Wednesday, 13 May 2020

Ten albums that...

There is a chain thing doing the rounds on Facebook and Twitter at the moment and I have had a couple of nominations to take part. So I thought I would post here in one go rather than inflict my choices on people over a needlessly long time. If you ask me tomorrow it will probaby be 10 different albums. Yes it's cheating, but what's the use of a music blog if you don't abuse the privilege, so in no particular order, here we go.

Album Challenge Day 1-10 Thanks John, David & Rich for this amazing opportunity to stun all my FB/Twitter friends with incredible music wonders!  I’ve been given a task to choose 10 albums that greatly influenced my taste in music. No explanations, no reviews, just album covers.

Tuesday, 5 May 2020

Dave Greenfield - Walk On By

The Stranglers were never a punk band. Their first three albums are still regular plays for me. Hugh Cornwell said last night that Dave Greenfield, who as passed with Covid 19 should be remembered as the man who created the music of Golden Brown. Personally I would prefer to think of the Black and White album which as an old progressive rock fan had his stamp all over it. Curiously, despite loving the Stranglers I've never much liked their main influence, The Doors, but they did introduce me to Soul through this song, and also to Van Der Graaf Generator who were probably a subconscious influence. Indeed when Hugh was in jail Peter Hamilll was one of the guest singers at a show at The Rainbow London. The resulting album is hardly better than bootleg quality but as a document of a band evolving from their roots it is fascinating. The Stranglers as prog band, discuss.


Friday, 1 May 2020

Is iTunes the future?

The most recent update of iTunes killed my library. I ended up with the grey song titles of death, and while this prompted me to start moving everything to a bigger external hard drive connected to the laptop that travels with me, it has made me wonder about the future of committing to the platform.

When even my iPhone obsessed daughter has shifted to Android because of the problems she has had with her iPhone 6S and the price of an upgrade it makes you think. While this article in The Guardian from June 2019 says that I am fine for now, who knows how long this will last. If they are moving away from iTunes on Mac then the development costs of keeping it up to date for Windows will become for than they care to pay in the end, think 30 pin connector and the fate of the iPod Classic.

Then there's the hardware. My last of the line 160gb 6th generation iPod is now 6 years old. Hard drives don't last forever, and having had my fingers burnt with an SSD upgrade to 256gb which ate the battery in a matter of a few months I'm not inclined to go down that route again.  If you were here in 2018 you may remember the first stirrings of discontent in a post called Why Pod? Many of the arguments in favour of Apple have gone away since then. Personally I still want a dedicated music player because I'm not a young folk and can put my phone down to allow me to switch off from business and social media. So when CEX in Weston Super Mare had a bargain I took the plunge.

So say hello to my Sony Walkman NW-A45. With 16gb of internal storage and the potential for an agrophobia sized micro SD card it seems like the answer. With my usual Sennheiser earphones the sound is a noticeable improvement over Apple and despite a lot of the reviews saying that the User Interface is clunky, I'm not finding it that way. Bluetooth and NFC get over any problems with it talking to the car. It works with Audible so another tick. Podcasts I haven't tried on it yet and I'm still working on finding the best software, currently I'm using Music Center for PC, but may look elsewhere as well.

While this is also an older model, it is not subject to the whims of Sony's software developers to keep it running. That was a let down on my eariler Sony NW-A3000 which was a great piece of kit at least partially tied to the CONNECT player and ATRAC file format. Mine still works, except for a dodgy headphone socket but has sat in drawer for the last few years because of the complexities of working with it.

So, good news I can move backwards into the future seated comfortably on a bit of old tech that shouldn't become too obsolete to use. I haven't abandoned the iPod, and won't until it finally gives up the ghost. My old 120gb version lasted 10 years so you are stuck with me at least that long, and then all we will need is a change of logo and name, 272gigblog perhaps? No, 528gigblog sounds better.


Friday, 24 April 2020

Reviewing a review...

I reviewed the new Waxahatchee album over at Americana UK recently, and started a bit of a Twitter storm.

The fact that this album was being reviewed was at least partly because it had become an important release on the back of the hyperbole thrown around by The Guardian's reviewer. Katie Crutchfield (Waxahatchee herself) had stated that Lucinda Williams' Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, one of the cornerstones of Americana, was her primary influence for her shift towards Americana based music. Having been accused of negativity and for reviewing The Guardian review rather than the album, neither of which accusation stand up if you actually read my piece I felt a bit of explanation and defence was called for.

  • I gave the album a score of 6, if you go by the Pitchfork rating system this means: "Has its moments, but isn't strong" , negative would have been 4 or below and it wasn't that bad...
  • It wasn't me who made the comparison to Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, Crutchfield set herself up for that one. It would have been easy to rip her to shreds for it, I chose not to take the cheap shot. That would have been negative.
  • I simply wasn't hearing what other reviewers were hearing. I don't think it's very good and can't see myself listening to it again, ever.
  •  That makes my suggestion that it doesn't in my opinion match up to Car Wheels... valid. I have played that album regularly since it came out and don't expect to stop now.
Does my opinion matter? No, of course it doesn't. Any more than the opinion of The Guardian matters. Let's see what the view of Saint Cloud is at the end of the year.

