There are such things as perfect albums, After the Goldrush, Blue, Blood On the Tracks, many others I am sure. One of these is Solid Air by John Martyn.
Every song on Solid Air is classic, they range from blues to folk via jazz and rock. Martyn’s voice is expressive throughout, growling cooing and slurring expressively to seduce the listener. At times the music reaches some weird space that Floyd made their own when textures of sound are more important than notes or words. Songs of loyalty and betrayal and mental health and addiction and weariness and friendship all wrapped up in a production that wraps you in a warm loving blanket.
John Martyn could’ve quit after making this album and he would have gone down in history as creating one of the greatest albums of all time. I think this album justifiably appears on every list of greatest albums of all time, so go get one, sit down, relax however you do and wrap your ears around a wonder.
On a strange personal level, every Friday afternoon for years I played this album before heading off into the rock and punk and new wave bars of Liverpool to drink too much, laugh too hard and scream my lungs out at some live band. I for some reason figured this would either settle me down to get through the night or I would be able to channel John Martyn ability to our rowdy anyone. I think that at some point the lyrics to May You Never probably save my young skin on more than one occasion.
Snow turned to ice and then the trees started falling over, which in a state as green as the western part of Oregon is a significant problem. Then the phone rang, “there’s a tree across the road to work…”
Cutting a tree out of the road by car headlight and flashlight is an experience. Not necessarily a bad one, plenty of neighbors and willing hands to pull things out of the road. My chainsaw skills are rudimentary but acceptable. It was good to work with others, Covid is not real during a natural disaster. It was only the best day as I drove down the road that I realized exactly how big the tree was. Guess was right when she said it was a big tree.
We got home about 10pm and I texted to say it was out of the way and then the power left us.
The ice had finally come, we were lucky not to get with the heavy ice build up other parts of the county got, but electricity moves in a circuit and when the circuit is broken in many places that stuff all has to be put back together.
We all eventually had to come to terms with what the lack of investment in infrastructure really means. Or as my Dad would say “when the capitalists are in charge of what matters, worry…” no power, no cell phone coverage and obviously no internet. Suddenly we were in an agrarian age, and work was expected to continue. Get up with the sun and bed at sunset, reading books by lamplight into the evening.
Ultimately we were without power for 9 days, some people around us are still without power, including one of my programs. Generators hum away in the hinterlands.
Luckily we had a generator, that failed on day three and had to be replaced with a borrowed one, thankfully Eric got power back after one night so could loan us his, Eventually we could power two space heaters to keep the living room livable, the refrigerator and the coffee pot and when everyone had gone to bed the stereo for awhile. It was after all a small generator, just enough to keep us going and the coffee pot working.
Sitting in the lantern light listening to music without the other distractions that we fill our hands and time with usually, no reading interesting facts about what you are listening to or writing meandering ramblings about life or experiences however loosely connected to the music.
The power when it arrived came like a harbinger of problems, the septic system alarms blaring and discovering a leaking pipe below the sink, putting things back together in some semblance of normalcy was a chore in itself that took most of the weekend. It’s all good though at the end of the day.
So here we are still in the mud puddle of life taking a breath before another work week starts in too few hours. I dare not even wonder what may happen next as the horror may drive me insane. There is still the clean up going on and on, lineman everywhere hanging from their buckets putting the grid back together, of course it’s all above ground and subject to all the same problems
While friends and neighbors still manage to come out and haul tree limbs and make piles then it should be okay. Yesterday when the power came on one of the neighbors found all the ammunition he had been stockpiling for the insurrection and let of a salvo that could’ve been the start of something else, country life as they say.
We did however not have the problems Texas had/has, but that’s another thing depending on your news channel of choice. Syd likes the snow and ice, he thinks he is part husky. Of course give him a stick and moment of attention and he is happy wherever he is, regardless of the weather.
So it’s time for Blitzen Trapper and American Goldwing. It stomps along like Randy Newman playing in the Band pretending to be Queen at times. Banjo’s guitars and the myth of an America maybe we will see again, who knows. It’s warm in the house and there is the hope that things can get better, we haven’t watched the news in ten days and maybe we have kicked the habit.
Blitzen Trapper occupy that area of music that gets labelled Americana I guess. They are not afraid of to liberally steal form the all their predecessors, whether that’s the Allman’s or Neil Young add in a piece of Krautrock or Prog and mix it up with a liberal dose of psychedelia and the storytelling of the boss, put their foot on the foldback and rock.
