Some reactions from Alan Dearling
With no live gigs or festies yet a while, I thought that I’d share some thoughts and responses to some of the new albums that have come my way in the long days of lockdown. Quite an eclectic mix!
Dion BLUES WITH FRIENDS
Good time fare. One of those sessions that sound like a boogie-the-night-away in a dingy, downtown basement bar. A mixed bag, but some addictively good tracks and some ‘fillers’. Dion was ‘The Wanderer’ when I was enjoying my teen years, growing up in the 1960s. I don’t associate him with the ‘blues’ – but obviously others do. Bob Dylan in his intro sleeve notes for this album says: “You have to be careful with the blues. They’re strong with lust and you can overpay them, but they quote the law. It’s a shame that more people don’t follow that law…(Dion’s) got some friends here to help him out…But in the end it’s Dion by himself alone and that masterful voice of his that will keep you returning to share these blues songs with him.”
The co-performers on Dion’s album are a star-studded roster of talent. It ain’t all blues, and it’s mostly upbeat. And at this time, we need some positivity, some cheerfulness, some fun. This album made me jig about. It’s good, but not great. Stand-outs for me include the bombast big guitar sound of Joe Bonamassa on opener, ‘Blues Comin’ On’, the wonderful swampy, vocal duet with Van Morrison on ‘I Got Nothin’ ’, which Dion says is “like riding the greatest wave in the world”. Then thinking about it, Van at his best would sound good singing the words of a telephone directory! See what you think: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bK9FWlz6GMQ
I enjoyed Jeff Beck’s lyrical guitar solo on ‘Can’t Start Over Again’ and the duet with Paul Simon on ‘Song for Sam Cooke (Here in America)’ is rather beautiful and an odd juxtaposition of violin, spaghetti-Western and the Big classic Ballad. A track that really does capture the essence of the Cajun blues is ‘Told You Once in August’ with some lovely dramatic, staccato slide-guitar playing from the legendary John Hammond and Rory Block. But perhaps the strongest song-writing from Dion (with Bill Tuohy) is displayed on ‘Hymn to Him’ – accompanied by backing vocals from Patti Scialfa and an amazing (and brief) guitar solo from the Boss, Bruce Springteen, sounding surprisingly like Hank Marvin.
Dean James UNPLUGGED
“Basically it’s to be released in the next couple of weeks, (15th July). I recorded it solo in my home studio then sent it off to the label in America for production and mixing etc. The label is a new label called autumn records they have changed from GEM records UK. Reason it’s a solo project is because of the lock down. Thanks for the help mate I really appreciate it as always.” Dean.
Dean is an epic blues-style singer. A big voice, a big man. And he has something to say. His lyrics are from the heart. He’s often angry at the injustices in the world. “The pleasure and the pain, it all feels the same. I feel alive.” (from ‘Blunge’).
Here’s the video for really strong single, ‘Mother’. You’ll fall in love with it. Trust me!: https://www.facebook.com/Autumnrecords.rocks/videos/279918476461398/
“And they want to you to vote for some asshole in the government, that’s all money and greed. I don’t want no part of it.”
I’ve seen Dean live with his band, The Black Dogs, twice. Magic. He growls, he moans. He has a commanding presence. But they are a great band. You can feel his passion in this unplugged 7-track ep. However, I’m looking forward to seeing and hearing these new songs from Dean reinterpreted by the band. The material’s strong, powerful, perhaps geared to the Springsteen American audience. I think it will sound even better with a greater patina of sounds.
Bob Dylan: ROUGH AND ROWDY WAYS
A double CD from His Bobness. For me – an unexpected Treasure Trove. I’d almost given him up as elderly statesman gone to seed. Mumbling incoherently through his own back pages. But hey, what a redemption. In fact, it’s one of his career bests. What a revelation. Full of sly wit, irony, anger, bile and much humour. My definite favourite Dylan album since ‘Time Out of Mind’, released over 20 years ago in 1997. You’ll have read so many reviews of this album already, I’m not even going to try. Listen to it. It’s a thing of Wonderment.
