maandag 31 maart 2014

Lost in the dream. The War on Drugs

Every time I read something about The War on Drugs recently, there are two things I'm reminded off: Kurt Vile played in the band and that the previous album 'Slave ambient' was such a great album. Now I came close to reviewing Kurt Vile's latest record, but just did not like it enough to make the effort and I didn't like 'Slave ambient' at all. There just didn't seem to happen too much. Still, I decided to give Lost in the dream a chance anyway and that is something I do not regret one bit. There is a lot going on on Lost in the dream. A lot that sounds somewhat familiar, but tickles in several, but not all, right places.

The War on Drugs is around since 2005 when the band started in Philadelphia. There are four band members and there are more ex-members than members by now, but those are all ex-drummers and Kurt Vile of course. In 2014 the band consists of Adam Granduciel, vocals, guitars, harmonica, keyboards, samplers; Dave Hartley, bass guitar, electric guitars; Robbie Bennett, keyboards, piano, guitars and Patrick Berkery, drums, percussion. Granduciel is the main man, responsible for writing the songs and the singing. The music is stately, grand, the sound full. Not necessarily because of the number of instruments used, no, because of the wide mix, filling up the whole range. The mix makes Lost in the dream sound very official and darkish.

My main objection to Lost in the dream is that the album has very much the same atmosphere and songs are interchangeable. But by listening more intensely, things do change. In 'An ocean between the waves' a million things happen during the 7.00 minutes the song lasts. The tempo, the intensity go up. Dire Straits makes an appearance in the guitar playing. There is a different effect, some slight phasing or other, then on Mark Knopfler's guitar, but the playing wouldn't have sounded bad on 'Sultans of swing' or 'Skateaway'.

The sound of Lost in the dream is made up out of these long notes, close to soundscapes. Guitar notes that are repeated with the help of a delay pedal. This is definitely music that I am not in the mood for every day. Not unlike The Cure I realise. The typical guitar playing of The Cure is absent, but the sound and texture are very much like these 80s icons.The songs are kept up for longer periods also, so last a bit longer than strictly necessary as far as I am concerned. However, when I'm the mood, they can't last long enough. At those time I hear the influences of Bob as well as Jacob Dylan in his The Wallflowers first album period. At the bottom of The War on Drugs there is a folk and Dylan bedding. 'Eyes to the wind' is a Bob and Jacob Dylan song as far as I'm concerned, played in a way that the two Dylans would never have recorded it. It's the melody and in the twists Adam Granduciel puts into his voice. One of the major surprises is when on 'The hunting idle' and in the intro of the following 'Burning' The War on Drugs does a Pink Floyd. The songs are somewhat inconsistent with everything that went before. At the same time it fits this album. When 'Burning' turns into an 'I'm on fire' rhythm and sound kind of song, all my doubts about Lost in the dream flare up again. Too 80s pop for me. As a balance I put 'Suffering' back on and all things are well again in the realm of The War on Drugs.

When I look at Lost in the dream from a distance, at a later point in time the album can go two ways with me. Either it will grow or it will be discarded. Time will tell. In the past few weeks I've played The War on Drug's latest record quite regularly and there is no need to think that I will stop doing so in the near future.


You can listen to 'Red eyes' here.

zondag 30 maart 2014

Morning phase. Beck

Beck (Hansen) by now has a twenty year spanning recording career of which I missed every single record. I hated his novelty hit 'Loser' and the snippets I'd heard from other records never brought me to listening more intensely to anything else. So why did I start listening to 'Morning phase'? I don't know, really. Probably because a review I read in the newspaper. This gave me the impression I ought to find my way on Morning phase. After listening just once, I knew my gut feeling was right. Morning phase is a pleasant album on the verge of singer-songwriter, country and pop of a darker variety.

For some reason it took Beck six years to release new material. Hearsay has it that he has three to four albums saved up. All covering different aspects of his musical spectrum. Beck apparently had this bunch of songs that he wanted to record with the same people he recorded an album with in the early 00s called 'Sea change'. This resulted in the relaxed atmosphere that Morning phase has. An album that seen from a positive side has beautiful songs on it, but seen from a negative side just continuous to murmur like a small brook streaming to the larger river. Most listenings to date tend to the the former appreciation, but when I'm not in the mood, there is just no end to Morning phase and I switch it off straight away.

Seen at face value it is hard to write an intrinsic review of Morning phase. The songs are all in a slow or slower tempo. Just above a Low record, a little more free flowing and accents that are more clear cut. Just listen to the chorus of opening song (if I put the instrumental opening aside) 'Morning', double layered harmonies that work very well. Add to that the electric piano that plays nice accents and some intricate guitar notes and 'Morning' shows enough variations to make the song a winner. This goes for most songs on Morning phase. The devil is in the details in the slow songs on this album and determine the difference between winning and losing. One song has a light psychedelic effect in the harmonies ('Heart is a drum'), another gets a more country flavour by adding a banjo ('Say goodbye') or slide guitar and harmonica ('Country down'). It really are these smaller details in the bigger picture that made me like this album more and more. And above all I love the piano playing on Morning phase.

Beck obviously aims for trying to find the most perfect changes in the songs. Those changes that make them sound so easy, as if they always were there. In other words the perfect pop song. That is the pop element in Morning phase, without the album having one single pop song on it. 'Blackbird chain' is probably the best example here, as does 'Waking light'. It all flows so magnificently, with all the right accents from the string section. Songs like this remind me of what Pink Floyd tried to reach at on 'The division bell', where Beck succeeds because he stayes close to keeping the songs basic and at a human level, instead of the super-human effects, drowning the Pink Floyd songs (or hiding the poor quality songwriting?).

So, perhaps I've missed or overheard something in the past where Beck is concerned, but I doubt it to be honest. I like Morning phase and that is enough for now. One of the reasons is that Morning phase comes very close to what Shane Alexander presents on his excellent record 'Ladera' and the question as to why I like Morning phase is explained to me a bit more.


You can listen to 'Blue moon' here.

zaterdag 29 maart 2014

The Chicago Transit Authority. The Chicago Transit Authority

Over the coming weeks a few old records will be reviewed of bands that scored a hit in 1968 - 1969 that I knew the single of, but never got around to listening to the albums at the time nor later. I started off this series with Spooky Two by Spooky Tooth. Next in line is the debut album by the band that would become famous and a great hit machine under the name Chicago, but made its first album under the name The Chicago Transit Authority.

Late in 1969 CTA scored its first hit in The Netherlands, a song that even I knew at the time was a cover by the Spencer Davies Group: 'I'm a man'. It entered the charts in week 50 at no. 37. I liked 'I'm a man' and certainly 1970's '25 or 6 to 4', but by the time I had some money to buy albums, Chicago was this 'If you leave me now' ballad band and I never looked back. Now I do.

CTA started as a band under the name The Missing Links in 1967 in Chicago. When the band was signed to Columbia late in 1969 it changed its name to CTA. Producer James William Guercio had discovered the band and having already worked with Blood, Sweat & Tears (two hits in 1969) CTA was a logical band for Guercio to start working with. CTA was a big band, seven people in all, with a horn section and three alternating lead vocalists. The band played a mix of rock, soul and jazz. Copper is being thrown around all over the album. Lee Loughnane on trumpet, James Pankow, trombone and Walter Parazaider, woodwinds. They played percussion and do background vocals as well. Underneath all this loud blowing the firm drums of Danny Seraphine and the bass of Peter Cetera lay down a foundation that allows them to excel. The organ of Robert Lamm lays down accents. What is left is the erupting rock guitar of Terry Kath, that can go off at any moment straight into uncharted territories.

CTA is a debut album. The more surprising is the fact that originally CTA was a double album. The artistic freedom artists had around 1969 was amazing. I once read that record company executives just didn't know what was going on any more and more or less allowed anything around this time. If it's true CTA attests to this story. CTA laid everything it had on tape. From the jazzrock of 'Introduction' to the balladry of 'Does anybody really know what time it is' and 'Beginnings' to the full out rock instrumental intro 4 minutes of 'Poem 58' and 'the totally out there 'Free form guitar', that freaks around for no less than almost 7 minutes. Sounds that may have made Jimi Hendrix jealous. Fact is that we can still listen to this freaking guitar playing today. For what it's worth, but still. That Guercio had heard right was proven by the fact that CTA rendered five hits over two years time in the US and had a 171 week stint in the Billboard chart, probably shifting millions of units. Facts and figures that make this album monumental.

That CTA at the basis had some blues in it as well is heard on 'South California purples'. A lazy sounding blues riff that is enhanced by the horns (with a small The Beatles reference, as a lyric line is snatched form 'I am the walrus'). The main credits are for Robert Lamm. He's responsible for most of the songs. Two are by Terry Kath and two for Walter Pankow. Amazingly enough Peter Cetera is just the bass player at this point in time. The more surprising is that Lamm does not take a prominent role musically. He lets the horns and Kath do the soloing.

