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.

John Prine - Sam Stone

Sunday, March 04, 2018

Oblivious by Mick Blake

A Facebook friend nominated me to come up with a playlist of ten albums over ten days. He seems to like the folk music, so I’ll try and think of ten albums that he might like. This cold Sunday afternoon I have been listening to Oblivious by Mick Blake. I first heard of Mick Blake two years ago at a Christy Moore concert when Christy sang a song called Oblivious which I had never heard before. After the gig I asked a friend Hilary who wrote the song and she told me it was Mick Blake.
I bought Mick’s album when it was released on St Patrick’s Day last year and I meant to write a review of it at the time but somehow I never did until today. I think the first thing to say it that this album won’t appeal to everyone. Listeners who just want to be entertained and hear love songs and humorous ditties will be disappointed. The songs on this album carry a powerful political message and are designed to give people something to think about. When the CD arrived in the post I was quite struck by the cover design. It is called White Horses by Kim Haughton and depicts two horses in front of some half-built houses where the work has stopped, during the crash of 2008 no doubt. I was pleased to see that Mick had signed the CD for me which was good of him.
The title track Oblivious is the first song and I can see why Christy Moore was drawn to it. This song and others on the album are concerned with how the dreams of those who struggled for Irish independence 100 years ago have been squandered by the politicians of today. I particularly liked Catch Cries because it is inspired by the poetry of W.B. Yeats especially September 1913 and The Fisherman. One verse includes a recording of Yeats himself reading a section of September 1913. The Rich Man’s Feast  is a well-researched song which refers to how a Turkish sultan and the Chocktaw nation tried to assist the people during the famine, much to the annoyance of Queen Victoria and how the modern neo-liberal idea that nothing must interfere with the markets is making history repeat itself. Heaven is a very moving song about suicide and tries to give a message of hope. The Giveaway is sung with ironic dark humour and is about how the countries assets are given away to foreign interests, even the children, who are educated but have to go abroad to find work. Also, how the airports are used by foreign military although Ireland is supposed to be neutral. Purple Ribbons is the true story of Mary Boyle who went missing in 1977 aged only six. She is Irelands youngest missing person. Some people may find the song quite difficult to listen to. I think Mick might have been inspired to write it as an appeal for justice and to keep it in the public awareness because somebody knows the truth about what happened. Sean MacDiarmada was an Irish political activist and revolutionary leader. He was one of the seven leaders of the Easter Rising of 1916 and was a signatory of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic and was executed for his part in the Rising at age 33. He is the subject of a song on this album because the injustices that he saw in Leitrim such as evictions and bailiffs have returned in the modern age. Another Child Another War  begins with the story of Anne Frank and then the cruel irony of children dying in Palestine. Mr Tepper like The Giveaway uses dark humour to illustrate a serious issue. It begins with a recording of Mr Tepper himself bragging about his ill-gotten gains on Bloomberg TV. The final song is Leitrim (A brief history) and compares how the warnings about the famine were ignored and how the warnings about the Celtic Tiger economy were ignored as well. 

That brings me to the end of this review. Although Mick Blake has used the problems of Ireland as his subject I think we can see that it applies to Britain and other countries as well. Just look how great institutions such as the NHS are being sold off by stealth to privatisation. I better stop now, or I’ll start a political rant. You could go on and on. There is plenty of food for thought on this album, that's for sure. I have put a video of Mick singing one of his songs below if you would like to hear it.

Oblivious - mick blake

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Who Could Love You More - The Lost Brothers

Trails Of The Lonely By The Lost Brothers.

Brrrh, the Beast from the East has arrived In Westbury. That is the cold weather from Russia. I just ventured out to go to the bank and the shops and it felt like -10 C. I’m back home in the warm now. Blizzards are predicted for later in the week. I can’t believe I was outside digging the garden in the sunshine just a few days ago. I have put plenty of food out for my feathered friends so they don’t perish in the cold.
I’m listening to a CD by The Lost Brothers called Trails Of The Lonely. I saw them at Glastonbury in the Acoustic Tent about three years ago. I think I only listened to them because it was raining outside. They sounded quite pleasant, but I must admit I forgot all about them afterwards, until a couple of weeks ago when I read a glowing review of their latest album in one of the music mags. I had a look on eBay and found a promotional copy of their first album from 2008 for only £2.99 so I bought it and that’s what I’m listening to at this very moment.

