dinsdag 17 oktober 2017

Gathering. Josh Ritter

Josh Ritter is getting on in life. Having passed that mythical step of 40 years, he released his 9th album recently. And on this album he mildly rocks and mellows out with a couple of country songs. Something for everybody, but probably reflecting where he presently stands in life.

Josh Ritter came into my life with the album 'Hello Starling'. Especially with the odd one out song 'Man Burning At Both Ends', a song that travelled with me all through this continent on holidays. Then the old cassette player gave out, where the old car kept driving, and many older songs moved out of my life. Nothing Ritter released in the years that followed compared to this song, so I lost sight of his music until I received his previous album 'Sermon On The Rocks' in my digital mailbox. And yes, I liked it as you can read here, http://wonomagazine.blogspot.nl/2016/02/sermon-on-rocks-josh-ritter.html. I found an urgency in that album, that surprised me. 2017 Brings Gathering. Let's dive in.

Let me start with comparing the covers of the two albums. All bright colours and spattered paint on 'Sermon On The Rocks'. All paint and colours again for Gathering, but far from the exuberant ones as on the former. Is it a sign of what to expect musically?

Sounding from the intro 'Shaker Love Song (Leah)' I would say yes, but that feeling left me as soon as the horn splashed 'Showboat' takes over, not to speak of the song that follows 'Friendamine'. The driving pulse of that song does remind me of that fave song of the mid 00s, if less serious in flavour.

Johnny Cash is honoured with the 50s country rock of 'Feels Like Lightning', the kind of song Chris Isaak is quite familiar with as well. The pumping rhythm is adorned with intricate guitar playing, fast played little licks and a light sound is all it takes. Although I do have to mention the pleasant aahhs in the background as well to do right to 'Feels Like Lightning'.

By then it is totally clear that Josh Ritter presents songs with different styles on Gathering, which makes this record a pleasure to listen to. A country ballad like 'When Will I Be Changed' is infused with some gospel and soulful horns. When the older voice of Bob Weir enters, the whole gets something even more authentic, as if an older preacher sings for his congregation.

Gathering is not an unique album. All the styles on the album have been done before, sometimes better, which only stands to reason. What Gathering does is add a dozen plus one good songs to the whole of what went before. Where I not only notice that Gathering is diverse, but that I by now conclude that Josh Ritter has made himself totally over from what I heard circa 10 years ago.

The subtleness of 'Train Go By', the slow melody played on the acoustic guitar, the Hammond organ that adds a minimum of notes, the harmonies that weave themselves around the central voice of Josh Ritter. This is all done with imagination and a assuredness that comes with confidence, wisdom and knowledge. The same goes for 'Dreams', where strange things happen, like the piano eruptions. A song that could have been on a Steve Waitt album.

After that song Josh Ritter surprises me a few times more. In other words, after a few listening sessions I come to the conclusion that Gathering surpasses 'Sermon On The Rocks' in depth and that is an understatement, where the first listen gave me the opposite impression. Gathering has a level of depth that reflects the world in 2017. We seem to be doing very well, perhaps never better, but around us weird things are going on, inexplicable but also sort of unstoppable. Gathering seems to reflect all this and on the other hand is just an album containing fine, if very varied music ending with the oh so solemn 'Strangers'.

So returning to the painting. Yes, the cover totally covers the whole. Gathering is a serious album, solemn even at times. At the same time this album is one that deserves a beautiful cover, more beautiful than this one and less ominous, as it shows about all Josh Ritter is capable of in 2017. And that is a lot it seems.


You can listen to 'Showboat' here:


maandag 16 oktober 2017

Lotta Sea Lice. Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile

For those following this blog and indie music more in general the name Courtney Barnett does not need an introduction. Should there be anyone in the world who only follows this blog, I truly hope that that number is extremely low, Kurt Vile is an American indie artist, who is often associated with The War On Drugs, where he used to play in, years ago. The two artists have become close friends and decided to record an album together instead of each one album apart.

In the past three years Courtney Barnett became the darling of the indie press and fans with her ramshackle songs and a faint hint at a healthy from of craziness that found its way into her songs. Kurt Vile made less of an impression on me, so I haven't much to report on him here.

