Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Van Morrison and The Chieftains complete each other

Considering I’ve basically written about Jethro Tull, Martin Barre and Eric Woolfson lately, I think it’s time to go back to folk, specifically celtic folk. This time, I’ll write about an album which features a band and an artist that have never totally hooked me, but whose collaboration bordered perfection. I actually never listen to Van Morrison, and, although I do like The Chieftains, I could live without them. However, Irish Heartbeat, the album they did together in 1988, is pure gold.

I’m actually checking The Chieftain’s discography now, and I just realized I only have their first five albums, and I say “only” because they have many more. This is obviously unacceptable, and I’ll proceed to somehow mysteriously and suddenly acquire their other CDs in the next few days. Anyway, that’s not the point, sorry, back to track.

What I wanted to say is that their music is good, but they lack something, at least in those five albums, and in Irish Heartbeat it seems as if they had suddenly found it. Unfortunately, it was a one-time-only thing. That “something” was Van Morrison’s voice, who also wrote two songs from the album, the title track and Celtic Ray. This becomes clear in Tá Mo Chleamhnas Déanta (My Match It Is Made), which also features singing by Kevin Conneff. Conneff has a pleasant enough voice which, however, pales in personality compared to Van Morrison’s.

The other songs are traditional, except from Raglan Road, which was adapted from a poem by Patrick Kavanagh. Raglan Road is, by the way, the most beautiful song on the album, a true masterpiece. It’s the story of a man ensnared by a beautiful revenant whom he had mistaken for 'a creature made of clay'. Critic Dennis Campbell describes Morrison’s performance in Carrickfergus as worthy of Otis Redding because of its melancholic air.

There's not much more to say about the album, as pretty much all of it is simply excellent stuff. If only, I’m a bit disappointed with their version of She Moved Through the Fair. Oh well, I guess it’s impossible to have everything. It’s still a fantastic album anyway.

P.S: this is probably my last post until mid-January, as exams and family meetings make it impossible to write more stuff, so Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year everyone!

P.P.S: here's a link to the facebook page for this blog in case you want to discuss music or listen to some random stuff from time to time.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Eric Woolfson: the post-Parsons years

If I mention Eric Woolfson, most people will wonder who I’m talking about. If I say he was half of The Alan Parsons Project and the man who came with the original concept of most of the songs... ok, most people will still wonder what’s going on here, although it’ll shed some light for some.

Woolfson was born in Glasgow in 1945, into a Jewish family. He taught himself to play the piano and when he was eighteen, he went to London and started working as a session pianist. Some time later, he started writing songs for other artists. However, Woolfson wouldn’t become relevant in the music industry until he formed The Alan Parsons Project and they released their first CD in 1976.

I’ve already written everything about The Alan Parsons Project, but this time I want to write specifically about Woolfson. There’s a reason for this: Eric Woolfson died exactly five years ago, and, as I already wrote about The Alan Parsons Project, it seemed just natural to continue the story where I left it. I will only talk about two specific CDs though: I’m not a fan of Alan Parsons solo albums (except from a few songs here and there) and Woolfson did some musicals I’m not especially interested on, either.

It was 1990, and the duo were recording a new album, Freudiana. However, Woolfson wanted to turn it into a musical, and Parsons didn’t. I don’t know how the whole thing went, but in the end, they went their separate ways, and the album is officially Woolfson’s, I think, although on the cover there’s only “Freudiana”. Halfaway through the recording process, it was decided to turn the album into a stage musical, and many songs are actually very musical-ish (Funny You Should Say That, which, by the way, is one of my favourites, is a good example of that).

The lyrical theme here is, obviously, Freud. Now, I’m not going to lie, I’ve never read anything from him, shame on me, but if you’re into him, you may find a good reason to listen to the album . What I find really interesting about it is that there are two versions. The White Album is the “normal” one, and the Black Album, which can’t be found anymore, is the rarity. It was released in Germany in 1991, the order of the songs is changed and... it’s sung in German. I’ve tried to find the album, but I’ve been unsuccessful so far. If, by any chance, someone reads this and has it, I’d be eternally grateful if (s)he could send it by email or something like that.

