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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Surfer Rosa Pixies

Sand In The Vaseline

Surfer Rosa
The Pixies



Though the specialist subjects of sun, surf and dubious sexual encounters of their debut ep (1987’s Come On Pilgrim) had been retained, the overall mood masterminded a year later on their first full length record was altogether more unruly.

The Bostonian quartet, formed by guitarist and singer, Charles Michael Kitteridge Thompson IV - who for understandable reasons of alt rock credibility rechristened himself Black Francis – fell in with producer Steve Albini to create an album which though failing to chart at the time, had a telling influence on those picking up on the harsh, surly undertow of its (at times) frat-house humours.

Albini’s production simultaneously amplifies The Pixies’ endearing naiveté and hectic energies, contrasting the polarities of throwaway trash (the tongue-in-cheek nerdy B-52s-type hero worship of “Tony’s Theme”) versus the snarling thrash of “Vamos” (a remade carry-over from Come On Pilgrim) which does much to lend the album its unsettling volatility.

Although “Gigantic” co-written and sung by bassist Kim Deal, shows they were more than capable of delivering hook-laden pop, it credibly opened up the kind of territory which Kurt Cobain and pals would later claim as their own.

Indeed such was its legacy, David Bowie covered “Cactus” on his 2002 album, Heathen. Somewhat sanitised on that occasion, the original version here has a don’t-go-there edge to it, and is one of the best songs ever to burst in and shine an FBI-style flashlight onto the darker, closeted recesses of obsessive love: ‘Bloody your hands on a cactus tree/ Wipe it on your dress and send it to me.’

The left-field locations continue with “Bone Machine,” the limelight veering between Francis’ tale of parking lot molestation and a wonderful solo by their ingenious lead guitarist, Joey Santiago. Beginning like James Brown’s “Sex Machine” being not so much taken as forcibly frog-marched to the bridge, it rapidly leaps into a revved-up blast recalling one of Robert Fripp’s patented chordal solos, resulting in a genuinely thrilling 18 seconds that you never want to end.

Though the follow-up, Doolittle (1989), ultimately widened their appeal, this is indispensable warts-and-all stuff that set the benchmark.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Maria Kalaniemi Bellow Poetry

Windswept Beauty…
Bellow Poetry
Maria Kalaniemi
Aito Records

Though lauded in her native Finland as one of the leading accordionists pushing traditional pelimanni music into new directions, Kalaniemi's assuredly dazzling technique is not what this album is about.

'The melody is the message' she comments in the liner notes, and what a graceful series of messages she writes. The success of the record is due in part to its intimacy. Produced in her home studio, a track like ''Rain'' brings together a skeletal waif of a tune with her natural surroundings. Thus birdsong, wind, and rain combine to form a sensitive orchestration with composer. It’s haunting stuff from beginning to end.

Elsewhere, Maria contributes poignant vocals and is twice joined by electric guitarist Olli Varis, lending a twang-bar frisson of modernity to these otherwise timeless, haunting tunes that comprise this beautiful gift of a record.

If fellow Finn, Kimmo Pohjonen is said to be the Hendrix of the instrument, then Maria can be credibly claimed to be its Erik Satie.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Jakob Solace

Same Old Scene


When one thinks of the archetypal guitar bass and drums in rock music thoughts of the thrashing wizardry of Hendrix, Cream and their ilk immediately spring to mind. In more recent years however the development and growth of post-rock has meant the massed ranks of Marshall amplifiers have been harnessed to a more introspective muse.

Formed in 1998, this is the third album by New Zealand’s Jakob, serving up icy slices of echo-drenched guitars steadily filtered through a white-noise squall of cymbals and an ever-steady foundation of bass.

Unlike those early trios previously mentioned the object here is not to focus on the extemporising skills of the individual but rather to immerse oneself in the highly amplified minimalist tidal wave bursting forth. It’s not a million light years away from the stoned-out space rock of Amon Düül and other starry exponents of modal rifferama.

