Love is growing in the street,
Right through the concrete

Friday, 12 August 2011

Claude Debussy - 3 SONATAS / SYRINX

This album is a collection of Debussy's three Sonatas (recorded 1962 - 1966) and the short solo-flute composition 'Syrinx' (1913). Among Debussy's final works, the Sonatas were first performed between 1915 and 1917, and stand as three of his most memorable and majestic compositions. The Flute Viola and Harp Sonata is a composition for a Chamber trio, whilst the Violin and Cello Sonatas are duets with piano. For their length and small arrangements, they might be mistaken for minor works, however in their majesty and sensitivity they are the culmination of a life's work; if not in scale, then in expressive power. Their loose, organic composition allows a great deal of interpretation for performers. Especially on the Cello Sonata, each musical phrase has the intricate possibilities of a verbal utterance. I have heard weaker recorded performances in which the performers saw away as if to a click track, dampening how spontaneous and alive the composition is. This recording is especially worthy of praise for the aborial, contemplative recording of Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp; the sonata which features the most satisfying complexity of interaction. Part III's tilting built and overflowing energy at 2:30-3:20 is executed with perfect, controlled asperity. @320

(R.I.P. Singer Saints, to whom credit belongs)


1. Violin Sonata in G minor: I. Allegro vivo
2. Violin Sonata in G minor: II. Intermede (Fantasque et leger)
3. Violin Sonata in G minor: III. Finale (Tres anime)
4. Cello Sonata in D minor: I. Prologue (Lent)
5. Cello Sonata in D minor: II. Seranade (Moderement anime)
6. Cello Sonata in D minor: III. Finale (Anime)
7. Syrinx for Unaccompanied Flute
8. Sonata for Flute, Viola, and Harp: I. Pastorale (Lento, dolce rubato)
9. Sonata for Flute, Viola, and Harp: II. Interlude (Tempo di menuetto)
10. Sonata for Flute, Viola, and Harp: III. Finale (Allegro moderato ma resoluto)

Monday, 25 July 2011

The Beach Boys - LOVE YOU (1977)

If I played this album for someone I could never confidently expect an appreciative reaction. Even to a long-time convert like myself, the risibly cheesy lyrics and melodies still sound strange. It's appeal is difficult to describe to the skeptical... It certainly isn't anything to do with kitsch or irony. It might always be a puzzle to me why I revere it as highly as Pet Sounds or Surf's Up

Along with the stopgap release 15 Big Ones (1976) before it, this album bucks a trend of developing aesthetic maturity in the Beach Boys discography
. Dennis and Carl had grown considerably in significance in the years 1968-1973, and new members Ricky Fataar and Blondie Chaplain, for their short time as Beach Boys on the consecutive albums 'Carl and The Passions: So Tough' and 'Holland', brought some refreshing hipness to the band's woefully unfunky sound. Owing more to Neil Young than Brian Wilson, 'Holland' (1973) stands as a true classic, but the public remained indifferent. Now that Brian was largely absent from their output, they were contemporaneously viewed as has-beens, even at the artistic height of their songwriting maturity.

Then came 15 Big Ones and Love You, which had the significant selling-point of boasting the words "produced by Brian Wilson" on the reverse; not seen on a Beach Boys album since Pet Sounds (1966).
15 Big Ones offered half an LP of 50s favourites, recreated with tongue affectionately lodged in cheek, and another half of original Beach Boys compositions. 'Had to Phone Ya' and 'It's OK' - the best of this category - also harked back, but instead to to the naive lyrics and carefree sounds of Wilson's own early songwriting career. One track, 'Just Once in My Life' (a cover), however, demonstrated the emotional punch the band was still fully capable of delivering, and that would be delivered with much greater sucess and concentration on Love You.

