Posted: January 14, 2014 in Uncategorized

OK.

The only way this is going to work is if I post now and then about a new track, or two, or more as time and intention allow.

I will listen to new releases as time allows. Each week I’ll put up a post about what I’m listening to, and edit that post as the week progresses. There will be an accompanying Spotify playlist.  I’ll add the songs that interest me the most, for whatever reason, and comment on them as time allows. I might not comment on all the songs on the list.  I might not like all the songs on the list, but I will comment on the ones I don’t.

Even while this site was dark, I was  collecting an unwieldy playlist of music that I liked this year. As I’m sure you will detect, there were time periods where I was more able to go exploring musically, and times when I could not. Also, this list needs some pruning. I’ll continue to add and subtract as we go through the final quarter of the year..

Click the link for The Song List 2015.

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David Bowie 1947 – 2016

Posted: January 11, 2016 in Uncategorized

Just knocked back in the driver’s seat on the school run with the news that David Bowie died of the cancer no one knew he had. In his Ziggy Stardust days he once claimed that he wanted to die by being killed onstage, one of those things that are said to get attention when one is young, I suppose. In a way he did die on stage, as his last album was released only last Friday.

I was in high school when Ziggy Stardust came out, but I was in college before I really listened to it—with the exception of “Space Oddity” and “Changes”, which were on the radio, he wasn’t an initial part of my environment. There was a point shortly after that when I could play the entire “Rise and Fall” album on guitar.

For me, the period from his previous album (“Hunky Dory”) through to 1980’s “Scary Monsters” was a time when I looked forward to each release as I did for few others, knowing that whether I liked what I heard or didn’t it would always be fresh and interesting. He changed musical styles nearly as often as he changed his clothes, and with few exceptions it resonated with me.

Thank you for the music and all the theatricality that went with it.

I’ve created an assortment of Bowie Tracks on Spotify. Not a definitive list (there are a plethora of greatest hits albums out there) but a few well known and not so well known tracks I’ve liked over the years. Most of them are his own. “My Death” is a Jacques Brel song performed live and “Wild is the Wind” was written by Dimitri Tiomkin and Ned Washington and originally recorded by Johnny Mathis in 1957 as the title track for a film.

First, here’s the link to the playlist: What I’m Listening To 28/09/2015.

And here’s what’s on it:

Women of a certain Age – Arcade Fire is getting more mileage out of “Reflektor” by releasing the third half of the two-disc set. This song has a kind of a left-of center, Indi-reggae feel to it. It’s OK, might be a grower. I’d listen to it again.

When I was a Boy –– Ohhh, it’s Jeff Lynne’s ELO now, is it? Uh, Jeff, it’s been officially your ELO since co-founder Bev Bevan retired 15 years ago, and even before that you were usually the first person everyone thought of in connection with Electric Light Orchestra. So now that you’re putting out ELO’s first new album in 15 years, why are you using a name that makes you sound like your own tribute band?

OK, I can hear the essential elements of a successful trademark ELO track, but it’s yet another song about yearning for the good old days that too many geezers put out too often. It’s a little more rueful than I prefer my ELO. Hopefully there will be some livelier tracks on the album.

People on the High Line – Much more infectious in the elder statesmen category is this new track from New Order. Sounds like a return to the disco days, bopping synths, busy piano chords and seductive sirens on the background vocals. Whether I get anything else out of this remains to be seen, but it’s easy on the ear and easy to dance to. Add this to your party mix.

Singularity – Might as well get the other New Order song up while I’m here. This one is a bit harder, heavier, and darker, relatively speaking. It’s still a New order dance track, although it breaks down perhaps a bit too much for a party towards the end before kicking back in again. Anyway, if you liked them before, you’ll like them now.

No One Can Tell – I have to say I like this Youth Lagoon song right off the bat, which is interesting because, to a large extent, this modern psychedelic trend seems less than inspiring to me. I should also point out that I have not listened to much Youth Lagoon. I’m almost positive I listened to Wondrous Bughouse at least once. I don’t recall any of it but, hey, I listen to a lot of music.

