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Saturday, December 30, 2017

#0111: The Sounds Of India - Ravi Shankar

You know what?  I really respect what Ravi Shankar is trying to do here.  He begins the record with a comprehensive summary of the elements in Indian musical form.  He cites terminology and provides examples, bringing in instruments and building the sound in layers.  He even gives you tips on how to enjoy it more by relaxing and letting it float over you.  It's not like jazz, he says, even tho it's all improvised.  There's no harmony or counterpoint.  That's western music, you cunt.

It's a very valuable foreword and I'll go back to it so I can memorise the terms.  As I'm listening to the opening track I'm noticing actually that he is a far superior sitar player to the previous recordings I've encountered.  His variations within the raga (if I have that right) are deep and complex and he's fast as fuck.  There are moments where you think this guy could be Richie Blackmore.  And in India, I bet he fucking was.

Norah Jones is his daughter isn't she?  I think it's wonderful when a famous artist's children get into the same business.  They must feel so proud of their kids and their relationship that it was possible without friction.  Well, there was probably some.  We're all little shits at some point, right?

Anyway, I've had this on for a bit now and in taking a detour to talk about Norah Jones I've managed to create the state of not really listening intently, as he instructed.  Now that I'm aware of the music again, it's still very much an academic appreciation.  My blood pressure is rising cuz I just don't like the noises and it's getting really fast and chaotic.  It's like punjabi punk or something.  I hope that's not offensive.  I just wanted to use a bit of wordplay to draw a comparison between the thrashing nature of both styles.

There's another brief exposition from Ravi at the beginning of the next track and I can see how this is going to go and I won't be able to say anything that isn't repetitive so I'll leave it there.

This is about my enjoyment levels, of course, so I can't give it a very high score but a respectful one is in order, I think.


#0110: The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society

I could analyse the progressions, assess the significance of the words in the context of my experiences and extrapolate theories of their combined impact on my audio receptors.  I could do that.  If I had anything approximating an advanced education in pop culture, music psychology and whatever other poncy qualification one would need to explain why...

...I fucking love the Kinks.  It's as simple as that.

How have I gone all these years without getting into them?   From the opening circular jam with the stupid nouns and the weird theme, through the harbinger of Mr Blue Sky foot tappers to the fun filled, self mocking brass band analogues, these songs stand apart.  The arrangements are solid and the words are clever without being pretentious.

The little intricacies of the arrangements are tight as fuck, particularly on Do You Remember Walter.  Picture Book bounces us effortlessly along with its dominant bass line. 

Johnny Thunder is a slower track.  What I notice is the hooks have variable lengths so he avoids them sounding the same not just with key and mode but also rhythm and tempo.  That sounds obvious now I've written it down. but many just don't get it.

Last Of The Steam Powered Trains has that oom-pah bass line with a cheeky blues lick for a hook which the guitar and harmonica share.  It's all just fun then it accelerates as if the train is running away.  Great stuff and even at the climax, it's not a mess.  It snaps back into a reprise at a faster lick and I think everybody is actually up for another chorus.

Even All Of My Friends Were There is the most peculiar track, I think.  It's not what I'd call a good vocal but it's in character.  There's a track called Mother on The Police album Synchronicity and it's not sung well but I love it.  It's not supposed to be a good vocal.  Maybe I just don't like the instrumentation on this and that's why I can't accept the character of the song.  There's noises you like and noises you don't.  They're still notes, tho.  Other noises are just fucking shit.  Dylan, I'm looking at you.

The lasting moment for me tho was the realisation that yet another song I very much like turns out to have been written so many years ago.  What was particularly touching is that it was Kirsty MacColl's version that I knew first and I always feel a shiver of anguish when I'm reminded of her. 

Another cracking album from this bunch, tho.  4 stars.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

#0109: The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter - The Incredible String Band

Folk musical-theatre meets the storytellers convention doing a mummers play.

What does that mean?  It means the last bastion of folk's dignity has been dragged out into the barn and had a pig's leg shoved up its jacksie repeatedly.  And they left the tape running.

There's a load of fucking weirdos in this world and for some reason this particular pouch of personality disorders decided to go into music instead of becoming drama teachers or opening a crystal shop in Glastonbury High St. 

What the fuck "sitting on your head like a paraffin soul" is supposed to mean I have no idea.  Each track, strummed by a dog who's just this second had its front paws bitten off by an owl, and festooned by flutes, whistles and the such all blown with no skill.  The vocals are out of tune.  The harmonies....aren't. 

I'm on "A Very Cellular Song", which is apparently 13 minutes long.  Harpsichord plays while the vocal land confidently on exactly the wrong note.  In fervent support of this mouse having an anal prolapse, a violin is tortured slowly - or what used to be a violin until it was defiled by the gormless twat who now holds it like the serial killer grips the victim, drawing the bow across the instrument like a rusty blade across the unfortunate's skin.

I cannot express the pain I am in right now.  They can't sing, they can't play, the words are just fucking shit they wrote then they were semi conscious after eating too many lentils.  There is not a scintilla of value in this, whatsoever.  Who the fuck decides to record this? 