Love You's side one is utterly ridiculous. From the stomping synths opening 'Let Us Go On This Way' to the exuberant honky tonk of 'Mona', both the music and lyrics are best described as "well-oh-my-oh-gosh-oh-gee" ('Roller Skating Child'). With the heavy beat and bombastic synths/brass, it's resembles neither the barber shop surf-rock of their early days, the grandeur and sophistication of the Pet Sounds/ SMiLE era, nor the more mature musical developments on the Brother label. After years of searching for an image that would recapture the public, this album stands utterly naked of pretense. Without Tony Asher's philosophical elegance or Van Dyke Parks's inscrutable, verbose turns of phrase, Brian Wilson's lyrics honestly reflect an endearing simplicity in terms of subject. Whereas Carl Wilson's superb song of Imperialism, 'The Trader' (Holland) felt overcooked, lyrically, Brain here does not reach for poignancy at all. Instead he sticks to familiar topics of cars and girls. As he sings on 'Good Time': maybe it won't last but what do we care, my baby and I just want a good time

Side two is where things get interesting (it is a pity that this distinction is something lost on CD/media players). The opener, 'Solar System' is a strangely haunting one, and makes for a clear departure from side one, lyrically. With his quakey croon, Brian sings, in a wide-eyed tone, lines like "Saturn has rings all around it / I searched the skies and I found it" or "Solar system / Rings of wisdom". Combined with it's bright and carnivalesque instrumentation there is a child-like awe at these mysterious bodies. Similarly content are Mike Love and Carl Wilson's lead vocals on 'Airplane'. Both tracks share a sense of calm and hopeful wonder at the world.

'The Night Was So Young', following unexpectedly from the hilarious 'Ding Dang', is the strongest piece of songwriting on the album, and a shift from the naive contentment of its two preceding tracks. It's long, sustained chords and delicate vocals on the verses create a meditative, window-gazing mood ("Skies turning grey / There's clouds overhead / I'm still not asleep / In my bed") whilst the chorus breaks out in longing declarations like "is somebody going to tell me why she has to lie?". The arrangement is minimal and swampy, giving foreground to some simple but stirring harmonies on the chorus. The subtle mournfulness of the "doo doo doo doo doo"s and tasteful string-bends add much to the track with great economy. The following track, 'I'll Bet He's Nice' - sung by Dennis with a gravelly emotion verging on menace - is an unrequited love song for an ex, now with another guy. It shares the lovelorn mood of 'The Night Was So Young', but with a bitter edge that is only thinly veiled behind the playful electronic keys and nursery-rhyme melody. It features a gorgeous middle-eight sung by Carl.

'Let's Put Our Hearts Together' is in my opinion the most touching and lovely song the Beach Boys ever recorded. It's a duet between Brian and his wife, Marilyn. The tune is bright, happy and rolling. The tone is direct and earnest - mushy, even. The song is a straightforward and unguarded request to be love and be loved in return, including the ability to be vulnerable with another person. The song doesn't attempt to recapture a love of youthful inexperience but describes a more mature love which has grown defensive; wary of the serious pain of romantic failure and dishonest posturing:

- Take your time, don't worry
how you feel because
you know we've got forever

Maybe I'll come up with some idea
And you'll think that I was clever

- I never had someone
I need someone
To live with and be good to

- Don't worry 'bout your past loves
And if they never understood you

As Peter Buck comments in the sleevenotes of the CD release, "it's so personal that it's hard to listen to". The two would divorce just two years after the album's release. The song begins with Brian singing: "I don't want to tell you that I care for you / And have you just ignore me". Reminiscent of 'God Only Knows's famously contrary opening lines, this is a curious beginning for such a lovey-dovey love song. It's something that most people wouldn't have the honesty to say to a person in real life, never mind on record, but it's an entirely relatable sentiment - all the more true for its blunt eloquence. Something about Brian's rough-throated emotional honesty, set against the honied tones of Marilyn's Broadway vocal manner makes this track hopelessly sad to listen to. Though I don't believe it was Brian's intention to create a subversive song, I presume that having had a life such as his, it was simply not possible for him to write something naively idealistic about love.

The album ends hopefully with the tracks 'I Wanna Pick You Up', 'Airplane' and 'Love is a Woman'. The first features Dennis's gruff vocals on lead well-suited to the song's subject of father-infant love. 'Airplane' would have given a nice image of travelling and open-ended anticipation to end the album on, especially with its soothing, contented mood and sudden giddy coda of "can't wait to see her face", but the final track, 'Love is a Woman' ends the album on a big, brassy, sing-along send-off that is either cheesy or sarcastic - I'm not sure. It's enormously fun in the same way that the best tracks on 15 Big Ones are.

