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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Music Reviews In 2008

Here's your cut-out-and-keep guide to the albums covered in this year's postcards.
Dedicated To You...The Music of Soft Machine - Delta Saxophone Quartet
Circular Sounds - Kelley Stoltz
Slow Music Project
Blue Memphis Suite - Memphis Slim
Trio of Doom - Mclaughlin,Williams, Pastorious
The Spirit Of Spring - Bryan Spring Trio
Neptune - The Duke Spirit

In Two Minds -Bill Bruford & Michiel Borstlap
Truth -Jeff Beck
Trisector - Van Der Graaf Generator
Jesus of Cool - Nick Lowe
Rick Wakeman - Aspirant Sunshadows
Atomic Rooster - Homework
OMD - Dazzle Ships

Spirit: Live At The BBC - Jack Bruce
System 7 - Phoenix
Fairport Convention - Fairport Convention
Sampler 3 - Various Artists
Pedaltone - Pedaltone
Mike Oldfield - Music of the Spheres
Julian's Treatment - A Time Before This
Howlin' Rain - Magnificent Fiend

Tammy Wynette - Stand By Your Man
Gentle Giant - Three Friends
ABWH - An Evening of Yes Music
Alison Moorer - Mockingbird
Mike Osborne Trio - All Night Long
Jethro Tull - This Was
Jack Kerouac - Blues And Haikus
Various Artists - Strange Pleasures
Matmos - Supreme Balloon

Steve Winwood - Nine Lives
John G Perry - Sunset Wading
Neil Diamond - Home Before Dark
No-Man - Schoolyard Ghosts
Miles Davis - Dark Magus
Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago
The Web - Theraphosa Blondi
Alison Burns & Martin Taylor - 1.A.M
South - You Are Here
Cath & Phil Tyler - Dumb Supper

Ozric Tentacles - Sunrise Festival
Hugh Hopper & Yumi Hara Cawkwell - Dune
Seth Lakeman - Poor Man's Heaven
Travis & Fripp - Thread
Wooden Shjips - Vol.1
The Pineapple Thief - Tightly Unwound
Jade Warrior - NOW
The Wrong Object - Stories From The Shed
John Fahey - Visits Washington D.C.

She & Him - Volume One
Liam Finn - I'll Be Lightning
Ponytail - Ice Cream Spiritual
Helena Espval & Masaki Batoh
Pop Levi - Never Leave Love
Alexander Tucker - Portal
Jim Moray - Low Culture
The Animals - Before We Were So Rudely Interrupted
Strawbs - Dragonfly

Nirvana - Local Anaesthetic
Fleet Foxes
DFA - 4th
Satisfaction - Satisfaction
Mahogany Frog - Do5

TUNER - Muut
Man - Back Into The Future
Strawbs - Broken Hearted Bride
David Cross Band - Alive In The Underworld
Various Artists - Spirit of Joy
Emmylou Harris - All I Intended To Be
Trees - The Garden of Jane Delawney
Woven Hand - Ten Stones
Curved Air - Second Album
Underground Railroad - Sticks And Stones

Nik Bartsch's Ronin - Holon
Cradle of Filth - Godspeed On The Devil’s Thunder
Fotheringay - Fotheringay 2
Marillion - Early Stages
Simply Red - Greatest Hits
Julie Fowlis & Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh - Dual

Blue Notes - The Ogun Collection
The Jesus & Mary Chain - The Power of Negative Thinking
Tunisia - Tunisia
Valgeir Sigurdsson - Ekvilibrium
Remember Remember
The Doors - Live at the Matrix 1967
Micah Blue Smaldone - The Red River
Various Artists - The All New Electric Muse
Norman Lamont - Roadblock

Various Artists - The Cherry Red Singles Collection 1978 - 1983
Isotope - Golden Section
Los Gauchos Alemanes/Commendatore
School of Language - Sea From Shore
Shelagh McDonald - Let No Man Steal Your Thyme
Ray Russell - Secret Asylum
Ken Hyder's Talisker - Dreaming of Glenisla

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Best Of The Rest Of 2008

Here's a list of some of the albums (once again in alphabetical order) that have been on heavy rotation in the Yellow Room this year.

