Monday, June 27, 2005

 

New Ry Cooder CD

Ry Cooder Chavez Ravine Nonesuch 0 7559 79877-2 0
Any new release by Ry Cooder comes with an endemic problem. That is the creator’s track record, or perhaps I should say his Pedigree. Ry started out 40 (yes 40!) years ago alongside Taj Mahal in Rising Sons and Captain Beefheart in the Magic Band. For any normal artist this would probably have been accomplishment enough. But not for Ry. To be brief, he went on to revolutionise Country Rock (perhaps even inventing New Country along the way), add new dimensions to Jazz, create countless highly original film sound tracks, including the seminal ‘Paris Texas’, and single-handedly draw the world’s attention to the sublime sounds of Cuban music in all its voluptuous variety. It’s therefore totally out of order for a mere hack to question the great man’s musical integrity but I guess he becomes an easy target when one of his discs is somewhat less than perfect. Not that this one would not be highly acclaimed if released under the name of any other artist! The problem is that Ry is expected to be innovative and exploring new territory with each and every issue. And for me this just not meet those criteria. This is a man resting (albeit briefly, probably) on his laurels and cashing in on his popularity for providing soundtracks for films with a Tex-Mex flavour, which this would ostensibly seem to be.Surprisingly however I find it is not. Rather it’s one of these multi-media projects which seem to be flavour of the month following recent output from the likes of Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen. Apparently the story tracks the problems of an LA Hispanic community. The neighbourhood comes up against a variety of problematic events including a brush with The Unamerican Activities Committee, a UFO visitation, Boxing turf wars and being bull-dozed to make way for the new Dodgers Stadium.This all sounds highly intriguing but I have to say that the album certainly doesn’t stand up as a straightforward music album as the story isn’t self evident if you’re not proficiently bi-lingual and it totally lacks in any kind of musical edge. OK - a couple of tracks would sound quite good as single releases or for radio airplay as fillers, but the continuity on the album is jagged and needs to be seen in the context of the story. The man is entitled to follow his personal agenda of course and consolidate his catalogue in favoured areas. But I’d go as far as to say this is a thoroughly average release for Ry Cooder. It will only be of particular interest to aficionados of either the man or the genre. Possibly anyone who hasn’t got any records of this type might find it interesting enough to want to explore the area further. For the rest of it, I’m sorry to suggest we might as well ignore this one and look forward to something more exciting from Ry which I’m sure is lurking not very far just over the horizon!

Friday, June 17, 2005

 

Running Order of Rock's Kool bands For Blaker’s Park Community Picnic– Saturday 25 June

and some advice for musicians

Spin Doctors Disco will fill the gaps with some nostalgic sounds
Feel free to email your requests to abi.rhodes@tiscali.co.uk

11.30 – 1.30 then 2.30 – 4.30. Everyone is Welcome.
Please remember to ensure that your guitars are labelled both on the case and on the inside with both your name and the name of your band
Please arrive at least 30 minutes before you are due on stage. This gives us a chance to tune your guitars and for you to get yourselves ready.
11.30 A Resounding Thumbs Up
11.40 Jaffa
11.50 Cloud Runner
12.00 Farmyard Boys
12.10 Spotlight
12.20 Big Wig
12.30 Band of Many Hats
12.40 Glasnost
12.50 Ideosynchrisy
1.00 New DT
1.10 Tangled Web
1.15 Taste of Tarmac
Spoilt
1.25 Minty and Alex
1.30 – 2.30 Break for Covers Band.
2.30 Last of the Silver Skins
2.40 Memphis Reigns
2.50 Taste of Tarmac
2.55 Rebel Yell
3.05 Pulse
3.15 Ravens
3.20 New Band 14
3.30 Trio (The Nigels)
3.40 Between The Acts
3.50 Mad Hatters
4.00 Middle Finger
4.10 Undone
4.20 Methadone Pretty

www.rockskool.co.uk

Sunday, June 05, 2005

 

FRIENDS OF BLAKER’S PARK COMMUNITY PICNIC

FRIENDS OF BLAKER’S PARK
______________________________________________________
COMMUNITY PICNIC
& SUMMER FAIR
(Jointly with Stanford Avenue Methodist Church)
__________________________
SATURDAY
25th JUNE 2005
__________________________
11.30a.m. to 4.30p.m.
__________________________
DISHY’S CAFÉ BARBECUE ROCKSKOOL STUDENTS
PARACHUTE GAMES CAKES& JAMS
PLATE SMASHING STALLS
BRING A PICNIC AND
MEET YOUR NEIGHBOURS


Spin Doctors Disco will be appearing at this event playing Nostalgic Music between acts of Rockskool's Student bands.
For further details of Rockskool please visit www.rockskool.co.uk

Friday, June 03, 2005

 

