Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Happy Birthday, Mr Parks!

A little toast to my partner in aural crime, as Mr Parky celebrates his birthday today. In his honour, I've picked out five suitable songs to commemorate his birth, get him in the party mood and hopefully gloss over the fact that I haven't bought him a present. 

Well, it's the thought that counts and I've certainly given this selection some thought. In fact, this playlist was much more difficult to compile than I first expected, what with my natural inclination to avoid the obvious (Stevie Wonder's Happy Birthday), coupled with my appreciation of his post-Glasto state (Whiskeytown's Dancing With The Girls At The Bar is great but perhaps optimistic on a hungover Tuesday, no?!). Instead, I went for the bluesy, the modestly celebratory and the tongue-in-cheek, ending - as Mr P always does - with Neil Young. A fitting tribute then, and hopefully a decent listen for everyone else.

The Beatles - "Birthday" (The White Album, 1968)

Jim White - "God Was Drunk When He Made Me" (No Such Place, 2001)

Rare Earth - "I Just Want To Celebrate" (One World, 1971)

Little Axe - "All Night Party" (Hard Grind, 2002)

Neil Young - "Old Man" (Harvest, 1972)

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Away From The Numbers - Off the Main Stage at Glastonbury

I couldn't write about anything else even if I tried this week. Glastonbury is dominating all thoughts as we count down to the weekend, and one of the greatest line-ups ever assembled, topped as it is by the mighty Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen. Throwing in the likes of Crosby, Stills & Nash, the Fleet Foxes, the Gaslight Anthem and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and they're just spoiling us.

But away from the main stage, there's the usual array of treats as well, and I wanted to single out a few recommendations if anyone's looking for ideas. Without repeating the quartet of Alessi's Ark, Blue Roses, Emmy The Great, and Alela Diane, all of whom were in Thank Folk It's Friday a couple of weeks ago, here are some bands who should get your attention in Pilton this weekend.

Alberta Cross - Lucy Rider (The Thief & The Heartbreaker, 2007)

The wait for a full-length album has been long since Alberta Cross released their EP two years ago, but it's almost over. When they hit the Park Stage on Sunday afternoon, we can hope to hear plenty of material from the long player, which is slated for release in September. Although formed in London, the band quickly moved themselves to the only place to be in music right now - Brooklyn - and their sound is decidedly American, rooted in the Band and Neil Young (of whom more later).

The Low Anthem - The Horizon Is A Beltway (Oh My God, Charlie Darwin, 2009)

Sticking with the Americana theme, here's one of the buzz bands of the moment as they get set for the full release of their full debut, Oh My God, Charlie Darwin, next week. Able to shift from beautiful sounding gospel to raucous blues without skipping a beat, its a brilliant collection of sounds unlike any album I've previously heard. There seems to be a growing movement right now to go back to the rootsy Americana of the Band (see the Felice Brothers, Alberta Cross, etc). Little could please me more, and this Providence, RI band are right in the middle of it. They'll hit the Queen's Head Stage Friday, and come back for more on the Park Stage on Saturday.

The Broken Family Band - Devil In The Details (Cold Water Songs, 2003)

Yes, it's another slice of Americana, but despite appearances, the Broken Family Band are from Cambridge (England, not Massachusetts). Their sound has evolved on more recent albums, trending towards indie rock on Balls and Hello Love, but as far as my ears are concerned, nothing tops this slice of country from their full-length debut of six years ago. Hear them on the Other Stage, early doors on Saturday.

Sparrow and the Workshop - Devil's Song (Sleight of Hand, 2009)

With the release of their Sleight of Hand EP a couple of weeks ago, Sparrow and the Workshop are starting to earn some serious attention. A rough bio will tell you they're from Glasgow, but that is only half the story as they boast members from Chicago and Wales (obviously) and their diversity manifests itself in a range of styles, from folk and country through to pop and rock. Get on board the bandwagon in the BBC Introducing tent on Friday afternoon.

Broken Records - Until The Earth Begins To Part (Until The Earth Begins To Part, 2009)

More Scottish folk-rock, yes. But this stuff is a little more earnest and high-reaching then their neighbours from down the M8. The seven-piece from Edinburgh set out to avoid being "just another four-piece guitar band" and so throw in violins, accordians, glockenspiels and ukeleles - among others - to mix things up. The result is a soaring, epic sound that is earning them plenty of new fans since their debut came out last month. After playing a set on the Dirty Boots Stage on Friday, they kick off an exciting little stretch on the Queen's Head Stage on Saturday, with Emmy The Great and Noah and the Whale quickly following.

Okay, so there's five from the smaller stages. Now, me being me, I'm going to sign off with this. It needs no introduction or explanation. Only more volume. Enjoy.