There are people who are just shit.  They can go play open mic and drive business away from local pubs on a Tuesday but can we please not give them record deals?  That's like inviting children to play with explosives. 

The Water Song is backed by sound effects of water sploshing about.  I  don't think it's clean water.  I think it's the rancid shit water squirted from the arseholes of a 1000 dead crack whores.  Every second that goes by and I haven't freed myself of this execrable doggerel is drops of that water being splashed in my face.  And all too frequently the notes are so off that some gets in my mouth. 

The "incredible string" Band?  The only incredible thing about these strings is that they weren't used to garrote these feckless cunts at birth.

0 stars.

#0108: Traffic

An eponymous debut from Steve Winwood and the gang.  Whether it's his band or not, I have no idea but he's the only one I've heard of.  That's cuz I'm a teen of the 80s and his Back In The High Life solo effort was a big fave.  Always meant to visit his back catalogue and this is me finally getting round to it.  Cuz I have to.  Heh.

You Can All Join In introduces Traffic as a Kinks analogue.  Mason's voice sounds a lot like Ray Davis and the acoustic stomp underneath those every man lyrics doesn't do anything to distinguish them.  That's said, it's a good song, well executed.

Pearly Queen is a complete change of pace, tho and we get treated to a Hammond-littered, funky blues that quickly shows the band has range.   Whether that range is between two derivative extremes remains to be seen.  Don't Be Sad reminds me of Whiter Shade of Pale in its feel tho it shares very little in terms of melody.   

The album takes a very funky turn with Who Knows What Tomorrow May Bring.  Winwood is  showing his soul side with some great vocal ad-libs and the keyboard work is superb.  That's followed by another groovy tune in Feelin' Alright.  It's not sparkling with originality but it's certainly demonstrating a level of proficiency well above average in their chosen forms.

Then Vagabond Virgin comes along and this feels kinda Kinksy again.  Rimshot on the one with latin percussion, acoustic guitars and piano lend this the kooky, throwaway feel but there's a melancholy air introduced in the change that, while setting this song apart from others of its ilk also jars and I'm not sure the incongruity is right for the song.

Our first foray into 60s weirdness comes with 40,000 Headman.  It begins with a load of flute work that becomes progressively more chaotic, which was disappointing.  There's a steady groove underpinning this but it lacks the dexterity of earlier tracks. 

Cryin' To Be Heard is saved by the chorus swooshing in with the keyboards to create crescendo support for the multi-layered vocals.  Too bad the ad-libs at the end are hit and miss and the verses lack conviction so they become this waiting room you have to sit in until the chorus comes back.

What exactly is No Time To Live trying to achieve?  The melodramatic piano and whiny lyrics are punctuated by squeaky sax and eventually gain support from timpani before the already miserable progression collapses in a discordant heap.  It's not really a big ballad.  It's not long enough to be an epic, not enough mood changes.  All I'm left with is a feeling of not wanting to hear it again.

It's a bit of a shame the second half deteriorated.  The final track is back to groovy but by that point I was worn out with all the artsy bollocks.  Let's face it.  That's what it was.  They were going for credibility. 

Whatever.  3 stars.

Friday, December 01, 2017

#0107: Beggar's Banquet - The Rolling Stones

We were walking thru Glastonbury festival one year (I would guess 94) and there was some kind of rock music I don't remember blaring out of a tent on the side of the track we were walking dowb towards where a field opened out, possibly into where the Acoustic Tent was - not sure. 

Beyond the tent blaring the music, under the canopy of a bar tent there were a bunch of people grooving around in a circle in a sort of tribal way and they were pushing their hands up the air together at the same point in their dance.  But it was completely out of time with the music we could hear.  It was so surreal but as we neared the bar and stepped under the canopy it turned out they were dancing to Sympathy For The Devil and their hands were doing the "wooh woooh"s.

We joined them.  It was awesome.  Then we got a beer.  And it tasted weird.  Cuz we were off our faces.

I was surprised to find it opening up this album.  Firstly cuz I figured it was written much later.  But it feels very much like a finale song to me.  In bands, I've always played it later on in the set.   Not that it doesn't work but it does rather oblige the next track to back down and admit defeat.  That's why, I suppose No Expectations is next.  Nice and mellow, non-confrontational, you-can't-compete-with-satan-so-you-might-as well-as-sit-down-have-a-cuppa-while-we-regroup.  It's too long by about a minute, I'd say.  Having said that, Wild Horses is not my favourite Stones track for the same reason,  so those who *are* fans of overly repetitive dirges would probably love this.

And it seems the ground is still warm from all the scorching cuz Dear Doctor is treading very carefully in the direction of allegro with its white trash waltz that progresses steadily toward its eventual transition into a parody of itself.

In Parachute Woman we have the diddly-dink-a-dink-a-dink-a- blues.  It's unambitious but the closing harmonica solo is pretty satisfying.