Time for the CTA's only hit scored in The Netherlands, in 1969. 'I'm a man' is played fairly recognisable. The guitar playing is a lot louder and wilder. Kath goes out on a limb given half the chance. Showing how fast he can move his fingers around the fret board. The CTA version of the Stevie Winwood/Jimmy Miller composition is energetic and tight. If we think away the percussive interlude on the album version that is. This is a hit song. What is more surprising is that the two ballads mentioned earlier, which were the big hits stateside, didn't do anything over here.

There is some sort of protest heard in the 'Prologue' of 'Someday' both with (August 29, 1968) behind it. Rioting at the national Democratic Party convention in Chicago with police and national guards roughing the yippies, rioters and news people up. CTA clearly makes a political statement here by including something of the proceedings on its album.

It all ends with the upbeat 'Liberation'. The song sounds very 60s. The organ sounding like a vague mid sixties disco track from a second rate French porno movie. This disappears because of Terry Kath's guitar ripping the mellow mood apart. 'Liberation' is a near 15 minute song, that goes all out. An experiment the band undoubtedly brought from its stage shows to the studio and played around with some more. Side four of the double album was filled too. The change in mood, circa 11 minutes into the song reminds me straight away of 'Voodoo chile, slight return'. Finally there is some singing as well. One line, before the band returns to the theme it all started with. And some drum soloing at the end. Why not?

The Chicago Transit Authority came as a surprise. I had no idea Chicago could be this good. Until very recently I just liked three songs (and was pleasantly familiar with some famous ballads, lets keep it at that). A whole double album was added to this number of three songs. Where's Chicago II? Time to check that album out also.


You can listen to 'I'm a man' here.

vrijdag 28 maart 2014

Horizons. Détroit

Als Horizons van Détroit een normale plaat was zou ik hem waarschijnlijk al lang hebben onthaald als één van de meesterwerken van 2013. Als Horizons van Détroit een normale plaat was zou ik er op iedere donkere en regenachtige avond naar luisteren. Als Horizons van Détroit een normale plaat was zou ik iedereen nu met klem aanraden om deze plaat te beluisteren. Maar helaas, Horizons van Détroit is geen normale plaat. Dat is de afgelopen maand wel duidelijk ook, want de meeste muziekjournalisten zwijgen de plaat dood of doen net of ze niet weten wie er achter deze plaat zit. Détroit is een duo dat bestaat uit Bertrand Cantat en Pascal Humbert. Met de laatste is helemaal niets mis. Pascal Humbert speelde in 16 Horsepower en maakte samen met Jean-Yves Tola een fascinerende plaat als Lilium. Met Bertrand Cantat is echter heel veel mis. De Fransman, die in het verleden de Franse band Noir Désir aanvoerde, sloeg 11 jaar geleden zijn toenmalige vriendin dood in de Litouwse hoofdstad Vilnius. Het excessieve geweld leverde hem uiteindelijk een gevangenisstraf van slechts acht jaar op, waarvan Cantat er maar vier daadwerkelijk achter de tralies doorbracht. Ook met zijn volgende levensgezel liep het slecht af. De vrouw met wie hij na zijn gevangenisstraf trouwde pleegde een paar jaar geleden zelfmoord, maar niet nadat ze aan iedereen die het wilde horen had verteld dat Bertrand Cantat een gevaarlijke gek is. Naar de nieuwe muziek van Bertrand Cantat was ik daarom net zo benieuwd als naar de opnamen die Charles Manson heeft gemaakt nadat hij aan het moorden was geslagen en achter de tralies verdween. Totaal niet benieuwd dus. Waarom ik toch ben gaan luisteren? Ik weet niet. Misschien door een aantal buitengewoon lovende recensies van (met name Franse) journalisten die net doen of Bertrand Cantat een rebel met een blanco strafblad is? Misschien omdat de plaat overal rondslingert? Misschien omdat Pascal Humbert wel een eerlijke kans verdient? Ik weet het echt niet. Wat ik wel weet is dat Horizons van Détroit een bijzonder indrukwekkende plaat is. Bij zijn veroordeling heeft de rechter bepaald dat Cantat nooit songs mag schrijven over de moord op zijn vriendin, maar er is nog genoeg ellende over in de wereld. Horizons is een aardedonkere plaat. Een gitzwarte plaat. Het is een plaat met twee zwakke broeders, toevallig de enige twee Engelstalige songs op de plaat, maar de rest is ijzersterk. De muziek van Détroit is donker en duister en doet wel wat denken aan Nick Cave die zijn kantoor in Londen weer heeft verruild voor een leven in de goot. De muziek is geweldig, de vocalen van Bertrand Cantat zitten vol emotie en doorleving. Horizons van Détroit is een plaat die je genadeloos bij de strot kan grijpen. Horizons van Détroit is een plaat die een onuitwisbare indruk kan maken. Het kan, maar hiervoor moet je je wel eerst over de persoon Bertrand Cantat heen kunnen stappen. Ik geef het eerlijk toe, ik kan het niet, maar een mooie plaat is dit zeker. Jammer dat niet iemand anders hem heeft gemaakt.

Erwin Zijleman

Je kunt hier naar 'Droit dans le soleil' luisteren.

donderdag 27 maart 2014

Blank project. Neneh Cherry

Neneh Cherry viel op als lid van de eigenzinnige postpunk/funk band Rip Rig + Panic, maar maakte pas echt indruk met haar debuut Raw Like Sushi, dat dit jaar al weer 25 jaar oud is. Dankzij een aantal bijzonder aanstekelijke singles en een fris eigen geluid werd Neneh Cherry direct een wereldster. Mede vanwege een wat lage productiviteit wist de in Stockholm en New York opgegroeide Neneh Cherry de verkregen status helaas niet lang vast te houden. Haar tweede en derde cd, Homebrew uit 1992 en Man uit 1996 wisten het succes van Raw Like Sushi niet te benaderen, ondanks het feit dat het minstens even goede of misschien zelfs wel betere platen waren. Na Man was het 16 jaar vrijwel stil rond Neneh Cherry (ze dook nog wel een keer op als zangeres bij de zwaar onderschatte band cirKus), maar twee jaar geleden keerde Cherry samen met de avant-gardistische Scandinavische jazzband The Thing terug in de spotlights. Ik vond The Cherry Thing persoonlijk een bijzonder geslaagde comeback, maar de plaat deed helaas niet heel veel. Ook het vorige week verschenen Blank Project gaat het niet makkelijk krijgen, want Neneh Cherry heeft wederom een lastig te doorgronden plaat gemaakt. Op Blank Project werkt Cherry samen met de van Four Tet bekende Kieran Hebden en het Britse tweetal Rocketnumbernine. Laatstgenoemden hebben de nog altijd uitstekende vocalen van Neneh Cherry voorzien van een even intrigerend als ongrijpbaar elektronisch klankentapijt, waarin met name de ritmes keer op keer onnavolgbaar blijken en waarin invloeden uit de jazz (die Neneh van stiefvader Don met de paplepel kreeg ingegoten) een belangrijke rol spelen. Hebden heeft de in slechts vijf dagen opgenomen plaat keurig opgepoetst en voorzien van een geluid waarin de stem van Neneh Cherry alle ruimte krijgt. Blank Project is zoals gezegd zeker geen makkelijke plaat, maar persoonlijk was ik direct bij de eerste luisterbeurt om. Het siert Neneh Cherry dat ze sinds haar kortstondige carrière als popprinses muziek is gaan maken die vernieuwd en tegen de haren in strijkt. Blank Project is met name door de donkere en dreigende instrumentatie een lastig te doorgronden plaat, maar ook de zang van Neneh Cherry is verre van alledaags. De muziek en de vocalen lijken in een aantal gevallen niet synchroon te lopen, wat een vervreemdend effect heeft. Het is een effect dat eenvoudig omslaat in een bezwerend effect, zeker wanneer Cherry zich vrijwel uitsluitend laat begeleiden door percussie en laat horen dat ze in vocaal opzicht in een uitstekende vorm steekt. Ik viel zelf ooit voor de zoete verleiding van Raw Like Sushi, maar moet concluderen dat Neneh Cherry sindsdien alleen maar betere platen is gaan maken. Blank Project trekt die lijn door en is nog net wat beter dan The Cherry Thing van twee jaar geleden. Veel kans op commercieel succes geef ik Neneh Cherry niet met deze plaat, maar het getoonde muzikale lef dwingt heel veel respect af. Ik schrijf hem zelf alvast op voor de jaarlijstjes.

Erwin Zijleman

Je kunt hier luisteren naar 'Out of the black'.

woensdag 26 maart 2014

Burn your fire for no witness. Angel Olsen

Angel Olsen is an American singer-songwriter from St. Louis, who has worked with Bonnie 'Prince' Billy and the Cairo Gang. Burn your fire for no witness is her second full length album, the first one noticed by me. And what an album it is.

Having Will Oldham as a starting point for this review is not such a strange claim to stake. Several of Angel Olsen's songs also have this mystical atmosphere that could have put them down as a recording from anywhere in the United States' history, if only they had had recording devices in the 18th or 19th century. Where Oldham often stops there, Olsen dives deeper and certainly further. It is at this point that the adventure that Burn your fire for no witness starts.

