Albums 2011 – Part One

Well, it’s been one of those years. For one reason or another, my record searching out ability, and time or inclination to sit down and write something about records, has been seriously curtailed this year. And so it seems appropriate that the first two records in my list weren’t even released this year. So it goes.

The Obligatory Album From Last Year That I Only Heard This Year

Cotton Jones – Tall Hours In The Glowstream

Tipped off by the marvellous Song, By Toad, this was my go-to album for the first few, dreadful months of the year. I almost wish I hadn’t listened to it so much as it’s now extricably linked to a horrible period of mine (and my friends) lives, but sod it. A great record and one I wish many more people would buy.

MP3: Sail Of The Silver Morning by Cotton Jones

The Obligatory Album From A Few Years Ago That I Only Heard This Year

Sam Amidon – All Is Well

Seeing Laura Viers live was a pleasure enough, but not as much of a pleasure as seeing support act Sam Amidon and going “Whoa! Dude! This rocks!”. Ok, I didn’t say that. But as I texted my wife (who was late) with a “The support act is brilliant” and rushing her through the Union Chapel to our seat at the front, I realised I’d found a new hero. Sam Amidon takes old, old songs and plays them with that wonderful ability of making something complicated sound simple. I dare you, go and try and play “Wedding Dress”; not as easy as it sounds.

MP3: Wedding Dress by Sam Amidon

Career Highlight Albums From Artists With Long Enough Careers Already

This year, three bands/artists have made unexpectedly great records that stand up in comparison, or even outshine, anything they’ve done before. In no particular order:

Low – C’mon

Call me strange if you like, but I’d say that this is Low’s best actual album, as in, a record you want to listen to all the way through, again and again. Yes, “Secret Name” and “Things We Lost In The Fire” may be slowcore’s finest moments, but when did you last listen all the way through, eh?

MP3: Try To Sleep by Low

Mogwai – Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will

Again, other albums may have better individual moments, but this was Mogwai making a record that felt more complete than anything before. And “George Square Thatcher Death Party” is song title of the year, no question. Excellent performed live, too (

MP3: Rano Pano by Mogwai

PJ Harvey – Let England Shake

Already won the Mercury Prize and likely to top most writer’s lists, and deservedly so. There’s no-one else out there making records like this.

MP3: The Words That Maketh Murder by PJ Harvey

The Obligatory Nod To Bill Callahan and Will Oldham

Bill Callahan – Apocalypse

With every Bill Callahan album, once you get over the inital obsession, you find two or three superb songs in amongst a bunch of other good songs. Those songs may well vary by listener, but you can be assured they’ll stand up against anything he’s done before. Show me someone still doing that.

With Apocalypse it’s “Baby’s Breath” and “Riding For The Feeling”. The former is plain creepy, the latter one of the finest evocations of a travelling artist you could ever hope to hear. Even now, 50-odd listens on, I’m still gobsmacked at just how beautifully composed it is. Not his best album, but it’s sure as hell better than what most other artists can produce.

MP3: Riding For The Feeling by Bill Callahan

Bonnie “Prince” Billy – Wolfroy Goes to Town

After a number of disappointing records, Mr Funky Beard himself has toned things down again and made his best record of recent years. Like Apocalypse, it recalls his greatest years but doesn’t repeat them, but unlike Apocalypse it doesn’t really stand up to the comparison. But then, this has the definite feel of a grower to it, so maybe next year I’ll be raving about it.

MP3: Quail And Dumplings by Bonnie Prince Billy

The Obligatory Instrumental Post-Metal Album

Psychic Paramount – II

Fantastic. Noisy. Absolutely f**ing barmy. The moment during DDB where the mad post-Krautrock intro suddenly, without any warning, thunders into a churning, destructive noise, is possibly my musical highlight of the year. I suspect that is what a train crash sounds like. And you know those bands who have an opener called “Intro”, and make it a nice, easy introduction to an album? II’s “Intro” lets you know exactly what the record will be like. Barmy, like I said.

Honorable mentions: Russian Circles with Empros and Mastodon with The Hunter, neither of which I’ve listened to enough yet (and yes, I know that Mastodon aren’t instrumental, but I can’t be arsed to do a separate thing)

The Obligatory Acoustic Instrumental Troubadour

Michael Chapman – Trainsong

Fantastic. Not noisy at all. And not barmy either; just utterly beautiful. What this man can do with a single guitar at the age of 70 is beyond 99.99999999% of the world’s guitarists, and yet his supreme technical skills never get in the way of a damn fine tune.

