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Album Reviews Q - Z
|Jenny Queen - Girls Who Cry Need Cake
|Quiet Loner - The Secret Ruler Of The World
|Josh Ritter - Hello Starling
|Darrell Scott - Family Tree
|Ron Sexsmith - Cobblestone Runway
|John Tams - Unity
|David Thomas - Mirror Man
|Richard Thompson - The Old Kit Bag
|Townes Van Zandt - The Best Of
|Various - The Return Of The Grievous Angels
|Vigilantes Of Love - Audible Sigh
|Gina Villalobos - Rock 'n' Roll Pony
|Jason Walker - Stranger To Someone
|Kathryn Williams - Dog Leap Stairs
|Kathryn Williams - Old Low Light
|Kate Wolf - Weaver Of Visions
|Neil Young - Silver & Gold
|Warren Zevon - Life'll Kill You
Girls Who Cry Need Cake
Forgive the apparent contradiction in terms but Australia has become
fertile ground for ‘Americana’: witness the likes of Kasey Chambers,
The Waifs and Jason Walker. And now, Ohio born, Sydney-based
singer-songwriter Jenny Queen makes her bow with an album that finds
her none too happy, filled as it is with songs of lost love and longing
for home. Indeed, the album title would suggest that her neighbourhood
confectioner is doing a roaring trade!
Yet this is not a downbeat, depressing album at all. Imaginatively produced by Sydney drum-and-bass man Tony Buchen, there is good variation of tempo and instrumentation and whilst the production is not as minimal as on many records of the genre, it does not swamp the songs. Accordion, organs, banjo, Dobro and cello are astutely used to blend perfectly with Queen's voice which has an endearing innocence, purity and fragility.
Whilst the first play left me unimpressed, the album is a "grower" which rewards repeated listens. There are strong melodies, and intelligent, intensely personal lyrics that belie their author's apparent youth and ensure this collection stands out from a very crowded field. The inevitable comparisons to Lucinda Williams will be made and whilst there are lyrical similarities, Kasey Chambers is possibly a more appropriate reference point if you're looking for one.
Highlights include the perversely jaunty opener "Drowning Slowly", "Due South"; ("So I'll bring the pills if you'll bring the wine") and the country-rocker "Kentucky Turn". The only cover - Moby's "Porcelain" - is a surprising but inspired choice, thanks in no small part to John Carr's haunting, sitar-like Dobro.
As the saying goes, you have all your life to write your first album but only a couple of years to write the follow-up. There is real promise here that for Jenny Queen, there may be even better to come.
Bill Beaver (Exclusive to www.triste.co.uk)
The Secret Ruler Of The World
Those already familiar with Manchester singer-songwriter Matt Hill,
around whom quiet loner is based, will recognise half a dozen or so of
the songs on this album from Matt's self-released EP's over the past
few years. After a rather longer than planned gestation, the tie up
with Circus 65 has resulted in these songs finally achieving their
'nirvana', in splendid reincarnations (re-mixes/re-recordings),
alongside some equally excellent newer material.
A central figure on the UK Americana scene since its formative years, Matt has opened for the likes of Lambchop, Josh Rouse and Tandy. His acknowledged musical influences come from both sides of the Atlantic, and include Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Gram Parsons, Elvis Costello and The Smiths. It is the meeting and blending of these influences that give uniqueness to quiet loner. On the one hand, the instrumentation is often inescapably Country, with the wistful pedal steel of Alan Cook and the evocative banjo of Dave Harries prominent on many tracks. But there is also an unmistakeable 'Englishness' to Matt Hill's lyrics; in the words themselves of course ('motorways', 'pubs', 'bedsit') but, more strikingly, following in the proud tradition of the likes of Costello and Morrissey, in the deft use of wit and irony, ensuring that these songs of illicit liaisons, bitterness and broken hearts don't become mawkish but have a defiant spirit to them.
