Category: music

Mojo Reviews Challenge #013 – Victoria Williams – Loose (1994)

Where I dig into something I’ve not heard before, from the reviews section of old Mojo Magazines, on an irregular basis.

184433_1_fVictoria Williams
Loose
1994 – Mammoth

I’ve been quietly looking for this album for around 20 years. Victoria Williams came into my world in two ways. One, the moderately famous Sweet Relief compilation that was a tribute to her, featuring huge bands like Pearl Jam, Buffalo Tom, Lou Reed, Lucinda Williams and others. The other was the wonderful song that the Jayhawks, and her husband Mark Olson, wrote about her.

That Sweet Relief tribute came about because Williams was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Musicians don’t have health care, and her plight became a lightning rod for musicians in the 90s to set up the Sweet Relief Fund, to help musicians without health care. The fund still exists today, 23 years later, and still helps people.

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Loose actually comes after that tribute record, which had covered songs from her early albums. I’ve not heard those albums, but this one is apparently bigger and more ambitious. At a full 16 tracks (oh, the 90s…), and featuring a massive array of famous stars, it was designed to break Williams into the mainstream. It failed miserably.

The early 90s were full of eccentric records – it seems it came down marketing and personality. And Williams is a wonderful weirdo. I was expecting a low key folk-y, countryish, Freakwater-y album. But third song in, we get Harry Went To Heaven, which sounds like Kate Bush fronting a hotel jazz band. There’s a cover of Louis Armstrong‘s What A Wonderful World, with a string quartet. And maybe because I hear it in every female singer with a guitar, but the jazzy stuff sounds like jazzy Joni Mitchell. Which is only a good thing.

There’s more than a little 90s alterna-rock here. Crazy Mary was the single (and was covered by Pearl Jam) and by far her most famous song. A dramatic character study like, say, Luka, with big strings and a buzzy guitar and weird spoken verses, it doesn’t sound anything like a hit.

Williams, from her album covers, looked beautiful. And she would marry one of my favourite songwriters, Mark Olson of the Jayhawks. Their 1995 album Tomorrow The Green Grass is amongst my favourite albums, especially when I was 17. The second song was Miss Williams Guitar, a tribute to Victoria. I am still, today, so in love with that song that through transitive properties, it carries over to Victoria.

There’s a bit of Jayhawks on this album. Olson plays on it, and that soulful country mix almost makes this sound, in some places, like an early Jayhawks album with a different singer. Olson and Williams share a sweet duet called When We Sing Together.

Overall, the album is lovely. I feel like if I bought this album when I was 17 like I should have, when I was most obsessed with albums that sounded like this, this could possibly mean a lot more to me. I probably would have worked out the chords to these songs, jammed them with friends, put them on mix tapes.

Williams and Olson packed their bags after this and moved out to Joshua Tree. Olson left the Jayhawks, and that was a big issue in itself. But I bought many of the albums the pair made under the name The Original Harmony Creek Dippers, pretty much the most lo-fi albums you’ve ever heard. But as a songwriter in my teens, I had the fantasy of being a hermit, hiding in the country, me and a beautiful perfect singer, making little homespun albums. Williams and Olson lived that dream. It broke my heart when they broke up in 2006.

Loose is a sweet album, with lots of character and charm. Far too much to make her the next Lisa Loeb or Gwen Stefanie or whoever the label might have been thinking. As we are not in the 90s, it could easily lose 4-6 songs. But perhaps that’s the nice thing about those 16 track albums – more room to be weird. It’s far more jazzy than I anticipated, which I like.

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Lazy Susan – songs Lost: B-Sides, Unreleased, Demos & Live Out Now

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A band I was once in, and am in again, have released a new album. If you’re of a certain age, you’ll remember Lazy Susan from lots of Triple J airplay around the late 90s. Having been several years since their last album, the band has compiled 2 albums of rare material under the title Songs Lost.

Volume 1 covers B-Sides and Unreleased stuff. It features the single Square One.

Volume 2 covers Demos and live recordings.

Lazy Susan (and me) will be performing live for the first time in six years at Lazy Bones in Marrickville on 10th September. Find out more at the gig’s Facebook Event.

Here’s the new video of Square One.

Live Acoustic Podcast Record #1

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I am doing something new. I’ve been talking about this for a while.

Facebook event https://www.facebook.com/events/1777652265782246/

Every year, every month, fantastic local songwriters and performers make great music, and there is always a limited outlet for it. So I’m doing my part by running a Live Acoustic podcast series.

Performers will play their songs acoustically, and maybe bring a surprise or two. And then they will be interviewed live on stage about the making of the album and their inspirations.

First up is three fantastic acts with new albums out.

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Bryan Estepa – with the Tempe Two have put out an acclaimed record Every Little Thing
http://www.bryanestepa.com/

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Steve Smith – from the band Fallon Cush, released the great Bee In Your Bonnet record just a few weeks ago.
http://www.falloncush.com/

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Michael Carpenter – reunited with his Cuban Heels band, he’s made a fantastic and sweet album The Big Radio
http://www.mcarp.com/

The night is free at the Gasoline Pony near Marrickville/Sydenham (on the dock of the bay). It’s very lovely and warm in there on a cold night – they do mulled wine and a heated outdoor bit and great food.

If you have new music, I want to talk to you. But hope you can come help me support local music.

Facebook event https://www.facebook.com/events/1777652265782246/

Mojo Reviews Challenge #012 – Edwyn Collins – Gorgeous George

Where I dig into something I’ve not heard before, from the reviews section of old Mojo Magazines, on an irregular basis.

EdwynGGCollinsEdwyn Collins
Georgeous George
1994 – Setanta

When you become a massive record nerd, you find yourself drawn to certain times and cultures through history. For me, one of those eras is Glasgow in the early 80s. Please take me down the Byres Road with my Postcard Records knapsack, on my way to watch a Bill Forsyth film.

I buy into Postcard Records fully. And once you do, Edwyn Collins is a god. I have every album by his band Orange Juice. So why have I never explored his solo stuff?

A song from this album is definitely where it started for me and Edwyn. Years before someone gave me a copy of You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever (the first Orange Juice album) Edwyn had an unlikely worldwide hit with ‘A Girl Like You‘. A 60s garage fuzz pop burst, it was an unexpected throwback that worked.

Gorgeous George is the album that followed that worldwide hit. It’s nice to meet and really get to know the older Edwyn. Postcard Edwyn was always strange and hypnotic, cool older kid from your school. But he’s turned into a reflective young man still obsessed by rock n roll, some 15 years later.

The songs are still about the primal rock n roll food groups – girls, love, music itself, get-me-outta-here. The lyrics and stories are fun, but they aren’t the groundbreaking voice that roared into life in 79. Which is perhaps why this album is not remembered so fondly.

The album sounds great. It doesn’t sound dated at all, much like the best produced Brit Pop of the era. There’s those pretty smattering a of Northern Soul. There’s lovely lighter moments such as Low Expectations that recalls Lloyd Cole at his quietest. Collins voice is still full of rich yearning. His guitar playing is top notch – Lou Reed messy but on it when he needs to be. And somehow the Sex PistolsPaul Cook is on drums.

Highlights abound. Northern soul fans will find If You Could Love Me, the other single from this album and a song I can no longer live without. The title track is another soulful slice of pop. This really is an album best enjoyed in a flat above a shop in Northern Britain.

Collins suffered a cerebral haemorrhage in 2005. He has been recovering and even toured Australia and I caught an amazing show. He is still making music and I am now making my way through his solo stuff.

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Mojo Reviews Challenge #011 – The Wonder Stuff – If The Beatles Had Read Hunter…The Singles

Where I dig into something I’ve not heard before, from the reviews section of old Mojo Magazines, on an irregular basis.

CS1813972-02A-BIGThe Wonder Stuff
If The Beatles Had Read Hunter…The Singles
1994 – Polydor

I would count Brit Pop as my big light bulb moment of music. I loved chart pop and a little bit of grunge, but the war between Blur and Oasis – and the rush of bands that included Ash, Supergrass, Pulp and more – was the first music that was mine.

Which is unfair to Brit Pop because It was already on its second or third wace by 1994/1995. The few years before that are still largely a mystery to me, although I’ve heard of a lot of those bands. Take the Wonder Stuff, who had several chart hits and four albums (3 of them bothered the top 10) and had broken up and released a greatest hits before ‘Common People’ was even recorded.

My knowledge of the Wonder Stuff can be summed up thus;
– ‘Dizzy’, the friggin’ awesome single they did with Vic Reeves in 1991
– ‘Size Of A Cow’ and ‘Unbearable’ on various compilations
– The singer has long, curly hair

The kind of perfect amount of knowledge to bring in a Greatest Hits, then.

The title comes from a review of the band, (the Hunter being Hunter S Thompson) and it is a very generous assessment. They don’t have the clean lines of the Beatles, but they do have a lot of thrash-it-out energy, which is the most exciting part of this compilation.

There seems to be no order with this set, and I hate Greatest Hits collections that do this. Why? Why not just go chronological? Tell me a story. I don’t know your songs, and putting it in some biggest-hit-to-obscure-songs order helps me nothing. It is a bit of a jumpy listen straight through – production values and instrumentation (the violin in particular) come and go.

There’s a lot of catchy, fun stuff here, regardless. The songs I knew still shine. ‘Welcome To the Cheap Seats’, ‘Don’t Let Me Down Gently’, ‘Caught In My Shadow’, ‘A Wish Away’ – all lovely little pop confections. But there is filler too – a very British thing to have so many singles over a short career. The quieter stuff, the country-ish stuff, are nice but unremarkable.

(Here’s Welcome To the Cheap Seats, album in a longbox and Paul Schaffer on keys and everything)

Unremarkable also, because of history. Maybe it is my age bias, but the aforementioned Blur and Pulp would sweep in and add this level to artistry that would bury this band and other similar bands. I don’t know about the Thompson comparison – I don’t know if the lyrical ambitions are that literary. Maybe these were cool lyrics in 1994, but by 1996 they were pop fluff.

At some point, I’ll probably start deleting some tracks off the iPod and be left with like 10 absolute solid thumpers. I don’t know if anyone talks about these guys anymore, and history is written by the victors. They missed to Brit-Pop movement going mainstream and international, although they have reformed and put out new albums. They also look dated. They had some great songs, but they just didn’t have it.

One last note – ‘Dizzy’ is still an amazing track. One of the very best.

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Mojo Reviews Challenge #010 – Portishead – Dummy

Where I dig into something I’ve not heard before, from the reviews section of old Mojo Magazines, on an irregular basis.

Portishead_-_DummyPortishead
Dummy
1994 – Go! Beat

Dummy is an album that was very much around, but avoided. I guess, in 1994, I was falling madly in love with guitar bands from the UK. The strange sophistication of this record and Portishead came second to, say, Supergrass‘s ‘Alright‘. An age thing.

I did hear a couple of the songs. Heck, I remember the TV ads for his album – this was a big deal. So some of the big songs from this album are familiar. I know of their acclaim, and I’ve heard bits and pieces from their later records.

And yes, this album was exactly what I expected. Which isn’t totally good thing. The same reason I’ve not ever really felt the need to explore this band is all over this record.

We probably don’t talk about trip hop now, and the groundbreaking sound of trip hop has been absorbed and seem normal. The album has an interesting sound, but even by the late 90s, Moby, the Chemical Brothers and all would make it mainstream.

Listening to it today, it just seems nice. It drifts by. Yes, that Barry-Meets-EDM thing is clever, but it is not arresting. The real highlights come when Beth Gibbon‘s voice just….GOES for it. ‘Sour Times‘, ‘Glory Box‘ and others kicks ass, as Gibbons gives it her all. Songs like It Could Be Sweet, however – so light that they float away.

Lyrically, its all a bunch of nonsense. There’s a sense of longing and drama, but there isn’t much to say. Maybe I’m just coming to this record when I’m too old, and I care about lyrics more than ever. But it hampers this record. Repeated listens, and I found it to be all surface, little feeling. Maybe if I held more leftist dinner parties…

Gibbons is a gifted singer, and Geoff Barrow has put together a very interesting soundscape. It sunds great in films, and film music is no doubt a big influence. It won the Mercury Prize, and it definitely pushed the conversation of music forward. It certainly hasn’t dated.

I’ve given this album weeks, and I’ll give it a few more. But as I suspected about Portishead for twenty years seems to hold ture – its not really my thing. And it comes down to the songwriting. Gibbons sounds like she’s tearing her heart out. Why is mine still intact and bored?

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Mojo Reviews Challenge #009 – The Cookies – The Complete Cookies

1326006410_the-cookies-the-complete-cookies-fWhere I dig into something I’ve not heard before, from the reviews section of old Mojo Magazines, on an irregular basis.

The Cookies
The Complete Cookies
1994 – Sequel Records

This is a wonderful compilation. 12 tracks covers the complete As and B sides of this 60s girl group The Cookies. Four tracks by Earl Jean in solo mode round it out to 16. The Cookies were not on a big label like Stax or Motown and would probably be extremely obscure if not for their association with Carole King and Gerry Goffin. They were lucky enough to first sing some of the greatest pop hits.

I only really knew of The Cookies from that association, and their later work with Ray Charles. They are included on a couple of comps and box sets I own. So it’s great to have songs I know from later versions in original form. The classic ‘Chains‘, ‘On Broadway‘ and solo Earl Jean’s original of ‘I’m Into Something Good‘. I particularly love ‘The Old Crowd‘.

Ten of the songs here are King/Goffin compilations – making it an essential part of the Carole King discography. Goffin contributes to the other two, and the others are by other Brill Building stalwarts. It’s a tour de force of songwriters. It turns out that King continued to give Earl Jean financial support after her career ended.

I don’t know if this is an obvious point, but this was the first rush of teenage music from the girl’s point of view. It’s all about teenage concerns and a lot of romance. The mystery of the boys. A lot of it is pretty chaste – hugging and kissing. But the passion underneath – it’s pretty fiery.

These funny old regional girl groups. There are so many of them, and in many ways they caught into a fad. The Cookies didn’t even get an album out of it. Like so many more fads to come, be it Nuggets, Punk, Disco, Brit Pop, Grunge, New Rock etc. The Cookies were not one of the greats, and were not signed to one of the big labels. So they are a bit of an also ran, and there are lots of those. Who knows what treasures are hidden amongst those discount discs on obscure labels.

The production here is actually pretty good. They could sing, and sing with character. It hasn’t dated too much, and the songs remain solid. It’s a brisk listen – no filler and half a dozen absolute classics. A great compilation.

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Top 10 Albums Of 2014 #2-1

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2. Damon Albarn – Everyday Robots
Parlophone

This album is a clear number 2. These last two records twoer above anythign I heard this year, and are albums I will carry around with me for years.

I have loved so much music from Damon Albarn. Blur were a favourite, and the Gorillaz has many moments of pure joy. I like the man too, I love his approach to art, and what he has to say.

This is Albarn’s first genuine solo record. It took a long time, and a lot of flirting with opera and musicals before coming back with a pop record. But it’s not a Blur record, and he has synthesised his explorations in opera, world music and electronica, and then went and wrote some songs. Actual songs.

I listened to this album quite a bit and it never quite hit. But over time, those hooks, those melodies, and those sentiments started to stick. This is a grower, but I cannot imagine living without these songs. It makes little sense on first listen.

So many highlights – and oddly the singles are the least strong. The gentle History of a Cheating Heart, to the epic Heavy Seas Of Love. I love Photographs and the samples used. And Everyday Robots – the killer title track – it feels like Albarn has been trying to write this song his entire life.

The problem with Albarn is you never know what he will do next. Maybe his next record wont be so softly and lovely. Who knows where his spinning head might land next.

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1. Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott – What Have We Become?
Virgin

The voices of the Beautiful South return with my album of the year. A modern, angry political record, wrapped up in some of the prettiest melodies. I often complain that music has nothing to say – well there’s more said on this album that just about every album I’ve heard this year combined.

The world is broken. And Heaton, who has been writing scathing songs about life for over 30 years now, has plenty to say about it. The idiot who is led astray in ‘Moulding Of A Fool‘, the type that gets to vote and run our lives. How we should talk about the baseball cap like we do the burqa. The enduring image of pizza boxes stacked towards the sun.

The phrases, the ideas, and the story of this record still roll around my head. It’s Heaton’s talent that he can turn that anger into wonderful images and great songs. And then it was a stroke of genius to get Jacqui Abbott on board to make the medicine even sweeter.

It’s not for everyone – not everyone cares for the subtext. That has been Heaton’s trick from his very first hit single, Happy Hour. He has always hidden deeper meanings in songs that milkmen can whistle. He’s back at it, and I couldn’t be happier.

Modern music is supremely lacking in balls. No one is challenging anything. Our artists have stopped leading us, and left us with nothing to learn. This record was the only bright spot of a year of ball-less music. Maybe some of the bands Heaton has inspired, from Manics to Arctic Monkeys to Belle And Sebastian, will follow suit.

Top 10 albums of 2014 #5-3

Part 2! Numbers 3-5!
Part 1 here.

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5. Wilko Johnson & Roger Daltrey – Going Back Home
Chess Records

I was very touched by Wilko Johnson‘s year. At the start of the year, he was supposed to be dead, diagnosed with a cancer that was supposed to kill him last October. Then he made this record with an old friend and it actually did better than any album of his career. One more tour then. Then another. Right now, it looks like Wilko will be ok.

This record is a lot of fun. It’s also a lot of covers which is the reason it’s not higher up on the list. However, many of the songs, taken from Wilko’s later career, are still new to me.

Here’s the blistering title track.

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4. King Creosote – From Scotland With Love
Domino

I’m still very sad about what happened to Scotland. But one of the by products about the swelling of national pride there, was the art. And this album would not exist if Scotland did not make the brave move to go on their on own.

One of the more lovely art projects is From Scotland With Love – a film of archival material, showing the progress and life of Scotland of old. The soundtrack was this, a sentimental synthesis of Scottish folk. Emotionally charged and tender, it’s a trip through time. Even without the film, the music makes sense.

I’ve heard of King Creosote many times, but this is my first album. It’s love for me, and I’m exploring the catalogue.

Here’s a scene from the film, with music from the album.

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3. The New Mendicants – Into the Lime
Ashmont Records

The team up of Teenage Fanclub‘s Norman Blake and Pernice Brother‘s Joe Pernice. It’s one of those records that feels like it’s made for me. That beautiful pop songs left unadorned.

Not quite power-pop, not quite alt-country, this is just a collection of lovely songs by two master songwriters.

Starting an album

I don’t know what it’s like for anyone else, but there is definitely a point where a bunch of songs start to feel album-y. I like the idea of writing albums – they are like writing a play. When you have enough scenes and moments that you start to get a sense of the story.

There are two main things for me that separate an album from a collection of ten songs.

1) thematic consistency in the story.

For the last couple of years I’ve been writing songs that fit into various themes. There are some political songs. Lots of songs about death. Alcohol. Usually one or two ideas win out – some just end up with better songs.

The two that won out this time, and jostling to win, were the Inner West and the idea of writing just third person character studies of women. It’s feeling like the album is a mix of the two – it’s not a hard and fast rule. But I’m excluding songs based on theme.

I’m also excluding songs based on intent. There were a couple of angrier, more mean spirited songs. And as the album develops, those songs are going away. I’ve made one very angry record before. This one will be quite intimate.

We are over halfway through the record making process and I am tossing between two titles – both reflect the two themes. They are:

Do You Think We’ll Live Here Forever?

Or

12 Girls

2) musical consistency

This is sort of the easy one. At any given time, in probably writing songs to solve a puzzle. Trying to figure out how a particular genre of song works. Or how to make certain chord patterns fit.

More so than the last album, I’ve wanted to use more chords again. I feel like I’ve done the simple country songs for now. I was also fascinated by getting from a minor chord to the same major chord (Am to A for example) and what keys and ways to make that work. The other big one, that appears in almost every song, a major chord that descends a half step and then a minor (C to Bm for example).

It really helps with songwriting, these ideas. If you need variation, or if you’re stuck, you have a way out. They key is to repeat the trick in different ways.

By nature of the recoding process this time, the record will slow and hopefully soulful. That third Velvets album has loomed large in my mind. Soul music, the sound of Memphis, and how they do things, is a constant touchstone. A definite process when it comes to production or instrumentation.

These are all high falootin’ ideas that may never come off. There’s at least one song that won’t be about the Inner West or a girl and it’s looking like track 2.

But, developing both those steps is crucial, for me anyway, in sort of feeling like there’s an album here.

But it’s the spine that makes up an album. And once we had that – I could start the painful process of selecting songs. Which I will write about next.