I am not sure of the genre, heavy-prog. Who knows?
It at times really frustrates me that Freddie Mercury’s vocal acrobatics are seen as the epitome of histrionic 70’s rock vocals. Those in the know will cite David Byron of Uriah Heep as the true master of the overwrought vocal. Bare chested and operatically inclined in the vocal department he screamed and hollered his way through many a Heep album, living large and I am sure frustrating his bandmates with his behavior.
In the grand tradition of 70’s live albums Uriah Heep’s cleverly titled “Live” album is a monster among lesser creatures. Overblown solos on all fronts extended versions of songs that were already pretty long and David Byron bellowing his heart out across four sides ending with the endless rock’n’roll medley.
Everything says this should be awful but honestly it’s pretty outstanding and a whole lot of fun. Uriah Heep were definitely in the second division of English proto-metal, heavy-prog bands, not always justifiably but they could for sure manage to pomp it up with the best of them. Now let’s face it David could not hold a note like Freddie but he really more than makes up for it with enthusiasm.
I had a really long post written about how great Son Volt are, a comparison to Buffalo Springfield splitting up for Uncle Tupelo, the academic album for album review of Wilco and Son Volt and the importance of both bands and the futility of comparisons.
I then deleted the whole thing and decided to go with this:
Son Volt Live at the Bottomline 1996 is straight up how Americana if that is what we are going to call it should sound. Heartbreaking vocals, twangy guitars screaming and funnily enough odd time signatures. It’s the sound of whiskey and beer and the smell of the shampoo of the girls hair you are dancing with as it brushes against your face. Its long rides on open roads and longer rides on winding roads through the mountains at night with the smell of pine trees and rain coming through the open window. It’s coming over the hill and seeing the endless highway stretching before you with the heat haze hovering over the asphalt. It’s blue jeans and flannel shirts worn by working men not hipsters.
“If living right is easy, what goes wrong You’re causing it to drown Didn’t want to turn that way You’re causing it to drown”
There is a long history of social conscience in music, these days it is frowned upon by many. There are so many complaining as our heroes from yesteryear continue to have a conscience rather than accepting the status quo. Music is to lose yourself in they say, to act as a panacea for our ills not to comment on the world we live in, forgetting all those protests and angry young men pointing out injustice, sing the hits asshole they shout as they sing along to Ohio forgetting the meaning.
Many these days don’t want their worlds disturbed by the discomfort of someone else’s opinion. If you don’t agree that’s fine disagree, argue, debate, don’t fling crap and debase.
The alternatives are truespeak and capitulation.
Jay Farrar’s band Son Volt’s most recent album Union falls into the songwriter as conscience of the nation. Its an album packed with commentary on our world over here in the good ole USA.
The interesting thing for me is the reviews Farrar and Co. have received, ranging from dull and uninspiring to rediscovering the songwriters soul. It seems that even our music rags want musicians to entertain not challenge. Of course it depends which side of the aisle you sit, from my perspective the right has not really managed to dredge too many great songs out of their collective talent pool. That is however my bias I am aware.
Now it’s not a perfect album, it has some beautiful moments and some odd choices, however it is good to see a musician getting what is rattling around his head down on the record, whether its the state of liberty in the land of the free, the plight of the immigrant and the battle for the soul of a country not to mention a Rebel Girl.
It helps I think that Farrar’s voice is world weary and the band are backing him up with some intense and yet relaxed countryfied rock.
“Lady Liberties tears may they wash away the prejudice…”
They are going to paint the office I share with my pal and Bass God from Ed and the Boats, Greg. Here is some odd footage of them if you are interested.
This has become a little disconcerting as I realized that everything I own in this office is down to one box a plant and a disgusting looking blue tooth speaker on the floor.
When I moved into the big city from the country I took all my pictures home as it felt I was moving into someone else’s space. I also spend much of my time out and about so what is the point of nesting in an office that is not really mine. There was also the thought that after 26 years this may be time to leave and it is easier without so much crap. Of course this has not happened and probably will not as I find interesting things to do, new programs to work on and a whole crew of crazy social workers to supervise.
There is also rumor that we will actually be moving into a new space. I am not sure what to think of this. Is it a sign to get out of here or something else entirely. Maybe it is the final recognition of my value to the agency. I am going to have to decide what to do with these thoughts and concerns. Right now I am supposed to be writing a program outline for a child welfare program for sexually harming youth and instead I am tapping away here.
Several hours later…
I did get back to work. Suddenly I was embroiled in budgets and the understanding that mental health is not the priority in this or any other state under the current administration. Then the USPS text came.
It finally landed, Neil Young and Pearl Jam rocking out on Mirrorball. Who in their right mind sold this for $20, it almost feels like stealing, I did ask if he was sure, no he said it’s fine. I am having a little guilt here for a short time. Released in 1995 and mostly written and recorded over 4 days split between January and February 1995 in Seattle. It sounds surprisingly like a Neil Young album, grungy, rocky, at times inane lyrics and missing all of the navel gazing seriousness of the usual Pearl Jam album, although they have always been a band that could rock. Eddie is mostly missing from the album as he was scared to leave his house because of a demented stalker.