The quality of the material on this album, both musically and lyrically, overshadows the efforts of many so-called 'bigger names' on the scene. Each song is meticulously (but not mechanically) crafted and as well as having the ability to write lyrics that in turn yank at your heartstrings and grab you by the throat, Matt has a considerable gift for melody. It's a hard task to list highlights because this is a consistently strong album, but the banjo-driven 'Real Romantic Soul', the moving late night lament 'God Knows I'm Leaving' (featuring some exquisite flute by Kirsty McGee) and 'Complex Messiah', with the wonderful line: "There's not much room in the space I'm a waste of..." are particularly impressive.
In the song 'Postcards to Broken Hearts' Matt Hill characteristically describes himself as a 'walking cliché'. I beg to differ; in secret ruler of the world, quiet loner (in their unassuming, lower-case way) surely have an early contender for 'Americana Album of The Year'.
Bill Beaver (Exclusive to www.triste.co.uk)
After recording a commercially successful album (Golden Age of the Radio) for $1000 it was always going to be interesting to see how Josh Ritter would cope with the time and money signing to a record company would give him. Linking up with producer Dave Odlum (Frames) Ritter spent a sizeable amount of the recording budget flying his faithful musicians out from the States to a studio in the heart of rural France. The money was obviously well-spent, as the record, despite lacking grand production features succeeds in capturing Ritter's songs with clarity and warmth.
The song themselves are, with only a couple of exceptions, very strong indeed. "Wings", the Cohen-like narrative which Joan Baez picked up, and earned Ritter a support slot on her UK tour, is a beguiling song and an obvious standout track, but "Bone of Song" runs it close if you're looking for songs with meaning, while other faster songs songs like "Kathleen" and the de facto title track "Snow is Gone" show that exhuberance that only the truly young at heart can display. Ritter also manages the trick of writing a song with (that overused state of) "California" in the title and giving the song its own unique territory.
Hello Starling is an excellent follow-up to The Golden Age of Radio and made with some weight of expectation on Ritter's shoulders. In interviews he talks about being judged after 20 or 30 albums, rather than two or three, but, for now, he's doing just fine.
Concept albums in country music, Willie Nelson's Red Headed Stranger apart, have as poor a track record as they have in other genres. Darrell Scott's album Family Tree
has more of a thematic than conceptual link between the songs which
explore the notion of families and their effects on their members.
Bearing in mind the fragile state of families in America and here in
Britain it would have been too easy to have drenched the songs in doom
and gloom. Instead Scott has written/selected songs which give what he
calls "a real view of families".
The album holds together well as a coherent musical whole, but beneath the country surface many influences have been blended into the mix. The styles appropriated ranging from the Celtic melody of 'Double Headed Eagle', the African tinged 'Mahala', the Carter Family staple 'Will The Circle Be Unbroken' and even a song from Steely Dan ('Any World') All the songs are performed impeccably as you would expect from a group of Nashville's top session players and Scott holds his head high in their company - playing mandocello, mbira, bouzouki, pedal steel and dobro as well as the expected guitar and piano.
Darrell Scott studied English at University and his lyrics often feature acute observations expressed effectively in simple language. He's not afraid to tackle a range of topics in song, "Lazarus Dies Again" is a 20th century take on resurrection, with Lazarus on the lecture circuits and hosting a chat show, while 'Rhonda's Last Ride' is a rather (over) familiar tale of a prostitute dying alone. At the other end of the scale 'Family Tree' is a good-natured, tongue-in-cheek blues on the financial consequences of succumbing to carnal desire.
A fine record, tackling a subject, which could, in less capable hands lead to sentimentality, in mature and intelligent fashion.
Steve Wilcock (Originally published in Triste 2)
The follow up to the Steve Earle/Ray Kennedy produced Blue Boy,
Ron Sexsmith's sixth album, written on the back of a relationship
breakdown and personal upheaval, finds Ron in reflective and wistful
mood. Thankfully, he is not one to wallow in self-pity and many of the
songs on the album are commendably hopeful and optimistic in tone.
Most of the recording was done over seven days in London, during the summer of 2001. Swede Martin Terefe produces and most of the musicians are themselves Swedish. Terefe was enlisted to bring Ron's sound more 'up to date' and his production is imaginative and complementary to the songs. Alongside the more traditional instruments, there is judicious and tasteful use of synthesisers, vocoder, and a 'string machine'.
