This Year’s Songs…

 

As per usual, I meant to put together a few tunes that’ve caught my ears over the year…kinda left it to the last minute.

Since coming back to Scotland earlier this year, I’ll be honest, but I hardly ever listen to conventional music radio. Or at least no more so than I did in the old locale. That one time when I overheard an Ed Sheeren (or was it Sam Smith…or Bruno Mars) song was more than enough to put me off from trying further. Anyway, I try to keep my hand/ear in somehow.

So, here’s a list of songs and artists that I’ve really enjoyed this year. There’s some Americana, some Rock, some stuff that I’ve not quite worked out what ‘box’ it should be in.

Greta Van Fleet – Safari Song

Three brothers and their buddy make up this band from Detroit. Of course, there’ll be comparisons with The Black Crowes (and maybe Wolfmother), and once you’ve heard the vocalist, you’ll probably make your mind up quickly.

Robert Plant & The Sensational Space Shifters – New World

This lead’s on nicely to the Robert Plant album that dropped in October, ‘Carry Fire’. Whilst Jimmy Page continues to remaster and remix and reissue every conceivable Zeppelin tune you can think of (not a huge criticism tbh) and still seems to cling to the hope of some sort of reunion or new collaboration, Plant has continued to do his own thing. Backed by the splendidly monikored Sensational Space Shifters, the album explores various sonic avenues and there’s still plenty of room for guitars too.

It was great to hear new music from Spoon, The War on Drugs, Public Service Broadcasting, Ryan Adams, Steven Wilson and The National this year. I’d hoped to see most of them live at some point, but missed them all. I thoroughly enjoyed the new tunes nonetheless. For your consideration…

The War on Drugs – Pain

Spoon – Hot Thoughts

Public Service Broadcasting – Full Performance (Live on KEXP)

Ryan Adams – Do You Still Love Me?Ryan Adams – Do You Still Love Me?

The National – ‘Day I Die’

Steven Wilson – Routine (live)

My favourite records of the year were Chris Stapleton’s ‘From A Room: Volume 1 and Volume 2 and Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit ‘s ‘The Nashville Sound’. Since all good things comes in 3’s…I’d throw in Father John Misty’s ‘Pure comedy’.

The quality of Stapleton’s songwriting, combined with the musicianship of all those involved and extra layers from producer Dave Cobb really take it to the next level. Don’t let that big ‘ole hat trick you into thinking this is a one-trick pony…

Chris Stapleton – Millionaire

Chris Stapleton – I Was Wrong

The Nashville Sound is probably the album that I’ve listened to the most this year. It just never gets old. Also produced by Dave Cobb, the album has a fantastic array of sounds and styles where Isbell gets to shine not only as a singer-songwriter, but also a fine guitar player. They were fantastic live too.

Jason Isbell -“Last Of My Kind” (acoustic live)

Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit – Anxiety

If you’ve never heard of Father John Misty, then this’s a great place to start. Sounds great on the bus on those early morning commutes.

Father John Misty – Ballad of the Dying Man

A few more notable mentions.

Something heavy – Mastodon Mastodon – Sultan’s Curse

Something twangy – JD McPherson – “LUCKY PENNY”

Something that should be heard more of – The Afghan Whigs – Demon In Profile

Something that sounds from the 80’s (but in a good way) – Future Islands – Ran

Something dark – The Black Angels – Grab as Much (as You Can)

Something mellow – Iron & Wine – Claim Your Ghost

Something at 3 minutes and change – Hurray For The Riff Raff – Living In The City

Something from that guy who’s been in loads of cool bands but only plays Edinburgh – Mark Lanegan – Death’s Head Tattoo

Finally, some new artists (well, almost new) that I discovered this year. Marty Stuart was Johnny Cash’s guitar player for over 20 years…I had no idea…the album’s great. Marty Stuart – Way Out West

“Get me drinking that moonshine, Get me higher than the grocery bill”. Superb. Tyler Childers – Whitehouse Road

I liked the fusion-confusion sound that Algiers brought. Algiers – “The Underside of Power”

What did you enjoy this past year?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Tune a Day…J