There are shades of Hendrix in the rhythm and meter of Jig-Saw Puzzle.  Keef would be first to cry "three chords, two fingers, one arsehole" if I dared extend that comparison to the guitar work so let's not beat humility into the self-deprecating.  The use of a lap steel in this rocky context is pretty cool tho and the unexpected shift in the progression plays well to the slide effect.  I'm also drawn (somewhat unsurprisingly) to the piano track which is more interesting than Jagger's vocal.  It's a fairly repetitive ballad which at 6 minutes really needed a bit more work done on the arrangement in terms of texture and arc if Mick wasn't gonna make any effort to vary the melody.

Street Fighting Man is a well known tune, which again has Mick on a repeated tension note but then there are a couple of changes in this song and it's half the length so it really works.

Is it bluegrass?  I'm not sure what brand of acoustic, porch-swing blues this is but Prodigal Son pulls it off with some panache even down to the lyrics being completely inde-fucking-cipherable.   I assume they're about wasting money, coming home or forgiveness depending on the songwriter's level of Biblical understanding.

Stray Cat Blues is a pearl of rock.  Heavy on everything with shades of Iggy Pop's vocal.  It crashes about with an acceptable anarchism for a few minutes and then stops before the neighbours complain.  Tidy.

Back to acoustic country blues for Factory Girl which shows you a bit of tongue in the cheek of Keith's self-effacing demeanour and we have a nice little anthemic finale in Salt Of The Earth making this a well-rounded and enjoyable jaunt.

I wanna come back to this.   4 stars.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

#0106: I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You - Aretha Franklin

I was a little bit nervous about this.  She's one of those artists I feel I *should* respect, if you'll excuse the pun.   It would be a blatant deception to say I love soul music or that I listen to it even semi regularly.  That said, whenever I watch the Blues Brothers or The Commitments I get the urge to go out and try to join a band like that.  It's inspiring music.  Be they pumping, ballsy protest songs like the opening track on here (Respect) or the wailing despair of the title track at position 3, there is something raw and tangible to connect with.

Aretha's voice was of course unlike any woman before her.  That's not to say that other women did not possess gravel, heart, power or range but the proportions afforded by her larynx and diaphragm were unique and a shock to the world.  

Even though Respect is the only punchy number we get for a while, the next 7 tracks still have momentum because of her delivery.  

Of course, a certain amount of credit has to go to the song writers and arrangers who between them have conjured these harmonic pathways for her to skip down, stamp on, slide along and fly over with the agility of any acrobat (or flea). 

It is nevertheless refreshing when the roadhouse rhythm finally picks us up out of the dust of the dirge, however briefly.  Only 3 tracks remaining now and yet another swaying 6 in Do Right Woman Do Right Man places this album, in spite of the exemplary vocal track firmly in the date-night background music category.  It's kinda like what I said about the Wee Small Hours from Frank Sinatra way back in the beginning: each song stands up very well on its own but if they're too similar then your brain just switches off.

Oh ok, Save Me has the same uppish rhythm as Gloria (and I really should get a vocabulary together for these different feels) but by this point I'm sort of ready to move on.  And sure enough her cover of the Sam Cooke classic is a slow motion, lugubrious indulgence, which if it was rounding off a rollercoaster of a show would kick my ass all over town but I'm done.  

3 stars.

Oh, and she's not dead, apparently.  But she thanxxx you for your concern.  

#0105: Axis: Bold As Love - The Jimi Hendrix Experience

Apparently this is a contractual obligation album.  The last such album I listened to began with a song called "Sit On My Face".  This one begins with a bizarre news magazine program recording.  It's either a spoof or audio of a real program; I have no idea which but I think Jimi's voice can be heard towards the end as they're being sped up and made to sound like they're aliens or being possessed or some shit.  It's bonkers and quite fun and then there's about a minute of fucking about with stereo panning, distortion and feedback that's like having a pin cushion turned inside out and shoved up yer jacksie.  Not a great start but Hendrix has some credit to play with.

When the real first track starts it's not what you might've expected in 67 having tasted the Experience's debut.  Up From The Skies is a tasty little strut that could easily have supported a jazz solo and it's got groovy sewn into the sauce.  Not knowing what to expect now, the brief silence between this and Spanish Castle Magic is fraught with anticipation.

It comes crashing in with a sound our contemporary ears would most readily associate with Crosstown Traffic and as it swings between the lyrics spun over heavy punctuation and the cymbal washed driver groove, you're carried along on the wave of decadent denouement as his solo slices thru the smokey air and fills your mind with what-the-fuck-just-happened.

There it is: a development of his multi-string hammer-on technique rippling over the fretboard backwards (to some of us) as the guitarists in the room sotto voce "motherfucker" in unison.  The infectious chorus fills your veins and demands disappointment as the track starts to fade.  And that's how it's done.  Wait Until Tomorrow is immediately one of my favourite Hendrix tracks I've never heard.   

Ain't No Telling ain't showing no signs of letting up.  Son. Of. A. Bitch.  This is *awesome*.  All one minute and 48 seconds of it.

Ooh, it's that Sting song.

My friend Robbie was a Hendrix nut and he would play Little Wing on an acoustic guitar to the delight of many.  Crafty old bastard wouldn't do it on demand tho so whenever the mood took him and he decided to play it, everybody would pay attention. 

