Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Jethro Tull (II): the 70s bring a pianist

After thinking about several bands I could write some stuff about, I decided I’ll rack my brains some other day. I’ll just write about the next Jethro Tull album this time. The band started the 70s with Benefit (1970) and their best known album, Aqualung (1971), which actually would make this post a bit too long, soooo... I'll leave it for next week. Rather short post this week, again.
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Benefit is the first album in which the band has a proper pianist. Sure, Ian Anderson did play some piano in the previous album, but always very simple stuff. John Evan, who had previously played with Anderson in The John Evan Band, made it clear that he would only work with Tull for one or two years at the most. Apparently he liked it there quite a lot, because he stayed with the band for ten years, and when he left, it was in “strange” circumstances (I’ll talk about that when the time comes). Evan was famous for his outfit in concerts: white suit, yellow shirt underneath and pink-and-yellow polka dot tie. Not the stuff one would wear for a funeral, I guess. Because of the suit, Anderson would refer to Evan as "everyone's favourite ice cream salesman" during band introductions in concerts. Evan would do lots of theatrics during concerts and he certainly had a lot of onstage presence, but apparently once he left his piano, he was an extremely introverted and shy man.



It was also the last album for bassist Glenn Cornick. Apparently, he was “invited” to leave the band by Tull manager Terry Ellis. Apparently, while the other band members were, in Anderson’s words, “book-reading, early-to-bed”, Cornick was more of a party animal, so he was growing apart from the rest of the band. A pity, because the guy was extremely talented. It’s funny, though, how many musicians would take drugs around that time, or at least that’s pretty much the stereotype you’ll hear, while Tull members (except Cornick? And later John Glascock was apparently a party animal too) were quiet people who were totally anti-drugs (well, Ian Anderson did smoke like a freaking chimney back then). Actually Anderson didn’t like hippies, as you can read in the answer of the second question of this interview

About the album... it is loved by die-hard Tull fans, I think mostly by people who were into their 70s stuff. Oh, one of Martin Barre’s favourite albums too. I do like it, but after the colourfulness of its predecessor Stand Up, it’s just kind of dull sometimes. Too gloomy, too thick, I don't really know how to express it. In words of Ian Anderson, his songwriting became “harder, slightly darker”, maybe because of the “growing cynicism” resulting from his “disenchantment with the music industry and the commercial pressures coming from the record companies”.

The funny thing is that I rarely listen to the album as a whole, because of the reasons I just stated above, but half of the songs are remarkable. The backward-recorded flute sounds amazing in With You There to Help Me, and Nothing to Say and To Cry You a Song are two almost hard-rock tunes (interestingly enough, although Tull’s music is usually rather “soft”, quite a few heavy metal bands have covered some of their songs).




For Michael Collins, Jeffrey and Me  (the third "Jeffrey song") and Inside, on the other hand, are much softer; the second one particularly puts me in a very good mood. Sossity, You’re a Woman is also acoustic, but, as most of the album, very gloomy.




              


Some bonus tracks were added in the remastered edition, songs that were recorded, I think, a few weeks before the rest of the album. They lighten up the whole thing quite a lot. Teacher is one of Tull’s catchiest songs, and Just Trying to Be is beautiful in some delicate sort of way. The latter would be included in the Living in the Past album.




Bonus track: John Evan was an extremely talented pianist with a classical music background, and here's good proof (around 5.15 or so).


Oh, and it'd be cool if you joined this little facebook group and suggest music and stuff:

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Angelo Branduardi and his confessions

Hi everyone, this is another busy week for me, and as I still want to keep posting stuff once a week, I’ll write about just one album, an album I discovered about two weeks ago. Pop-ish music, but with orchestral arrangements (folk-pop, i guess? Whatever, I’ve always found categorizing music extremely hard and kind of useless). Not cheesy crap ones, I mean proper orchestral arrangements, seriously delightful to the ear. As always, allow me to spam you a tiny bit by writing the link to the blog's facebook group, where I usually post random songs as well as what I write here.


I had heard about Angelo Branduardi long ago, as I had a multi-artist CD  with sung versions of Federico García Lorca poems from the book Poeta en Nueva York (Poet in New York) and one of the poems was sung by Branduardi. However, I never paid attention to him until I saw his music on http://folkyourself.blogspot.com, and that’s when I decided to download a few of his CDs (he has more), Confesiones de un Malandrín and the seven albums of the Futuro Antico series (medieval and Renaissance songs covered by Branduardi with the help of an orchestra arranged by Renato Serio). In this post, I’ll talk about the first.



