Wednesday 29 May 2013

The Known World

The Known World - Edward P. Jones

Time to return to book reviewing here at Vapour Trails after a hiatus caused by my focus on my Top 102 Albums⁺. Although I intend to continue blogging on my favourite albums I will not be doing so quite as regularly and hope to achieve a mix of book and music posts. I also hope to write on film a bit more, although I do often find that by the time I can settle down to watch a film I am too tired to do so.

I knew nothing about this book when I started reading and was therefore surprised when one of the central conceits was revealed after a few pages, in this description of the slave Moses and his master, Henry Townsend.  "He was thirty-five years old and for every moment of those years he had been someone's slave, a white man's slave and then another white man's slave and now, for nearly ten years, the overseer slave for a black master." In fact  I was a little afraid that the 'black master' might be a 'gimmick' that was the reason for the book's popularity but as I read on this fear proved unfounded.

The book pushes you to try to understand what it was to only have value as livestock and to be bought and sold at a whim, moved away from friends and family as a child or an adult, even put down if you were too troublesome. Even free blacks were required to carry their papers with them at all times and were repeatedly forced to show them by the law, which mainly existed to ensure that no slaves escaped.

Sunday 26 May 2013

Top 102 Albums⁺ MY GROUND ZERO Sister Lovers / Third

Top 102 Albums⁺ 
Sister Lovers / Third - Big Star
"Things fall apart / The centre cannot hold"

This album has probably been played more than any twenty other albums in my possession. There were a number of years when the day that I didn't play it was rare and the days where I played it on repeat for hours were common. Late nights were its preferred habitat but anytime was ok.

It's an album with a strange history and one that is probably more famous now than ever. It languished unreleased for four years after it was recorded and was released intermittently after that, usually on small labels, and with different tracks added or subtracted and in different order. They had different covers. The copy I got my hands on was the Castle Communications version released in 1987. This is the one pictured at the top of this post.

Thursday 23 May 2013

Bonus Top Tens - John Healy

Bonus Top Tens - John Healy

John was the drummer in the first incarnation of The Knocking Shop. He is a Dubliner who grew up in Sydney, his family having moved there when he was young. He came back for a number of years but is now based in Sydney again where he is still making music, including the wonderful Broken City People album which he released in 2011 and which includes the heartbreaking, wonderful Longreach.

John's passion for music and the way, as with all of us, music and memory intertwine is captured in a great Top Ten.

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 1. Highway 61 Revisited

As a result of my liking for having my cake and eating it, I am continuing this list to 0 and then beyond, into the shadows of the negative numbers. There was not enough space in 102 albums. So I have a No 1 and a No -1 and also 0, the ground zero of my musical world, due next. 

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 1. 
Highway 61 Revisited - Bob Dylan

"Those masterful images because complete
Grew in pure mind, but out of what began?
A mound of refuse or the sweepings of a street,
Old kettles, old bottles, and a broken can,
Old iron, old bones, old rags, that raving slut
Who keeps the till. Now that my ladder's gone,
I must lie down where all the ladders start
In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart. "

I have no problem selecting my favourite Dylan album. He has released at least ten albums that could comfortably sit in my top five if I selected them as my favourite Dylan album but I can't remember a time when this wasn't my favourite Dylan album.

Tuesday 21 May 2013

Bonus Top Ten - Pete Holidai

Bonus Top Ten - Pete Holidai

"I'm going to smash my Telecaster through the Television Screen."

Todays Bonus Top Ten is a bit special, coming as it does from the legendary Pete Holidai, guitarist with perhaps Dublin's greatest contribution to rock 'n' roll, The Radiators from Space. His trebly Telecaster adorned their fabulous Television Screen and he made sure that the Ghostown rocked. Ghostown, you may have noticed, is at No 2 in my favourite albums list. Anyway it is a sign of the class of the man that he took the time to make up and send me his personal Top Ten.

The list includes early punk, some of punks glam precursors, and a taste for exotic sounds from the fifties, especially if space themed.

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 2. Ghostown

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 2.
Ghostown. The Radiators.

"I guess we had to get older
And the memories are scratched"
This is one of the great Irish albums, an album which seems to capture the essence of the Dublin of the time. Philip Chevron's accent, the pool halls, the cellar bars, the remains of rock 'n' roll, the tension between paralysis and defiance. Cabaret tinted theatricality, poetry and punk meet Brylcreem and bingo on the dark side streets of a city where the anger simmers in the juices of despair.
"The town clock tells her last week’s time"

Posting this is bittersweet given the very recent news that Philip Chevron, who has battled cancer, has seen that cancer return in an inoperable form and as he put it "this time the cancer is lethal." As well as being a Radiator, Philip released an excellent solo Brecht/Weill mini album Songs from Bill's Dance Hall and a single, Dominic Behan's The Captains and the Kings. He produced Agnes Bernelle's first two albums and most famously, was a member of The Pogues. He also composed music for theatre and much else besides. Hopefully this new stage in his life will be long and fruitful. His hope, is to make some 'notable musical contributions" to add to the many already made. None, I think, more notable than Ghostown.

