Monday, February 28, 2011

Miss America


Released in 1988, Miss America is quite unlike any other album that I have ever heard. When your fans include Michael Stipe, Kirsten Hersh and Alex Chilton amongst others and your songs have been covered by the likes of The Cowboy Junkies and This Mortal Coil you kinda know that you have done something right. Yet when you mention the name of Mary Margaret O'Hara most people don't know who you are talking about.

Miss America was released to great critical acclaim in her native Canada and in Europe including Toronto's NOW magazine naming the album as the number 3 album of the last 20 years. Miss America has still not been followed up with an official second album although she did compose and record the soundtrack in 2000 to the film Apartment Hunting which many consider to be her second solo album.

Over the years she has contributed vocals to recordings by Morrissey and This Mortal Coil amongst others and has also appeared on various albums including The Songs Of Vic Chestnutt and a track on the Kurt Weill tribute September Songs.

She appears to be quite unorthodox in her approach to recording apparently refusing to record anywhere that is not within walking distance from several Catholic churches as she claims that these are her favourite places to "hang out".

Miss America was/is completely unpredictable, a veritable melting pot of country jazz and folk with all the norms of arrangement and structure thrown out the window in order to produce one of the most original and brilliant albums of the last quarter century, all held together by the pure and elegant vocals of one of the most respected artists in the music business, Mary Margaret O'Hara .

Rumours still circulate that she is recording a second album but at the time of writing we shall have to be satisfied with repeated listens of her stunning debut album.

She won't be everyone's cup of tea but it's worth making the effort as this is a singular album from a singular artist that is well worth adding to your collection.

Can be bought here .


Sunday, February 27, 2011

Everybody's Talking Bout The Stormy Weather....


A near perfect blend of harmony and noise. This is as good a description as any of the first CD that I bought back in the late 80's, Sonic Youth's Daydream Nation . This was my entry point into the world of Sonic Youth and to this day as soon as I hear the opening guitar chime of Teenage Riot I am hooked.

I don't consider myself to be any sort of authority on Sonic Youth but over 20 years later this album has lost none of it's quality. Kicking off with the anthemic Teenage Riot the album the album never lets up, clocking in at over 70 minutes.

Whilst most people nowadays listen to tracks rather than whole albums, this is one occasion where the album is best listened to from start to finish to take in the full range of songs.

The album is probably Sonic Youth's most accessible work and showcases the band at the top of their game.



Monday, February 21, 2011

Heart Like A Gabriel,Soul Like A Lucifer....





Recorded live in 1987 at The Church Of Holy Trinity in Toronto with a single microphone,The Trinity Sessions is very close to being a perfect album....superlatives escape me when trying to describe the sheer beauty of the second album by The Cowboy Junkies....


Opening track,Mining For Gold is sung unaccompanied by the exquisite,mesmerising vocals of Margo Timmins....a couple of years back I saw the band perform the album in its entirety in Edinburgh and during that track the hairs on the back of my neck literally did stand up....

Covers of Sweet Jane,I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry and Blue Moon are quite simply outstanding but for me the stand out track on the album is Misguided Angel,an age old story of falling for the guy that your parents never approved and loving someone despite all their imperfections with some great lyrical imagery courtesy of Michael Timmins whose masterful songwriting perfectly complemented his sister's soft but very effective singing style....

Can be bought here ....

Misguided angel hangin' over me
Heart like a Gabriel, pure and white as ivory
Soul like a Lucifer
Black and cold like a piece of lead
Misguided angel, love you 'til I'm dead


Sunday, February 20, 2011

I Had An Uncle Who Once Played For Red Star Belgrade....


Quite often you go along to a gig these days and there is very little in the way of banter between band and audience ....which is absolutely fine as most of them probably would not have much worthwhile to say.... however the same could not be said of Billy Bragg and right now is almost the perfect time for Bragg to get everything off his chest as the ConLib coalition start the process of dismantling the very fabric of our society bit by bit....it really is a pleasure and privilege to spend a couple of hours being entertained by Bragg....

There is an honesty and decency about Bragg that is so refreshing and so needed today...he quite openly apologises for tactically voting Liberal at the election...I have a feeling there may have been quite a few others in the audience who did likewise...but the main focus of Bragg's words tonight was on trying to get us to shake off our cynicism and reflect on how we can as individuals fight for a better world and how with the best will in the world singer song-writers cannot change the world....all Bragg's arguments were presented with his customary wit and intelligence as if we would expect anything less from the great man....including a great story about how activists campaigned to get rid of the B.N.P. from Barking council and succeeded and his pride in what they had achieved was rightly justified....

And yes in case you were wondering he did play some music as well....highlights for me were Greetings to The New Brunette,The Saturday Boy, Sexuality and the song of the evening,Tank Park Salute....all reminding us,as if we needed reminding,that Billy Bragg is a brilliant songwriter and a thoroughly decent man....

The show finished with an Arches singalong to A New England that included one of the verses from the wonderful and very much missed Kirsty MacColl....hard to believe that it was almost 30 years ago that I bought my "Pay No More Than £2.99" copy of Life's A Riot...time to dust down my vinyl copy and take myself back to '83....


Thursday, February 17, 2011

More, More, More....


Formed in Manchester in the early 80's, Carmel' mixture of soul,gospel,blues and jazz lit up the charts all too briefly....their second album The Drum Is Everything was their most successful,reaching number 23 in the album chart....two of the tracks off the album,More More More and Bad Day achieved moderate success in the singles chart,both showcasing the sparse yet soulful voice of Carmel McCourt....

Sadly in the UK that was the summit of her success....however in Europe it was a different story where the band enjoyed chart success in Germany,Belgium ,The Netherlands and most notably in France where she sold over 500,000 copies of 1986 single,Sally and where she was christened the new Edith Piaf....

McCourt and original member Jim Parris are currently working on new material and are intending performing soon as a duo....

In the meantime you could do worse than pop over here and pick up a copy of a great live CD released last year and listen to the mesmerising vocals of Carmel McCourt....

Sunday, February 13, 2011

I Feel Alright When You Smile....


Last night was my first gig of 2011 in the shape of Dean Wareham at Stereo in Glasgow...as most people know Dean was the lead singer of the mighty Galaxie 500 and last night's gig was all about the songs of his former band (and a couple of cracking covers)...

From the second Wareham came on stage the scene was set for an old friend coming home and he certainly didn't let any of the adoring crowd down...the mood all night was celebratory...we were treated to classic Galaxie 500 numbers such as Temperature's Rising,Blue Thunder and Fourth Of July....

As Galaxie 500 were very influential to a number of bands it was perhaps fitting that they played some covers of tracks that had influenced them when starting out.... Jonathan Richman's adolescent anthem Don't Let Our Youth Go To Waste was one of the many highlights of the show....

The show was closed with two brilliant covers...the first,with beautiful vocals courtesy of Wareham's wife Britta Phillips was a cover of Nico's I'll Keep It With Mine and then to finish off the set an old favourite, New Order's Ceremony was given the full Wareham treatment and was a perfect end to a triumphant return to Glasgow...

Wareham pretty much let the music do the talking throughout the show excepting a comedic story in the middle of the set about taking acid but this show was all about the glorious music that Wareham has been making for years....his guitar playing was glorious throughout and,if anything,has got better over the years and yes he did manage to hit those same high notes he hit over 20 years ago in the glory days of Galaxie 500...

This show was everything we were hoping for and more....



No matter how good Wareham's version is, thought it was apt to also post the original from one of the finest bands of the last 30 years....


Thursday, February 10, 2011

Paisley Underground....


Darlings of the Paisley Underground scene of the mid 80's, The Long Ryders were heavily influenced by the country sounds of The Byrds and Gram Parsons and the urgency and aggression of the punk scene....lead singer Sid Griffin formed the band after leaving L.A. punk band the Unclaimed and released the first Long Ryders E.P. in 1983 called 10-5-60 and within a year they were gracing the front cover of the N.M.E. and appearing on The Whistle Test...everywhere they played in the U.K. they were playing to sold out crowds leading to signing for Island Records who released in '85 the classic State Of The Union album....the following year they were headlining a Barcelona festival in front of 100,000 people and R.E.M. told them “soon as we get through making the Replacements famous you guys are next!”  but sadly it was not to be....within a year the band had called it a day but luckily for us Sid Griffin continues to make some great music with The Coal Porters  and there are strong rumours that The Long Ryders are to play some reunion shows in 2012....

If you can't wait that long you could do worse than pop over here and pick up a copy of their 2004 reunion tour DVD


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

You Don't Have To Be Weird To Be Wired....


Three months in and I have yet to post anything on the maverick that is Mark E Smith...there are many bloggers out there who are far more able than myself to comment on the genius or otherwise of The Fall gaffer...yes he does come across in interviews as quite unpleasant and a bit of a dickhead but ultimately it's the music that matters and there is over 30 years of seminal music from the many line ups of The Fall...not all of it great but some of the finest music by The Fall is up there with any of the best music of the last 30 years...

My first introduction to The Fall was in the mid 80's when I picked up a copy on vinyl of Palace Of Swords Reversed, a collection of tracks from 1980 to 1983 that contains some of their best early work including Kicker Conspiracy, The Man Whose Head Expanded and Totally Wired...and still an album that I play regularly today...

I do prefer,if there is such a thing,the more commercial side of The Fall in particular the four albums between '85 and '88 - The Wonderful and Frightening World Of..., This Nation's Saving Grace , The Frenz Experiment and Bend Sinister.

Overall I think we have to treasure the unique vision of Mark E Smith and the unique sound of The Fall and concentrate on the music and not the man behind it...




Monday, February 7, 2011

Now This Is SOUL Music....


The first song that came on the MP3 player this morning was a track from Otis Blue and it reminded me of clip I had watched recently on You Tube of an Otis Redding special from 1966...classic soul music from one of the great vocalists and some of the best musicians of that era....

As well as Otis you also get the added bonus of a great performance from Eric Burdon proving that white men can sing soul...just think what he may have produced if he'd signed to Stax or Atlantic...this is a singer at the top of his game singing with sheer conviction and soul and loving every second of it...

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Rock N Roll For The 21st Century.....


The early part of the year is usually not the part most people look forward to...a combination of shit weather,lack of finances and leaving and coming home from work when it's pitch black do not constitute the best part of the year for most...so more than any other time you look for the small things that make that bit of difference and put a smile back on your face....

One of the things that makes that difference for me is a package that comes through the post sometime in January from a very good friend that contains a double CD of his Best Of the previous year....I have just received the latest installment and as per usual the choices are uniformly excellent...most years I already know about 70% of the tracks and they are great to hear again but a large part of the enjoyment is the tracks that I have not heard and this year is no different...the two CD's are very different beasts...the first one is the more upbeat of the two and is the "Saturday Night" CD and, yes you clever people you may have guessed the title of the second more mellow one "Sunday Morning"

The first track on "Saturday Night" was one I had not heard from The Jim Jones Revue...good old time Rock 'N 'Roll dragged firmly into the 21st century...there's bits of Nick Cave,The Cramps,Creedence and Little Richard amongst others...this is top notch R'n'R that is fuzzy,dirty and loud with one of the tightest rhythm sections you will hear all year...



For some reason I had bypassed the second album from MGMT and from what I recall most of the reviews at the the time were fairly negative about said album...the title track appears on the "Sunday Morning" CD and to these ears is a great song that shows they still know how to write a killer tune when they want to...


Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Honey At The Core...


A few weeks back I was sorting out some boxes in the loft when I came across a box that had some old cassettes in it, one of which was a compilation of then up and coming Scottish bands called Honey At The Core...according to Wikipedia it came out in 1986 and was compiled by John Williamson who later went on to work for The Herald newspaper....

J.C.over at The Vinyl Villain has posted on this very cassette previously alongside a wealth of postings on great Scottish bands of past and present....

Bands on the cassette included a few that went on to moderate success like The Big Dish , Goodbye Mr McKenzie and Deacon Blue , as well as a certain band that spent 15 weeks at number 1 in the UK singles chart and a certain host of the Late Late Show in his former alter ego of Bing Hitler.

Personal faves on the cassette are a couple of bands that should have went on to greater heights but never quite got there....Kick Reaction and The Painted Word

The Painted Word released their first single, the classic Independance Day,back in '86...it took a further 3 years before their one and only released album, Lovelife, saw the light of day...I had a copy of the album at the time but sadly seemed to have lost it somewhere over the years....but I do recall it being a piece of Scottish pop perfection...there was a second album in '95 called Universal but it appears to have been withdrawn before it even hit the shops...vocalist Alan McCusker Thomson was one of the best singer/songwriters of that time and today lectures on commercial music at West Of Scotland University....



I can't remember where I got the cassette from back in the day but it is yet another example of the wealth of musical talent that has emerged from Scotland over the last 30 years or so and continues to emerge to this day...