A few things about Branduardi before getting into business. He was born near Milan in 1950, and when he was very young he started playing the violin. He got a lung disease caused by his bad position while holding the violin, so he started playing the guitar, which helped him overcome his shyness. He also plays the piano.
His music is often based on oriental fables, old poems, popular British legends, myths, etc. His wife Luisa Zappa has written the lyrics for many of his songs. And well, what can I say, I’ve heard a few Italians sing in Spanish and I just haven’t liked them at all, cheap cheesy pop in my opinion. Branduardi is different, very different.

Confesiones de un Malandrín, the CD I’ll briefly discuss today, came out in 1993. The title comes from Confessioni di un Malandrino, a song Branduardi composed when he was eighteen years old and which remains one of his best known compositions. It’s based on a poem from Sergei Yesenin (no, I didn’t know about this Russian poet before writing about Branduardi). In this CD, he sings this song in Spanish.



The album has three parts when it comes to orchestral arrangements. The first one has quite a lot of them, very good ones, as I said.  First song, Puede Hacerse, is a beautiful hymn to life, to all the things we can do and all the emotions we can experiment. It’s sung in Spanish, as most songs in the album (some others are sung in Italian).



The other song I seriously love in this first part of the album is La Pulga de Agua, another song he composed in Italian and translated to Spanish here. Soft, sweet voice and arrangements, both tiptoeing playingly through the whole song; some delightful four and a half minutes that put me in an excellent mood every single time.


The second part of the album pretty much forgets about the orchestra thing, but it’s still very nice. Guitar, drums, harmonica, accordion and piano, amongst other instruments, can be heard in this pop part of the album, which is mostly sung in Italian.





The third part gets a bit folky again, but not as much as the beginning of the album. Also, Branduardi switches back to Spanish. This part shines with the majestic and classical sounding Baile en Fa Menor (again, he translates it from Italian) and closes with the sensual Señora.



This is it for today. As I said, a short post. I haven’t said a great deal about Branduardi or the album itself, but at least I hope some of you have enjoyed these songs and have found out about a new artist.

By the way, you can download the whole CD at folkyourself.blogspot.com!




Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Alan Stivell (I): early years of the celtic harp genius

I don’t want to write everything about JethroTull and The Alan Parsons Project at once, so this time I’ll write about a man who has become one of my favourite folk musicians in the last couple of years. Alan Stivell (born Alain Cochevelou) revived interest in the Celtic harp in the early 70s; however, he also plays other instruments (bombard, great highland bagpipe, tin whistle, and synthesizer). Also, he sings in Breton, English and French, often using more than one language in the same song. I’m a big fan of his early work (his 60s album and most of his stuff from the early 70s), but after that he has some disappointing albums, so I think I’ll write a couple of posts about him, ignoring the albums I’m not really into or I’ve barely listened to. As always, here's the link to the blog's facebook, where I write the link to all the post and songs from other bands for curious people: https://www.facebook.com/alittlelightmusic


Although he was born in the French region of Auvergne, his father was Breton, and he started playing the celtic harp at the age of nine. The guy didn’t waste much time, as his first recording came out when he was sixteen, and his first proper album came out in 1964, when he was twenty years old. Telenn geltiek - Harpe celtique is a bunch of Breton, Irish and Scottish traditional songs. I’ve always loved the sound of the celtic harp, which is what Stivell plays here, but I find this stuff more fitting as background music while I’m doing something else. He plays well, very expressively, and the music is extremely relaxing, certainly a good debut.



Stivell would need six more years to release his second album, but it was worth the wait! Reflets is Stivell’s debut as a singer, and it’s pretty clear his voice is up to the task. Again, it’s a bunch of traditional rearranged songs: a couple of instrumentals, one song in English, one in French and the rest in Breton. Also, more instruments are introduced to us, which makes the whole thing much less repetitive. Some songs can’t be found on youtube so I think I’m uploading the whole album, hopefully there won’t be copyright issues. I find it impossible to highlight one or two songs though, as the album is one of his best.

The first real jewel in the album is Marig ar Pollanton. Stivell’s voice sounds sweet here, and it leaves you with a smile on your face even though the song is kind of nostalgic too. Also, the combination of harmonica and harp is very nice. The song is about a twenty year old girl that falls in love with a prisoner and turns down all the marriage proposals she gets (I just read that in the net, the song’s in Breton so I actually had no clue).


