Sunday, January 05, 2014

cream of the crop 2013

Just ducking under the Twelfth Night finishing tape here with my list of 2013's best music...

I listened to a lot of folk music again last year, thanks once more to my annual August Bank Holiday jolly at Shrewsbury and also to a series of excellent gigs at my newly discovered favourite venue, Cecil Sharp House, HQ of the English Folk Dance and Song Society and in every sense Folk Central.

In contrast, my attempts to seek out new jazz faltered a bit. The Bull's Head, my local venue, was closed for renovation work for most of the year (although it's open again now, thankfully) and there didn't seem to be much else around outside the November uber-binge which is the London Jazz Festival.

As always, wonderful Radio 6Music was an indispensable source of great new music with Mary Anne Hobbs' weekend breakfast show a particularly impressive new addition to the schedules. 

As for my runners and riders, to be honest the much heralded Bowie album only just made the cut with what to my ears was something of a curate's egg with an over-reliance on a heavy metal guitar sound on many of the tracks. Laura Mvula and Disclosure were fellow Mercury Music Prize nominees. It was good to see another welcome reappearance with the Prefab Sprout record justifiably appearing in many best-of-year lists. Such a shame about Paddy McAloon's health issues in recent years: this probably means that more new music from these quarters is pretty unlikely.

All the folk artists in the list (Lady Maisery, Melrose Quartet, Carthy Hardy Farrell Young, Steeleye Span and The Full English) were ones I saw live, Stacey Kent is the lone standard bearer for jazz and Mulatu Astatke album was by some margin the funkiest music I heard all year.

In no particular order then:
  • Laura Mvula: Sing to the Moon 
  • Disclosure: Settle
  • Lady Maisery: Mayday
  • Prefab Sprout: Crimson/Red
  • Stacey Kent: The Changing Lights
  • The Melrose Quartet: Fifty Verses
  • Carthy Hardy Farrell Young: Laylam
  • David Bowie: The Next Day
  • Steeleye Span: Wintersmith
  • Arcade Fire: Reflektor
  • Low: The Invisible Way
  • Owiny Sigoma Band: Power Punch
  • Mulatu Astatke: Sketches of Ethiopia
  • The Full English: The Full English
Stuff to listen to:

Monday, December 10, 2012

2012 done and dusted

2012 was the year in which the balance of my listening habits rather veered away from Radio 6Music. Which is not to say there's been a lowering of standards there as might be said for other sections of the Beeb (see also below), just that I seem to have been casting my musical net a little more widely. On the one hand I've been soaking up a fair amount of Jazz FM and Radio 3 jazz coverage (hence numbers 8, 10 and 11 in my list below) and on the other I've been a reasonably faithful follower of Mike Harding's Wednesday evening Radio 2 slot (2, 3, 12, 15 and 16), soon to be pulled from the schedules, scandalously.

I also seem to have been to more gigs than ever. There's been a lot of jazz--several visits to Ronnie Scott's and, as ever, the annual ten-day November jazz binge that is the London Jazz Festival--and a fair amount of folk--notably a) a Sandy Denny tribute concert early in the year which opened my ears for the first time to a whole catalogue of music hitherto somehow off my radar and b) another rather pleasing August Bank Holiday at the Shrewsbury Folk Festival particularly in the company of some excellent woman singers (2 and 3).

That said, we did hear from a few of the old staples of my CD collection: Hawley, Fagen, Saint Etienne and Stereolab's Laetitia Sadier striking out on her own. I've also tried not to ignore some of the newer kids on the block: Mala's--possibly adult-oriented?--Latinised dubstep, the interesting fruits of Sam Lee's song collecting work among the Romany community and the impressive new blues/soul songs, piano and--especially--VOICE of Natalie Duncan.

For me it's Richard Russell's collaboration with soul-legend Bobby Womack which pips the others to the post. As with his work with Gil Scott Heron in 2010, Russell has brought the best out of a soul artist who's had a difficult time of it recently and whose best years we might have thought were behind him.

That's what I think anyway.

