Wednesday, 30 April 2014

The Alan Parsons Project (III): reaching their peak with Eye in the Sky

A few weeks ago, I wrote two posts about the British band The Alan Parsons Project (you can read them here and here). I know I’m getting a bit stuck in Jethro Tull/ The Alan Parsons Project/ folk music and I apologize, but hey I’m almost done with this band, it’s only this post and another one. Or two. And sorry about spamming you with the facebook page in every single post, but maybe there you discover more music!


After the amazing The Turn of a Friendly Card,  and after their first “gap year”, 1981, their next album was Eye in the Sky (1982). This is their best known album, but, as saying it’s also their best one in terms of quality would be easy and boring, I’ll say it’s not the case (as I may have mentioned, my favourites are peobably Tales of Mystery and Imagination and The Turn of a Friendly Card), however it’s certainly very good.




Sirius and Eye in the Sky kick off the album. Again, they are two “connected” songs (there’s not a real pause between them): an instrumental intro and a “proper” song. Eye in the Sky is the band’s best known song; Parsons and Woolfson manage again to produce a sweet melody (well, Woolfson’s voice helps a lot) which becomes almost creepy once you listen to the lyrics (the sweetness of the melody makes the whole thing creepier, as in, for example, The Cask ofAmontillado). Fantastic song. However, Sirius, its intro, is also very well known amongst certain people. Two examples: it’s the song that plays when the mighty Chicago Bulls make their appearance in their arena, and it was, for some time, WWF wrestler Richie Steamboat entrance music.

I have a funny memory about Eye in the Sky (the song). A few years ago (eight or so, I'd say), my mother was driving me to high school, and they were playing this song on the radio. By that time, I  knew only The Alan Parsons Project's debut album, which is fairly different in style and which doesn't feature Woolfson's voice. And still, when I heard the song, I thought "holy cow, this has to be The Alan Parsons Project, it's amazing!". Ok, not so funny I guess, but it's what I thought when a year or so later I found this album in a shop and bought it.



This album has one of the best four or five songs of the band (thinking of a list is too hard, to be honest): Silence and I. The seven minute song has an amazing contrast between the slow, languid vocals the outstanding and often cheerful instrumental parts (kudos again to Andrew Powell and his orchestral arrangements). All in all, a true masterpiece.




There are some other pretty good songs in the album, such as Children of the Moon (interesting lyrics) or the dreamy Gemini, but the last real jewel there is the last song, Old and Wise, with its beautiful melancholic melody and its closing sax solo.





The problem with this album is that while the songs I’ve mentioned are excellent, there are others that are just not good enough to make Eye in the Sky an outstanding album. You're Gonna Get Your Fingers Burned is not more than a decent catchy soft rock song, Mammagamma is a good instrumental but probably one of the band’s worst (or less good?) and I’m not a huge fan of Psychobabble or Step by Step.





All in all, a very good album, but after listening to the first couple of songs I have the impression that somehow it could have been even better, pity. Of course, not everyone will agree with this and some will say it's their best CD and all the songs are amazing, but well, this is just my humple opinion.

Bonus track: a funny thing. What happens when some cheesy Italians mix The Alan Parsons Project, Pink Floyd and 80's disco music? Actually this one's not so cheesy, but some others...


Thursday, 24 April 2014

Rare Folk (II): developing their own sound

Last week I began to talk about Rare Folk, specifically about their first three CDs; here I'll talk about the other two. In 2005, they composed the soundtrack for the movie “Chapapote... o no”, which deals with the disaster of the ship Prestige, which sank next to the Galician shore and contaminated the water with its fuel. Not gonna lie, I just found out about that movie, and I can’t find the music anywhere, sorry about that.

They created their own record label around that time, which, added to the more international distribution of their last two albums, has helped them to take part in some of the most important national (meaning Spanish) and international music festivals. Amongst other Spanish festivals, Rare Folk has played in Festival de Ortigueira, Etnosur, Festa da Carballeira, Foliada Folk, Getxo Folk, Festival de Folk de Segovia, Chiclana, Jimena de la Fra., Espantapitas, Estivalia, etc. They’ve also played in international festivals such as Ollin Kan Internacional Festival in Mexico, “South Dublin Arts Festival”, “Feile Orras Festival”, “Fused Festival” and “Sai Festival” in Ireland, "Sons De Verao Festival" in Azores (Portugal), “Al Cultur Encuentros Do Arte” and "A dentro" in Portugal (I mean the mainland), "National Day Fest" in Gibraltar (UK) and "Montelago Celtic Festival" in Italy. Oh, and they’ve played in Mexico’s “Vive Latino” once or twice, I know a Mexican guy who has been there (if you’re reading this, Fidel, cheers to you!) and he said they were great, which is not hard to believe.

