound like The Pixies.

It was during my deep Pixies-fixated period that I went to Malta (the same trip where I saw the Caravaggio). Me and Mrs rb231 were in a bar in St Juliens and there was a young band courageously plodding through covers of songs by U2 and Dire Straits. I was therefore gobsmacked when they launched into a version of Is She Weird? The odd, syncopated arrangement completely fell apart about half way through, but that performance made my night and confirmed the far reaching influence of The Pixies.

Categories: music

Scott Walker

April 18, 2011 Leave a comment

A friend gave me a copy of ‘Boy Child’. I listened to it and enjoyed it. The overall sound seemed to sit in the same place as big production crooner stuff from the sixties. I listened to it again and some of the weird sounds started to distance it a bit from the likes of Christie, Bennet and Humperdinck. I listened to it again and Walker’s voice struck me as being absolutely unique. By the time I listened to it again the lyrics were coming to the fore and they just seemed like nothing that had ever been written before or since. I listened to it over and over, constantly, for several months.

Scott Walker Boy ChildSome of the songs touch on familiar territory: love etc, but the huge majority of them are wildly out there subjects from Stalin to Bergman’s Seventh Seal, to the plain weird Amorous Humphrey Plugg, to Brel-esque tales of drunken nights with Girls from the Streets.

As well as being a formidable songwriter, Scott Walker was also a bass player. I think he played bass on The Old Man’s Back, and anyone who doesn’t think that is the best bass line ever recorded is an idiot.

Although he’s been quiet for a while his vision does not seem to have dimmed over the years as he continues to produce songs like the one about Mussolini’s wife sung to the sound of a conductor punching a side of raw meat.

‘Boy Child’ is a compilation of songs from Scott Walker’s first four or five solo albums. I’ve not taken the time to listen to each of these albums individually. Given the lofty esteem in which I hold ‘Boy Child’ you’d think I’d be eager to devour anything else by him, but I never have. Perhaps it’s because I see perfection in this compilation and fear anything else may detract.

Categories: music

Orange Juice

March 2, 2011 Leave a comment

Orange Juice were a Scottish band that were around in the early eighties. They ticked so many boxes in the requirements list for a great band. They also ticked the box that said ‘destined to remain on the obscure fringes of underground/indie popularity but will inspire legions of other bands and stay rooted in the hearts of their fans forever’.

Edwyn Collins in 'Dada with Juice'

Their influences range from Velvet Underground to Al Green, and there’s a lot of fertile territory in between. Heartbreaking songs; enquiring songs; cheeky songs. Their sound was gloriously shambolic guitar pop with vocals that seemed like someone trying to sing like someone else, but there was noone else who sung like that.

I never got the chance to see Orange Juice, but I did once play at a  festival in Glasgow that Edwyn Collins was also playing at. It was a choice between watching him or Van Morrison. I love Van Morrison, but this was a no brainer.

At the time they were creeping into my sphere of interest I saw “Dada with Juice” on TV and this fast tracked them straight to my core. The bit I remember most vividly was that clip of them performing ‘Simply Thrilled, Honey” in an Orange Juice factory.

This also sparked in me a lasting fondness for Dada as evidenced by my first post on this blog – and there was you thinking it was a tribute to Talking Heads…

Categories: music