…including one thing from a couple of weeks ago…
LONNIE HOLLEY AND ALEXIS TAYLOR, DAVID BYRNE’S MELTDOWN, QEH
It’s tough to be a support act – unfamiliar music played to unfamiliar faces, only a few waiting for their favourite tunes. And Alexis Taylor at first seems an odd pairing with Lonnie Holley, as his new album, Await Barbarians, is all Seventies electric piano-driven singer-songwriterness, albeit with lovely Wurlitzer and restlessly inventive guitar [I missed the guitarist’s name].
What gradually pulls me in, though, is the wonderful drumming of Sarah Jones. On a couple of songs (the ones that seem to be teetering on the edge of turning into Neil Young’s “See the Sky About to Rain”) she sounds just like she’s stepped out of the Hi Records Studio in 1972 – the kit compressed and gated so the hats are as loud as the snare, with that deliberate, almost ponderous, beat. It’s wonderful. Her whole approach is really considered, like she feels herself to be totally at the service of the songs, treading carefully through a set of short, sweet tunes – including a cover of “Don’t it Make My Brown Eyes Blue”, where Alexis floats over the song, aided by great distorted guitar. The one exception to this mood was towards the end, when they played a beast of a thing (called something like “Vortex”) that alternately sounded like a Kurosawa soundtrack and Can at their most driven. This was where Sarah Jones took the lead with a swaggering set of tom rolls allied to a mighty beat that gradually drew the other musicians in and built to a blistering crescendo.
During the interval, a couple of rows down, David Byrne is chatting to Robert Wyatt. The QEH is maybe half full as the lights go down. The crowd greet the main act ecstatically, a woman behind me almost sobbing with delight-slash-hysteria, her hands clasped together in supplication.
Stage left, drumkit, stage right, cello. In the middle behind a bank of keyboards, Lonnie Holley, covered in rings and scarves. I have no idea what to expect. “Here we go, here we go… here we go”, says Lonnie softly, his fingers starting the fluttering, repetitive figures on the piano that will set the style for the next hour. These flurries are given shape and dynamics by the excellent cellist and by Lonnie’s voice, often melodically entwined. The drumming is free but receptive to the nuances of Lonnie’s direction. From what I could make out, most of the spontaneous lyrics are platitudes about mother earth and treating each other well, but it’s the mellow and soulful sound of his voice that catches you. It’s a hypnotic thing, found in, say, Al Green’s or Marvin Gaye’s oeuvre – coming from the Gospel tradition, but played out in a certain kind of soul music as seduction. Whatever, it was like being enveloped in warm bathwater, or more accurately, a flotation tank, with the outside world banished for as long as he performed. Priscilla Frank put it nicely in The Huffington Post: “From the rings on his fingers to the words in his mouth, Lonnie Holley is always at work on the art that is Lonnie Holley. He’s a scavenger and a shaman, a performer, a storyteller and a genuine spirit. Despite the relentless barrage of tragedy Holley faced throughout his life, he salvaged his very being like a discarded object left in a sewage pipe, and turned it into something wildly beautiful.” And that’s what the ebb and flow of his show was – beautiful.
A very nice set of B&W photographs of the soundcheck by Stuart Leech, shot for music website The 405, can be found here.
SMILES OF A SUMMER NIGHT
As we set off for Stockholm for a literary festival in Uppsala, where we’ll read some of Sam Charters’ poetry and celebrate his life, I looked for some performances by Peps Persson, a Swedish bluesman who Sam produced. I loved Peps’ first album, especially his version of “The Sky is Crying”. His voice sounds a little like Dave Van Ronk’s (who Sam also produced) on this terrific track “Samma Lea, Snae Blues”. The long-held note at the beginning of the second verse is beautiful, the band cruise with just the right amount of low down groove, just the right amount of precision, and the drummer’s leap to the cymbal at the end is great.
