Monday 31 December 2012

There are Little Kingdoms

There Are Little Kingdoms - Kevin Barry

Having won a copy of Kevin Barry's second book of short stories and enjoyed it I put this, his first collection on my Christmas wish list and it turned out to be the one I received.

As predicted by a couple of people I found this a stronger collection than the second. The odd final line seems to be grasping for something it doesn't quite achieve, like a gymnast who takes a couple of steps after a dismount. But phrases are coined that sound both original and like the argot of a group you half belong to.

Top 102 Albums No. 74 Nixon

Top 102 Albums No. 74 
Nixon - Lambchop

'Think of me as fetal 
Think of me as the fifth Beatle"

In which Nick Cave rings The Stylistics who are in an apartment block called Watergate. He whispers secrets in code down the phone while they tune up. In the apartment above them an orchestra translates the phone messages into strings.

The collision sounds like the bar scene in The Shining played straight by the Marx Brothers. You're not sure whether to laugh or shiver.   "It's really just pretend."

Sunday 30 December 2012

Top 102 Albums. No 75. Moanin' in the Moonlight

Top 102 Albums. No 75. 
Moanin' in the Moonlight - Howlin' Wolf

"Ah, oh, smokestack lightning
Shinin', just like gold
Why don't ya hear me cryin'?"

This was Howlin' Wolf's first album and it collects some of the stupendous singles he recorded for Chess Records in the fifties. These ain't no re-recordings but the genuine article. A fragment of the one true chord. Although these records somewhat define the Chicago Blues sound it is worth noting that the first two songs were not recorded by the Chess brothers but by Mr Sam Philips in the Sun Recording Studio in Memphis, Tennessee. Wolf already had twenty years of playing behind him. And here's what Sam thought - (or so Wikipedia says) - "When I heard Howlin' Wolf, I said, 'This is for me. This is where the soul of man never dies.'" You can't have a halfway decent record collection without the (Burnette) name in the credits of a number of songs. He's been imitated, borrowed from and lionised by so many there's no point trying to list them.  Here's That Petrol Emotion's paean to this extraordinary bluesman.

Saturday 29 December 2012

Best Books of 2012

Thoughts on Books and other things in 2012

This year has been a far slower book year for me than 2011. A sort of general tiredness seems to settle over me, particularly towards the end of the year and at times it was a real struggle to write. I hope that I  have a more energetic 2013 and read more, and write more.

At the beginning of the year my main target was to read Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu. I had thought a couple of months would do it but it took me a lot longer. It's hard to compare it to anything else but it is an experience as much as a book. The most positive thing about it was that it gave me the impetus to tackle my second target of the year, which was to finish a short story.

Friday 28 December 2012

Top 102 Albums. No. 76 Murmur

Top 102 Albums. No. 76
Murmur - R.E.M.

The albums you hear when you are an impressionable adolescent always hold a particular place in your affections, don't they? There is a real excitement when a current band seems to sit easily with the best of the music you have to catch up on. I couldn't decide whether this or Reckoning would be my R.E.M. choice as both are firmly ensconced on my favourites list and I return to both often.

Tuesday 25 December 2012

Top 102 albums. No. 77. Marquee Moon

Top 102 Albums. No 77.
Marquee Moon - Television

Given the day that's in it and the fact that this album has the magic '77 attached to it I thought I'd try to link both. At first I was trying to think of early punk with a christmas twist but then I thought of this and it then seemed like the perfect fit. And then I realised that this is almost a Christmas concept album as I will now show in a track by track exploration.

Sunday 23 December 2012

Top 102 albums. No. 78. Tapestry

Top 102 Albums. No. 78. 
Tapestry - Carole King

In bed with the winter vomiting bug I feel the need for something comforting, relaxing and perhaps restorative. I have plumped for Carole King's Tapestry. The other advantage is that there is not much that needs to be said about this album. It is part of our aural DNA.

Long before she finally hit the heights as a performer with Tapestry King had written numerous hits, most famously as part of the Goffin/King partnership, including "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" for The Shirelles which was the first U.S. No.1 by a girl group and makes an appearance on Tapestry, as does (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman, made famous by Aretha Franklin.

Friday 21 December 2012

Top 102 Albums. No. 79 Slayed

Top 102 Albums. No. 79
Slayed - Slade

I've been thinking a lot about the connection between memory and music as I pick the albums that appear in this list. It's impossible to separate memory from 'critical evaluation'. I have also got a fairly clear idea of what I'm going to include. This, however, is a complete outlier. I hadn't really been thinking about including a Slade album but then I heard Mama Were all Crazee Now and my hypothalamus was immediately injected with a rush of adrenaline and my skin tingled with remembered excitement. And not just remembered excitement. Slade may come perilously close to descending into pub rock boogie but they also ascend the adrenaline crackling heights. The opening bars of Mama could almost be The Stooges for chrissake!