Song ar Christr (cider song) has very nice mixed choirs. Sally Free and Easy is an arrangement of an autobiographical song by Cyril Tawnez, an English seaman who was also a folk musician, about a young girl who cheated on him while he was sailing. Stivell sings this song only accompanied by his harp. The two “suites” are the instrumentals in the album, with Suite des Montagnes (second song of the album) being particularly cool with its duet between flutes and harp.


The title track is nice, by the way, but the real stars are other songs. The three last ones, for example, deserve a few lines. Silvestrig is a traditional Breton song from the nineteenth century that talks about a father who cries for the departure to the army of his son Sylvestre. The father tries to convince Sylvestre not to go and he even tries to bribe his captain into letting him go, unsuccessfully. Sylvestre tries to comfort his father telling him he’ll be all right, but he finally dies while coming back home. Stivell’s voice and harp make the song gloomy yet beautiful.




Tenval an Deiz starts with Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s Te Deum... ok, if you don’t really know what I’m talking about, it’s  the song you can always hear in Eurovision (not that I’m a fan of it...). Finally, Je Suis Né Au Milieu de la Mer is an adaptation of a Breton poem by Yann-Ber Kalloc’h. Stivell’s harp sounds hypnotic here and reminds me of sea waves slowly making their way to the coast.



As you can see, although Stivell uses a wider variety of instruments than in his first album (well, doing otherwise was pretty much impossible), the harp is still featured heavily. I honestly consider it an excellent album and I do listen to it very often. Reflets, by the way, is considered the first “celtic pop” album. I wouldn’t exactly call it that way, but it’s not something that really bothers me.

I’ll try to make this post a bit shorter than others which were perhaps too long, so I’ll just mention a couple of things about Stivell’s next album, Concert à l’Olympia, a live album from 1972. I don’t usually care much for live albums, and being honest, I don’t listen to this one very often, but its significance is huge, as it definitely put Stivell and Breton music on the cultural map, selling a million and a half copies in its first year, which, considering the year and the music style is quite a lot. Moreover, seven million people listened to the live performance on the radio. It’s comprised of a first part which is rather acoustic folk and a second one which is electric folk.

The best known song is probably Tri Martolod, a song initially about three mariners who sail who sail to Newfoundland and which later evolves into a dialogue between the narrator and a maid he loves. Catchy stuff.


I’d also like to highlight The King of the Fairies, a delightful Irish reel that is progressively accelerated here. The kind of stuff that makes your hair stand on end when you’re in a pub.



And finally, Suite Sudarmoricaine. It’s not only supercatchy, but its lyrics are hilarious. I actually didn’t expect them to be like that at all, rather something more epic, considering the beginning of the song. It’s about a guy who has sex with a stranger, gets some kind of disease, and has his... thing, ahem, chopped off. But it doesn’t end there. A huge dog eats it and dies. I promise I'm not trolling anyone. More pub material, I guess.



If anyone’s wondering why I didn’t send links with proper videos... well, there are a few, but while I consider Alan Stivell an amazing musician, the guy has the worst stage presence ever. Seriously. Watching (and I stress: watching) him play his music reminds me of some Steven Seagal movie. Stivell doesn't move a muscle, he may as well be a statue with some music tool playing inside.

Ok, this is it more or less. Unless some other Stivell CD suddenly gets me hooked, the next and last Stivell post will be about his next two albums (the unmatchable Chemins de Terre and E Langonned) and 1995’s Brian Boru.

Bonus track: ok, here’s something funny. Please don’t take this seriously. I just mentioned Steven Seagal... well, apparently the guy makes music. I actually listened to his CD Songs from the Crystal Cave, and ok, even if I almost killed myself in the end, it wasn’t as bad as I expected. I’m obviously no fan though, but I’d say his movies are worse! If you feel curious... here you are. And yes, the album cover, which features Seagal’s only facial expression seen so far, is hilarious.











