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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Cave Of Clear Light Various Artists

Cave of Clear Light
Various Artists
Esoteric Recordings

If you ask someone in the UK to name the labels most closely associated with the late ‘60s and early ‘70s underground and progressive rock scene, names such as Island, Harvest, Charisma, Vertigo, Virgin and Decca would probably be on the tip of the tongue for most folk.

However, Pye and it’s subsidiary Dawn, would almost certainly struggle to make it in that exclusive list. Cave of Clear Light is another in the ongoing series of 3 disc anthologies which churns up dormant catalogues and shines a light on some neglected names languishing in the vaults.

As Mark Powell’s essay makes clear despite being home to The Kinks and a couple of other class acts, Pye never possessed the same kind of cache of it’s rivals. Perhaps this was due to the likes of a pre-Grease Olivia Newton-John, Pickettywitch and similar turns clogging up the TV variety shows of the day.

Like other majors sensing the change in the market, Pye launched Dawn, their boutique off-shoots to get a slice of the action. Yet even here they struggled to generate the same kind of respect which the other game players are associated with.

Of course the lack of kudos would’ve been compensated by the wads of cash generated by the dreadful Mungo Jerry represented here not by their ubiquitous In The Summertime but a truly turgid blues stomp lasting a tortuous nine minutes.

To be fair to Pye and Dawn, the reasons for their disparity when it comes to coolness isn’t immediately clear as a trawl through the tracklist shows their roster wasn’t with some merit.

But it’s the fact that none of them really broke out of their backwater status, and thus their relative unfamiliarity, which perhaps makes listening to this collection something of a surprisingly entertaining encounter with the weird, wacky and wonderful.

Hitherto unsung high points include the who’d-a-thunk-it sensitive balladry from Vince Crane and Chris Farlowe, barn-storming jazz prog from Titus Groan, Floyd-esque ruminations from Quicksand and some sprightly chops from Atlantic Bridge.

Then of course there’s the so-bad-it’s-good contingent, the best/worst of which is represented by Icarus’ Fantastic Four - a concept album based around Marvel Comics characters which is somehow perversely enjoyable.

Donovan, Trader Horne, Man, and Status Quo provide higher profile contributions though a point or two is deducted from the absence of Where Fortune Smiles, the studio-only John Surman / John McLaughlin excursion.

Complete with extensive booklet and 48 tracks, the pace can be uneven and as with all such compilations you always have the rough with the smooth. Yet if you want to peer into a overlooked and undervalued corner of the marketplace, Cave Of Clear Light is an essential addition to a worthwhile series.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Podcast From The Yellow Room XIII

Snow has fallen in Whitley Bay but that doesn't stop me from recording another scintillating episode packed to gills with all manner of aural delights...

KJZ by Photek from Modus Operandi
You Are Beautiful by Nico from The Frozen Borderline 1968 - 1970
Should I Be Concerned by Allison Moorer from Crows
Shine On You Crazy Diamond by Christy Moore from Listen
Follow Me Up To Carlow by Planxty from Planxty
Faith Healer by The Sensational Alex Harvey Band from Live At The BBC

Friday, January 29, 2010

Whitley Winter Wonderland

A lovely morning with some strong sunshine. Every once in a while, little flurries of snow would turn up and dance about.

Today my main tasks were admin and scanning articles and album covers with their booklets. The dullness of this task was relieved somewhat by the sight of a rising moon...

For me, the day finished at about 11.00 a.m., interspersing the scanning with Twitter conversations about Joni Mitchell. When I went to bed the world outside was a touch wet but that was it.

About an hour later, Tom and Joe took the camera off the desk and went for a nocturnal walk-about. I was flat asleep in bed when these pictures were taken...

Random Penguin 55


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Allison Moorer Crows

Counting on Crows
Crows Allison Moorer

Being successful right from the off can be as much a blessing as a curse. Whilst the qualities of Moorer’s voice has never been in doubt since her 1998 debut, they’ve sometimes been over-exposed in the gloss and glare of Nashville production values that haven’t always served her well.

Commercial considerations aside, Moorer’s sound has been getting tighter and more intimate with each successive album. As she’s honed her writing, her considerable voice has also benefitted from closer direction as well.

Whilst there are some concessions to her previous, radio-friendly work, the darker ambience of Crows suggests the game plan is veering towards not only keeping the customer satisfied, but in giving the artist space to develop as well.

For the most part these are sparsely textured songs are delivered by a quartet that includes her long-time producer R.S. Field playing drums, acoustic bassist, Brad Jones and Joe McMahan on guitar.