Though there are many fine views on offer over the course of the seven tracks here even though it’s difficult to nail down any single killer punch capable of truly engaging the listener in. After a while the sonic wallpaper, as nice as it undoubtedly is, begins to sound the same after a while.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Great Communicator

There are some days when you have writers block and there some days when one of the cats wants to get up and have a chat. On finding that his push and shove routine around the ankles is making no impact Ginger Bob decides direct action is called for.

All work on the Deep Purple material grinds to a halt.

Gillan, Paice, Lord , Glover and Blackmore just have to wait...

Eventually he spies Debbie and moves on to see if she will yield to his feline mind control tricks. He opens his charm offensive with something that works well in catworld when it comes to getting new friends but is less appealing in our polite society.

On discovering that the move, known here as "the pencil sharpener", garners no favours with Debbie, the Boberous one changes tactics and goes at it head first.

Who says they can't talk!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Bobbie Gentry The Best of the Capitol Years

The Woman Who Walked Out Of The Machinery

The Best Of The Capitol Years
Bobbie Gentry

“Ode To Billie Joe” propelled Bobbie Gentry from obscurity to international acclaim, stardom and everything that goes with it in 1967. Eleven years later, she gave her last public appearance as guest on the Christmas Eve edition of the Johnny Carson show. Since then she’s stayed resolutely out of the public eye preferring to live her life anonymously and (as far as we know) has stopped writing songs. That a voice so glorious could be so stilled all these years has added to the mystery and allure of this artist.

Known to millions through her “Billie Joe” calling card, it showed Gentry’s talent for documenting the real and imagined lives of her dirt-poor upbringing in America’s south. Aided by Jimmy Haskell’s thrilling, chilling string arrangements the song really got under the skin and set Gentry on her way. Having written material since she was a little kid, this was a sharp cookie who would be capable of self-producing and importantly, self-penning a bunch of quality albums that put her way beyond the MOR bimbette pigeon-hole which was expected of women in the business at that time.

Of course it didn’t hurt that Gentry was strikingly good-looking with a voice that could make your knees tremble even if she sang a few pages from the telephone book. “Morning Glory” could almost be X-rated as she snuggles up close to the mic. The inherent loneliness of showbiz life and her ability to see its shortcomings is smartly outlined in the classic “Lookin’ In.” Perhaps even then (1971) she was planning her escape from the world of casino appearances and glitzy rictus-grin bashes.

It’s this latter period which the second disc chronicles –the walloping cheery “hip” TV specials arrangements that often intrude and occasional derail otherwise decent songs.

Despite the kitsch of it all, including a curiously dour duet with Glen Campbell (All I Have To Do Is Dream), and a slew of copycat tobacco spittin’ tunes of the “daddy in the fields/ momma slaving to bring up baby” variety, somehow that voice glows and smoulders through it all. Thus we forgive Bobbie Gentry pretty much anything.

Besides its worth making your way through it if only to get to a couple novelties for the Italian market (“La Siepe” is the better of the two) and two previously unreleased gems that positively dazzle.

What do you get when you put Bobbie, a guitar and string bass in a studio to cover Bacharach and David’s “The Windows Of The World”? Sheer brilliance is what you get. Similarly, “Smoke” (the writer of which is unknown and uncredited) is certainly reason enough to get steamed up over this release.

If you only know Gentry through “Billie Joe” then this set is great place to get to know her a little better.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

No Sleep For Sid Smith

The postman commented as he handed over the package this morning, "You must like your music!" A bumper crop today even by the usual standards.

The ever-curious (but completely bazoomy) Min Mini-Moog gets up on the desk to see what all the fuss is about.

First one in off the pile is No Sleep 'till Hammersmith. However, Motorhead proves too much and she retreats to her place in the sun.

The question of the day is "Why is "Ace of Spades" so damn good?"

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Snow Time In No Time

It's a grim day outside... observation with which Ginger Bob, seen here emerging optimistically from his catooterie, heartily concurs.

Still, shopping for essential provisions needs to be done and the elements must be braved. Looking back down our street I'm beginning to regret nipping out for a bag of spuds. It's getting a bit too wet and wild out here.

At the crossroads, it was even worse.

From my vantage point in the doorway to Woolworths, I could barely see St. Pauls church at the top of the street.

And then as suddenly as it had arrived, it disappeared. Cue: Beethoven's Pastoral please...