Songs from the hinterlands of the American West, cowboys, murderers, drugs and the dirty underbelly of life, prior to the last administration even.
I’m not really good at reviews, however country songs about spacemen are hard to come by or forget.
John Martyn was a giant of music. A jazz. folk, rock psychedelic legend. He was not a particularly pleasant human being apparently. He did however make some of the most amazing and incendiary albums and possibly one of the greatest live albums ever.
Live at Leeds was originally an album released independently by John Martyn and sold from his own home. It has since been rereleased and repackaged on CD and vinyl expanded and Deluxed. I have a reissue of the original album. I am not sure how I feel about the deluxes of the world when I am so used to the album itself.
The music on Live At Leeds is loud and violent, soft and seductive and grooving and funky and sensual and dirty and aggressive and soothing. It’s all of those things at the same time. Meandering through the echoplex canyons of John Martyn’s mind. Three musicians, Danny Thompson, John Stevens and John Martyn make all that noise veering from jazz improvisation to psychedelic freak outs most of the album is improvised and on the edge of collapse at times.
Mostly tonight it takes me back to a field in Suffolk where in the space of three hours I saw Bert Jansch, John Martyn and Roy Harper at the gloriously titled Suffolk and Good Festival. There was oat ale and roasted goat on home made bread and it was so hot we ended up swimming in the river Glem I believe although I could be wrong. We arrived jet lagged and tired and had forgotten out flashlight, we had however remembered the Belgian beer and the infamous brown and orange festival tent. We had to fend off three or four offers to purchase the tent that weekend. It was a tiny festival 3,000 people and we had driven a considerable distance to see Roy Harper ostensibly, it seemed like a good idea I am sure. The downer of the whole event was the Strawbs that headlined, however how could they follow Jansch, Martyn and Harper.
It was a different Marty in Suffolk than on this album, the essence of the music was the same, exploratory and surprising.
Steven Wilson has released a new album. This would normally be greeted with rapturous applause by the geek squad of prog rock pimple poppers.
Instead there is confusion all around as the darling of the prog world has gone pop. Not since Genesis had a hit or Yes went all Buggley or maybe when Porcupine Tree became Steven Wilson solo has the world of the lonely male progger been so challenged. They have wiped off their moist hands pushed back their lank unwashed hair and straightened out their cargo shorts to scream betrayal through a mouthful of Mountain Dew and Cheetos, their toxic orange and lime spittle staining the bemused faces of the record buying public.
What may have happened is that their hero decided to challenge himself to do something other than meet their expectations. Maybe that became too easy and unfulfilling for him.
What may have happened is Steven Wilson finally left Porcupine Tree and all the expectations that went with that.
So when you listen if you listen closely you can hear 10CC, Wilco, Abba, George Harrison, The Beatles, Wings some McCartney, Giorgio Moroder, Marvin Gaye, Pink Floyd, a little Nine Inch Nails, Duran Duran. XTC, Bowie, Tangerine Dream, Yes, Genesis, Madonna, Phil Spector, Sly Stone and a whole lot of other influences boiling up to provide a melange of one mans listening habits. Is it all great? No! Is it different? Yes! Is it enjoyable? Yes! It’s a great Progressive Pop album which is no way a bad thing.
Remember when Robert Fripp decided he wanted to be in a pop band!
I hated the new Bitzen Trapper album the first time I heard it.
I had pre-ordered and loyally waited and waited for what felt like the best part of half a first pandemic year.
Then it arrived all esoteric bull shit and muted guitars and vaguely psychedelic musings and I put it away. Like a loyal fan I kept getting it out and playing it and waiting for something to happen.
I am not sure anything really clicked or grabbed me or even made me sit up and pay attention, but again and again these past weeks I have pulled this off the shelf almost without thought and played it. This evening I found myself playing it again and just drifting away on the guitars and keyboards, it’s an album that feels muffled at times and subdued. It may be the perfect album for the times, some esoteric lyrics about the meaning of life and drugs, or maybe that the meaning of drugs and life, I have no idea what it’s about. It is definitely more of the navel gazing folk-rock side of the Trapper on not the foot on the fold back monitor guitar god Trapper though.
It’s almost a year since the last concert we all went to P.C.(pre-Covid) as we have decided to refer to the life before now.
It was Robyn Hitchcock at the Old Church in Portland Oregon.
We never saw Mario the Magician but Robyn was stunning.
This was one day after the first confirmed Covid case in the United States. A couple of weeks later the schools closed and life has effectively never been the same.
