donderdag 31 augustus 2017

All This Life. Starsailor

A new record by Starsailor? This announcement made me prick up my ears. Although I had lost sight of the band for over a decade, its first two albums remain a fond memory of the mid-00s music that came into my life at the time. I saw the band perform about three songs, when a 19.30 hours show, really started at 19.30 and we got in just after 20.00, so we just had a beer instead. Times had changed apparently. Not long before that date artists playing in Amsterdam did not mind letting their audience wait for an hour or more as they frequented The Bulldog or some such place near Paradiso and De Melkweg. All memories aside, how is the new album?

The opening of the album sounds so familiar. It took me back to the best songs of Starsailor's debut album 'Love Is Here'. Looking it up the album is about three years older than I thought. 2001, eh? Time sure flies. It holds all the familiar sounds that make up a Starsailor song. Of course that starts with the typical voice of James Walsh. Underneath the band creates a dreamy rock vibe that always has a melancholy undertone. There seems always to be something to pine for in James Walsh's universe. Music in which the guitar is equally important as the piano. This instrument always plays drawn out, with lots of space between the notes, creating a huge part of the melancholy this way. As if the music stands still, while moving forward anyway.

Starsailor does not stop at the more uptempo Starsailor rock. When the band slows down, I swallow hard. This is not the direction where I want All This Life to go. And it isn't. There is so much variation, that make me put up All This Life with 'Love Is Here' and 'Silence Is Easy'. Undoubtedly All This Life is the result of hard work in the past year (or two). It gives the impression though that it is the distillation of the best work in the past eight years, between the release of 'All The Plans' in 2009 and the release in 2017. (I notice a pattern in the album titles, the third is 'On The Outside'.) So much so that I don't have any trouble valuing All This Life above 'Silence Is Easy'.

Let's go back to the start. 'Listen To Your Heart' has the kind of urgency I haven't heard from The Killers for years. At the same time the energy of The Rifles on the band's debut album sounds through. It makes 'Listen To Your Heart' much more direct that anything I remember by Starsailor. Admittedly I haven't listened to an album for perhaps over a decade. Still I'm totally surprised by the song as it has a sense of urgency around it, an urgency Starsailor will need to win back the lost years and fans; here's one for starters. That is not all. Starsailor comes up with a great melody to match the urgency, making 'Listen To Your Heart' a perfect pop-rock song.

Press shot by Callum Baker
The title song continues in this vain. The solid rhythm section, James Stelfox (bass) and Ben Byrne (drums), tells me to make no mistake, they are back in business. They are very present on this album, being part of why I think Starsailor is far more solid than circa 13-15 years ago.

It is in song four, 'Caught In The Middle', that I thought 'o.k., so that was it'. A modern soul sort of outing, that I have a hard time listening to. There are a few things to hold on, like the solid bass, but to my mild surprise, the album turns in all the right ways. The tempo goes down significantly, yet 'Sunday Best' is the sort of ballad that I like Starsailor to present. The laidback version of 'Alcoholic' or 'Lullaby' from 2001. With some fierce guitar sounds mixed into the back and the languorous piano played by Barry Westhead, James Walsh's voice only has to top the song of, which it does superbly.

The intro to 'Blood' sounds extremely familiar, although I can't place it. The concerns are over when the song progresses. Again there's this piano magic, joined by an organ that holds all the long notes, creating a fine balance between the two keyboards. Again a song that holds a little bit of magic.

By then it is abundantly clear that Starsailor returns with a majestic album. It's too early to tell, but it may be the band's best too date and certainly one of the finest albums of 2017. I come to that conclusion on a simple rule. The urgency and quality does not leave the album after I am halfway.  Yes, the best song is the first one, of course, that's just smart. It is a pleasure though to listen to a song like 'Fallout'. It has a drive and urgency of band that set to convince listeners it has a right to exist. The mystery of 'FIA' brings some more variation, the ease of 'No One Else' brings it all to a close. Although an ending like 'Listen To Your Heart' would have made All This Life perfect. Now it is good.