The album starts off with a song with a very interesting title 'unfucktheworld'. A very lo-fi recording, that could have been recorded anywhere at any time with a minimum between Angel Olsen and the recording device. If you listen carefully you hear one vocal overdub, ghostly in the background. That is all. Voice, guitar. Don't expect any world encompassing statements. 'Unfucktheworld' is purely personal, about "mending troubles in her heart" and about "losing her reasons". No matter how small this song is, it is a 100% certified Nirvana song. Just plug in and it will happen.

The change to 'Forgiven/Forgotten' is large. Angel Olsen does plug in and comes up with a The Velvet Underground cum Dum Dum Girls rocker. The mood is still lo-fi and the world is not well if someone has to be forgiven a thousand times for loving someone. Let's change again to an electrically charged country tearjerker. ("I feel so lonesome I could cry". The stage for this album is clear I'd say.) This combination works well by the way. The tear in the voice of Angel Olsen with the tear in the distorted guitar sound. The piano kicking in half way through the song gives 'Hi five' this little extra. It is in songs like these last two that Angel Olsen goes well behind Bonnie 'Prince' Billy.

A song like 'White fire' on the other hand could well be on an album of Bonnie Prince' Billy. It is a subdued, very traditional folk song. Well, at heart that is, but all these little atmospheric disturbances are let into the background. It's never totally clear what exactly is going on. A musical equivalent of suspense, the hint at horror. Listening objectively there is not much going on in 'White fire' and still I cannot stop listening to the song. At the same time I'm reminded of what Gretchen Lohse does on her debut album 'Primal rumble'. 'White fire' is one dimension deeper in atmosphere, but both singers aim for the same result: a very attentive ear from the listener, while at the root of things singing a folk song.

With 'High & wild' Angel Olsen really surprised me. She brings a great pop feel to this dark song. With a John Cale pounding piano driving the song forward, I'm wishing on the spot that Angel Olsen could take Nico's place in some The Velvet Underground songs during a tour that will never happen again.  Burn your fire for no witness keeps this balance between band and smallness intact to great effect. With 'Iota' there is even a song with a distinct 50s feel. An acoustic guitar and brushes on the snare. The plucked bass is the dissonant here.

There may not be many rays of light on Burn your fire for no witness but that is no problem in winter. Whether this is also true in summer, time will tell. Loneliness springs up from every note, something that is not changed by the musicians around her. Angel Olson has made an album that should get her a status Elliot Smith had. She creates her own universe around folk tunes and takes them in directions that not everyone does. That sets her apart in a very pleasant way from the fold.


You can listen to 'Hi five' here.

dinsdag 25 maart 2014

Promises of no man´s land. Blaudzun

Blaudzun took The Netherlands by storm in 2012. With a great album, 'Heavy flowers', TV appearances and sold out shows at the larger pop venues. This blog reported on both musical outings on record and live in the spring of 2012. Success may have put some pressure on Johannes Sigmund to come up with a follow-up. Listening to Promises of no man's land, there is no difficult follow-up syndrome in sight. Although there is a slight worry about a Blaudzun format for future records, on this fourth record there is no fear of that. Promises of no man's land deepens Blaudzun's sound some more and while digging seems to have found the motherload. Promises of no man's land is richer in texture, wilder in sound and even better. I have no hesitation to state this right here and now.

Blaudzun is the brainchild of Johannes Sigmund. At the core he is a singer-songwriter, who takes songs to the band to puff them up. At a show you see that everybody plays what is necessary to make a song come alive. Instruments are switched the whole time, giving a very lively feel to the show, but also gives the impression that everything is possible. As if what we see is accidental and could have easily worked in a different setting as well.

This album starts with confusion. What am I looking at? An odd choice for a cover, but certainly art and a statement of some sort, although I'm not sure what. The music itself does not confuse. The first songs are instantly recognisable as Blaudzun. The diversification comes in the second half of the album, when the mood goes down and the embellishments are shed off for at least parts of songs. 'Wingbeat' may have some reminiscences to Mumford & Sons, but easily beats each individual song by this band. 'Wingbeat' is a fantastic song that starts off solitary, empty and ends with a climax, that also ends the album. Totally unexpected everything ends, while 'Wingbeat' seemed like a nice jump-start for another great song. What a way to end an album!

Promises of no man's land starts off holding back. Musically totally in contradiction to the title of the song 'Euphoria'. The subject of choice may well be Blaudzun's response to the feeling of elation the band must have felt after the breakthrough in 2012. 'Euphoria' is the ideal bridge between 'Heavy flowers' and Promises of no man's land. Reminding most of the songs on the previous album. Musically the euphoria comes forward more in the first single of the album, the title song. Blaudzun is not the kind of band that will ever have a just happy song, but the way the verses change into the upbeat chorus, with its languorously spread out piano notes, comes as close as possible with this band. Great song and choice for a single by the way. A sign than Blaudzun dares to take songs out one step further than before. The same goes for the heavy handed  'Too many hopes for July'.  It is again the piano that gives an air of lightness to the being of the song. Not unlike the role of Roy Bittan in the E Street Band. Blaudzun rocks hard here and gets away with it just fine.

The next song is 'Hollow people'. Just by listening to the intro it is clear that the pop feel that the intro gives to 'Hollow people' takes Blaudzun as a whole to another level. The melancholy that is inherent in if not the trademark of Blaudzun's music, is given a shiny polish treatment, that makes the melancholy comes out as the perfect balance between bitter and sweet. The song even has a coda as if Armin van Buren or Avicii has become a bandmember. 'Wasteland' has this by now familiar Blaudzun sound, the violins in the background doing there long held note thing. By then it is clear that Promises of a no man's land is a fantastic album. There is no doubt left. The only down side to this album is that it seems to be over before I started listening. It is over so soon! Or does time just stop when I listen to it? This high quality is not maintained over the second half of the record as a whole, but that is only by comparison of a set of songs so close to perfection, that almost nothing comes close. But then 'Streets of Babylon', 'Halcyon' are also great songs. So what am I writing just now?

Blaudzun is back with his best album to date. As if Johannes Sigmund has cast aside all modesty and shyness. Promises of no man's land is an album that ought to make Blaudzun a well known name in a lot more countries than my own. This takes more than just good music. Meeting the right people, people giving the right push at the right moment, etc. In the meantime I hope to see the band in one of the local venues close to me, before he breaks big in 2015. Promises of no man's land is one of the best records released in 2014 so far. I'm starting to become quite proud to be Dutch from a musical point of view.


You can listen to 'Promises of no man's land' here.

maandag 24 maart 2014

Spooky Two. Spooky Tooth

It's time to start a new series. In the early fall of 1968 I discovered that something like the Top 40 existed and became a great fan of lists, numbers and the songs in that list. In the first year I discovered many new songs and bands, some that I know only one song of, that major or minor hit in the Top 40. Most bands I forgot about totally. Albums didn't exist for me at that time. I had some singles and the radio, every day. Later on I never bought an album from bands mostly forgotten. Now with Spotify on hand it is possible to delve into this treasure trove of vague memories of songs and hits. So what is the album that holds this hit like? We start with Spooky Two, because of the hit 'That was only yesterday'.

This was a quite surprising journey to be honest. From memory I had a vague recollection of the chorus of 'That was only yesterday'. The whole rest of the song was totally unfamiliar to me. I had a recollection of a great chorus, that was all. So let's take a closer look at Spooky Tooth and its second album.

Spooky Two was released in March of 1969, obviously as the second album of the band. Spooky Tooth had formed in 1967 under the name Art and has released one album under that name, 'Supernatural fairy tales' in 1967. Soon after U.S. born organ player/vocals Gary Wright joined Art the name was changed to Spooky Tooth. The other band members were Mike Harrison, keyboard/vocals; Luke Grosvenor, guitar/vocals; Greg Ridley, bass/vocals and Mike Kellie, drums. This means that Spooky Tooth had a line up like Procul Harum with two keyboard players in the band, which is not an average line up for a rock band.

Spooky two kicks off with bare drums. After a while a rough sounding organ comes in with a just as rough singing. Reminding me of Paul Rodgers of Free. The organ is played like Jon Lord would rise to fame with from 1970 onwards. 'Waitin' for the wind' has two lead vocals actually. Something that is something of a trademark for Spooky Tooth. The hard rocking sound is just fine, with some nice riffing by Grosvenor.

The surprise with the second song could not be greater. A west coast hippy, folk song, that would have fitted nicely on a Jefferson Airplane record. 'Feeling bad' is a great song, something I really, really, like. Some great singing, with some female background singing hidden in the masses. Something which is not so subtly hidden in the ballad 'I've got enough heartaches'. The sort of song that mixes pop, soul and rocksinging like Steve Winwood used to be so good at. Joe Cocker could have covered this song as well. The surprising thing is that drummer Mike Kellie is involved in the songwriting of the last two songs.

The fourth song is the 9.00 minutes full rock riffery of 'Evil woman' a song written by a Larry Weiss. The high voice used here is something to get used to, but does underscore the emotions evoked by the two keyboards. In 'Evil woman' Grosvenor can rock out on his guitar in a long solo. A solo that has speed but seems to lose the song for a while under way, before it all comes nicely together again.