Despite the overall lyrical mood, this is a wonderfully varied album musically, blending power-pop ('Disappearing Act') with funk ('Dragonfly on Mainstreet'), sensitive piano ballads ('Gold in Them Hills'), and much more. Ron's greatest gift is his ability to write glorious melodies that linger in your consciousness for days after only a couple of hearings and this album has many such examples. His lyrical craft should not be underestimated though and one of the most poignant songs on the album is 'God Loves Everyone', written in response to the horrific 1998 murder of a gay Wyoming student.
So, another fine album from Ron Sexsmith, but the question remains: Is he destined to be yet another of those singer-songwriters whose work is critically acclaimed, commands huge respect from his fellow musicians, but only ever has limited commercial success? As Ron says, 'There's Gold In Them Hills'. Let's hope he finds it.
Bill Beaver (Originally published in Triste 5)
Having read the glowing reviews of this CD elsewhere, I was really
looking forward to hearing this - but I must say that my first
impression on getting it home was one of disappointment. There's no
doubting Tams' folk credentials, his impeccable vocal style and his
tasteful arrangements; but the problem for me lies with the songs,
which seem to be so wilfully opaque that it takes several plays to get
any kind of handle on them.
Some of the songs are impressive, particularly the up-beat 'Whole New Vision' and 'From Where I Lie/Sheepcounting', which conjures up a wonderful tension between images of home comfort and domestic violence worthy of Richard Thompson. However, it's no co-incidence that when Tams tackles the lovely melody of the trad ballad 'Spanish Bride', it stands out a mile and I would certainly have liked to have heard a lot more on this line. By any standards Unity is a worthwhile album and well worth investigating, but personally I am reminded of June Tabor - another artist whom I feel that I ought to like, but somehow just can't get into.
Iain Smith (Originally published in Triste 3)
David Thomas (ex-Pere Ubu and resident in England for the last few
years) was commissioned to write and stage a musical piece at the South
Bank Centre. Mirror Man,
as the work became, featured Jackie Leven and a rare live appearance of
Linda Thompson as guest vocalists, along with US neo-beat poet Bob
Holman and Peter Hammill.
The mood of endlessly travelling along the lost highway through mythic mid-America is admirably created by mixing overlapping strips of "poetic" or "documentary" dialogue with discordant snatches of music. Any coherent narrative present in this theatrical piece is hard to discern from the CD alone and the overall effect is similar to flicking rapidly through the cable TV channels when you're staying in a foreign hotel, and then trying to base your whole idea of the country 0n the disjointed fragments you have seen.
The more conventional songs often heavily feature Peter Hammill's harmonium and its creaking coffin sound adds a distinctly black edge to the sound pictures created, reinforcing the ideas of decay. Jackie Leven's recent solo albums have often featured ambitious mixes of music and poetry and his singing on "Morbid Sky" is as assured as ever. Linda Thompson's vocal performance belies her decade away from singing, and on "Nowheresville" it makes a fine counterpoint to David Thomas's mad carnie freak cackle.
At times the washes of music, noise and the sound of a distorted harmonica or horns being played in a non-bluesy context bring to mind Talk Talk's "Spirit Of Eden", but the effect is more unsettling, and yet ultimately less engaging. As in most recordings of live performances you rarely capture the feelings you experienced when actually being there. When considering the non-linear narrative and theatrical staging of Mirror Man perhaps too much is lost in the translation?
Steve Wilcock (Originally published in Triste 1)
The Old Kit Bag
Ever since the critical acclaim and moderate commercial success of his album Shoot Out The Lights
- made with his then-wife, Linda, two decadees ago - successive record
companies have sought to achieve the holy grail of crossover success
with Thompsons's records, while still garnering the citical plaudits.
Thompson's music, however, has stubbornly remained quirkily dark,
unmaleable to the efforts of producers and remains a secret pleasure to
the cognescenti - irrespective of the amount of pop sheen applied. With
Thompson's move to Cooking Vinyl, there seems to have finally been the
recognition that he will sell his albums to this same constituency
every time, so why struggle to fix something if it isn't broken?
