Monday, December 02, 2019

Magic Nights by Christy Moore.

I have purchased a lot of CDs this year in various genres of music, but I think the most enjoyable one of all is the new release from Christy Moore called Magic Nights. It is a 2 CD collection of live recordings made over the past few years. There are 26 songs in all, and I have enjoyed hearing every single one of them.
There is a very attractive booklet with the package in which Christy has written notes about all the songs. I like the way in which he gives full credit to all the songwriters. Apart from the songs by Shane McGowan and Jackson Browne I don’t think I would have been aware of most of these great songs if Christy hadn’t recorded them himself. Also, I like how when he hears a great song, he seems to always ask the writers permission before he records it. There are some great photos in the booklet by Adam Sherwood and Rafal Kostrzewa. Producer Jimmy Higgins and engineer David Meade also deserve a mention for bringing out the best in these live recordings, the sound quality is excellent.

I won’t tell you about every single song in detail or I’ll be here all day, just what I noted down as I listened. I hadn’t heard the opening song Magic Nights In The Lobby Bar before, but I notice it is written by John Spillane & Ger Wolfe. John Spillane is a great singer himself and I discovered his work through Christy recording other songs of his. Matty is a favourite song that I first heard on a cd in Joyce’s Bar in Kiltimagh about 20 years ago. Poor old Matty comes to a bad end when he meets his ‘dark familiar’ down the ‘curra line’. Sonny’s Dream I first heard on the Ride On album 35 years ago. Ringing That Bell is a relatively new song to me that I heard back in the summer at the Royal Festival Hall and it is that performance that is included here. What a great song it is. A Pair Of Brown Eyes is one of Shane McGowan's greatest songs.

Sail On Jimmy is another song that I heard at the RFH. It is hilarious and audiences love it. Burning Times by contrast is a very serious song that Christy now dedicates to Lyra McKee who died in the cruellest way earlier this year. The Tuam Beat is a great fun song that I was introduced to by the Saw Doctors. Back Home In Derry was written by the late Bobby Sands. I have never heard Rosalita And Jack Campbell before but it’s a great song with a western feel to it with tragedy and humour combined. I didn’t know about the story behind Duffy’s Cut until yesterday when I looked it up on Wikipedia. It is about 57 Irish workers who died building a railroad in the USA in 1832. They may have died of cholera or might have been murdered. Whatever the reason it is a tragic story. Motherland is a song by Natalie Merchant and Spancil Hill is a song that Christy  recorded in 1971 that has returned to his repertoire in recent years.

The second half begins with Before The Deluge. Listening to this song always reminds me of watching Christy in the pouring rain at Glastonbury 2004. The Two Conneeleys  is a very moving true story that Christy turned into song with Wally Page. Missing You is another song that I heard in London and seemed very appropriate to the big city. Cry Like A Man is a song that I have never heard sung live before and I must confess I had forgotten about. Reel In The Flickering Light by contrast is one of my all time favourite Christy songs. Veronica tells the story of the journalist Veronica Guerin and is another of Christy’s songs that show his deep social conscience. Johnny Jump Up was the first Christy song I ever heard, back in the 1970s, so it is great to hear it again. Inchicore Wake is a new song to me. It is written by Pete St John who is best known for writing The Fields Of Athenry. Tipping It Up To Nancy is a great fun song ably assisted by Jimmy Higgins, Seamie O’Dowd, Cathal Hayden & Mairtin O’Connor. Like Johnny Jump Up I first heard Only Our Rivers Run Free on a compilation album in the 1970s called All The Folk That Fits when it was sung by Planxty. I just saw on Amazon that copies of that album are worth £50 now. Hurt is a song that has become associated with Johnny Cash, but I like Christy’s version just as much. The Well Below The Valley is a Christy solo classic. The album ends with the wonderful Mandolin Mountain from the recent album called Lily.
I have loved listening to this collection of songs. Christy’s voice sounds as good as ever to me and lets not forget the little crew of musicians who help out on this album Declan,Jimmy, Cathal, Mairtin, Seamie, Vickie & Joleen. Thank you very much Christy for this great album.
PS, I hope Adam & Rafal don't mind me using their photos in this review.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Review: Rhiannon Giddens with Francesco Turrisi, Bath Forum 2019.

