Saturday 19 May 2012

News, Views and Music Issue 144 (Top Five): FIve Random Recent Purchases

In lieu of any burning issues to write about this week, I thought do another of my occasional columns filling you in about the ‘B-list’ purchases I’ve made recently – and whether they were a good idea or not! So, in no particular order...

Crosby-Nash In Concert (DVD 2012)

Oh dear. Without a regular record contract and without the hoped-for comeback with the ‘covers’ album abandoned by producer Rick Rubin early last year CSN are fading fast. By Crosby and Nash’s high standards this live DVD recorded on tour last year is a pretty shoddy piece of work, with their roughest harmonies on record yet and a rather tired and uninteresting track selection. That said, no CSN release yet has been entirely devoid of interest and at times this set does come alive, most notably on the two excellent new songs ‘In Your Name’ (Nash’s) and ‘A Slice Of Time’ (Crosby’s), a pair of songs as good as anything the pair have written to date. There’s also a pretty neat medley of ‘Orleans’ and ‘Cathedral’ rarely heard at all in concert and never like this, as a sort of religious hymnal medley. Crosby’s often overlooked ‘Camera’ gets a welcome showing too, while there are a handful of extras of interest to collectors: a demo for ‘Clear Blue Skies’, the sweet but ropey Nash song ruined for CSNY’s ‘American Dream’ album that sounds rather better here and a C-N take on Crosby’s co-written Byrds song ‘8 Miles High’. One for collectors only, really, though things bode well if CSN ever do secure another record contract, together or apart.

(I Can’t Get No) Stevie Jackson (2012)

I must admit I haven’t played this album much, only the second member of Belle and Sebastian to go solo (after the surprise runaway success of Isobel Campbell). Stevie Jackson is a likeable chap, with an encyclopaedic knowledge of rock and roll even I can’t hope to match and this album features as large an array of ideas, styles and emotions as you’d expect. Through it all, though, Stevie’s love of a basic rock and roll beat shines through. ‘Dead Man’s Fall’ and ‘Richie Now’ are particularly interesting, especially the latter which is a re-write of The Kinks’ glorious ‘Do You Remember, Walter?’ about a childhood friend who changes. Richie even had ‘all the Beatles LPs and the Twist and Shout’ EP from 1963 when I had none’, so he must have been a special kind of guy! It has to be said there’s nothing here to rival Jackson’s two greatest B+S moments to date ‘Roy Walker’ and ‘Seymour Stein’. It’s a shame, though, that the last two rather lesser B+S albums didn’t make more use of Jackson’s talents – had they split half of Murdoch’s songs with the better half of this album ‘Write About Love’ wouldn’t have been such a crushing disappointment.

Art Garfunkel “Everything Waits To Be Noticed” (2002)

By far the best of my recent bunch is the most non-assuming. Art Garfunkel’s albums have pretty much all been subdued low-key moments of bliss, but few have been quite as clever or moving as this one, which is sure to get its own review on the site once I get to know it a bit better. Recorded with partners Maia Sharp and Buddy Mondlock, it represents the first time Art has had a composing credit on record since 1961! (There’s no less than four co-credits here, including many of the best songs!)Going for ethereal beauty rather than desperate attempts at harshness or anger as per the last few Garfunkel albums, this track never raises it’s voice above a whisper despite having some very deep things to say. My favourite song – probably my favourite discovery of the past six months – is the song ‘The Kid’, a spot-on song about the narrator looking out the window when he should be working, dreaming of things much bigger than what he can see in the schoolyard. Unusually, though, for these sorts of songs the narrator remains an unknown no one by the end of the song and yet still doesn’t regret a minute of it, quoting ‘I could no more stop dreaming than I could make all my dreams come true’. So lovely I wonder why this record passed me by when it came out – certainly I’d never seen a copy until recently. Perhaps the very Simon and Garfunkel sentiment in the title track really is true and, yes, everything really does wait to be noticed! If so, what other gems are out there for me to find?!

Hot Tuna “Five Classic Albums” (1970-76, re-issued 2012)

For those who don’t know, Hot Tuna are the blues-based rhythm section of the Jefferson Airplane who used to work as the ‘opening act’ for their main band on the last few Jefferson tours before going fully solo. I must admit I’d never heard any of their work until getting this set of five albums, part of an excellent series that’s already seen reissues by both the Airplane and Starship as well as Buffalo Springfield spin-off group Poco. To be honest, a little from these first five albums goes a long way, but ‘Phosphorescent Rat’ (the third album from 1973) is already becoming a firm favourite (not a popular choice among fans I hear, how normally plump for either the first acoustic ‘live’ album or the rather-too-MOR ‘Amerrica’s Choice’. Still, guitarist Jorma Kaukanen, who writes and sings most of the material here, is welcome company even on the worse songs and its nice to hear so much more of the talent from a songwriter who was always a little over-looked in the Airplane (his last few songs for the band are better than Slick’s or Kantner’s in my eyes). ‘In The Kingdom’ and ‘Corners From The Earth’ are particularly strong and unusually imager-filled for Jorma, who seems to have taken a leaf out of partner Paul Kantner’s writing style. That said the best track of all may well be a joyous acoustic cover of ‘I Know You Rider’ which may well be the definitive version of this classic folk song, despite dozens of recordings down the years (most of them by the Grateful Dead!)

Julian Lennon “Everything Changes” (2011)

Lastly, a big surprise. I last left Julian Lennon as a rather nervy and derivative songwriter desperate to get a pop hit around the time of ‘Valotte’. Since then his reputation has sunk and his profile slipped to almost nothing, so it was with surprise that I read a review of his new album in Mojo a few months back (they hated it). But at long last Julian has developed his own voice, complementary to but not derivative of his dad’s work and this album is never less than good and rarely less than fascinating. The eldest Beatle child might not have developed his dad’s singing voice in his genes, but I always felt that given a break his song’s might prove their worth and, largely, they have. The title track of this album, in particular, is becoming a real favourite and is an ecological protest song more akin to a CSN song than any of John’s work. ‘Invisible’ is another great track, a surefire hit single for somebody with a different name and a pretty neat analysis of what it means for a former star to ‘disappear’ from the news for a time. Let’s hope Julian gets back to where he deserves soon because there’s a real weight and passion about his songs this time around and it would be a shame to see such talent fade away again. Incidentally, why didn’t seemingly proud mum Cynthia talk more about her son’s work in her book ‘John’? 

And that’s all we have to talk about for now. Join us next issue for more thrills, spills and chills – err no sorry more news, views and music – till then, goodbye!

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