If Starsailor was a band that was allowed to follow in the slipstream and try and copy the success of Coldplay's 'Parachutes', in 2001, in 2017 it defeats its teacher in all ways. With All This Life it has made an album Coldplay can only dream of making and perhaps not even that. Starsailor has made a comeback after eight years of silence. Whether that was easy, is something only the band can answer. With All This Life in the can, Starsailor has given itself a great reason to go back out on the road and show the world what it's worth. A lot judging from what I've heard just now.


You can listen to 'Listen To Your Heart' here:

woensdag 30 augustus 2017

The Lonely Cry Of Space And Time. Anna Coogan

Anna Coogan groeide op in Boston, Massachusetts, maar werkt inmiddels al weer enige tijd vanuit Ithaca, New York.
Het stapeltje albums dat ze de afgelopen jaren heeft gemaakt is vooralsnog helaas een goed bewaard geheim, al trok het in 2014 verschenen en samen met multi-instrumentalist J.D. Foster gemaakte The Birth Of The Stars terecht wel enige aandacht.
Op haar nieuwe album The Lonely Cry Of Space And Time werkt Anna Coogan samen met drummer Brian Wilson, die zich om voor de hand liggende redenen Willie B. noemt.
Het levert een bijzondere plaat op, die zich op subtiele en minder subtiele wijze buiten de gebaande paden beweegt. Anna Coogan profileerde zich in het verleden vooral als folkie, maar slaat op The Lonely Cry Of Space And Time samen met Willie B. nadrukkelijk haar vleugels uit.
Dat hoor je in eerste instantie vooral in de instrumentatie waarin stevig gitaarwerk, bezwerende ritmes, een uit vervlogen tijden opgedoken Moog bass en stevig aanzwellende synths de songs van Anna Coogan op verrassende wijze inkleuren.
Direct in de openingstrack maakt Anna Coogan indruk met zwaar aangezette klanken en wat expressievere zang dan  we van haar gewend zijn. Het is een donkere track met hypnotiserende drums, afwisselend zweverige en stevige gitaaruithalen en gedreven zang, die nieuwsgierig maakt naar hetgeen dat komen gaat.
In de tweede track gaat het pas echt los. De ritmes zijn nog wat bezwerender, de synths en gitaren zijn nog wat zwaarder aangezet en de zang van Anna Coogan klinkt als die van Kate Bush in haar jonge jaren. Het is even wennen voor een ieder die de vorige platen van Anna Coogan kent, maar The Lonely Cry Of Space And Time intrigeert direct.
Na de stevig aangezette openingstracks, neemt Anna Coogan in de derde track in muzikaal opzicht wat gas terug met donkere en bezwerende klanken van grote schoonheid. In vocaal opzicht doet ze er echter nog een schepje bovenop met zang die in de opera niet zou misstaan en die raakt aan de unieke voordracht van Diamanda Galás. Het laat goed horen dat Anna Coogan een klassiek geschoold zangeres is.

Met een stemmige instrumentale track keert de rust terug, maar de volgende uitbarsting laat niet lang op zich wachten. The Lonely Cry Of Space And Time slingert je uiteindelijk drie kwartier lang heen en weer met muziek die vooral anders klinkt. Kate Bush duikt als vergelijkingsmateriaal meerdere keren op, maar Anna Coogan blijft toch ook gewoon de folkie uit Boston, Massachusetts, al kan ze zomaar transformeren in de zangeres van een goth-rock band of in een volleerd operazangeres.
Liefhebbers van de meer traditionele folk die Anna Coogan in het verleden maakte, zullen ongetwijfeld moeite hebben met het theatrale en zwaar aangezette geluid op The Lonely Cry Of Space And Time, maar wat valt er ook veel te genieten op de nieuwe plaat van Anna Coogan.
Het gitaarwerk op de plaat is prachtig en ook de ritmes van Willie B. maken indruk en geven de plaat een bijzonder eigen geluid. Het is een geluid dat fraai kleurt en even vaak prachtig contrasteert met de soms zeer expressieve zang van Anna Coogan, die mooi ingetogen kan zingen, maar ook enorm kan uithalen.
Door de bijzondere zang en de indringende en vaak zwaar aangezette instrumentatie is The Lonely Cry Of Space And Time een intense plaat, die pas na gewenning enorm aan kracht wint. De platen van Anna Coogan gingen in het verleden meestal aan mij voorbij, maar haar nieuwe plaat heb ik, na de eerste aarzeling, heel stevig omarmd.