Hendrix seems to have picked all the best hippy words in his abstraction of the muse's imagination, form or presence; whichever he is describing.  Butterflies and zebras and moonbeams swirl like consciousness deliquesced to mercury in water, the phasing of the vocal effect adding to the ethereal mood until reality takes a big wet bite out of your ass when his solo comes in, effortlessly smashing and redefining your reverie.

I used to think If 6 Was 9 was a bit rude but actually, it's sort of a social liberation song isn't it?  It presents the idea of defying or breaking convention across the board, not just in the rat race, the white collar world referred to in the middle section but the hippies too, as he points out that he's fine even if they wanna cut off all their hair.

Just for the record, I'm fine with that too.  I just think there'd be a *lot* more bald people if they did.  Hippies basically pulled off the best combover in the history of hair.

It's not one of my favourite tracks but it does have a certain potency that draws me in regardless.

You Got Me Floatin' now recaptures the surging energy of Wait Until Tomorrow just in case we were flagging and then it's time for one of those songs I'd've thought would be a pointless answer but would probably score 1 or 2 and fuck up your jackpot.  Castles Made Of Sand wouldn't be among the first 10 songs I'd list by Jimi Hendrix and I'm kinda bummed about that. 

It's a track I think if you were covering it you'd be tempted to play slower than this recording, not just cuz I get the impression it's fucking difficult to play but cuz you'd want to pore over those licks and really sit back on the rhythm.  You'd lose that tightness when you get to the last line of the verses tho and that's where I think the genius of this song lies: in the pace.  I don't know whether all the pieces would fit together as well outside a short radius of this tempo.

But I digress.  Next up, Noel Redding on bass takes the vocal for She's So Fine.  Not a great deal of guitar present in this and that possibly illustrates a dependency between Hendrix's vocals and guitar playing.  Of course, it could just be that Redding wanted his song to remain his song, unfettered by the overpowering personality of the Hendrix axe.  And it's a good song.  The most distinctive thing about it is the drums so not really a launch pad for Noel Redding as a singer songwriter I wouldn't say but it's not so out of place that you'd think it was filler. 

One Rainy Wish is a slow waltz that's a setup for a surging, anthemic chorus that allows for some phantom time changes over the actual time change to 4/4 that make the transition back to 3 look a lot more ingenious than it is.

I really like that track but I'm starting to tire a bit and I'm hoping for something different.  As if by magic Little Miss Lover to satisfy my request with a bass hook that can only be the harbinger of Zeppelin.  Gets a bit chaotic toward the end but then fades soon after and it's another well timed retirement for a solid idea.

Rounding off the second outing for this legendary trio, then is what's as close to the title track as we're gonna see.  Bold As Love sees many of the themes and techniques from other tracks revisited but not quoted.  It's very much its own song but having noticed these similarities and that it's the finale piece, I can't help but see the parallel between this, with its repeating pattern so rich with the feel of a curtain call and many theatre shows whose closing number often involves a medley of reprised themes.

All in all, the bat rang out like the report of a .22 and the ball almost became birdstrike.  It seems I'm a much bigger fan of Jimi Hendrix than I thought.  5 stars.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

#0104: White Light, White Heat - The Velvet Underground

The last album I reviewed by this lot featured a German chanteuse called Nico and it was, as I recall, abysmal.

The title track opens up and it's got a tune, it's got energy.  It's the sort of punky dirt I was expecting from VU and it doesn't bang on for too long so we're okay for now.

Who's doing the voiceover on track 2?  Is this Howard Marks?  It's some Welsh bloke reading a story over a trashy rockish groove with some noisy incidental guitar.  It's weird and has character and I know this is the sort of thing I should hate but this - and it's not cuz he's Welsh - I like.  The narration has a peculiar appeal.  It's eight minutes of the same chords but I'm listening to the story.  Ladies and gentlemen I may have discovered audio books!

Okay, I've had to look it up cuz he's singing now on Lady Godiva's Operation.  This is so wonderfully odd!  Maybe I'm just delighted that *anything* is happening after the last album but even tho John Cale's voice isn't what I'd call strong, it is as least in tune.

Lou Reed gets on the mic now and there are definite production issues with this.  His trademark vocal qualities are not fully formed as I recognise them and this is quite an awkward two and a half minutes.

I know this album is much lauded by punk and alt fans alike and I can certainly see it's ground breaking but I Heard Her Call My Name is spirit breaking for the first minute or two until it opens up into more of the chorus and we have some harmonies that soften the extremely harsh guitar noise.  Christ, is he doing that on purpose?

I should have counted myself lucky.  I now realise there's one track left and it's seventeen and a half minutes long.  It's called Sister Ray and I have a feeling I'll be crying out for Desolation Row by the end of it.  Here goes.

It's noisy and messy and trashy and all the things I detest but for a couple of minutes it's bearable cuz it's got character.  There's this keyboard sound that comes in and makes some good melodic contributions but then becomes more and more chaotic as the song continues and the words get more disjointed and tuneless and then everybody just loses their shit.