The songs are sung by different artists, like in any regular Alan Parsons Project album. Woolfson sings in the wonderful title track, amongst others, and artists like Kiki Dee (You’re on Your Own and No One Can Love You Better than Me), the Flying Pickets (the aforementioned, bizarre Funny You Should Say That and Far Away From Home), John Miles (There For the Grace of God)... the list goes on. One of the best performances, if not the best, is the one by Leo Sayer in I Am a Mirror, a fantastic song with one of these great Parsons-ish instrumental interludes.

Oh, and if you’re in a sad mood, listen to Don’t Let the Moment Pass, sung by Marti Webb. And prepare a couple of handkerchiefs just in case.

Freudiana is definitely a very good album, and the musical-like (I mean stage musical, you know) nature of some of its songs makes it even more geekily enjoyable. I say some because as you can see (hear), most of the tracks are relatively “normal” songs. When the whole thing became a musical, this was the story, according to Woolfson’s website: “A man visits the Freud museum in London with a group of tourists. He accidentally gets locked in when it closes and eventually falls asleep on Freud’s couch reading one of his books. Through his dreams he meets many of Freud’s patients on his journey to self-discovery”.

Before I move on, here’s an interview I found on youtube. It’s in Spanish, so unless you know the language, there’s no point in watching it. The interesting thing here is that it’s Alan Parsons who is interviewed in some Spanish TV channel, because at that point Parsons and Woolfson were still working together on the Freudiana album. As you know, shortly after this, they split up. 

Woolsfson, as I said, did a few proper musicals here and there, but I’m not especially interested in them. I’d rather talk about The Alan Parsons Project that Never Was.

A few years ago, Sony Music approached Woolfson because they were preparing deluxe reissues of Alan Parsons Project albums with bonus tracks, and they asked him if there were any unreleased songs kept in some deep, dark dungeon. Woolfson decided to have a look, and he was surprised at the amount of unfinished material, often songs that Parsons discarded because he plainly didn’t like them. Let’s not forget that Parsons was not very fond of Woolfson’s singing skills, and songs like Time and Eye in the Sky were not well received by him at first.

Woolfson took those songs and finished or rearranged them, and the album was released in 2009. Some of the songs are taken, by the way, from his musicals, and not from Alan Parsons Project embryos. The whole thing is basically what The Eric Woolfson Project would have been like: focus on the melody and his soothing (some would say cheesy) voice everywhere. I personally love the album; the songs are often uncomplicated but really uplifting, although there are also a couple of sad ones.

He briefly discusses a few facts about the songs here, but just in case your finger is too lazy to click, I’ll mention what he says about some of the tracks. Rumor Goin’ Round, a catchy rocker, is actually an old friend, as the remastered version of Stereotomy includes a rough demo mix. Songs like Golden Key, Nothing Can Change My Mind and Any Other Day are simply, as I said, happy songs. However, the prize for happiest song on the album goes to Steal Your Heart Away, a song Woolfson calls “unashamedly commercial”. Eric also says Alan Parsons would have loathed the song, but on the other hand it is (at least was) a favourite of his two grandchildren. It does sound like something a father would sing to their children to make them happy, to be honest, and when I’m the mood for something easy, it’s a total win.

Ok, I’ll actually mention the whole tracklist. I Can See Round Corners was written for, but not included in, the musical Dancing Shadows. Somewhat mysterious, it’s one of the fillers. On the other hand, Along the Road Together has really grown on me other time. Woolfson’s voice is beautiful, as always, and the lyrics really warm my heart. Train to Wuxi features the only Woolfson guitar solo ever, and Somewhere in the Audience and Immortal are the relatively sad songs on the album. The latter, which closes the album, is absolutely beautiful, and the chorus gives me goosebumps. This song was originally included in the POE musical and it was sung by Steve Balsamo, but let’s be honest, although Woolfson praises him, the version on this album is way better.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Martin Barre in concert

I’m a happy man.  I saw Martin Barre in concert yesterday. The guy’s 68, I expected a nice show but he was amazing, and so was his band. The concert went on for more than two hours, and it was easy to see Martin and the guys were having a blast while they were playing.