Erwin Zijleman

Je kunt het album hier beluisteren en kopen:

maandag 28 augustus 2017

Greener Than The Other Side. The Black Marble Selection

It's some years ago that I saw The Black Marble Selection playing the support act for The Kik in Haarlem. "The blood show" of The Kik and the resulting fainting and all. So many years ago that there's a new album by the band and things are not the same.

The rough voiced singer and the harmonica have gone missing making room for an even more authentic 60s sound. Everything from The Outsiders to West Coast lightweight psychedelia comes by. Think Love without the ounce of craziness. Think 'Eight Miles High' without the space cake.

I'm not complaining. The Black Marble Selection mach 1 was overdoing it as far as I'm concerned. A bit too much of what could have been a good thing. Q65 without a truly outstanding song, What was left was a lot of testosterone. Now things have flattened out perhaps, but melodies are allowed in and I'm on a plane.

On Greener Than The Other Side, someone must be content it seems, The Black Marble Selection is able to show its softer and more melodic side. From the get go, 'The Primrose Path', there's a Hammond, in the solo a nice, rough-sounding guitar takes over the solo from the Hammond, kicking the song in the butt, hard, before things are evened over again. The typical 60s slightly affected singing is in the right place. The harmonies cooler than cool. With this song the R&B of Q65 and The Outsiders is replaced with the pop of Golden Earrings and The Motions. Not unlike what The Stangs are playing also.

The right elements come by like a flute to give the sound that little extra authenticity. Who used a flute in pop after circa 1970 except Berdien Stenberg? Right, no one. Except in recreations of that lustrous pop era. 'Window Of Opportunity' starts with a The Hollies like guitar intro, but slowly but surely little psychedelic elements are woven into the song, that changes its character fasts. 'Monkey On My Back' kicks in hard here and there. What I truly appreciate is that this song holds its own with ease. References yes, but that is where it stops and this band enters.

If these were the songs The Black Marble Selection was working on I can understand that former singer Jean-Paul lost interests. There's no room for his voice here. These songs are dreamy, somewhat trippy and much softer than the first album. Which had one person drawing all the attention towards himself. Now there's a band.

So in short, yes, the album goes on in this vein in a most pleasurable way, another 60s inspired set from The Netherlands that is above average. Still, I can't help musing why these lads play music that their grandparents tripped on half a century ago. While they are at it, I don't mind joining in.


You can listen to 'Garden Of Delight' here:

zondag 27 augustus 2017

Gather live, 25 August 2017 with Jasper Schalks and Elenne May

Gather live was held for the last time in that unique location, the groundfloor of the former V&D store, about to become a Hudson Bay department store. In a corner where perhaps the men's underwear was sold for decades, a modest stand was built to create an arena shaped stage, with the artist on the ground and the audience sitting on the stands. An old couch or two and a few bar stools and everyone present is seated. With the closure of Gather, Sabrina Vermeulen is on the look out for another location to stage her living room concerts away from home.

Two artists performed. First there was Jasper Schalks, a singer-songwriter about to release his first EP and veterans of this blog, Elenne May.

Jasper Schalks sat on a stool with just his guitar, a borrowed pick, a capo and a thumb pick. In combination with his charm, under-cooled presentation and moderately dark voice it was more than enough. He started off with a cover of one of his favourite songs of all time, Glen Campbell's 'Witchita Lineman', or as he pointed out Jimmy Webb's \Witchita Lineman'. With his dark voice it became a very solemn song., even more than Campbell's original with all its strings and horns. The intimacy of the venue allowed for interaction between the audience and Schalks over the recent demise of Campbell, the documentary over his final, hard years because of Altzheimer's disease.

In his own songs Schalks proved to have learned lessons from 50 years of singer-songwriting. Songs sounded familiar in a pleasant way, with Schalks' voice making them personal. Personal experience led to a surge of new breakup songs, that sounded intimate and sung with the right tone to convince. They were all new, but then all songs were new to me. Another cover was a bike song by Richard Thompson. After drinking four beer, it may be too difficult to play, Schalks said. Well, I wonder how the song sounds when he is sober. The intricate melodies were all played flawlessly. It was a regular looking chord that was half-missed towards the end of the song. As nearly all singer-songwriters play more or less complex motives, it stands to reason that it was a chord that did not go well.