I have seen some great concerts at Bath Forum over the past few years, and I think last night’s show with Rhiannon Giddens and Francesco Turrisi was as enjoyable as any of them. The concert began at 7.30 and Rhiannon & Francesco were joined on stage by Jason Sypher who was excellent on upright bass all evening. The opening song was Ten Thousand Voices from their brilliant recent album There Is No Other which I reviewed back in July. Rhiannon played violin and Francesco was on accordion. I think Rhiannon has one of the most perfect singing voices I have ever heard. She was classically trained as an opera singer at the Oberlin Conservatory, so she knows how to project her voice, it is amazing.
Following The North Star from her solo album Freedom Highway followed. I had never heard this track before. It is an instrumental with banjo and hand drum. Francesco had a whole battery of percussion instruments which he introduced to us as the evening progressed. Gonna Write Me A Letter was next from the new album. This was followed by Briggs Forro which she informed us she had discovered in a book from 1855 called Briggs Banjo Tutor. It was a very educational evening because they explained the history of the songs and the instruments.

I think the most moving song of the evening was At The Purchaser’s Option. Rhiannon wrote this song after seeing an advert from a 19th century newspaper for a female slave who was being sold. She had a baby, so they could be sold separately or together at the purchaser’s option. The traditional ballad Wayfaring Stranger was next, and the first half of the show ended with the very lively song in the Puglia dialect Pizzica Di San Vito.
During the interval I had a look at the merchandise stall and bought a CD that Rhiannon released in 2007 with her band Carolina Chocolate Drops called Heritage, so now I have two albums by a singer I hadn’t heard of six months ago. I have been listening to the Chocolate Drops album this morning and it is great.

I didn’t know the titles of all the songs and tunes in the second half, so I’ll just tell you what I remember as highlights for me. Rhiannon sang a sad aria by Purcell from the opera Dido & Aeneas which made full use of her opera training and she was accompanied by Francesco on piano. Another highlight for me was a song made famous by Ethel Waters in the 1930s called Underneath A Harlem Moon. I’m On My Way was also brilliant. The sound produced by just a banjo and hand drum is unbelievable. I’ll never look the same way at the humble tambourine again after hearing Francesco play a solo on one. This led into the Irish song Molly Branigan in which Rhiannon’s vocal pyrotechnics were on full display. It was mesmerising. Rhiannon made a little speech thanking the audience for coming along which showed what a nice person she is and then sang the very spiritual He Will See You Through. All three left the stage to tumultuous applause.

We knew they would be back for an encore which was Lonesome Road/Up Above My Head which became a call and response medley with full audience participation which brought a wonderful concert to a close. Thank you very much Rhiannon Giddens, Francesco Turrisi & Jason Sypher for a great evening.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Review: Van Morrison, Three Chords & The Truth.

Three Chords & The Truth is the fifth album Van Morrison has released since the excellent Keep Me Singing in 2016 and in many ways those two albums are  companions. Even the tasteful artwork on the sleeve is the work of the same person. Van’s previous four albums have been ‘genre’ type albums of jazz and blues explorations, collaborations and cover versions which haven’t always been to the taste of some fans. I think most fans will enjoy this collection of new songs all written by Van. One song is co-written with Don Black who also wrote the lyrics to a song on Keep Me Singing. Let’s have a look at the songs.
The opening track March Winds in February features American musicians who Van has worked with in the past John Allair, Jay Berliner, David Hayes and Bobby Ruggerio, plus Dave Keary and Teena Lyle from Van’s regular touring band. The song is a sketch of a moment in time which is a device Van has used before in such songs as Snow In Anselmo or more recently Going Down To Monte Carlo. There is no doubt that Van’s voice is still as good as ever. Some other  singers from the 60’s just can’t sing anymore, but Van certainly can. At certain points, such as when he sings the title words his voice is reminiscent of the Period of Transition era. The melody reminds me of Into the Mystery from Poetic Champions. This song is more like into the Mistral which is the cold wind that blows in the south of France in the winter. Van obviously finds the seaside inspirational. He always plays dates in seaside resorts when he can.

