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Monday, December 24, 2001

Fave Raves Of The Year

The snow has gone and thankfully so has all the slush. No white Christams for us then. Grey blankets of clouds hang just above the chimney's and no discernible horizon out at sea. It feels quite oppressive and very warm.

Last night the entire gang went off to the cinema to see Lord Of The Rings. In what might be seen in future years as a terrible lapse in parental judgement, Joseph quaked, whimpered and moaned throughout the epic movie. Tom feigned boredom largely, I think, as a coping mechanism. After the movie they were full of praise for it and laughed heartily at the sword and gore-fest fighting which was a considerable feature of the flick.

I can see why some Tolkien-nuts will be outraged and disappointed by director Peter Jackson's interpretation of the everyday story of everyday Hobbits, elves, dwarfs and wizards down in Middle Earth. However, I just sat back and suspended my disbelief and thoroughly enjoyed the film as a piece of spectacular entertainment. Sometimes we can analyse things a bit too much and so I wasn't looking for any moral message or picking up the subtle differences between the book and the movie. I just thought it was splendid.

Back at home we opened a bottle of Advocaat, which in this house is a sign that Christmas has really begun. As usual, there was a rush of children eager to have their glasses filled with an ample dollop of the yellow nectar followed by a liberal topping up with lemonade and cherries. Personally I take mine neat and last night decided to opt for a large glass of Port. Debbie was out with chums and once I got the kids to bed, I worked on another large canvass. Painting and a drop of Port do go together in a most agreeable way I discovered.

Fave Raves Of The Year.

About this time of year I usually pause and acknowledge those albums which have given me pleasure or have opened my ears to (for me) new pastures of aural delight. So with out further ado. . .

Choices Under Pressure by Peter Blegvad
Without doubt this album has been the most requested and most popular album of the year, here at Victoria Avenue. Popular with all the kids as well as all the adults, you would often hear tunes from this album being played, hummed or even sang out loud with gusto were you to stop at our house.

The sparse and simple production on the material (a largely retrospective set spanning Blegvad's career) really allows the words and melodies to shine brightly. Some have criticised the album as being too bland in relation to Blegvad's other release. However, this is surely splitting hairs; what you have is an album of twelve finely crafted songs which manage to be witty, ironic and profound - sometimes all in a single verse. Produced by Jakko Jakszyk (who also played all over it as well as arranging the tracks), with guests John Greaves and Danny Thompson, if you buy one album in the new year - get this one.
Stand out tracks: Daughter, Meantime, Gold and God Detector

Inner Space / Tones For Joan's Bones by Chick Corea
In sessions recorded before his stint with Miles Davis, Corea commanded an ensemble of stunning virtuosity. On these two albums, Corea and his company provide a straight ahead, post-bop jazz. Here the talents of trumpeter Woody Shaw and saxophonist Joe Farrell are carried along on top of dizzying swirls of rhythm which seems to evolve and re-invent itself with every bar and beat. Steve Swallow and Joe Chambers have to be one of the most underrated bass players and drummer combinations of their generation.

Shining at the core of it all is the playing and writing of Corea. Whilst he has returned to his acoustic roots in recent years, these vintage recordings demonstrate the originality of his composition and lightness of touch. It's positively exhilarating to hear the quicksilver invention of his playing unadorned and unaffected by the technical bravado which would come to characterise much of his playing throughout the seventies and eighties.
Stand out tracks; Guijira, Tones For Joan's Bones, Inner Space.

No More Sad Refrains By Sandy Denny
Yet another "best of" compilation but somehow more satisfying than all the rest. Denny's voice and much of her material, is capable of reducing me to complete stillness, wherever I am or whatever else I'm doing. Consistently good writing and excellent performances mark Denny out as a talent of towering strength and intensity.

Initially gathering up the strands of the traditional folk revival in the early sixties, Denny went on to fashion these roots into a vocabulary that was charged with a robust passion and something wholly her own.

Of course the romanticism which often accompanies those who die young has attached itself to Denny, and one wonders if she were still alive today, would she have attracted the numbers of compilations and mountains of appreciative literary appraisals? I'd like to think so.

Sandy Denny's music has a timeless quality which is quite unlike any other artist operating in the field. If you've not heard her before and want to know what all the fuss is about then this double CD set is absolutely the place to start from.
Stand out tracks: Next Time Around, Fotheringay, Like An Old Fashioned Waltz.

Minstrel In The Gallery by Jethro Tull
I would never have predicted that I would be including a Jethro Tull in my list of fave raves and yet, thanks to the efforts of the Kimberman, this flute driven fokly/rock blending has been well and truly inculcated into the Smith psyche.

The smoky richness of Anderson's voice emanates a warming glow which makes even the most convoluted material agreeable. Sometimes the curlicues of the arrangements verge on being overdone and overblown. Yet there's a good wry humour at the heart of this album which steers it away from the twin foundations of prog-rockdom - Pretension and Arrogance.

In any event, Tull have cast off the dreaded "P" label in favour of a Celtic-influenced potpourri, which also owes a great debt to the writing of Roy Harper, though the pace and dramatic punctuation in Anderson's output is all his own.

Having spent much of the year investigating the Tull back catalogue, I could have picked Songs From The Wood Heavy Horses or A Passion Play as part of my fave raves of the year but I'll settle for this collection.
Stand out tracks; Baker Street Muse, Cold Wind In Valhalla, Minstrel In The Gallery

The Brondesbury Tapes by Giles, Giles & Fripp
The influence of Ian McDonald's entry into the story of King Crimson is absolutely crucial and evidence of this is to be found all over this archive release. Much of the material has a charming period naiveté about it (Make It Today), though the attempts at heaviness (Drop In) do sound a little forced or ill-fitting.

Yet the album is required listening for any Crimson fan. If you're looking to find out how the King came to be crowned, this release is a fascinating peep into the coronation chambers prior to the event. . .continues monarchist allegories ad nauseum.
Stand out tracks; Passages Of Time, Murder, Erudite Eyes.

Border Seasons by Matt Seattle
The sound of the yearning heart given voice by the bitter sweet tones of the border pipes. On this album, Seattle combines forces with a string quartet made up from members of Mr.McFall's Chamber, who provide the rhythmic and timbral framework of much of the album.

This leaves Seattle the piper free to soar in and around some of the silver-toned melodies you're likely to hear all year. The two big set pieces (A Little Water Music and Border Season) capture a musical landscape which is both rugged, sometimes bleak in outlook but always uplifting and occasionally beautiful.
Stand out tracks include; Port Joan Morrison, Leithen Water, Herons In Winter.

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