With one last self written song, Schalks stepped of his stool, announcing that his debut EP might be released in November; or not. The album is recorded with a band, with which he also performs regularly. Any way, it is something to look out for.

Those reading this blog know how favourably I view Elenne May. As part of its 'End of summer tour' the band played in Haarlem for the second time. Drummer Eddie could not make the show, so there was a surprise. The second surprise was that guitarist Roeland played an acoustic guitar the whole show and the third that singer Elenne stood in corner, blindfolded, like on the cover of the second EP, 'Stairs Raise Children', of the three that make up the cd 'Veggie Patch In The Desert'. Singing the opening song this way, underscored part of the story that is told on the album.

Having seen the band perform several times over the past year and some months, it was nice to see this other side. I could see the musicians finding their way in a setting where the vocals are not amplified, all percussion is missing and playing a guitar that lacks all the electronic effects sustaining the sound. Truly listening to each other so that the balance remains correct. In other words, each individual member is complete master over his/her respective instrument. Only that allows for the attention needed to pull this all off. Accents in the music were perhaps even stronger in this setting simply because there was no drummer/percussionist to enlarge them more.

With ease the band captured me again with its strong songs, the magical atmosphere that surrounds them. Kate Bush entered my mind while listening to the music of Elenne May at Gather. The atmosphere of the music has this fairytale quality in sharp contrast with the lyrics that have nothing to do with fairytales. In essence it all boils down to this own sentence from 'Housewife In The Desert': "I believe the gender roles we know, were made up in the Stone Age, we don't need them!" A clear message, holding not one single letter of Chinese. From this sentence the whole of 'Veggie Patch In The Desert' enfolds itself. An album which I personally think is one of the very best this decade produced. It ought only to be a matter of time before more people discover this fact.

Summing up, Sabrina again presented us with a very interesting line up. Now time has to tell where Gather Live will move to.

(Photo's by) Wo.

You can find Jasper Schalks on Soundcloud:

The music of Elenne May is available through Bandcamp:

Follow Gather Live here:

zaterdag 26 augustus 2017

Reflections. Nouveau Vélo

Too long this album was on my to do list and always something else prodded me to listen first. Looking the holidays in the eyes it's time to get Reflections off this list. Starting to type while listening to the album once again is the sort of start that is required here,

Nouveau Vélo is a Dutch band from the village of Laarbeek. I had to look that one up. It's a village to the north of Helmond, not too far away from where I had the honour to serve her majesty on an airbase. Since 2010 the band has released several albums and EPs, I found.

The music has not so much to do with a hamlet in the eastern North Brabant countryside. Nouveau Vélo plays a slightly darker form of new wave and indie rock. The lead guitar is fairly high end in contrast with the rest going on. The singing is darkish as is the general mood of the songs. Within that caption the band varies more than enough to make Reflections a pleasant listening experience. The band plays with the light and the shade the whole time while which is part of the attraction of Reflections.

The more surprising it is that the album starts off so upbeat. 'Day At Work' has an upbeat pace and fast-played lead guitar. I have heard this kind of song many-a-time and yet it is easy to fall for it. It has something contagious. "Don't wait for a new day, Set sail for the horizon, .... Be gone". Everyone has these daydreams while at work. Only the strong of will and the adventurous ones set off on a new plan.

Nouveau Vélo's guitarist Niek Leenders has listened a lot to The Cure. The fast played guitar, flying over the frets creating a rhythmic melody. This comes out beautifully in the six minutes plus 'Together Alone' where another and much older influence comes forward: The Byrds in the playing and Roger McGuinn in the singing. Rolf Hupkes tone of voice matches McGuinn's here and there. Other influences clearly come from the indie U.S. scene with outings towards 60s garagepop.

The darker side comes forward more in 'A Reflection'. More monotonous and heavier, more serious than just serious. The contrast with other songs is huge, creating the light and the shade between songs instead of within them.