But whatever they do they own some of my life. In 1972 there was only one band to chant along to in the playground. Songs about going crazee, with a blatant disregard for spelling. How I wished I was so free. The swagger is irresistible.

The hatforms, suits, glitter and extraordinary success often gets in the way of recognising how great a band Slade were. But you know The Ramones were listening, and so were the Pistols and so, I guess, was Jimmy Pursey. I have always had a sneaking regard for the terrace chant with crashing guitars and its Slade and The Sweet who gave me that taste and Slade are far the greater.

I never saw Slade live but when I listen to Slade Alive I wish I had. I did see The Sweet in the '90's, long after their heyday and including an unknown number of original members probably > zero but not including singer Brian Connolly. They were godawful until the last few songs when they played Fox on the Run, Blockbuster and the immortal (in my mind) Ballroom Blitz. They then encored with Ballroom Blitz (again) and the concert ended with seats been torn up and some kind of mayhem. I went back to the dressing room afterwards to find the band released from the leather suits a few sizes too small for them and in a state of some shock, having not experienced a reaction like that in decades. Sweat dripping from and into places I don't want to describe, or even think about, they told us to take all the beer we wanted as they bemoaned the fact that their bottle of Jack Daniels was only 750 mls, "and that's not a litre, is it?" TAP! They also asked us where the girls were. Frightening thought.

The point of this digression, if there has to be one, is that most of the album tracks on Slayed would rouse the dead. They were a great singles band but they were in flames at this time and could have released every track as a single if the practices of the eighties had been in place. Noddy was a great vocalist with enough rasp to file through the bars of any jail. And you don't hav t spel - freeeedumb!

The Youtube video below is part of a playlist of the whole album complete with crackles, hisses and skips from the vinyl. The only way to listen.

C'mon, Mama Weer All Crazee Now. And BBC4 have a Slade night tonight! See those TOTP performances in full technicolour. I don't think it's ever been so much fun since.

Wednesday 19 December 2012

Top 102 Albums. No 80. Teenage Snuff Film.

Top 102 Albums. No 80. 
Teenage Snuff Film. Rowland S. Howard.
*Albums not presented in any particular order.*

Here's a distressed jewel of a record, the first of a few in this list to feature Rowland S. Howard "crown prince of the crying jag". That crying white (Fender) Jaguar is one of rocks signature guitar sounds, and the dry humour of the line a snippet of Howard's desertified wit. He may not be for everyone but if you acquire a taste for him his work is  consistently rewarding and unique.

Tuesday 18 December 2012

The Left Handed Woman

The Left Handed Woman - Peter Handke

 This is an odd, spare novella. Set in anonymous suburbia it tells a tale of marital disintegration, or does it? It manages to be both mundane and fabulous. The reader is never quite sure what exactly is happening.

The book opens with the woman (who is never known as anything else) sitting at her sewing machine in a room which has a glass window taking up one side. The window opens on to the windowless wall of the neighbouring house. A clear visual metaphor for isolation and communication difficulties.

Sunday 16 December 2012

Top 102 Albums. No. 81 The Day the Earth Stood Still

Top 102 Albums. No. 81 
The Day the Earth Stood Still - Bernhard Herrmann

Reading Trevor's post at Hissyfit on Ennio Morricone's soundtrack for Once Upon a Time in America got me thinking on soundtracks. I have a few in physical copies and others tied securely to the films they accentuated. Years of watching rough cuts of films taught me that you can get away with poorly shot images in a film but bad sound just doesn't work. Music is a big part of this, of course although sound can be carefully composed for film without becoming music.

Saturday 15 December 2012

Top 102 Albums, No 82 My Dark Places

Top 102 Albums, No 82 
My Dark Places - The Television Personalities

Once again, very late at night, I choose (with ever more desperate randomness) another of my favourite albums with which to regale my many acolytes. Having mentioned Dan Treacy in a comment on my last post I thought I would continue my random linking and choose a Television Personalities album for your perusal.

Thursday 13 December 2012

Top 102 Albums. No 83 Songs for Drella

Top 102 Albums. No 83
Songs for Drella - Lou Reed & John Cale

Over on Cathedrals of Sound the selection at No. 84 was Grant McLennan's Horsebreaker Star, an excellent album. Following a trail from it I've been listening to it, then others by McLennan and his on/off songwriting partner Robert Forster. I remember the trepidation when buying the first solo album after The Go-Betweens split. Then I followed the trail to albums by Husker Du's Grant Hart and Bob Mould and then spent a long time listening to John Cale albums before I thought of this and for some reason this spoke to me and said "I'm today's choice." In a tone not to be argued with (I started this post yesterday but something disagreed with my stomach and I had to take to bed. Seems sort of appropriate as this album was made between disagreements.)