After 'Evil woman' Gary Wright takes over the album. Probably the whole side two of the vinyl album. The last four songs are all from his hand. The mood changes from a rock, bluesy band to more psychedelic. 'Lost in my dreams' is much more subtle than the other songs. There is this dreamy quality to the song. Not in the slightest because of the female harmony oohs and aahs, but also in the tempo changes that are going on in the song. In the verses, Grosvenor's guitar riffs hard in the back of the right side of the mix. Traffic comes to mind here and not for the first time on this album.

And then, the famous single. To my surprise Spooky Tooth is doing a The Monkees here. A jab at a commercial hit 'That was only yesterday' was. The verses are these sweet, soft and poppy with an extremely neat mouth harp intro. That 45 years after hearing the song for the first time, I still remembered the chorus (mostly without the lyrics as I couldn't understand English at the time) is not a surprise. This is a chorus. With great guitar playing, again not unlike Jorma Kaukonen on JA's first album 'Takes off'. Also I would like to point out that bass player Greg Ridley (who soon switched to Humble Pie after this release) plays some nice notes here. This makes that 'That was only yesterday' is sort of set aside from all else going on on Spooky two. 'Better by you, better than me' is again a rougher sounding song, with some bitter, emotional singing stressed by guitar and keyboard. Another song that sounds like a prelude to Deep Purple in 1970.

It all ends with 'Hangman hang my shell on tree'. This song has a folk start. Acoustic guitar and soft singing. Further on in the song it is shown that 'Feeling bad' was no exception for Spooky Tooth. Another good song. Not very much unlike Led Zeppelin would be doing very, very soon in 1969, just a little slicker.

To be honest, I'm quite surprised by the quality offered on Spooky Two. The album may not be totally consistent in music as in the sort of music played, as far as the songs go individually there's not one single miss here. Spooky Two is embedded in music that I have bought through the years by bands that became famous soon after 1969. Some names were mentioned above. Spooky Tooth missed out here. Perhaps because band members started walking out soon after this release and the next, perhaps Spooky Two was just it. Anyway, if you like some good classic rock infused with some blues, soul and a slice psychedelia, this is something to try out.


You can listen to 'That was only yesterday' here.

zondag 23 maart 2014

Benji. Sun Kil Moon

Mijn eerste kennismaking met de muziek van Mark Kozelek dateert uit het jaar 2000 toen zijn solodebuut Rock ‘N Roll Singer verscheen. Het solodebuut van de Amerikaanse muzikant trok vooral aandacht via de bijna verstilde covers van een aantal AC/DC songs. Ik was er zo van onder de indruk dat ik op zoek ging naar de rest van het werk van Mark Kozelek, wat me uiteraard op het spoor bracht van het fraaie oeuvre van Red House Painters; de band uit San Francisco die tussen 1992 en 1996 vijf briljante platen uitbracht (Down Colorful Hill, Red House Painters I, Red House Painters II, Ocean Beach en Songs For A Blue Guitar) en in 2001 nog één keer terugkeerde met het minstens even fraaie Old Ramon. Mark Kozelek leverde in datzelfde jaar (2001) een nog veel betere soloplaat af (What's Next To The Moon) en heeft inmiddels een flink aantal soloplaten op zijn naam staan. Hiernaast formeerde hij in 2003 de band Sun Kil Moon, die met name in haar beginjaren garant stond voor platen van een bijna onwerkelijke schoonheid (Ghosts of the Great Highway, Tiny Cities, April). Toch wel enigszins tot mijn verbazing wist geen van de platen van Mark Kozelek of Sun Kil Moon de afgelopen jaren een plekje op de krenten uit de pop te veroveren, maar werden beiden wel flink wat keren genoemd als inspiratiebron of vergelijkingsmateriaal. De platen van Kozelek zelf waren mooi, maar op één of andere manier had ik het wel gehoord. Het is een opmerking die terugkomt in meerdere recensies van de nieuwe plaat van Sun Kil Moon, maar het onlangs verschenen Benji heeft mij juist weer wel te pakken. Benji is een type Mark Kozelek of Sun Kil Moon plaat. Ook op Benji grossiert Kozelek in uiterst spaarzaam gearrangeerde songs (vaak volstaat wat getokkel op zijn akoestische gitaar, maar er kan ook opeens een saxofoon of een drumpartij opduiken), waarin zijn wat getergde stemgeluid de hoofdrol speelt, hier en daar bijgestaan door vanuit de diepte opduikende achtergrondzang (van onder andere Will Oldham en Steve Shelley). De wat sombere ondertoon van de muziek van Mark Kozelek is dit keer direct en zeer indringend. Op Benji neemt Mark Kozelek je mee terug naar zijn jeugd in Ohio en dit is een jeugd met pieken en dalen, waarin seks, muziek en de dood centraal staan. Kozelek is nog altijd een meester in het maken van bijna verstilde songs, maar zo indringend als op Benji waren ze nog niet vaak. Zeker wanneer Kozelek de minder mooie herinneringen uit zijn jeugd ophaalt grijpt Benji je genadeloos bij de strot, maar ook zijn eerste liefdes en seksuele escapades bezingt Mark Kozelek zoals alleen hij dat kan. En alsof er al niet genoeg leed is sleept Kozelek er ook nog wat seriemoordenaars bij. Benji leek bij eerste beluistering nog vooral een herhalingsoefening, maar bij de tweede keer was de plaat me al net zo dierbaar als de eerste platen van Kozelek en Sun Kil Moon, die inmiddels al weer meer dan tien jaar geleden verschenen. De muziek van Mark Kozelek balanceert de afgelopen 15 jaar vrijwel continu op het randje. Soms is het me allemaal net te deprimerend waardoor ik de plaat maar in de kast laat, maar zo af en toe klinkt het ook net wat te lichtvoetig, waardoor de muziek van Kozelek een belangrijk deel van zijn kracht verlies. Benji schiet niet door naar één van beide kanten, maar is in alle opzichten raak. Mark Kozelek maakte de afgelopen tien jaar meerdere goede platen, maar ze raakten me geen van allen diep. Benji doet dat wel. En hoe. Wat een prachtplaat.

Erwin Zijleman

Je kunt hier luisteren naar 'I can't live without my mother's love'.

zaterdag 22 maart 2014

The classic. Joan as Police Woman

Whenever I read about Joan Wasser, the name Jeff Buckley is not far away. "Former girlfriend", recently even "fiancée" is added to her name. The question is whether Joan Wasser needs this reference in 2014. The answer is no. After the stunning 'Real life" (2006), released as Joan as Police Woman, the consolidating 'To survive' (2008), the playful and musically liberating 'The deep field' (2011) it is time for Joan's fourth album: The classic. And a classic record it is, as in class. Joan Wasser has found a perfect mix between the sound of her first two albums and the third: the possibility to let in all sorts of influences that take her away from the slow, deeply emotional songs that endeared her to me in 2006, while still honouring their spirit. Whether the ambition of the cover will succeed, Goldfinger, i.e. going for gold, time will tell; the classic deserves to be heard.

'The deep field' was one of my favourite albums of 2011. That means that The classic has something to jump over. Does it succeed in doing so? The first signs are quite favourable. Joan as Police Woman's latest release immediately found its place with me. That is a good sign for a new album by a liked artist. The first thing I noticed is that Joan Wasser is singing in her strength again. Where on 'The deep field' she allowed a shrill side of her voice to shine through, something that was not enjoyed by all people I know from personal experience, on The classic this has mostly gone. The slow, languid way of singing is back in most songs. A way of singing that makes the songs seem slower than they actually are. The contrast between 'Witness' and 'Ask me' on The classic, so to say.

The second thing that I noticed listening to this song set for the first time was the tremendous variety. Doo wop, soul, reggae, pop and Joan as Police Woman music, all come by and mould themselves to one coherent album. 'Witness' is of course an exuberant song. With its sharp accents on the organ and horns, it invites to make a body move. Followed by the up-tempo 'Holy city', a 2014 version of soul music. There is a great build up to the beautiful chorus. Joan Wasser is out on the very limit of her voice and comes away with it. The playfulness of 'Holy city' shows the growth as a songwriter she has made in this decade. At this point into the album, two songs, I knew that things were moving just nice.

The third song, title song 'The classic', is doo wop with modern beats. Something that totally comes as a surprise. Where does this out of fashion music come from? It gives a distinct flavour to The classic and authenticity. In 'Good together' Joan as Police Woman delves a level deeper, in a beautiful song with a great line: "Don't want to be nostalgic for something that never was". It is also at this point into the album that a third winning element comes really into view. The (co-)production and multi-instrumentalism of Tyler Wood. The warm notes of an Hammond organ are all over the first part of 'Good together'. Where it ends with a total guitar outing by Joan Wasser. Talking about a song being brought to a climax!

The classic keeps this level of songs and surprises up quite easily. The switch to the softness of 'Get direct' is almost unbelievable. Such a contrast. 'Get direct' is Al Green, 'Sexual healing', soft, mellow, with something lurking in the background of the elementary drums and the dark, brooding electric piano notes. Not all seems well. A feeling that is certainly continued in 'What would you do', that starts out with this question followed by "if you found me dying/dead"? Musically 'What would you do' is more filled up. Organ, drums, horns, giving the right mood to this dark song. A song that has a very surprising twist in the final quarter, providing hope: "There will always be a way out".