Not so long ago I reviewed 'Another Place',  Maggie Brown's second album. This was also produced and recorded by Jan Schenk at his studio. A new name, for me at least, but I have the idea that the world will be hearing more from him. Like 'Another Place' Reflections is bright and clear in sound. The music is allowed to breath.

Later this year Nouveau Vélo will tour the country with Moss. This may be a great combination for the Brabant band. Moss fans, like me, ought to like the music that is presented here on Reflections. Not that Nouveau Vélo copies Moss, far from even. It is the mood that strikes me as compatible. Where Nouveau Vélo has a more sprightly step in its music. Younger, so lighter of heart? That may well be an explanation. (Although 'It's Not For Me (She Said)' comes close to a song like 'She's Got A Secret'.)

This review was long overdue. On the other hand it introduces the fall tour kind of nicely. The combination of Moss with Nouveau Vélo may well be an irresistible one.


You can listen to and buy Reflections as MP3 here:

or buy the LP/CD here:

vrijdag 25 augustus 2017

Greatest Hits. Babalong

Animal Collective meets Justin Bieber reads the bio that accompanied my copy of Greatest Hits. What to make of that?, were my thoughts. I can't make chocolate of the music that I heard of Animal Collective so far and do I have to add anything to the second connotation? So what is Tiny Room Records presenting to the world? That's a fair question.

As the indie label has surprised me a few times over the past months, I slid the copy of Greatest Hits into my player and ... have a hard time making chocolate of what I'm hearing. At this point I have heard the album twice and it's hard to make heads or tails. I can't make up my mind yet, so I will play the album some more over the coming weeks and see where I stand by the time the release date comes closer, which is 25 August.

Due to the holidays the album was put to rest as tends to happen to all sorts of things in that time of the year. With the 25th approaching fast, I had some catching up to do. Greatest Hits has proven itself to be an enormously intriguing record, where many influences meet and decided to intertwine in interesting ways. From the get go the album takes the listener on a trip of aural proportions. For the listener with an open ear, many pleasant sensations come by, as well as some bewilderment.

Babalong is Dave Mollen and Willem Waterschoot, a studioproject. They bring in who they need to create their vision that became Greatest Hits. This may have been different when Babalong started a few years back, as I see the same names participating on the first EPs. Doing a search on Babalong on the Internet I found four EPs on Bandcamp. So Greatest Hits is the band's first album. No doubt every one looking at the title will have the same question: what hits?, but is that what it's about? The title is provocative, perhaps not the smartest one to chose. It does draw attention.

So coming back to the description Tiny Room Records sent along. It does hit the nail on the head, in a weird way. Alternative, electronic sounds and beats come together with true melodies and experiments. Babalong chooses not to take the easy way out, far from, but somehow it manages to draw me into its music. There is a door allowing me in, despite the fact that this is not my first choice of music, not my second nor third.

This has to do with two factors. The, somewhat electronic, voice of the singer is one aspect, the other is the warmth of the electronic music. For me there are faint hints of Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark and specifically 'Joan Of Arc (Maid of Orleans)' in parts of the music. The combination makes me follow the curves and bends in the music. The little melodies, the changes in the rhythm, the way things change in general. At times it is a bit too much, like 'Into The Loop', but in most songs things are just right. Take a listen to the first single of the album, 'Longer' and you will understand all I wrote above. In the song the alternative pop mixes with dance and synthpop (of the 80s) in a perfect way.

At this point in time I haven't made up my mind about Greatest Hits, but in the past weeks the album has surprised me in a pleasant way, so I do not see a reason why it would not do so when I put the album on again in the future. Greatest Hits got me out of my comfort zone and that is scoring points to start with.


You can listen to the single 'Longer' here:

or buy Greatest Hits here:

donderdag 24 augustus 2017

If The Static Clears. Gabrielle Louise

Luister naar If The Static Clears van Gabrielle Louise en de kans is heel groot dat je aan Alison Krauss moet denken.
Ik was er zelfs even van overtuigd dat er muziek van Alison Krauss uit de speakers kwam, maar de prachtige stem op de plaat behoort wel degelijk toe aan Gabrielle Louise en dit hoor je ook wel wanneer je wat langer naar de plaat luistert.
If The Static Clears is voor mij het eerste wapenfeit van de singer-songwriter uit Boulder, Colorado, die overigens al een tijdje aan de weg timmert, en het is een wapenfeit dat is aangekomen als de spreekwoordelijke mokerslag.