More recent reviews

RECOMMENDED CD OF THE YEAR (SO FAR)
PETER SCULTHORPE Earth Cry, Piano Concerto, etc. Naxos 8.557382 www.naxos.com
William Barton – didgeridoo, Tamara Anna Cislowska – piano, New Zealand SO cond. James Judd
What an ear-opener this one is. Full of soaring emotion, it’s a record I’d recommend to anyone as a brilliant jumping off point in the exploration of Contemporary Classical Music.
The first piece Earth Cry is what I suppose would normally be called a tone poem the subject of which is contained in the title– and very moving it is too. The mood is dramatically enhanced by the use of didgeridoo which has the extraordinary feel of a heavy metal guitar with wah-wah & feedback overlaying the melodious romantic themes of the orchestra.
Memento Mori reflects the history of Easter Island with its mysterious stone heads and acts as a metaphor for what could happen to our entire species. The use of orchestration and plainchant in the form of a lament reminded me very much of Gorecki’s 3rd Symphony and induced the same state of hopeless melancholia.
Despite his claim that his Piano Concerto is a life affirming piece, it is based on some of the composer’s early brushes with mortality and one feels one’s heart rent by the emotions expressed herein. It is written very much in the mid-20thCentury European tradition (very bleak black-and-white landscapes full of strife) but there’s an unusual Far Eastern feel that gives it an edge over some of the more run-of-the-mill works of that ilk. In fact, luke-warm as I usually am about piano music, I would say stunning would not be too strong a description of this composition.
From Oceania is a short sonic landscape piece full of high drama, oriental drumming and loud crashing cymbals – wonderful.
Finally we have Kakadu, the Sculthorpe equivalent of A Short Ride in a Fast Machine. In fact it’s a slightly elongated trip in a time machine, journeying from the Coastal Plain of Northern Australia, through desert lands into the mountain ranges. We explore the world and the disappearing 50,000 year- old culture of the gagadju people of that region We experience the excitement, the sadness and the determined resilience of their shrinking universe in . It’s alternately exhilarating and frighteningly depressing in equal quantities, but leaves one sensing an epic story of a people’s struggle which has been a knife’s edge so many times yet survived through all those millennia.
Wow! What a CD! Quite the most exciting thing I’ve heard for some long time. It’s a stunning triumph of masterful production. I note that Naxos are clearly able to assemble this quality of composition and performance to put out a disc of such astounding distinction at the budget price they charge. I must wonder , then, how the established giants of the industry can be forever bleating about low profit margins and threats to the future of music while charging the extortionate prices they do for what is, compared to this, often second rate product. There’s just no excuse!
Support this label – they deserve to be the market leaders of the future. The very near future - if not now!




TURNING GREEN Firsty Pea
Another gem from this upcoming 4-piece gang of punky jazz-funk power popsters. This, their 1st EP (geddit?), contains 3 new tracks that I’ve had the pleasure of hearing performed live on a couple of occasions. It opens with ‘Flavour’ a jazzy bopper Billy Preston would be proud of in which all the instruments get the chance to strut their funky stuff. ‘Walking Away’ is an excursion into a jagged land previously inhabited by the likes of Phil Minton & Mike Westbrook in Solid Gold Cadillac days, or perhaps Jack Bruce or Joe Cocker at their most angular. The last track, ‘Alien’ is almost a psychedelic/nu-metal crossover anthem which is the type of thing that brings the house down at the close of a spectacular stage performance leaving the rabid audience yearning for more. Which is exactly how this EP record affects me – it leaves me longing to hear their next album.
SHAMELESS Outta My Face 1 track single
The character in this song inhabits the sort of laddish neighbourhood & culture that The Streets waxes so lyrical about. It’s a defiant unpleasant nihilistic anthem once espoused by a so-called blank generation of the 70s claiming the right to do exactly as it pleases regardless of the consequences and is not particularly encouraging about the prospects for times to come. On the other hand the quality of the performance is excellent, the song grooves along wonderfully and the depressing picture drawn is explicit. A great little record – hopefully it’s a taster for great things to come.

The Birth of Rock’n’Roll Original Recordings 1945-1954 Naxos Nostalgia 8.120801
The genesis of R’n’R is really well illustrated here with tracks from the post-war popular styles and crossovers and the first attempts at the new form itself – some well known, others less so. We have The Ravens with a rather strange Doo-Wop version of ‘Old Man River’. Then we get Jive King Louis Jordan’s marvellously screechy ‘Caldonia’ which illustrates the Swing era horn sections that remained in much of the early Rock and Roll stylings. Fats Domino’s ‘The Fat Man’ sits squarely on the cusp of a popular music revolution . And then along come Bill Haley and Elvis and all hell is let loose. The rest is history, as they say.
But this record is more than just a dry educational tour of the birth of a culture – it’s entertaining with it. It’s a great party record too. But I think possibly the most startling lesson it teaches is that right from the word go, the words ‘PLAY LOUD’ was written invisibly on every disc and perhaps this has been the defining phrase for anything falling into the category called Rock Music ever since.




JEM Finally Woken

From the very first note of the opening track and single release ‘They’ this album has hit written all over it - smacking you in the face with its imperative message, which is "Get up and dance!" I’ve said before the thing impressing me most of all in the current music scene is the rise and rise of the female voice. Jem’s is superb - soulful, sweet and sexy - to say the least. The sign of a great album is that every track is a goodie and this one is definitely a case of ‘All Killer, No Filler.’ How can I describe it – well it’s modern R’n’B with lots of twists. These include the Swingle Singers type backing in ‘They’ and other tracks, the use of flamenco, jazz and reggae rhythms, buzzy guitars, soaring romantic strings or heavy orchestration, applied effortlessly in the most appropriate places. One wants to rock out, get down, shimmy and smooch in equal proportions as one’s mood undergoes a roller-coaster of emotions as one song changes to another. I’m certain this album will spawn a non-stop string of top five singles rather like Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ and ‘Bad’ did all those years ago. It’s the closest thing to faultless (to paraphrase Katie Melua) I’ve come across for many a long night. Buy it, put it on your player and experience the aural orgasm Jem offers you on a platter.