Together they create this laidback atmosphere in which songs find their own way forward. Both have a voice that can lift a song totally above its weight or drag it down, as both also have a whining quality when used in a less emotional way. Both versions can be found on Lotta Sea Lice, where of course the former wins, as I would never have started a review if it had been the latter.

The album opens with a formidable song called 'Over Everything'. The mid-tempo just goes on for over six minutes. The duo takes alternate singing duties, in which they barely hang on to the vocal melody it seems. The voice and melody waver, like they are in higher spirits. A Courtney Barnett speciality of course. The guitars interplay in a The Velvet Underground kind of way, without the starkly pounding, cymballess drums of Maureen Tucker. Slowly the sound is expanded, increased and more intense.

All the songs on Lotta Sea Lice are long. 4.00 Minutes is the minimum. Barnett and Vile take their time to work out their songs and really bring them to our attention. The approach is spot on as by far the songs work. The only exception is 'Let It Go', the second song on the album. There seems to be no end to it. The duo sets things right straightaway with 'Fear Is Like A Forest'. The song is so strong. With its Neil Young flavour it has that under the skin tension that makes it so good to listen to. The two voices work extremely well together.
Promo photo

The effect Barnett and Vile have on each other is clear by then and how they make each other better. The tendency to make songs go a bit wacky is suppressed in Barnett, while Vile's songs simply become better with Barnett on his side. From the streaming service I was allowed to use, I have no way of telling who is responsible for what, except that both do a take on an older song of the other. Kurt Vile does 'Out Of The Woodwork', with Barnett harmonising. Courtney Barnett does 'Peepin' Tom' all alone with a fingerpicked guitar.

It is a busy year for Courtney Barnett fans. Her wife Jen Cloher released a new, self-titled album with Barnett on guitar and singing duties and this one with Kurt Vile. The fans must have a hey-day as both albums are very fine to listen to.

In 'Continental Breakfast' the two sing about a continental friendship. Softly played, softly sung. I can't explain why this song works, where 'Let It Go' doesn't for me. The closest I come to an explanation is that the two both sing lighter and more lively, making the soft-touched song come alive. That they can sound deathlike as well, is shown in 'Unscript'. The influence of Lou Reed is all over the place. His main style, the talk singing with a deep voice, is something that Courtney Barnett has no trouble with at all. Her voice is the song, behind it things happen, but that is just filler. No matter how well the band plays together behind her and fills a long outro. Slowly the madness creeps in before it all is reigned back in before the final chords are played.

With 'Blue Cheese' a little country seeps in, like it did on 'Loaded' by The Velvet Underground. It works really well on this album. A banjo mingles with the electric guitars. Again the duo surprised me here. From the dark all this light comes in, making the song almost cheerful. In the specific circumstance of Lotta Sea Lice 'Blue Cheese' is a whopping party.

The album ends with 'Untogether'. The right title for a song made on two continents by e-mail? Again Barnett and Vile find the right voice for each other, something about the sum and its parts. The song is kept so small, the vocal melody and the harmonising do all the work ever so successfully. A conclusion that says nearly all there is to say about Lotta Sea Lice. A fine album it is.

BTW. It seems the Grace Slick from the second half of the 60s has reincarnated watching the promo photo.


You can listen to 'Over Everything' here:


zondag 15 oktober 2017

Joy Street. Songdog

De uit Wales afkomstige band Songdog bracht in 2003 haar tweede plaat Haiku uit. Het is een plaat die in het betreffende jaar heel hoog in mijn jaarlijstje stond, maar desondanks was Haiku mijn eerste en laatste kennismaking met de muziek van de band.
Min of meer bij toeval kreeg ik vorige week de nieuwe plaat van Songdog in handen en ook Joy Street blijkt een ware parel.
Tussen Haiku en Joy Street zitten nog vijf andere platen, die ik absoluut ga beluisteren, maar voorlopig kan ik geen genoeg krijgen van Joy Street.
In mijn herinnering maakte Songdog op Haiku sfeervolle folkmuziek met uiteenlopende invloeden en dat is ook precies de muziek die de band op Joy Street maakt.
Songdog is de band rond singer-songwriter Lyndon Morgans, die ook op Joy Street weer laat horen dat hij het oude werk van Bob Dylan koestert, maar vervolgens zijn eigen ding doet met de invloeden van de oude meester. Joy Street herinnert aan de Amerikaanse en Britse folk uit de jaren 60, maar sluit ook aan op de onweerstaanbare folkpop zoals deze in de jaren 80 door bands als Aztec Camera, Del Amitri en Prefab Sprout werd gemaakt. Wanneer Songdog Keltische invloeden verwerkt in haar muziek, en dat gebeurt met enige regelmaat, duiken bovendien flarden van de muziek van The Waterboys en bands die de traditionele Ierse folkmuziek hoog hebben zitten op.
Lyndon Morgans laat zich op Joy Street gelden als een singer-songwriter die in eerste instantie verhalen vertelt. Het zijn mooie verhalen vol weemoed en melancholie, maar de muzikant uit Wales is ook niet bang voor een eenvoudig liefdesliedje.
Alle verhalen zijn verpakt in songs die zich bijzonder makkelijk opdringen, maar de muziek van Songdog graaft dieper dan die van de meeste soortgenoten van de band. Lyndon Morgans eert op Joy Street de tradities van de Britse en Amerikaanse folkmuziek, maar stopt zijn songs ook vol met uitstapjes buiten de gebaande paden. Joy Street is hierdoor een plaat die vermaakt en verrast, maar het is ook een plaat die sprankelt.
Op het eerste gehoor klinkt het allemaal niet heel bijzonder, maar wanneer je de songs op de plaat een volgende keer hoort, blijkt hoezeer de songs van Songdog zich al in het geheugen genesteld hebben en voor hoeveel plezier ze zorgen.
Het was de grote kracht van het al weer bijna 15 jaar oude Haiku en het is ook de kracht van Joy Street. Het effect dat de plaat sorteert wordt verder vergroot door de prachtige en zeer veelzijdige instrumentatie op de plaat en de glasheldere productie van Nigel Stonier, die in een ver verleden bij Fairport Convention achter de knoppen zat.
Songdog trekt met haar platen tot dusver helaas niet heel veel aandacht, maar de twee keer dat ik de band nu tegen ben gekomen heeft platen opgeleverd om zielsveel van te houden. Het kan geen toeval zijn.

Erwin Zijleman

Je kunt hier 'Song For A Five String Guitar' beluisteren.


zaterdag 14 oktober 2017

Kairos September 2017 on Concertzender by .No

It's that day of the month again that Wo. sits down and listens to the radio show of .No called Kairos on Concertzender. Through the years something has changed as more and more artists who made it to the pages of this Blog find their way to the show. Songs that fit really well in the concept, while Wo. is exposed to music that he would never have heard in his life, make their way to his ears. Sometimes he even truly likes them. So what has .No put on his playlist this month?

Too often people seem to die in .No's circle of friends, teachers and acquaintances. Again the show is dedicated to someone, unfamiliar to me, who crossed that mysterious border that awaits us all. The show starts with a befitting piece of music, the 'Intro' to that beautiful album 'Another Place' by Amsterdam band Maggie Brown. A song that makes the listener cross the border into the album, one of my favourites of 2017 and the 10s.

'Intro' is very short and soon an acoustic guitar takes over. Again Bruce Cockburn comes by. The song is more traditional than Maggie Brown's. Moodwise the selection works well. In this English folkstyle song called 'Life's Mistress' the Canadian tells a story of watching things from the outside in and how the lady is one with nature. The guitar is intricately plucked, playing different melodies on the bass and higher notes. This man can play.

A famous song is up next, but in a estranging version. A sound like Indonesian gamalans play the melody, Sidsel Endresen sings 'The Lady Is A Tramp'. The song by Rodgers and Hart from the 1937 musical 'Babes In Arms', made famous by Frank Sinatra. In this version the vocal melody totally remains in its strength, meets and then joins another culture. Endresen together with Bugge Wesseltoft created something truly new from something now 80 years old. Whether I like it is another question, but the same goes for the musical version and Sinatra's. I can hear how good he sings, but it is from another generation, so close to alien to my ears. It makes me understand my own musical generation gap, rap, house, trance, etc., better and appreciate the taste of youths in the 10s for what it is: their music. Although several of them truly appreciate the bands and songs that I like best.