Back home, it's as if nothing ever happened.

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Collectable King Crimson Volume Two

Ringing In The Changes

The Collectable King Crimson: Volume Two
Live in Bath, 1981
Live in Philadelphia, 1982


When King Crimson famously “ceased to exist” after producing their classic swansong, Red, in 1974, many felt cheated by the loss of a band at the very height of abilities. Opting to take a gloriously circuitous path back to the frontline (including decisive contributions to Bowie’s Heroes and Scary Monsters, Fripp returned with a revamped and reenergised Crim in 1981.

Aside from the inclusion of drummer Bill Bruford from Crims-past, Fripp rang in the changes to join forces with ex-Zappa / Talking Heads guitarist, Adrian Belew and Peter Gabriel stalwart, Tony Levin, on bass.

Initially avoiding the then passé KC moniker, the new line-up traded as Discipline. Given the Steve Reich-like interlocking guitar parts and ebullient rhythmic complexities this might have been a good description of the group but a bad name for box office receipts.

This world-class team debuted in a small sweaty club in Bath of all places and their earliest performances, caught on bootleg, is presented on the first disc. Despite the iffy sound, the concert crackles with a rampant energy that makes for intense listening. It may be rough but boy, were they ready to charge at this extraordinary music.

Disc two spools forward a year by which time the band have two albums under their belt. Taken from a soundboard recording, the sonic provenance may be more refined but this is still a turbulent band brimming with inventive pizzazz.

Belew’s riotous abilities as both guitarist and front-man act as the perfect foil to Fripp’s patented brand of nerdish cool. This potent yin and yang is the chief catalyst in making 80s Crim such a singular force capable of dropping jaws at a hundred yards.

Rather improbably they had evolved an unusual mixture of gamelan grooves with rock/pop in a metal veneer. It shouldn’t have worked but it did and was, with hindsight, ahead of the curve in creating an avant-rock operating within the mainstream whilst maintaining its outsider credentials.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

A Pause For Breath

Up early again. On mornings like this though this is no hardship. After an hour or so of writing, I grab the camera and take a little walk down the street.

A couple of hours later and I'm off to Newcastle's Central Station to wave goodbye to houseguest Sean.

After the hustle and bustle of the train station, the rest of Newcastle's city centre is wonderfully calm, as though the city itself was taking a well-earned break or at least a pause for breath.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Bill Bruford At The Sage

Last night Bill Bruford and Michiel Borstlap were playing at the Sage on the opening of the Gateshead International Jazz Festival. The concert didn't start until 10.30 p.m., a time when I am normally tucked up in bed and fast asleep. I told Bill ahead of the concert that I was liable to be dropping off but managed to stay awake without the use of any stimulants or prodding from Sean who was up from Nottingham for the week.

Hall Two at The Sage provided a superbly intimate atmosphere which both parties clearly enjoyed during their UK debut. The late night concert saw them play a lively set of improvisations with a few jazz standards (including an appropriate rendition of Thelonious Monk’s ‘Round Midnight and Miles Davis’ All Blues) thrown in for good measure.

Afterwards there was a photo-call for the Summerfold / Winterfold team.

L - R Michiel Borstlap, Voiceprint supremo Rob Ayling, BB and yours truly.

It was 1.00 a..m. by the time Sean and I got home and 2.00 p.m. by the time we finished chin-wagging. However, just eight hours later we were back in the Sage to watch Bill give a masterclass drum workshop in Hall One.

With 80% of the room filled with drummers, Bill covered a lot of technical information about his approach to music, playing and composition. He was accompanied by backing tapes from a virtual Bruford line-up covering such toe-tappers including Hells Bells and Beelzebub, as well as karoke contributions from Earthworks’ Footloose and Fancy Free and King Crimson’s Indiscipline. Afterwards we headed down to the merch table...

...where Bill arrived to sign items for an enthusiastic gathering.

When Bill had finished we left him to get packed away and headed off for some rather splendid chocolate cake (not pictured) and listened to some young guns play jazz in the cavernous foyer.

Then it was over to the nearby Baltic to take a look at the Brian Eno exhibition and gaze out at the commanding views on the observation deck.


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