I reckon I might remember this track.  This mid-tempo pop song has enough going on melodically and lyrically to hold interest while staying in a recognizable form. The production keeps the song moving while adding some clever rhythm’s and breakdowns that serve the song well without getting in the way. Based on this track, I’d be interested in hearing the rest of “Savage Hills Ballroom”, the album it’s taken from.

War in Peace – Don’t you know I’m going to listen to a band named Sexwitch at least once. Turns out it’s a collaboration between Toy and Bat for Lashes’ Natasha Khan. I haven’t listened to Bat for Lashes, but I spent too long last year trying to like Toy’s “Join the Dots” album. Well, nevermind, let’s give it a chance…

The Guardian said Sexwitch‘s tracks were “hypnotic, groove-based tracks that feature jagged post-punk guitars” and “shrieking crescendos”. That lowered my expectations to expect noise so I was pleasantly surprised when I got music. It certainly has that experimental edge to it, not a million miles away from Siouxsie Sioux or some of Bjork’s material. I like it better than Toy on their own anyway.

I’d listen to it again, but I appreciate that it might not be to everyone’s taste.

‘Cause I’m a Man – HAIM Remix – Nice try HAIM and I won’t hold it against you but, sorry Tame Impala, I still don’t like it.

Psycho – Muse is a band that can sound credibly hard and heavy on one level while still sounding like a pop band, kind of like Green Day sometimes does, only smoother. I have a rational argument against that, but this track kind of works for me, so maybe I shouldn’t complain. The sampled boot camp dialog I could do without. Is that “Full Metal Jacket”? That or something similar.

Helelyos – On first listen I think I like this Sexwitch track better than War in Peace, with its hypnotic rhythm perfect for dancing with abandon in the moonlight. It will take a few listens to determine whether this is just an infatuation.

Crosswords – I wasn’t altogether certain whether I’d even be able to distinguish between this EP remix of one of Panda Bear’s most melodic tracks from his latest multi-layered electronic album “Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper”, but there does seem to be just a little ping-pong delay on the rhythmic clacking and an even more pronounced vibrato effect in this version. However, I suspect the production might drive me a bit crazy with repeated listening, sending me back to the original.

I’m still waiting for something that blows me away as much as his Animal Collective track “My Girls” did, but this will do while I’m waiting.

Writing’s on the Wall – I knew, even before I looked, from just the opening strains. Of course I had to confirm, but it was clear from the start that was the BIG SONG from the opening title sequence of the latest James Bond film. So congratulations Sam Smith, but as with previous such songs in this series, I’ve already heard enough.

It’s that talk Again – Ever since Broken Bells introduced themselves with “The High Road” five years ago, I’ve been hopeful about their releases. Sadly, I’ve yet to hear anything as delicious as their first release. This isn’t a bad song, but it’s not exceptional either, and by next week I might forget what it sounds like. Not too unlike the New Order tracks, but it pales in comparison.

Bad Blood – I’m kind of liking this Ryan Adams track on third listen. It’s a radio-friendly, countryesque pop song that moves along pleasantly enough even though it seems to be about a bad break-up, and has some gentle peaks and valleys to keep it interesting.

Exhibit Diaz – I’ve been ranging from almost to kind-of liking Ibeyl with each new song of theirs I’ve heard this year. I love the vocal sound, and mostly the feel, but there was something with each track that kept it from completely resonating with me. This is the first one I feel like I can say I like without equivocating.

She Used to Be Mine – There’s something bittersweet, simple and scincere about Sara Bareilles ballad that makes this torch song stand out for me. It starts out with a sparse piano arrangement that suits it, but the build-up towards the end works well enough too.

Love Me Like You – This Little Mix track starts out as a fairly typical modern pop song but, hang on, there’s just a hint about halfway through the first verse, then comes the chorus and, BAM, we’re listening to the Ronettes with the Phil Spector wall of sound and it’s 1963 all over again. I’m sure I’m showing my age, but this is going on my list of favourites this week.

Keep You On My Side – This CHVRCHES track has just enough of a 1960s girl group radio vibe that I had to leave it in as a companion piece to Love Me Like You. Enough of a vocal hook to make it memorable to me anyway.