The complexities of this album's second side help frame the startling bombast and zeal of the first. Fans of Pet Sounds can play down the 'gee darn gosh'ness of the Beach Boys, if they wish, by focusing attention on the lush orchestration, experimentation with features of art music, Asher's trenchant lyrics etc etc. With Love You, you can't fool yourself that what you're listening to is cool. The music is brash and unfinessed, but nevertheless highly rewarding, with moods that are all the more true and timeless for the unconventionality of the sounds, and lyrics that carry greater profundity for all their surface simplicity. Multitracked vocals and symphonic are gone. What's left is naked and unashamed. @160


1. Let Us Go On This Way
2. Roller Skating Child
3. Mona
4. Johnny Carson
5. Good Time
6. Honkin' Down the Highway
7. Solar System
8. Ding Dang
9. The Night Was So Young
10. I'll Bet He's Nice
11. Let's Put Our Hearts Together
12. I Wanna Pick You Up
13. Airplane
14. Love Is A Woman

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Chris McGregor's Brotherhood of Breath - COUNTRY COOKING (1988)

I was first introduced to the name Chris McGregor through seeing a set of his works played by a group of University Music students - not knowing at the time a thing about whose music was being played. At the close of their set they played a wild and winding 15-minute piece. It utterly entranced me. Its energy was sublime; unfolding powerfully with snakelike basslines, screeching saxophones and stern, regimented brass- all laid over a litany of African rhythms, inexhaustible in inventiveness. Its brilliance urged me to speak with the conductor after the set and ask whether there were recordings of this bandleader - this track in particular - on CD. He told me the name of the track, 'Dakar', and the album album, Country Cooking. So I noted it down, expecting later to find some blogger online who had this rare item.

I couldn't find it anywhere, however. 'Chris McGregor' search results were limited and were mainly about the the Brotherhood of Breath's excellent self-titled debut, which was given a CD re-release earlier in the decade. There was no hint of a re-release for the rest of the McGregor catalogue, however. I searched for a long time, presuming music this good couldn't be out of reach of the entire internet, but it took a good few months before I found someone in the USA with an old library copy. After £20 and a month waiting on air-mail it arrived!

So anyway, I'm happy to finally share such a rare item. The album is really a lost gem. It's timeless in sound; soulful, spirit-lifting music that's classy and Ellingtonian one moment, and then raucously wild the next. The band's Free Jazz experimentation is played down considerably on this recording, which is a disappointment because the strong melodic backbone of the his music is only improved when the Brotherhood are allowed some creative space to challenge these structures - as evidenced by earlier live recordings. I would love to hear some live variation on 'Dakar', but I've only been able to find live shows from earlier in the (not lofty) height of their notoriety: early to mid seventies.

Nevertheless, the album is dense, complex and full of personality, despite it's polished sheen. The album opens with the gentle and playful title track. Blissful woodwind romance on 'Bakwetha' meets abruptly with dizzy, swaggering horns on 'Sweet as Honey', laid over a sensitive Bill Evans-esque piano. 'You And Me (Sejui)' flits between funky, determined horn stabs and celebratory instrumental conversations. 'Big G' chugs along with a locomotive drive, occasionally spiraling into dramatic suspensions over spasmodic double-bass twiddling. 'Maxine', with it's romance and Garbarek-esque saxophone, reminds me a lot of Keith Jarrett's European Quartet at it's best, but with the richness of a Big Band orchestra. The album ends with 'Dakar', which, despite my complaints, is a downright important piece of music that would be a standard if there were any justice. @256


1. Country Cooking
2. Bakwetha
3. Sweet As Honey
4. You And Me (Sejui)
5. Big G
6. Maxine
7. Dakar

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Ry Cooder & The Moula Banda Rhythm Aces - LET'S HAVE A BALL (1987)

Miraculously, someone on the internet once went to the trouble of digitizing an old VHS home-recording of a 1987 Ry Cooder concert and uploading it some two decades after it was first broadcast on the UK's Channel 4. A fine human that person was. As a fan, I thought I'd do my small duty and help share the joy.