SKRIMSHANK Redemption www.skrimshank.com Smut Records

Here’s a very innovative modern sounding fusion record, which takes the interesting parts of several current and historical stylees. Basically a personal and political vocal rap album in the style of The Streets, I feel, but imaginatively set in musical landscapes defying simple categorisation – electro, reggae, house and Blaxploitation are just a few of the rhythms occurring during some of the songs but only in short bits and not necessarily descriptive of the song itself. A fascinating, marvellously creative and original album.

Gulcher Records:
We’ve received another bundle of vintage garage sounds from Gulcher, the label specialising in re-releases from the years surrounding 1980. As usual, they represent a wide range of styles, the common factor being their appeal to anyone seeking out-of-the-ordinary music that definitely would never be seen dead inhabiting the pop charts. www.gulcher.gemm.com
CHINABOISE: The Greatest Story Ever Told Gulcher 426
This is a one-off album from1975, the project being headed by Rich Sim, one of the guys responsible for the popular group MX-80 Sound who had moderate success later in the 80s. It’s a concept album of the sort favoured by The Mothers of Invention in their earlier days – I’m thinking of ‘We’re Only in it for the Money’ with it’s spoken interlinks. The music is slightly sleezy with saxophone and flute phrasing, dramatised by gong or cymbal crashes, enigmatised with jazzy Beefheart-like breaks & twiddles, and its Bonzo Dog style vocalisations. I haven’t really had enough time to work out what it’s all about. The Gulcher package arrived just a couple of days before the copy deadline – but I’m sure I will get to that, because it’s clearly a record to be listened to time and again – with new angles being revealed on each play. Probably, as far as I’m concerned, the pick of the crop.

FEARLESS LEADER God Bless the Devil Gulcher 428
This is a fuzzy-guitar based album by a bunch of rockers who look like inbred Kiss offspring and sound like The Flaming Groovies should’ve. This is what garage music ought to sound like - something recorded by competent musicians, but who’ve only got a battery powered cassette recorder and who haven’t yet been told about producers and engineers. I bet they were brilliant performing down in the high school gym on Halloween. Well noisy!







THE KORPS Hello World! (+Bonus Tracks) GULCH 427




Is this Bill & Ted for real? It certainly sounds like it by the way it opens. And looks like it too by the amateur photography employed in the cover design. Absolutely no pretensions at being rock stars. Just good ol’ fashioned get-down & get-with-it rock’n’roll. It was recorded in ’78 but sometimes sounds like it had jumped forward in time from the mid-60s. Simple words and rhythms but highly effective. Any song which declares ‘I hate vegetables, I really do….I’m sure you do too.’ Gets my vote! Often derivative but highly skilful and an awful lot of fun. I love it – I think you will too.

THE GIZMOS Rock & Roll Don’t Come From New York GULCH 425
If such a thing exists, I would say this is a typical Gulcher Record. The Gizmos are the sort of group the Ramones might have been before they ventured out into the light of day needing those shades and before they discovered the accelerator pedal existed. Fabulously illustrative of where punk came from even though it was recorded after

 

NOSTALGIA……..

……it ain’t wot it used to be!

