Saturday, April 28, 2018

Review: Van Morrison & Joey DeFrancesco, You're Driving Me Crazy.

When I heard that Van Morrison was bringing out a third new album in six months I must admit my first reaction was, “Not another one, you must be joking!”. In the past whenever Van had no new songs of his own to offer it seemed to me that he would return to his ‘roots’ and produce a ‘genre’ album that I was sometimes disappointed with. After listening to the new CD this afternoon though I am really pleased that I bought it because it is a very enjoyable splendid addition to his great body of work. It was 1968 when the young Van walked into a New York recording studio to work with a group of jazz musicians who he had never met before. In two sessions they produced one of the greatest records of all time which was Astral Weeks. Fifty years later Van entered a studio on the other side of that great continent to collaborate with another jazz musician Joey DeFrancesco and his band. Van has made albums with other people before such as Mose Allison, Georgie Fame, Lonnie Donegan, Linda Gail Lewis and The Chieftains. They haven’t always been popular with the fans, but I think apart from The Chieftains album this new one with Joey DeFrancesco is Van’s most successful collaboration to date. It is definitely his best album in the jazz medium, that’s for sure.

The album opens with Miss Otis Regrets which is a Cole Porter song first made famous by Ethel Waters in 1934. I think I first heard it sung by Kirsty McColl. Joey plays some nice trumpet on this track. Hold It Right There is a song originally by Eddie ‘Cleanhead’ Vinson who is another artist I probably would never have heard of only for Van. Daughter Shana helps out on vocals and Joey’s organ playing and the saxophones of Van and Troy Roberts are excellent. All Saints Day has never been a favourite Van song of mine but here it comes to life mainly due to Joey’s virtuoso organ playing. Van delves right back into Astral Weeks with The Way Young Lovers Do and I like this version with Joey again demonstrating what a wizard he is on the organ. The Things I Used To Do is an Eddie Jones (Guitar Slim) composition. It was a huge hit in 1953 and actually produced by Ray Charles. This new version is great due to Troy’s tenor sax, Dan Wilson’s fabulous guitar playing and Van on harmonica. Travellin’ Light was originally a hit for Billie Holiday in 1942 with lyrics by Johnny Mercer. It was also recorded by the Jimmy Giuffre 3 in 1958, I’m sure Van knows that version. We mustn’t forget the contribution of Michael Ode on drums to this album, especially as there is no bass player in this ensemble. Van has recorded Close Enough For Jazz three times and until now I haven’t really rated it as one of his better songs. This version is fun though and Van is clearly enjoying it, scatting away to his heart’s content and the band are all in the groove. There is laughter at the end which shows they had a great time making this album. I didn’t rate Goldfish Bowl either when it came out in 2003 but Van must think we weren’t listening properly and has re-recorded it here. It is a 7.08-minute romp with all the band showing their skills. One fan said this song was a highlight when it was performed in London last weekend and I can see why now.
Me looking at the album.

Evening Shadows is a song that Van wrote with the late great Acker Bilk. The clarinet of Acker is missing here but that is more than made up for by Troy’s saxophones and Joey’s keyboard skills. Magic Time seems to be a favourite song of Van’s because it has been part of his live repertoire for a long time now. It is an ideal song for the small jazz clubs where Van likes to play. Troy and Van excel themselves on their saxes with this song. I first heard You’re Driving Me Crazy in 1961 when it was a hit for The Temperance Seven. I remember them singing it on The Billy Cotton Band Show. It was written in 1930 and has been recorded by dozens of people since. You can hear Van laughing with pleasure during this song after a solo by Dan. Everyday I Have The Blues is a song made famous by Peter Chatman better known as Memphis Slim although most people probably know the version by B.B. King. This version by Van and Joey is great and the enjoyment they had recording it is apparent at the end when Van exclaims, “I gotta hear this stuff”. Have I Told You Lately is one of Van’s greatest and most famous songs, but I have never been enamoured with the faster ‘Las Vegas’ arrangement that he has often performed live. I do like this version though with Shana joining in on vocals and the exquisite guitar playing of Dan Wilson. Sticks And Stones was written by Titus Turner and was recorded by Ray Charles in 1960. For the final track Van sees what the band can do with his great instrumental Celtic Swing and they don’t let him down. A great way to bring this most enjoyable album to a close.

I have really enjoyed listening to this album today on a rainy Saturday afternoon. All the ensemble obviously enjoyed making the record and their enthusiasm is infectious. I think it will be more than just jazz fans who enjoy this record. A big hand for the band !

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

The Roots Of Van Morrison.