The drummer is keeping the beat going but Christ alone knows what he's playing in support of.  What is he holding together?  Maybe it's his sanity he's hanging onto while these spannered wreckheads run around the china shop with baseball bats.  It's fucking aural carnage.

Just under 10 minutes have passed when hurricane Junky starts to calm.  The drums are still going tho and there's a repeated vocal about "sucking on my ding dong" and the keyboard is making this noise like a horse snoring with a harmonica in its gob.

What in the misanthropic, genocidal fuck is the engineer thinking during this abortion performed by a blind piranha with a pencil?  Did the record company listen to this before releasing it?  15 and a half minutes gone and the keyboard player appears to be simulating the arrival of riot police in force.  Is he trying to scare them into stopping, perhaps?  The lyrics are claiming "he couldn't hit it sideways".  If he's talking about a sense of key it's the most astute observation he's made to date.

It's stopped.  I am sat in the silence, letting my ears ring.  Oh blessed moment of tranquillity.  I'll listen to The Gift again at some point but the rest of it can fuck off on the fastest mode of transport available.

1 star.

#0103: Call of the Valley - Hariprasad Chaurasia, Brij Bhushan Kabra, Shivkumar Sharma

I had best choose my words very carefully.  There is an army of people on the lookout for reasons to be offended on other people's behalf and they are dangerous.  People are listening to these idiots.  We live in a world where a handful of isms and phobias are policing us to the point where nobody is responsible for their own feelings any more and everyone is being encouraged to become outraged if they are subject of the slightest mockery.

8 tracks.  None under 6 minutes.  The first is entitled Ahir Bhairav/Nat Bhairav and is 12:31.  It reminds me of the opening of Shine On You Crazy Diamond.  A low drone fades in, a plucked instrument plays an atmospheric lead continued by what would be a bass flute in a western orchestra.  Both sounds are pleasant to the ear but as the main rhythm is established the interchanging of the instruments becomes erratic and a second guitar-like instrument in a higher register takes over. 

You could sit in an alternative healing centre with incense burning having a massage or meditating to this but the volume would have to be quite low for it not to literally harsh your mellow.  After a few minutes, the flute-analogue goes up an octave and it too cuts into the foreground with pervasive shrillness uncharacteristic of the peaceful air I imagine is intended.  At 8 minutes we get some of the bongo/conga type drums of the region entering but they do little to help coalesce the other sounds into anything with direction and it's difficult for me to imagine this was composed.

The piece finally fades out having not moved from the first chord the entire time.

Ragoo Pilo now begins in the same key with the same instruments and the same scale.  It's got the same rubato introduction but without the drone this time.  Now it's the high and low "guitars" exchanging phrases making much use of fast repeated notes like you hear with mandolins a lot.  Blimey, this is hard work.  I can't think of anything to say other than describe the noises and wince at the flute widdliing around.  Bongos are back.  This reminds me of a jam we had years ago where somebody had a poppy plant growing in their front garden which they'd harvested and made tea for us.

I remember sitting there with my foot on the sustain pedal just letting A minor ring out while everybody, completely bonced on what was basically morphine did pretty much the same as the people on this recording - to wit, meandering aimlessly around the same modal scale without ever establishing a melody.

I'm on morphine right now - I have a prescription for it.  I'm suffering with my back at the moment but even with the buzzy calm that accompanies the pain relief, there is little improvement in my perception of this music.

I don't see the point in pushing myself to find different ways of describing the same noise and I don't think it's fair to make you read them even if I could.  Bhoop is the second shortest track at 6:15 and it's more of the same.  Why did they even bother having track divisions?

There is obviously skill involved in this but I can only see the technical value, the physical achievement of playing the instrument.  I am unable to recognise any musicianship here.  I am just so culturally removed from this that it should surely be a moot point that I don't get on with it.

Much as it would be fun to really rip into this and much as I recognise my restraint as a form of positive discrimination, I can't bring myself to do it.  It's awful to me and that's all I have to say about it.  1 star.

#0102: Don't Come Home A-drinkin' (With Lovin' On Your Mind) - Loretta Lynn

I'm guessing this will be a country album.  Country albums have not fared well with my ears.  And that's all the prologue I'm prepared to give.

The opening guitar line is great, I have to say.  It's all that country 6th twangy bollocks but it's well executed.  But then we're into the pedestrian moaning.  The title track's perspective is of a woman who wishes her man would just stay out all night and get a hooker rather come home stinking and try to woo her with his petrol breath.  Maybe there is a hidden domestic abuse theme here.  Who knows what women were unable to sing about in those days that had to be encoded in what we now know is a common vehicle for marital rape and other abuse.

These songs are a mix of 2 basic types alternating without deviation across the entire track list.  The steady 4 boom-chuck-b-boom-chuck, the gummy blues - and by that I mean blues has teeth and these are just andante waltzes with that insipid lap steel sound. 

