RIP Etta James

The first Etta James song I remember hearing was “Tell Mama”, on Soul Jazz’s marvellous “Chicago Soul” compilation. I remember being dumbstruck by the force of her voice; how she could somehow combine being angry, pleading, triumphant, playful, lustful, and yearning, all within the space of a single song. Or sometimes even a single line of a song. Frankly, I was hooked. Etta James songs have featured on whatever iWhatsit device I’ve had in the past ten years, waiting for that moment to get transported to a whole new world. To me, she was the best soul singer out there; no-one had such emotion in their voice, no-one could be quite so goddamn, well, soulful.

She will be sadly missed, but her voice will live for ever.

MP3: Tell Mama by Etta James

Buy The Very Best Of Etta James: The Chess Singles

New Year New Music Four – Griggleschpot

As I mentioned the other day, I get lots of emails. I don’t listen to many, sadly, and sometimes it takes something unusual to get noticed.

Calling yourself “Griggleschpot” might normally make me wince and move on, but something in the brevity and politeness of the email made me wander over to the Soundcloud link. And waiting there was some quite lovely, if slightly ominous electronica, in the vein of early Aphex Twin, or Boards Of Canada.

And that is really all I can say. Mr or Mrs or Ms or The Right Honorable or Dame or Sir Griggleschpot is somewhat lacking in personal detail, other than describing their debut album as “this album called seaeyesair works backwards in time and narrates drastic transitions therewith”. And that “I was born in 1993, I live an hour-long train journey from London – on the coastline.”. Other than a nice photo, that’s your lot. Nothing quite like letting your music do the talking.

Which it does, in an entirely pleasant, understated way. The album is free to download from here, and I recommend you do, on the strength of these tracks. Intriguing.

New Year New Music Three – Guided By Voices

Guided By Voices are one of those bands that I only know through reputation and a Best-Of, 2003’s “Human Amusements at Hourly Rates”. The problem with such a prolific band is that there’s so much material you just don’t know where to start, even when some of the songs on the best-of have clawed their way into your inner ear and have taken residence with such tenacity that only a post-mortem, or possibly the final decay of the skull, will remove them. I’m looking at you, “My Kind Of Soldier”, don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about. A borderline neurotic like me looks at the back catalogue and throws his hands up in despair.

Let's Give Up The Day Job

Thankfully for their legion of fans and the interested neurotics like me can now relax and listen to their first full-length in, oooh, years. And the pleasure of a GBV album, as I’ve discovered with Let’s Go Eat The Factory, is no matter how much you might dislike any particular track, another will be along within a couple of minutes which might be far more to your liking. Ranging from Sebadoh lo-fi indie to more tuneful REM style jangle, there’s lots to like. You can only imagine how a bunch of forty-somethings have been sitting in their studies and garages in Dayton, Ohio, humming tunes to themselves for months on end until the thought struck them, “Hey, let’s get the old gang back together”, then negotiating with wives and families and the like to get out on the road again. Sure makes your heart melt; there’s a whole swath of ex-rockers who never quite met the grade, but are getting back together and getting more success than ever before. Someone should do a proper documentary of these bands; the Guided By Voices, the Frank And Walters, the bands that were permanently destined to be fifth on the bill on Friday afternoon at Reading1.

Lovely to have them back, making records again. This one has been on iTunes for a bit and is getting a proper physical release next week. We all need some lo-fi tunesmithery overlain by barmy lyrics in our lives, and GBV do it better than almost anyone.

1 Which is why I’d exclude The Pixies from this; they were proper headline act material.

MP3: The Unsinkable Fats Domino by Guided By Voices

Buy “Let’s Go Eat The Factory” Here (CD)

New Year New Music Part Two – Town Hall

As a music blogger, even one on the dusty edges of the blogosphere1, you have to get used to getting a lot of PR mails. And I mean lots. I get around 30 a day, and I know many bloggers who get up to ten times that. Picking music you might want to listen to can be a tough affair, especially when many of the emails are just basic mass-mailings, with no thought at all about what kind of music you clearly like. No, I am not interested in a mash-up of Lady Gaga and Rhianna. When the email has been written by someone, and it’s usually the band in this case, that has clearly read your blog, then there’s a much higher chance that you’re going to give the music a listen.

One Of These People Is A Gooner

Which leads me to Town Hall. I had an email from them the other day, saying they’d enjoyed my posts on a couple of artists, and then saying their drummer is a huge Arsenal fan. That’s me won over then. Hailing from New York, armed with mandolins and the like, they make experimental folk. In previous years might have made me run the other way fearing a bunch of beardy hurdy-gurdy botherers yelping about Scarborough on acid, but as we all know, folk’s been where it’s at for a while, and, once you get through this interminably long sentence and listen to some of their songs, you’ll realise they’ve written songs of quite startling loveliness, like “Just Watching My Breath”:

“Alright” takes the psych-folk of Grizzly Bear and makes tricksy time signatures, the Lydian mode and odd breakdowns a charming listen:

You know what? Despite getting a million and one emails a day, and the incipient guilty feelings of not listening to 99% of them, I’m glad PR and bands make the effort when you get to hear stuff like this.

The band have a Bandcamp here where you can buy their first EP “Sticky Notes and Paper Scraps”, and check out their website filled with photos and stuff here. I look forward to hearing more from them over the year.

1 Or whatever it’s called this week

New Year New Music Part One – Craig Finn

So here we are, on the 13th day of the New Year, and my writer’s block that has been dogging me since last year has managed to get itself distracted for long enough for me to get my fingers on a keyboard and start writing some goddamn posts. Every year, I’ve spent January hunting through emails, blog posts, Soundcloud streams and the like to find the most exciting, most thrilling, most stunning new bands and songs, for your delectation. Previous finds, such as Freelance Whales and Cotton Jones, have ended up being albums of that year. And what better way to start this year than to do the same?

Craig Finn has been delivering classic Springsteen-esque meat-and-two-veg rock par excellence for a number of years now, as lead man of The Hold Steady. Taking advantage of a break in that band, he’s going solo with a new album out on 24th January, titled “Clear Heart Full Eyes”. Here’s a new track from the album, named “New Friend Jesus”.

Now I quite like this new, more acoustic Craig, like he’s just wandered into a bluegrass bar in South Carolina and decided to jam along with the house band, before drinking some blue liquor that looks like it should be used for cleaning combs and passing out in someone’s chicken coop.

You can pre-order the album from here, and if you order quickly you’ll get a free bandana, which must be up there as one of the oddest free gifts of recent years.

More to come, soon, hopefully.