It is like the younger brother of Ragged Glory. It romps along like a four day good time with a bunch of young fans who got lucky enough to play with their cooler uncle. The rhythms are tighter the music a bit more lively and defined than the all out jam band momentum of Crazy Horse.
Downtown is the name checking single from the album and it’s a lot of fun. I remember coming home late at night in the 90’s watching MTV and seeing the video and thinking it was fun. Well here it is if you doubted me:
Anyway if you like romping rhythms, meandering solos, feedback and in studio chat, some half thought out well meaning lyrics, this may be the album for you.
I have written five posts and left them in the drafts section.
I have had trouble sleeping and waking and concentrating.
It’s at that point when you are rummaging around in a box behind the couch late at night that you find the E.P. The High Road by Roxy Music, bought because the version of Like A Hurricane was the very first time I heard the song. Later on I heard Live Rust and Weld and the song took on another importance but that’s a different post.
Recorded on the Avalon tour it is what you expect from Roxy Music at this stage, smooth and accomplished and sexy. Bryan Ferry is that guy at the bar everyone loves to hate as he always looks good, his silk scarf draped around his shoulders with his bespoke suit falling just so over his slinky hips. He’s a little detestable, then you find out his love for Dylan and you realize he wrote most of those wacked out Roxy songs and all is forgiven, also who has the audacity to cover Like A Hurricane?
There is also something refreshingly working class that it was recorded at the Apollo Theater in Glasgow. Andy Mackay also blows up a storm during the instrumental section of My Only Love.
Now lets be honest this is not the greatest cover of Like A Hurricane, it’s as if Pink Floyd got a hold of the song and suddenly went semi-reggae at times with the suavest man on hand to sing. It’s all a little jolly at times as well, very disconcerting. It does however work.
I just watched The Cure be inducted into the rock and roll hall of fame, lower case deliberate. I actually think that Robert Smith deserves the accolade having enjoyed his whimsical sense of despair from a distance for many years.
Then suddenly it goes all Janet Jackson on me and I reach for the balm of discord and heroic Wagnerian posturing that Godpseed! You Black Emperor provide.
I am still not sure why we were watching the hall of fame other than it may have been better than CNN recreating the eighties which I lived through and was not so bright and breezy as the commentator was making it sound. It was also not quite so fluffy either.
‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! you have to enjoy any album that comes with instructions, play this way A1, B1, A2, B2 with the B parts being on the enclosed 7″ record. Enjoy the inscrutable poster and the vaguely terrifying lonely square building that appears to be the subject of an impending disaster as you listen.
I remember hating anything that could be considered country music.
I remember scoffing at the thought that anything from Nashville would be worth hearing.
I remember the first time I heard Townes Van Zandt and all that changed.
We were living off a small road close to Sefton Park, it was a terrace with a stoop. We shared one room on the ground floor of the building, the ground floor was cheaper as it was more likely to get broken into, we adopted the principle of leaving a window open thinking that our blasé approach to security would ensure we never lost anything. For the larger part this seemed to work, we only got broken into once and they never took anything as our meager possessions were to say the least rudimentary, generally second hand and looked the worse for wear.
One Sunday morning as we tried to overcome the excesses of the night before with coffee and cheese and onion pasties we were drawn into the street by the sound of something different. There were guitars mandolins and a texas drawl, “So close and yet so far away…” there was a yearning a tenderness and a forlorn hope. “You built your tower so strong and tall, can’t you see it’s got to fall some day…”
There was a truth here beyond the usual punk rock and reggae playing in the street on a Sunday morning. Off in search of these sounds, actually only to the next stoop in the terrace. Sitting smoking with this unusual music pouring out of the window was our smoking neighbor leaning against the rail of his stoop listening to Delta Momma Blues by Townes Van Zandt. Many a wise word was spoken and many a thought shared with the understanding that Townes may well be a genius.
Later on we learned he had been covered by everyone, was an unpredictable performer and may well be America’s greatest song writer, but that’s only an opinion and everyone has one.
The covers classic Townes, the nonchalant observer of life leaning against a New York tenement stoop as a young couple make out in the shadows. At times simultaneously light and dark the album ends with the harrowing Nothin’.
The album ends with the final thought:
“Your back aint strong enough
and maybe there was never a truer final statement on any record.
To be honest I still don’t care for too much country music, although I am now willing to admit there may be some fine songwriting going on.
Nashville has produced some fine records by lots of people.
I guess I hav grown a little, I still however have to sit still if I happen to hear Townes Van Zandt, his plaintive voice demands attention, his lyrics speak a truth sometimes regardless of the arrangement around the song.