This has been my favourite music of the last week or so. It is a two CD set called The Roots Of Van Morrison, further down the road. A friend told me about it and I ordered a copy. I had to be a bit patient because it had to come from Japan. It was worth the wait because I like all thirty tracks on it. The only small problem is that the sleeve notes are in Japanese but that is a minor consideration.
The first CD is the original versions of all the songs Van covered on his Roll With The Punches album of last year. There are also four bonus tracks. One of the many things I like about Van is that through him I have discovered lots of other music, either by him mentioning other singers in his lyrics or by his cover versions. I knew about the likes of Ray Charles, Sam Cooke and a couple of others from when I was a kid, but I don’t think I would be aware of people like Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Ruth Brown, Bobby Bland, Louis Prima, King Pleasure or Little Walter if it wasn’t for listening to Van. On this first CD I think my personal favourites are Teardrops From My Eyes by Ruth Brown which I don’t think I have heard before and the classic Bring It On Home To Me by Sam Cooke. Every track is great though.

The second CD is a collection of sixteen other songs Van has covered during his long and illustrious career. Some of these songs have been favourites of Van’s live repertoire for decades such as Help Me by Sonny Boy Williamson, It’s All In The Game by Tommy Edwards and I Can’t Stop Loving You by Ray Charles. I love Bobby Bland’s Ain’t Nothing You Can Do. It makes you realise how faithful to the original Van’s version is. I also love the songs by Leadbelly, Hank Williams (See video below) and Louis Prima.  My personal favourite is I Can’t Stop Loving You which takes me right back to hearing it first in about 1960. If you look at the picture of the tracks on this album, then I’m sure you will agree that it is packed with great songs. It shows what good taste in music Van has. I highly recommend this album. You won’t be disappointed.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Album of The Day: The Drifters' Golden Hits.

My album of the day is The Drifters Golden Hits. A couple of weeks ago I was nominated to name ten favourite albums. I was trying to remember what records I liked as a kid and this one came to mind. I bought it in 1968 when it came out and I loved every track on it. I used to play it every morning before going to school. I wondered if it was still available and looked on eBay and there was one copy in the auction. I put in a bid for £4.99 and won it. The package arrived yesterday but I didn’t play it till this morning. I must say that even after fifty years it still sounds magical to me. The Drifters had three different lead vocalists during the period of this album. The first one was Ben E King who sings on There Goes My Baby, Dance With Me, True Love, True Love, This Magic Moment and Save The Last Dance For Me. What I love about this album apart from the great vocalists is the production and the arrangements particularly the use of strings. The first six tracks were produced by Leiber & Stoller.

After Ben E King left in 1960 to pursue a successful solo career he was replaced by the equally talented but tragically doomed Rudy Lewis who sings on I Count The Tears, Some Kind Of Wonderful, Up On The Roof and On Broadway. The album contains songs by some of the greatest songwriters of the era such as Doc Pomus, Mort Shuman, Gerry Goffin & Carole King, Cynthia Weil & Barry Mann and also my Van Morrison buddies will be interested to know that three of the tracks were produced by the legendary Bert Berns who later launched Van on the road to fame and fortune. The day before he was due to record Under The Boardwalk Rudy Lewis was found dead in his hotel room at the age of only 27. No autopsy was carried out, so the cause of death remains a mystery. His vocal duties were taken over by Johnny Moore who also sang on Sand In My Shoes and Saturday Night At The Movies.

The twelve songs on this album only add up to just over half an hour but there are no fillers, every song is great. After this album The Drifters fell off my radar. They had a renaissance of sorts in the UK years later, but I wasn’t interested. They had become a parody of themselves. The songs they recorded in the late 50’s and early 60’s were classics of pop music though and I have really enjoyed listening to them again today.

Monday, March 26, 2018

My Trip To Bath.

Painting Of Bath  by Walter Sickert.

I got up early today, and as the sun was shining I thought I’d go into Bath and see what I could find. It is cheap on the train now that I have a senior citizens rail card. Bath is a splendid city and looked even nicer in the Spring sunshine. One thing I noticed which is a really good idea is that they have turned all the old redundant red telephone boxes into flower displays. They should look amazing in a few weeks time when they have grown a bit more. I wonder if they are doing that in other towns?

The first port of call was the Oxfam Bookshop. It was slim pickings in there, but I was pleased to find a first American edition of The Onion Eaters by J.P. Donleavy which was published in 1971. I first read this book over forty years ago and next to Flann O’Brien I rate Donleavy as the second funniest writer of all time. After that I looked in Mind, Save The Children and British Heart Foundation but didn’t find anything. In the Oxfam shop near Pulteney Bridge though I did find What If Our World Is Their Heaven? , a collection of conversations with Philip K. Dick. That should be a good read. I also bought a CD called Rejoicing In The Hands Of The Golden Empress by Devendra Banhart. I haven’t heard any of his music before, but I have heard good reports of him. I’ll let you know what I think when I have played it a couple of times.