Anyway, back to their albums. I think I’ve mentioned at some point that their two last albums are the most “mature” ones and my favourites. Electronic elements are heavily introduced (in contrast with UnimaVerse, where there were just a few sparks here and there) and their music sounds even more original.

Natural Fractals was released in 2008. The opener (which is also the title track) alone is enough to set this album apart from its predecessors, as some parts are heavily electronic (well, “heavily”... certainly heavily compared to what most people would expect when listening to this kind of thing). Pretty funky song, and of course, gotta love the mandolin (well, mangulina, which is how this sort of double mandolin is called). Alegría is another funk-ish song, with an electronic intro and Rare Folk’s well known flute here and there.


Psycoceltic is one of the band’s best songs, if not the best. It starts as a somewhat traditional celtic folk music with that little flute solo, and, before you know it, it has turned into an extremely catchy electronic melody.



Lovers of calm music, do not despair! If you don’t feel like listening to something like the stuff I just mentioned, you should listen to Copérnico, Glissentar, Hedera Helix or the last song of the album, Niñez, which reminds me of some of their older stuff. “Niñez” means “childhood”... maybe a little wink to their early years?


The album has two more songs: Romanescu, which has a very distinctive Balkan feel, and Freestyle Folk, which is a perfect song to jump to in a concert. If I’m not mistaken, this song closed the last Rare Folk concert I went to. Front row, people clapping and jumping... good stuff, yes sir.


Their last album (they’re making a new one now though) is Go, from 2011. Here, Rare Folk follows the path taken in the previous album, but the sound is more homogeneous somewhat, more mature (in Natural Fractals the contrast between electronic and "traditional"" was perhaps too big sometimes). The collaborations by Irish vocalist Cathy Jordan (Dervish) and violinist Dee Armstrong (from Kila, which is by the way another interesting band) help, of course.



If I had to add one or two adjectives to their music (I mean apart from the ones I’ve used at one point or another), they’d be psychedelic and progressive (progressive rock, that is, it kind of reminds me of it sometimes). Go is not really celtic folk anymore. It does have celtic folk influences, and a couple of songs (O Mais Bonito and Siete Puntas) could be really considered at such, but all in all, I don’t think this album can be properly labeled as anything (oh well, freestyle folk, maybe?). Which is not a bad thing at all.


Cathy Jordan sings in Drum and Breakfast (an adaptation of the traditional song As I Roved from the County Cavan) and Autumn (she made the lyrics for this one, in which Dee Armstrong plays the violin).


I can’t really describe Septiembre (if anyone has any suggestions, I’d love to hear them!). Synths, guitar, flute... all of them play an important part here. Again, I’m lost for words at this point, I can only say I’m in love with this song for some reason.



What else... lots of experimentation on Infornorgrafía, a very fast pace in The Sea Shepherd (this song is usually their opener when they play live, and with good reason!) and a very catchy guitar-flute-violin mix in Automatik. I haven’t mentioned a couple of songs, but well, the whole album is outstanding, cohesive and incredibly original, which makes it hard to explain the whole thing with comparisons. I can only recommend it again, and again, and again...

P.S: as a side note, the drummer recently left the band and was replaced.


(Update: as you know, my youtube channel was deleted and I can't find most of these songs on any other channel, sorry)






Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Rare Folk (I): the most original folk band ever is born

It’s time to start talking about Rare Folk, a band that is special for me because, well, I’m usually not a big fan of Spanish bands, but these guys live about 15 km from where I do. This not only has some kind of sentimental value, but also means (and this is the best part) that they play where I live rather often. I’ve been to three of their concerts and hopefully there will be more!

So, what kind of music does Rare Folk do? The answer is not flamenco, which is probably the first pick for stereotype-lovers. They started with celtic folk (the most noticeable instrument in their music being Rubén Díez’s flute), and, according to the critics, they created freestyle folk. I guess someone had to call it something, since it’s not easy to describe at all. It’s basically a mish-mash of folk, jazz, rock, psychedelic stuff, African rhythms and electronic music, but a very original and well executed one. They have three albums in which their music, although mixed with other stuff (as I said above) is predominantly celtic folk, and these are the three albums I’ll write about this time. I’ll save their last two CDs for another post, CDs in which they start flirting with electronic music and their sound becomes more mature (I can’t really explain why certain music is mature or not, it’s just a feeling, you know). Those two CDs are my favourite ones, although traditional folk lovers will prefer the first three albums.