The Faithful are rewarded with Thompson's most stripped-down band record in years. Long-time live collaborator Danny Thompson on double bass and Michael Jerome on drums form the other sides of the core instrumental trio, with Judith Owen adding occasional backing vocals from time to time. This space gives Thompson room to play guitar and the first three tracks contain more of his distinctive modal soloing than has appeared in a studio setting in years. The rest of the album contains the usual mixture of ballads, quirky portraits and philosophical musings. So, business as usual - thank you very much!
Steve Wilcock (Exclusive to www.triste.co.uk)
Townes Van Zandt
The Best Of Townes Van Zandt
his death on New Year's Day 1997 the reputation of Townes Van Zandt has
slowly, but steadily risen. Unfortunately, the bulk of his early
catalogue has been difficult to find in record shops, with only his
later studio albums on Sugar Hill or a seemingly endlessly stream of
posthumously released live recordingsbeing commonly available. The
reactivation of Tomato Records has seen the reissue of all Van Zandt's
original recordings and this "Best Of" album presumably serves as a
taster for those first-timers curious to hear the Texan songwriter, but
not yet prepared to splash out on the individual albums.
In many ways the title is a misnomer, as several of the tracks would hardly be judged among Van Zandt's most essential works (eg his cover of Bo Diddley's "Who Do You Love" or a previously unheard cover of "The Ballad Of Ira Hayes"). A better description would have been to have followed the recent trend of calling the album 'An Introduction' in which case the emphasis would have been more on the breadth of Van Zandt's work rather than the depth of his vision. In this case, the covers make more sense as do the re-cut duet versions of "Waiting Round To Die" and "No Place To Fall", which pale besides the originals. But this is really a matter of pedantry - most of Van Zandt's acknowledged best numbers, "Pancho & Lefty", "To Live Is To Fly", "If I Needed You", "For The Sake Of The Song", "Tower Song" and "Flyin' Shoes" are all present and correct in their best studio incarnations, while the superlative live album "Live At The Old Quarter" is represented by two tracks. Completists will be tempted by the aforementioned "Ballad Of Ira Hayes" and "No Place To Fall" but novices can be assured that they will in no way be disappointed by the album.
Steve Wilcock (Exclusive to www.triste.co.uk)
The Return Of The Grevous Angels
One of the main criteria by which a tribute album should be judged
successful is whether it makes you go back to the originals to try and
pick up on the elements that the cover artist has emphasised in their
version. Too often, tribute albums are filled with reverential copies,
which embalm the arrangements and nuances of the original, while
sucking all the remaining life out of them. The other alternative is
the wilful deconstruction of the song for no other reason than to avoid
the above scenario - but without honouring the original
writer/performer's intentions.With Parson's musical partner and psychic
other half Emmylou Harris overseeing the project, and helping out
musically on several of the cuts, the music was always likely be to be
sympathetic and a worthy tribute - and so it proves.
Gillian Welch and Beck both strip their respective songs ('Hickory Wind' and 'Sin City') back to the roots of the tradition, but the former song suffers from a lack of vocal harmonies - it's bleak where it should be wistful. Wilco and the Cowboy Junkies both turn up the wattage on their medium tempo songs. Evan Dando seems to crop up on several tribute albums, but his duet with Juliana Hatfield on '$1000 Wedding' is more than mere tribute album liggery. In fact the high female presence is one of the strengths of the album.
The highlight of the record is Lucinda William's beautifully cracked vocals on 'Return Of The Grievous Angel' while David Crosby, on backing vocals, adds to his claim to be the male counterpart to Emmylou Harris when it comes to providing sympathetic backing harmonies.
Fellow ex-Byrd Chris Hillman pops up with Steve Earle to add authenticity to his co-composition 'High Fashion Queen' from the Burrito's second album. This version goes someway towards showing that, although more workmanlike than the songs on the Burritos' classic first album, there were some decent tunes on the second album hidden by the poor production.