The Jompson Brothers
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Of late, I’ve broadened my musical horizons into what could be described as “Modern Country”. I’ve also read it described as “Roots rock” and “Americana”. I’m sure the truth is somewhere in-between. In all honesty, it’s something that I never really thought I’d enjoy as much as I do. Here’s a few recommendations before we get to the “J” entry itself.
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Sturgill Simpson’s “A Sailor’s Guide To Earth” (2016). Great vocals and so much more than a country album. The addition of strings and horns as well as a cover of Nirvana’s “In Bloom” really takes things to a whole different level. He’s also pissed off the Nashville “Royalty” which I quite like.
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Drive-By Truckers – American Band (2016) The album was released before Trump won. The sentiments are pretty much the same on this “politically charged” album.
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Jason Isbell- Something More Than Free (2015) – Once of the aforementioned Drive-by Truckers, Isbell has went on to release 5 albums under his own name. Something More Than Free is excellent. There’s a nicely-filmed, full concert, right here
Finally, The Jompson Brothers. Before Chris Stapleton was a 20-year, overnight success story with his album “Traveller” (new album out in a couple of weeks BTW), he’d been dipping his toes into a few different sounding musical ventures. The Jompson Brothers (none of whom are related or called Jompson, of course) had that classic rock feel about them. They only released the one album and it seems to have been “here today, gone tomorrow” kinda thing. I rather like it.

A Tune a Day…I

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After some technical ups and downs of the past few days, I’m back with a few more alphabetically-themed musical treats.

I’ve recently discovered “Intergalactic Lovers” who hail from Aalst, Belgium. As is often the way of things these days, the first tune that I’d heard from them was featured on a TV show called “The Team”. A multi-country produced, cop-type show.

The song itself is a pleasant, mostly acoustic affair, and the female lead vocals balance nicely with the rest of the band’s pop sensibilities.

Intergalactic Lovers – Northern Rd.

This got me thinking about some other Belgian artists that were also worth a shout. The first I remember hearing were dEUS, just can’t quite remember what their “big” song was, but do remember them being in and around The Top 40 once or twice.

dEUS – Suds & Soda

Another favourite of mine are Black Box Revelation. I remember playing a couple of their tunes on “Cut Me Some Slack” back in the day. However, they’ve since disappeared off the map and with no new music in sight. Maybe that guitar/drums duo thing has run its course? Cool video too.

Black Box Revelation – “My Perception”

If you’re a fan of Bluegrass, (and if you’re not, then what’s wrong with you?) there was a great Belgian movie called The Broken Circle Breakdown which also had a wonderful accompanying soundtrack. It will make you cry…

“The Boy Who Wouldn’t Hoe Corn” -The Broken Circle Breakdown

It’d be remiss of me not to mention Jacques Brel. David Bowie recorded a version of Amsterdam, as well as Scot Walker and many others covering his work. To see it performed in it’s original language is quite something.

Jacques Brel – Amsterdam

 

A Tune a Day…H

Have you ever seen a band or an artist play in a small, smokey club? Maybe they were first on the bill or were so ordinary that you’d be forgiven for thinking that there was a band playing in the first place? I believe that’s the time when many punters will “hit the bar” and wait for the Headliner.

I had to check, but I think this was August or September 1986, and I was at The Barrowlands in Glasgow to see one of the popular beat combos of the day -The Housemartins. They’d just had a huge hit earlier in the year with “Happy Hour”, a jaunty, jangly, 2 minutes-and-change tune that’d gone high in the charts. They only rleased 2 albums before morphing into “The Beautiful South” and having many, many more hits.

Two things of note about The Housemartins. First, Norman Cook aka Fatboy Slim was the bass player. Whatever happened to him? Secondly, the original drummer was sentenced to 6 years in jail for arson. Kinda sad…https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hugh_Whitaker

The Housemartins – Happy Hour

So, we’re at the gig, and first one were a local band called “The Crows”. Not The Black, nor Stone The, or even Counting…just simply, The Crows. Later on, I’d pick up a couple of their records but they were somewhere between The Cult and a mish-mash of Goth Rock. They were great, one of those bands you see supporting, remember the name, but never quite hit the big time.

Next up, was an extra addition to the lineup, an acoustic duo called “The Proclaimers”. Remember, this is a few months from their breakthrough “Letter From America” (produced by Gerry Rafferty no less) and they went down like a turd in a fishtank. It wasn’t just their nerdy-twinness that was freaking people out (Auchermuchty no more etc…) but they seemed nervous, somewhat lacking in that “banter with the crowd”, and to be honest, a bit out of their depth. I don’t think, or at least I don’t remember thinking that “these guys’ll go far”. Probably, far from it, but hey, good luck to them. They’ve done alright for themselves.