Her voice carries the songs well and as far as vocal quality goes, I prefer her to the likes of Dolly Parton and Tammy Wynette who just sound like whiny white trash.  But competent singing doesn't stop this feeling like listening to your granny's tales of how she used to go out dancing without being able to balance your boredom with the knowledge that you will one day want to remember how she spoke about her youth, how her face would glow with the memories and how its pallor in her last days broke your heart to see the life force dissipating.  But because you listened to her stories, you could feel sadness without guilt for having wasted your time together.

But Loretta Lynn is not my granny.  She's just some fucking boring country singer.  And her album is total shit.  One star for her voice.

Monday, November 27, 2017

#0101: I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night - The Electric Prunes

Have you ever sat on a washing machine in its spin cycle when you're constipated?  That's the image conjured by the band name.  The album title suggests that a clever play on drink/dream is enough to make a winning trippy title.  I predict the contents of a loosened bowel at 1800rpm.

Ready?

The title track opens the album and it's a snare on the down beat driver with the guitars all put thru a tremolo turned up to 11.  To my obvious surprise it's got a decent melody and tho the B section is trying a bit too hard to be unpredictable, it's a decent opening number.

Bangles, however relies on the same beat and the same effects and in spite of the melody and chords finding their own identity, the overall feel is too close to the first track.  The change has a different time signature and the progressions are interesting so it's a bit of a disappointing track ordering fail, really.

The next track, Onie, is a slow, major-seventh-littered piece; soft and gentle and how it avoids the cloying tack of muzak is an achievement in itself.  Nice change of pace in spite of yet again drowning the whole thing in that tremolo effect.

Are You Loving Me More finally releases us from the tremolo and gives us a decent 60s rock number with rotor organs and moves on to another upbeat tune in Train For Tomorrow.  I'll say this for the songs, they're odd progressions making use of quite peculiar intervals and my inner ear is finding it a challenge to nail them down.  Makes for interesting listening and his soft, breathy vocal is very pleasant.

This fifth track gives way to a jazz waltz solo section where the guitar isn't exactly Kenny Burrell and perhaps a bit too ambitious for the tone set but it's keeping my attention even if the general feel is that the guitarist may be playing beyond their skill level in trying to extemporise the entire solo instead of preparing something they could've played more confidently.

Sold To The Highest Bidder has a mandolin-driven Mexicana polka feel and is quite painful.  It feels like it's supposed to be a parody or a send up of the style.  "Going going gone" pronounced with max melodrama is pretty funny but that mandolin (if that's what it is) is giving me a real arse ache.

Next up is a messy 12 bar with way too much reverb called Get Me To The World On Time.  Nevertheless it bobs along quite inoffensively until the side tom makes an entrance and the rhythm switches to a Fade Away analogue that puts everybody of a certain age in mind of the Scotch 3M VHS advert from the 80s where a stop-motion skeleton Rex Harrisons his way thru

"I'm gonna tell you how it's going to be 
With Scotch's lifetime guarantee
Tape what you want both night and day
Then rerecord not fade away,
rerecord not fade away."

Resurrecting the Heart and Soul rhythm A Quarter To Nine is a cheekily pleasant jazz stroller that could've stood to be a bit longer rather than giving us The King Is In His Counting House, a working example of a weaponised harpsichord taking the main accompaniment for what isn't so much chamber music as chamber pot music.

My missus agrees.  Or least I think she does based on her having just walked past and remarked "what the fuck is this shit?"

Try Me On For Size is a nice little upbeat number incorporating a glockenspiel to good effect without lampooning themselves and then we've got a proper oompah-honky-tonk-pub-piano finale in The Toonerville Trolley.  The rhyming options are pretty slim pickings but the lyricist has spared no expense in shoehorning every single one of them into these words. 

So where does that leave us?  Rather than the total shit show I expected, they've actually managed to achieve a precarious equipoise between groovy tunes and unequivocal cock.  3 stars.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

#0100: Are You Experienced? - Jimi Hendrix

I'm in a bit of a cleft stick with this.  I know a lot of the songs but I've never heard this album in its entirety in order.  So some songs I'll be reviewing as old friends and others in the cold light of whatever mood I'm in today.

I didn't get into Jimi Hendrix until my 20s and even now I don't listen to it that often.  I don't remember hearing it earlier and dismissing it either.  I do remember hearing the Star Spangled Banner from Woodstock and seeing footage of him setting light to his guitar and disapproving.  That would've been around the time of Live Aid.  Maybe that's why I always sidestepped giving it a listen.

Then in 1987 I bought Sting's album Nothing Like The Sun.  On this album was a beautiful song with a guitar solo from guest legend, Eric Clapton.  It was called Little Wing and confirmed for me my opinion of Sting as a songwriting genius.

I am shaking my head in despair at the unabashed cockwombling of my younger self.

Are You Experienced begins with Purple Haze*.  I've always had mixed feelings about Purple Haze. The intro is so discordant but the notes are revealed to be the extremes of a big chord arpeggiated by his opening phrases.  One sure thing is that once the groove kicks in, I'm just in it.  I'm committed.  I couldn't turn the song off if my life depended on it.  Even at the end of the second verse, where the band loses time so badly I'm struggling to understand why they didn't do another take, my body is unconsciously urging forward on the chair, willing them to find it again instead of reaching for the skip button.