We hebben het al een tijdje moeten doen zonder de mooie stem van Alison Krauss, maar wat Gabrielle Louise laat horen op haar nieuwe plaat doet er zeker niet voor onder. Haar stem is net zo helder als die van de koningin van de bluegrass revival en is ook net zo warm. Het is een stem die overigens niet alleen aan Alison Krauss doet denken, maar ook af en toe raakt aan die van Eva Cassidy of menig countryzangeres (er ligt een naam op het puntje van de tong) naar de kroon steekt. Het moet genoeg zeggen over de vocale capaciteiten van Gabrielle Louise, die haar stem ook nog eens voorziet van flink wat gevoel.
In muzikaal opzicht vind ik de muziek van Gabrielle Louise misschien nog wel aansprekender dan die van Alison Krauss, want de singer-songwriter die haar opleiding genoot aan het roemruchte Berklee College of Music in Boston, verrijkt haar folksongs met uiteenlopende invloeden. Zo zijn in veel tracks invloeden uit de country te horen, maar ook uitstapjes richting bluegrass, jazz en zelfs Latin worden niet geschuwd.
If The Static Clears van Gabrielle Louise werd mogelijk na een crowdfunding campagne en laat horen dat iedere binnengekomen Dollar goed werd besteed. De Amerikaanse singer-songwriter wordt op haar plaat bijgestaan door gelouterde muzikanten, die haar prachtige stem omgeven met stemmige en veelzijdige klanken, het geluid op de plaat klinkt glashelder en ook het artwork is mooi verzorgd.
Het zijn ingrediënten die If The Static Clears van Gabrielle Louise met gemak boven de middelmaat uit tillen, maar de Amerikaanse singer-songwriter heeft nog meer te bieden. Zo zijn haar songs stuk voor stuk van een opvallend hoog niveau en heeft ze ook in tekstueel opzicht iets te zeggen.
Alles bij elkaar genomen durf ik best te spreken van een sensatie, want If The Static Clears is ook nog eens een groeiplaat. Ik schaam me dan ook diep dat ik deze prachtige plaat zo lang heb laten liggen, al doen de warme klanken van Gabrielle Louise het in dit jaargetijde misschien nog wel beter. Zeer warm aanbevolen, maar dat zal duidelijk zijn.

Erwin Zijleman

Je kunt het album hier kopen:

woensdag 23 augustus 2017

Clapton. The Autobiography. Eric Clapton

A nice book for the holiday, this autobiography is. Years ago a friend gave it to me for my birthday and this year I put it in the bag filled to the brim with books to take with me

Am I a giant Clapton fan? No, never have been, but there certainly were periods in his career that I appreciated what he was doing or learned it in hindsight, working my way back. When all is said and done I like him best when he plays the blues or the psychedelic variations of it as with Cream and later on Derek & the Dominos. The last two decennia, parts of the 70s and 80s could have passed me by easily and they did. But there always were some great songs, somewhere in between. I faintly remember reading another biography, a few decades back, having picked up 'Survivor' second hand at a book fair on far off continent.

Clapton reads away easily. It is written with a pen for speed. At the same time it is not extremely well written. For that it has a too high "and then" element, topics change totally unexpectedly, as well as the introspection that never runs very deep. On the other hand, I am not overly interested in his inner struggles, no matter how defining they are for the person Eric Clapton. I would have liked to have learned a little bit more about how the music was made, what choices had to be made there. What is utterly annoying in the Dutch translation I read, is the many mistakes that were not taken out when editing the book. Especially in the final part of the book the mistakes becomes abundant.

What Clapton shows quite well, is the decent of Eric Clapton. The mysteries surrounding his parents and grandparents are well explained and written in an interesting way. It certainly explains something about the man and how the secretiveness surrounding his origins worked its way into what kind of person Eric Clapton became: uncertain, closed up and keeping things hid. When parents turn out to be (step)grandparents and aunts grandaunts, things become confusing. Still, it is clear that his family was supportive of him, loving and caring and that he received the support needed to make his steps into the musical world of the early 1960s in London.