On that night I bought Robyns self titled latest record. It sat in its shrink until tonight because I wasn’t ready to break the seal and admit life had changed maybe forever.
I have always enjoyed Robyn Hitchcock’s quirky jangle pop extravagances, he has a vivid imagination that runs wild on occasion, on other occasions he is too wrapped up in his own love of his influences. That’s not the case on this album, there are influences from The Byrds, The Monkees, Barrett and the plethora of other wackiness he so obviously enjoys, they don’t however overshadow the excellence of the album itself. The songs themselves stand up as maybe the best new collection he has put together in a long time. It’s a light and breezy album that lifts the spirit and males you dance.
Now my favorite moment is Autumn Sunglasses which simultaneously sounds like it was recorded in 1967 and 2017 almost as if the Small Faces managed to time travel.
On some level I am sorry I waited almost a year to open this, however it is nice to commemorate a moment before everything changed.
RSD or Record Store Day is a bit of a joke most of the time. Too many colored versions of records we probably have or three copies of the record we want only released in Bolivia playing at 78RPM and pressed on shellac. They will all three of them turn up on Discogs or Ebay for the price of a small island in the Pacific.
Gone are the days when a band would take off to the thrift store, buy a bunch of kids instruments and some dodgy casio keyboards and make an E.P. as we used to call them.
The Blitzen Trapper Kids Album is such a novelty. 5 tracks at 45RPM on a 10 inch record, it sound more like Can than Disney. Five quirky songs that document spelling bees, children’s stories and chopper bikes, what is not to love about the whole concept and it will make you dance.
No it wasn’t $16.99 either as that would stretch the pocket money way too far.
If you have a need to drift off in a fugue state for a period of time and relax then there can be no better band, all of the pleasant elements of Hillage, Gong, Here and Now and Hawkwind rolled into a slightly relaxed state, undemanding and yet edgily pleasant. Also guaranteed to annoy your parents if need be.
This album was the first time I ever got a nod of acceptance, not respect, you had to be edgier than this for that, in Probe records, it may have been the last time.
Four years later I was sat on the floor of my home in South East Portland playing this in the early summer evening. The windows and doors were open to hopefully alleviate the heat. Suddenly from the neighbors yard there was a yell of “turn that shit off and play some Grand Funk Railroad!!!” This was the moment I think I realized I was in another land.
I’ve been listening to Joy Division. I have also been. listening to New Order.
These are two statements a couple of years ago I may not have been able to say out loud or at all. I had heaped derision upon Joy Division and their army of gloomy fans. I have however grown up a bit, just a little not a lot.
I have however only bought Joy Division albums, mainly because I got a great deal at the end of the day, Unknown Pleasures, Closer and Substance all within days of each other.
For awhile I had the song Isolation stuck in my head because of the Covid world we all live in. It kept going round and round like some mantra:
“Surrendered to self preservation From others who care for themselves”
Always in the recesses of my mind was Ian Curtis and Joy Division mumbling away like some forgotten malaise. I had spent a considerable amount of time and energy complaining about Joy Division and their fans, their pretentiousness and their annoyance during my teen years as awful bootlegs of the band would appear on the sixth from stereo too frequently. I shared my disdain, and now admiration, with Half Man Half Biscuit, because lets face it you can’t mock a band this sincerely without a trace of admiration.
I truly admire the work that went into this video.
However as the pandemic has rolled on with the ineffectual response in the US of A I have found deep inside me a true love for the Mancunian misery mongers. Lets face it if you are going to dance in the face of the oblivion it should be to a jaunty tune with some seriously angst ridden lyrics and Joy Division have this genre down to a tee. Only the Velvet Underground have walked this line between dancing and crying so precariously without cracking a single grin.
I have been streaming the Joy Division albums for a couple of months now as I drive around. It is suitable music for pandemic driving through the plague lands of rural Clackamas County.
I refused to go Joy Division at Erics in 1979 because they were neither punk enough or rock enough. I also refused to go see U2 as well for the same reasons, which just goes to show how pretentious I could be even at such a young age. This was also probably because of the interminable common room nonsense. I have never forgiven that floppy haired young man for monopolizing the stereo with his gloomy presence. The odd thing is that now I have actually taken the time to listen to the records they are quite shall we say danceable at times, well in a herky jerky free expression wacked out 50 plus year old dancing kind way.
This had also convinced me to give them another go:
I am now going to take off to the nearest open charity shop so I can shop for some black clothes, an overcoat and a floppy wig to help me create my new persona.