David Grissom How It Feels To FlyDavid Grissom – How it Feels to Fly

Last week I may have undersold David Grissom’s latest Album “How it Feels to Fly” Listening to it again last night I realized the songs were still growing on me. I still stand behind what I said about the instrumentals being my favourite tracks. There’s something about the vocal tracks that reminds me of when Eric Clapton or Dave Mason (the one from Traffic) decided they were going to become a bit more radio friendly and de-emphasise the guitar playing in favour of marketable songs. On the other hand that’s when they both began to have massive hits. There’s only one of Grissom’s songs I haven’t warmed up to at this point (“Overnight”), In light of this realization I’m adding the opening track “Bringing Sunday Morning to Saturday Night” to the playlist.

Tommy Castro - Devil You KnowTommy Castro and the Painkillers – The Devil You Know

Revisiting Tommy Castro and the Painkillers, I realized that one song just wasn’t enough, so I’ve included “Center of Attention”, a track I nearly pipped for the playlist the other day.  Maybe it was just the night that was in it, but last night I found myself thinking “The Devil You know” might be up in my top ten albums so far this year. Or at least just bubbling under

Johnny Winter True To The Blues

Johnny Winter – True to the Blues: The Johnny Winter Story

On to new business – sort of. I usually don’t go for retrospective compilations, but it’s been so long since I heard Johnny Winter play guitar I had to give a listen to “True to the Blues: The Johnny Winter Story”.  The title might put off some of the uninitiated who might enjoy this album – True to the blues rock would be more accurate. Yes, there is some straight up blues here, but there’s also a lot of blistering rock and roll. And I mean a lot – according to Spotify this collection runs over four hours. And no, I haven’t listened to it all since the release, but we used to listen to this guy quite a bit 30 or 40 years ago, and ranked him up Eric Clapton, Duane Allman and the other guitar legends of the time. If I have one complaint about this collection, it’s that someone seems to have edited out the cry of “ROCK AND ROLL” before either “Jumping Jack Flash” or “Johnny B Goode” (depending on whether you were listening to the album or the single from “Live Johnny Winter And…” released in 1971). Both tracks are on this compilation, and it’s very tempting to pick one, but I’m going to go for the nearly forgotten classic “Rock and Roll Hootchie Koo”, which has probably fallen through the gaps of modern radio playlists every bit as much as yer man has, but I concede that living in Ireland might give me a different perception of this than the folks back home have. Anyway, it’s on the What Am I Listening To 2014 playlist.

St Vincent St VincentSt. Vincent – St. Vincent

And now for something completely different. Don’t you know I’m going to give a listen to anyone who’s worked with erstwhile Talking Head David Byrne. St. Vincent’s
eponymous new album is left of center pop music, but still within the margins of getting radio play on “Birth in Reverse” and “Digital Witnesses”, and I am enjoying those as well as the rest of the album. But the one that seems to have really resonated with me on the first few listens is the ballad “Prince Johnny”, which is a lovely pop song with some intelligent and eccentric lyrics, so I put it on the playlist. After all the blues rock I’ve added lately I better find something to go with this song so it doesn’t feel all alone, lol.

 

I know it’s only Tuesday, but I’ve got a couple of Friday night bands here I’ve been listening to for a few days who have new studio albums out, although I suspect that in both cases they sound better when heard live in a dark room under the glow of the beer light.

Reverend Horton Heat - RevReverend Horton Heat – Rev

First up is a character named Reverend Horton Heat, who is relatively unknown to me, though not to America from what I’ve read. He’s been kicking around long enough to be nearly as old as I, and has been putting out records since 1990.

The Rev plays a rough and ready style of what I believe is most appropriately called punkabilly. He leads a three piece band which includes a stand-up double bass. It’s the classic Stray Cat’s line-up, but with an energy reminiscent of the early Clash, without the politics. The songs themselves don’t consistently fare well against either of those comparisons, and Heat isn’t quite Brian Seltzer. However the adrenalin levels are high and it sounds like these guys would be fun to see in a bar.

