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Monday, July 15, 2019

David Bowie ' "Spying Through A Keyhole" 4 × Vinyl, 7", Mono, 2019 (Parlophone)

A good season for the Bowie lunatic.  Parlophone and the Bowie estate has been releasing a series of demos, that is from the late 1960s.  All are fascinating.   "Spying Through A Keyhole" is part of a two-volume boxset of 7" singles.  Elaborate packaging, perhaps a tad too much of a design project, still the music inside is way more than worthwhile.   This boxset is four 7" singles (9 tracks), and it's total Kenneth Pitt era Bowie.  Before he went Anthony Newley, he had a folk fixation that eventually turned into British Music Hall aesthetic, but at this time, and demo quality, a quiet look into the Bowie psyche.  The famous song here is "Space Oddity," and we get two versions, one just an excerpt, and the other is a more full arranged with the assistance of guitar and voice John "Hutch Hutchinson.   Who I think plays a bigger part in the other Bowie 'demos,' but more of that in another blog post.

The obscure songs here are "Mother Grey," "Love All Around," and "Angel Angel Grubby Face."  Not as great as the other undiscovered Bowie material, but still interesting to hear how strong his sense of aesthetic and vision was at the time.  The other obscure number, and it's excellent is "Goodbye Threepenny Joe."   A great melody, lyric, and I don't know why he didn't re-do this song on a future release.  For me, this is the tune that is worth the whole package.  If you are a Bowie lunatic, you must have this package, but there are better demo albums out there by David, and I will be writing about them shortly.

Monday, July 8, 2019

V.A. - "The Freakbeat Scene" 2 x Vinyl, LP, Compilation, 2019 (Decca)

I'm a firm believer in book publishers as well as record labels.  If the label has some history or vision, I will buy that record.  Decca, which is enormous, always been of some interest to me.  Especially anything released in the 1960s and British.   Decca this year and the previous 12 months have been releasing these compilations focusing on the Mod and Psychedelic British 45 rpm singles, that if one tries to trace down would be very expensive and time-consuming.  So, the Decca compilations are very good and overall excellent for the pocketbook.  "The Freakbeat Scene is 25 songs by various bands, that mostly failed in getting that hit.  This is a collection of songs that didn't even get close to getting airplay in the UK, or on the charts.

Still, genius is in the details, and there is a lot of brilliant series of moments on this double-album.  Some are so-so, but that only adds to the excitement when you hear an incredible song.  Freakbeat by definition is the crazy part of The Who when their guitar goes all feedback, Keith Moon is slashing at the drum cymbals, and distorted bass.  On the other hand, The Who is not on this compilation, but we do have The Small Faces, who are always magnificent.  Beyond that, everyone here is very obscure.   Which is not to say that their recording deserves a wider (and wilder) audience, but fate is sometimes someone asleep at the wheel or the entrance to success.

The genius track here is by a band called The Fairytale, and it's "Run & Hide."  A very ugly song lyric about a girl who is 'bad' and the male singer sounds psychotic, still a remarkable record.  I have their other three songs in other collections and formats since they only released two 45 rpm singles.  Then they disappeared.   In fact, most of the bands here disappeared, but there were some successes in later life, for instance, Chris Squire and Peter Banks who were members of Yes, but here they're The Syn.  And although there is no clue to the future sound of Yes, still an excellent record. Even a young Marc Bolan has a song here, but one would not recognize the Bolan vocal, until the chorus where you can hear that vibrato in his voice.

The mystery track here is by Shel Naylor, which one suspects is Dave Davies of the Kinks, with Jimmy Page on guitar.  Naylor himself is a phantom.  In fact, this album is full of ghosts and spirits.  "Come on Back" by Paul & Ritchie & The Cryin' Shames is a Joe Meek production.  So that's always good.   It's excellent that Decca, such a mega-label, still had the nerve to release somewhat weird records.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

King Crimson - "THRAK" CD, Album, 1995 (Virgin)

I have entered into the forbidden.  For the past year or so, I  have been listening to King Crimson, a band that I once avoided due that I couldn't stand the word "Prog."   Prejudice is an ugly thing to have in one's life, but in my fashion, I slowly started listening to the first five King Crimson albums and realized that I enjoy the music due to the intensity of the band's playing, but also their compositional streak.  In a way, it reminds me of Duke Ellington, not in style, but the fact that Robert Fripp has firm control of the band, but yet allows each musician to participate in the overall sound of the project on hand. "THRAK" is the only album I have that features guitarist and lyricist Adrian Belew in the King Crimson line up.

"THRAK" is a right name for this album, because that is what it sounds like.  It's a tense, textural record with incredible percussion flourishes, but also the intensity of the guitars riffing against each other, but with the overall approach of Fripp's soundscaping, that in a sense is the foundation of this work.   Of the King Crimson albums I own and listened to, "THRAK" is by far the heaviest due to the force of the instrumentals and some of the vocal works.  As usual, I think the weak link to King Crimson is the lyrics.  Whatever it is by Belew or others, it seems to be second thought compared to the sound of the music.   

Moreover, it's the sound of the recording and arrangements that give it a full sonic plate.   The beauty of Fripp and company is that they do look back, but always go forward.  The unique line up of a double trio or having two percussionists (Pat Mastelotto & Bill Bruford), two bassists (Tony Levin & Trey Gunn), two guitarists (Fripp & Belew), is that it's not a mess, but again, like an Ellington big band, it fits the entire motif of the big sound. 