The song continues with what is quite a messy break really, but the guitar solo is undeniably sweet and rejoins the intro seamlessly.

So mixed feelings, yes, but it's mostly love if for nothing else than the smile that spreads across my face when I think of rock and roll's most famous mondegreen and of course, The Cure's cataclysmic tribute version.

Manic Depression

The first version of this I heard was by Seal on an outtakes/rarities compilation of some kind.  Seal's voice is absolutely incredible.  I don't think anybody would dispute that.  What I hadn't noticed was how his phrasing seems influenced by Jimi Hendrix at times.  Hendrix's voice is unusual.  I wouldn't say he was a "singer" as such but yet his vocals are so easy to listen to.  He swings from tune to speech, from metered to arrhythmic but never seems to blur the line between the two.  I've never had a sharp intake of breath because a note was flat.

The deep, grinding tone he gets from the guitar swaying and driving thru the riffs on this song is mesmeric.  The stops Mitch Mitchell fills with such delicate fury make this compelling listening.   And across it all, Hendrix taking apart the complexities of depression, anxiety and mania long before the psychiatric profession had even considered the term bipolar.

Hey Joe

I already have shivers up and down my spine as this tale told in conversations reveals its tragic, horrifying narrative of a possessive man who upon discovering his partner's infidelity, murders her and flees the country.  Dunno if there's anyone who thinks this song glorifies domestic abuse but to me it's fairly clear Joe is the dick of the story.

Mind you, this is the first time I've really given a moral fuck about the lyrics.  I've always just accepted the song for what it is - a slowly building crescendo of tension towards the final outpouring of all that pent up hurt that somehow represents every character in the story.   The split scale anthem that enters perfectly expressing the end of one tale and the continuation of the cycle.

Love Or Confusion

This is one I hadn't heard before.  It's got that trademark Hendrix format where the groove goes round to the change and climaxes on a stop where there's a hook and the whole thing either repeats or goes into the change.  The hook is great and makes use of a compressed distortion (I think?) we haven't heard so far.  That groove is the same as Purple Haze but it's built on a different progression from the preceding tracks so it all stays fresh.  It's a perfectly functioning album track and I can see this becoming as beloved as the others with familarity.

May This Be Love

On to the pace change then and another song new to me.  Hendrix taking a couple of well-pitched risks here.  He attempts double tracking the vocal in places, which works well and hasn't fallen foul of the problem where what was hoped would make the sound bigger ends up sounding like 3 children all trying to sing louder than the others. 

He has also branched with the complexity of the progression and melody on this and the drums are taking a break from their frenetic funk to provide a sort of Caribbean feel?  It's a gentle song but still has that edge.

I Don't Live Today

Lyrically this appears to be an argument between depression and mania.  I don't want to live today but it's a shame to waste my time.  Ego presumably can think of something to do with that time that the depressed id can't see from behind the black dog.  It does pretty well and has a very punchy chorus but the latter minute and a half is a steadily increasing cacophony of velocity overload that begins to fade out and back in again while Jimi can be heard saying unintelligible stuff in the dips.  It's not pleasant but it doesn't go on for too long I guess and has some illustrative value.

The Wind Cries Mary

I think this is the first song where I've heard his trademark 2-string hammer-on technique.  This is a song with a similar groove to Little Wing (anachronistically speaking) but the verses are so short you never really get lost in it.  At the end of each verse the climbing resolution recurs and there's a slowing, free time feel that puts you in a state of suspended animation until it all kicks in again.  No fucking idea what the words are about, mind, but they're nice.

Fire

Once upon a time in New York City, I was walking thru the Union Square subway station heading uptown to a gig.  I saw three guys to my left just finishing setting up guitars and a small kit.  I wasn't gonna stop until I heard the drummer start playing this fucking sick syncopated beat at what felt like a thousand beats per minute.  It literally stopped me in my tracks.  I turn just in time to hear the guitars come in with this minimalist stopping riff; only a handful of notes and then left the bar open for the drums again.  So spacious.  So infectious.  I was captivated.

The guy starts singing some words I can't make out across the cheering crowd that had gathered and then there's a stop and they burst into this open, much more fluid version of the progression while he's singing what sounds like "let me stand next to your fire" over and over.

In a couple of minutes they were done and I had to force myself out of the reverie they'd created and run for my train, cursing the fact that there were too many people and not enough time to fight my way thru them to put some money in their hat.

I told the story when I got to the gig and the first guy I told instantly said, "Jimi Hendrix.  Yeah it's fuckin' awesome, man." 

A few years later, back in the UK, I arranged songs for the band I was in and sometimes formed unlikely medleys.  We were working on Live And Let Die when I realised that the flute hook was the same progression as Fire so I transposed them making it possible to branch from one to the other.  The drummer hated it but I had a lot of fun until his patience finally came to an end and we had to drop it from the set.

My favourite bit was the line before the chorus of Fire.  I would do it in different voices.  Most notably.

Michael Caine: "Let me.  Stand next to.  Your fire."
Jimmy "not yet utterly disgraced so still a fun impression to do for all the family" Savile:"(Tarzan cry) Dear Jim, please could you fix it for ME, to stand to next TO your FIRE"
Yoda: "Mmmm.  Next to your fire, let me stand."

So, yeah.  Awkward turtle.

Third Stone From The Sun

 Jazz influence front and centre for this instrumental piece that is the longest track on the album by...well, it's twice as long as the next longest.  There are some words being spoken in there somewhere but I can't make them out.  I think it was a mistake to use the same bass line as Fire for this track.  It has a more Hendrixy sounding section which is basically a slower version of Fire.  When it returns to the jazzy bit, there's a lot of weird noises and arrthymic drumming leaving Noel Redding holding the tempo baby on the bass.  You get a good couple of minutes of that shite before the main theme returns briefly before collapsing once more into absolute gash.

I fail to see the artistic merit in this.  If so many great recordings were made during this period then why the fuck wouldn't they put some of the others on here instead of this obvious and insulting filler?

Foxy Lady

Is it really Foxey Lady?  That would be pronounced "Folksy lady" wouldn't it?

"Ooooh, you know you're a little brownie baker,
mmm folksy
and you know you're a little crochet maker,
folksy lady,
I wanna take you home
to meet my mum,
I'm sure she'll want the pattern
for that cardigan"

Yeah, I'm going with "foxy".

I know the song.  I love the song.  It was a long long time before I figured out that guitar lick on the turnaround isn't actually wildly out of time, tho.  He's just *really* fucking with the tension points.  Cunt.

Are You Experienced?

The sounds of the guitar on this really remind me of the outro on Queen's I'm In Love With My Car.  Wouldn't mind betting Dr May robbed that tinny effect straight off this.  Although this sounds great for about a minute and a half, you've then got some experimentation with backwards tape loops and guitar solos which I'm tempted to play forwards to see if it's any better.  The song then resumes and I like the tune and some of the words are coming thru as I'm writing this.  I guess if he's talking about acid then it has to be a little weird but it's quite noisy and my trippy head likes its music a bit more peaceful.  Camel's The Snow Goose is what you want when you're tripping.

Having said that, me and a couple of mates sat and listened to a Hendrix compilation on repeat for about 5 hours on acid one night.  One wasn't actually tripping but he was pretty stoned, idolised Jimi Hendrix, was our friend and was quite happy to stare at the lava lamp with us while taking occasional hits on a bottle of amyl nitrite we had in our possession for some unknown reason.

Fuck.  I'd forgotten how cunted we used to get.  Good times.

Stone Free

Seal again in my memory.  He has recorded at least 3 Hendrix songs that I know of.  This is such a welcome break at this point as it seems like a lifetime ago I was telling you about Fire.  Too much weird in the interim and I for one definitely needed to hear more of that urgent pace and rebellious ire.  Both are delivered with impudent aplomb on this old favourite.

51st Anniversary

And the beat goes on.  The pace is continued with this never-before-heard track that seems to further promote the idea of being single.  The progression is one of my favourites - try it yourself if you play.  It's ii I V (or Em D A in the key of D).

What's interesting about this one is it breaks from the hook and pause format to give the bass focus for the hook and leave the dangling note in favour of dropping onto a repeated bass note that holds the next section together.

Highway Chile

First time I've heard him play a roadhouse blues.  It's worth the wait.  The sounds he's got on this guitar I have heard other guitarists trying to emulate but nothing come close to how this screams without ever hurting your ears.  I can hear how The Sweet were probably influenced by this track in particular.  Honestly, I'm starting to feel like Hendrix is to guitarists what the Beatles are to songwriters.

Can You See Me

Another new one and this one in the driving zone too.   If so many of them are similar, why am I not frustrated by that?  I think it's the articulation and grouping in the hooks, in the incidental work during the verses.  It's important to not let a song stand entirely on its vocal, I believe.  And it's not like I'm sitting here listening for what I perceive to be mistakes.  If I start getting bored or irritated, that's a reaction and I have to figure out what's causing it, not the other way around. 

Remember

Opening with a blaze of his signature licks, Remember snaps into it a strutfest of a groove with an underpinning riff supporting this wistful appeal to rejuice an old squeeze.  A solo links to the next verse that's just dripping with sweet notes that make you do your jazz face.  It's over way too soon but it's a classy example of leaving them wanting more.

Red House

And finally, a traditional 12 bar swing blues whose beauty is in the execution of this well-trodden form.  The precision and definition of his guitar playing effortlessly punctuating the lyrics, the throwaway comments as he climbs thru repeating, accelerating licks that are so easy to suck at.  It's a masterclass and a perfect end to what must be one of the biggest game changers in rock and roll history.

5 stars.  Like you needed confirmation.

-----------------------------------------

* On the CD and Spotify.  It is noted that Foxy Lady opened the original UK release but I'm breaking my rule of only listening to the tracks originally released on this occasion so that I don't miss the opportunity to write something about the other tracks included since, like The Wind Cries Mary and Stone Free.

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