With a beautiful soul ballad nearly at the end of The classic, 'Stay', I can only sum up that The classic has endeared itself to me with the first spins. Joan as Police Woman has made a great new record in an oeuvre that is becoming more interesting with the record.


You can listen to 'Holy city' here.

vrijdag 21 maart 2014

Emmaar. Tinariwen

Tinariwen zette de Afrikaanse woestijnrock zo’n 13 jaar geleden op de kaart met haar opvallende debuut The Radio Tisdas Sessions, dat na heel veel mooie verhalen langzaam maar zeker het Europese vasteland wist te bereiken. Sindsdien maakte de uit Toeareg nomaden bestaande band, die ooit eens werd geformeerd in een rebellenkamp in Libië, een aantal bijzonder fraaie platen, met het in 2011 verschenen Tassili als voorlopig hoogtepunt. Tassili werd opgenomen in Algerije, maar werd hierna voorzien van Amerikaanse accenten door een aantal blazers uit New Orleans en fraai gitaarwerk van Wilco gitarist Nels Cline. Het is momenteel nogal onrustig in de Noord Afrikaanse woestijnen en thuisbasis Mali en daarom is Tinariwen voor het opnemen van Emmaar uitgeweken naar de Noord-Amerikaanse woestijn. Emmaar werd opgenomen in een studio in Joshua National Park in California en ook daar gedijt de woestijnrock van Tinariwen uitstekend. Emmaar werd niet alleen opgenomen in de VS, maar laat ook een aantal Amerikaanse muzikanten horen (onder wie Matt Sweeney en Red Hot Chili Peppers gitarist Josh Klinghoffer) en werd bovendien geproduceerd door een Amerikaan (de van Jack White en Dead Weather bekende Patrick Votan). Ik had daarom verwacht dat Emmaar Westerser zou klinken dan zijn voorgangers, maar dat blijkt niet het geval. Op haar nieuwe plaat maakt Tinariwen bezwerende woestijnrock waarin de Afrikaanse invloeden domineren. Net als het vorig jaar verschenen meesterwerk van Tamikrest (Chatma) is het een plaat met een bijna hypnotiserende werking. Emmaar staat vol met gitaarwerk dat invloeden uit de Mali blues vermengt met invloeden uit de psychedelische rootsmuziek uit de jaren 70. Het is bezwerende muziek die een hallucinerende werking krijgt door de bijzondere percussie en de Afrikaanse, vaak meerstemmige, zang op de plaat. Het tempo ligt over het algemeen laag, zodat de op de gitaar gespeelde noten en akkoorden alle tijd krijgen om de ruimte te vullen. Tinariwen trad in Joshua Tree National Park aan in een forse bezetting, waardoor de plaat vol en afwisselend klinkt. Het is een plaat die je direct uit de hectiek van onze samenleving trekt en de drukte van de Nederlandse randstad verruilt voor de universele taal van de woestijn. Het blijft knap hoe Tinariwen met beperkte middelen een maximaal effect sorteert. De vaak uit handgeklap bestaande percussie is effectiever dan die van een drummer die beschikt over een fors aantal trommels en ook het gitaarwerk is groots in zijn eenvoud. Waar ik normaal gesproken een liefhebber ben van popsongs met een kop en een staart, mogen de songs van Tinariwen van mij oneindig doorgaan. Juist de herhaling van gitaarloopjes en de wat monotone percussie en zang geven de muziek van Tinariwen immers haar unieke karakter. Het effect van de muziek van de band is nog lang niet uitgewerkt, want ook Emmaar is weer zo’n plaat die je keer op keer wilt horen, al is het maar om wat langer te kunnen vertoeven in de bijzondere muzikale wereld waar Tinariwen je keer op keer in trekt. Emmaar is alles bij elkaar genomen niet heel anders dan de vorige platen van Tinariwen, maar het zijn juist de kleine verschillen die de plaat urgent maken. In de woestijn ligt altijd veel zand, maar toch is de Sahara iets anders dan de Sinaï of de Noord-Amerikaanse woestijnen. Hetzelfde geldt eigenlijk voor het oeuvre van Tinariwen, dat ons met Emmaar net weer wat andere woestijnrock voorschotelt. Het niveau is zoals altijd torenhoog. Tamikrest maakte vorig jaar de beste plaat in het genre. Dit jaar neemt Tinariwen het stokje weer over, dat is zeker.

Erwin Zijleman

Je kunt hier luisteren naar 'Emmaar'.

donderdag 20 maart 2014

Cees Veerman, 1943 - 2014. I.M.

It's been many a year since I gave a musical thought to The Cats, let alone voluntarily listened to one of its songs. A band from long ago, that made this soft, slick pop music. It even had its own name: "palingpop", eelpop, a moniker invented by Radio Veronica DJ Joost den Draaier, as The Cats came from Volendam, a fishing village to the north east of Amsterdam on the borders of the former Zuiderzee, IJsselmeer.

When I seriously discovered music at the age of 8, this band was one of the biggest in The Netherlands with huge hits like 'Lea' and 'Why'. Songs that now to me are the musical equivalent of the paintings of the crying gypsy boy or clown. Loads and loads of violins, slow tempo and a perpetual tear in the voice of Piet Veerman. Songs so sweet that the enamel jumps straight off my teeth. But what did I know at the age of 8? 'Lea' was on the radio, 'Lea' was a big hit, so it was a good song. Life was almost this simple at the age of 8. Almost; a song like 'Heidschi bumbeidschi' by Heintje definitely was not cool. And finally 'Lea' was on a compilation LP I got late in 1969: 'Their greatest hits'. It held another great The Cats song as well, 'Vaya con dios', that only became a hit in 1972, "years" after I had left The Cats behind as a band I liked. I had one album in 1969, so 'Lea' was a good song. (The ugliest song then on 'Their greatest hits', is now the only one I can still listen to. One of the best rocksongs to come out of The Netherlands: Brainbox's 'Down man'.)

When Robin Gibb died two years ago, I wrote that I couldn't really place Bee Gees music of 1967 - 1970. The closest I could come up with was: The Cats. Now listening to a greatest hits while writing this obituary about my youth long gone, I know that this reference was correct, although Bee Gees are even further out there. The Cats also have this sweetness and this kind of popmusic that has nothing to do with anything that is considered the great songbook of the sixties. Both bands will never be mentioned when a list starting with The Beatles is referenced.

In 2014, looking back at The Cats, I have to admit that a song like 'One way wind' and especially on of The Cats no.1 hits 'Marian' are near perfect pop songs. The close harmonies of the band are just great. This band could sing together, whatever the stories were about the bandmembers playing their instruments on their own records or not, the singing is great. Cees Veerman is one of the main composers of The Cats, together with bass player Arnold Muhren (no, not the footballer) and a main part of the harmonies. As such he leaves behind a legacy that many people will play for many years to come. He was also by far the most rock looking of The Cats.The Cats will never be my band, but, yes, it did make some great hits.


You can listen to 'Marian' here.

woensdag 19 maart 2014

We both know the rest is noise. Moss

This is one of the moments that I realise that this blog is running for over two years. When I start reviewing an album by a band who's previous album was on this blog also. Yesterday Blood Red Shoes and now Moss. We both know the rest is noise is Moss' fourth album and shows the steady progress the band is making. As far as I'm concerned We both know... is the best since its debut album. Another great release in the year 2014 and Dutch bands are competing as hard for a top 10 position at the end of this year as bands from the U.K. or U.S. who more habitually are in these lists on my side of things. Moss certainly will be contending in 2014.

We both know... is an urgent album. Moss has rediscovered rhythm it seems. Drums play a prominent role on We both know... Several songs are fast driven, rhythmically dominant, with clear influences from dance music as well, without the music not being Moss. Having listened to this new album for several times now, it is clear to me that this direction is the correct one for Moss to take. To develop the link from 'Never be scared/Don't be a hero' to 'Ornaments' further would mean that one day the listener would have been presented with total silence, non-songs, atmosphere. Somewhere in the past year Marien Dorleijn, the principle songwriter of Moss, seems to have been kicked hard in the rhythm part of his creative brain cells. Listening to some Radiohead might have helped here. 'Reset' is so obviously Radiohead that this must be the correct conclusion.

We both know... has these songs on it that seem like the devil is high on the heels of Moss. Onwards and forwards it goes, ever forward. The 'Sweet nothings' like point of rest in the form of the beautiful 'Bruised' is a welcome one by that point into the album. The Velvet Underground as a whole can be mentioned here as a reference point for We both know... 'She's got a secret' has the same sense of urgency 'What goes on' has. A hellhound on Moss' trail. The brilliant way the electric guitar kicks in twice, the great bass line that gets the full spotlight. 'She's got a secret' is a declaration, not a song. Some The Strokes guitar playing can be found also on this album. All aimed at making a song better, without giving away one inch of Moss' identity.