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Luigi Nono/Mauizio Pollini - "sofferte onde serene..." Vinyl, LP, Album, Germany, 1979 (Deutsche Grammophon)

My knowledge on the Italian composer Luigi Nono is limited, and I have only this album "sofferte onde serene..." and a compilation with Berio and Maderna.   I have an interest with composers of the 20th-century who used magnetic tape as part of the ensemble, and Nono is no stranger to the tape machine.  Here Nono has the noted pianist Maurizio Pollini play along with magnetic tape that is haunting and very mood sturring.  It's music to wait for an upcoming storm.  And that storm is "a floresta èjovem e cheja de vida."   A composition with magnetic tape as well as clarinet played by William O. Smith, who was an original member of Ennio Morricone's (and others) Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza.  

a floresta èjovem e cheja de vida" is very much rooted in the Vietnam War, and Nono was very much against that war.   The texts in this piece are from various sources and mostly from the Left.  A haunting work as well as the first piece on this album. 

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Robert Wyatt - "Comicopera" Vinyl, LP, Album, 2 x Vinyl, one etched with poem, 2007 (Domino)

Robert Wyatt is one of those artists that you either love obsessively, or you don't know him or his music.  I think it is impossible for someone to hear him, and go 'not interested.'  His melodies are seductive, and the voice is hairy, yet romantic when he's crooning, and he mostly sings as if he is Chet Baker, and there are a thousand women in the waiting room, just waiting for him.   "Comicopera" although there are other releases where he collaborated with another artist, or compilation/re-issue came out, and I believe this was his last solo album.  He reportedly retired, and if that's true, this 2007 album is a brilliant goodbye.  Or perhaps just a pause before something else happens.  Still, a remarkable record that is very open.  His masterpiece "Rock Bottom" I find very close off to the world.  This is Wyatt getting involved with lots of musicians such as Paul Weller, Phil Manzanera, Eno, and others.  There are traces of late Beach Boys in the mix as well as Charlie Haden's Freedom Orchestra.  Just a beautiful mixture that does its job.  A haunted cocktail of a drink that sticks to your system.  

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Matthew Edwards and The Unfortunates - "The Birmingham Poets" Vinyl, LP, Album, 2019 (December Square)

Matthew Edwards has the knack of writing very literate and smart pop songs.  If I'm drawing a map of similar taste artists, it would include Vic Godard, Lloyd Cole, David Bowie (his later album "Hours" comes to mind), and Mickie Most-era Donovan, with a touch of Jacques Brel. Shamefully tuneful, but with a bite that stings.  "The Birmingham Poets" is an album short in length, but also I tend to play the record over again once I heard it for the first time.  Matthew and his band The Unfortunates do beautiful arrangements that are chamber pop like in one moment, but it also has a strong cinematic or visual sense as well. 

"California, Can You Wait?" is a song that drills into your sub-consciousness due to its catchy melody and chorus.  Yearning for and wanting something so special that is so close, but one can't touch it. Birmingham England is very much the location or the emotional home and Edwards' words reflect an observation that is both slightly nostalgic, but also biting.   There is a Nöel Coward sensibility in that he can convey the everyday of life as something special in its small moments. 

"Birmingham Poets" is an album that sticks to you, as Lou Reed/Mo Tucker once sang, like glue.  No need to remove the record, because, by desire, you will play it again and again. 

Sunday, June 9, 2019

The Kinks - "A Strange Effect" Vinyl, 7", 45 RPM, Unofficial Release, 2004 (Zönophone)

From around 1963 to 1973, Ray Davies never wrote a bad song or performance.  His genius at being consistently great in writing a song is a remarkable feat.   Which I know sounds overwhelming the man and his material, but for me, it is like I have a bullseye drawn on my heart, and Ray's music always hits that bullseye.  I pretty much have all the official Kinks releases of that decade or 10-years of music making, but recently at Disk Union in Tokyo, I purchased a bootleg E.P. just due that I love the song "A Strange Effect" which the only version I know of, is the Dave Barry recording.   These four songs on the E.P., are all studio recordings, and I suspect they were demos, that somehow never made it onto a Kinks album at that time for whatever mysterious reasons.  Finding these songs is like finding a new item in the ice cream department of your local grocery.  A unique flavor, but something favorite of yours as well. 

"A Strange Effect" is very typical Kinks, yet at the time it sounds a new direction for the artist and band.   It is not one of his observation songs, but a tune that is direct as "You Really Got Me," but done in a manner that is complex and many layers of feeling.  It has a hypnotic melody with an exquisite Ray vocal that sounds slippery, even drunk, yet his intelligence comes through in such a way that gives this song notice.   The other remarkable song on this E.P. is "I Go To Sleep," which is a beautiful ballad.  I have heard the version by The Pretenders, Cher, and Peggy Lee, all remarkable, but Ray's/Kinks version is of great delicate beauty.   I can imagine the classic era of Sandie Shaw covering this song due to her ability to sing intricate melodies, which seems simple but ain't. 

"Tell Me Now, So I'll Know" and "A Little Bit of Sunlight" are the other two songs (four altogether) and they too are missing Kinks gems that need to be in the spotlight.  A remarkable object of deep affection.