Review of 2013 (Part One)

Funny old year. To be quite frank, there’s not been a single outstanding album of the year, just a bunch of good albums I’ve enjoyed. Nothing’s massively stood out from the pack, and it says something that much of the music I’ve listened to this year isn’t from this year.

This is probably for three reasons. One, I’m getting older, and simply don’t have the inclination to seek out new music which, by and large, is either overhyped or just not as good as what’s come before. Two, now that Popular Music has been around for about sixty-something years (let’s not get into how old jazz and blues are; this ain’t a jazz or blues blog), pretty much anything released now has to be viewed in a sixty-year history of music. Tough to make something great that’s not been heard a billion times before. Third, I’m lazy.

Very, very lazy.

Here’s some albums.

Best Album By The Miserable Scots

Runners Up

Mogwai – Les Revenants

Not a great Mogwai album, but a good one.

  • Frightened Rabbit – Pedestrian Verse

    Not a great Frightened Rabbit album, but a good one. You can see where this is all going, can’t you?

  • Winner

    RM Hubbert – Breaks and Bone

    In which our charming friend finds his voice, and you know what? It’s pretty damned good. Let’s hope he’s right and that he’s worked through his issues on his first three albums, and now he can go and make the superb album that’s certainly in him.

  • Best Fingerstyle Americana Instrumental Guitar Whatsit Album

    Joint Winners:

    William Tyler – Impossible Truth

    I once got drunk with William Tyler, many years ago. Lovely chap, far too modest for his own good, and it’s great seeing him step out from under the Lambchop banner to make a record of luminous beauty.

  • Glenn Jones – My Garden State

    A deeply personal record about leaving home, and returning, and what home really means. This is an instrumental album.

  • The Elliott Smith Award For Beatles-Tinged Singer-Songwritering

    Runner Up

    Josh Rouse – The Happiness Waltz

    Perfect for those darkening autumn evenings. As ever, gently soothing.


    Harper Simon – Division Street

    Meant, like many things this year, to post about this album, but never did. By rights, this should have been terrible – famous dad, hugely influenced by the joint greatest singer-songwriter of his generation1 – but turns out to be a great listen. He could really do with finding is own voice rather than just making a very good Elliott Smith pastiche though.

  • The Best Song Titles In Post-Rock-Jazz-Noise, Often Involving Jim O’Rourke

    Joint Winner

    David Grubbs – I Started To Live When My Barber Died

    Keiji Haino/Jim O’Rourke/Oren Ambarchi – Even That Still Here And Unwanted Can You And I Love It Just Like Us It Was Born Here Too

    Errrr, quite.

    The Mark Lanegan Growling Alcoholic Miseryguts Award For Drunken Lonesome Growling

    Runner Up

    Mark Lanegan and Duke Garwood – Black Pudding

    Just too nice. There’s still a strong whiff of 3am barroom, and Lanegan is reliably growly, but this is far too pleasant to win the award. Same goes for his covers album2

  • Winner

    John Murry – The Graceless Age

    Ok, so it was originally released in 2012, but give me some leeway here. I hold no truck for grumpy sods going on about drug abuse unless it’s done exceptionally well and then I love it(see: Mark Lanegan, Elliott Smith). I come close to loving this album, and if I’d heard it in my twenties I’d have worn the record out.

  • That’s it for Part One. Please join me tomorrow for Part Two.

    1 The other being Jeff Buckley. Shame on you.

    2 Which wasn’t a patch on I’ll Take Care Of You

    None More….errrr…Flowery

    Mark Lanegan’s back. Back with his first solo record since 2003, if you can believe that, given how astonishingly prolific he’s been in the last ten years, what with QOTSA, Soulsavers, Gutter Twins, that Isobel Campbell business, and more guest spots than you can shake a stick at. Through all that he’s maintained a grumpy integrity and devotion to the cause of growling ominously that is second to none. Seriously, could anyone else these days release a record called “Blues Funeral” and have the lead song titled “The Gravedigger’s Song” and still expect people to keep a straight face?

    With lyrics like “Love is a medicine, girl, like a crow flying eight miles high over wire and wood”, you know you’re in for a treat. Album’s out early next year, folks.

    Now, I’ve no idea if this little widgetty thing is going to work, as WordPress appears to be frigging it to schninty. So if it doesn’t, just follow the link here to 4AD and listen to it on the player there.

    Growl Growl Growl – Live Review, Mark Lanegan and Greg Dulli

    “He looks like David Mitchell” says Mrs Loft and Lost.
    “You go and tell him that” say I.
    “Actually, he looks like the lovechild of David Mitchell and Stephen Fry”
    “Are you trying to get us killed?”

    Mrs Loft and Lost is right though. Greg Dulli doesn’t really look like the sex-and-drugs obsessed rock demon of Afghan Whigs and Twilight Singers fame. He really does look like he could be David Mitchell’s taller, stroppier older brother. Not that I would tell him to his face, as he’d likely take me into the concrete wilderness of the South Bank and give me a good shoeing. On our way into the Royal Festival Hall I asked the lovely lady on the door if we could bring drinks in, and she replied “Of course, as long as it’s in plastic”. Yes, because I’m actually feeling suicidal right now, and I’d like to end it all by chucking a wine glass at the two grumpiest men in rock – Mark Lanegan and Greg Dulli, otherwise known as The Gutter Twins. And playing acoustic, too.

    I’ve seen Mark Lanegan live about six or seven times now, both with his band and with Queens Of The Stone Age, and I don’t recall him saying anything more than a couple of sentences each time1. Tonight, he managed a couple of jokey lines, but that was about the end of it, leaving his somewhat more forthcoming2 partner Mr Dulli to talk to the crowd, lead us in handclapping, introducing the (fantastic) guitarist (Dave Rosser, as both Martyn and Goonerandy have let me know – thanks chaps!), and exhorting us to “live life to the full”. Even sitting down, on a huge stage, with the usual huge amp stacks and drummer and the rest of the trappings of heavy rock replaced by a couple of acoustic guitars and a piano, he’s still a force of nature. On the third song in, whilst Greg and the guitarist are singing in harmony, a low, low growl comes through the speakers. I thought, “What the hell’s that?”. It took me a couple of seconds to realise it was Mark singing. He sounds like a particularly disgruntled tiger.

    But by the sweet Mary mother of Jebus, does he have a voice. Quite frankly, it’s astonishing. He sounds like he’s spent an eternity sitting in run-down bars, drinking cheap whiskey and rueing the day he met that cheap no-good low-down woman and how she broke his heart. You can just as well picture him hunched over a glass of gutrot bourbon in a one-horse frontier town in 1874, as in a tavern by the docks in Plymouth in 1534, or drinking fermented woolly mammoth milk in an ostentatiously shabby cave about 5000 years BC, muttering something about how the dark days are going to come, and how that cheap no-good low-down woman has run off with Zog from the next cave along, and he’s going to have some of that there cactus juice tonight. There’s thousands of years of pain and heartache in that voice, and hearing him sing accompanied with just an acoustic guitar is a pleasure beyond mere words.

    Don’t think that it’s just the tone of his voice that is special though. Mark’s actually got a better vocal range than you’d first expect; not just the bass growl that makes Barry White sound like he’s on helium. During “Sworn And Broken”, he actually sings, properly, and it’s a fair old treat. Ok, so he’s hardly Jeff Buckley, but the contrast with his usual rumblings makes the times he does venture above low C all the more effective. Oh, and thankfully the dreadful keyboard solo has gone (almost as bad as Sugar’s “Hoover Dam”), replaced with a marvellous guitar solo from Mr Rosser.

    “Creeping Coastline Of Lights”, the sole track from Mark’s covers album “I’ll Take Care Of You”, was lovely, and was followed by “Resurrection Song”. In all honesty, the Lanegan material worked better acoustically than Dulli’s; partly because Dulli’s best songs have been balls-out, drink-sodden rage-filled soul-inflected numbers about doing all the wrong things in life (see “Teenage Wristband” or “Uptown Again”), so he had to fall back on either the quieter numbers, or try and make as loud a sound with two acoustics (or an acoustic and a piano). Some worked pretty well, like “Martin Eden” and the old Whigs number “If I Were Going”, but others don’t quite click as well as the Lanegan numbers do. But that’s harsh criticism, in fairness – there wasn’t a single moment that I got bored or wished a song was over. If anything, from the stage, they probably saw looked at me sitting in the front row wondering who that galoot was with the dumb grin on his face.



    The last song before the encore was Bukka White’s “I Am In The Heavenly Way”. As both of them sang “Moving, joy, joy, joy\Wonderful joy, I’m movin’ on ”, we all thought “You know, you guys can stick about a bit longer if you want to”. So they did, and finished off with another cover, this time of Nick Drake’s “Three Hours”, with Dulli and Lanegan’s voices about as far from Drake’s fragile soprano as you can imagine. They sent us off into the South Bank night, happy as songs of misery, pain and addiction can make you.

    Which, as it turns out, is pretty happy indeed.

    (MP3’s courtesy of Mundo Eleven)

    MP3: I Am In The Heavenly Way by The Gutter Twins (Live in Glasgow 2009)

    MP3: Creeping Coastline Of Lights by The Gutter Twins (Live Glasgow 2009)

    1 Andy, who’d originally told me about this show, said that when he first saw QOTSA live, he saw Mark shambling onto the stage and thought to himself “What the hell is that roadie doing?”. I can see exactly where he’s coming from there.

    2 That’s not saying much. Lichen is more forthcoming.

    Buy Mark Lanegan’s “I’ll Take Care of You” (Please, please do, it’s utterly fantastic)

    Buy Gutter Twins “Saturnalia” (CD)

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    News – An Evening with Lanegan and Dulli, The Twilight Sad

    Mark Lanegan and Greg Dulli, who recently recorded as The Gutter Twins, are doing another one-off show in London at the South Bank Centre. Having managed to miss the show at the Union Chapel, I must say I’m rather thrilled at this. I’ve seen Mark Lanegan play live many times, mostly with Queens Of The Stone Age, but also on his “Bubblegum” tour, and if you haven’t seen this man’s stage technique, you haven’t lived. Fundamentally it consists of leaning on his microphone stand glaring ominously at the crowd, whilst singing in the most nicotine- and whisky-stained voice you could possibly imagine.

    Put it this way, if you’ve lived a bad life, and you’re lying on your deathbed, this is the voice of Death as he comes to take you down to the bowels of Hell. He’s a scary, scary man. Greg Dulli, he of the drugs and sex obsessions, is a primary school teacher in comparison. Saying that, they’re both, in real life, lovely fellas (I have it on good authority), but they don’t exactly suffer fools gladly.

    So, live show at London’s South Bank Centre (Royal Festival Hall) on 19th July. Book tickets here, and many thanks for Andy for the tip. What a gent!

    Courtesy of Mundo Eleven, I’ve posted a couple of live tracks from a show in Milan back in 2003 (look down). Both are from his covers LP, “I’ll Take Care Of You”, which is absolutely marvellous (and I promise to review properly at some point in the future).

    As for the Gutter Twins themselves:

    Now, if you said that they sound like a mix of prime Afghan Whigs with Mark Lanegan singing, I’d say, yeah, damn right, and what the hell is wrong with that, fool?

    Excellent Artwork...

    Excellent Artwork...

    Book those tickets. You know you want to. Funnily enough, Emmy The Great are playing the same night in another of the halls. That should make for an interesting crossover of fans.

    Another tune that’s been on my mind recently is The Twilight Sad’s “Cold Days From The Birdhouse”. I recently described it to someone as The Proclaimers meets Mogwai, which is possibly a bit unfair, but this is a cracking number. There’s something about that talking slowly over a barrage of noise that’s very appealing, shared by both Lanegan and Twilight Sad.

    More Excellent Artwork...

    More Excellent Artwork...

    The Twilight Sad are currently on tour with Mogwai in the US with a new album lined up some time later this year. If they’ve built on 2007’s Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters, we’re in for a treat.

    That’s that for a few days, as we’re off to the West Country to drink scrumpy and wander round disused railway lines. Ok, possibly not the scrumpy bit. Enjoy your Easter.

    MP3: On Jesus Program (Live In Milan 2003) by Mark Lanegan

    MP3: I’ll Take Care Of You (Live Milan 2003) by Mark Lanegan

    MP3: Idle Hands by The Gutter Twins

    MP3: Cold Days From The Birdhouse by The Twilight Sad

    Buy The Gutter Twins “Saturnalia” (MP3)

    Buy Mark Lanegan’s “I’ll Take Care of You” (CD)

    Buy The Twilight Sad’s “Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters” (CD/MP3)

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