YABBA, YABBA, HEY
Glad to see my favourite post-rock, math-rock combo Battles are back in the fray. This video catches them playing about-to-be-released song “The Yabba”. Always fun to watch John Stanier drumming, and love the way he comes back in at around the 6:00 mark as the song reaches its chaotic conclusion.
THIS WEEK I STUMBLED UPON… 1
I was idly looking for stuff about how Willie and Al Jackson and Howard Grimes got the “Willie Mitchell drum sound” and, as is the internet’s way, I ended up at Al Green playing “Simply Beautiful”, which does not contravene the Trades Description Act in any way, shape or form. And if you like that, check this – his incredible performance of the Gibb Brothers’ “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart”. I had an mp3 of this performance, but didn’t realise there was video… brilliantly directed, too. The opening verse shot in half-profile; the way Al bears down on “mend”, the enraptured kid in the front row. Oh, to be in that tv studio in New York in 1973…
THIS WEEK I STUMBLED UPON… 2
A Post-MusiCares Conversation with Bill Flanagan
Bill: I noticed that some people who were not at the event read the transcript of your speech and didn’t get that some of it was tongue in cheek. When you said, “why me, lord?” in the room you were laughing and so was the audience. In print, some people thought it was all serious.
Bob: Yeah, well you had to be there.
Bill: How did you select all the performers for the Musicares tribute, was that difficult?
Bob: “It really wasn’t. Most all of them had recorded versions of those songs over the years. Garth had made “Make You Feel My Love” a number one hit. Tom Jones had done an incredible version of “What Good Am I.” Beck had recorded “Leopardskin Pillbox Hat.” Bonnie had recorded astonishing versions of “Standing in the Doorway” and “Million Miles.” So no, it wasn’t that hard. I’d even seen Alanis Morissette sing “Subterranean Homesick Blues” somewhere and I couldn’t believe she got that so right, something I’d never been able to do. Neil of course, he’s been doing “Blowin’ In the Wind” for a while and he does it the way it should be done and that song needed to be there. Some people called up right away and wanted to be on the show, so Don Was found a few songs for them. But mostly, they were all recorded versions that we were hearing except maybe for Aaron Neville’s version of “Shooting Star.” I could always hear him singing that song. He’s recorded other songs of mine, all great performances, but for some reason I kept thinking about “Shooting Star,” something he’s never recorded but I knew that he could. I could always hear him singing it for some reason, even when I wrote it. I mean, what can you say? He’s the most soulful of singers, maybe in all of recorded history. If angels sing, they must sing in that voice. I just think his gift is so great. The man has no flaws, never has. He’s always been one of my favorite singers right from the beginning. “Tell it Like it Is,” that could be my theme song. It’s strange, because he’s the kind of performer that can do your songs better than you, but you can’t do his better than him. Really, you can’t say enough about Aaron Neville. We won’t see his likes again.”
Every so often in a shop or cafe you hear something so out of the blue that you have real difficulty placing just who it is, even though you may know the song well. This happened post-dropoff at the McDonald’s on the edge of Stansted Airport. In between the Calvin Harris and Taylor Swift came Polica, who stood out (to me, anyway) like a sore thumb. It’s always nice to hear things you like, unexpectedly. The same thing happened in Pret recently when Jenny Owen Youngs “Led to the Sea” was playing… If you don’t know Polica, start with “Dark Star”. Two drummers, synth, bass, multi-tracked and staggered vocals and a fabulous horn part. What are you waiting for? For Jenny Owen Youngs, start with “Fuck Was I” (as in “What the fuck was I thinking?”). If you like that, try “Woodcut” (The Age Of Rockets Remix), or “Nighty Night”.
JAZZ, NICE (ACCORDING TO SHORTLIST MAGAZINE)
“Looking to fine-tune your style for autumn? Need a new fashion father figure? No musical genre turned out more sharp Gs than jazz…” Dig the fashionista’s take on Max Roach