This is not from yesterday's show... but the quality's good!
It’s not easy to write something structured, considering I still feel overexcited about the concert. You have to understand that Jethro Tull and their music (in case I haven’t made it clear enough) mean a lot to me, and Martin Barre was a very big part of Jethro Tull. He looks like a really chill and humble dude, I love his guitar playing, and well, I think I’m not exaggerating when I say going to yesterday’s concert was a dream come true.

However, not many people shared my opinion. That, or the concert was just not advertised (I have to admit I found out about it by chance). There weren’t more than a hundred and fifty people in the place, which could have up to a thousand people inside. Proportionally, there were more women than I’d have thought, and most of the men had either very long hair or no hair at all.

The show started with Mind Your Step, and old 60s song which can be found on Martin’s newest CD, Order of Play (which, by the way, I bought at the concert), followed by some Martin Barre song I can’t remember at the moment. Then came the serious stuff. First, Minstrel in the Gallery and To Cry You a Song, which started rallying the audience up. To Cry You a Song is such an amazing classic rock song, and having two electric guitars made it even better. 

Update: I had videos of those two songs and another two, but my channel was deleted. Fortunately, there's a video of the whole concert. Here it is:

Most of the Tull stuff they played was from the first five albums: A Song for Jeffrey, A New Day Yesterday (which featured an amazing bass solo by Alan Thomson), Fat Man, To Cry You a Song, Teacher, Wondr’ing Aloud, Hymn 43 (which Martin rearranged brilliantly, with him and singer/guitarist Dan Crisp playing mandolin), Locomotive Breath (which closed the concert) and excerpts from Thick as a Brick. They also played Minstrel in the Gallery, an instrumental version of the infamous Under Wraps’s Paparazzi, and Still Loving You Tonight, which was rearranged into a very intimate guitar duet.

Although they played lots of Tull stuff, the concert was, apart from the mandolin thing, a rock/blues one. Take into account there was no flute, no keyboards, and in the other hand there were two guitars.

There was also some Dan Crisp stuff in the program (the guy can play and sing), a Porcupine Tree song (Blackest Eyes), a cool rendition of Rock Me Baby and also some Martin Barre songs, including Misère, which may be his best solo track.

Martin is a legend
Before I finish, I would also like to praise George Lindsay, who did a great job (like everyone else) on drums.

This is it, basically. Martin put on a great show, it’s obvious he still enjoys what he does, and I can only thank him a million times for the concert, it was worth every single cent I paid. He’s still an excellent guitarist and did a few mindblowing solos. My only regret is not recharging my camera before the show, but the songs are going to be inside my head for a very, very long time anyway.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Jethro Tull (VIII): a bit too simple to be Tull

I’ve made a big mistake. I just started studying a master for very hard-working people, and I’m a lazy person. Bad idea. I don’t want to bore you with my life, I already have my friends ready to roll their eyes when I start moaning and whining; I just wanted to say this to explain that I’ll definitely write much less from now on, probably a post every month, maybe two, but certainly not more than that.

I’m feeling particularly stressed this week and I’ll write an easy post to clear my mind a little bit. Easy for me, because it’s about Jethro Tull, and easy for whoever keeps reading this after finding out I’m writing about these guys again and scowling, because it’s about a really accessible album.

Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll, Yoo Young to Die!, released in 1976, is actually their most accessible album on the 70s, something which casual listeners may be grateful for, as Tull’s music was extremely complex and not really easy to get into at that time. It may be the worst, too. I mean, it’s a good album, sure, I just find it pretty simple and unpretentious compared to most of their stuff. It’s ten time worse than, let’s say, A Passion Play, but it’s easy to like it from the beginning. It’s also the best album that features poor John Glascock, who would provide his bass guitar skills plus some backing vocals until his early death in 1979. He was certainly too young to die. I’ll write about that later, though.

Ian Anderson's comic twin brother
There’s a funny story here. In the short booklet that comes with the remastered version, Ian Anderson explains that the music was intended to support a stage musical "based on a late-'50s motor cycle rocker and his living-in-the-past nostalgia for youthful years”. And then he added “Not me, guv, honest”. That’s kind of hard to believe, considering the cover of the album depicts him. Or someone who looks like his twin brother. The booklet, by the way, also has a tiny comic book that depicts every song on the album.

This is probably the only Tull album in the 70s without a properly epic song. No My God, no Baker Street Muse, no Velvet Green... the music seems bland in comparison. A couple of the songs are totally irrelevant (Bad Eyed ‘n’ Loveless and Big Dipper), although, at least, the rest of the album is solid enough. There are a couple of catchy rockers (Quizz Kid and Taxi Grab), a simple song that somehow puts me in the best of moods (Pied Piper) and a few melancholic tracks.

The title track, one of the melancholic ones, is probably the best known song on the album, however I’d like to highlight Salamander because of its nice acoustic guitar work, and also From a Dead Beat to an Old Greaser, a song that has grown on me a lot for some reason. David Palmer has a really good sax solo here.

The remastered version includes two new tracks: A Small Cigar, which cracks me up, don’t ask me why, and Strip Cartoon, another light-hearted song that would make a stone happy.

This is it for today. There are so many things I want to write about in the near future... the joint effort by Van Morrison and The Chieftains, more Jethro Tull (their next three albums, the folky trilogy, are unforgettable), Eric Woolfson (it’s almost the 5th anniversary of his death)... so much music out there, life is good.

Here's the facebook page for the blog, where I also post random songs and articles from time to time. Also, here are all the previous posts about Jethro Tull:

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Martin Barre, the underrated guitar master

Well, I wasn’t planning to write about this man, at least not now. However, I’ll see him play live in about three weeks and I thought it wouldn’t be a bad idea to write a tiny bit about him. By the way, I’m talking about Martin Barre, longtime Jethro Tull guitarist, no longer with the band (or should I just say the band is no more?). I saw Ian Anderson perform Thick as a Brick and Thick as a Brick 2 in 2012 and, while I loved the concert, it almost hurt not to see Martin at his side (no offence to Florian Opahle, it’s just that I would have loved to see the classic thing). But now I’ll see Martin live, and while it’s on his own (I doubt it’ll be as good as Tull), I’m not exaggerating when I say it’s a dream come true.

Monsieur Barre is not a young lad anymore. He’ll be 68 in barely a month, and he has been on the road for decades. He wasn’t with Tull from the beginning, but he did play for their second album, Stand Up. I’ve read online (which means this may be true, or not) that in his first audition to get in the band, he forgot the pick for his guitar; in his second one, he was so nervous he could barely play. He was finally successful in his third attempt.

I can’t help liking the guy. It’s not only that he’s an extremely underrated guitarist (Mark Knopfler called his guitar work with Tull “magical”), but from what I’ve read and heard, he also seems to be a really shy and humble person. Ok, shy is not necessarily good, but I find it almost cute that someone who has played in front of thousands of people and who was part of one of the biggest rock bands in the early seventies can be that shy. Maybe it’s also that I like shy people because I’m a bit shy too, no idea. The only thing I don’t like about him is that, apparently, his favourite Tull album is Under Wraps. Sure, sure, it’s a matter of taste and stuff, but Under Wraps is an atrocity compared to 98% of the Tull catalogue. Well, I guess I’ll be kind enough to forgive him.

It makes no sense talking about his time with Tull, at least not much. This blog has plenty of other posts for that. I will say, however, that while Ian Anderson is credited for 99% of the stuff Tull did, Martin made apparently some “additional contributions” to Songs from the Wood, and collaborated more than usual in the Grammy-awarded Crest of a Knave. Anyway, here are a few solos from his time with Tull  (update: a few of them have been deleted recently so I had to add others).

I’d talk about his solo albums, although there’s not that much to say. They’re good, but not that good. There are six of them; I haven’t listened to the last one (Order of Pay), to the 2013 one (Away With Words) and to A Summer Band (even if I do have that one in my laptop); I have barely listened to The Meeting (it hasn’t really hooked me); finally, there’s Stage Left, and most of all, A Trick of Memory, which are the two albums by him I really like. Check his guitar playing in stuff like Empty Cafe or I Be Thank You... Martin is like wine, the older he gets, the better. Sure, not as loud, rocking and cocky as Aqualung, for example (his solo there was ranked the 25th best of all time by the Guitar Player magazine, by the way), but classier. If you listen to the stuff he does in The Jethro Tull Christmas Album, from 2003, you’ll see what I’m talking about. Songs like Pavane, We Five Kings and A Winter Snowscape (which is also featured on his album Stage Left) show you don’t have to play loud and fast to play well. Also, it’s interesting to note how his solo albums are more of a team effort than a vehicle to showcase himself, he doesn’t seem to be really interested in soloing.

One can’t be a member of Tull for decades and play only one instrument, so Martin Barre doesn’t play only the guitar (which may count as two, as he plays acoustic and electric); he also plays the flute (check out Stage Fright), bouzouki, mandolin, sax (which he played before joining Tull) and clarinet (which he apparently played on his last album).

Another little fun fact. I’m almost, almost sure that I read how he met his wife in an Ian Anderson interview. I think, for some reason, it was during the Minstrel in the Gallery tour, or at least not too far away in time. The band was, I believe, at an airport, and Ian was surprised when Martin, in a very un-Martin-ish way, crushed his shyness and offered a young woman who was there a ticket for the concerts, not without chivalrously assuring her that his intentions were not dangerous at all. The rest is history.

So this is Martin Lancelot Barre, the man I’ll see in concert the 15th of November. I don’t really know what happened with Tull and why he and Ian split up, but he looks to be doing very fine on his own. A true guitar master who keeps on rocking after more than four decades of touring, with Tull or on his own.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Eric Clapton & B.B. King: a combination that can't go wrong

Five or six years ago, one of my best friends made me listen to a song she thought I’d like. After about forty seconds, I asked her to send me the whole album. Immediately. Not doing it was not an option.

What can I say, Riding with the King is a very catchy song, the kind of track that makes your brain think “... hey this sounds good...” after ten seconds and something like “...HEY THIS IS MY NEW FAVOURITE SONG EVER” after twenty. So, once I was home, I quickly and hungrily proceeded to listen to the whole album, which has the same name and which, in case you’re a bit lost, is a joint effort by Eric Clapton and BB King. God and the King, can it get any better?

As a matter of fact, it can. I mean, it’s a fantastic album, with those two guys playing and singing, it just can’t be bad. However, I can’t help thinking that it could have been better somehow. Behind their voices and their guitars (man, they can play) it sometimes seems they’re just trying to impress a pretty girl. A lot of show and sometimes (only sometimes) not so much substance. Hard to explain, and I’m clearly not doing it right. Again, I don’t want to be too harsh, it’s just that my first impression of the album was excellent and, as the time goes, I find myself liking it a little bit less.

Maybe The Road to Escondido is to blame a bit, too. I got both albums at approximately the same time, and while I liked Riding with the King a lot more at first, I’ve slowly realized that I’m more into the mellow sound Clapton achieved with JJ Cale, with their voices and their guitars melting together and sounding as one, than into the “here I am” louder and rawer sounds of this album. Raw in a way, because it actually sounds very clean, maybe almost too clean. Both albums are fantastic, but I can’t help comparing them sometimes, and when I do, Cale wins.

Still, it's just a matter of taste, and if you like blues, this recording is a must. Some songs from BB King from the fifties and sixties are played and also classics from other musicians, for example Key to the Highway, which Clapton had played with Derek and the Dominos and also on his own. The title track is a composition by John Hiatt with the help of producer and songwriter Scott Matthews, who provided the lyrical content to Hiatt by telling him about a strange dream he had of flying on an airplane with Elvis Presley.

By the way, at the time of the recording, BB King was 74, and not only his guitar skills were still excellent, but his voice too. It’s a pleasure to listen to him, be it in catchier and slightly faster songs such as Marry You, I Wanna Be or Days of Old or in slower and somewhat bluesier ones such as Three O’Clock Blues (ladies and gentlemen, that is blues), Worried Life Blues or When my Heart Beats like a Hammer. Talking about voices, Clapton's one has a raspiness in some songs (Hold On, I'm Coming!) we don't often hear.

In conclusion... if you feel like listening to some good guitars, go get this album. Classy stuff.

P.S: I just moved to another city, started new (and apparently hard) studies, etc. This means I probably won't have so much time to write, so my posts will take a bit longer, although I'll write them in less time, like this one. I hope some of you still enjoy this stuff!