So, instead of a review, I’ll share a selection of his words from ‘Rough and Rowdy Ways’. Remember, Bob Dylan is now one of the ‘Few’ – having been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016, “…for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”
From ‘False Prophet’:
“I’m the enemy of the unlived meaningless life.”
“I ain’t no false prophet – I’m nobody’s bride
Can’t remember when I was born and I forgot when I died.”
From ‘Murder Most Foul’ – Bob’s take on the murder of President Kennedy:
“The day that they blew out the brains of the king
Thousands were watching, no one saw a thing
It happened so quickly – so quick by surprise
Right there in front of everyone’s eyes.”
From ‘I Contain Multitudes’:
“I’m just like Anne Frank, like Indiana Jones
And them British bad boys, The Rolling Stones
I go right to the edge, I go right to the end
I go right where all things lost are made good again
I sing the songs of experience like William Blake
I have no apologies to make
Everything’s flowing all at the same time
I live on the boulevard of crime
I drive fast cars, and I eat fast foods
I contain multitudes.”
Video link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pgEP8teNXwY
From ‘Key West (Philosopher Pirate)’:
“I was born on the wrong side of the railroad track
Like Ginsberg, Corso and Kerouac.”
Video link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G-oOCo1Y1bw
Necessary Animals DARK JAZZ
My mate Keith Rodway keeps me informed and up to date on all-things ‘Necessary Animals’. This release, in part, sounds like its title. It’s jazzy, often very dark, filmic, expressive and not always an easy listen. But then, I don’t suppose it was meant to be! To be honest, I found it hard to listen to all the way through, as some tracks just grate on my personal ears; whilst others like the openers, are things of Gothick beauty. Keith told me:
“ ‘Dark Jazz’ is an interim release, collecting all the anomalous recordings that didn’t fit with the band’s debut LP, and which tell different stories to the ones being written for the second NA’s release. It’s a diary of the band’s adventures away from the day job, taking the opportunity to work with some prodigiously talented people, in the spirit of spontaneity and release from formal structures.”
Personally, I love the trumpet playing, some fine guitar and keyboard work, and the weird harmonies from cello and viola. Indeed, the whole potpourri of tracks frequently sound like music in search their rightful homes in films. Here’s a taster. Eerie and unsettling. Melancholia.
A video of Improvisation 1, with visuals by comic book artist Daniel Hartlaub, is on youtube – https://youtu.be/TZu5gIiDl_w
Here’s the Bandcamp link to the album: https://necessaryanimals.bandcamp.com/album/dark-jazz
I’d particularly recommend the powerful instrumental, ‘Darkness Comes Over the Hills’. I was minded of some of Eric Clapton’s searing guitar. It features Steve Finnerty (Alabama 3, Junk Delux). I also like the pounding opener, ‘Driving Down’ and ‘You Took the South I’ll Take the Twilight Skies’.
I’ve attended a lot of eclectic gigs in my life (so far). Some have been labelled ‘free jazz’. Some of the ‘Dark Jazz’ album is reminiscent of those live excursions. At many of those gigs, I find they have provided me with a mixture of joy and discomfort. As live experiences, I’m perhaps more tolerant than on listening to the same melange on an album. The quality of the ‘Dark Jazz’ recordings is sometimes astounding. Wonderful attention to audio detail.
I’ll let Keith Rodway describe some of the other tracks:
“ ‘On You Took the South’… Holly Finch snatches phrases from the Times Literary Supplement, while two members of the Camo String Quartet, Laurens Price-Nowak and Bill John Harpum, improvise on cello and viola… ‘Fox and Clock’ and ‘Bronze by Gold’ both feature readings from James Joyce’s Ulysses by Lucy Brennan-Shiel. Of the three remaining tracks, ‘Dark Jazz’ is a solo composition by myself, backed by Fritz Catlin (founder member, 23 Skidoo) on drums and percussion. ‘Familar Heat’ features Peter O’Donnell (former member of 70s British pop-rock band Casino, on piano and guitar; and with drummer, and percussionist and singer-songwriter Simon Charterton (Alex Harvey Band, the Higsons, Near Jazz Experience) on drums.