This recording, running just over 75 minutes, shows a collection of born performers at work, playing an evocative, virtuoso set of Blues Rock, Soul and Gospel songs from the history of popular song in the US. Like all of Cooder's output, the set takes you on a whistlestop tour of American popular music history. In a run of three consecutive tracks you glimpse the reception of telecommunications on 'Jesus on the Mainline', dustbowl hardships on 'How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?', and Cold War-era Millenarianism on 'Atom Bomb'. The cast is mighty, featuring fellow Americana-lover Van Dyke Parks (paying homage in-dress to Colonel Sanders) on keyboards; Flaco Jiménez, bringing the distinctive accordions of Chicken Skin Music (1976) to the show; the sublime gospel vocals of Bobby King and booming Baritone Terry Evans; and the prolific session drummer Jim Keltner.

In a manner that will be familiar to fans of his solo career, Cooder's choices of homage both reexamine and update acknowledged classics, such as the soul-stirring, big-band rendition of 'Chain Gang', but also play with tangents of pre-Industry popular music that few would have otherwise remembered.

But as well as tipping his hat to these forgotten composers, Cooder also pushes the bounds of genre, borrowing from all eras and roots-music styles in his adaptations. Take, on this film, his epic, Latin-Blues-tinged rendition of Blind Alfred Reed's 'How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?' (first covered on his self-titled 1970 debut), in comparison to the decidedly un-hip original. It feels as if the link between the two is always about to snap under the weight of the latter's effortless alloy of influences. However, something of the original's essence is always retained in spirit, despite the gleeful transgressions in form:

Cooder's always articulate presence is never far from the forefront. Admiration for his playing his now a platitude, but I would say that I admire his tactful restraint just as much as his astounding vocabulary of expression. For times when he is not centre stage, his playing is, for the most part, delivered in subtle, complementary utterances: the group's setup is virtuoso, loose but, fundamentally, cooperative. You can see the infectious joy of musicians in the midst of fellow masters of their crafts. You see them feed off each other's spontaneous creativity and, together, maintain the thrill of live improvisation from second to second.

From the pouting four-wheel-drive of Soul-hoe-downs (Shoul-downs?) like 'The Very Thing That Makes You Rich (Makes Me Poor)' (vastly improving on the velveted studio version on Bop Til You Drop, 1983) to the menacing brass plunges in the murky atmosphere of 'Mississippi', the set is captivating and unpredictable at every turn. It's a pity that Cooder doesn't talk more in the film, being as he is such an curious yet charismatic presence on stage. But his gruff crooning and spontaneous in-character deliveries are still great entertainment value.

Anyway, I here reupload the home-recorded video - I stress it's not my achievement - but also, underneath it is handy, portable audio version, cut into tracks and even featuring some hastily designed album art by myself. If a Ry Cooder fan more knowledgeable than me can place what the name of the track I labelled '[Instrumental]' is, then I would much appreciate knowing.@256

18.07.11 - The instrumental track is 'Goodnight Irene', also on Chicken Skin Music (1976). Thanks to Lukas for identifying it.


1. Let's Have A Ball
2. Jesus on the Mainline
3. How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?
4. Atom Bomb
5. Mississippi
6. Goodnight Irene
7. Just a Little Bit
8. The Very Thing That Makes You Rich (Makes Me Poor)
9. Crazy 'Bout An Automobile
10. Chain Gang
11. Down in Hollywood

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Ry Cooder - CHÁVEZ RAVINE (2005)

BACK! Hopefully now with some semi-regular content. Uploading old stuff to Mediafire, as Sharebee has disappeared off the face of the internet.

The album is the first of what eventually became a trilogy of historical concept albums that Ry Cooder made in the second half of the last decade. Cooder talks of this album now as sowing the beginnings of a creative re-awakening: allowing him to write lyrics through the fictionalised mouthpieces of real archetypes of modern history. The trilogy was completed with My Name Is Buddy in 2007, and I, Flathead in 2008. The albums combine Cooder's populist politics with his love of 20th century popular music and have made for by far the most satisfying entries in Cooder's already classic discography. The songs on the album detail with warmth the lost Latino community of Chávez Ravine, LA, and its liquidation by private contractors in the late 1950s for the eventual construction of Dodger Baseball Stadium. It's a fascinating story, but whilst Cooder clearly wanted to bring it to increased public awareness, the music on this album creates a memorial not to the 'fallen', but to the loves, the fears; the hipsters, outcasts; struggles and laughter that all took place in a community of living people.