Neil Young - Cowgirl In The Sand (Live At The Fillmore East, March 1970, 2006)

Friday, June 19, 2009

Thank Folk It's Friday (Vol. 2)

So last week was the girls' turn, this week the boys take over. That means things get a little more raucous, but it's okay, because everything is still folk, at least by the broad standards being employed here.

I'm going to have to be quick about putting this one together, or it's not going to happen today. There's just no alliteration in Thank Folk It's Saturday, so that won't do.

Johnny Flynn (and the Sussex Wit) - Tickle Me Pink (A Larum, 2008)

We start with a nice slice of English folk by what we're going to call the Sussex Wit, even if only Johnny Flynn's name appears on the front cover of the album. He was once just another member of the band, before somehow 'going solo' with the same crew.

Jeffrey Lewis - The East River (The Last Time I Did Acid I Went Insane and Other Favorites, 2003)

We're still nailing down the precise definition of anti-folk, but Mr Lewis would seem to do if you wanted to just slot one of his tracks into your audio-dictionary. Raised on comic books and blues music, Lewis is now a comic book artist in his own right, and you might be most familiar with his work in the form of the Moldy Peaches album cover. But don't overlook his music, equal parts quirky and dark, and always catchy.

Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson - Buriedfed (Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson, 2009)

MBAR is a serious contender for album of the year in my book. A battered and bruised yet still largely beautiful record, MBAR's debut announces a major songwriting talent. This is not the best song on here, but I'm saving some of the others for future posts. Yes, you will hear plenty more of MBAR.

City and Colour - The Death of Me (Bring Me Your Love, 2007)

You never expect to pick up too many new music tips in HMV, but credit where credit is due, this was a staff recommendation, and I've never regretted following it. Canadian hardcore rocker Dallas Green found his mellow side under this moniker and now has two albums out as City and Colour. This is the opening track from the second of those.

Scott Miller - The Rain (Are You With Me? 2000)

Former V-Roys songwriter Scott Miller now has four albums out with his band, The Commonwealth, but for my money, he's still never done a studio version of his best bit of songwriting, which would be this. Found on his early live album, Are You With Me?, The Rain fits into a bout of a civil war obsession Miller showed on his debut, Thus Always To Tyrants.

Hayes Carll - A Drunken Poet's Dream (Trouble In Mind, 2008)

As a Texas singer-songwriter, Carll is most obviously walking in the footsteps of Townes van Zandt, Steve Earle and Guy Clark, but he also owes a lot to the rootsy Americana of The Band. As such, I've picked out the opening track from Trouble In Mind, which more than a little borrows from The Band's 'Up On Cripple Creek', and the drunkard's dream contained within.

Ryan Bingham - Southside of Heaven (Mescalito, 2007)

While we're down in Texas, we'll stop in on another emerging songwriter, this time even more in the Steve Earle camp than Mr Carll. Although he was 26 when it was released, Rolling Stone described Bingham's voice on his debut Mescalito as sounding like "Steve Earle's Dad". It's hard to argue.

William Elliott Whitmore - Hell or High Water (Animals In The Dark, 2008)

The further this list goes on, the more I'm twisting the definitions of folk to get plenty of Americana and alt-country on here, but what of it? Whitmore's rootsy blues are like little else being produced right now, as he manages to sound both weathered and fresh at the same time.

Dent May - Meet Me In The Garden (The Good Feeling Music of Dent May & His Magnificent Ukelele, 2009)

May looks like the guy you might imagine Napoleon Dynamite grows into in later life. But put his slightly ridiculous appearance to one side and enjoy the sound, entirely his own, that he's cooked up.

Elvis Perkins - While You Were Sleeping (Ash Wednesday, 2006)

Perkins seems to have suffered a largely tragic upbringing, first losing dad Anthony Perkins to AIDS-related illness while a teenager and then mum Berry Berenson in the 9/11 attacks on New York City. Some of that pain comes burning through on Ash Wednesday, and yet it's a surprisingly uplifting experience to spend an hour in his company.

Which brings to a close this week's collection. There's still a need for some old-school folk, as well as for some bands rather than solo artists. All will follow in due course. Enjoy your weekend.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Thank Folk It's Friday

Thank Folk. Or 'anti-folk'. Or 'psyche-folk'. Or whatever. It seems ever since I first decided I was going to do this little post (the first in a probable series - see below), all I've found is how liberally the word folk is tossed around these days.

"When did it happen that everytime a female singer-songwriter put out a record it was considered folk?" a friend asked when we talked through the line-up, which, as you can see, is an all-girl affair. I have no answer to his question, but he seems to raise a good point that only got stronger the more songs I added (not to mention the ones that didn't actually make it, particularly the likes of Brandi Carlile).

