Thursday, January 26, 2006

miles smiles

I'm rather pleased to have been asked to take part in the A-Z of Music over on The Art of Noise. They've been going for a few weeks so my first effort is for the letter 'I' - after a bit of head scratching, I settled for Miles Davis' 1969 album, "In A Silent Way".

This was one of the first of Miles' attempts to perform jazz using rock sounds, leading to classics like "Bitches Brew", "A Tribute To Jack Johnson", etc. It was also one of the first times he really used editing to create pieces of music from long abstract studio jam sessions. One of my favourite examples is the way they treated the title track, written by Joe Zawinul.

Miles Davis - In A Silent Way (rehearsal)

This take is pretty much the composer's arrangement, which Miles thought was too complex with too many chords. So he gave guitarist John McLaughlin one of his legendary, cryptic statements - "play it like you don't know how to play guitar" - which resulted in this beautiful piece of music.

Miles Davis - In A Silent Way

This is the piece as it was played in the studio. Miles Davis and producer Teo Macero then edited it and wrapped it 'round "It's About That Time" to make up the second of the two long tracks that make up the album "In A Silent Way".

I think the first take is...okay, but a bit too self-consciously jazzy. But the second version really got to the soul of the piece by cutting back anything unnecesary.

Both of these are taken from "The Complete 'In A Silent Way' Sessions" box set. I love a nice box set, me.

And yes, I do think it's pretty funny that, further down from my inaugural A-Z piece, someone wrote about 'indulgence' which held up Jazz as a prime example... One man's "indulgence" is another man's "expression"!

Buy - The Complete 'In A Silent Way' Sessions, or...
Buy - In A Silent Way
Visit - Miles Davis
Visit - The Art of Noise A-Z of Music: I

Monday, January 23, 2006

bella bella

My contribution for the most depressing day of the year is this winsome ditty of lost love by winsome ditty specialist Nick Heyward. This is from his debut solo album 'North of a Miracle' which is chock full of similarly winsome ditties.

Nick Heyward- Blue Hat For a Blue Day

Why the 'Gregory's Girl' photo and reference? I think Nick Heyward/Haircut 100 would have written the perfect soundtrack for the film. They somehow go together in my mind.

Buy 'North of a Miracle' here

Sunday, January 22, 2006

the final countdown

On the day before the most depressing day of the year, I would like to share with you a beautiful little ditty about the end of the world. Contrast between lyrical and musical content is what is giving me much enjoyment here.

Brainz - Plans And Apologies

It is taken from ‘The Free Dee Pee’ which is freely available for download on the band site. You would be foolish not to go straight there. The lead track is so good it makes me flail wildly about the room like a drunken sixteen year old. (God knows what effect it actually has on your ACTUAL drunken sixteen year old).

Plans and Apologies are a great band that we have done a couple of gigs within the past (I believe we also have another one one coming up soon - check here!). They seem like nice fellows but I wouldn’t really know as I have never actually spoken to them, only having admired their youthful vigour and professionalism from a reserved distance. Perhaps you could ask my more gregarious brother for the lowdown on their personal qualities.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

keep on burning

I love talking on records....well, you can have too much of a good thing, Telly Savalas' version of 'If' leaps to mind and anything by William Shatner but generally I dig a bit of speech in a song. Martin Fry on 'Look of Love', Phil Oakey on 'Louise' and James Convery on 'Dick's Kitchen' (a Johnny Domino tune) all classic talkies. 'There,there my Dear' and 'Sweeping the Nation' both feature soliloquies about keepin' the faith. No surprise that they are both influenced by that most passionate and obsessive musical scene...Northern Soul.

Spearmint- Sweeping the Nation

I don't know much about Spearmint other than they've been around a good while and this tune always cheers me up. Northern Soul is also a bit of a mystery to me but what I've heard, I've liked and the dancing looks well difficult. Dexy's are much more familiar and their first album 'Searching for the Young Soul Rebels' is essential.

Dexy's Midnight Runners- There, there my Dear

Whatever Kevin Rowlands is banging on about here (probably fashion victims) is not exactly clear but he clearly means it! He means it throughout the album and this is why it will always be very important to a certain generation.


Buy 'Searching for the Young Soul Rebels'

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

miss america

Another dispatch from the "love-it-or-loathe-it" corner, I was reminded of this by Martha Wainwright's debut album, especially tracks like "These Flowers". So I decided to go back to it to see if it still had the same power I remember it having back when I first bought it. After about two seconds of "To Cry About", the first track, the hairs on the back of my neck were standing up and I was having to remind myself to breathe. Conclusion? Once you let this album into your life, it's a keeper.

A cursory listen tells you that Mary Margaret is a unique talent. How you respond to "unique" is pretty much up to you. One American reviewer described her as "Annie Hall with a lobotomy". I personally think she is an incredibly powerful performer, and the insinuation that she is simply "kooky" does her a great disservice - there is so much skill and control in both of these vocals, part-sung, part-spoken, part-scat. It's not just her "being a bit mad", it's a brave and emotional representation of a mind in a state of flux.

Mary Margaret O'Hara - Body's In Trouble

In the late 80s on British TV, TV-AM used to show a "pop video" at 5 to 8 every day - I'll never forget the look on Mike Morris' face after the video for "Body's In Trouble" was aired.

The song is about something universal - when your body lets you down, either through something physical or just because... "you just want to move somebody / a body won't let you" - there's some kind of barrier that stops you connecting - either physically or just through some kind of social conditioning. As the ageing process begins to take hold, I find more and more in this song!