Bruford & Borstlap In Two Minds
This latest release cannily culls moments and movements from live work undertaken in 2006 and 2007, and although the audience reactions are missing from the final edit of these vignettes, In Two Minds is nevertheless a powerful testimony to what the apparently simple act of putting two players in front of a crowd of enthusiastic well-wishers can achieve.

Delta Saxophone Quartet Dedicated To You...The Music of Soft Machine
Combining the formidable firepower of the DSQ with some remarkably imaginative arrangements makes for a nostalgic cosiness leavened with the kind of rigour and fastidious detail that made the original music such a compelling earful.
In short: out-bloody-marvellous.

DFA 4th
If you heard this album without being told who it was, even the most cursory knowledge of the Canterbury scene would lead you to conclude that you were being treated to some long-lost or previously unheard project by National Health or Gilgamesh.

Helena Espval & Masaki Batoh
Given Espvall's previous form (specifically the abrasive, not to say, abusive extremes of her 2006 solo album Nimis And Arx) and Batoh's penchant for experimental, often atonal, improvisation it might have been expected that the sounds resulting from the pair would strip paint at a 100 yards. Instead they've come up with something beautifully fragile, remarkably melodic and dare I say it, charming.

Emmylou Harris All I Intended To Be
Sound-wise, it’s a return to traditional acoustic country-tinged chimes rather than the luminous ambience that infiltrated Wrecking Ball and Red Dirt Girl but in common with those records, all of the songs presented sit within a vast, magnificently desolate landscape dotted here and there with heartfelt loss and the promise of a shimmering hope, somewhere down the road.

Jethro Tull This Was
Embracing the broader vocabularies of progressive and folk styles was a brave move considering the Top Ten success of this debut release. By the time it came out they’d already moved on. “This is how we played then – but things change” Anderson wrote on the original liner notes in ‘68. Far-sighted words as it turned out. An overlooked but essential piece of Tull.

Seth Lakeman Poor Man's Heaven
His song writing continues the gold-yielding formula of its predecessor with energetic strumalongs, voracious fiddles and a sparkling delivery that’ll do nothing to diminish his rising star.

Nick Lowe Jesus of Cool
Nick Lowe distilled everything he knew about the art of writing songs and making pop music into Jesus Of Cool. And what he didn’t know, he made up as he went along with all the chutzpah of a quick-talking chancer who reckoned he was about to be shown the door at any moment.

Memphis Slim Blue Memphis Suite
When veteran blues singer and pianist Peter Chatman – better known as Memphis Slim - wound up in London in 1970 to record Blue Memphis, he was accompanied by the cream of the UK’s jazz and blues musicians. The list of those luminary players still makes for giddy reading; Peter Green, Chris Spedding, Kenny Wheeler, Karl Jenkins, Henry Lowther, John Paul Jones, Nick Evans, Duster Bennett to name but a few.

She & Him Volume One
All the ups and downs of young romance are faithfully recreated in loving fidelity and a variety of styles to evoke that teary-eyed yesteryear pop ambience.

Valgeir Sigurdsson Ekvilibrium
Having worked with Bjork, the Kronos Quartet and Howie B (to name drop a few), in 2007 Icelandic producer and composer Valgeir Sigurdsson stepped out with a debut album that walks the tightrope between those sometimes conflicting worlds of acoustic and electronic music.

Micah Blue Smaldone The Red River
But beneath the veneer of dusty Americana there’s a song-cycle carrying a heart-of-darkness travelogue filled with terse observations about the malevolent force within us all that slips off the leash with a depressing regularity.