The second song Fame Will Eat the Soul features the same band plus Bill Medley who sings a duet with Van. It was recorded in Las Vegas. Bill Medley recorded some of the greatest songs in popular music with the Righteous Brothers, but sadly I don’t feel he adds much to this song. Chris Farlowe would have sounded just as good and probably been easier to hire. I like John Allair’s organ playing but I think it is one of the weaker songs on the album. Dark Night of The Soul is a vast improvement. This song features some of his old friends from South Wales, Start McIlroy, Pete Hurley, Colin Griffin & Richard Dunn. I love the rich sound of the Hammond organ on this song. Dark night of the soul is an expression that Van has used before in his lyrics. Lots of other phrases he has used previously are recycled throughout this album such as ‘Start breaking down’, ‘get off the merry go round’, ‘plans of mice and men’, ‘brand new day’ etc.

Some fans have said that In Search of Grace is one of the weakest songs on the album, but I like it. That shows that everybody’s opinion is subjective and personal and equally valid. Van isn’t referring to an actual person called Grace, he is searching for the spiritual state of grace which has been lost. Grace has appeared in previous songs such as Joyous Sound, Once in A Blue Moon and of course By His Grace. I love the delicate acoustic guitar of Jay Berliner. The song shows Van is still on a spiritual quest which he has been all his life. I’m pleased about that because it was the spiritual nature of Van’s music that drew me into it to begin with. There are a couple of books called In Search Of Grace. I wonder if Van might have been inspired by one of them?  
“Music is spiritual, the music business isn’t”, Van once famously said. That might be why his songs seem to be divided between, music uplifting the spirit, or railing against corrupt operators which is the subject matter of Nobody in Charge. It is a very angry song without being specific about what he is complaining about. There is one line I like though about ‘media implantation rules the day’. That is spot-on as far as I can see. The lazy population being brain-washed by the tax dodging media barons who are telling them how to think because they can’t think for themselves. (I better stop there, or this review will turn into a political rant!) You Don’t Understand is even angrier. Many people have noticed the similarity to Ballad of a Thin Man by Bob Dylan. The band are stripped down to Paul Moran, Jeremy Brown and Bobby Ruggerio. It has a bluesy gothic feel to it which has echoes of St James Infirmary as well. The eerie haunting organ sound of Paul Moran is very effective and reminiscent of Al Kooper. Paranoia strikes deep with human nature not being trusted and people working in the dark and making you a ‘mark’. I wonder if Van wrote it in answer to journalist’s questions as Dylan did? Something is happening here, and you don’t understand, do you Mr Jones?
Read Between the Lines is much lighter and upbeat. The message seems to be about finding out the truth in these days of fake news. For me it is one of the lesser songs here. Does Love Conquer All? Is the question Van asks in the next song and he seems unsure of the answer. If in any doubt keep the enemy out, seems to be the idea. Early Days is a nostalgic fun song about the early days of rock n roll which we first heard live on Monday night. I love the Jerry Lee Lewis style piano playing of Stuart McIlroy and Van’s saxophone playing.
If We Wait for Mountains is Van’s collaboration with lyricist Don Black. Why one of the greatest songwriters in history feels the need for a lyricist at this stage of his career I don’t know. Maybe at the time he met Don Black he was going through a period of writer’s block and searching for inspiration. It is a very sentimental song about appreciating the simple things in life. The kind of song which will be popular with Radio 2 listeners but veering towards easy listening.
Up on Broadway is possibly my favourite song on the album. The Broadway in question is in San Francisco and I feel it is a companion song to In Tiburon from Keep Me Singing with its references to North Beach and City Lights. Van seems to like that area and its association with the Beat Generation. Three Chords and The Truth is a shot of rhythm and blues. It is another song about the early days of rock n roll when his old friend Lonnie Donegan was king. There is great guitar and piano playing here. Bags Under My Eyes is a humorous tongue in cheek fun song about life on the road for a musician. There is some very nice country style guitar and harmonica playing and even a yodel right at the end.
Broadway San Francisco.