MP3: The Last Polish Breakfast by Michael Chapman

The Obligatory Paul Thomas Saunders Mention

Paul Thomas Saunders – Lilac And Wisteria EP

How, or why, this man is not a household name yet is beyond me. “Appointment In Samarra” is the most beautiful, melancholy piece of music I have heard all year. I just wish he’d pull his horrendously talented finger out and write a full CD of songs.

Well, that’s Part One out of the way. Part Two, in all its slightly shorter glory, is over here.

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.

What Else Could It Be?

Excuses, excuses. This time it was chopping nearly half off the top of my middle finger in an unguarded moment chopping a carrot. Thankfully, there was not half as much damage as first appeared, and a couple of weeks on all I have to show is a rosy patch of shiny skin about a centimetre long. No photos, this time.

Which leaves me with a few articles piled up, resting in the fertile compost of my brain, awaiting my now-fixed and eager fingers to splurge them onto the screen. Oh, lucky you. And yes, the end of year is coming, and I’ve even started to write my end of year review. Lucky, lucky you.

Before those joys come perennial Loft and Lost favourites Lambchop. If I were ever to become passably famous and appear on Desert Island Disks, their “The Man Who Loved Beer” would be a shoo-in for one of the seven; probably, frankly, first on the list. Their skewed take on country soul1 has developed over the years, but hasn’t strayed too far from their righteous path of wondrousness, to the point that “A Hold Of You” or “Sharing a Gibson with Martin Luther King, Jr.” from their last album OH (Ohio) would happily have sat on their first record, back in the ‘90’s.

And with that, my heart can’t help but leap on hearing there’s a new record coming, titled Mr M, out on February 21st. Dedicated to Vic Chesnutt, keener fans will recognise, is something of a hero of the band, and whose tracks they have covered over the years. Here’s lead track “If Not I’ll Just Die”, and what a lovely thing it is too. Plus, it starts with a great bit of swearing. They are on one of their big tours next year, so be sure to catch them out on their travels, as not only are they a great live band, they also tend to enjoy hanging round the bar both before and after the show and chatting with their fans. Or getting arseholed with them and then giving them a lift home, which they once did with me. Lovely folks, though frankly I’ll be bringing a “1000 Greatest Jokes” book for Tony Crow.

1 Often erroneously called “Alt-country”; go and listen to some Eddie Hinton or one of the marvellous “Country Got Soul” compilations and you’ll know what I’m getting to here.

If Not I’ll Just Die by Lambchop Lambchop – If Not I’ll Just Die by MergeRecords

Buy their stuff from Amazon’s Lambchop Store.

Don’t Make Me Blue

The last post’s subject title was, for those of you not paying attention, a reference to an old, old song by one of rock’n’roll’s finest voices. Scratch that. The finest voice. You can line up your Robert Plants, your Jeff or Tim Buckleys, your Feists, your Mark Lanegans all you like, none of them can come close to the sheer futile majesty of Roy Orbison. He had, as someone once memorably put it, the voice of an angel falling backward out of a window. And the songs, once he’d got through attempts at shoehorning him into the doo-wop style of the late 50’s, fitted him like a minx glove lined with ocelot fur. They were odd songs, too, suitably delicate, yearning and with more than a hint of strangeness. I could go on for hours about this, but just pick out some lines from his songs:

“Oh to see my baby again, and to be with some of my friends”

Some? Some? Not all?

Or here’s a great one from his most famous song, “Oh, Pretty Woman”:

“That you look lovely as can be\Are you lonely just like me?”

Who else in the world would sing a song about seeing a beautiful woman in the street, then cold-heartedly pointing out that she’s human like the rest of us, and quite probably quite sad?

And finally, here’s what got me into this reverie to begin with, “Lana”. First off, there’s the sheer unadulterated shock of hearing that first, pure falsetto; if you’ve not heard a Roy Orbison song before, this is an ideal place to start. Secondly, the song itself is strangely backward looking, with a presumably tongue-in-cheek doo-wop section, culminating in a marvellous spelt out bit1. Thirdly, just as the song makes it into its second chorus, it fades out quickly, at a time when most artists would be doing the whole triumphant finish. Roy decides that it’s much more fun to just leave you wanting more. Excellent.

