Richard Dyer-Bennet – Lonesome Valley
You may be preparing for Christmas. You may be stuck for a present to get that music loving relative. So, instead of choosing a Christmas song, I’m using this week to write up a few music books I’ve enjoyed this year (though most have not been necessarily published this year).
Continue reading “Going For A Song: ‘Lonesome Valley’”
Chris Mills And The Distant Stars – Blooms
There are those bands and songwriters you love but inexplicably to you no one gets it. I began listening to Chris Mills around 2000 when he released Kiss It Goodbye. I followed his progress, bought the new albums and searched out the old album and EPs, saw the odd show when it made financial sense for him to tour the UK, all the while coming to terms with, and baffled by, that he might never get the recognition I at least thought he deserved. But then in the time after 2005’s wonderfully conceived and executed The Wall to Wall Sessions album, I too lost contact with what he was doing.
Continue reading “Going For A Song: ‘Blooms’”
Ólöf Arnalds – With Tomorrow / I’m On Fire
There is the option when choosing a song to cover, to choose a song that’s written in the opposite gender. This can be extremely effective, or it can be used by scoundrels to give the song an instant novelty to hide the dearth of originality in the cover.* After a few listens to ‘With Tomorrow / I’m On Fire’, Ólöf Arnalds can be filed into the former. The segue from her own ‘With Tomorrow’ into Springsteen’s ‘I’m on Fire’ feels like it has been done with some thought and consideration, and not just because she found it happened to be in the same key.
Continue reading “Going For A Song: ‘With Tomorrow / I’m On Fire’”
Bruce Springsteen – The River
I read something a few weeks ago, that if it hadn’t been for his manager Jon Landau, Bruce Springsteen would have given the song ‘Hungry Heart’ to The Ramones to record. Aside from being a nice piece of rock trivia this has got to be one of the great missed opportunities in music, hasn’t it?
I like Springsteen, have a few albums, but haven’t heard The River, the album ‘Hungry Heart’ is off. But one of my favourite Springsteen songs is ‘The River’, which is on the album as well. It’s a song that shows just how adept Springsteen became at writing those first-person narrative songs*. He was so good, that the craft necessary to do it could be taken for granted, resulting in some maybe assuming these type of songs are easy to write. I don’t think they are.
It’s important that here Springsteen was – as the article says – drawing on family he knew for the source material. The tact necessary to do this is maybe a clue to the sensitivity in the writing, that is as much part of Springsteen as is the type of masculinity which may be seen best to manifest itself in his album artwork. In any case it is this sensitivity that feeds into the ‘The River’, and is that which doesn’t allow it – or any of his other songs which have this perspective – to fall into machismo.
* I don’t want to suggest he is no longer adept, but I’ve not listened to enough Springsteen to not use the past tense here.
Napalm Death – Caught In A Dream
My friend, Sarah, asked me this week what is death metal. “I don’t know anything about it,” she said. “Neither do I,” I replied. This hadn’t stopped me dredging up, from half remembered issues of Kerrang!, and columns by Neil Kulkarni, references to the Norwegian metalers Mayhem and Burzum (“They killed each other,” I said. “Onstage?” “No, in real life.”) and alighting somehow on Napalm Death as an example.* I have always know something about Napalm Death. I could always reel off a few vague facts about them (very short songs, vocalist Barney Greenway, from Birmingham.^) but I have never actually listened to them properly. So, what’s death metal? Really I don’t know. This though is Napalm Death.
* As I’ve tried to make implicit, I understand I was on shaky ground with all my examples.
^ Yes, after checking, I realised I’ve been labouring under a misapprehension.
Low – When I Go Deaf
I was discussing with my friend Eddie, what song would we play to someone who had never heard Low. In turned out both of us had ‘When I Go Deaf’ in mind. Eddie was nicely matter of fact about why: it has “some quite bits, some really loud bits, easily accessible lyrics, just a decent song all round”. I can’t disagree with any of that. (Though I think easily accessible here doesn’t necessarily mean simple). I’d asked him because, after hearing Low’s new album, I’d been listening to a bit more of them than I had done for a while. Their last couple of records hadn’t really captured my attention, but I thought this new one, on the strength of a couple of listens, seemed as good as anything they had done before.
This has happened to me a couple of times. A band I’ve followed for a long time release a couple of albums I like, but don’t really do anything more for me than that. Then they go and release an album that makes me get into them all over again. Without a doubt, since my discussion with Eddie, ‘When I go Deaf’ has been the song I’ve listened to most this week, including a couple of plays of it yesterday. I guess in part it’s because of those “really loud bits” at the end. The guitars make a noise that allows you, despite whatever might be going on to make you feel to the contrary (in and outside of the song), to experience a sense of calm for a bit.
X-Ray Spex – ‘Oh Bondage, Up Yours!’
Could have been the saxophone was anathema to a punk in 76; it doesn’t present itself as an instrument you can just pick up and play. But anyone introduced to punk through ‘Oh Bondage, Up Yours!’ by X-ray Spex wouldn’t be too foolish to think it had been an integral element of the genre. Lara Logic’s playing dismisses any preconceived notions anyone might have of the saxophone as anything like smooth. The sound and tone she achieves is reminiscent of how the saxophone was used on those Little Richard records in the 1950s (‘Tutti Fruitt’, ‘Jenny Jenny’), when it was the solo instrument of choice, before the guitar supplanted it.
Throughout ‘Oh Bondage’ the saxophone is used as a parallel to Poly Styrene’s vocal, just able, by accident or design, to sit alongside, competing at times (I mean, it actually jumps the main vocal by coming in before – the audacity), but always complementing. Logic left, or was sacked (depending on what you read), shortly after recording ‘Oh Bondage’, to be replaced by another sax player, Rudi Thompson. Maybe the mix they found here was too hard to sustain and conceive of again. Indeed, on their album Germfree Adolescents, ‘Oh Bondage’ (the preceding single) was left off. But it is on ‘Oh Bondage, Up Yours!’ they used the saxophone to pursue their own particular goal. And this maybe was something that many hadn’t thought anyone able to do with the saxophone for a long time.