Friday, June 3rd

ONE BOBBY CHARLES ROLLS ON AT THE EE STORE!

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TWO WE WATCH VICTORIA
Shot in one real-time take, be immersed in a young Spanish woman’s night out gone wrong. It’s breathless and brutal and has a terrific score by Nils Frahm. “We were given unusual creative freedom by approaching the movie together with [director] Sebastian Schipper, who was keeping the production and direction to one single team. The score was recorded in a special location, the former GDR broadcasting production facilities that today host Studio P4. We simply put a big screen in the middle of the room, filled it with microphones and instruments, set the movie on loop and kept improvising on top of it together – my good friends and I.” Frahm had wondered if such a unique film even needed music, but his score becomes a compelling part of the whole experience. Afterwards, we sat asking each other questions – how did the cinematographer avoid getting any of the crew in shot? how scripted was the dialogue? would a traffic jam stop them reaching their next set of marks? I’d watch it again tomorrow.

THREE PAY DONNIE HERRON HIS DUES, REVIEWERS!
I don’t think I’ve seen more than a cursory mention of Donnie Herron in the Fallen Angels Dylan album reviews (or, for that matter, in those for Shadows in the Night) but his pedal steel playing on both records takes the instrument in new orchestral directions. It’s never over-sweet or brash – it’s luscious, swooning and widescreen. Too often the discussion of Dylan centres on his voice (or lyrics) to the exclusion of truckloads of great, inspired musicianship. I was pointed to this great article by legendary engineer Al Schmitt on the recording of Shadows in the Night, where he talks eloquently about the process of recording live: “At one point Schmitt did suggest some kind of mixing process, but Dylan had other ideas. “We wanted everything to sound like it was done at the same time in the same room,” the engineer recalls. “I rode the fader on his vocals, and I panned everything pretty much as it was in the room, apart from the electric guitar, which I panned to the left, opposite the pedal steel. I placed the bass where I felt it should be, which was not too loud. At end of the session we listened back to the final takes, and that was it. Dylan decided which take of each song he liked best, and that one would immediately be locked as the master. When I mentioned mixing Dylan said: ‘No, I love the way this sounds.’  …It really was just the way records were made in the old days! In those days you could not edit or fix things, and so you had to do the take when things were emotionally right. And you chose the take that had the feel on it. This is why so many records from back then are so much more emotional and touch you so much more deeply. Today everything is perfect, and in many places we have taken the emotions out of records.”

FOUR FOUND IN A FLEA MARKET, RIGHT UP CALUM*’S STREET…

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A box of 16 singles from the 50s/60s. Ranging from the Red Army to Mahalia Jackson. Mine for 10 Euros. *Calum blogs about sound, provocatively, at likeahammerinthesink.

FIVE IN A DRESS MADE FROM CURTAINS!
I liked the excellently psychedelic video for Adele’s “Send My Love (To Your New Lover)”. Familiar ground lyrically, of course, but a real earworm of a tune. Like the song, Patrick Daughters’ video doesn’t really build or go anywhere, but it’s a pleasant Bollywood-esqe ride. And a strong look, no?

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EXTRA ON THE MUSIC PLAYER
In a recent interview, Elvis Costello said that Prince was right about everything to do with the rights of artists, the music industry and the Internet. But Melanie Safka got there first… “Well you know that I’m not a gambler / But I’m being gambled on / They put in a nickel and I sing a little song / They’re only putting in a nickel and / They want a dollar song…”

Monday, December 21st

Sorry, I forgot the link to Henry “Red” Allen’s red-hot performance. It is now added…

VISUAL OF THE WEEK
This video, shot by Eric Feigenbaum, for Charles Bradley singing “Changes”.