Another pattern on We both know... is that voices make up a large part of the instrumentation. Oohs and aahs and snippets of lyrics are used to fill up all corners of several songs. This element makes We both know... on the one hand sound very busy, tense even, but on the other creates this beautiful atmosphere. This last word is the right description for the whole album. It is extremely atmospheric. So when there is a song without any drums, 'Slower end', it just fits in beautifully. Bringing the frantic pace down allowing the listener to breath. With 'This is the end of everything' We both know... gives away its price song. Slow, beautiful, fantastic.

We both know... is, next to all the other things going on, a sonic adventure. There is just a lot going on in the many layers and textures of the sound that make up this album. Moss has not only rediscovered drums, but all sorts of keyboards come by also. In the form of soundscapes, psychedelic organs from the past or more "normal" sounding. Delightful retro sounds escape these keyboards, while Moss doesn't shun a modern sound as well. Guitars are played in a sonically, rhythmic way. A bit like Radiohead, but also The Cure comes by. The form in which the title song plays out with its long intro, shows that despite all this name dropping, Moss is out there with the best of them. I can't wait to see the band play live to be honest. This hypnotic music must be something to watch and listen to.

We both know the rest is noise is Moss' best album to date. I have not one single doubt here. Moss has let several, clear sounding influences into its music, without losing itself in this process.  To the contrary, it led to the band creating songs with an extremely high quality, sounding great and full of urgency. We both know the rest is noise is a fabulous album, that already now makes that I can't wait to hear what will be next.


You can listen to 'She's got a secret' here.

dinsdag 18 maart 2014

Blood Red Shoes. Blood Red Shoes

The band that produced my favourite album of 2012 and had a very nice interlude EP in 2013, is back with a new album. It is simply named after the band itself: Blood Red Shoes. It only took me a few songs to fall in a deep musical love with Blood Red Shoes. Although it is impossible to write here what the impact of Blood Red Shoes will be in the months and years to come, in the here and now I dare to say that this album is better than 'In time to voices'. The quality in the second part of Blood Red Shoes is more consistent. Whether that is the influence of not working with anybody else and isolating itself in Berlin may well be. The outcome is a rough sounding, hard rocking album, with some pleasant, but dark overtones.

Blood Red Shoes is a duo from Brighton in the U.K. consisting of Laura-Mary Carter on guitar and Steven Ansell on drums. The music Blood Red Shoes plays ranges from punkrock to hardrock with an edge of grunge in there. Blood Red Shoes certainly has found the well Kurt Cobain dipped his pen in, but just as easily has a pop element in its music like colleague duo The Black Keys has found on its last album 'El camino'. Listen to the great riff in 'A perfect mess' for that. A last element is the rock side to David Bowie, that chip of U.K. cool, that Bowie can serve up, certainly has found its way into the mix of Blood Red Shoes.

I've liked this band from the first album, 'Box of secrets' (2008), although I had my doubts whether things would come out alright after 'Fire like this' (2010) was released. All doubts, if I had any after 'In time to voices' left, are gone with the release of Blood Red Shoes. This band has nestled itself in the top league of new favourite bands. Under Arctic Monkeys, but certainly up there with Franz Ferdinand and Kaizers Orchestra (ex- Kaizers Orchestra. No more musical disastrous news from Norway, please!)

Blood Red Shoes at first is this storm of rock music that was unleashed on me. This wall of sound that rocked loud, with so many nice melodies and riffs flying around. These loud all filling rhythm and pounding on the drums. Man - woman singing in and out of the songs, alternating, harmonies, solo. Too much to differentiate at first. Just very, very good. Without a single dip, I was at the end of the album and just played it again and again. I was in the middle of an aural trip without end. Until my regular life came knocking and the trip had to be ended.

That gave me time to listen again later and more in-depth. That was when other pearls revealed itself. The psychedelic, slow paced, hard-edged 'Cigarettes in the dark'. The deep-gutted oomph several songs get in the right places. A dark piece of guitar sound that kicks in so hard that it makes a song electrifying. But mostly it is the heavenly melodies that drive me into this album full speed. 'An animal', 'Tightwire'? These are just great, great songs. It also doesn't matter who of the duo sings lead. There's no basic difference in the songs, nor in the quality. Besides, they sing lead alternated within songs as well. The melodic strength of the songs does not depend on the voice of either Laura-Mary or Steven. This is covered in every song. Blood Red Shoes has this pop jewel element well hidden under a layer of noise and pounding that seeps through every time, again and again in each song.

With 2014 only two and a half month on the way, another important release is in the pocket. Blood Red Shoes is an album that I will be playing for a while to come, just like 'In time to voices' broke a record in my iPod in 2012. Blood Red Shoes is one of the best bands around at this moment. Period!


You can listen to 'A perfect mess' here.

maandag 17 maart 2014

Too many people in one bed. Sandra Phillips

Sandra Phillips is een Amerikaanse soulzangeres die in de jaren 60 en 70 actief was en uiteindelijk maar één plaat maakte: Too Many People In One Bed. Het debuut van Sandra Phillips werd opgenomen in de roemruchte studio in Muscle Shoals met niemand minder dan Jerry Williams, oftewel Swamp Dogg, achter de knoppen. Deze Swamp Dogg schreef (mee) aan vrijwel alle songs op de plaat, wat Too Many People In One Bed op voorhand een interessante plaat maakt. Saillant detail is dat Swamp Dogg koos voor de samenwerking met Sandra Phillips omdat zijn vorige protegé, Doris Duke, een erg losbandig leven leek te leiden en nauwelijks in de hand te houden was (de titel van het debuut van Sandra Phillips zou hier zomaar een verwijzing naar kunnen zijn). Sandra Phillips blijkt op dit nog altijd urgent klinkende debuut een prima soulzangeres en ook de muzikanten die op de plaat meespelen blijken in een prima vorm te steken. Je vraagt je bij beluistering van Too Many People In One Bed dan ook af waarom het debuut van Sandra Phillips uiteindelijk niet veel meer is geworden dan een voetnoot in de geschiedenis van de soulmuziek, maar dat is nog wel te verklaren. Too Many People In One Bed is een typische Southern Soul plaat en dat genre was al over haar top heen toen het debuut van Sandra Phillips verscheen. Hiernaast is van Swamp Dogg bekend dat hij graag voor anderen schreef, maar zijn beste songs altijd voor zichzelf hield, wat de indruk zou kunnen wekken dat Sandra Phillips op haar debuut aan de haal gaat met de B-keuze materiaal. Het zijn misschien logische verklaringen voor de obscuriteit van Too Many People In One Bed, maar als ik naar de plaat luister begrijp ik er echt geen snars van. Het debuut van Sandra Phillips is een prachtige soulplaat. Haar vocalen zijn doorleefd, rauw en passievol, de instrumentatie op de plaat is zowel sfeervol als broeierig, de productie is bijzonder doeltreffend en met de songs op de plaat is helemaal niets mis. Stop Too Many People In One Bed in de cd speler en het is feest. Stop Too Many People In One Bed in de cd speler en je ziet de popsterretjes van het moment die pretenderen soul te hebben een voor een verbleken. Stop Too Many People In One Bed in de cd speler en je hoort Southern Soul van een hoog niveau. Een zeer hoog niveau. Het debuut van Sandra Phillips behoort, net als veel platen van de wat eigenzinnige Swamp Dogg (die gelukkig ook een voor een weer opduiken), tot de parels uit de geschiedenis van de soulmuziek. De fraaie reissue van de plaat is een eerste stap in de richting van eerherstel voor ten onrechte vergeten soulzangeres. Omarmen die plaat. Liefhebbers van soul krijgen hier geen seconde spijt van.