If you haven’t heard of them before, they are a duo from Ireland consisting of Mark McCausland and Oisin Leech. They got together in 2008 and have made five albums since then. The one I am listening to was their first, released in 2008. It was recorded in the attic of a house in Portland Oregon. As soon as I heard the first track Angry At The Sun I immediately thought of early Simon & Garfunkel. I was most impressed. Fallen is the second song and has a bigger arrangement and sound with a string driven backing. Ribbons And Bows has a singalong feel with drums to the fore and a very live atmosphere. City Of The Rose is one of the stand out tracks and has a ghost like quality which pervades the whole album. I think the house where the album was recorded must have been haunted, or the band thought it was. No Tears For November is another quality song with lots of rhyming going on, probably a stream of consciousness type of song. Refuge is a dreamlike love song with a lazy days of summer feel to it. Trails Of The Lonely, Part 1 is next and is an instrumental, Part 3 comes later, there is no part 2. Mary In The Morning is a charming love song with whistling accompaniment. Wake Me Up has more whistling as an intro and you wouldn’t think the singers were Irish because the album sounds very American to my ears. Under The Turquoise Sky is a sad song which fades away nicely at the end. Last Day On The Job is a great song about a broken hearted clown. It reminds me of something else, but I can’t think what it is at the moment. Dream No More continues the laid-back vibe of the album and has a country feel to it. Joker Ghost Laughing Track shows the fact that they are Irish because it is interrupted with them laughing and talking about the door mysteriously opening on its own. Who Could Love You More is another very laid-back love song. The final song is That’s Just Me which just like the opening track brings me back to Simon And Garfunkel. It is a beautiful way to end a very nice album.

I have really enjoyed listening to this album on a bitterly cold February afternoon. I might buy another Lost Brothers CD to see how they have progressed over the ten years since this first album was released. The last Irish duo who impressed me this much were Tir Na Nog and I think the Lost Brothers might be just as great as them.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Further Adventures Of Charles Westover by Del Shannon.

I had never heard of this album until a few days ago. A muso friend of mine who really knows his stuff read my review of Blossom Toes and suggested that if I wanted to hear another lost gem from that era then I should check out The Further Adventures Of Charles Westover by Del Shannon which was released in 1968. I looked on eBay and there was one copy available in Britain which I bought. It dropped through my letter box yesterday morning. I know what you are thinking, who the hell is Charles Westover? well that was Del Shannon’s real name. The CD which arrived was released in 1998 and as well as the original album it also contains eight bonus tracks. I think it is a British release because the liner notes include the address of the British fan club and all the photos in the booklet were taken in Britain. Del Shannon was always more popular in Britain than his native USA.

I had previously never bought a Del Shannon recording in my life. Everyone knows his great classic hits of the early 60’s though such as Runaway, Hats Off To Larry, Swiss Maid & Little Town Flirt. I remember seeing him on Top Of The Pops singing Keep Searchin’ which I think was his last UK hit in 1964. With the arrival of The Beatles & The Stones, Del Shannon and many other artists of his era entered the wilderness years. The Beach Boys & Bob Dylan were among the few American acts who could compete with the UK invasion. The Charles Westover album was an attempt to re-invent himself for the psychedelic era.
Thinkin’ It Over is the first track and it was released as a single in 1968. This CD was remastered from the original master tapes and I don’t know why, but it seems to make some of the backing orchestration sound fuzzy to me which put me off a bit. There isn’t that problem with any other track. Be My Friend is a bluesy song with great harmonica. Del’s vocals are different to what you would expect, there isn’t the falsetto singing we are used to. Silver Birch is an epic doom-laden song about a wedding that never took place. It is heavily orchestrated with trumpets and a choir. It could have been a bit longer I think. Shades of McArthur Park by Richard Harris maybe, or other great songs of the era. I Think I Love You is very psychedelic without being gimmicky. Del uses the sound of the time to illustrate the songs. Some music of the late 60’s was whimsical just for the sake of it, not so with this album. There are cellos and violins and driving guitars. The song seems to be a protest against bourgeois values. River Cool starts with nice guitar picking and then electronic keyboard but is one of the lesser songs in my opinion. Colour Flaming Hair  is a strange song about a night visitation with lush arrangements of violins which remind me of The Beatles or ELO. Gemini is another song which was released as a single without success. It is a great song though. Running On Back was the B-Side to a single. Maybe this song was slightly ahead of it’s time. It seems a little bit reminiscent of when psychedelic turned to underground rock. It is quite heavy with guitars, keyboards and drums. I like the false ending and the distortion. On first listen Conquer reminded me of the Bee Gees song To Love Somebody. It is a song about someone who is suffering with depression. That is a subject Del Shannon was well acquainted with. Been So Long was co-written with Brian Hyland. It is a rocker but isn’t that great. It grinds to a halt at the end. At the beginning of Magical Musical Box you can hear someone winding it up and then the music box playing. This is excellent, possibly my favourite track. It exactly captures the era in which it was recorded. Spacey vocals and violins in abundance make it a wonderful song. New Orleans brings the album to an epic conclusion. Dr John the Gris-Gris man came into my head on hearing this and Walk On Gilded Splinters. Maybe that is just the New Orleans connection though. There are all sorts of things going on in this song. I love it.

That brings the original album to an end but then there are eight bonus tracks. I must say I love Del’s version of What’s A Matter Baby. I have put it below if you want to hear it. It was originally a hit for Timi Yuro in the USA but I think Del’s version is just as good. All of the bonus tracks are great. Others I particularly like are the re-working of Runaway, The House Where Nobody Lives and You Don’t Love Me. Sadly, although the fans and the critics liked this album it didn’t restore Del Shannon’s fortunes and he never re-captured his glory days of the early 60’s when he topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic. He slowly succumbed to alcoholism and depression and took his own life in 1990. I’m glad I got to hear this album  and although I don’t think it is one of the best albums ever, there are some great songs on it. It is well worth checking out if you haven’t heard it before.

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 da...