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.