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Hullabaloo Cerys Matthews review

Cerys Matthews – Hullabaloo

Review of Hullabaloo by Cerys Matthews

Hullabaloo is the eighth full-length solo album from Cerys Matthews, and the second to be devoted largely to traditional Welsh songs. It is in fact very much a sister album to 2010’s TIR, which was packaged similarly with sepia-colored photos from days gone by, with the songs’ lyrics lovingly laid out in Welsh and English along with notes on their background. In a certain sense Hullabaloo is a mirror-image of her first Welsh-traditional collection. While TIR included some lighter numbers it was anchored by such great, stirring ballads as “Myfanwy” and “Calon Lan;” whereas while Hullabaloo has some poignant ballads it is defined more by its uptempo and danceable tunes and arrangements. And while TIR was built upon voice and guitar, Hullabaloo flaunts a great ensemble of pipes, all manner of stringed instruments, esoteric percussion and whatever might be called for at the given moment.

Cerys Matthews excels at inspiriting and refreshing old tunes, and she also excels at finding and lifting up the common thread that runs through the really great songs from a variety of musical traditions. It’s very difficult (actually impossible) to define that thread in mere words, but one shot at it is to suggest that it is one entwined with insight into that which is fundamentally human and quite often that which is sacred; and, when it inhabits a melody and a lyric, it makes for a song that can stick around for centuries. Continue reading Cerys Matthews – Hullabaloo

The Cinch Review

Elton John – The Diving Board

Review of Elton John The Diving BoardI’ve always had a big soft spot for Elton John. As a kid, I was a real fan, and this was quite a while after his 1970s heyday, during a time when it was highly unfashionable to be an Elton John fan; so I endured much abuse over it, but that only made me dig in my heels all the more. And I will still make a case in hostile company for Elton John when he is doing what he does best. The question is, what does he do best?

The producer of this new album, The Diving Board, is the estimable T-Bone Burnett, and he characterizes it as being “an album of music by a master at the peak of his artistic powers.” (It would naturally be highly dismaying if the album’s producer said it was merely mediocre.) For T-Bone, it’s all inspired by the shows in America that Elton did in 1970, which broke him into the big time: just piano, bass and drums, and some incendiary performing. (Well represented on the album 11/17/70.) This album is based around the same basic trio, although there are occasionally some other colors added such as horns and backing vocals.

It’s my own conviction that Elton is at his best when he succeeds in channeling some kind of deep American rootsy-ness, letting it burst forth through his highly-English soul in his piano-playing and singing, and creating something rather unique, inspirational, charming and joyous. It might be a gospel kind of feeling, it might be R&B, it might be country and western, and Elton might be hamming it up to a ludicrous level, but when all the cylinders are firing and the song itself is good enough, Elton can really hit a height. He can get somewhere. A few examples I’ll just pick without regard to whether they are “greatest hits” or not, from the approximately 25,000 songs he’s recorded: “Honky Cat,” “Where’s the Shoorah?,” “I Don’t Care,” and “My Father’s Gun.” In addition to these kinds of tracks where Elton really “gets the feeling” (as Van Morrison might put it) there are also those occasional standout lush ballads that you just can’t not like (e.g. “Your Song“) and his super-catchy if quite inane masterworks (e.g. “Island Girl” or “Crocodile Rock“). He’s done so much stuff. But the space in between the things he does really well leaves a lot of room for things that don’t ultimately go anywhere (even if they go to the top of the charts). These are records that cannot escape being merely maudlin, or cloying, or bland. Continue reading Elton John – The Diving Board

Milder McAloon review

Quoted Out Of Context: Music by Paddy McAloon – (Joakim) Milder PS

Review of Music by Paddy McAloon Milder PSI guess that there are at least three obvious reasons why jazz musicians have always gravitated towards playing standards (at least as a part of their repertoire). By standards, I’m referring to the classics by the great composers of popular song of the first half of the twentieth century: the Gershwins, Porter, Arlen, Kern, Rodgers (with both Hart and Hammerstein), et al. For one, the songs are melodically appealing and harmonically interesting, and so make good subject matter for a musician and provide good jumping-off points for his or her own improvisations. A second reason—I would suggest—is that the songs are lyrically strong. Even when there is no singing (or perhaps especially when there is no singing) it is advantageous for the music to have an emotional and poetic anchor in words that may be unheard but are known to the players and likely to the listeners as well. And the third reason is familiarity itself: if your audience knows the songs, then they will more readily accept your performance and more easily perceive what you are adding to the music. Likewise, your fellow musicians know the songs, and the ways in which your rendition varies from those that have come before will define your uniqueness as a player.