The guy on the left, Mangu, uses a double mandoline, a "manguline" ("mangulina" in Spanish)


Anyway, I’m going too fast. Let’s do it step by step. Beginnings. Rare Folk is actually a relatively old band, as they have a stable lineup since 1992, although their first studio songs were recorded two years later. Their first album is called Rare Folk (I know, I know) and it’s  theoretically close to traditional celtic folk music, although they do add drums and electric guitar and stuff and do it in their own way. Still it’s clear they’re “looking for their sound”, if you know what I mean. But take this CD and compare it to, let’s say, something from The Chieftains. Rare Folk is close to traditional celtic music compared to other albums from the band, but it’s in fact a very original effort. Listen to the guitar in Ballerinah (and in a few other songs actually), the oriental feel in Nunaina, the flamenco influence in Jaipur... it’s not really traditional stuff. You may find a song or two that are closer to real celtic music, like Joe’s Smile. All in all, the album is a breath of fresh air and its originality is much appreciated.




Rare Folk released their second album four years later, in 1998. In my opinion, it follows more or less the path of its predecessor: celtic folk mixed with different styles (especially rock) depending on the song. The best tracks for me are the beautiful and relaxing Nieva en el Carmen, the celtic folk and flamenco mix En la Parra and the rocking Dalle que Non Mira.



The band started the 21st century with UnimaVerse, an album in which we can hear the first glimpses of electronic music in this band, as well as a bigger oriental/African influence, and, of course, some rock elements. The contributions from other musicians are a big plus, as we can see in Djarama, Buba Kif, Sambala or Groove Rare. Songs as Ueli No Rest or the aforementioned Sambala make one want to attend one of their concerts... and well, these songs are much better live (as most music, I guess). It’s the kind of stuff that makes you want to jump and jump, which is what the bassist (cool guy, I have a couple of pics with him, supernice) does throughout the whole concert.




Anyway, I think I’m totally losing my thread, although I think I don’t really have much more to say here. Only that my favourite songs on the album are L’Avionetto (beautiful, beautiful, love the flute) and Panoramix (ok this one's here because I'm a huge accordion fan).




I don't really know what happened this time, when I clicked on "insert video" I couldn't find most videos, so I just copied the link. You'll get there just by clicking anyway. Also, some of the songs I mentioned aren't on youtube, so I'll try to upload them in the next few days.

The facebook page for the blog, in case you want to check out more random songs, discuss music and stuff:

https://www.facebook.com/alittlelightmusic

Bonus track: I mentioned The Chieftains briefly. One day I may write about their album with Van Morrison. I've never been a big fan of Van Morrison, but this album is outstanding.


Thursday, 10 April 2014

Greensleeves

After boring you guys with my Jethro Tull posts, I want to do something slightly different this time. Instead of writing about one or several albums from the same band, I’ll write about a song, in this case one I’ve known since I was a very young kid. I’m not planning to do this often at all, but after listening to a few different versions of Greensleves (and having liked all of them), I got curious about the song and decided to do some quick research. Yes, I basically mean Wikipedia (not only that, I promise. But almost). By the way, I just started an internship so I probably won’t write so often. And of course, the link to the facebook group, as always:


Greensleves is a traditional English folk song (hooray, English folk! For those who like it, check out Fairport Convention), from, apparently, the 16th century, over a ground either of a romanesca or of its slight variant, the pasamezzo antico. It has been found in several late 16th century and 17th century sources, and it is thought to have been composed by Henry VIII for his lover and future queen consort Anne Boleyn, who refused to be his mistress and asked him to divorce his wife.  Henry VIII loved music, had several instruments as well as a nice voice, composed many songs (by the way, Jethro Tull covered his song Pastime With Good Company)... apparently he got obsessed with Anne Boleyn and composed this song.


My Lady Greensleves, as depicted in an 1864 painting by Dante Gabriel Rossetti


However, the song is based on an Italian style of composition (as I mentioned, romanesca) that was unknown in England at the time Henry VIII lived, so it’s more likely to be from the time of Queen Elizabeth I. It was certainly well known in the beginning of the 17th century, as it’s mentioned in a shakesperean play.

There is more than one possible interpretation of the lyrics. The first one says that Lady Green Sleeves was a promiscuous young woman, maybe even a prostitute. Not the kind of thing I would think of after listening to, let’s say, Loreena McKennitt’s version (the link is coming soon!). Apparently, the word “green” had sexual connotations at the time: “a green gown” was a reference to the grass stains that could sometimes be seen on a woman’s dress after engaging in sexual intercourse out of doors.

The lyrics could mean the total opposite though. What if maybe people assumed wrongly that she was sexually promiscuous because of her costume? Her rejection of the singer’s advances rather support this theory. Anyway, I won’t lie, I don’t care that much about the interpretations, although it’s funny that the two of them are totally opposite.

Alas, my love, you do me wrong
To cast me off discourteously.
For I have loved you well and long,
Delighting in your company.

Chorus:
Greensleeves was all my joy
Greensleeves was my delight,
Greensleeves was my heart of gold,
And who but my lady greensleeves.

Your vows you've broken, like my heart,
Oh, why did you so enrapture me?
Now I remain in a world apart
But my heart remains in captivity.

chorus

I have been ready at your hand,
To grant whatever you would crave,
I have both wagered life and land,
Your love and good-will for to have.

chorus

If you intend thus to disdain,
It does the more enrapture me,
And even so, I still remain
A lover in captivity.

chorus

My men were clothed all in green,
And they did ever wait on thee;
All this was gallant to be seen,
And yet thou wouldst not love me.

chorus

Thou couldst desire no earthly thing,
but still thou hadst it readily.
Thy music still to play and sing;
And yet thou wouldst not love me.

chorus

Well, I will pray to God on high,
that thou my constancy mayst see,
And that yet once before I die,
Thou wilt vouchsafe to love me.

chorus

Ah, Greensleeves, now farewell, adieu,
To God I pray to prosper thee,
For I am still thy lover true,
Come once again and love me.

chorus


So, links, links. Countless artists have covered this song, so there’s plenty of Greensleves, have some. The first three ones (and the Cohen one) are the ones I knew before writing this post. The others, well I just came across them. Happy to know Jordi Savall covered this song, he’s a genius, I’ll write about him at some point. Oh, and about Loreena’s version, apparently it was a totally spontaneous thing and wasn’t going to be included in any album, but it was too beautiful...







Leonard Cohen did his own version, with altered lyrics and an additional verse, calling it Leaving Green Sleeves. The song is on his 1974 album New Skin for the Old Ceremony.




I'll try to write a better post next time. I think I'll write about a Spanish band called Rare Folk, you should check them out, extremely original stuff!

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Jethro Tull (III): Good Heavens, now Ian Anderson wants us to think!

Good Heavens, now Ian Anderson wants us to think! Headline from Disc & Music Echo about the album Aqualung. If you know Jethro Tull, you know this album, as it’s the one casual fans know (maybe Thick as a Brick too). It’s an excellent album, although not my favourite. I guess saying Aqualung is the best Tull album would be too mainstream and I’m too hipster for that? Actually I’m not sure I have a favourite, six or seven of their albums are just too good and I can’t choose.


Regarding the lineup, Glenn Cornick, as I said in the last post, had left, and Jeffrey Hammond replaced him. Poor Jeffrey was baptized as Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond by Ian, as his mother’s maiden surname was the same as his father’s. No blood bonds between them, mind you. Also, John Evan couldn’t resist it and became a permanent member of the band.

This album may not be as diverse as Stand Up, but it still combines very rocking songs with sweet and soft two-minute “quickies”. Although perhaps the real twists are inside the songs, and not from song to song, Aqualung and My God being good examples of this.

The lyrics... I’ve mentioned a couple of times I usually don’t care much about them, right? However, this album, particularly the second half, has some very interesting ones... I’ll get there a bit later.



So, first song, title track, probably best known song the band has ever produced. And still my Tull-hipster side doesn’t allow it to be my favourite. Aqualung (I mean the character, not the song) is a homeless paedophile. Sweet, huh? The idea came to Anderson thanks to some photographs his then-wife Jennie took of homeless people on the Thames Embankment. A man in particular caught the interest of the couple, who wrote this song together. It’s actually the only song of the album that doesn’t features lyrics written in their entirety by Ian Anderson.

Best part of the song? The solo. Yes, the guitar solo is simply awesome, I think it’s the 25th best guitar solo ever according to the magazine Rolling Stone. Not that I care much about what those guys say, I disagree with most of the stuff I’ve read there (haven’t really read much from them). But this particular solo is great. I’ve read somewhere that Martin Barre recorded a few attempts for it but it was finally the first one that made it into the song. There’s a tiny moment when Martin stops playing and apparently it was to wave his hand at Jimmy Page, whom he had just seen.

The rest of the song is pretty good, and I love the changes in the tempo and the mood (slow stard- slow but kind of lighter- faster- awesome solo- back to the slow start). However, there’s quite a big bunch of Tull songs I like more than this one. Anyway, without further ado, here’s the song, for those who don’t know it:



Then comes Cross-Eyed Mary, a song about a schoolgirl prostitute. Sweet stuff again. Aqualung has a little “cameo” in the song, by the way. The track starts with a very Tullish intro (can’t think of a better way to describe it), a wavy flute melody accompanied by Evan’s mellotrons that slowly turns into a proper rock song with a very catchy riff.



After the first quickie of the album (Cheap Day Return) and Mother Goose (a filler, but in this album even fillers are very good) comes the second quickie, a beautiful love song, a proper love song, not one of these cheap I’m-horny-for-you songs, dammit. Wond’ring Aloud sounds almost weird compared to the thematic of so many other Tull songs, but oh it’s so sweet.



After the second filler, Up to Me (again a good song), it’s time for serious stuff. This album deals with God and religion, but it’s not until My God where this really happens. Amazing song, both instrumentally and lyrically. Ian Anderson wastes no time criticizing the Church (well, at least the English Church... “the bloody Church of England”) and people’s hypocrisy (People what have you done/ Locked Him in His golden cage/ Made Him bend to your religion/ Him resurrected from the grave... brilliant). Lyrics like these made the album be censored for a little while in Spain, which had a dictatorship at the time. If I’m not mistaken, there were a couple of tracks that didn’t even make it then, I’m not sure which ones, though.

Musically, the song’s great too, as I said. It starts slowly, gloomily, darkly, and then, before you know it, it has turned into some kind of hard rock. But when you’re slowly assimilating it, Ian Anderson has gone wild with the flute and is spitting sounds like a madman while some strange Russian choirs are heard in the background. Finally, back to rocking hard. It’s a true work of art.



The next song is Hymn 43 (ah, thank God John Evan was there!), again talking about the hypocrisy of organized religion (Oh Father high in Heaven/ Smile down upon Your son/ Who’s busy with his money games/ His women and his gun). Very catchy indeed.



Then comes the last quickie, Slipstream, which I don’t really care much about to be honest, it’s more like a bridge between the previous song and Locomotive Breath, maybe the best known Jethro Tull song after Aqualung. There are a few things to say about this song. First of all, lyrics. They talk about an unavoidable train wreck, which is in fact the portrayal of a man’s life falling apart. There are few covers; I’ve only heard the one by W.A.S.P., and I didn’t really like it much.

A funny thing happened with this song. Ian Anderson wasn’t really being able to communicate his musical ideas about the song to the rest of the band, so he had to record, apart from his usual flute and vocal parts, some bass drum, hi-hat, acoustic guitar and electric guitar, and then John Evan did the piano parts and Bunker and Barre finished the drums and guitar parts. In conclusion, most of the parts of the song were recorded separately, being put together with overdubs.

The bluesy piano intro is great, and some live versions feature an explosive combination of Evan’s piano and Barre’s guitar. Also, Ian’s flute solo is one of his best known. Killer song, it usually ends the band’s concerts. The studio version is cool but some live versions are seriously too good, so here's one of the second (plus a nice John Evan piano almost-solo plus some cool instrumental stuff).
.


The last song is Wind Up, where Evan does some more nice piano work. Anderson criticizes his religious education here. Great lyrics again (So I asked this God a question/ And by way of firm reply/ He said "I'm not the kind you have to wind up on Sundays”/ So to my old headmaster (and to anyone who cares)/ Before I'm through I'd like to say my prayers/  "I don't believe you: you got the whole damn thing all wrong/  He's not the kind you have to wind up on Sundays.").

Again, there are some twists inside the song, which starts in a very peaceful way and then turns into a catchy rocker, as a few other songs in this album. All in all, an excellent recording, and I think that after writing all this, it’s time to give Aqualung another well-deserved listen.


Finally, as I write in every post, there's this little facebook group for this blog with almost nobody in it, but hey it'd be nice to discuss music there. I write the links for all posts and some random songs from time to time.


Bonus track: ok I just happened to find another Locomotive Breath cover. It's impossible to beat the original, but it's not bad either.




There's one last thing I'd like to say. I made a pretty big mistake in Ian Anderson's solo music post. I wrote Andrea Griminelli is dead, and well, he's not. Somebody (thanks!) pointed it out a few days ago. So, if you see any mistakes, I apologize in advance, and please let me know so I can correct them.