I’ve mentioned before that snobbery is rife in musical appreciation. The recent revival in interest in The Rat Pack crooners spurred on by the likes of Robbie Williams (himself an artist often unjustly poo-pooed by the snotty brigade) has led me to think more widely about what a generally raw deal has been given to popular music from the pre-Rock and Roll era.
It’s a shame this hostility has gone on for so long. It is probably originated with the superiority, scorn and fear exhibited by the followers of the more senior styles when Elvis, Jerry Lee and Little Richard arrived on the scene. The situation was compounded when The BBC Light Programme kept different trends in music apart for so long by it’s insistence on playing safe choices in the daytime and relegating more interesting stuff to specialised slots in the evening when the masses were watching TV. Unfortunately this practice continues until this day on Radio 2, where all the interesting music is ghettoised into specialist evening programmes. This cowardly approach is echoed on stations like Jazz FM where they have a policy of only playing gentle and funky jazz – they don’t seem to want anyone to have to think about the music they are listening to in case they offend. Listeners may be put off their tasks at work and in the home, or worse still find something so disturbing they change channel! The truth is that genuine music fans will channel hop to find something challenging and exciting rather than be bored by the same old crap. But then again perhaps music radio doesn’t exist for true music fans – perhaps it’s designed as an opiate for the people.
Climbing down from my high horse, I will return to the point.
Now is an ideal time to put your house in order. It seems the opportunity to explore some of the older styles of music has never been easier or cheaper. The obvious places to start finding gems from the nineteen-twenties, thirties, forties and early fifties are jumble sales and charity/junk shops. They always seem to have boxes of old vinyl records at very low prices, which never seem to shift. The most economical way to get stuff is to make an offer for the lot – say a fiver (or less!) for the boxful – many shops will be only too glad to get rid of them and create some space. You can then sort out what you don’t want and flog them off at a profit. Even the seemingly ubiquitous easy listening and middle-of-the-road detritus will contain material which will excite and entertain either you or someone else – if only for the sheer mawkishness or corn of it!
Once you’ve got some pointers as to what avenues you wish to follow up, you should get yourself a rare records price guide (several on the market – issued by such publishers as ‘The Record Collector’ magazine). This will give you an idea of how much you can expect to have to pay for certain discs from other collectors or at specialist shops and how much you can aim to get for ones you want to get rid of – with the proviso that condition can be all important.
The second area to find historic and nostalgic material is on specialist and budget priced CDs. There are also a growing number of dedicated nostalgia shops popping up – often with names like ‘The Good Old Days,’ ‘Bygones’ and so on. Not only will you be able to obtain the discs you didn’t know you’d been missing for so long but you can decorate your music room with replica (or genuine) memorabilia from the era – reproductions of Nipper, the His Master’s Voice dog, posters from pre-war musicals, busts of Laurel and Hardy and so on.
Anyway, what should you go in for? And what’s available? The choice of musical styles is far and wide. Personally, I like to try out something of everything but there’s plenty of scope for real specialisation and obsessive completism!
Jazz and wartime swing are well represented as one might expect. I’ve recently been listening to The Andrews Sisters ‘Hit the Road’ (Naxos Nostalgia 8.120550), ‘Swingin’ with Django’ by Django Reinhart & Quintette du Hot Club de France (Naxos Jazz Legends 8.120698), ‘In the Mood’ (20 original big band hits on Jazzterdays JTD 102401, and ‘This is Living Era’ (Living Era CD ASD10050), the latter two being excellent samplers of what’s available on those labels.
Country music is also well covered. Kenwest’s ‘The History of Country Music – The Forties Volume 1’ is a brilliant introduction to such artists as Roy Acuff, Sons of the Pioneers and Bob Wills (KNEWCD 715), while Delta Music’s Bluegrass Festival featuring Bill Monroe and Eric Darling (CD 6256) is a wonderful Bluegrass collection and K-Tel’s ‘American Roots’ (ECD 3866) gives an insight into the work of Flatt & Scruggs, Woodie Guthrie and The Carter Family. There are many budget CDs available by other pioneers such as Hank Williams, Jimmy Rodgers, Frankie Laine, Roy Rogers and Tennessee Ernie Ford to name but a few – all well worth the modest outlay.
Then there are music hall artists and theatrical humorists to try out. Stanley Holloway’s ‘Old Sam & Young Albert’ (Naxos Nostalgia 8.120715) and George Formby ‘The Ukelele Man’ (Prism PLATCD 176) provide plenty of laughs, while ‘London Nights’ on Music & Memories (MMD1032) give one an taster of the worlds of Noel Coward, Gracie Fields, Al Bowlly and Hutch among others.
Then we have the Crooners and Heartthrobs – plenty of CDs featuring Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby and their cohorts exist – just watch out for the price of these – different labels at very differing prices often contain exactly the same material at no discernible difference in quality. I’ve got a particularly soft spot for ‘Paul Robeson’ on the Forever Gold label (FG109) and Dick Haymes’ ‘It Might as well be Spring’ (Hallmark 304612), but these are the tip of an ever-growing iceberg.
My final suggestion (at present) for a genre worth looking into is that of the immediate progenitors to rock and roll – names such as the Fats Domino, Platters, The Inkspots, Doo-Wop outfits and, my favourites, the Jump-Jive generation. I recently got hold of ‘Jump’n’Jive’ on the Aladdin label (7243 4 97870 2 5) featuring such stars as Louis Primo, Billie May and T-Bone Walker. It’s a gold mine for you to dig! And then everyone should have at least one disc by Louis Jordan ( I suggest ‘The Very best of Louis Jordan’ on Music Club MCCD 085) and one by Cab Calloway (‘The Magic Collection’ ARC Records MEC 949096) the undisputed co-kings of the style.
Billie Holiday, Rosemary Clooney, CharlesTrenet, Burl Ives – the list is seemingly endless, many and varied, but well worth the effort to explore. Enjoy your musical voyage into the past and spread the word among your muso friends so we end up with a healthy interest in a wider spectrum and give musical snobbery the elbow! Eclecticism should be our byword!
Love & Peace
Abi Rhodes

 