It was in the Dorothy House shop that I really hit pay dirt. I noticed lots of great books in the window. There was even a biography of Van Morrison. It was only £3.50 but I already have that book. I bought a biography of Marianne Faithfull and a nice copy of Like A Rolling Stone which is a Bob Dylan Book by Griel Marcus. Inside the shop I also found a copy of The First Third by Neal Cassady also a biography of Jack Kerouac by Barry Miles.
After that, I decided I had enough of charity shops for one day. On the way back to the station I spent a nice half hour looking at the paintings in the Victoria Art Gallery. There are some fabulous paintings in there by the likes of Gainsborough, Sickert, Peter Blake and many more. It is well worth a visit if you are ever in Bath. I took some photos of a few of them to show you. It is free to go in, but you can make a donation if you want.

I was feeling a bit tired now, so I bought a glass of cider and sat outside a pub for a bit, enjoying the sunshine and watching the world go by. Then I caught the train back to Westbury after a most enjoyable few hours in Bath.
By Peter Blake.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

A Rainbow In Curved Air.

Sorry I haven’t written anything for two weeks. I have been away a bit and also a bit lazy. I thought I’d try and write something today to get back in the habit of it. The weekend before last I went up north to visit an old friend in Wigan. I had never been there before. It was quite interesting. I saw Wigan Pier which was made famous by George Orwell in his book The Road To Wigan Pier although I must confess that it is one of his books that I haven’t read. I also went to my first ever Rugby League game which was Wigan v Wakefield Trinity. That was quite exciting, and I understood the game a lot better afterwards.

A lot of last week was taken up with watching horse racing on the telly from the Cheltenham Festival. I had a bet on every race and only picked a couple of winners. I always used to look forward to this event but the day following the meeting I heard that three horses died in the very last race and six in all at the meeting. I am afraid that this is unacceptable. They should make the sport a lot safer than this. It is the Grand National in a couple of weeks time and I usually organise a sweepstake for my friends, but I think the time has come to call it a day on that.

I got a new CD in the post. It is called A Rainbow In Curved Air by Terry Riley. It was released in 1969. I was watching a programme on BBC4 about minimalism in music and Terry Riley was talking on it and what he was saying made a lot of sense to me so I ordered the album. I quite like it although I have only played it once. I can see how it influenced Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield. Also, apparently Pete Townshend of The Who was a fan of Terry Riley and I can see the influence in parts of Won’t Get Fooled Again. I read that the song Baba O’Riley was named after Terry Riley. Only time will tell if I play the album very often.

The weather has been quite cold and we had more snow so that put paid to any gardening activity for the time being. When it was snowing I tried filming birds in the garden. I’ll see if I can put up a bit of footage of that. Apart from that I haven’t done much. I watched a nice filum on the telly on Sunday night called Brooklyn all about this homesick Irish girl living in New York. I have had a nice copy of the book by Colm Toibin for ages. I enjoyed the film so much that I started reading the book. Whether I get to the end or not now I’ve seen the film is another matter.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Broken Hearts & Dirty Windows.

Storm Emma has been and gone and the Beast from The East has gone back to Siberia. On the news it was all about a Russian spy and his daughter being poisoned in Salisbury which is only down the road from here. I never thought the tentacles of the Kremlin would reach as far as sleepy Wiltshire. Anyway, I can’t be worrying about that, it’s got nothing to do with me. Spring is in the air again, so I thought today was the day to pot some seeds. I got a bag of compost from Davies and I had some packets of seeds from the cheap shop in the High Street. I think they were only fifty pence a packet. Much better than buying plants. This afternoon I potted some Stocks, Lupins, Sweet Williams, Marigolds, Impatiens and Sunflowers. I haven’t got room outside for a greenhouse, so they are in my kitchen window where I can watch them grow over the next few weeks. I’ll put some more on the window sill in the bathroom on another day.

I can multi-task. While I was doing that I was also listening to music. Today it was John Prine Live. This is a great album of nineteen songs that was released in 1988. I first heard of John Prine in 1972 when I bought a compilation album called The New Age Of Atlantic which had two songs I really liked. One was Motel Blues by Loudan Wainwright and the other was Sam Stone by John Prine. I haven’t followed Loudan Wainwright’s career that closely although I know he has written some great songs and I appreciate his connection with Kate & Anna McGarrigle. John Prine has always been around though. I saw him in Finsbury Park in 99 and I love his songs with Iris Dement who I must write something about soon.
This live album is great. John is a story teller as well as a great songwriter and introduces the songs with some funny tales. Bonnie Raitt makes an appearance on Angel From Montgomery. There are funny songs and sad songs. I find Hello In There, a song about ageing especially poignant. I got the title of this story from a line in the song Souvenirs. Other stand out songs for me include Speed Of The Sound Of Loneliness, Mexican Home and Illegal Smile. There isn’t a bad song on the album though. Highly recommended. I have added a video of Sam Stone below if you would like to hear it.

Review: Van Morrison & Joey DeFrancesco, You're Driving Me Crazy.

When I heard that Van Morrison was bringing out a third new album in six months I must admit my first reaction was, “Not another one, yo...