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EVEN THE SILENCES SOUND EXPENSIVE…
I was trying to put my finger on why Adele’s “Hello” doesn’t convince, and then Clive James in The Guardian did it for me: “It could be said that Adele is Mama Cass born again, but she needs a song to match her voice. I have listened several times to her smash hit, “Hello”. I was hoping that the shapely beauty of her opening phrase would hook me for what remains of my forever. But the opening phrase never really arrives. The whole number is one of those big ballads in which the singer whispers her way through a verse section that hasn’t got a melody and then goes soaring and bellowing into a chorus section that hasn’t got a melody either. The virtuosity leaves you yawning with admiration. Whitney Houston drove herself bonkers yelling stuff like that, and Celine Dion at full volume puts up such a barrage that she might be part of Canada’s anti-missile defence system. But Adele still has time for better things.”

BOBCAT BIRTHDAY!
Through the generosity and efforts of my loved ones I was totally surprised this week by the arrival of The Holy Grail. Nothing to do with Dan Brown – it was the 18-CD Collectors Edition of Vol 12 of The Bootleg Series. It’s an extraordinary object, with facsimile 7-inch vinyl, books of essays and ephemera, original filmstrip of a release print of Don’t Look Back, and more Dylan than you can shake a stick at.

I’ve barely started on the box set itself, as Columbia decided that – if you’d bought it – they’d give you the Christmas gift of all Dylan’s live shows from February to December 1965. So positive tsunami of songbytes streamed down to my mac. Of note so far: 1) the erroneous iTunes info that the Royal Albert Hall is in Manchester (!). 2) the chance to play “Compare the Drummer!” as Forest Hills and the Hollywood Bowl have Levon Helm (with Harvey Brooks on bass), the Berkeley Community Theatre has Bobby Gregg, and the previously issued 1966 UK tour has Mickey Jones. Me, I love the sledgehammer that was Mickey, pushing and goading both band and singer onto ever more fantastic heights. 3) the chance to hear “Positively 4th Street” played live in fairly decent audio at Berkeley Community Theatre with Bobby Gregg on drums. 4) as far as I know, the only acoustic version that exists of “Tombstone Blues” – feeling like a cousin to “It’s Alright, Ma” – recorded live at the Contemporary Songs Workshop at the ’65 Newport Folk Festival. The audience are so hip that they actually laugh in all the right places.

I WISH I HAD MORE RIVER…
River was the most intriguing detfic of the year, as visually striking as London Spy, only way, way better (coherent, grounded, not in love with itself, didn’t filtch an ending from Thelma & Louise). River’s epicentre was a powerful Zapruder-like sequence of the shooting that triggers the story – endlessly replayed in an attempt to discern any clues hidden within it. Its co-star, the excellent Nicola Walker, was asked by The Guardian’s Stuart Heritage if she has a clause in her contracts that she has to sing in all her shows (she sings in both River and Unforgotten, the other policier that she was the lead in, most memorably Tina Charles’ “You Make Me Feel Like Dancin’”):
“Yeah, that’s just what I do now. I turn up and I say: It’s very important that I sing 1970s disco hits. Wasn’t that weird? Things like that, you don’t really think about when you’re doing the job, and then they both come out together. I’m not a singer, but I enjoyed it because Stellan (Skarsgård)– even though he was in Mamma Mia – makes a great deal of the fact that he’s not a singer. He’s very good at making you feel like you can do anything.”

RED ROCKS!
One of the things I most enjoy about writing Five Things is the chance discoveries made when I’m checking spellings or dates. You always learn something new, or find some compelling performance. I was sent a scan of a Christmas card that trumpeter Henry “Red” Allen sent years ago, by Tony Standish, an Australian book seller and old friend of the family. And, as is the way of these things, came across this amazing performance from a 1964 Jazz625 with Alex Welsh’s band. Henry starts by listing great New Orleans musicians over a comping piano and walking bass – “I was there with ’em, I couldn’t miss ’em, my father had the band, Henry Allen Snr, New Orleans!” before launching into a blistering “St James Infirmary”, the song Dylan leaned on when he wrote “Blind Willie McTell”. Check the stance, legs tensed as he takes a short break, and the section where he just hollers St James! three times. Actually, the whole vocal is terrific, as is his long solo – avoiding most of the usual clichés – and when the song comes to an end, he just shouts and starts it up again. Then after a shared round of solos it ends again, only to have Henry conduct the band to vamp as he tops it off with a terrific bit of long-note showmanship.