Mary Margaret O'Hara signed to Virgin Records in 1984. She went into the studio with Andy Partridge of XTC, who left after only a day. Virgin only accepted 4 of the tracks she recorded and there followed 3 years of artistic stale-mate, which only ended when Michael Brook saw her live and offered to help mix and produce. "Miss America" is an album with a broad artistic palette, taking in jazz, country, torch-song, art-rock, shot through with Mary Margaret's unorthodox arrangements.

Mary Margaret O'Hara - When You Know Why You're Happy

UK reviews for the album were great, but it failed to chart. US reviewers, as mentioned above, were harsh. Unsurprisingly, Mary Margaret has kept her distance from the record industry ever since, apart from a few guest appearances and a 1991 Christmas EP (please get in touch if you have a copy!).

She seems to be concentrating on acting and stage work, recently appearing in The Black Rider by Robert Wilson, Tom Waits and William S Burroughs, which would have been amazing!

She recently released a soundtrack album to "Appartment Hunting", which the faithful see as the follow-up to "Miss America" (I haven't got a copy...yet!)

fun fact! - Mary Margaret O'Hara's sister is Catherine O'Hara, star of Home Alone, recently seen as "Mickey" (as in 'Mitch and Mickey') in A Mighty Wind.

Visit - unofficial m2oh site
Buy - Miss America by Mary Margaret O'Hara

from the original post's comments :

marc-o - "Partridge reckons his atheism didn't sit well with her devout Catholicism and that is what got him the sack.....mind you I've read many reports that he is 'difficult' to work with...mainly from his bandmates. When XTC worked with Todd Rundgren the situation was described as 'Two Hitlers/One Bunker'....I look forward to hearing these "

dickvandyke - "I see what ya saying steve... I suspect it sounds even better after being given the elbow by a woman, a subsequent hip flask of Jameson's and a big fat Woodbine.

I like marc-o's line about Partridge & Rundgren's head to head megalomania, but Swindon's Mr P can do little wrong in my book. Even as a jolly nice Catholic, I have a lot of time for his 'Dear God'.

Keep up the good work."

oxbow  - "I don't actually hate this. Yes. I actually quite like it.

However, I am still of the opinion that her 'mental chick you met at college in the late 80's' style vocal inflections would drive me crazy over a whole album.

My thanks go out to you dear brother."

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

the pharcyde problem

My De La Soul post has sent me back to my hip hop albums in recent weeks. I don't hear much contemporary stuff that moves me but one of the absolute classics for me is The Pharcyde's 1992 debut album, "Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde", tight up there with "3 Feet High..." and "The Low End Theory".

The beats are great, the production is awesome and there's so much invention on every track. There's a real sense of them just trying every mad idea they've ever had... like having an obscene phone call in the middle of a track.

The Pharcyde - 4 Better Or 4 Worse

And therein lies the problem. When I first heard the track my ears were tickled straight away by the stereo-mental effect on the Rhodes. As the phone call started I remember just looking at the speakers going "no... no!...NO!".

Now, I know it's obviously deeply, DEEPLY wrong and I'm aware a lot of people find it all incredibly offensive. But I still think it's great! I love the way they go "OK, I think we've gone a little bit overboard..." They're obviously just chucking as many ideas as they can into the mix, dragging people in to freestyle, laughing at each others' jokes, moving on to the next thing!

The Pharcyde - Pack The Pipe

This is another great track, I love in the second verse when the vocals are doubled, another example of The Pharcyde chucking really original cool-sounding ideas into the mix.

The Pharcyde - Return of the B-Boy

... but they knew their history too! This track has the beat from "The Show" and all of the cliched lines are trotted out knowingly ("the debonair MC in the place to be / came to rock the B-Boys and the young laydees..."). Quality.

The story of The Pharcyde is the classic tale of a bunch of young friends making music together who fall out as they get older and more succesful, growing apart amidst bitter recriminations with a side-order of (alleged) drug abuse. Let's not go there, listen to the great songs they recorded and remember when hip hop was fun AND original!

Buy - Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde
Visit - to find out what they're up to now

Tuesday, January 03, 2006


David Crosby always seems to have a bit of a twinkle about him. It seems that he is a bit of a bugger, even as a walrus-like elder statesman of folk rock there seems to be something a bit mischevious about him. His personal problems have been well documented but his songwriting talent and wonderful voice are less highlighted. Although The Byrds were marketed as America's answer to The Beatles they were not the tight little unit that the Fab Four were. The story of The Byrds is one of a power struggle to achieve domination of the band, a battle won by the brilliant but austere Roger McGuinn and lost by the sensitive Gene Clark and mercurial David Crosby. The straw which broke the camel's back was 'Triad' in which Crosby tries to persuade his woman that they should 'go on as three'.

The Byrds- Triad

Crosby had been irritating the band for a number of months, hanging out with the Airplane, the Springfield and generally being pushy. McGuinn found 'Triad' tasteless while contributing his immacualate 12 string. The Byrds competed with each other to get their material onto their albums, Crosby's 'Lady Friend' is a good example of a song which had to fought for. A brassy 'hurrah' of a song, it showcases what made The Byrds so special and particularly Crosby's spirited vocals. Eventually Crosby had to go.

The Byrds- Lady Friend

Apologies for getting all 'Johnny Rogan' on you's but the story of The Byrds is a fascinating one, while I think McGuinn basically invented one of rock music's hallmark sounds my favourite Byrd will always be David Crosby.

'Timeless Flight' by Johnny Rogan is an essential rock read

The Notorious Byrd Brothers was Crosby's last album as a Byrd (not counting reunions), buy it here

Rickenbacker- obviously!