Monday 20 May 2013

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 3. Speak Slowly

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 3. 
Speak Slowly - The Stars of Heaven
"This is not a highway, there are no Honky Tonks
And the unknown jukebox with a few country songs
We drink wine as cheap as Hollywood and talk about the day
You pointed at the signpost that read 'our separate ways'"
Other than the couple of bands I was involved with there is no band I have seen more than The Stars of Heaven and yet I still regret all the gigs I could have gone to but didn't. In mid eighties Dublin they struck me with the force of a revelation. Seeing a band this good in small venues dotted around Dublin (The Underground, Sides, McGonagles, The New Inn, Hawkins House) was, and seemed like, a privilege. That the promoter (Smiley Bolger) had to get on the stage and ask the small crowd to buy drinks for the band after a Christmas 'fundraiser' gig tells that that privilege wasn't always appreciated. Won't somebody out there please upload a live recording?

Friday 17 May 2013

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 4 Grotesque (After the Gramme)

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 4. 
 Grotesque (After the Gramme) - The Fall

"The dead cannot contradict
Sometimes the living cannot"

This is the hardest choice for me to make. The Fall have an varied yet consistent body of work and there are probably ten or more albums jostling for this position. As I write I am considering Grotesque; This Nations Saving Grace and Shiftwork. Earlier I had it down to Live at the Witch Trials, Perverted by Language and Extricate. I've considered 'cheating' and using The Complete Peel Sessions. Hex Enduction Hour jostles with The Wonderful and Frightening World of. Then Slates and The Infotainment Scan raise their hands. So there is more than the usual element of pin the tail on the donkey about today's choice.

After much procrastination I have chosen Grotesque.  It is the sort of album that would insult me in a way that I would not entirely comprehend, but would fully understand. "All the English groups, act like peasants with free milk"

Bonus Top Ten - Kevin Byrne

Bonus Top Ten - Kevin B

Here's another top ten that was directed my way through Brendan's auspices. The thing I really like about this list is that if you took any nine albums from it you'd be totally stumped as to what the tenth would be. A thoroughly individual list.

Over to you, Kevin:

I was directed to your listings my  fellow muso Brendan, who recently contributed an engaging Top Ten selection
I am very much enjoying browsing your Top 102, and was delighted to see Babble by TPE and O’Riada sa Gaiety in there among others.
My selection is below, it’s in no particular order except for the No.1. No great plan in making the selections, other than they are 10 albums I would still play right through,  more often than not as opposed to a track here and there. 
Kevin B

Thursday 16 May 2013

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 5 Searching for the Young Soul Rebels/Don't Stand me Down

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 5 
Searching for the Young Soul Rebels/Don't Stand Me Down - Dexy's Midnight Runners

I struggled for a while to choose between Searching for the Young Soul Rebels and Don't Stand Me Down. Why struggle, I thought. There's room on this horse for two.

The way that Dexy's moved between styles, musical and sartorial, on their first three albums means that they almost seem like different bands anyway. Were these changes driven by a passion for renewal or were they simply lurches? No band has displayed the tension between an intensely passionate focus and a kind of wild vulnerability more than Dexy's, or more to the point singer and (lightning) conductor Kevin Rowland.

Monday 13 May 2013

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 6 The Gilded Palace of Sin

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 6 
The Gilded Palace of Sin - The Flying Burrito Brothers

This position has changed between the three great Gram Parsons albums a few times and I only settled on this one when I started writing. I might even change my mind again. I think not. This is a stupendous record, with both covers and originals melding perfectly.

The Burritos were Gram's third attempt at creating Cosmic American Music and they certainly dressed cosmic. Gram's Nudie suit, with marijuana, crucifix and the flames of hell is worth the price of admission alone.

Saturday 11 May 2013

Bonus Top Tens John F

Bonus Top Tens John F

John F has come here through the auspices of Brendan (and he is more then welcome). Any Top Ten that includes The Mighty Fall has to be more than ok. In fact apart from The Waterboys, to whom I have a mild allergy, I would be a fan of everything here. Nice list John.

Take it away....

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 7 The Modern Lovers

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 7 
The Modern Lovers - The Modern Lovers

"I know life is cruel but I don't wanna be a bitch, man
I just wanna cry like Jonathan Richman"
(work in progress)

Jonathan Richman is one of the few (maybe only) performers I've seen cry onstage. Perhaps he is too pure for this world, as close as we have to an angel. He believes in all the good stuff, love, love and more love. Family, work, community. As he puts it himself: "I'm Straight." He seems to speak from somewhere that is beyond pretence, with a directness the equal of Johnny Cash's.