Erwin Zijleman

zondag 16 maart 2014

Kid face. Samantha Crain

Kid Face van Samantha Crain verscheen vorig jaar al in de Verenigde Staten en kon daar rekenen op zeer positieve recensies. Inmiddels heeft de plaat gelukkig ook een Nederlandse release gekregen en ik voorspel dat de singer-songwriter uit Shawnee, Oklahoma, ook hier warm onthaald zal gaan worden. Samantha Crain, die over Indiaans bloed beschikt, slaagt er op haar tweede plaat immers in om traditionele rootsmuziek te maken die op een of andere manier toch modern klinkt. Dat hoor je nog niet direct in de openingstrack die een redelijk standaard countrygeluid laat horen, maar de tracks die volgen laten een veel opvallender geluid horen. Dat geluid wordt voor een belangrijk deel bepaald door de bijzondere stem van Samantha Crain, die wat mij betreft klinkt als Lorde die haar nieuwe plaat in Nashville heeft opgenomen (maar andere vergelijkingen zijn ook denkbaar). Kid Face staat vol met intieme popliedjes met voornamelijk invloeden uit de folk, maar verrassende uitstapjes zijn nooit ver weg. Het zijn broeierige popliedjes die, wederom vooral dankzij de stem van Samantha Crain, vol emotie zitten, maar het zijn ook popliedjes die opvallen door een sobere maar bijzonder stemmige en vaak wat beklemmende instrumentatie. Samantha Crain maakt luisterliedjes die direct de aandacht trekken, maar het zijn ook luisterliedjes die hun geheimen uiteindelijk maar mondjesmaat prijs geven. Voor de productie deed Samantha Crain een beroep op de ervaren John Vanderslice, die er een warm en sfeervol geheel van heeft gemaakt. De instrumentatie op de plaat is nergens overdadig, maar Kid Face klinkt ook zeker niet kaal. Qua instrumentatie moest ik zo af en toe aan Mazzy Star denken, al maakt Samantha Crain totaal andere muziek dan een van mijn favoriete bands aller tijden. Laten we het er maar op houden dat de instrumentatie op Kid Face fraai en uiterst doeltreffend is. Het is in ieder geval een instrumentatie die prachtig past bij de unieke stem van Samantha Crain. Het is een stem waarvan je moet houden (en ik weet zeker dat lang niet iedere lezer van deze recensie er van zal houden), maar als de stem je raakt is kippenvel vrijwel een garantie, weet ik inmiddels uit eigen ervaring. Samantha Crain schrijft niet alleen bijzondere songs, maar vertelt ook verhalen die ergens over gaan. De Amerikaanse singer-songwriter heeft geen goede ervaringen met mannen en het geloof en maakt van haar hart geen moordkuil. Het maakt van Kid Face zeker geen vrolijke plaat, maar acht wat is het mooi. Kid Face van Samantha Crain kwam ik eind vorig jaar tegen in een aantal obscuurdere jaarlijstjes en daarin misstaat de plaat zeker niet. Samantha Crain was vorig jaar een van de sensaties tijdens het invloedrijke South By Southwest (SXSW) festival in Austin en is dit jaar hopelijk één van de rootssensaties van het jaar in Nederland, al doe je de Amerikaanse met alleen het label roots nog wel wat tekort. Eindconclusie: een bijzondere en bijzonder mooie plaat, die ik koester en voorlopig blijf koesteren. Tip: luister zeker niet alleen naar de eerste track, pas hierna wordt Kid Face het meesterwerk dat het is.

Erwin Zijleman

zaterdag 15 maart 2014

You were right. Brendan Benson

This is not the first time Brendan Benson features on this blog. His previous album What kind of world received a positive review in 2012. Now that his latest effort You were right is released, it is time to pay some close attention to the album. Benson, also known through his work with Jack White in The Raconteurs, is a song smith, who always looks for the elements that make a song sound super smooth. That perfect pitch in a harmony vocal, an extra chord in the changes, a melody that catches my ear immediately. In short, someone who searches and finds the perfect pop song to sing. How does Brendan Benson fare on You were right?

To be honest, at first listen I was a bit disappointed. I missed the spark that was so clearly present on 'What kind of world'. By now I can say that I mustn't have been paying attention. You were right is not far from running on the heels of its predecessor. Let's listen to opening song 'It's your choice'. It starts of modest with a few note bagpipe simulation riff over two simple chords on which more and more perfect chord changes, instruments and harmonies are dropped. Sounding almost normal, the ease with which 'It's your choice' flows. At the same time the song has a Lou Reed/The Velvet Underground rhythm guitar, that halts, accentuates and propels at the same time. A little organ sound is added to give some 60s flavour to the bridge. The sliding guitar adds some extra as does the 'Baba O'Riley' keyboard sound. And this is just one song!

Rumour has it that The Raconteurs are working on a new album. It seems that Benson is in shape to participate. You were right reminds me more of his hobby band musically more than ever before. 'Rejevenate me' could be on The Raconteurs setlist anytime. A major influence on Brendan Benson obviously is The Beatles. Whether it's the harmonies or the way some chord progressions in his songs evolve, the influence shines through. In 'As of tonight' the references are very obvious, but what makes the song stand out a little more, is that Benson injects it with a little powerpop from the U.S. of A. circa 1979. 'My Sharona' or 'What I like about you' rockpop elements are added into the mix giving 'As of tonight' the proverbial piece of pepper up the you know where.

Another element is a hint of country rock. 'Diamond' has a The Eagles element in there. In the way of singing and the guitar solo. The acoustic guitar underscores this element with subtle, but driving playing. There are also some splatterings of psychedelia in there, but only to accentuate a greater pop feel, not outer brain estrangement experiences like the look-at-me-doing-something-very-weird statements some artists indulged in in the second half of 1967. You will even find a song based on soul. 'I don't wanna see you anymore' has Otis and Wilson horns, but could have been sung by someone like Leo Sayer as well. 'I don't wanna see you anymore' definitely has an 'Orchard road' sort of quality. I like it more because of the way the song is dressed up, more exiting, less drama.

This is not the last musical form. There is a reggae rhythm in 'I'll never tell', before the rhythm explodes into to powerpop. A very unexpected change and one that works rather well. In other words there is a lot to discover on You were right, not unlike on great The Beatles albums. And coming close in quality.

Not that all is well. 'She's trying to poison me' is a bit bland, where 'Purely automatic' may have a driving rhythm, but misses that spark that makes most songs on You were right shine. They are exceptions on a further near excellent album. To get to the bottom of You were right, Brendan Benson is exploring many different musical genres here and clearly gets away with all. His craft to come up with some pop elements in each shines through, making You were right a very special album, with many songs that shine, well like diamonds.


You can listen to 'Diamond' here.

vrijdag 14 maart 2014

The violet hour. Monster Cat

Two years ago Monster Cat featured on this blog with the brilliant EP 'Mannequins' followed by an interview with the band, which is one of the best read features on this blog to date. Last summer there was a crowd source action and as promised the download arrived on the day I had noted in my calendar as a reminder. Speaking of efficiency! A full album from Monster Cat called The violet hour was copied into my MP3 player for closer inspection.

The first chords on The violet hour are ones of total estrangement and disorientation. Like the whole song 'Take me to love' sort of is. What is this?, I asked myself. If anything these strange notes put me on the edge of my chair as The violet hour could go anywhere from this opening onwards. Also in a horrible direction. When I played 'Take me to love' for a friend, he said "it seems to me as if there are two songs going on at the same time". The second person listening along clearly couldn't believe his ears. He just looked incredulously wondering whether this deserved the name music. 'Take me to love' is a very courageous way to start a new album. Whether it is a smart one, is another matter. Having listened to the album several times by now, I know that it's the right decision. It is a statement, here we are: Pay attention!

Monster Cat is a band from Singapore that I noticed around two years back when it posted it's EP 'Mannequins' for free on the internet. I was really impressed with the EP. It had something magical. You'll get the drift if you read the post. The magical component is missing on The violet hour. The totally free flowing component of perfect (symphonic) rock has disappeared under this cloak of estrangement. There is constantly something disconcerting or destabilising going on in the total sound of most songs. Weird noises or chords that bring friction into a song.

These factors make The violet hour harder to digest but not necessarily a bad album. Album opener 'Take me to your love' is nothing but a fantastic song if you give yourself the time to discover it and don't turn the record because of the opening, dissonant chords. The same happens with 'Creature'. This slow starting song, gets a kick in the guts as the band steps up the tempo and does a Bee Gees in the singing as well. Underneath this hard rocking beat appears an accentuating, choppy rhythm guitar and hard playing lead notes flying of in all directions. Again estrangement all around. In the back ground fill-in bass player Jase Sng shows why he received so much praise from the band. (There is one Monster Cat missing since 'Mannequins'.) It is at moments like these that the band proves that travelling to Sydney in Australia to work with producer Tim Carr was a smart move. Listening more often to The violet hour it becomes more clear to me that the mysticism I liked so much on 'Mannequins' is still there, but that an extra layer was added to the music of Monster Cat that adds to the attraction. The new element needs time to adjust to, but definitely adds.

The songs on The violet hour are varied. 'Pockets (All that I have)' is kept very small. The sound is broadened from just an acoustic guitar to a lot more, but it remains a sensitive ballad. 'Spiders' has a very different rhythm. 'Cradle' has the two songs going on at the same time element again and I like them both. In all songs there are elements that allow for surprises, new snippets of sound to discover are presented, that show a new angle on the song. This makes The violet hour grow with each, digital, spin. A lot of elements come together, without being predominantly one style. All these elements make the music on The Violet hour not only very authentic, but also give each song its own distinctive feel, unique among their twelve brethren. My initial inhibition to the album has totally disappeared, bringing it into just as heavy rotation as 'The FC Walvisch sessions' by The Silverfaces. The name dropping is no coincidence. The two young bands have more in common than being played by me regularly.

How can I ever write something objectively now that I just found out that my name is on the record sleeve? As contributor to the pledging process I receive a big thank you from Monster Cat. With from what I heard on The violet hour I can only reciprocate that. The violet hour is a great new step in the career of the band, that makes many next steps possible as horizons were opened that allow a lot of exploring on future albums.

To think that Monster Cat played one show in Den Haag in 2012 and I really could not go there that evening. Let's hope that that can be mended sometime in the near future.


You can get more info on The violet hour on Monster Cat's website.