Anyway, all that aside, here are a bundle of recent releases that have been placed broadly under the heading of folk, anti-folk, or 'folk rock', whatever that might entail. All I know for sure is they are some of the more beautiful records to have been released lately. May they ease you into the weekend.

Alessi's Ark - Memory Box (Notes From A Treehouse, 2009)

Let's get this started with a little folk-pop from the spectacular Alessi's Ark. The London-based teenager made a deal with her parents at the age of 16 allowing her to quit school to try a career in music as long as she agreed to go back if it didn't work out. Don't expect to see her in class anytime soon.

Blue Roses - Greatest Thoughts (Blue Roses, 2009)

Hands up if this doesn't immediately have you checking you aren't listening to Joni Mitchell.

Emmy The Great - 24 (First Love, 2009)

One friend of mine waited no longer than the February release of First Love to declare it album of the year. Admittedly he's prone to rash statements, but he might not be a million miles out come December.

Alela Diane - White As Diamonds (To Be Still, 2009)

This is my favourite song on this list. I'll let it speak for itself.

Jill Barber - Hard Line (For All Time, 2006)

At the jazzier end of the folk scale is this Nova Scotia native. By the way, who knew Canadiana was a thing?

Angela Desveaux - Shape You (The Mighty Ship, 2008)

Although born in Quebec, Desveaux also ended up in Novia Scotia and soaked up the area's rich folk history. What is more, Desveaux was raised on country music by her parents, something we'll always endorse. It's clear from this that a little of Lucinda Williams stuck.

Jessica Lea Mayfield - We've Never Lied (With Blasphemy So Heartfelt, 2009)

You wouldn't imagine that a protege of the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach would fit onto a list like this, but clearly Mayfield does, even if you can hear little flourishes of Auerbach's sound throughout on this album.

Dawn Landes - Private Little Hell (Fireproof, 2006)

Like Jill Barber, it was hard to pick a single song off this album, because there are so many ideas on it. Using her skills as a studio engineer, Landes has mastered a number of sounds to produce an album that reveals a little bit more every time you listen. If I could, I'd probably have used the outstanding cover of Tom Petty's 'I Won't Back Down', which is tagged on the end as a bonus track. Look it up.

Laura Marling - Ghosts (Alas, I Cannot Swim, 2008)

Laura Marling created the London-based teenage songwriter template that Alessi's Ark is now using after first gaining widespread attention at 17. Still only 19, she's among the most exciting songwriters in the country.

Jenny Lewis - Pretty Bird (Acid Tongue, 2009)

If we asked her, Jenny Lewis probably wouldn't want to be on this list. She's not the sort who likes to be tied down by labels. In truth, there's not much that's folk about Acid Tongue, although there's plenty in her back catalogue, most obviously in her work with the Watson Twins, Rabbit Fur Coat, but I'm a huge fan of this song and it seemed to fit. And until someone properly explains to me what anti-folk is, I'm claiming an exemption.

That covers the girls for a while. Thank Folk It's Friday will be back however, with a few different little themes, in the next few weeks. Just because it's nice.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Detroit Breakdown

If you're looking for the ultimate case study in American urban decay, look no further than Detroit. The only major city in the United States to sit directly north of Canada (thanks to a bend in the river) has been heading south for several years now, and today finds itself in dire straits. This week's news that General Motors is officially bankrupt is just the latest bruise to the Motor City's ego.

I went to Detroit a few years ago for the Super Bowl. I'd heard all the stories, but found a city that, while troubled, was trying to look up under the leadership of a charismatic young mayor. But since then Kwame Kilpatrick has been booted from office and served time following a cringe-inducing sex scandal, and what is left of the city's major industry is now crumbling as the automakers suffer the full force of the economic downturn. Such is the extent of urban flight out of Detroit that the entire city of San Francisco would now fit in the empty lots left behind. It all adds up to a frightening picture, told in all its misery here, and with a little more humour here.

Faced with this barrage of bad news, I wanted to focus on what Detroit does have to shout about, not least its stellar musical history. We'll start with maybe the least obvious one of the lot. Detroit came to be known for the Motown sound and a string of garage bands, but before all of that it was home to John Lee Hooker, the Mississippi-born ex-sharecropper who found his way North to work for Ford after serving in World War II. Chicago was where most of the northern Blues scene was centered, but Detroit had its own little enclave in Black Bottom, and Hooker was its king.

John Lee Hooker - Hobo Blues (I'm John Lee Hooker, 1960)

And then came Motown. From its founding in 1960 to its eventual move to Los Angeles 12 years later, Motown dominated Detroit's music scene and became one of the great stories in American recording history. Though not quite on the same rustic scale as Sam Phillips' Sun Records in Memphis, Berry Gordy's original business model was simplicity personified as artists flooded to 2648 West Grand Blvd 22 hours a day to record, most often with the Funk Brothers as their backing band to provide the consistent Motown Sound of pop-based soul music

Because I'm putting this together, Diana Ross & The Supremes are conspicuous by their absence, but here's five of the best from Motown.