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Five Things I Saw & Heard This Week: Wednesday 14th November

Steely Dan Sang, “Call Me Deacon Blue…”
Steve Miller sang, “Some people call me the Space Cowboy, some call me the Gangster Of Love.” Carly Rae Jepsen sang Call Me Maybe. Blondie and Al Green just sang “Call Me…” Beth Orton, on her new album Sugaring Time, sings “Call Me The Breeze.” And it’s wonderful. It sits on a groove that doesn’t quit—the great jazzist Brian Blade drums, with Sebastian Steinberg on bass, and a loopy Nick Drakesque folk guitar—and builds on the interplay between the dead-on bass pulse and Blade’s drums skipping and punctuating the 4/4, keeping it off-kilter enough to really hook you in. Atop this sit wonderful entwining vocals and a glorious organ solo that creeps up out of the track, attempting to wrest it away from the massed ranks of Beth. Beth just about wins. Interestingly, I can barely find a reference to this song in any review that I’ve read. It doesn’t fall into the “mournful serious intense thang” that all reviewers seem to need in female singer songwriters, like only those type of songs have any heft. Go figure.

Is There A “Boutique Festival” Setting?

My brother-in-law has a brilliant new stereo set-up in his house, and his new Yamaha amp offers to model the sound of your tracks for you—giving them the vibe and atmos of a Viennese Concert Hall, say, or a Cellar Club. At the rock end it offers two clubs from the Seventies, The Roxy in Los Angeles, and The Bottom Line in New York. If you buy a more expensive model, it gives you the Village Vanguard (“Nice!”) or a Warehouse loft (how bad does that sound, I wonder). Sadly, there’s no Boutique Festival, where the music is drowned out by the clatter of glasses and middle-class chatter. We decide the sound is kind of great with no modelling at all.

Shaken, Not Stirred. Credit Sequence, Skyfall
Yes, Adele’s song is very nice, all Bassey-isms present and correct, and it insinuates itself into your head really efficiently, but oh my, the film… Following an Istanbul-set opening sequence that isn’t a patch on Taken 2’s Istanbul-set chase sequences (and let’s not forget that Taken 2 is a B picture photocopied from another B picture, albeit a great one) the credits are unbelievably cheesy. Incoherent and naff images glide by with no stylistic consistency at all and it just makes you fearful of the next two hours. Rightly, as it turns out. Has Sam Mendes not seen The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo?

Trey Songz’ Rhythm Section, Later, Friday
Trey sings his glassy, glossy pop hit, Simply Amazing, his schtick a little out of place on Later, and it’s all pretty groovy and pleasant enough until about a minute and a half in, when you’re not listening to Trey at all, you’re just listening for what Nate Jones on bass will do next—adding little filigree high-register melodies, dropping back to the root notes on his way deep 5 string, totally in the pocket of the groove. About a minute from the end they drop into a breakdown section, and that’s when drummer Antwan “Amadeus” Thompson and Jones decide to have a party on the tune. An outrageous series of rolls and hi-hat snaps are followed by Nate giving it the full Level 42, bass jutted out in front of him like he was Chuck Berry. At the end Trey does a boxer’s shuffle and feint to the bassist, which I fondly think is to honour an exceptional performance.

The Crop Marks & Arrows Of Outrageous Fortune
The International Herald Tribune, celebrating its 125th anniversary, has an auction of pictures from its archives on Monday 19 November. Looking through the catalogue, I’m mostly struck by the pictures of musicians, especially the ones that have compositors marks and instructions and arrows on, showing how the photo will be cropped, focusing on who the editors deemed the important part of the story…

Bennie Goodman clowning with Steve Allen; The Stones in Paris (only Brian Jones escapes a wax pencil cross); Dylan press release shot for The Times They Are A Changin’; Jane Birkin with Serge Gainsbourg; Lionel Hampton clowning around with Elsie Smith; notice how Jazz musicians always seem forced to ‘clown around’…