The Housemartins were late for the show. Like, super-late. It was a Wednesday night and they’d been filming for Top of The Pops which went out the following day. Glasgow crowds weren’t noted for their understanding or compassionate nature and didn’t really like to be kept waiting or be messed about (Beastie Boys Licence to Ill Tour is another that comes to mind). However, we got there in the end. I really don’t remember that much of The Housemartins set (it was 30 years ago…) but I always had a bit of a soft spot for the band.

The Housemartins – Flag Day

A Tune a Day…G

A Tune a Day…G

Grant-Lee Phillips – “The Narrows”
I first came across Grant-Lee Phillips in the early-90’s with his band “Grant Lee Buffalo”. In fact, I can remember being in the public library and browsing through the cds there, picking it up, taking it home and being particularly pleased with my pre-Hipster Hipster’s choice.
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They also had that “just what genre are they?” vibe to their records. I’ve seen them listed as Americana, Alt-Rock, Alt-Country…I’m still not sure if I’m 100% on putting music into category boxes, just for the sake of making it easier for the online consumer to work out. I still like the idea of working it out for myself…
Late 2015, and on my never-ending quest for quality music for the show, I’d read that Grant-Lee Phillips was releasing a new album – “The Narrows”. Handily enough, all the tracks from the album were later released on GLP’s Youtube page. Free. Gratis. I still feel a little disappointed when I see how many (or in this case how few) “views” it has. Sadly, it seems to be how we measure things these days?
I liked “The Narrows” a lot. It definitely had more of a Nashville feel to it (he’s moved there from LA) and would indeed sit comfortably in the Americana and Alt-Country section of any good record shop. His own story is pretty unique and he often adds that bit of spirituality to his music.
I’ve added a couple of my favourites from the record. The first of which appeared in another movie that I’ve not seen – “Logan”. I hope Grant-Lee Phillips does well from it and brings us some more new music in the not too distant.

A Tune a Day…F

Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac- The Green Manalishi

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I was reading a couple of weeks back that it was the 30th anniversary of the Fleetwood Mac’s “Tango in the Night”. Shit. 30 years. As the old cliche laments, “where did all the time go?”.
It’s not a bad album by any means and I like Lindsey Buckingham’s work, as well as that of the others in fits and starts. $90 on Amazon will see you get a 5-disc party pack that’ll be sure to pop and fizzle away. “Rumours” is still a better album.
Personally, I was always more of a Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac kinda guy. When Green first appeared in the mid-60’s, first with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers (replacing Eric Clapton, and in the opinion of many, is the better player, but that’s for another day), then setting up shop with Mick Fleetwood, John McVie et al.
What set Peter Green apart was that he was more than just a “blues covers man”. He was a prolific writer (alongside the other members of the band) with songs such as “Stop Messin’ Round”, “Albatross”, and of course, “Black Magic Woman”, “The Green Manalishi” and so many more. And of course, there’s the the guitar playing.
Peter Green is perhaps known as a prototype guitar prodigy who suffered much personal turmoil, including a deep plunge into drugs, several years “being lost”, and ultimately, a quite miraculous recovery from it all. The documentary “Peter Green Man of the World” details his remarkable story.

“He has the sweetest tone I ever heard; he was the only one who gave me the cold sweats.” – BB King on hearing Peter Green

A Tune a Day…E

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros – “If I Were Free”

If I Were Free (Live at the Lewes Stopover 2013)

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Sometimes, straight off the bat, the first few words of a song just reach out and grab you. Forget about the usual suspects – hook, riff, or melody. There are times when the words just jump off the page.

If I were free
I would run into battles with flowers and hugs
And bow at the boots of our well-oiled thugs
Yes, if I were free

If it were me
I would yell out “I love you!” to all I passed
I would disrobe and disco and rip off my mask

Alex Ebert (or Edward Sharpe if you like…) started out in a band I’d never heard of called Ima Robot. Let’s just say I prefer this new, more “Gentleman of The Road” persona that he’s found with the Magnetic Zeros.

If you’re a fan of Mumford and Sons and Old Crow Medicine Show, or just like a bunch of hippies on a train playing bluegrass tunes, you’ll enjoy “Big Easy Express”. The documentary features all three bands on tour – with the added bonus of them on their own, unique, musical journey.

Big Easy Express