Monday 10 December 2012

Top 102 Albums. No 84. A Tonic for the Troops.

Top 102 Albums. No 84. 
A Tonic for the Troops - The Boomtown Rats.

Time has not been kind to The Boomtown Rats. They are generally written off as a side project of that famous philantrophist and controversialist Bob Geldof. But there was a time when they were one of the biggest bands in the world, and whats more, they came from just a few miles away. I even saw Johnny Fingers in his trade mark pyjamas walking past Trinity College when I was in Dublin City Centre shopping with my family. That practically made me a celebrity.

Sunday 9 December 2012

Group Portrait With Lady

Group Portrait With Lady - Heinrich Böll

The form of this book is fictional documentary, with the author interviewing as many as possible of the friends of Leni Pfeiffer (nee Huyten) with a view to establishing the facts about her life experience and character as closely as possible. As well as citing interviewees the author often cites the most mundane opinions as being his own (Au.). However he claims to imagine nothing: "The Au. imagined nothing, his sole desire being for factual information."

This method allows Böll to distance us from the events and to lace the book with industrial strength irony.  And given that Leni came of age in Nazi Germany and was thrice bereaved during WW2, distance is necessary to tell this story.

Saturday 8 December 2012

Top 102 Albums. No 85. Dread Beat 'n Blood

Top 102 Albums. No 85. 
Dread Beat an' Blood - Poet and the Roots / Linton Kwesi Johnson

"blood, bitterness, exploding fire, wailing blood, and bleeding"

Once again I feel like I am doing this album a disservice by listing at 85. But I guess any album on this list should feel like a top ten album, should be capable of bewitching my ears and energising my belief in music when I am listening. And there is a reason for it being '85, for that is the year with which it is yoked in my mind, although it was released in 1978 (of which more later).

Thursday 6 December 2012

Top 102 Albums. No 86. Jazz Goes to College.

Top 102 Albums. No 86.
Jazz Goes to College. The Dave Brubeck Quartet

I am late with today's instalment and had an album in my head but when I read the news of Dave Brubeck's death I figured that it was time for this album to make an appearance. When I was younger jazz both attracted me and made me slightly uncomfortable. There is just so much of it. How could you establish a foothold on the lower reaches of the foothills?  Well like everything in life all you can do is take small steps and hope that they are the first steps in an interesting journey.

Tuesday 4 December 2012

Top 102 Albums. No. 87 Current Affairs

Top 102 Albums. No. 87
Current Affairs - Johnny Duhan

This is one of the more obscure albums on my list, an album that, as far as I know, has not seen the light of day since it's initial release in 1984. And, on form, we were lucky to hear it then. Johnny Duhan has become very much a part of the Irish songwriting elite, with songs covered by Christy Moore, including The Voyage, which is particularly ubiquitous. That was not the case back in the late seventies / early eighties..

Duhan had originally come to notice as part of Granny's Intentions, a 'beat group' from Limerick who moved to London and released some singles and an album on Deram and flirted with success before they broke up in 1972.

Sunday 2 December 2012

Top 102 Albums. No 88. In My Own Time

Top 102 Albums. No 88. 
In My Own Time. Karen Dalton

When I first came to town
They brought me drinks plenty
Now they've changed their tune
They bring me the bottles empty
(Katie Cruel, Trad.)

I thought of this album last night but decided to leave it until later in the list but I kept listening to it and so decided by default that it would be the album added today.

Saturday 1 December 2012

Top 102 Albums. N0. 89. The Carl Stalling Project.

Top 102 Albums. N0. 89.
The Carl Stalling Project, Vols 1 & 2. Carl Stalling & The Warner Bros. Studio Orchestra.

I started this post with the intention of posting on a jazz album, narrowed it down to Miles David but then couldn't narrow it down to an album. There are just so many - Sketches of Spain, Kind of Blue, Bitches Brew, On the Corner & on & on. I was listening to Davis and thinking of how his music reminds me at times of a Mondrian canvas, full of joy and imagination, references and surprises.

And then I thought of this record. Few are as full of joy and imagination. This is wild anarchic, joyful, funny music, hardwired into our brains from an early age. This is some of my very favourite music to listen to on my iPod. It seems to make the world around a different place although it's hard to resist the urge to spread banana skins on the pavements and sit back waiting for life to match it's soundtrack.