Days Gone By
is the final track on this album. It reminds me slightly of Behind the Ritual from the Keep It Simple album. Basically, Van has taken Auld Lang Syne and put new lyrics and a new arrangement to it. I’m sure this will get a lot of play on New Year’s Eve. It would be great if Van performs this song live. It has lots of scope for ad libbing and improvising. I get the feeling that a lot of the words were dreamed up spontaneously live in the studio. When I heard the line about ‘Carry my child on my back across the river’ It reminded me of the story of St Christopher. He has sung that part before in live versions of Into the Mystic. Van seems to carry images in his head for years sometimes before they emerge into songs, often religious images such as holy guardian angels for instance.
I think this is a very satisfying album indeed. Certainly, for me it is the best one since Keep Me Singing. A nice addition to Van’s great body of work. It will have its critics no doubt, but I think for a musician aged 74 after a career of nearly 60 years to be able to produce work of this standard is quite remarkable and I’m sure there will be even more great work to come from Mr Van Morrison in the not too distant future.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Review: Van Morrison in Bournemouth 21/10/ 2019.

The big day had arrived. Five long months had gone by since that sunny evening in the city of Bath when I last saw a Van Morrison concert. It was time for another appointment with the Celtic Soul Brother. I caught the 11.01 train from Westbury on a golden autumn day and arrived in Bournemouth too early to check into the Hermitage hotel. I had a look at the concert venue which was on the bright side of the road across from the hotel because you never know who might be hanging about. Then I went for a walk along the sea front and the pier to pass the time and smell the sea and feel the sky. It’s nice in Bournemouth.
Back at the hotel it was great to meet Nell again who had come all the way from Canberra, Australia for all four Van shows on this mini tour. It was nice to meet Maryann for the first time as well from New York. Later, we were joined by Jane from Oxford and Fumiko from Guildford and Julien from France who I hadn’t met before. It was a nice little multinational gathering of Van fans. There are no frontiers in Vanland. We raised a glass to two Van fan friends who had sadly passed away recently, Birgit and Stewie. 
'Neath October skies.

Also, we had a toast to Jack Kerouac because Monday was the 50th anniversary of his death. He is mentioned in three Van songs and I wondered if Van might acknowledge that later, but he didn’t. It was nice of  Teena Lyle from Van's band to take time out from her busy day and come and join us for a while. What a wonderful lady she is.
The time flew by and it was time to walk down the avenue again. We had time for one drink and a sandwich before it was show time. We had good seats in Row H. Sitting near us I spotted two old Van fan friends Tom & Sandra who I hadn’t seen for ages. Out of consideration for the people behind me I took off my hat and put it under my chair (more about that later!) 
Me, Julien, Jane, Fumiko, Maryann & Nell.

Right on time at 8.00 the band shuffled on stage. It was the usual band of Teena Lyle, Dana Masters, Mez Clough, Paul Moore, Dave Keary & Paul Moran. They were soon joined by Van wearing his saxophone. The first number was Gonna Send You Back To Where I got You From. It is a song from Van’s recent album The Prophet Speaks. It was originally recorded by Eddie ‘Cleanhead’ Vinson. It’s not one of my favourite Van songs but ok to start the show with. I really enjoyed the next song which I first heard performed live in Bath. It is It Once Was My Life from the Healing Game album. Then Van put on his guitar and treated us to an all time Van classic song St Dominic’s Preview. For me that was one of the highlights of the evening. Van has slightly changed some lyrics to ‘And Warner Brothers are still drinking my wine’. This was followed by a medley of Baby Please Don’t Go/ Parchman Farm. This has been part of the repertoire for quite a few years now. The next song was the title track from Van’s Roll With The Punches album of a couple of years ago.
Fumiko, Julien, Teena, Maryann, Me.