The Guardian review

Americana UK review

Sunday, 19 April 2020

Matthew Seligman

I'm afraid that despite myself I'm going to be writing more obituaries. Matthew Seligman played bass on quite a number of my favourite albums. I'll post Robyn Hitchcock's tribute below as I can't word it better, and point you to some of his recordings instead. Seligman also played with Bowie at Live Aid and elsewhere and a variety of  other bands and projects. Wikipedia will help you with the details. I met him in a music shop in London in the mid eighties, I was looking at a bass and he warned me off it saying that he had tried it and hated it and we had a brief, fairly fanboy (on my side), conversation mostly about Thomas Dolby and Robyn Hitchcock.

Bruce Woolley and The Camera Club – English Garden. It's hard to believe that this was criticised for being rooted in the 60s. Bits of Bowie, all sorts of other influences and Thomas Dolby's keyboards made a unique sound. A terrific live band, I saw them twice and would love to get a copy of their Radio 1 In Concert which I had on tape for years.

The Soft Boys - Underwater Moonlight. One of those bands whose influence outweighed their impact at the time. I bought this because Matthew Seligman was on it. Not been off my radar since. Another cracking good record.

The Dolphin Brothers - Catch The Fall. I didn't know he had played on this until recently. Yet another album that fell through the cracks at the time, but is well worth your attention.

Thomas Dolby - Pretty much everything. I've talked about Dolby in the past and recommended his autobiography The Speed of Sound before. Seligman is writ large in the book and Dolby's career. You can safely try any of his solo albums but my current favourite is the last one A Map of the Floating City.

Jan Linton - Sendai. An ambient piece with flashes of fretless bass from Seligman. Sold as a response to the Japanese Tsunami and Earthquake of 2011. Quite wonderful.

Robyn Hitchcock's Tribute on Facebook 

Newsweek have the best round up of other tributes HERE.

Thursday, 16 April 2020

John Prine, Randy Newman, and bit of Trump on the side.

I'm not going to pepper this blog with obituaries, unless like Tim Brooke-Taylor they are of someone who particularly affects me. Anyway I couldn't touch Americana UK's coverage of the passing of John Prine. My colleague Clint West has done a fine appraisal of him HERE, and Jim Finnie has produced a pretty much unbeatable Prine playlist.

Todd Rundgren's last album 'White Knight' featured a song called "The Man In The Tin Foil Hat" with Donald Fagen. While this was a blast of anger from the early days of Trump and the video is a bit amateurish and silly in places it seems to me to be worth an airing as there seem to be so many tin foil hats doing the rounds now.

While this feels like an attempt at a bit of Randy Newman style, even including a "Short People" reference in the lyrics, it doesn't come close. Political Science was released in 1972, doesn't it sound current?

This NPR piece is worth a read and listen for more on Randy Newman's satire. He is very American-centric but his songs are good enough to get over the more obscure (for us) references. Newman's most recent album Dark Matter returns to satire in a big way. If you only think of him as the Toy Story composer get that one and the best of Lonely At The Top for a crash course in Newmanomics.

Monday, 13 April 2020

Tim Brooke-Taylor

When so many people have lost loved ones to Coronavid it almost seems churlish to write about someone famous passing with it. But having followed Tim Brooke Taylor all the way from The Goodies to I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue since about 1970, I'm going to anyway.

The Goodies seem to have got lost by the BBC, no proper DVD issues, the one I have seems to have been filmed off the TV with a cine camera, and no repeats. It's not alone, lots of that stable , Monty Python, Rutland Weekend TV and so on are also in danger of drifting into history as I noted in my Neil Innes piece a while back. But The Goodies was the one talked about and re-enacted in the playground. Kitten Kong is the episode that gets the mention, my favourite however is still the Giant Dougal dog. I was never much of a fan of Python, the Rutland and Ripping Yarns  spinoffs were more my time period and I'm sure between them and The Goodies trained my sense of humour for Hitchhiker's Guide to The Galaxy (H2G2). Ironically budget overruns on the H2G2 TV series was what lead to The Goodies cancellation by the BBC.

About 1980 or so having discovered radio comedy through H2G2 and being a typical teenager spending a fair bit of time in my room I found Just a Minute and I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue. The former dominated by Kenneth Williams was funny enough but Clue was something else. When I started listening it wasn't as anarchic as it became in the 90s but was still laugh out loud funny. Brooke-Taylor was an integral part of the mix in Clue. Where Barry Cryer had a one liner for every moment and Graeme Garden would say less but would always bring the house down with his catchphrases, Brooke-Taylor played the comic victim, much as he did in the Goodies, butt of some of the humour but able to come out on top of any situation. he had the job of teaming up with a succession of guest team members after Willie Rushton's death. He worked best with Jeremy Hardy and Tony Hawks, but rarely failed to gel with the other half of his team. That was I think his strength as a comedian, being able to mould his humour to any situation and find something to bounce off.

I hope they now let Clue end as it's vitality has faded with the more frequent absences of the principal players. Indeed Just A Minute should also depart with Nicholas Parsons. The obvious replacement Gyles Brandreth was too similar on his one stint in the chairman's chair and would not I feel bring his own spin the way Jack Dee has.

The golden age was the early noughties for me. I was lucky enough to see them at the Bristol Hippodrome then and later on one of the tours about 10 years ago. This is the only episode ever recorded for TV, and Humphrey Lyttelton's last. It features the best team lineup, sadly now half of them gone, and is a classic. If you are easily offended maybe pass on this, although you will be missing out on some of the finest improvised comedy there is.