  1. Bobby Womack: The Bravest Man in the Universe
  2. Karine Polwart: Traces
  3. Caroline Herring: Camilla
  4. Richard Hawley: Standing at the Sky’s Edge
  5. Beach House: Bloom
  6. Donald Fagen: Sunken Combos
  7. Natalie Duncan: The Devil in Me
  8. Kenny Wheeler: The Long Waiting
  9. Snowgoose: Harmony Springs
  10. Esperanza Spalding: Radio Music Society
  11. Trish Clowes: And in the Night Time She is There
  12. Thea Gilmore: Don’t Stop Singing
  13. The xx: Coexist
  14. Saint Etienne: Words and Music
  15. Sam Lee: Ground of Its Own
  16. Laetitia Sadier: Silencio
  17. Lianne La Havas: Is Your Love Big Enough?
  18. Quantic & Alice Russell: Look Around The Corner
  19. Mala: Mala in Cuba
  20. Spiro: Kaleidophonica

To hear more, fire up your Spotify machine...

And, as ever, please argue...

Sunday, May 13, 2012

music diary 2012

Not my idea this. Playing into my hands though...

Friday 4th May 
  • Burt Bacharach: This Is Easy (BBC4 TV documentary) - Got about five minutes into this before I realise I'd seen it before. Worth a second go though to hear again stories of Bacharach's obsessive attention to detail: viz. Cilla's story about the gruelling "Alfie" session involving many (possibly identical) takes and Carole Bayer Sager's account of the frustrations of their songwriting partnership, possibly responsible for their marriage break-up.
  • Pizzicato Five: Made in USA (vinyl) - Fellow MOR-sters' 1994 LP, not dusted off for some time. 
Saturday 5th May
  • Cocteau Twins: Four Calendar Cafe, Stars and Topsoil (iPhone) - Pat Nevin was on 5Live this morning enthusing about Liz Fraser's upcoming Meltdown gig and that, together with some fan reminiscences on the Guardian website and a three-hour train journey, presented a good opportunity to revisit the non-vinyl end of my Cocteaux collection. 
Sunday 6th May
  • Miles Davis: A Different Kind of Blue (Sky Arts TV documentary, including live footage of Isle of Wight Festival 1970) - Came across this while channel-hopping on my Dad's SkyBox. Interesting interviews from collaborators in the fusion-based period up to and including Bitches Brew. 
Monday 7th May
  • Emma Pollock: Watch the Fireworks; Gorillaz: Demon Days (iPhone) - Accompanying soundtrack to a gentle ramble in the North Wales countryside. Nice.
Tuesday 8th May
  • Nick Drake: Bryter Later (iPhone) - Another train journey. A not-very-original choice of accompaniment to the green fields rolling by the train window. And, as an antidote...
  • The Pains of Being Pure at Heart: The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Bonus CD (iPhone) - I remember reading an interview with Paul Simon once where he said that he always tries to vary the keys he writes in as it helps him to vary his style and avoid monotony. All the Pains of Being Pure at Heart's songs seem to be in the same key = bit boring.
  • Lightships & Snowgoose (Live at the Lexington) - Respective side projects of Teenage Fannies Gerard Love and Raymond McGinley. Preferred the latter although... 
Wednesday 9th May
  • Neil Young: "Lotta Love" (YouTube) - ...Lightships did a rather splendid cover of this to bring yesterday evening to a close: it's been playing in my head all morning.
  • Richard Hawley: Standing at the Sky's Edge (Spotify) - My favourite album of the year so far, I think. Reckon Alex Petridis's review is a work of art in itself.
  • Beach House: "Myth" (Spotify) - Like this lot. New album out. Good. Sound a bit like the Cocteaux (see above)...
  • Ebo Taylor: Appia Kwa Bridge (Spotify): By way of contrast, some lively Afrobeat to round things off for today. 
Thursday 10th May
  • High Llamas: Snowbug (iPlayer) - I like to stop off in Kennington Park en route to my Thursday job, park my bike and listen to some tunes. Haven't heard this for a while. It's my favourite Llamas album. O'Hagan is a genius, etc etc (see blog ramblings elsewhere on this subject...)
  • Kyle Eastwood Band (Live at Ronnie Scott's) - Enjoyable enough, accessible in a jazz kind of way, but maybe I have a problem with celebity offspring making it big? Not that they are by definition void of talent (although sometimes they are). 
Friday 11th May
  • Kyle Eastwood: Songs from the Chateau (Spotify); Snowgoose: Sycamore (band website) - another blast for a couple of the week's live music highlights.
Saturday 12th May
  • Sounds of the Sixties (Radio 2) - usual mix of classics, obscure gems and, well, tat frankly. Highlights: Skeeter Davies: End of the World, The Settlers: Major to Minor written by the British Bacharach & David, Tony Hatch and Jackie Trent.
  • Various programmes (Jazz FM) - there's some good stuff on Jazz FM, I find. On the big band programme at lunch time they played Johnny Dankworth's "Tomorrow's World" theme. Classic.
Sunday 13th May
  • Radio clash this evening. On 6Music, Stuart Maconie's Freak Zone, featuring tracks from Portishead's Third album, which I haven't played for a long time. Also: this rather lovely track from, er, Dixie's Death Pool. (You don't get much Abba on the Freak Zone...) Simultaneously, on Radio 2, the first part of Marc Almond's documentary on Jacques Brel. I'll have to fire up the iPlayer for this later in the week...
The End