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

MANdolinMAN: yes, they play the mandolin

Today I’ll write about mandolins. The mandolin is one of my favourite instruments. Don’t ask me why, I have no idea, but it sounds so folksy, and it’s so cool, and end of the story. If someone bought me one for my birthday, I’d learn how to play and become a minstrel. And all the girls would love my songs. Ok, I went too far there.

There’s a reason I’m writing things that don’t make sense at all. Actually, there’s two. First of all, I’m tired, so don’t expect me to write anything interesting. Or logical. Second, there’s no way to find information about the band I want to talk to, and I can’t say too much about them either, so I have to fill this post with gibberish. Thanks, I’m sure you’ll excuse me.

Of course, there are people in this band who plays the mandolin. In fact, we’re talking about the ultimate mandolin band: we’re talking about MANdolinMAN (yes, they write it like that). MANdolinMAN is a mandolin quartet from Belgium, founded in the summer of 2011.

In their first album, Old Tunes, Dusted Town, these guys played traditional Flemish music. The album is specifically a tribute to Hubert Bone, whose son is one of the four members. Andries, as well as Dirk Naessens, play mandolin, while Maarten Decombel plays mandocello and Peter- Jan Daems plays mandola. The quartet used Huber Boone’s notations to play local melodies from the small villages from Flanders.

There’s not much I can say about this, except that the guys can play and the sound is incredibly clean. It’s simple: if you like folk and you like mandolins, give them a chance. If not, well, give them a chance anyway, but don’t hate me. I personally love all the songs here.

Here are links for a couple of songs. UPDATE: I had uploaded the whole album, but a member of the band wrote to me politely asking me to remove most of the tracks. It's totally understandable, they don't have a huge fanbase at the moment and if everyone downloaded their CD online, they'd get no money. So I apologize to them and encourage you guys to buy their music if you like it.

SECOND UPDATE: my channel has been deleted, so there is not much MANdolinMAN online... here's a little preview of what you can get if you listen to their music.

MANdolinMAN recently produced a second album, MANdolinMAN Plays Bossa Nova. I’ve listened to some little parts in amazon (I think) and it sounded damn fine, but I won’t buy it for now, not too much money around lately. 

I guess this is it for today. This is a purely informative post, as I’m sure most of you don’t know this band. Also, I’m moving out in the next few days and I’m terribly busy so, as the next proper post will have to wait, I wanted to write something, a tiny thing, whatever. Hopefully there’s someone out there who enjoys this stuff half as much as I do.

P.S: here's the link for the facebook page, in case there are more people with a geeky taste in music that they need to share:

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Jethro Tull (VII): bombastic and melancholic

In my last post about Jethro Tull, I said Warchild is not as good as the next album the band would release. I guess that, after more than a month, it’s time to explain.

It was 1975 and Ian Anderson, I believe (feel free to correct me), was going through a divorce. This not precisely pleasant situation didn’t stop him from making music, although it did influence the mood of the album. Minstrel in the Gallery combines some relatively hard rocking moments with many acoustic sections that sound reflective, nostalgic, sad.

Let’s wait a second though, first it’s time to quickly write a couple of facts about the album. I mean, album facts that are not specifically about the quality or meaning of the music. Ok I’m getting stuck here. What I wanted to say, first of all, is that the album was recorded in Monte Carlo, in their four-wheeled recording studio, the Maison Rouge Mobile. It was apparently the first of some recordings made there. Second, that not only Anderson, Barre, Hammond, Barlow (what a drummer, in the 1978-1979 posts I’ll talk more about him) and Evans are the musicians here. Katharine Thulborn (cello), Patrick Halling, Elizabeth Edwards, Rita Eddowes and Bridget Procter (violin) play an important part here, under the guidance, as always, of David Palmer, who was still not listed as a permanent band member at the time. The music, not surprisingly, was composed by the ever-inspired and unstoppable Anderson, with only Martin Barre sharing credits on the title track (at least according to Wikipedia, the album notes don't say so).

Back to the music, then. As I said, there’s a big contrast between the delicately (often) sad moments and the bombastic rocking ones. Sometimes the contrast comes from comparing two songs, sometimes a song changes its mood and tempo in the way only Tull can do. Three are the songs that fit into the second category: the three first songs on the album and that mini-Thick as a Brick that is Baker Street Muse.