So, “Lana”. Better than “Video Games”. Sure, it won’t get you any credit at a hipster-slim-trousers-rolled-up-above-the-ankle-Meet-The-F***g-Kooples flashmob2 jerkoff session, but you’ll take that chorus to your grave.

1 I have no idea what this is called. Just listen and you’ll know what I mean.
2 Do people still do flashmobs? I hope not.

MP3: Lana by Roy Orbison

Buy “The Monument Singles Collection” by Roy Orbison, Or Just Give Up On Music Altogether As You Are No Longer Worthy Of It

Lana, Oh Lana

Being horrendously behind the times does have some benefits. I’m not one of those people that foolishly went out and bought an iPad or an iPhone when a newer, shinier, better one was just around the corner. I never had a Minidisc player. Betamax? No, sirree. Having better things to do with my life than finding out what was the new hot thing was this summer meant that when I finally discovered that it was Lana Del Rey, I could watch her performing “Video Games” with a sense of perspective.

Of course, I watched her perform “Video Games” on Later, which I watched about a month after it was broadcast, which itself was about three months behind the curve. And I must say that for all the fervent, fevered “SONG OF THE YEAR!!!” magazine articles and blog posts extolling her virtues as graces, as well as those that sniffily pointed out that she was the daughter of Someone Quite Rich Indeed and that her recent upswelling of support may well have been, shall we say it, something to do with being tdoSQRI, as well as those that sniffily pointed out that She Had Had Some Work Done, the cads, the song itself is, well, um……well, it’s alright, isn’t it, but it’s no “Hey Ya”. Or even “Crystalised”.

In that, when you’re busy yelling that something is “SONG OF THE YEAR!!!”, you’d better make sure that a whole bunch of people don’t go “But it sounds like a bunch of other stuff”. Which I am. Nice though the song is, I don’t feel it’s quite as life-changing as either it, or its fans, would like it to be. Sure, it’s a step above Adele and the like, but that’s not enough for me.

For those of you out there yelling “Hey, daddio, this ain’t your bag, you old galloot”1, let me just point out that with the lips and the whole low-down croon/coy sex-kitten duality thing is just tailor-made to push the buttons of ex-priapic middle-aged men currently re-evaluating their wife-and-two-kids-and-steady-job-in-Management thang, in a way that Adele herself and poor, lost Amy never quite did.

Don’t get me wrong. I like it, some. And I’m not quite ready for my Porsche and inappropriate thoughts yet, I’ll have you know.

1 Or whatever Ver Yoof are saying these days. Frankly, I don’t give a damn.

MP3: Video Games by Lana Del Rey

Amazon’s Lana Del Rey Page

I’ll Be A Bachelor Boy

Minds being funny things and all, a recent period of having Cliff Richard’s “Bachelor Boy” in my head (which surely must rank as one of the most egregious earworms in history) has driven me toward Hank Williams’ “I’ll Be A Bachelor Till I Die”. Now if you’ve never listened to ol’ Hank, you really need to. Like, now.

And if you have, well, you know what treat is in store, don’t you?

MP3: I’ll Be A Bachelor Till I Die by Hank Williams

Buy Hank Williams “Cold Cold Heart” (CD) Here

The Work Keeps Working

So, I’ve been b….there’s not really any point in saying it, is there? Joining me in returning from The Land Of The Otherwise Engaged are Frightened Rabbit, who have returned from their 2 year long World Tour and have punted us, dear listeners, free EP. You have to sign up to the mailing list but as their emails are some of the funniest, wittiest and genuinely pleasant promotional emails you could wish for, this is in no way a hardship.

The songs themselves seem to have been largely written on the bus, but this is apparently no bad thing. “Scottish Winds” sounds like the kind of song that would build up in your head as you’re touring some warm, sunny country filled with happy people and a complete absence of cold, biting rain. “Fuck This Place” is a charming duet (seriously), and “The Work” reminds me of their much earlier work, and features some old feller. Called Archie. I really ought to research this a bit more, but, you know.

Oh, just sign up and download it, will you?