Thursday, February 02, 2012

song of the week has moved

See my 2012 songs of the week on my newfangled thisismyjam page.

More musings to follow here soon I don't doubt...

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

song of the week 40: frank sinatra - have yourself a merry little christmas

I've heard a few grim old versions of this song in the last week or so.

First up against the wall is My Morning Jacket whose half-soaked wheeze sounds like they didn't even get out of bed to record it. Chris Martin has learnt a couple of new jazzy chords which he can't really shoe-horn into the usual Coldplay oeuvre but which godammit he's going to bang out here even if they don't quite fit in. We wouldn't expect much of Kenny G but his version is perhaps not as bad as it might be. Michael Bublé over-eggs it a bit with those gushing strings but then we never did like him. And Lord save us from Christina Aguilera whose yelpy melismania is almost the polar opposite of the My Morning Jacket version but just as unlistenable.

Why not just content ourselves with this more thoughtful version from a bloke from New Jersey who could carry a tune or two and from a time (1957) when the song's overfamiliarity hadn't yet bred contempt:

(Also recommended: Judy Garland's original version from the 1944 film Meet Me in St Louis.)

Saturday, December 10, 2011


Another year over and what have we done?

Well, we've listened to a lot of music. Time well spent? Think so...

Here's a playlist of some decent tracks which have seen the light of day in 2011, courtesy of our favourite music streaming service. It's in no way authoritative, being largely dependent on hastily scribbled post-it notes after 6Music--usually Gideon Coe--has make my ears prick up with something.

And these, in rough order, are my top 20 albums of the year, chosen with slightly more consideration:
  1. Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
  2. High Llamas – Talahomi Way
  3. Hong Kong in the 60s – My Fantoms
  4. Kate Bush – 50 Words for Snow
  5. Cornershop – Cornershop and the Double “O” Groove
  6. Leisure Society – Into The Murky Water
  7. King Creosote and Jon Hopkins – Diamond Mine
  8. Laura Marling – A Creature I Don’t Know
  9. Nick Lowe – The Old Magic
  10. Hollie Cook – Hollie Cook
  11. Low – C’Mon
  13. Elbow – Build a Rocket Boys!
  14. Silver Seas – Chateau Revenge
  15. Modular - Sinfonias Para Terricolas
  16. Cecil Sharp Project – Cecil Sharp Project
  17. Gruff Rhys – Hotel Shampoo
  18. James Blake – James Blake
  19. The Unthanks – Last
  20. Jonny – Jonny
Make of that what you will but as always I'd be interested in any comments, politely-phrased alternative suggestions/unbridled outbursts of knuckle-clenched fury...

P.S. The High Llamas record is excluded from my playlist but you can buy it (shock horror) here.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

song of the week 39: hong kong in the 60s - footsteps

Here's a song from a band on my Best Albums of the Year list (full run-down coming soon, and I don't doubt that a nation waits with bated breath). Just to prove that their excellent 2011 offering My Phantoms isn't just a flash in the pan affair, this is a track from their Willow Pattern Songs EP of a couple of years ago. Very fine it is too.