The title track, which, as it happens often, is not the best song on the album, is divided on a slow acoustic part featuring Anderson’s voice followed by one of the few moments on this album where Martin Barre can go wild. After a while, the rest of the band decides to join Barre in his rocking frenzy.

In Cold Wind to Valhalla, the change is much more unexpected and the song goes from elegant and solemn to absolutely chaotic. Not to worry, Ian and the boys know how to make chaos sound good. I’ve heard several versions: the original, and a couple of remastered ones. Depending on the version, the string quartet or the chaos are highlighted more.

The lusty Black Satin Dancer (desperate breathing/ tongue nipple-teasing) is also an example of this. Some may argue it’s a bit too pompous, but I have to admit I’ve grown fond of this song over time. Baker Street Muse is a sixteen minute epic composed of five sub-songs (Baker Street Muse, Pig-Me and the Whore, Nice Little Tune, Crash Barrier Waltzer and Mother England Reverie); more than enough time to change the tempo and mood quite a few times.

The other three songs are delightful acoustics. Actually, not really, Grace is kind of pointless, to be honest, it’s a nice little epilogue, and in the remastered version, not even that, as there are more tracks coming. Requiem and One White Duck/ 010 = Nothing at All, on the other hand, are just lovely. The first one is extremely sad but oh so touching; the second is also melancholic in its first half, when the string musicians make their presence noted.

The bonus tracks include two better than average acoustic fillers (Summerday Sands and March the Mad Scientist) and the wonderful Pan Dance, which sounds like a classical dance piece. Many people argue that Bourée is the best Tull instrumental, but with songs like this one, a second thought must be given.

To sum up, here are some conclusions, thrown here in a list-like and not very poetic way: the album is excellent with not a single bad song on it (Grace’s not that good, but it’s only fifty seconds); the string instruments play an important part and their inclusion is definitely a winning move; the contrast between tip-toey acoustic and energetic, sometimes corrosive moments makes Minstrel in the Gallery an album which never gets dull; finally, the general mood is rather melancholic, maybe because of the divorce thing I mentioned before.

By the way, here's a playlist with the whole album, in case you're interested in the rest. I'd put links to all the songs here but I think it may make some devices work too slowly.

As a final note, this was Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond’s final album with the band. Soon after this, he would go back to painting, his first love, and would stop playing the bass forever, according to Ian Anderson’s notes in the remastered edition.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Glenn Cornick: not too old to rock 'n' roll and certainly too young to die

This is going to be a very short post which will basically consist of simple information and not so much of my silly babbling and rambling, because I just listened most of the stuff I’ll talk about so my knowledge about it is not precisely wide. I’m very busy lately so anyway I don’t have time to write a proper post these days. Still, this may be interesting enough for some people.

Glenn Douglas Barnard Cornick was born the 23rd April, 1947, and died a few days ago, the 28th of August. First of all, he played in some minor bands, music that is nowhere to be found these days. He was best known for being the original bassist of Jethro Tull; he played in their first three albums (for more information, click here and here), plus he’s also featured on the album Living in the Past, as some of the songs there are from before he left the band.

Ian Anderson wrote in 2001 for the remastered edition of Benefit: “he had rather grown apart from the rest of us, being more of a party animal than the rest of his book-reading, early-to-bed band-mates and the time came to part company”. I’ve read from somewhere on youtube that they kicked him out of the band because he took drugs. That could be true, as Ian Anderson was always anti-drugs (apart from alcohol and cigarettes, that is). However, I have no real proof of that, so maybe Anderson’s words are an euphemism for that or they really just grew apart and decided to part ways.

After Jethro Tull, Cornick recruited some other musicians: Jon Blackmore (guitar), Graham Williams (lead guitar), John ‘Pugwash’ Weathers (drums) and Gary Pickford Hopkins (guitar, vocals). Together, they formed Glenn Cornick’s Wild Turkey, which shortened its name to Wild Turkey and also changed a couple of its members before the release of their first album.