‘Snow Fell Tonight’ features an improvised vocal by Norwegian singer and actor Ingvild Syntropia, based on a poem written by her father, Tor Bertel Lovgren.”
Hattie Hatstar: EMERGENCY ALBUM FOR A CRISIS SITUATION
I first met Hattie at the Landjuweel festival at Ruigoord on the outskirts of Amsterdam. Hattie is beloved of the edgy, outsider festivals. She’s impish, fun, naughty, and a born performer. A raconteur. Irreverent, and to my mind very much a modern music-hall troubadour. Songs about getting laid, drunk, sex, (yup, drugs too), humour and, well, general mayhem and the insanity of life in all of its gaudy, ridiculous incarnations.
This album is infectious (bit like Covid). A pandemic of clever, bawdy lyrics and sing-a-longs with ace playing on the accordion and ukulele. She’s an independent, free-thinking, barn-storming, tour-de-force. And entirely loveable. If George Formby, Billy Connelly and Frank Zappa were reincarnated in female form and playing and singing solo – that’s an approximation of Hattie Hatstar.
The album is a wonderful tonic for our times. Laugh, smile, giggle, rush off to the loo for a pee… yup, it’s a great pick-you-up. LOL – Laugh Out Loud! The track titles give you fair warning of what to expect, including: ‘Sex’; ‘Dance Like a Twit’, ‘Start a Fight’ and Viking Raid’ with its lyrics:
“My body is a Temple that’s been ransacked…I know I should know better, Having reached the age I’m at, than to, Get completely bolloxed, and Behave like a Total Twat!”
You’ve been warned – go have some fun.
Here’s a clip from Hattie’s Covid live stream:
Lady Gaga: CHROMATICA
To my mind, Lady Gaga is THE Diva of Pop Disco. She is the Fame Monster. ‘Chromatica’ is her Sixth Album. My love affairs with the dance floor and its musical dance genres are more kinked towards EDM – electronic dance music, Psy-Trance and Techno, and Reggae. Chromatica is a straight-ahead, pumping product primed for the mirror-ball world of Club Disco. And Lady Gaga promises to show us, “A Real Good Time.” The innovations on the album are partly to do with some mixes utilising classical instruments and arrangements. It’s also a sparkly disco-dance item on the surface, but there’s an underbelly, with themes which include mental health, depression and sexual tensions. But, I suppose it’s mostly, business as usual. As she sings on ‘Free Woman’:
“This is my dancefloor, I fought for.
I’m a Free Woman.
We own the Downtown
Hear our sound.”
The music demonstrates the iconography of Lady Gaga. It’s glamour, kitsch pomp, on an outrageous scale. The Alien. The changes of clothes. Immersive dance. Be anyone you want to be. The tracks are an unrelenting dance beat, almost a single groove, but there’s a clever manipulator at work, pulling your strings.
If you do happen to listen the words, they are screwy and oddball. I like the instrumental intro to ‘911’, and then it’s down to the dance beat: “My Biggest Enemy is Me, Pop a 911,” which segways straight into the firmly tongue-in-cheek, ‘Plastic Doll’: “Open me up and cut me loose… I am top shelf, I am strong…I am not a plastic doll…Who’s that girl? Malibu Gaga, Looks so sad, What is this Saga?”
“I’m hard on the outside
But if you see inside inside inside
Come Come Unwrap me
Take a Bite Take a Bite.
Clever and ironic.
Here’s one of the videos for this song. Unwrap it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wgwMzdNneyI
I reckon she’s one of the cleverest pop brains on the Planet. Stellar – an Alien Chameleon. She lives on the Planet of ‘Chromatica’ and sometimes drops down to Planet Earth. If you don’t believe me, go watch her blast everyone off the stage set of ‘A Star is Born’. Not just with her amazing singing, and range of musical styles, but also her acting ability.
From ‘Poker Face’ to ‘Shallow’ to ‘Sour Candy’….Respect to: Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, the versatile Chameleon, Lady Gaga! I’m happy to own the vinyl and signed print from Lady Germonotta for ‘Chromatica’. It’s an artefact – ART in Fact!