For you in Singapore, listen to (and buy) 'The FC Walvisch sessions' here on Bandcamp.

donderdag 13 maart 2014

Ripely pine. Lady Lamb The Beekeeper

Net toen ik dacht dat ik klaar was met de jaarlijstjes van anderen stuitte ik op het jaarlijstje van met de beste debuten van 2013. Een bijzonder intrigerend lijstje, waar ik de komende week nog een keer plezier van ga hebben. De meest bijzondere van het stel is vooralsnog Ripely Pine van Lady Lamb The Beekeeper. Lady Lamb The Beekeeper is het alter ego van de uit het Amerikaanse Brunswick, Maine, afkomstige Aly Spaltro. Spaltro werkte tot voor kort ’s nachts in een DVD winkel en knutselde overdag haar eigen muziek in elkaar, hierbij geholpen door het uitstekend uit de voeten kunnen op een groot aantal instrumenten. Haar debuut Ripely Pine trekt onmiddellijk de aandacht. Eerst door fraaie ingetogen klanken die in het Engels met het woord 'haunting' worden beschreven (iedere Nederlandse vertaling is minder treffend). Prachtige klanken die uitnodigen tot wegdromen, wat vervolgens ruw wordt verstoord door een rockend intermezzo, inclusief overstuurde gitaren. Het zijn de twee uitersten in het bijzondere geluid van Lady Lamb The Beekeeper dat over de hele linie bijzonder en eigenzinnig kan worden genoemd. Ik heb de laatste tijd niet veel debuten gehoord die zich zo lastig in een hokje laten duwen als Ripely Pine van Lady Lamb The Beekeeper. In de openingstrack denk je heel even uit de voeten te kunnen met folk-noir, maar dit slaat zoals gezegd om in indie-rock. Een aantal andere tracks op de plaat passen redelijk in het hokje indie-folk, zeker wanneer Aly Spaltro de banjo uit de koffer haalt, maar hiertegenover staat tracks die ik met geen mogelijkheid in een hokje kan duwen of het moet het hokje 'licht bombastische pop' zijn. Ook het hokje indie-folk past maar ten dele op de muziek van Lady Lamb The Beekeeper. Allereerst door de bijzondere stem van Aly Spaltro en hiernaast door de subtiele wijze waarop de Amerikaanse steeds weer andere stijlen in haar muziek weet te verwerken. De stem van Ally Spaltro is er een om verliefd op te worden. Het is een stem die alle kanten op kan, steeds aangenaam voor in de mix is geplaatst en altijd warm en verleidelijk klinkt, een enkele woedeaanval daargelaten. Lady Lamb The Beekeeper maakt op haar debuut songs die respect afdwingen. Het zijn songs die steeds weer dwingen tot luisteren en ook steeds weer weten te verrassen. Lady Lamb The Beekeeper maakt geen meezingers, maar folky songs die je op het puntje van de stoel zetten en houden. Ally Spaltro schijnt op flink wat instrumenten uit de voeten te kunnen, maar ik ben persoonlijk vooral gecharmeerd van haar gitaarspel, dat varieert van sober tot complex en van strelend akoestisch tot tegendraads elektrisch. Het vinden van geschikt vergelijkingsmateriaal is niet heel eenvoudig. Sharon Van Etten komt misschien nog het meest in de buurt, maar uiteindelijk is het een vergelijking waarmee je beiden te kort doet. Ripely Pine is een plaat die na een paar keer horen eigenlijk nog niet goed te recenseren is. Mijn mond staat na deze paar keer horen immers nog steeds open van verbazing. Dat gaat niet zomaar verdwijnen vrees ik, maar deze hele bijzondere plaat wil ik geen dag langer dan nodig voor mezelf houden. levert me met enige regelmaat belangrijke tips, maar van het kaliber van Ripely Pine van Lady Lamb The Beekeeper zijn ze maar zelden. Het zou me niet verbazen als Lady Lamb The Beekeeper aan het begin van 2015 een grote naam is, maar ze kan net zo makkelijk volslagen onbekend blijven. Ik koester de Amerikaanse nu alvast als één van de verrassingen van het net begonnen 2014, want platen van dit kaliber zijn zeldzaam, dat gaat in 2014 vast niet veranderen.

Erwin Zijleman

woensdag 12 maart 2014

Croz. David Crosby

A new album by David Crosby was not exactly what I had expected to review. A dinosaur from the past, who not too long ago made a nice rock, jazzy album with CPR, but not something I looked forward to in any way. I decided to give Croz a try anyway and was surprised and soon after mesmerised. David Crosby has found material for a great new record within himself and unleashed it on the world in 2014. Croz is not a cruise down memory lane, as a friend suggested to me after I told him of my discovery. David Crosby is simply not among my favourite artists from way back. As a member of The Byrds, yes, as part of CSNY, yes, even as part of CPR, but never as a solo or even duo artist with Graham Nash. That's why Croz surprised me so much. I always loved the harmony singing David Crosby was involved in. That quality of not seeming to be there and at the same time making the harmonies perfect.

David Crosby is a senior citizen by now. Born in 1941. There is still a hint of the old hippie and activist in there, but also reflection on old age. 'If she called', just an acoustic guitar and the voice of an older man, looking at the life of an old lady, all alone, drifting passed present life and memories of days gone by. (Reading up on Croz, it turns out the song is about young prostitutes somewhere in Belgium. There I go with interpreting lyrics.)

The songs on Croz are hard to define. They are David Crosby songs, without a doubt, like he makes them for over forty years now. It isn't rock, it isn't pop. it's not jazz nor west coast rock. It is a mix of all these genres, blended into David Crosby music. That is the only correct description I can give. David Crosby songs are at best mid tempo. Intricately played, not your every day chords (changes) or so it seems. If they are, that would make it even more brilliant. Small eruptions by some instrument underscore an emotion in the lyrics. Together it creates Croz, a warm, involved, treasure of an album. Musically it is as suave as Leonard Cohen's band in his live triumphs of the past years.

Adding this all up nothing new is happening on Croz. David Crosby probably hasn't changed musically since the 70s, the digital drums in 'Dangerous night' not withstanding. If any artist can write and play an album like Croz after being in the business for roughly 50 years, that comment about evolving, becomes mute. This is a show piece of quality on parade. Together with his son James Raymond, the R in CPR, Croz was created. It could have been a new CPR album. Next to elements of Steely Dan. 'Find a heart' could have been on a Steely Dan/Donald Fagen album. The style of piano playing gives the influence away. Croz has a star role for Mark Knopfler in 'What's broken'. His intricate playing, without ever really taking the centre stage, really brings the track very much alive. But no matter what is going on, it is the harmonies that I like most. Crosby sings with himself and does it extremely well.

To be honest, Croz is one of the most unexpected surprises I've heard in years. Although the show by CPR I saw on tv years ago, should have come as a warning, it didn't. Croz is an album very much worth listening to.


dinsdag 11 maart 2014

Daryll-Ann, Tivoli 6 maart 2014

Foto: HareD

Ze zijn nogal gehypt de laatste tijd, de heren van Daryll-Ann. Na 10 jaar weer samen, een verzamelbox in de verkoop en een lange reeks toprecensies, onder andere in de NRC. Als dat maar goed gaat, denkt dan de onvervalste azijnzeiker in mij. Echter, in tegenstelling tot een groot deel van hun bestaan (1988-2004), kent de huidige clubtour veel uitverkochte zalen. Dat was ook het geval in Tivoli. Dat was wel iets anders dan het optreden medio 1995 in de LVC voor een man of 50, waar ik mij destijds prima bij heb vermaakt.

Vooral sentiment en nostalgie dreven mij naar Utrecht, ook al omdat het waarschijnlijk de laatste keer was dat ik in het oude Tivoli een concert bijwoonde. Zo’n 24 jaren concertbezoek regen zich aaneen in mijn herinnering, als een groot en heerlijk muziekfeest. Maar dit terzijde

Het moet gezegd dat Daryll-Ann de bezoeker waar voor het geld bood. Ze speelden inclusief toegiften ongeveer tweeënhalf uur, dus dat was verdienstelijk. Maar de eerlijkheid gebiedt te zeggen dat het voor de meeste aanwezigen best een half uurtje of langer minder had gemogen.  Begin en eind van het concert waren leuk, met een band die rockte, mooi en aanstekelijk zong en de zaal precies gaf waar het voor kwam. Maar dat middendeel van een uur…..dat boeide de meeste toeschouwers een stuk minder, afgaande op de bierruns en het gepraat door de muziek heen. Het overkomt mij ook zelden dat ik tijdens een concert denk ‘nou jongens doe iets leuk of anders inpakken maar’. Een schier eindeloze reeks liedjes van rond de vier minuten die allemaal op elkaar leken, het was gewoon saai. Volgens een van mijn vrienden, die het werk van Daryll-Ann beter kent,  kwam het ook omdat ze die nummers niet echt strak speelden.

De leuke delen van het concert waren opgebouwd rond de CD’s Seaborne West (1995) en Daryll-Ann Weeps (1996), met onder andere mijn favoriete nummers Come Around, Stay, The Doctor and I, and You’re so Vain. Melodieus, beetje uptempo, met de bijzondere stemmen van Jelle Paulusma en/of Anne Soldaat. Dat was Daryll-Ann op zijn best en het was goed om dat ook in voldoende mate te horen. Maar ik had op meer gehoopt, tijdens mijn eigen afscheid van Tivoli.