Reviews & Rediscoveries

REVIEWS

English Choral Music of the Twentieth Century 10CD Box Set Naxos 8.501007
Choir of St John’s College, Cambridge – Christopher Robinson
Each of these disks concentrates on one composer’s work and the list comprises Britten, Finzi*, Stanford*, Howells, Elgar*, Tavener, Walton*, Berkeley*, Rubbra* and Leighton*. I have to admit the last 3 names were not previously known to me. The quality of the collection is born testament to by the fact that the 7 starred items in the list have all been picked as Editor’s Choice Albums in the prestigious Gramaphone magazine. It’s a brilliant set with many very moving moments. I guess the main issue is would you want to shell out the £40-£50 price-tag it bears? Well, my answer is, it’s worth every penny, but the good news the individual CDs are all available separately at the usual Naxos price (around £4.50). Now,as I believe I’ve said before, you don’t need to be religious to enjoy choral or sacred music. The sound of the human voice listened to purely as musical sound can be uplifting or otherwise emotionally stimulating for even the most died in the wool spiritual skeptic – take Yours Truly as a case in point! Of course, it all comes down to personal preference, but if you not previously experienced with this kind of music and would like to try some out, I would suggest you first try out the Tavener CD – the music is sublime. Then, I’d go for Finzi, Howells and Berkely, whose work has come as a revelation. Everything is the series is recorded in St John’s College Chapel and has that marvellous full cavernous sound one expects from such a venue. Really, I can’t fault the box. Collectively or individually, these CDs would make a wonderfully affordable present for a musical friend or family member. Thoroughly enjoyable and highly recommended.
Louis Armstrong: Introducing…Louis Armstrong 3CD box set Naxos 8.103007
Heebie Jeebies 1925-30, I’ve Got the World on a String 1930-33, Rhythm Saved the World 1934-36
Now, Louis Armstrong, is rightly widely considered the fount of almost all important 2oth Century Popular Music by many experts. I don’t quite know if I concur, but my interest in Louis has stemmed from the importance attached to him by my great Jazz hero, Miles Davis. Louis was, of course, born in the home of jazz, New Orleans, and these early recordings just ooze the ambience of that great musical city, as we understand it from historical film and period cinema . They may sound quite simple to sophisticated 21st Century ears but it’s not too difficult how ground breaking they must have been eighty years ago, and what excitement it must have caused in that post Great War era of ever accelerating social, political and industrial change. In fact the rhythms and melodies must accurately mirror the pace and atmosphere of the still young, but rapidly developing nation that was America. It’s easy to conjure images with this music- the emergence from slavery, the waves of immigration, the advancement of the industrial age through steam, internal combustion, mass production and on towards the great prosperity which exists today in the USA. Throughout the set, Satchmo blows some mean trumpet and exercises that famous Gravel Voice and one can trace his development in style and ability alongside the advances in recording technology – it’s so much more rewarding than listening to the Greatest Hits type of collection – much more picturesque and atmospheric. Once again these recordings are available as separate discs but at less than fifteen quid for the lot, there’s no real reason not to invest in this excellent box-set.
Howard Shore: The Lord of the Rings – The Motion Picture Trilogy Soundtrack
Repise/WMG 9362-48633-2
Any true music lover cannot have failed to be impressed by the wonderfully appropriate music accompanying the action to Peter Jackson’s spectacular movies. Here, in one box, we have the entire score together with a cool selection of information and inserts all for the amazing price of about fifteen pounds. Besides lots of atmospheric incidental music which may have been overlooked when watching the film, but which stands up pretty well on its own, there are a variety of songs by the likes of Enya, Annie Lennox and Sheila Chandra which will doubtless recall exactly where they were featured in the story. A brilliant package deserving a place in the collections of musos, film buffs and Middle Earthlings alike. In fact – it’s hobbit forming. I only wish it included the promised suite written for performance I’ve heard so much about but have yet to actually hear.
Enrico Caruso: The Complete Recordings 1902-1920 12CD Box Set Naxos 8.101201
Enrico Caruso: A Life in Words & Music 4CD Set Naxos 8.558131-34
I’m not going to claim that this collection is going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’ll prove to be a great challenge for the musical adventurer! Caruso, the operatic tenor and first true star of the recording world, is undeniably one of the great voices in musical history. Taken together the box set and the biographical set provide a fantastic introduction to the great man, even though a good deal of listening effort is required to get through it all. Start out with the biography to gain an insight into the life and times of Enrico Caruso, who was born Erico into a poor Napolese family in 1873. This is presented in episodic style with musical illustrations along the way. By the end of the 4th disc, one feels one knows a fair bit about the subject and probably ready to listen to the full boxed set of his complete recordings. Now, I'’ not sure that I’ve heard every single track but do know that most of it makes for very entertaining & instructive listening. One can place many of the songs in their historical contexts, as gleaned from the life-story. The recordings have been lovingly restored but the atmosphere of the ‘primitive’ studio conditions remain giving a marvellous period feel to the sound and one is able to draw pictures in one’s mind of the artist at work. It’s a great experience. Now, I’m not suggesting everyone rush out to but the whole lot, but there’s no reason why your local music library shouldn’t have them – in fact I’d go as far as to suggest their historic importance warranted the position of essential basic stock in any establishment worth its salt. So, try and get your hands on the sets from the library. Then if you find you’re as captivated as myself, you will be able to build up your collection of complete recordings disc by disc, although should you want it, you will need to shell out £15 for the biography set.
I can’t wait for similar collections covering Nellie Melba and Clara Butt!
Recent disc-overies
As you know, I’m constantly scouring the bargain bins and charity shops on your behalf in the hope of bringing you news of records you have probably never heard of and which you need to know about! The recent crop has been wide and varied and I have had to be rigorously selective in which ones I can pass onto you – limitations of space dictate this – also I’m aware that you have more important things to do other than sit there reading me drivelling on. Like getting out there rummaging for yourselves! By the way, you are welcome to send in anything you think worth reporting on (or even write your own reviews). Please also feel free to dump your old unwanted records, CDs etc in this direction – I have many uses for them! Abi Rhodes, c/o CCNewz, PO Box 2700, Lewes, BN8 5AQ.
Anyway, here’s my latest selection of rediscovered lost masterpieces. By far the most exciting record I’ve come across is a promo CD by John Hiatt entitled ‘Crossing Muddy Waters.’ This rugged fruity singer/songwriter has a great mastery of the language and a throaty lugubrious voice to die for. Located in the musical region surrounding Ry Cooder, he has a bluesy country sort of sound. I especially dig the 2 opening tracks Lincoln Town and Crossing Muddy Waters, but the whole album is great. Find this on the Vanguard label – can’t tell you a catalogue number but I do know it was released on September 26th (no idea which year!).
Speaking of Ry Cooder, I found one of his soundtrack albums ‘Last man Standing’ from 1996 – a Walter Hill gangster movie starring Bruce Willis, based on a Kurosawa film. The music is varied – jazzy, funky, moody, scenic etc - as you’d expect for this type of disc – plenty of powerful orchestrations on the one hand and steely National guitars on the other. It’s on Verve, cat no 533 415-2. I’m hopeful the film’ll pop up on one of the old movie channels on TV soon. Let me know if you hear it’s coming up.
Lastly, for the time being, I must let you into a highly guarded secret. It concerns an odd-ball outfit called Fez. I tend to grab any album going cheap if it has the word ‘Nashville’ somewhere in the credits. This one was ‘magnetically adhered to tape’ in the Country Capital of the World and goes by the intriguing title ‘World Domination on $3 a Day,’ and released in 1999. Looking at the cover, natural first reactions lead one to think spoof ‘New Country’ but with Fez one is … well … ‘surprised’ would be an understatement! The band, whose members parade under the names The Monkeyboy, Chaos and Mr White, delights us with an extraordinary crossover sound akin to psychobilly (I’m not totally floored by finding Brian Setzer as one being thanked for Monkeyboy’s guitar method), but drawing on countless other styles including lounge-lizard jazz, surf music, 60s teen B-movie, Bizet & Ellington. Crazy, Man, Crazy. Geddit? Then Get It!

 

Recent Record Reviews

Sarah Vaughan Trouble Is a Man Naxos Jazz Legends 8.120763
Original 1946-1948 Recordings
20 tracks of superb smoochy sleaze from sexy Sarah make up this marvellous collection for late-night listening. Some will be familiar to anyone who’s ever heard any forties popular jazz, others less so. Standards including I Cover the Waterfront, Tenderly, The Man I Love, I Get a Kick Out of You, What a Difference a Day Made and Nature Boy are all carried off with great panache while the gospel number ‘Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child’ is absolutely sublime. And I must say the arrangements and orchestrations, provided by half a dozen different bands, supply perfect settings for the great lady’s vocal stylings. Yes, this is yet another wonderfully compiled & packaged CD from Naxos that cannot be faulted especially at the price they ask. There’s no excuse not to get fully educated in twentieth century music while they’re in business!


John Stainer The Crucifixion Naxos 8.557624
James Gilchrist, Tenor; Simon Bailey, Bass; Choir of Clare College, Cambridge; Organist - Timothy Brown
This is apparently among the most popular of English choral works. It depicts the Passion of Christ and is modelled on Bach’s works based on the gospels. I have to say I find the flavour all a bit too ‘churchy’ for my palette. There’s just not enough of the musical interest I expect from good choral work to make me want to listen to it repeatedly. I would suggest this CD is one for the lover of organ & religious music rather than the general listener. Now I like a good dirge as much as the next depressive, but I’m afraid this is all a bit too dull even for me!
For anyone who feels they might like to purchase this record, there is the attraction of it being available in a special limited edition with a complimentary bonus disc celebrating Naxos’s 18th birthday. It’s a sampler of English Choral Music available on the label and features 17 tracks from Crimond to Tavener [although not Stainer I notice!] and to my mind, being far more ‘musical’, is an all-together more worthy CD than its companion. In fact I think it’s worth paying the price of the’ Cricifixion’ to obtain it! I daresay there will be further bonus samplers available with other new releases from Naxos over the next few months.


Gerald Finzi Naxos 8.567644
Said to Love/Let Us Garlands Bring/Before & After Summer
Roderick Williams, Baritone; Iain Burnside, Piano
I thought ‘Here’s one for the fans of Miserablism.’ Gerald Finzi (1901—56), justly famous for his ‘Intimations of Mortality’ sets poems of Thomas Hardy, renowned for his powerful proto-nihilistic writings to music.
Alas, I was so disappointed. The music was so sweet and syrupy I just couldn’t listen any longer.
Graeme Koehne Inflight Entertainment*/Powerhouse/Elevator Music
Diana Doherty, Oboe*; SydneySymphony, Takuo Yuasa Naxos 8.555847
The name of this Australian composer is new to me, so I come to th record with no prior knowledge. The titles suggest the ambient music of Brian Eno so I’m quite surprised to hear the brash sounds of Elevator Music, the opening piece. It fact it’s quite jazzy in an Aaron Copeland sort of way – Rodeo – that type of thing. Very well accomplished with it too.
Inflight Entertainment – an oboe concerto – is quite derivative too, but in the best sense – I’m reminded of Dvorak’s New World and Bernstein’s West Side Story and perhaps a little Gershwin and an Elmer Bernstein western theme, during the first movement, entitled Agent Provocateur. No – sadly, it’s nothing to do with sexy underwear, but hurries along suggesting a chase situation. Maybe this indicates that Inflight Entertainment probably refers to the films shown onboard during a long-haul air journey. {Surprise, surprise!] The second part, a slow movement – Horse Opera – is again very pastoral and filmic – it’s thoughtful and not too melancholy. Good chill-out music, some might say. The third movement – Beat Girls - returns to a dramatic situation. Busy-ness, maybe some turmoil, more urban, more modern – more exciting. In fact, it’s very exciting!
Unchained melody is another very exciting piece which moves along at a great pace – one can’t help comparison with Adams’s ‘Short Ride in a Fast Machine’ or Philip Glass’s ‘The Canyon’. The sleeve notes tell us Koehne was keen to bring the energy of pop music into symphonic composition. [He supposedly picked the title from a ‘relatively obscure 1950s pop song.’ I trust this reflects the ignorance of the sleeve note writer rather than the composer – although this turns out to be James Koehne – Graeme’s brother – perhaps Australia’s pop charts were even duller than one suspected – they never even got Jimmy Young!] Whether he succeeds in this stated task is dubious – the piece is again far more jazz based than pop. But it’s of little importance – the music’s energetic anyway.
Powerhouse – the final offering on the CD – is essentially another angle on the same themes as before – and is equally powerful stuff.
The album as a whole is to be thoroughly recommended even though I think the general style returns to relatively safe ground of pre-sixties modernism rather than presenting us with anything particularly new or startling. I also wish the titles had not been quite as misleading – I certainly can’t see the relevance of ‘Elevator Music’. Having said this I’d love to see music like this become part of the everyday repertoire, replacing some of the tired worn-out second-rate standards that concert planners still insist on subjecting us to. It’s great twentieth century music and deserves to be in everyone’s record collection.
Jorge Liderman: The Song of Songs Bridge 9172
Chamber Chorus of the University of California at Berkeley, dir. Marika Kuzma
San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, cond. David Milnes
Thea Musgrave: Choral Works Bridge 9161
The New York Virtuoso Singers, cond. Harold Rosenbaum, narrated by Michael York
www.bridgerecords.com
Two CDs of modern works for vocal ensembles, the quality of which would provide a good introduction to the genre for the uninitiated listener.
The Liderman disc sets the Hebrew Bible’s Song of Songs to music very effectively. It is a poem charting the sexual awaking of a young woman and her lover. This is quite extraordinary material for a ‘western’ religious text. But the words are largely irrelevant unless you have abnormally sensitive hearing faculties. The text becomes indecipherable for the average listener and the music is what’s of importance. There’s plenty of drama and pathos here and the commentary provided in the notes clarifies the exact meanings of the action. It’s moderately hard work to listen to but well worth the effort. Playing at relatively higher volume is essential to gain best results.
Thea Musgrave’s works are settings of poetry by Auden, Yates and others, and are altogether far clearer to listen to as songs than the Liderman disc. But again the music is atmospheric and full of moody drama, so can stand up as good music for those even harder of hearing than ‘yours truly’!
Both albums are beautiful and charming and will prove exciting avenues of discovery for the adventurous music lover in search of new musics.

 

Eurovision Song Contest 2005

The evening of Saturday 21st May at marked the highlight of my TV year - The Eurovision Song Contest.It's always been a bone of contention as to whether it's possible to judge a song on it's lyrical content alone. Especially when, as was the case for many, many years, all the songs were written in one of the languages in common currency in the country of the specific entries. This problem has at last largely been solved as the vast majority of songs are now at least partially sung in English - the international language of pop music. But the situation has still managed to become more complicated as there are so many other new variables to factor into the equation of a winning formula. Above all, presentation is everything.The look of the singer - the dress, amount of flesh to be exposed, the make-up - all the more important if the vocalist is a woman! The orchestration - an eastern rhythm very popular at the moment. And the inclusion of a kettle drum is mandatory it seems this year! The dance routine - increasingly important - this year had to have an Irish Riverdance feel to it. How the song fits in with regional culture & is it wise to have a political angle? - especially relevant with the proliferating number of Eastern European and Balkan countries entering and performing very well indeed.This year because of the sheer number of countries entering we had the additional Thursday semi-final prior to the main event (broadcast on BBC3 here & without Terry Wogan's valuable input). The number of entries was 39 in total - it would have been 40 but Lebanon was, quite properly, disqualified because it programmed its commercial break when Israel would have been performing! And refused to change it.I was somewhat disappointed because the Slovenian entry was knocked out at this semi-final stage - it was a potential winner in my view. It had the lot - an upbeat Euro song sung in English (I think!), good looking lively performance and a memorable melody - just what the Doctor ordered. Sadly the rest of Europe disagreed with me! To the surprise of many they also voted out the rather second rate Irish entry- despite it's Riverdance middle-eight!Anyway, onto the big night of the main event. I must say this year's overall standard was the best ever. My favourites - songs from Ukraine (the host country) and Bosnia-Hertzagovina both faired poorly in the voting - which surprised me as I'd managed to pick the winners in the past 2 years. The Ukrainian entry stalled possibly for political reasons as it was a song that's come to be associated with the recent Orange Revolution in that country & maybe its neighbours found that a bit too threatening. Also it was a sort of rap/hip-hop effort which may have been a bit ultra modern for some of the voting countries. The Bosnian entry was a typical Euro-anthem which looked a plum for the top spot - 3 blond stunners doing a very professional job of an Abba/Motown sort of fusion. Again it didn't impress enough voters.The bookies did themselves a bit of good by making Greece's thoroughly safe second rate pop tune the favourite. It walked away with it in the end although the leader board was quite changeable for a long time. I was glad to see Malta's rather old fashioned but very good ballad do so well and that Denmark's very dull entry that had been much trumpeted throughout fall in the final straight. Latvia's deadly boy duo did dangerously well and I hope this augers nothing for the future of the competition! I did manage to spot the loser - Germany's very weak metal anthem - it seems they suffer the same difficulties as the UK in their choice of entry. This is they just do not take the idea of the competition seriously. For too many years they insisted picking third rate artists to sing the songs - this because their real pop & rock stars were too busy being successful. This led to Eurovision being the joke it still is in countries with serious music industries. Consequently we (& Germany, who have some truly awsome rock talent) enter rotten songs sung by half-wits - the people voting for these travesties of pop songs are hardly your real music fans - more your Saturday night goggle boxers. Do me a favour if you really like your music - next year get involved and put good British pop back on the Eurovision agenda. This year the moronic British voters by-passed 2 pretty good possible entries - one by Jordan of all people and one by one of those stuffed shirt pseudo-operatic groups of the Il Divo/G4 ilk in favour of the 10th rate song sung by a third division singer. It must not happen again.The Ukranian management of the event was very good - it has to be said that little acknowledge ment is ever made of the organisational nightmare the voting system must entail. They deserve copious praise.And their half-time entertainment was the best ever - especially the 'body artist' - a sort of gymnastic break-dancer who was absolutely stunning. His contortions were almost unbelievable yet not at all grotesque.Despite all my grumpy fault finding this event still occupies such an important spot in my heart that I wouldn't miss it for the world. Please believe me when I say it's so worth while staying in for. Next year make sure you do - get a few beers in, invite some buddies round, print off a bunch of score sheets from the BBC site and have a damn good time!

 

A Musical Sick Joke – Stop Horsing Around with Good Music

One Sunday morning recently, I awoke and put the radio on. Now I usually start the day with the Today programme on BBC Radio 4. When I get fed up with repetitious news items and endless speculation as to what might be going to happen, I might switch to a story or comedy on BBC7 or, failing that, even opt for an amusing hour of banter from Terry Wogan on Radio 2. Being Sunday I found a surfeit of religious programming on Radios 2 & 4, and on BBC7 there was a serial which I wasn’t following, so I had to try one of the dreaded commercial stationsAnd opt for Classic FM – perhaps there’ll be some gentle sounds to lull me back to sleep…[For the benefit of John Humphris, switch to historic present!]First I’m bored a guitar piece by one of those Spanish composers played by Julian Bream – they all sound alike to me and excite me not one jot. Then comes a jolly piece by Mozart popularly called ‘A Musical Joke.’ It’s really very good, but totally hated by me on account of I can’t hear it without thinking of show jumping from Earl’s Court or Hickstead – not exactly my favourite type of entertainment.Now this got me thinking about the pros and cons of using music as signature tunes etc. Is it or ain’t it a bad idea? If a tune is written as a theme for a film or specifically to introduce a TV programme, then if it ends up being ever associated with that film, programme, character, etc the it’s done the job it was designed to do. It’s a success and deservedly so. But what about music that becomes attached to a particular image by the accident of a lazy or impecunious programme producer not wishing to pay for an original theme tune? In the case of the Mozart piece it’s definitely ruined the music for me for life. On the other hand, the association of Booker T’s ‘Soul Limbo’ with cricket and particularly the West Indies Team was, I think, a truly inspired move. It has kept a very good tune, which otherwise might have been long gone and well-forgotten by now, in the public consciousness for more than 30 years.I’m sure we all have pet loves and hates when it comes to this activity, but I would like to put out an appeal to film and programme makers. Please consider just what the long-term effect might be on a tune’s reputation before you decide to hijack it for short-term expediency.

 

What should we expect from Musicans?

We often read in the newspapers or see on the TV stories about the behaviour of rock and pop stars (and footballers, TV presenters, etc – Posh & Becks, probably being the prime targets currently). These exploits are reported on with voyeuristic relish and then criticised with self-righteous but hugely hypocritical moralistic clap-trap on the grounds that the example set to our young folk will lead them away from the straight and narrow onto a path of death and destruction.
It is easy to fall into this pattern of judgement of these people, but are they suitable targets for such attacks? I think probably not – I suggest this type of criticism be reserved for people who set themselves up as role-models for behaviour – the monarchy, politicians, religious leaders, pedagogues, legal authorities, newspaper editors etc. Funnily enough when these people are found out they usually blame stresses of their positions or excuse themselves for one reason or another, and claim their privacy is being invaded.
But young pop musicians are supposed to be faultless paradigms for our kids to emulate even though their product may be criticised for being disposable and second rate. What rot! One of the purposes of pop stars for youth is that they represent rebellion and sticking two fingers up to convention. Surely if they get caught involved in drugs or gun crime, they will be disciplined as appropriate and that is the example that should be taken notice of – for good or ill. Rightfully, people will form their own judgements – they will decide whether a harsh sentence for cannabis possession is justifiable or not, and whether life for murder is the correct punishment. Even young people are generally not so stupid to think that if a pop star is downloading child porn or involved in tax fraud, it is a good example to follow. Only persons who are already of the criminal persuasion would think that way.
No, we should accept that our stars come in a wide variety of behavioural types and persuasions. Some are weak and need help in maintaining their sanity and some will fail miserably even though they are good at being musical wonders. They cannot be held responsible for the pressures put upon their shoulders often by the very people delighting in attacking them.
Celebrity culture, and the business that supports it, are to blame, not the celebs themselves. Although it must be difficult to resist the elusive and ephemeral trappings of stardom, most are ordinary who come to public attention because they have some quality worth our notice, and because they are pursuing a career that they love and want to do well in. Ultimately we are all responsible because we buy the newspapers, watch the reality TV, want the posters to put on our walls.
We should perhaps refuse to buy papers that run campaigns denigrating a tour by The Beastie Boys, Public Enemy or Eminem (to cite 3 historic cases). We should demand the schools use the ‘Osbornes’ TV programme as the excellent educational tool it is in discussing relationships and responsibilities (Citizenship lessons) – and pay the Osbornes for the privilege. We should realsie that by trying to ban bad examples, we only encourage the vulnerable and curious to seek them out. Rather we should take the songs with questionable sentiments and lyrics and hold them up to examination and discussion and we should not let any one form of political correctness dictate what is acceptable and what is not – especially one set out in newspapers and on TV.
Damn the Moralistic Zealots, who probably stand for one form of mind control or another, and the Voyeuristic Press, who just want to sell their product – ignore them when they so vociferously tell us what to think about this rising artist or that new group of rappers. Listen to what’s really going down and make up your mind for yourself and let others do the same.
It seems to me that musicians really have one purpose and one purpose only. They have the onerous responsibility to make interesting music that will either make us think or entertain us – preferably both!

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