Junior Walker & The All-Stars - (I'm A) Road Runner (Shotgun, 1965)

Marvin Gaye - This Love Starved Heart of Mine (It's Killing Me) (Love Starved Heart - Rare and Unreleased, 1994)

Barbara McNair - Lone Lonely Town (Ultimate Motown Collection, 2004)

The Four Tops - Reach Out, I'll Be There (Reach Out, 1967)

Stevie Wonder - Superstition (Talking Book, 1972)

As the 60s went on, Detroit became home to another sound, somewhere towards the opposing end of the scale to Gordy's sweet soul. And much more up my street. Detroit would become home to some of the greatest garage rock bands of all time, emerging from the rock 'n' roll scene that sprang up in the middle of the decade. My personal favourites would be Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels, who combined the garage sound with blue-eyed soul as they ripped through a series of cover versions of soul and blues classics. Then came the likes of the Amboy Dukes and Frijd Pink who brought in a touch of psychadelia, before the Stooges and MC5 took over with a harder edge. Also tagged on here are Destroy All Monsters, a band from nearby Ann Arbor who would become a semi-retirement home for ex-Stooges and MC5 members, and ultimately destroyed only themselves. 'Bored', their first proper single, was released in 1978 when the cracks were already showing despite the arrival of former Stooge Ron Asheton and MC5 bassist Michael Davis.

The Amboy Dukes - Baby Please Don't Go (The Amboy Dukes, 1967)

Frijd Pink - House of the Rising Sun (Frijd Pink, 1970)

The Stooges - I Wanna Be Your Dog (The Stooges, 1969)

MC5 - Motor City Is Burning (Kick Out the Jams, 1969)

Destroy All Monsters - Bored (Bored, 1978)

Eminem aside, Detroit's music scene of late has been dominated by descendents of these garage bands, mostly thanks to the huge success of the White Stripes (even if it took until the third album for the world to sit up and take notice). Jack White is at the centre of most of this music, as the Detroit Cobras began life on his Sympathy for the The Record Industry label, as did the Von Bondies. White produced their debut, Lack of Communication, and championed the band until it all turned ugly in a brawl and they went their separate ways. Brendan Benson stands out for his pop sound, but then hooked up with White in the Raconteurs. The Bellrays stand to one side, but are clearly mining from the same rich seam of Detroit's musical history.

The White Stripes - Hello Operator (De Stijl, 2000)

The Detroit Cobras - Hot Dog (Watch Me Eat) (Baby, 2005)

The Von Bondies - Lack of Communication (Lack of Communication, 2001)

Brendan Benson - Spit It Out (The Alternative To Love, 2005)

The Bellrays - Detroit Breakdown (Have A Little Faith, 2006)

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Welcome to Adventureland

Less a mix this one and more a mini soundtrack of sorts, from a great new film that I saw recently. Adventureland is set in 1987, with Kristen Stewart and Jesse "Squid And The Whale" Eisenberg working dead-end summer jobs at the local theme park. It's being sold as a film "From the director of Superbad", though this would be akin to slapping a sticker announcing "From the writers of Surfin' USA" on a copy of Pet Sounds. In truth, the humour, ambition and emotional range is light years ahead of McLovin and co's original outing but it is the period setting that I'm hooked on here.

Like all great coming-of-age films, they've realised that the key to wider appeal is to set it 20 years previously. Just as Dazed And Confused repackaged 1970s stoner rock classics for the post-Nevermind set, so Adventureland digs up some late 1980s early indie masterpieces for sensitive plaid-shirt wearing Noughties types. Two generations of cinema-goers for the price of one. Winner.

Ok, so the soundtrack is far cooler than anything I was actually listening to in 1987 - at the time, I was transfixed by the sleeve of my older sister's vinyl copy of Iron Maiden's Somewhere In Time and taping early Bon Jovi tunes off the radio - but it just feels right. From the glamorous drivetime rock of Bowie's Modern Love to the reckless backcombed thrash of Paul Westerberg's underrated Bastards of the Young, they have all bases covered. Throw in a Foreigner tribute band and a running joke about Lou Reed's Satellite Of Love and it quickly becomes less of a film and more of a lifestyle choice. No wonder I want one of those "Games Games Games" t-shirts...

The Replacements - "Bastards of the Young" (Tim, 1985)

David Bowie - "Modern Love" (Let's Dance, 1983)

INXS - "Don't Change" (Shabooh Shoobah, 1982)

Husker Du - "Don't Want To Know If You Are Lonely" (Candy Apple Grey, 1986)

Big Star - "I'm In Love With A Girl" (Radio City, 1973)