Amongst the many glimpsed images on the album are odd turns that might seem like diversions or dead ends alongside the central plot. This plot involves McCarthyist denunciation of local leaders in opposition to the proposed plans ('Don't Call Me Red'), the coming of the 'dozers ('It's Just Work For Me'), the soliloquy of the real estate contractor ('In My Town') and the eventual erection of the baseball stadium ('3rd Base Dodger Stadium') on the bulldozed grounds. This plotline grows surprisingly defined, the closer you listen, but so also it becomes apparent that the tangential asides are essential to the kind of big picture offered.

In the sublime cover art, a goofy, B-Movie UFO hovers alongside the real machine rolling over a real community. The image reflects something about the album's broadly human - not merely morbid - focus. On the album, mocking songs about the coinbox-carrying Chinese laundryman ('Chinito Chinito'); sailors battling Pachucos ('Onda Callejera'); honourable sportsmen denounced ('Corrido de Boxeo'); concerned mothers and reckless daughters ('Muy Fifif'); local heartbreakers ('3 Cool Cats'); the politics of dance trends ('Los Chucos Suaves'), and UFO sightings ('El UFO Cayó') all share equal importance in the portrayal of the town as the story of its destruction. Descriptions of the album's concept can sound sour and mournful, but this is a compeltely unfit description of the music.

Chavéz Ravine is a work of anger, but its overall impression is one of affecting humanity. Cooder, and the remaining Ravine musicians he could track down, rebuild and remodel the community the "'dozers" destroyed. Of Cooder's trilogy of historical concept albums, this first collection of songs is by far the most warm and moving. With less talented musicians, it would be a polemical history set to music, however the album is foremost a suite of living landscapes - with the sense of melancholy remaining an undertone, and not seeping anachronistically into the music. I mean to say, that this album is a tribute to the extinct community first, and a story of the town's destruction second.

That said, it's with a stingly undercurrent of bitterness that Cooder writes the lyrics to the album's most tender, yet most politically bold and unsettling song, 'In My Town'. Under the persona of the real estate contractor, the lyrics are a destainful monologue of an idealist visionary looking down upon "old town, crook town, wop town, and spic town / Black town, shack town, and hick town / From my room". However, he sees "the future going" his way: "Can’t you see a 50-story building / Where a palm tree used to be?". From this wistful opening (his racism curiously accompanied by delicate keys) the song shifts tone to his hatred of the obstacles to his vision - the community. The community is a pack of "commie rats"; a nuisance to be replaced by "cement mixers" and "50-story buildings": "a town that's flat", "a town that's clean". The narrator's conception is that land is not a place where people build lives, but create profits; that (with a few smart maneuvers) the outdated idea of land-ownership can be surpassed to make way for beautiful modernity, with no evidence of the ugliness that lay in the past.

The heartbreaking finalé of the narrative, '3rd Base, Dodger Stadium' gives the lie to this philosophy, in the form of the voice of an ex-Ravine resident; now "working nights, parking cars" at the stadium which sits on top the ground he grew up on. The concept of building atop a legally annexed community is expressed with a heartrendering, stark metaphor. As he watches the game, he sees the players running over where "Johnny Greeneyes had his shoeshine stall". He sees "grandma in her rocking chair", and "in the middle of the first base line", remembers the location of his "first kiss (Florencina was kind)" - "if the dozer hadn't taken my yard, you'd see the tree with our initials carved". Speaking to the famous "baseball man", whom is clearly "anxious to go", the man once from Chávez Ravine lets him know that "if you want to know where a local boy like me is coming from: 3rd Base, Dodger Stadium". @256


1. Poor Man's Shangri-La
2. Onda Callejera
3. Don’t Call Me Red
4. Corrido de Boxeo
5. Muy Fifí
6. Los Chucos Suaves
7. Chinito Chinito
8. 3 Cool Cats
9. El UFO Cayó
10. It’s Just Work for Me
11. In My Town
12. Ejercito Militar
13. Barrio Viejo
14. 3rd Base, Dodger Stadium
15. Soy Luz y Sombra