Friday 10 May 2013

Bonus Top Tens - Ciaran

Bonus Top Tens - Ciaran

Ciaran is one of my oldest friends, and although he lives far from the arthritic damp of Ireland in the sunshine dappled streets of San Francisco practicing science in the laboratory and he also finds time monthly to spin records in a local bar as his alter ego, the scientist of soul.

It was in Ciaran's prompting that I first discovered The Blades and in his room that I first remember hearing full albums by Talking Heads and Tav Falco among others. He also saved my bacon at a Housemartin's gig when a group of skinheads drew knives and surrounded me.

Thursday 9 May 2013

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 8 - Fear of Music

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 8
Fear of Music - Talking Heads
"They're setting a bad example
They have untroubled lives
They think everything's nice
They like to laugh at people
They're setting a bad example"

David Byrne's assumed Persona: a man so wound up he could shatter into pieces; uptight, the sort of guy who would consider it an act of crazed rebellion to loosen his tie and, god forbid, open the top button of his starched shirt; the sort of guy who could shovel coke up his nose and batter his partner while still considering himself the good guy.

Wednesday 8 May 2013

Bonus Top Tens - Brendan

Bonus Top Tens - Brendan

One person's treasure is another's trash. For all of you who only click through to my favourite albums in order to feel irate at the eccentricity and wrongheadedness of my choices I thought I would broaden the canvass and ask some music aficionados of my acquaintance to list their Top Tens. The first comes from Brendan, a regular commenter on my posts and someone who was introduced to me by a mutual friend as someone who thought about music as much as I do.  His list shows a taste for adventure (and AC/DC) and an epicure's sensibility (and a taste for AC/DC).

Our Top Tens share one record. Which one?
By the way, if any other reader's want to join the fun and select their own Top Tens, please do. (You can email me at seamus dot duggan at gmail dot com)

Tuesday 7 May 2013

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 9 Swordfishtrombones

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 9
Swordfishtrombones - Tom Waits

"they're alive, they're awake
while the rest of the world is asleep"

I don't think I've ever taken to any artist quite like Tom Waits. I was sixteen and all I knew of him was the live version of The Piano Has Been Drinking, which I had seen him play on The Late Late Show. The version released on Bounced Checks was recorded in Dublin on that same visit.

A few years later I took a chance on Small Change, the album which included the original version of The Piano Has Been Drinking. Two weeks later I had pretty much everything he had released up to that point. I was blown away and mildly obsessed. Soon afterwards, when I got Swordfishtrombones I was blown away again by what seemed like a new artist.

Sunday 5 May 2013

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 10. Chairs Missing.

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 10
Chairs Missing - Wire

I could have selected any of the first three Wire albums for this slot. Each is very different but the quality is the same. Taken as a body of work it these three records are an uncompromising,  cryptic and rigorous attempt to re-imagine the possibilities of rock music. And there have been many who have revisited these albums as a source, including some who took a little more than inspiration. (Stand up Elastica.)

Friday 3 May 2013

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 11 Bernelle on Brecht

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 11 
Bernelle on Brecht - Agnes Bernelle

Who? I hear some of you ask. Tom Waits once called her his favourite recording artist.  Marc Almond duetted with and wrote a song for her. Philip Chevron was  "production co-ordinator" on this album and producer of her next album, which Elvis Costello was also involved in. She was a link to Lotte Lenya and Marlene Dietrich. She brought cabaret and chanson to Peter Cook's Establishment Club in sixties Soho; she caused a German U-Boat captain to surrender by congratulating him on the birth of his baby after he had spent two years at sea; she opened a door in Dublin which led you into Weimar Germany, dislocating time and space... You are in the world of George Grosz and Bertolt Brecht.

You can get a potted history of her life by listening to the radio shows at this LINK. You will also find Bernelle on Brecht there, where it has been for a few weeks, as I discovered this morning. I was wondering how to illustrate this album which had little or no life online. At one time the only mention I could find was one mentioning that it was "as rare as hen's teeth."

Thursday 2 May 2013

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 12 Imperial Bedroom

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 12 
Imperial Bedroom - Elvis Costello and the Attractions

"History repeats the old conceits
The glib replies, the same defeats
Keep your finger on important issues
With crocodile tears and a pocketful of tissues"

The Raymond Chandler of post-punk-pub-rock hides in suburban gardens watching versions of himself engage in various sexual and emotional conflagrations. Inside his disconnected head is not a comfortable place to be but by god you see things through these glasses you don't see (a. when you're sober or - (b. if you have 20/20 vision.