Strawbs Dragonfly
Produced by Tony Visconti, this is a vivid and lovingly etched pastoral sequence. Joined by Claire Deniz, whose soaring cello is marshalled by sparse but effective arrangements, the rapidly maturing coherence and authority of Cousins' writing distinguishes itself from the somewhat scattergun debut.

Underground Railroad Sticks And Stones
Cooking up a cocktail of guitar noise is always going to invoke Jesus Mary Chain or Velvet Undergound and whilst such echoes can be found in tracks such as "Stuff In Your Pocket," there’s also the terrifying pop-clarity of the Beatles/REM style mash-up of "Kill" – surely one of the best singles of the year! Irresistible thumping avant-pop.

Various Artists Spirit of Joy
Given enough time the roster of any record label becomes one large family. For every high achiever and popular personality, there’s a bricked-up attic full of eccentrics, loveable rogues, and outright black sheep kept away public gaze. All told, another welcome trawl through the archives of the major labels by the team that brought you the Strangely Strange But Oddly Normal, A Breath of Fresh Air etc.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Sid Smith's Top Albums of 2008

Terminally unhip and out of touch as ever, here's what I rate as being perhaps the best music I heard in 2008. Being incorrigibly retro, not all of it dates from this year and there are a couple of albums I've received in 2008 which would have made the list (Soft Machine's Drop and Paintbox's Bright Gold and Red) but properly belong to the new year ahead.

So, here they are in alphabetical order...

Nik Bartsch's Ronin - Holon
Above all else, the Reich-like runs and fussy circulations have at their core a cavernous funk-like pulse making this some of the most esoteric dance music there is!

Bon Iver For Emma, Forever Ago
The strength of this set is found in the unflinching clarity of a musical vision that transcends styles to create something utterly enthralling from start to finish.

Jack Bruce Spirit - Live at the BBC
It’s difficult to think of another UK musician emerging out of the blues boom of the 1960s so fully conversant with prog-tinged songs, free-form jazz and fusion-based rock - just some of the ground covered here.

Howlin Rain Magnificent Fiend
Despite the constant echoes of another time, somehow Howlin Rain emerge very much themselves, with songs that stand up to scrutiny and repeated listening. Arguably the best album I never heard in my teens it really is magnificent stuff.

Shelagh McDonald Let No Man Steal Your Thyme
Hovering somewhere between Sandy Denny’s gusto and Anne Briggs’ fragility, her blend of covers and original material is accompanied by the likes of Keith Christmas, Fotheringay’s Pat Donaldson and Gerry Conway and Keith Tippett...deserves to be sitting next to your Nick Drake or Sandy Denny collections.

Jim Moray Low Culture
The thing is though, Jim Moray really is every bit as good as they claim, and his fourth album continues a roll of good tunes and canny choices that many artists much longer in the tooth would give their right arm for.

No-Man Schoolyard Ghosts
The sustained air of woebegone reverie with its masterful blend of voice, surges of orchestral strings and icy ripples of retro-sounding guitar suggests that Schoolyard Ghosts is not only No-Man’s finest album to date but is arguably the post-rock equivalent of Sinatra’s Only The Lonely. It really is that good.

Mike Osborne Trio All Night Long
Alternating between a focused and precise articulation on the one hand and a furious abandon on the other, Osborne's outpouring is truly astonishing in its fervour and melodic reach. Constantly on the boil, All Night Long is a high point in a career that was sadly only occasionally captured for posterity.

School of Language Sea From Shore
Fluent and impressive, you have to wonder why more music produced these days can’t be as joined-up, challenging and as informative as this.

Bryan Spring Trio The Spirit of Spring
Whether he was laying down ferocious jazz-rock grooves with Ian Carr’s Nucleus or swinging like there’s no tomorrow with various Stan Tracey line-ups over the years, seeing Bryan Spring in concert was akin to watching a magician pull off a baffling trick: no matter how close you got it was impossible to figure out how he was doing it.