The solitary Brit on the album, Elvis Costello, acquits himself reasonably well in covering the only non-Parsons original on the record. Boudleaux and Felice Bryants' 'Sleepless Nights' is performed in his current Bacharach-influenced "classic song" mode. Probably the most daring rearrangement however, is the Mavericks' version of 'Hot Burrito #1', which Costello covered quite conventionally on his Almost Blue album. The song is structured over a "cocktail drum loop" taken at quite a fast lick - and surprisingly it works - Raul Malo's smooth croon tying it all together seamlessly.
At the start of this review I mentioned what I considered were the main criteria for judging a tribute album's success. Of course the main factor is whether the album becomes a regular visitor to your stereo system, or is filed away with those other "great albums" you never seem to get round to playing. In this case it falls firmly into the former category.
Steve Wilcock (Originally published in Triste 2)
Vigilantes Of Love
Bill Mallonnee, chief Vigilante of Love, has often been criticised for
making his lyrics too bookish and obtuse. Those critics should stop
their carping and listen to Audible Sigh.
Here, after a difficult birth, they will still find literate rock
music, but with great melodies and performances too. Buddy Miller
co-produces and plays on the album as does his wife Julie, but it's
omnipresent guest vocalist Emmylou Harris who really makes the neo-dust
bowl ballad 'Resplendent' her own. Bill Mallonnee can write exuberant
rockers as well as he can introverted laments and 'Extreme North of the
Compass' and 'She Walks on Roses' pump with the same exuberant energy
as shown in their live performances. Enjoy the tunes, but clock the
Steve Wilcock (Originally published in Triste 3)
Rock 'n' Roll Pony
The release of Californian Gina Villalobos’ second solo album seems to have been surrounded by a good deal more "publicity" than is usual for an Americana/alt.country artist, with national radio airplay in the UK and some positively gushing reviews. One article even described her as ‘the queen of country-rock’ - a title that she herself would no doubt regard as more of a burden than an honour at this time. Almost inevitably then, my first reaction on listening to the album was one of mild disappointment and although I have now warmed to it, it has to be said that it doesn’t live up to the ‘hype’. Which is all rather harsh on Ms V, as hype is never a fair and realistic yardstick.
It is one of those albums that take a while to assimilate, but that’s usually a good sign as it suggests an album has greater depth than some of the more frothy, instant fare on offer. There are strong, memorable melodies - the type that keep running through your head days after you’ve listened to them - and lyrically Ms V has a highly distinctive and original turn of phrase. The album is self-produced, so as you would expect, the instrumentation, including twangy guitar, pedal steel and rock solid drums augmented by banjo, accordion and Wurlitzer, complements the songs perfectly. Her heartfelt vocals can be gentle and fragile or raw and rocky, as the occasion demands, although for my taste, they often tend to be a little too far back in the mix.
With the exception of World Party’s excellent ‘Put the Message in the Box’, the first single from the album, all the songs are originals. Highlights are the atmospheric, pedal steel laden opener "California", "What I’d Give" with its soaring chorus and chord sequence not too dissimilar to the Everly’s "Walk Right Back", and the rocky "Not Enough", with the intriguing line (one of many), ‘We can start bottom feeding and feeling even’.
Gina is already working on her next album and certainly, if the obvious promise shown here is built upon, talk of her as a future member of the country-rock royalty cannot be dismissed.
Stranger To Someone
(Laughing Outlaw Records)
Jason Walker is an Australia based New Zealander who, as well as being
an alt.country artist is also a freelance journalist and author of a
recent critically acclaimed Gram Parsons biography, 'Gods Own Singer'
(Helter Skelter). Not surprisingly, the Parsons influence is much in
evidence on this album, which contains a creditable cover of GP's 'How
Much I've Lied', one of nine well-chosen covers which sit easily
alongside four self-penned numbers. Cynics would say that if you choose
a bunch of songs by the likes of Freedy Johnston, Harlan Howard, Tom
Waits and Bruce Springsteen, as well as Parsons, you can hardly go far
wrong, but these are all excellent covers to which Walker brings
something of himself. Highlights are versions of Johnny Paycheck's
'Apartment #9', Johnston's 'The Lucky One', Waits' ' Up Shit Creek' and
Walker's own 'Other Side of The Bar'.