Five Things I Saw & Heard This Week: Wednesday 29th February

Bruno Mars’ Bass Player, The BRITs
Unassumingly, the coolest man to take the stage on the night, and by a country mile. Bruno Mars—nice Little Willie John look and fine pompadour—played the Wonder-ish Just The Way You Are, and his bassman rose to the challenge. Digging the show, hands bopping over the fretboard like Jamerson re-incarnated, Jamareo Artis didn’t put a beat or a note wrong, even when double-stepping the dance moves. The final high flourish as the song ended was the sublime icing on the cake, sliding his right hand down the fretboard to dampen the last note, before hooking his thumb jauntily in his hip pocket.

Whitney Houston at the BRITs
Watching the jarringly brusque tribute, my mind flashed back to an earlier time: in 1987, in a Park Lane hotel ballroom, Whitney sang her hit du jour, How Will I Know, dancing slightly awkwardly to a backing track on a stage more suited to an army base than an awards show. We were ten yards away, pushing bad food around our plates, and could hear Whitney acoustically, as well as through the PA. She gave it her all, and as the pre-record started to fade, was so into the performance that she continued for a good fifteen seconds, not backing off her volume at all. Jaws hit the table as the most thrilling sound vaulted over us. For those fifteen seconds, she was a blissful and transported teenager, singing in the Lord’s House. In that fakest of environments—an awards show—something real.

Weird iPod Synchronicity Pt1: Feb 28th, Park Lane, London
On the bus going up Park Lane, approaching Speaker’s Corner at Hyde Park yesterday morning. iPod on random. A Dylan track, from a bootleg I haven’t even bothered listening to (it comes from a period I don’t care for, around the time of Under The Red Sky). It’s a shuffle, pretty unmixed sounding, with what sounds like Randy Jackson’s rubbery bass lines bubbling along*. “One time in London I’d gone out for a walk/At the place called Hyde Park, where people talk/Get up on a platform and they tell their point of view/To anyone who’s there, that’s who they’re talkin’ to/There was a man on a platform, talking to some folks, about TV being evil, he wasn’t telling jokes…” Leaving aside the obviously low, McGonagall-esque quality of these lines—possibly some of the worst Bob’s ever penned—How strange is that?

*I remember Randy Jackson saying they were pretty odd sessions. Don Was would line-up different bands of players each time Dylan came to the studio. No-one had the first clue what they were doing. It’s a production technique, I guess…

Bonnie Raitt: Thank You
That’s the song Thank You, from early in her career, although it’s entirely appropriate to thank Bonnie for one of American music’s most satisfying careers. Justin Vernon draw attention last year to her sublime I Can’t Make You Love Me, but there’s so much in Bonnie’s past that’s fine, just waiting for rediscovery. I’m just going to draw attention to a winning radio airshot: The Lost Broadcast: Philadelphia 1972. [Through some grey European law loophole Amazon are selling CD’s of US radio broadcasts from Dylan, Waits and Cohen, among others]. Bonnie introduces it thus: “This is a tune—for all you unseen people out there I’m just going to move to the piano to show how versatile I am—haven’t played a piano for months now, didn’t play it before that since I was a little kid, pubescing in Los Angeles. Playing Dick Dale runs [runs finger down keyboard]—Wipeout! Anyway, this is a tune I wrote over the summer. Ready?”

It’s not a perfect song, part Jackson Brown, part Eric Kaz, a little Philly soul (the taping took place at the legendary Sigma Sound studios), even some Toussaint in the piano melody, but this performance, with Freebo on bass and TJ Tindall on slithery, chiming guitar is a little gem. As she glides her beautiful voice over the phrase “I was all you’d ever need,” hear one of the great American voices—unforced, unglitzy, true.

The Adele Gap
Phrase meaning: the difference between a performer’s singing and speaking voices. Example: “there is no Adele Gap in the case of Leonard Cohen.” See TIME magazine mishearing of Adele Grammy exclamation “Mum! Girl done good!” below.

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