When Swedish saxophonist Joakim Milder decided to record a whole album of songs by Paddy McAloon (Quoted Out Of Context – Milder PS), I guess he decided that two out of three wasn’t so bad. That is, McAloon (leader of erstwhile British band Prefab Sprout) writes songs that meet the criteria of being melodically inventive and lyrically strong, but I don’t think anyone could claim that they are well-known enough to constitute a common currency amongst jazz musicians. And in any case, Milder and his musical cohorts avoid the few obvious hits from the McAloon ouevre (e.g. “When Love Breaks Down,” “Cars and Girls,” and “King of Rock & Roll”).

The very broad and distinctly tasteful look at McAloon’s body of work that is offered by the tracklist is one of the things about the album that I liked instantly, including as it does songs like “Andromeda Heights,” “God Watch Over You,” and “I Trawl the Megahertz.” And on listening, it is simply a delight for a fan of McAloon’s songwriting to hear his material being performed with the kind of intelligence, maturity and depth of feeling that Joakim Milder and his colleagues bring to this record.

An example is better than any number of characterizations, and an ideal one is probably the version of “Nightingales.” The version by Milder and company can be heard below embedded via SoundCloud. (For comparison, the original Prefab Sprout version is no doubt easily found on YouTube, and one might even find a rare solo piano rendition by the songwriter).

The song “Nightingales” possesses a melody both gorgeous and perpetually teasing to the ear. By itself it would announce that McAloon is a rare talent. Lyrically, it is also teasing: a rhetorical, one-sided conversation about nothing less than the meaning of existence. Questions are softly posed, inadequate answers are brushed off, and a conclusion is offered that is all but proven by the existence of the song itself, in a kind of circular philosophical gambit.

Milder, with his saxophone, joins in the conversation, and adds to it. He contributes no histrionics, and does not stretch anything beyond its breaking point, but nevertheless imparts his own particular urgencies and poignancies. And the sound of the entire ensemble is a true joy of sensitivity and focus.

I could go down the list, and there would be similar observations to make about each and every track. It is that good an album. McAloon has had a fair number of cover versions recorded of his songs, but not to my mind (or my knowledge) by anyone with the kind of musical chops needed to lift the material out of a very contemporary pop context and into the more timeless zone which I think it is, at its best, worthy of occupying. That it would be a jazz instrumentalist who would do this is surprising, but surprises like this are very welcome.

Paddy McAloon Crimson/Red Prefab SproutThe album has been out for a while, and I’ve long had it on my mind to write something about it, but the timing now is perversely apt, because a long-awaited brand new album by Paddy McAloon is being released shortly. It’s under the moniker of “Prefab Sprout,” but McAloon (who some years ago developed ear trouble that prevents him from easily working with a band) provides all of the instrumentation. It’s titled Crimson/Red, and previews suggest it is (perhaps surprisingly) a very bright, energetic collection of pop songs.

I’ll be happy indeed if it has just one or two tunes as good as the great “Doo Wop in Harlem.” A live version from McAloon and Prefab is discoverable on YouTube. The lovely rendition by Joakim Milder and company is embedded below.

You can find the Milder PS album through Amazon UK: Quoted Out Of Context – Music by Paddy McAloon


The full tracklist is:

1. Couldn’t Bear To Be Special
2. Doo Wop In Harlem
3. Anne Marie
4. I Trawl The Megahertz
5. Dragons
6. Nightingales
7. God Watch Over You
8. Andromeda Heights
9. Jesse James Symphony & Bolero
10. Pearly Gates

……

The Cinch Review

Another Self Portrait – Bob Dylan (Bootleg Series Volume 10)

Review of Bob Dylan Another Self Portrait Bootleg Series 10I burst out laughing yesterday. I was listening to “Wigwam,” the version of the song on the new release from Bob Dylan, Another Self Portrait: The Bootleg Series Vol. 10, without the overdubs from the original Self Portrait album in 1970. Heard this way, it is a very unassuming performance: voice, guitar, piano: a pleasant, contemplative melody. I think that it is, in its way, a joke, however, because, while there are no lyrics, Dylan sings “la da da da” type stuff throughout. Put that together with what he said (in 1984) about the original 1970 release of Self Portrait, and how he wanted to alienate the people who were looking to him for big statements and answers:

I wish these people would just forget about me. I wanna do something they can’t possibly like, they can’t relate to. They’ll see it, and they’ll listen, and they’ll say, ‘Well, let’s get on to the next person. He ain’t sayin’ it no more. He ain’t given’ us what we want,’ you know? They’ll go on to somebody else.

What better way to do that than for the great lyricist and poet and “voice of a generation” to record a song with nothing but “la da da’s” in it? Continue reading Another Self Portrait – Bob Dylan (Bootleg Series Volume 10)