“Never Gonna Stop It”, a rock ‘n’ roll song about rock ‘n’ roll, is now on the What AM I listening to 2014 playlist.

Tommy Castro - Devil You KnowTommy Castro and the Painkillers – The Devil You Know

Next is a guy who actually is my age, Tommy Castro, along with his band the Painkillers. They play a mix of blues, old school r&b, and rock. To my ears the musicality, songwriting and guitar playing is a notch above the Rev’s. I suspect the album will also hold up better to repeated listenings. On the other hand there’s a sort of just good enough lo-fi quality to this album that also makes it sound a bit rough edged, and a good-time feel that makes me think both artists could happily share a stage with without too much culture shock for the audience.

The album boasts a decent cover of the old Wet Willie song “Keep on  Smilin’” that makes the song sound more like a J. Geils track than the original did, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Among the originals it’s hard to know which one should be picked for the playlist, there are enough equal contenders. I went with “Medicine Woman” ’cause that’s the way I roll. It’s on the playlist.

I’ve changed my approach to these blog posts because they got away from my intention, which was to make some notes about new music I’m listening to. Instead it seems to have turned into more of a review site, which was not my intention. The blog really exists to support the What Am I Listening To 2014 playlist, not the other way around.

I also noticed that the more I was treating this as a review column, the less I was writing, and consequently the less I was putting on the playlist. So a lot of the music I listened to never made it to the column, either because I wanted to have some kind of definitive opinion of it before posting, or else I wasn’t moved enough to either write about the music or put it on the playlist. In some cases where the music did resonate with me, I didn’t really want to say much of anything about it, just get out of the way and play the song already. Hence the playlist.

Anyway, I think I’ll try to treat this more like a musical diary for now and see how that goes. Which means I will probably revisit some selections and have little to say about others (at least at that moment), but it should lead to sharing more music more often on the Spotify playlist.

Finally, please not that the headings below are all links. The Artist names links to the artist’s website, and the album title links to the album on Spotify.

So, let’s get …restarted.

BECK - Morning PhaseBeckMorning Phase

It’s been a long time between Beck albums. I can understand how anyone waiting years for another “Devil’s Haircut” or “The New Pollution” might be disappointed with “Morning Phase”, because it is essentially a folk album and sooo mellllllooowww.  It’s also, if you’ll excuse the terms in relation to Beck, a gentle and pretty album in the songwriting, the singing, and the overall production.  I’ve been enjoying it well enough.  It hasnt rocked my world in any dramatic sort of way, but there are a few songs on it that have caught my attention in subtle ways. I’ve included my current favorite of these,“Turn Away” on the What Am I Listening To 2014 playlist. It vaguely reminds me of one of those old Paul Simon ballads he used to write for himself and Garfunkel, emphasis on Simon.

Bombay Bicycle Club "So Long, See You Tomorrow"

Bombay Bicycle ClubSo Long, See you tomorrow

I’ve already written about this album and added some songs to the playlist. After a month or so I find that I’ve listened to this album more than any other new release so far this year, and it does seem to have legs. Last time I mentioned that I considered putting the opening track, Overdone” on the playlist. I may have had a slight allergy to opening tracks at the time so I left it off. However, I can no longer ignore it since it may be the best song on the album that has not been released as a single (so far). It’s now on the What Am I listening to 2014 playlist.

Takuya Kuroda Rising Son

Takuya KurodaRising Son

Japanese born Manhattan resident Takuya Kuroda borrows the jazz band he’s been trumpeting with behind vocalist Jose James for several years now to make his new album on Blue Note records, with James behind the production board instead of the vocal mic.

James gave Kuroda some sage advice before making this album: Make sure you have something in the music that makes people bob their heads. He has indeed done that, using modern beats from R&B, hip hop and afropop under the kind of classic, smooth jazz sound you would expect from a Blue

Note recording. It works a treat, and the jazz wins out easily in that bit of rhythmic fusion.  The purists might complain but I think it’s the kind of album that even those with merely a passing interest in jazz might like. I can see myself racking this one a lot.