The gamalan is slowly replaced by a piano that could have been a Sinatra accompanying piano, but is not. It is Brian Eno from one of his more famous titles, that I never listened to until now, 'Ambient 1. Music For Airports'. And indeed the air travellers in the 70s and 80s may still in general have liked Sinatra style music. I'm in for an initiation of Eno's ambient music, I see. Over 16 minutes. So I'm closing my eyes and listen. Sinatra leaves the song and is replaced by a repetitive piano motives, with ambient sounds and tape hiss and estranging notes that are thrown into the whole. The version of 'The Lady Is A Tramp' worked well with this composition as a fine introduction I notice. The music has a calming effect on me, if not drowsing me, making me feel sleepy, but also a bit sad. Nothing seems to be going on any more. As if the world has stopped turning, aeroplanes stopped flying and airports only catch cosmic waves, particles and debris, that are translated into music for airports. With no people there to listen. And yes, that makes me feel sad. Impressive? Yes. Too long? Yes, also, but only about three minutes.

Maurice Duruflé's In Paradisum (from Requiem Op.9)' by The Choir of Magdalen College, Oxford disturbs the ambient music, probably a whole LP side, with angelic singing and some music hidden somewhere deep in the mix, a small church organ. The singing is a relief after the repetitive ambient, close to minimal music of Eno. Slowly the subdued emotions rise and deeper voices join the childrens'.

The piano chord that follows is flawlessly placed. Once again Low Roar comes by. This time with the song '13' from its album 'Once In A Long, Long While'. A piano plays sole, sparse notes accentuated by a chord. Is it my imagination or do I hear the choir mixed in here and there, deep in the background?

In general I notice again how deep .No has moved into piano driven music. Where I remain a guitar guy, I tend to listen to a lot of piano once a month. Which makes for a nice change.

Jonas Munk & Jason Kolb also return to Kairos. For a snippet of their music called 'Odessa'. No famous stairs here, no pram rolling of them either. Just a windswept place created by electronic sounds, over before I know it, with another slow playing piano moving in.

This is Jeroen Elfferich's 'Snowflakes'. The piano tickles like slow falling snowflakes can do, those first small flakes that drift through the air, solitary, having no impact apart from how beautiful it looks. Sometimes just before real snow starts falling, covering everything and muffling sounds and the world. Elfferich's music is like that first flakes. Slowly gathering momentum with a second melody. I have the impression that I'm hearing more than two hands at work, so is this a work for two pianists? It seems very much like it. And then it stops. And starts again, the last flakes are falling down. No, they are not, we get some more.

Martin Pals returns too. The folk tune is sung by Rosan Vloedgraven. The playing by Pals. The singing is in a way like Jerney Kaagman did in the first and best incarnation of Earth & Fire, the music spans several centuries. Sort of confusing, yes, but also an exercise that shows that the (prog)rockers of the early 70s had their influences in traditional folk. All evolves, returns and evolves again.

From here the music changed so fast that I lost count and had to start listening again, forcing me to revise my storyline completely.

By now another veteran of Kairos and this Blog is House of cosy Cushions. The guitar composition is something I truly like. Some sounds come in, a treated voice emulating a horn of some sort. It's over very fast, but yes, I like this.

Then Bhava comes back. I think for the third time in a row I'm hearing something of the album on Kairos that makes me wonder why I liked the album by The World of Dust so much? Where are the songs, .No? Give them to us. They are so good! This jazzy outing is made to sound like it comes to us from another century, as if one of the earliest recordings. .No gives us only a minute, so have no way of knowing whether this is it or that there is more, preventing me from getting the point The World of Dust wants to make here, as I am not getting it now.

In moves a piano and a violin. Minco Eggerman returns with his Georgian album 'Kavkasia', a song called 'The Other Side Of Dawn'. The violin is as disruptive as the Greek players on the Chris & Carla album recorded in Thessaloniki, where they played The Walkabouts together with the Greeks. I am talking about the solo violin here and not the string section that sounds like a movie soundtrack where lovers see the sun go down together. In the background the guitar goes on without hesitation as does the sole piano.