There is a school of thought that you have to be American (or, narrowing it still further, Tennessean, Texan or whatever) to make real country music. I think it was someone referring to Jason Walker's fellow Antipodean, Kasey Chambers who said that when it comes to country music, its not a case of where you're from but where you're at. Certainly Jason Walker adds credence to this argument. His soulful, lived in vocals (sounding not unlike Exile On Main Street era Jagger on some tracks) are backed by excellent musicians who could just as easily be from Nashville TN as Sydney NSW as they effortlessly handle the usual country instrumentation of pedal/lap steel and dobro, augmented by some tasteful Hammond and piano.
A very enjoyable album, warm, uplifting and a worthy baton carrier for the late lamented GP.
Bill Beaver (Exclusive to www.triste.co.uk)
Dog Leap Stairs
One of the big successes of the recent all-star Nick Drake Tribute at
the Barbican was the crystal clear vocals and giggly, nervous
personality of transplanted Liverpudlian Kathryn Williams. Despite the
obvious superficial Drake comparisons, her songs often have a much
stronger grounding in physical sensations and deep emotions - she's
street-hardened, but still capable of being hurt. If you're looking for
a model, then Williams' lyrical concerns, the minimalist, tasteful
folk-jazz arrangements, the self-painted cover and her own angelic
backing harmonies all bring For The Roses era Joni Mitchell to mind, although her themes are firmly located in end of millennium Britain.
Recorded away from the dabbling of major labels has allowed Williams a good degree of control over Dog Leap Stairs which she puts to good use. PJ Harvey's producer Head helps out on three tracks, with the album opener 'Leazes Park' being particularly warm and engaging, but Williams' own production work is more than adequate in its own right. In fact the sparsest tracks, the self-recorded 'Something Like That' and the live take of 'Madmen and Maniacs', capture the album's mood as well as any of the more elaborate arrangements.
Steve Wilcock (Originally published in Triste 2)
Old Low Light
Signing to a major label can be fraught with difficulties for someone
with the cult status of Kathryn Williams. Will the label make crazy
demands to support the publicity drive? Will they truly give artistic
freedom? The questions pile high. On the evidence of Old Low Light,
there's not too much for Kathryn to worry about. The key point is that
her song writing remains as delicate as ever. Yes, the production
budget is obviously bigger with flugelhorn and Wurlitzer turning up to
join trusty companion Laura Reid on cello. However, the mood hasn't
changed from the melancholic feel that we know and love from her
earlier records. A quick glance at titles such as 'Daydream And
Saunter', '3am Phonecall and 'No One Takes You Home' tell you this. The
latter with its line about 'done your best at the gym, you've got your
lip gloss on' tells the tale of the woman whose life is 'perfect'
though she's still looking for a man with whom to share that life. Or,
at least, I think that's what it's about. Like many of Kathryn's songs,
you could read it in a few ways. This feature of her work helps to make
her songs so interesting. Other songs, like 'Wolf', are barbed comment
wrapped in cotton candy. Very sweet but, in this case, a refrain of
'sucking, sucking' leaves you in no doubt that this was a rather
unpleasant chap. The sum total is typical of a woman who can write
lyrics that make for a musical sweet and sour.
So, if there's anyone out there who saw her recent appearance on 'Never Mind The Buzzcocks' yes, that's right and figures that she's a pop music airhead, forget it. This lady writes deep and moving songs that bear plenty of listening. Having said all that, this is not the stuff of million sellers despite the rumours that the label sees her as a 'female David Gray'. Though we might expect the major label to disappear if the numbers don't roll in, you can give me Kathryn any day ahead of Will, Gareth and any of those other manufactured celebrities.
Steve Henderson (Originally published in Triste 5)
Weaver Of Visions
Kate Wolf reached a far wider audience in the UK when Nanci Griffith
covered 'Across the Great Divide' on her Other Voices Other Rooms album
than she ever managed with her own work. By then Wolf had been dead for
a number of years (she died of leukaemia in 1987). A massive influence
on Griffith and Emmylou Harris, Kate Wolf possessed a voice as clear as
polished glass and a songwriting ability as good as any of her Texan
This double CD anthology collects 35 of her best songs, mixing studio takes, live recordings and home demos, bringing together a fine portrait of an often overlooked female singer/songwriter. Highlights of the album - of which there are many - include 'These Times We're Living In', 'You're Not Standing Like You Used To', 'Although I've Gone Away' and the aforementioned 'Across The Great Divide'.