Thursday, 6 March 2014

Jethro Tull (I): the 60s

I did my best. Really. I tried to write about other bands, to avoid this moment, because I knew I’d get overintense. But I can’t postpone it anymore. It’s time to start talking about Jethro Tull, which has been my favourite band for around ten years. There’s a lot to say, because they have about two dozen albums and because I’ll probably write lots of little anecdotes I’ve read over the years, so I guess I’ll need a bunch of posts. By the way, I was actually going to write about the recently deceased Paco de Lucía, but if I write something about him, I want to write a good post, and not something I spend half an hour on, and well I’m a bit busy lately. Oh, facebook link for this blog, in case you're interested:

https://www.facebook.com/alittlelightmusic


Many people make a very big mistake when they talk about Jethro Tull, saying it’s a “rock” band, or a “progressive rock” band. No mister, no miss, not at all, Mr Anderson and the boys are not so simple as to play prog rock for over forty years, no disrespect to prog rock bands. Tull actually started as a blues/jazz band (kind of), only to change and change and keep changing and evolving. Many influences can be heard... classical music, folk, hard rock, electronic-ish (ok, those were dark times for the band), blues and jazz as I just said... but most times their sound is just unique, timeless... screw the current trends and let’s do what we want, I guess they (or he- Ian Anderson) usually thought. I could give you the links of fifteen Tull songs and, for those who don’t know the band, you’d probably think it’s a different band for each song.

second line-up:  left to right, Anderson, Cornick, Barre and Bunker
Some Tull members had already played together in some bands in the early-middle sixties... The John Evan Smash had, amongst other members, Ian Anderson, John Evan and Jeffrey Hammond and Barriemore Barlow. Jethro Tull, however, wasn’t really formed until 1967, with Anderson, Glenn Cornick (who had replaced Hammond), blues guitarist Mick Abrahams and drummer Clive Bunker. They actually kept changing the band’s name until, after choosing “Jethro Tull” as their name (after the 18th century agriculturist), a club manager liked them enough to tell them to come play again. Still, their "official" name in their first single is "Jethro Toe". A collectors item for some!

It was around that time when something much more important than it could seem in the first place happened. Ian Anderson, flautist, singer, guitarist, showman of Jethro Tull, gave up theguitar and took up the flute. The reason? He thought he’d never be as good as Eric Clapton. In a 2002 interview, Anderson stated the following: "I didn't want to be just another third-rate guitar player who sounded like a bunch of other third-rate guitar players. I wanted to do something that was a bit more idiosyncratic, hence the switch to another instrument. When Jethro Tull began, I think I'd been playing the flute for about two weeks. It was a quick learning curve...literally every night I walked onstage was a flute lesson." Anderson became a superb flute player, but more than once he’s also proved he’s a fantastic acoustic guitar player.

Ok, I could keep writing and writing for quite a while, but I guess it’s time to start with their first album, isn’t it? This Was had a budget of 1200 pounds and came out in 1968 and... well, it’s not really Jethro Tull, rather Jethro Tull Blues Band. There is one big reason for this: Mick Abrahams. Or Martin Barre not being there, whatever you want to call it. While Barre was Tull guitarist since the second album, Stand Up, the bluesy Abrahams was an important part of Jethro Tull in 1968.

The thing is that, as I said, Abrahams was a blues enthusiast, and he wrote, co-wrote or arranged (oh, and sang in) several of the songs in the album. Anderson, on the other hand, wanted to expand the band’s horizons, and, as a result, Abrahams left the band. He’s a pretty good guitarist, but Martin Barre’s great, so I don’t really regret what happened. Concerning the album, it’s not amongst my favourites, although it does have some good songs. Tull did their own version of Roland Kirk’s Serenade to a Cuckoo, in which Anderson shows us some of his first steps with the flute. Actually this is the first song he learned to play with the flute!


Also, in this CD we can find one of the three songs written for Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond, who would later be Tull’s bass player for a while, A Song for Jeffrey. Someday the Sun Won’t Shine for You is a nice bluesy song, although I prefer the cover from the live album A Little Light Music (now you know where this blog’s name comes from!). In Beggar’s Farm, we hear one of Ian’s flute games. He looked like a madman back then, with his beard, long hair and ragged coat, standing one-legged while playing his flute in that very characteristic way that has made him so famous.

Lots of harmonica, flute and a very bluesy guitar... all in all, it’s not a bad start, but it’s a great thing the band didn’t get stuck there. Abrahams, who, as I said, left the band, formed Blodwyn Pig afterwards.