The audience all applauded when they recognised one of Van’s best-known songs Days Like This. I have heard it so often it has lost his impact a bit on me. I can’t complain though because it is a great song. Then Van announced that he has a new album coming out on Friday and played two new songs from it, Early Days and the title track 3 Chords & The Truth. It was great to hear some new songs. The first one had a kind of rockabilly flavour which brought out all of Dave Keary’s guitar skills and the other is a shot of rhythm & blues. I am looking forward to the new album. Watch this space for a review in a few days’ time. I have heard great reports of it. Then it was a return to the back catalogue for Magic Time and Moondance. The crowd cheered when they realised it was Moondance but I have heard it too often. I liked Teena’s contribution though, she always seems to be enjoying herself on stage. She also played a starring role in the next song Broken Record. I enjoyed Spirit Will Provide which I think is one of Van’s best songs of recent years. I am afraid though that I have heard his duet with Dana of Have I Told You Lately? too often. Another song from The Prophet Speaks was Ain’t Gonna Moan No More which was quite good but not great. The duet of Sometimes We Cry was good until the audience almost ruined the ending by cheering and applauding. Van stopped and said, “Anyone heard of Johnny Ray? This is it” and completed the song. I don’t like the next song Symphony Sid much but then Van said, “Ok, Ray Charles” and sang I Believe To My Soul which I loved. I usually enjoy the transcendental brilliance of In The Afternoon/Ancient Highway/ Sitting Pretty which puts Van in a class of his own. During this song though some bloke decided to go to the toilet, and we all had to stand up to let him go by and about four minutes later he came back again. Why can’t people have the consideration to at least wait until the end of a song before disturbing everyone? The next song was The Party’s Over which Van seems to enjoy playing. He made the rhythm section of Paul Moore and Mez start again, I don’t think he was quite happy with the timing. Then it was the usual crowd-pleasing Brown Eyed Girl  and Gloria. Van left the stage and the band played on as I prepared to leave.
Maryann's new t-shirt.

Remember my hat which I had put under my seat? I reached under my seat for it and it was soaking wet and stinking of beer. Someone behind me had kicked over a drink and drenched my hat. That put me in a really bad mood I can tell you. Anyway, we all met up outside afterwards. We wanted to go to a restaurant and tried three of them, but they had all stopped serving. It wasn’t even 10 o’clock. What is wrong with this country? In the end we all went back to the hotel and ordered sandwiches from room service and a drink and I cheered up and forgot about the hat incident. It wasn’t the greatest ever Van concert but still good and when you meet up with such great friends it always makes every Van Morrison concert worthwhile.

                                                        THE END.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Quite A Nice Day.

It was a nice sunny dry October day, so I thought I should get out and about. I caught the bus over to Warminster to meet a friend. Unfortunately, I forgot to bring my bus pass which was a bit annoying because it cost me a fiver to travel both ways. Anyway, I put that disappointment behind me. I was a bit early when I arrived, and I passed the time browsing in the music shop which we are very lucky to have in this day and age. I didn’t know what to buy but I felt obliged to buy something as I had been in there about half an hour. I wanted something by somebody new that I hadn’t heard before. I ummed and aahed for ages and finally bought a CD by Joanna Newsom called Divers. I have heard great reports of her and she has been described as psychedelic folk which I like the sound of. I liked the picture of her on the back of the cd which was the deciding factor in buying it as well. I haven’t played it yet, but I’ll write a review when I have time and tell you all about it.

I had spent so much time in the shop that I was now late. I scurried across the road to Spoons where my friend was waiting. She was annoyed at me for being late, but soon cheered up when I bought a bottle of wine. We sat out the back and enjoyed the autumn sunshine. The time flew by and two large glasses of chardonnay later we were back at the bus stop. After she departed, I still had 16 minutes to wait for my bus, so I went in the Blue Cross charity shop. I found a nice first edition SIGNED! book called The White Book by Han Kang. I must admit that I had never heard of her before, but I had a feeling it was a bit special, so I bought it. When I got home I looked her up in Wikipedia and was pleased to find that she is a Korean writer with a high literary reputation who has won the Booker International prize in recent years. That was a good find. Book hunting is like gold mining. I’ll put the book in my bookshop in the next few days. I might even read it if I have time. Also, when I looked at my emails, I found I had sold two books which was great. That paid for my bus fare, the wine and my cd. What goes around, comes around as they say. I’ll post those books in the morning. After that I had a nice nap. Then I went to the pub for an hour. This evening I listened to the BBC Folk Awards show on the radio. Then I thought I’d write a little blog, which is this. All things considered it had been quite a nice day.
Joanna Newsom.

Magic Nights by Christy Moore.

I have purchased a lot of CDs this year in various genres of music, but I think the most enjoyable one of all is the new release from Ch...