MP3: The Work by Frightened Rabbit

Buy Frightened Rabbit Stuff Here

Up To The Stars

Sad news came today of the death of Bert Jansch. One of the finest guitarists of all time – and I’m not being hyperbolic here – he rose to prominence in the 60’s along with John Martyn and Davey Graham. Like them, he was astonishingly talented, and like them, he liked a drink or two. Or twenty. Saying that, unlike the somewhat difficult Martyn or the tragically lost Graham, he reined in his drinking and continued to record and perform, as well as being a gentleman who graciously accepted the plaudits rained upon him whilst giving the distinct impression he thought everyone was making a bit of a fuss about nothing.

I first heard his music thanks to the massively enthusiastic exhortations of Johnny Marr, who knows a thing or two about this most precious of arts. Marr speaks of first seeing Jansch play with Pentangle in the early ’70’s, and understanding that “all the other bands were regarded as utter lightweights, musically, physically, philosophically and lyrically”. He has a point. Whilst Jansch is ostensibly a folk guitarist, there’s all sorts thrown into the mix, R’n’B, Middle-Eastern music, you name it; with a roving, restless intelligence married to a feel for the guitar that was unparalleled. As Jansch himself explained to Will Hodgkinson in the excellent Guitar Man, most guitar playing is about getting the right feel and atmosphere rather than hitting the right notes. Though, of course, Jansch got that bit right too.

Along with Marr, he influenced the likes of Nick Drake, Jimmy Page, Bernard Butler, Devendra Banhart; oh, just anyone who’s ever picked up a guitar and wanted to make it sound more than wood and metal. Anyone who wants to make it sing and tremble. When you yourself finally shuffle from this painful earth, who is to say that you won’t be greeted at the gates of heaven by this trio of fingerpicking Gods, with Bert at their head?

MP3: Angie by Bert Jansch

Buy stuff from Amazon’s Bert Jansch Store. You’re probably best off starting with The Essential (2CD).

Ostatniego Polskiego Sniadanie

Until about a fortnight ago I’d never heard of Michael Chapman. Browsing a review of Glenn Jones’s The Wanting, and searching for the CD on Amazon, the recommendation engine did it’s usual “People who browsed for this also shopped for” and Michael Chapman’s “Trainsong” caught my eye. Don’t know about you, but I usually ignore this, but for once I thought I’d give it a try.

How glad am I. For this record is a work of huge beauty. Chapman, now 70, has re-recorded 26 of his songs from his long career; just him and an acoustic. No vocals, no overdubs, nothing. And for a man who has belatedly come to love the fingerpicking style of mighty modern troubadours M Ward and Iron And Wine, this is manna from heaven.

Songs vary in style from John Fahey style slide (on the cunningly titled “Fahey’s Flag”), through beautiful meditations on nature (“Caddo’s Lake”), haunted country (“Slowcoach”), flamenco, blues, and even branch into Durutti Column style arpeggios (“Sensimilia”). 26 songs of character and grace, beautifully packaged with notes explaining the song’s origins, and, best of all from a sausaged-fingered galoot like me, the tunings he uses to make such gorgeous music. So a sausage-fingered galoot like me can spend happy hours murdering them to his heart’s content.

You can just picture yourself sitting in a log shack next to a lake, surrounded by forests and mountains, warm summer breeze gently rustling the threadbare curtains, whilst he plays these songs to you, the sound is that immediate. A fantastic record, which I cannot recommend enough. Go buy

MP3: The Last Polish Breakfast by Michael Chapman

It’s The Predictable Blog Post Title (And I Feel Fine)

So, R.E.M. That’s it, is it? We’ve finally reached the end of our road together? Yes, I know the magic has been gone a long, long time. I know we’ve gone our separate ways. Yes, you were so special, back in our younger days when you could throw out albums like Out Of Time and Automatic For The People as easy as breathing. Those days when just hearing a single note could make my heart rush and beat like crazy. But we both know those days are far behind us. And you know, I love others now. It’s been a long time.

But let’s just remember the good times, eh? All those wondrous, majestic songs. All those memories, those cadences, those heartstrings pulled with the simplest touch of your voice or a gracefully plucked guitar string. Those words.

May the Lord in his heaven shine down on you, my friends, my saviours.

MP3: It\'s The End Of The World As We Know It (Acoustic) by R.E.M.

You Don’t Need Me To Tell You To Buy Their Stuff, Do You?