And where does This Leo Sunrise start? Can I catch it the second time? Am I crazy or is .No's playlist fooling me. As the guitar and piano finally disappear, I can only suppose that the two scratching violins belong to 'The Gardener Path'. When things go quiet, singing starts and I recognise the song. English folk is, again, the basis of this song. Folk mixed with ambience. I think I have found this month's overarching theme here. Slowly the song expands, but remains calm and tranquil. The faint estranging effects in the background give 'The Gardener Path' something scary as if more could happen here than just listening to a song. Well done, This Leo Sunrise.

Church bells mixes with the violin. More sacred music. Not coincidentally from an album with that title. Men's voices of Theater of Voices sing solemnly something composed by an anonymous. Disappeared in time. That there is hope for any anonymous was proven last week by research on Medieval manuscripts that over 200 years after their discovery are attributed to a clerk of a Dutch baron. So be patient anonymous composer of 'Resonemus Hoc Natali'. Who knows what lies in store for you.

We move on to a cheap piano (I'm not buying it, but o.k.). Dustin O’Halloran & Adam Bryanbaum Wiltze composed a minuet for a cheap piano, with some electronics behind it to hide the cheapness? The piano playing, once again, is sparse. The electronics are just as sparse. The piano sounds rather flat, so it might be cheap after all. But why would one want to compose a minuet for a cheap piano? It is beyond me.

A piano starts the last song. We are back at the beginning of the show with Maggie Brown. It's album ends with the song 'Hummingbird', the song that Marcel Hulst commented on that the band couldn't find the right guitar intro to and settled for a piano instead. 'Hummingbird is a beautiful song that ends the album 'Another Place' and this Kairos. For you, listener and reader, I hope that .No will return to the album and let's you join in the pleasure of listening to the purest of pop songs 'Hail To The Rain' or the title song. If not, go to Maggie Brown's Bandcamp page and buy the album there. In 2017 there will not be many better albums, says,


You can listen to this month's Kairos here:



00:07 Maggie Brown. Intro. Album ‘Another Place’. Private label.
00:48 Bruce Cockburn. Life’s mistress. Album ‘High Winds White Sky’. True North Records TN 3.
03:59 Rodgers/Hart. The lady is a tramp Sidsel Endresen & Bugge Wesseltoft. Album ‘Nightsong’. ACT (4) ‎– ACT 9004-2
09:20 Brian Eno. Music for Airports 1/1. Album ‘Ambient 1. Music for Airports’. EMI 50999 6 84523 2 2.
25:42 Maurice Duruflé. In Paradisum (from Reqiuem Op. 9). The Choir of Magdalen College, Oxford. Dir. Bill Ives. Album ‘Sacred Music’. Harmonia Mundi HMX 2908304.33.
27:15 Ryan Karazija. 13. Low Roar. Album ‘Once in a long, long while’. Nevado Records 823674059620.
31:52 Jonas Munk & Jason Kolb. Odessa. Billow Observatory (Jonas Munk, elektronics, Jason Kolb, guitar & elektronics). Album ‚Billow Observatory‘. Felte 003.
33:10 Jeroen Elfferich. Snowflakes. Album ‘Zero’. Private label.
38:35 Martin Pals. When comes that sleep Rosan. Monad (Rosan Vloedgraven, Martin Pals). Private recording.
40:06 Richard Bolhuis / House of Cosy Cushions. Outcast Cats. Album ‘Haunt me Sweetly’. Outcast Cats records CAT 0C01.
42:08 Stefan Breuer. Cumulus. Bhava. Album ‘The World Of Dust’. Snowstar Records/Tiny Room Records.
43:28 Minco Eggersman. The other side of dawn. Album ‘Kavkasia’. Volkoren 73.
45:45 This Leo Sunrise. The gardener path. Album ‘Spoken’. Tiny Room Records TR008.
50:51 Anonymus. Resonemus Hoc Natali. Theatre of voices. Dir. Paul Hillier. Album ‘Sacred Music’. Harmonia Mundi HMX 2908304.33.
54:03 Dustin O’Halloran & Adam Bryanbaum Wiltze. Minuet for a cheap piano number two. Dustin O’Halloran & Adam Bryanbaum Wiltze. Album ‘A Winged Victory for the Sullen. Erased Tape Records ERATP032CD
56:49 Maggie Brown. hummingbird. Album ‘Another Place’. Private label.