Martin Barre 
Time to move on, a new era was dawning! For about a week, Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi would be Abraham’s replacement on guitar. But finally it was Martin Barre who joined the band after their first album. He has played (or rather played, as he has apparently left) in every Tull album ever since (well, not on Thick as a Brick 2, which is officially a Ian Anderson solo effort but is more of a Tull CD for me). Barre is an extremely underrated guitarist, one of those guys who proves that you don’t have to be extra fast to be a guitar genius. Oh, and he’s occasionally played the flute with Tull (and in his solo albums) too. You can see in interviews that he’s a rather shy guy. In fact, he was so nervous in his first audition that he could hardly play at all, and then showed up for a second audition without an amplifier or a cord to connect his guitar to another amp.

Stand Up is probably not amongst my top 3 Jethro Tull albums. Maybe (not sure) not even amongst my top 5. And yet it is an outstanding album. These guys are just too good! This album alone has more variety when it comes to musical styles than many bands in their whole career. There are still blues elements, mainly in the opener, A New Day Yesterday, a good example of the lustiness of Ian Anderson in the early years of Jethro Tull. Jeffrey Goes to Leicester Square, the second "Jeffrey song", has elements of English folk. Bourée, one of the band's most famous songs, is a jazzy adaptation of Bach's Bourrée in E Minor. It includes a good bass solo by Glenn Cornick and a wonderful display of Anderson's ability with the flute (which would still get much better). The band has made a few versions of this song, mixing it with other Bach songs.








The great thing about this album is that every song is different from the others. Back to the Family has a mindblowing final minute and a half or so, great flute and guitar solos. We Used to Know is... hmmmm... I guess everybody here knows Hotel California, right? Well, this Tull song was made seven years earlier. I’m not saying it’s a total rip-off, but for me it was the first time two songs were “too similar”. I knew HC first, and when I listened to Stand Up the first time, I was like, “holy cow this sounds exactly like Hotel California!”. Tull’s song is not as catchy, but I prefer Ian Anderson’s voice and Martin Barre’s guitar. Also, I couldn’t help losing a little bit of respect for Hotel California when I saw the similarities between the two songs (I still like it a lot though).




Reasons for Waiting is a really sweet song in which we can hear orchestral arrangements by David Palmer (who would later –after leaving the band- become Dee Palmer). Ian Anderson songwriting skills are heavily underrated. The guy’s a poet. Plus, he could talk about anything in his songs. Love songs (not many), songs about religion, politics, folk stories, anything.

What a sight for my eyes to see you in sleep.
Could've startled the sunrise hearing you weep.
You're not seen, you're not heard
but I stand by my word.
Came a thousand miles
just to catch you while you're smiling.

What a day for laughter and walking at night.
Me following after, your hand holding tight.
And the memory stays clear with the song that you hear.
If I can but make the words awake the feeling.

What a reason for waiting and dreaming of dreams.
So here's hoping you've faith in impossible schemes,
that are born in the sigh of the wind blowing by
while the dimming light brings the end to a night of loving.



Finally, Fat Man has an African-ish touch which heavily contrasts with the rest of the album. Well, most songs here do that. Contrast, I mean. The lyrics are so funny and yet sometimes so true!

Don't want to be a fat man,
People would think that I was
Just good fun.
Would rather be a thin man,
I am so glad to go on being one.
Too much to carry around with you,
No chance of finding a woman who
Will love you in the morning and all the night time too.

Don't want to be a fat man,
Have not the patience to ignore all that.
Hate to admit to myself half of my problems
Came from being fat.
Won't waste my time feeling sorry for him,
I seen the other side to being thin.
Roll us both down a mountain
And I'm sure the fat man would win.



Even the bonus tracks are good! Listen to this one, 17:



Stand Up is, for many people, the best Jethro Tull album, and one of Ian Anderson's Tull favourites. It was certainly one of their highest selling ones (and it got to number 1 in the UK charts), and even if there are a few I like more, it amazes me how, after just one year of playing together, they (well, basically Ian) could put together such a diverse bunch of songs in such a skilled way. Great bass, great guitar, great flute, great drums... there was still no pianist in the band (John Evan would join shortly after), so Ian Anderon himself played the piano the few times the music required it.

There are so many things I want to say about this band, and well my writing is not up to my thoughts! I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m forgetting a few interesting stories from these early years, but I think this’ll have to do. Next Tull post (which won’t necessary be the next blog post) will be about Benefit and Aqualung.

Bonus track: this song is not in any Tull CD (unless it’s in some kind of compilation). I think it’s from the Abrahams era. And the title is just so right!



Another bonus track: Bach's Bourree! If it's Bach, it's good.