Travis & Fripp Thread
The manner in which the darker timbre of Travis’ alto flute conspires with Fripp’s somewhat austere string settings ensures the prevailing atmosphere is the right side of chilly rather than the wrong side of chill-out.

Alexander Tucker Portal
At times it could be the outtakes from the best album that Tiger Mountain-era Brian Eno and the seminal avant-rock terrorists, This Heat, never made.

Tuner Muut
Operating primarily as textural manipulators rather than individual soloists, Mastelotto and Reuter are capable of producing unholy dance-groove rackets one minute and sublime moments of transcendence the next.

Various Artists Strange Pleasures
the range, pace of change, and vaulting ambition that’s spread across each of the three CDs makes for fascinating and very often surprisingly exciting listening.

Woven Hand Ten Stones
Raw, uncompromising and visionary, this is magnificent rock music striking out from the sea of mediocrity that is much of the indie rock scene these days. An essential must-hear/must-have record, Woven Hand creates powerful, potent and thrilling waves.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Retail Therapy In Edinburgh

Despite feeling like I'd been run over by a steam roller (i.e. sore throat and general flu-like grogginess) such is my dedication to culture, I looked forward to spending a day in Edinburgh with Debra. The purpose of our visit was to see an exhibition of work by painter Gerhard Richter. Oh, and visit FOPP. The thought of scoping the Richter and scooping up whatever FOPP had to offer was enough to send the fug of illness into retreat.

It's a long established tradition that whenever we visit Newcastle's Central Station, Debra always visits Costa Coffee and we endure the sub-arctic conditions, which are a feature of the station no matter what the time of year, as we pretend to be part of the cafe society.

Our train rolled in the appointed time and we boarded finding our seats, settling back and letting the train take the strain. Only it wasn't our train as as a bemused but very pleasant conductor called Dave informed us twenty minutes later. It seems there were two different trains going to Edinburgh leaving within five minutes of each other.

It also seems that we weren't the only ones to make the same mistake, evidenced by the now hugely over-crowded train with punters filling up the vestibules, ailses, and if they could have squeezed into them, the luggage racks. So we spent the rest of the journey wobbling about from left to right like extras in Voyage To The Bottom of the Sea but enjoying ourselves nevertheless.

Edinburgh was bright and nippy. As we left Waverly Station we spied the Balmoral Hotel where Debra and I once spent an indecently luxurious evening way back when in our courting days.

We walked the short distance along a busy and apparently recession-proof Princes Street (past my favourite Thunderbird 3 look-alike monument) toward the National Gallery.

We were here to see this exhibition by Gerhard Richter, and thanks to this link sent to me by Mr.CBQ, you can too!

I hadn't realised just how epic some of his abstract paintings are, huge things occupying an entire wall. Like this one, my favourite of the entire show.

Close up, you really can see the way in which the paint is layered and scraped back- lots of collisions and mixed messages clammering for attention. Stunning stuff.

Moving from room to room, the stylistic leaps Richter covers are huge. This was Debra's favourite and about as far away from the above picture as its possible to get.

As Debra observed afterwards, Richter's paintings "take some peering at." She's not wrong. Musing in the shop afterwards, I couldn't make up my mind as to which Richter book to get and so we decided to come back later after our next foray.

Our destination was none other than FOPP in Rose Street. It's long been a cause of much chagrin in the Smith household that a branch of this outlet isn't a bit nearer to home. Mind you, Debra said this lack of local FOPPery gives us an excuse to visit Edinburgh more often and that can't be a bad thing can it?

By the time we emerged dusk was descending on the city. The view along Rose Street was stunning...
as was the view along Princes Street...

Back to the Gallery where I picked up a copy of Richter's Atlas.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Boxing Day Rendezvous

Along to Bernardstrasse for a seasonal drink with the Quinns

followed by yet more opening of presents and then a walk along the sea front...

Happily for us, the Rendezvous Cafe was open and doing a brisk trade...


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