Battle Hymn was released in 1972. I downloaded it a few days ago and I must say I’m positively surprised. Critics apparently agreed with me (ok, whatever, I agree with them), because the album reviews were good and the band played regularly in front of fairly big audiences (up to twenty thousand people) as support to Black Sabbath. It’s basically rock music, somewhat close to hard rock at times, although my favourite song by far is Dulwich Fox, which almost reminds me of Simon & Garfunkel. Lovely little tune.

After a couple of changes in the lineup, Turkey was released in 1973 but didn’t make much of an impact, so the band disbanded. I personally think it’s a pretty decent album and the band deserved better than an early death because of lack of popularity. A long time later, in the 2000s, the band reunited and recorded a couple of live albums. Ah, nostalgia. I guess they had fun doing that.

The next step in Cornick’s career was joining the German band Karthago: he only recorded one album with them, Rock ‘n’ Roll Testament. Here are a couple of songs from the album:

After that, he formed the band Paris, which recorded two albums, Paris, in 1975, and Big Towne, 2061, in 1976. The following year, the band disbanded and Cornick moved to the United States. As with Karthago and Wild Turkey, it’s not unforgettable stuff but it’s highly enjoyable.

He died in Hilo, Hawaii, on the 28th of August 2014 due to congestive heart failure. He wasn’t too old to rock ‘n’ roll and he was certainly too young to die.

P.S: as always, I end the post with some spam. This is the facebook page for the blog.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Simon & Gafunkel (I): first album

Some time after listening to Paul Simon’s Graceland, my parents decided to play some other cassette tapes during our long car trips. There was one I particularly liked which made me ask my parents something. Their answer confirmed what I already was fairly sure of: that “Simon” from Simon & Garfunkel was indeed Paul Simon.

Graceland was not played in the car as often as before, but I didn’t mind the change back then: true, their sound didn’t have that cool African influence, but listening to the duo sing together was heavenly. In fact, instrumentally speaking, their music is not especially complex, but when you combine two voices in such a perfect way, who gives a… I mean who cares about the instruments. Of course, there’s also the lyrics. Yeah, I usually don’t really pay attention to them, but some of them are beautiful (Kathy’s Song comes to my mind right now, for example).

Simon and Garfunkel had a relatively short but very intense relationship when it comes to music. Personally, their relationship is not that short, as they met in elementary school when they were twelve. In 1955, two years after meeting, they started recording Simon’s original songs as Tom & Jerry, and they even had a minor hit, called Hey, Schoolgirl, which sold about a 100.000 copies. According to what I have read, the Everly Brothers had a big influence on them back then. I say “according to what I read” because although the Everly Brothers do ring a bell, I don’t recall ever listening to them. Perhaps one of these days curiosity will beat me.

The duo disbanded as their next efforts were not successful enough, and they went to separate colleges. By 1963, they both had developed an interest in folk; Simon showed Garfunkel a few of the songs he had written and voilà, the duo released their first album in 1964. The used their real names, and not that Tom & Jerry thing, mind you.

Wednesday Morning, 3 AM contains a few traditional songs rearranged by them: Peggy-O, Go Tell It on the Mountain and the beautiful Benedictus. Some covers of songs written by other artists can also be found. A banjo, probably played by Simon, sounds in Ed McCurdy’s anti war Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream. The Sun is Burning is not an original either, and, finally, there’s a cover of Dylan’s The Times They Are A-Changing.

The rest of the album was written by Simon. I’d like to mention three of those songs. First of all, Bleecker Street, because I can’t find the appropriate words to express how beautiful it is. Then, The Sounds of Silence, probably their best known song. However, some of you may be surprised when you hear this version (the original), as the one that became extremely famous worldwide is on their following album (I’ll talk about that in another post). The Sounds of Silence is much more… well, silent, in this album. Finally, He Was My Brother was dedicated to Andrew Goodman, who was their friend and a classmate of Simon's at Queens College. Andrew Goodman was one of the three civil rights workers murdered in the Mississippi civil rights workers' murders. Members of the Ku Kux Klan killed them because Goodman and the other two men were taking part in a campaign to help give African-Americans the right to vote.

The album’s formula is simple: guitar, bass (which is often not very noticeable) and then banjo on Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream. The duo’s music would soon evolve, but this time, there was no need for more. Their voices alone made, and make, the album stand tall.