Along with Moorer herself, their collective and individual playing is never less than exquisite. Occasionally augmented by beautifully restrained strings, there’s a kind of heat-haze shimmer that gave Bobbie Gentry’s sound some of its mystery and magic.

The forlornly waltzing lilt of Should I Be Concerned morphs from being a Ketty Lester-style torch song and more into a David Lynch-like (blow) torch ballad. Swaying between light and dark, the emotional journey she undergoes - sounding as though it cost something of herself in order to find it - makes the song a powerful but disconsolate force. This gripping performance is matched by McMahan’s dissenting guitar and Brad Jones’ lithe, uplifting bass at the coda.

The comfort of memory is a staple in the country music diet but with Easy In The Summertime, she draws upon her early life in Alabama with sister Shelby Lynne, via a series of tautly drawn observations that bring both landscape and the past to life without cloying sentimentality.

If 2008’s Mockingbird had the hallmarks of an indifferent stopgap, Crows has Allison Moorer hitting her stride and going somewhere special.

This review first appeared here.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Desk Duties X

In the post today...

I think the window frames will be rattling somewhat today as the 5.1 system gets cranked up to way past 11.

Monday, January 25, 2010

1970 - Year Of Plenty

If the 1960s was a period of unprecedented expansion and experimentation, then 1970 was about consolidation and application wherein the foundations of so much of what is now happening currently in music were laid.

I have a love-hate relationship with Paul Morley. Sometimes I read his stuff and it makes me want to slap him across his stubbly jowls, and other times I want to shake his hand, and hug him like a long-lost friend.

Capable of serving up complete bollocks and sublime insights (often in the same incredibly long sentence), whatever he writes I nearly always want to read it.

Writing in yesterday’s edition of the generally dire Observer Monthly Music, Morley chimes in on the significance of albums released in 1970 in his usual “list as narrative” style...

It was going to be next October's OMM column, I think, when I started to wonder, without any particular agenda, about the relationship between the best albums of 1970, when rock was relatively young, and the mass media and the mainstream alternative media not so obsessed with it, when it wasn't a mostly commercial effortlessly purchased arrangement, and the best albums of 2010… a column that could have been taken up simply with a list of the albums from that year that, just in terms of their sound, the fashions, the energy, could still easily claim a place in the 2010 list, with momentous space explorers Autechre, gothic sensualists These New Puritans, Gorillaz, Tunng, Four Tet, Errors, Lonelady, Arcade Fire, Acoustic Ladyland, New Young Pony Club, Xiu Xiu etc etc naturally high on my list, and Hot Chip, Beach House, Spoon, Midlake, Joanna Newsom, Fleet Foxes, Ting Tings, the Strokes, Liars, She and Him, Watson Twins, Yeasayers etc etc knocking around on others, and I obviously was not pointing this out in a sentimental nostalgic way, but simply to examine that even though there has been so much change in technology, history, innovation, trends, generational shifts, snobbish list making, revising, hyping, web life democratisation, media shape, how rock style music is now made and listened to by people born up to 20, 25 years after this 1970 music was released, and yet all of it, whatever the genre label, whatever machines, drugs or budgets it was made on, however it's been distributed, whatever the social and cultural circumstances it reflects or shuns, can be heard/glimpsed forming, or sometimes found fully formed, inside Tim Buckley's Lorca, Janis Joplin's Pearl, David Bowie's The Man Who Sold The World, Soft Machine 3, Captain Beefheart's Lick My Decals Off Baby, Crosby Stills Nash and Young's Déjà vu, Magma, Pentangle's Cruel Sister, George Harrison's All Things Must Pass, Led Zeppelin III, The Last Poets, Nick Drake's Bryter Later, Evan Parker's Topography of the Lungs, Peter Green's The End of the Game, MC5's Back in the USA, Tangerine Dream's Electronic Meditation, Joni Mitchell's Ladies of the Canyon, Neil Young's After the Goldrush, Nico's Desertshore, Frank Zappa's Burnt Weeny Sandwich, Pink Floyd's Atom Heart Mother, Marion Brown's Afternoon of a Georgia Faun, Van Der Graaf Generator's The Least We Can Do is Wave to Each Other, The Kinks' Lola Versus Powerman…, Iggy and the Stooges' Funhouse, Syd Barrett's The Madcap Laughs, Who Live At Leeds, Aretha Franklin's Spirit in the Dark, Randy Newman's 12 Songs, Kraftwerk, Rod Stewart's Gasoline Alley, Family's A Song For Me, Linda Perhacs's Parallelograms, Can's Soundtracks, Frank Sinatra's Watertown, Deep Purple in Rock, Fotheringay, The Carpenters' Close to You, Shirley Collins's Love, Death and the Lady, Dark, Robert Wyatt's The End of an Ear, Velvet Underground's Loaded, Stephen Stills, The Band's Stage Fright, Spirit's 12 Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus, Groundhogs' Thank Christ for the Bomb, Faces' First Steps, Grateful Dead's American Beauty, Miles Davis's Bitches Brew, Amon Düül II's Yeti….