This release will be a worthy addition to any songwriter afficionado's CD collection. Despite its £20-plus price tag it's worth it just to hear that beautiful voice singing some of the most heart-rending songs ever written.
Dave Gardner (Originally published in Triste 3)
Silver And Gold
After more than thirty years of making records that seem to delight in
wilfully changing styles the arrival of a new Neil Young record gives
amateur (and professional) critics the opportunity to compare and
contrast with earlier albums. Of course there are similarities: a
guitar lick which seemed to have escaped from the song "Old Man" here,
a piano phrase from Time Fades Away there, and general feel of the folky side of Hawks and Doves
elsewhere. But there are new developments too: 'Razor Love' starts off
like a mid 80's Van Morrison meditation with its tender introductory
piano runs; while Young essays his rarely used lower vocal register on
the final track 'Without Rings'. The general sonic direction is
evolutionary rather than revolutionary; so don't expect vocoders or
50's rock and roll here.
Neil Young has always been obsessed with the themes of ageing, the loss of innocence and change, and on this album he spends a long time looking affectionately back over his shoulder. 'Buffalo Springfield Again' sees his old band (and their second album) getting an affectionate namecheck in a song which displays stronger hints of reconciliation than he has shown at times in his actual dealings with them over the last 30 years or so. 'Daddy Went Walking' just about manages to successfully walk the tightrope between being fetching and mawkishly sentimental as he describes his "old dad" getting his hands dirty back in the country. It co-opts the feel and part of the melody from the old folk song 'Old Blue' while tapping into the childhood he's mined so often.
Part of the reason the album sounds so good is due to the stellar cast of supporting players with Spooner Oldham, Duck Dunn and Jim Keltner all subtly adding to the sound, while long-time musical foil Ben Keith features prominently on pedal steel and backing vocals as well as acting as co-producer. 'Red Sun' features Emmylou Harris adding backing vocals in her inimitable heart-breaking style.
After losing the plot slightly in the late 90's, this is a welcome return to something approaching peak form. Few of the songs will establish themselves as essential standards in the Neil Young repertoire and there are the usual clunky lyrical touches that Young seems partial to in his songwriting. However, these faults can be overlooked as the cumulative effect of the songs is to create a bitter-sweet mood of acceptance that permeates the whole album. The packaging is also better than his last studio outing with the cover featuring a heavily pixellated photograph in autumnal shades of grey and brown (or should that be silver and gold) and is surely another dig by Mr Young at the digital process he hates so much.
Steve Wilcock (Originally published in Triste 3)
Life'll Kill You
Seemingly always on the respected fringes of the music business, Warren
Zevon is something of a punky Randy Newman. His lyrics have always been
the main feature, being packed full with Newmanesque acerbic barbs and
attitude with a capital A.
"Life'll Kill Ya" will maintain that healthy respect and won't result
in any calls to bring him into the mainstream. There'll be no
appearances on Breakfast TV, but I don't suppose Warren gives a toss.
His attitude being typified by 'I Was In The House When The House
Burned Down' which he wrote after a request from David Crosby for a
song: Crosby refused the song. We might assume, that he suspected that
it could be a reference to the time his house was accidentally set on
fire during one of his heavier bouts of cocaine abuse. Naturally,
Warren doesn't wish to confirm or deny this one.
What is for sure is that Zevon's songwriting style starts with a great song title and, then, works backward to the lyrics and tune. Typically, a backwards approach compared to others. Yet, leading to great song titles like 'For My Next Trick, I Need A Volunteer' and the title track itself.
This time, the album isn't filled with his Californian buddies. No Jackson Browne, Eagles, David Lindley, etc. with only a brief but welcome assistance on guitar from Chuck Prophet. Nevertheless, the tunes and lyrics are well up to standard. Fans should feel no need to hesitate. Anyone who hasn't heard of him before should investigate.
Steve Henderson (Originally published in Triste 3)