Jose James does sing on one track, “Everybody Loves the Sunshine” which I’ve included on the playlist. To me, it feels like lying in a meadow on a perfect summer day.

Kris Davis Trio - waitingforyoutogrowKris Davis TrioWaiting for You to Grow

Now here’s a jazz album you definitely can’t nod your head to, though you may shake it occasionally. The Kris Davis Trio is just a bit too Avant Garde for my tastes, and at times seem to be pushing the envelope of what can be considered music. It might suit people who like their jazz a bit more challenging. I suppose opening the album with over a minute of free form drum solo should have been a dead giveaway.

Using the classic trio line-up of  piano, bass and drums, the music seems to veer from chaotic to frenetic, in and out of time, eventually resolving to something you can grab on to, just to prove there is some form there, then moments later devolving back into an intentional mess. And that’s just the first, 15 minute track. It sounds like this music might be fun to perform, but I didn’t find it much fun to listen to.  Maybe I need to hear to it a few more times before it starts making sense to me. If it ever does I’ll let you know. 

David Grissom’sDavid Grissom How It Feels To Fly band is built around his big, gritty rhythm guitar sound and old-school lead work. The Rhythm section sounds full and meaty and the Hammond organ completes the sonic picture. For me, the best moments on his new album “How it Feels to Fly” come when the songs get out of the way and the band gets to stretch out in those 70’s style blues rock jams that bands like the Allman Brothers used to specialize in. And that should make a bit of sense, since David spent a bit of time as a member of that band back in the 90’s. There’s even a note-perfect version of their chestnut “Jessica” in with the four additional live tracks to prove that point.

In contrast, the new studio songs don’t always seem  to hit the same level of intensity the band achieves on the instrumentals. Some of the songs come close, such as “Bringin’ Sunday Mornin’ to Saturday Night”, which name checks a host of Soul, Blues jazz artists from the past,  “Georgia Girl” and “Never Came Easy to Me”, and they worked for me on early listening. When the song structures venture outside of that style, Such as with the title track, I find it takes me a few listens for the songs to get traction with me. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – some of my favourite music has grown on me rather than resonated with me on first listen.  At first I thought they might benefit from a different arrangement perhaps, such as happens with the mainly acoustic “Satisfied” which works quite well for me. However I don’t feel as strongly about that point now that I’ve heard them a few times.

I’ve picked two from this album for the contrast. “Way Jose” is one of those instrumentals I was raving about. “Gift of Desperation” is probably my favourite song on the album that strays from the Blues/rock song structure. I particularly like the interesting lyric hook – feeling gratitude where others might not. They’re both on the What Am I Listening To 2014 playlist.

 

Rosanne Cash The River and the ThreadRosanne Cash was born in and began her schooling in Memphis Tennessee. Since then she’s spent most of her life in California, New York and parts of Europe, in part distancing herself from her daddy’s legacy, but when that daddy is Johnny Cash, and you were born into the Memphis of the mid 50s, with the bible belt, the Grand Olde Opry, and the civil rights movement shaping your childhood, there just isn’t enough rebellion to displace those roots, and eventually you say “Road Trip!”

The River and the Thread” was created out of that road trip that took Rosanne and her collaborator/husband John Leventhal through  Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, to Robert Johnson’s grave, the Tallahacthie bridge, civil war battle fields and, of course, her father’s birthplace.  These experiences inform the songs in subtle ways instead of showing up as overt themes.

The album is a gentle celebration of the angels and demons of the South and of Ms Cash’s connectedness to them.  It’s a consistently worthwhile collection of tracks and an easy listen with well-crafted lyrics. The latter tracks on the album venture a little too close to traditional country sounds and motifs for my taste, but I admit that’s a subjective comment.  

“Modern Blue” is an upbeat adult pop song that caught my ear the first time I listened to her new album “The River and the Thread”.  It’s probably the least country sounding song on the album. It has a familiar, comfortable feel. It’s on the What Am I Listening To 2014 playlist.

Rosanne Cash plays Dublin’s Vicar Street April 27th, 2014.