When all this was being released no one really imagined that it would all be around, more available in some ways, endlessly listed, 40 years later. Or, in fact, that it wouldn't. But the momentum was established. It would all just keep coming. Rock and pop would lead to more rock and pop because everything had to be new. Some things come to an end. But everything carries on, as though pop, always passing through, and then sticking around, has found a way to hint at forever.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Podcasts From The Yellow Room XII

This week's podcast highlights two tracks from my entry for Classic Rock Presents Prog's Critic's Choice of 2009, a blast from past with the late, great Robert Calvert and the sinister beauty of No-Man in concert.

The Stream Of Our Life by Bill Forth from Adamantine
Realside by Ten Seconds from Ten Seconds
Anesthesia by Six Organs of Admittance from Luminous Night
Caroline by Espers from Espers III
Ragna Rock by Robert Calvert from Lucky Leif and the Longships
Mixtaped by No-Man from Mixtaped

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Blood And Fire And A Toasted Teacake In Hexham

After a morning spent updating and writing, I took a welcome break to help form a brief sortie up to Hexham with Lesley and Debra. We were heading for Market Street which contains Blood And Fire...

the Heart of all England...

and the planet's circulatory eco-system as envisaged by James Lovelock...

Not bad for one little street!

Gaia is Debra's favourite shop and where I bought her a couple of fabbo tops for part of her Christmas present. I love the shop myself as does Lesley. After half an hour Debra emerged with another couple of items to add to her Gaia-derived wardrobe. Time for a tea-cake and a natter in the nearby Mucho Gusto..

Friday, January 22, 2010

Of Penthouses And Potentials

Today I escaped from the yellow room and made my way to the Wilson Penthouse situated on a rather bleak looking Station Road...

Having climbed the stairs and administered oxygen and the last rites en route, I fell into the office where a welcome sight awaited me...

I was meeting up with Chris because the mad, impetuous fool has agreed to sharpen up my web presence. Today he was taking me through his initial ideas based (very loosely) from the back-of-the-fag-packet note I handed him a couple of weeks ago.

Once some tweaking had been done and he'd given me some homework which will help him take things forward, I was off from Wilson's lofty perch...

and back out on the streets again.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Exciting Life Of A Rock 'n' Roll Writer II

Sometimes this desk can be a bleak and lonely place to be; the place where you see the yawning gap between what you wanted to do and what you ended up doing. This has been a day in which writing was more like a wrestling match where your opponent is covered in grease and thus hard to get a hold of.

I always come through these sessions convinced it would be better to have a regular day job once again. Better hours, better pay and there’s no requirement to have your inarticulate mediocrity thrown in your face whenever you look at the screen.

Then an email arrives, or a phone call, asking you to write a review or provide a piece of copy for something, and miraculously your own vanity kicks in to suppress the self-doubt and memory of those strife-torn hours and you find yourself saying “I’d love to!”

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Mark Lockheart And The NDR Big Band

Days Like These
Mark Lockheart & the NDR Bigband
Fuzzy Moon Records

Anyone who avidly listened to the BBC’s jazz output in the 70s - in particular their Jazz In Britain strand which would showcase some of the brightest, smartest ensembles of the day - will find a strong sense of deja-vu about this release.

This is not suggest sax player, Mark Lockheart’s adventures with Germany’s NDR big band are in any way past their “sell-by” date. Far from it. However, there’s an undeniable familiarity to the feel and sound of the seven compositions which make up the disc, that suggests its spiritual home at the very least resides in the 1970s.

Not that this is necessarily a bad thing given Weather Report are clearly an influence in Lockheart’s work on tracks such as Man With A Yellow Case. Were you to alter the instrumentation from a big band to an extended rock line-up, the superb two-part epic, Busby Berkeley wouldn’t sound out of place on a National Health album.

Days Like These dodges expectations before ending obliquely amidst swells of guitar chords adding a pleasing air of mystery.

Of course, strong, muscular performance are very much a necessity when stretching out over a large ensemble and Lockheart turns in some bravura passages though doesn’t forget that subtlety need not be sacrifice when stepping out before the band.

Indeed, it’s to his credit that he happily shares the limelight with his NDR colleagues. In this respect Lutz Buechnew’s (sax) and Ingolf Burkhardt (trumpet) produce spectacular moments on the quite brilliant album opener, Rag.


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