vrijdag 13 oktober 2017

Jen Cloher. Jen Cloher

Ondanks mijn voorliefde voor vrouwelijke singer-songwriters, vind ook ik het aanbod in dit genre de afgelopen jaren eerlijk gezegd (veel) te groot.
Ik ben dan ook op mijn hoede wanneer de zoveelste sensationele nieuwkomer wordt aangekondigd, maar in het geval van Jen Cloher was deze aarzeling niet nodig.
Een echte nieuwkomer is de Australische Jen Cloher overigens niet, want de singer-songwriter uit Melbourne heeft al een aantal platen op haar naam staan. De onlangs verschenen titelloze plaat (als ik het goed geteld heb haar vierde) moet voor haar internationale doorbraak gaan zorgen en de kans dat dit gaat lukken lijkt me groot.
Jen Cloher wordt op haar nieuwe plaat bijgestaan door onder andere Kurt Vile en Courtney Barnett. De laatste is niet alleen de stadgenoot en levenspartner van Jen Cloher, maar draagt in muzikaal opzicht ook belangrijk vergelijkingsmateriaal aan.
Jen Cloher maakt op haar titelloze plaat lekkere rauwe muziek, die in het verlengde ligt van de afgelopen jaren zo geprezen Courtney Barnett en die verder geïnspireerd is door die van onder andere Patti Smith en PJ Harvey.
Het is een plaat vol gloedvol en bezwerend gitaarwerk. Het is gitaarwerk dat de ene keer subtiel ondersteunt, de volgende keer uitpakt met lekkere rauwe riffs en vervolgens weer kan ontaarden in heerlijk stekelige solo’s.
Het past perfect bij de bijzondere manier van zingen van Jen Cloher, die een stem met raakvlakken met die van Chrissie Hynde combineert met de voordracht van Patti Smith en de gesproken teksten van Lou Reed.
Jen Cloher moet in het genre waarin ze opereert concurreren met nogal wat muzikanten, onder wie haar partner Courtney Barnett, maar ze houdt zich wat mij betreft vrij makkelijk staande. Dit doet de Australische singer-songwriter door wat dieper te graven en door wat nadrukkelijker buiten de lijntjes te kleuren.
Dat hoor je duidelijk in de bijna acht minuten durende tweede track, die je langzaam maar zeker bij de strot grijpt, maar ook in de kortere tracks op de plaat maakt Jen Cloher indruk met songs die rauwe klanken en bijna voorgedragen teksten combineren met een flinke dosis eigenwijsheid, avontuur en zeggingskracht.
De nieuwe plaat van Jen Cloher is een plaat die je niet in de koude kleren gaat zitten. Zeker wanneer je met veel aandacht naar de songs van de Australische luistert, heeft de titelloze plaat van Jen Cloher een enorme impact. De zich langzaam voortslepende songs toveren donkere en duistere beelden op het netvlies en nemen je mee naar de eindeloze ruimte in Australië.
De Britse krant The Guardian, die de plaat van Jen Cloher “a slow burning masterpiece” noemt, verwijst naar de indringende klanken van de Australische band The Triffids en slaat hiermee de spijker op de kop (ik heb de band's meesterwerk Born Sandy Devotional er direct weer eens bij gepakt).
Er wordt momenteel heel druk gedaan over de plaat van Jen Cloher en ik kan alleen maar concluderen dat dit volkomen terecht is. Cloher staat misschien nog wat in de schaduw van Courtney Barnett, maar heeft een plaat gemaakt waarop haar partner alleen maar heel jaloers kan zijn. Het moet genoeg zeggen over de kwaliteit van deze plaat.

Eewin Zijleman

Je kunt hier het album van Jen Cloher hier beluisteren en kopen: