Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Album Review: Fruit Tree Foundation | First Edition

Album Review: Dakota Suite | The Hearts of Empty

Album Review: Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Broken Arrow

The good thing about Neil Young albums is that if you don’t like one, you might like the next one. They tend to vary a fair bit stylistically. However in 1996, his album with Crazy Horse was the latest in a long line of rock albums, stretching back to 1989’s Freedom, and broken only by 1992’s Harvest Moon.

Ok that’s enough of the back story. One noticeable thing about this album is that there are only 8 songs on it, and the first 3 songs are all more than seven minutes long. Big Time is classic sounding Crazy Horse territory with that unique guitar sound, though it and many of the other tracks here are overlong. Case in point is Loose Change, which has a very pleasing, if ridiculously repetitive guitar-laden midsection but does it really need to be nearly 10 minutes long?

The loping strut of Slip Away is the closest in feel to his classic 70s Crazy Horse material, with ghostly vocals harking back to the more recent Change Your Mind. After 3 tracks over 25 minutes you either buy into this or you don’t. Changing Highways is sloppy country-rock, like a weaker version of Looking for a Love (off Zuma), and Scattered again evokes the 70s (Albuquerque off Tonight’s the Night).

Lovers of acoustic Neil are also catered for here with the mellow strum of Music Arcade, but final track Baby What You Want Me To Do, a Jimmy Reed cover, is a messy (in a bad way) blues strum recorded live, complete crowd noises and dragged out over 8 minutes!

Definitely not an album for lovers of short, succinct songs, mainly one for fans of the jamming Crazy Horse variety.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Concert Review: The Cult at The Academy, Dublin, June 15th 2011

Album Review: Low – Long Division

Low’s second album, released in 1995, reinforces the minimalist Low template set out in their debut. The songs here are very sparse, very one-paced and mostly very hushed. If anything it’s less varied than their debut, and generally slower.

Violence kicks things off at glacial pace, showcasing clean, ringing guitars and the clear, crisp harmonies of Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker, setting the tone for the rest of the album. Shame has an alluring melody to it, sung by Parker.

An early highlight is Throw Out The Line, entirely built on these aforementioned harmonies with the sparsest of guitars and drums backing it up. Turn is less melodic, based on Zak Sally’s bass strums, and it builds and builds, never quite reaching a climax. The remainder of the album continues in the vein of what went before, varying little from the ‘template’.

It’s far away from latter period Low, with no noisy bits to break it up. Definitely not an immediate album, more of a grower.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Album Review: Jimmy Scott – The Source

Jimmy Scott, also known as Little Jimmy Scott was born with a genetic deformity which prevented his vocal chords from maturing fully. It gives him a highly distinctive, startling sounding voice, which sits somewhere between a male and female voice.

Though none of the eight songs on this album, released in 1969, were written by Scott, it shows off his ability to fully inhabit a song right from the start with the powerful Exodus, enhanced by sweeping strings. A performance that will have the hairs on the back of your neck standing up.

He takes well-worn standards like On Broadway and Unchained Melody and turns them inside out. These are songs some feel they need never hear again, yet Jimmy Scott, showing superb grasp of pacing and dynamics, gives them an interesting twist. Later Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child, is a great big slab of sadness, with some wonderfully moody piano, flutes and strings.

The accompanying music is mainly orchestral jazz, with a hint of blues here and there, with piano, strings and saxophone. It provides an engaging backdrop, without overpowering the singing. It’s a perfect album for coffee on a sunny morning, with a mood perhaps along the lines of Nina Simone.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Album Review: Ryan Adams & The Cardinals – Cold Roses

After the fall-out from the botched release of one of Ryan Adams’ finest hours (Love Is Hell), his next move was to form the Cardinals. 2005 saw him release three albums, double album Cold Roses being the first.

It’s a return to country-rock along the lines of Gold. Magnolia Mountain is quite an opener, building from an acoustic strum to a full blown rock anthem with Adams singing lines of regret like “ended up with nothing but scars, the scars became the lessons that we gave to our children after the war”. Sweet Illusion has an effortless guitar part underpinning a strong steel-guitar-tinged song, slightly let down by a very strained vocal. In fact Ryan Adams’ vocals are the Achilles heel of this album, he sounds almost strangled in parts.

He doesn’t get it right on his more hushed vocals, Meadowlake Street’s falsetto doesn’t quite work either. However, it doesn’t ruin the music, which is a kind of muted country-rock ballad which explodes into life three minutes in when the full band make their entrance.

Less successful are rocker Beautiful Sorta which is almost as horrid as its title, and the hokey, cod-country of Cherry Lane and the title track. Dance All Night is harmonica-led country-rock which sounds like Hallelujah or Desire from the unreleased 48 Hours.

Better are the comfortable, effortless ones like the vaguely-MOR (in a good way!) When Will You Come Back Home, Mockingbird and Rosebud. On these songs Adams’ vocals sound huskier and less forced, which suits him a lot better. Fans of the vulnerable piano pieces and shimmering guitars on Love Is Hell will find much to like in How Do You Keep Love Alive and Blossom.

It’s not all mope ‘n’ misery. Let It Ride and If I Am A Stranger are strong uptempo country rockers, while Life Is Beautiful is a gloriously overblown country-rock ballad.

It’s a long double album, stretching to 77 minutes with several missteps along the way, but at its best it stands up with some of Ryan Adams’ better work.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Album Review: Lou Reed – Magic and Loss

Following the well received New York and Songs for Drella, Lou Reed had returned to form and expectations were high in 1992. When Magic and Loss came out, dealing primarily with death, it felt like a culmination of a life’s work. The album is quite imposing, with each song having a subtitle as well as a title, eg Cremation – Ashes to Ashes, and with (for the most part) very muted downbeat music.

Despite a rather pompous opening instrumental, Dorita, the album quickly settles into a highly melodic groove, albeit a somewhat dark and gloomy one. What’s Good is as perky as it gets, with Lou musing on cancer and loss. Power and Glory gets more specific, talking about “isotopes introduced into his lungs” and “cancer reduce him to dust” leading into a wonderful chorus owned by a guest appearance from Little Jimmy Scott.

Lou and fellow guitarist Mike Rathke’s guitar playing is very restrained throughout this album, nowhere more so than on the dark plea for escape that is Magician (“I’m afraid that if I go to sleep I’ll never wake, I’ll no longer exist”). Some levity cracks through the darkness, in Goodby Mass he muses “you, you would have made a joke, you would have said something like tomorrow I’m smoke.”

Later, Harry’s Circumcision details a botched attempt at altering one’s own features over a floating melody. There are faster rockier tracks here Warrior King, Gassed and Stoked but these don’t work quite as well, and are at odds with Reed’s almost professorial vocal delivery.

The title track is another dark, muted melody about “passing through the fire to the light” with a real sense of finality about it, and fittingly, it’s the last track. The album is a dark, at times overwhelming, even claustrophobic collection of music. Yet it is also warm and soothing and will resonate with fans of Lou Reed’s music.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Album Review: Eddie Vedder | Ukulele Songs

Album Review: A Plastic Rose | The Promise Notes

Album Review: Thurston Moore | Demolished Thoughts

Album Review: Retarded Cop | You Have The Right to Remain Retarded

Album Review: Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Sleeps With Angels

I’m smitten. Object of my desire? 14 minutes of Change Your Mind. But more of that later.

This album came out in 1994 in the aftermath of Kurt Cobain’s death, and many people felt the title referred to this. It represented a total change of tack from Harvest Moon, with the return of Crazy Horse as the band and David Briggs in the producer’s chair.

The album opens with the totally unrepresentative My Heart, a piece on piano and marimba, with a slight feel of Will to Love (off American Stars n Bars) about it. From here the album becomes a lot more brooding. Prime of Life is faster, with flute and gorgeous harmonies, while guitars growl menacingly in the background. Driveby takes a deliberate guitar pattern and underlays with more guitar growls.

The guitar work is quite superb on this album, the title track being particularly raucous. But Crazy Horse have also proved they can do quiet over the years, and they do so again on this album with the countrified folk of Western Hero (reprised later on the album as Train of Love) which could fit in well on Harvest Moon etc minus the distorted guitar in the middle.

So to the centrepiece, Change Your Mind. It’s another in a long line of long, plodding guitar work outs in Neil Young’s back catalogue. This one is even longer than usual at fourteen and a half minutes and seldom deviates from a two chord formula. But what a stellar pair of chords. Your opinion on this will depend on your opinion of Down by the River, Cowgirl In The Sand, Cortez the Killer etc. I find it amazing that a piece of music like this can run for so long with minimal variation and remain compelling. This one certainly does, brooding like a bad thing throughout.

The album continues with slow noisy blues (Blue Eden), the spooky Safeway Cart with quasi –religious saviour references, and the haunting Trans Am. Piece of Crap is a rockier animal but it’s hard to take seriously with the band roaring “piece of crap!” and A Dream That Can Last brings the whole thing full circle, achoing the melody and feel of the opener.

This is a fairly essential nineties Neil Young album, hanging like the grim reaper in the corner of 1994.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Album Review: Ry Cooder – Paris, Texas Original Soundtrack

If you’re not familiar with Ry Cooder’s slide guitar work, this is a good place to start. His haunting slide guitar compositions form the basis for the soundtrack to Wim Wenders’ classic 1984 movie Paris, Texas. Most of it is devised around a single theme, a lonely, forlorn slide guitar figure, with She’s Leaving The Bank taking this theme and twisting it into a slow-burning graceful boil.

There is room for Harry Dean Stanton to lend his vocals to Cancion Mixteca, and later one of his devastating monologues forms the basis for I Knew These People. The soundtrack is a great accompaniment for solitary drives in remote locations.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Concert Review: Ellie Goulding – Olympia, Dublin, May 31st 2011

Was offered tickets to this at short notice. “Ellie who” I said? "Oh you’ll know the songs" they said. I was dropped into pop music purgatory. What does a serious music fan (verging on muso bore) do when confronted by something like this? Who likes his references literary and guitars heavy as f**k?

There was a heavy female bias in the crowd and a healthy dose of hysteria when Elle Goulding came on stage. There was also a real whiff of 80s about it, most overtly with the dancing one-fingered keyboard player.

It was never going to be my cup of tea. I don’t drink tea. My qualifications for talking about the actual music are limited in the extreme, but songs like Under The Sheets, Guns and Horses and The Writer were rendered tunefully and got a huge reaction.

Mercifully the gig was short at just over an hour. I was definitely in the minority, not just age bracket wise but also in that everybody else loved it. I didn’t know any of the songs. I would have to say I haven’t been to a gig quite like it.