This part of his career is also well documented. The slow steps upwards, the mixing of the minds and the ones that got lucky and rose to the top. Almost all with an enduring career are mentioned, with the exception of The Kinks. What struck me most is how much The Beatles were the top of the tops. They are more or less looked upon as kings. Underneath them are The Rolling Stones, but way, way below. The Rolling Stones were approachable, The Beatles approached. The hierarchy in the 1960s, no matter how big others became, was evident for all. "Clapton = God" was written on walls in London. Sure, but then there were The Beatles.

And then an outsider flew in from the U.S. Again, it becomes clear how large the impact of Jimi Hendrix was on all things British. He blew everyone away with this playing, his skills, his show. Pete Townsend hid under a stone for three years (and wrote his masterpiece 'Tommy' any way). Eric Clapton met his match in each and every way. He ran into the candy of the week phenomenon with the release of Cream's album that hardly received attention because 'Are You Experienced' was the candy. By way of the U.S. Cream found its place in the pantheon any way.

Looking at how important Cream was for Clapton's career path, it amazes me how little is written on the band. Its biggest hit, 'White Room' isn't mentioned at all. Sure, of course a chapter is filled with words on Cream, but I would have liked to learn more. The famed clash of the characters, etc.

Following the acclaimed Derek & the Dominos album Clapton fell into a heroin addiction lasting years, followed by an alcohol addiction of about a decade and some more. In this period he has made several songs that are very much worthwhile, but basically leaned on others mostly and gave them the room to have their place by removing himself. It is a period in which he seems to not dare expose and explore his greatest talent: playing the guitar. Clapton gives some explanations for this, but it makes me wonder what his work could have sounded like, had he worked like he could have in his prime years. We will never know, except, perhaps, in some later live versions of the work.

From there on this is more and more the case. Clapton nosedives into addictions of various kinds, towards the end of the book he's clean for years, but clearly has a buying addiction and the money to afford it. I have heard about all that and it is close to a miracle the man is still alive today. It's too bad, as we will never know what he could have produced if he had not succumbed to heroin and then alcohol. Years of nothing and then years of the uncertainty of not wanting to be the front man. Something he did become in the 80s. I remember hearing a great live show on the radio somewhere around the 'Behind The Sun' album, with great blues tracks, Cream songs and solo work like 'Forever Man'. This is the song where his guitar really soars again, perhaps matching 'Layla' for the first time. In the 90s I saw Clapton live in a stadium with Elton John and in an arena following the 'From The Cradle' album playing a great blues show. That was enough.

What also is illuminating, is how others keep the falling artist upright just enough to pursue his career. People who work tirelessly, for a good salary, no doubt, to keep things on track and the permanently drunk artist upright just enough so he shows up in time to do what he has to do: record, play, talk to the press, etc. Also in this case there is hardly anyone trying to steer him in another direction. Clapton is the boss, the chicken with the golden eggs. In this case nobody had to say with famous hindsight, "if only I had ....". Eric Clapton lived to tell and more.

Clapton finally truly fell in love, settled down and raised a family with wife and three daughters. The point where all the unrest in his head settled down, allowing him to appreciate what he has. It seems also like he ran out of ambition, condition and ideas around 2007. That is fine. Whatever was released after the release of this book, did not keep my attention for long. Clapton's days were already over as far as I am concerned. Every once in a while I play one of his old albums. In general I need something with a little more spark in it these days.

The book sort of peters out like his music did, for me. I'm glad for Eric Clapton that he found what he was looking for though.


dinsdag 22 augustus 2017

Interview with Pete Dubuc of Gunther Brown

Photo: Wo.
Interview by Wout de Natris

© WoNo Magazine 2017

Following the show Gunther Brown gave at the Q-Bus in Leiden this spring, Wo. reached out to Pete Dubuc, singer and principle songwriter of Gunther Brown to do an interview. You find the result here.

As not all readers may be familiar with Gunther Brown, how would you like to introduce yourself?
-        Gunther Brown is a largely unknown and equally unimportant americana/roots rock band from the northeasternmost United States. I write songs and sing and passably play rhythm guitar for the band. That’s my best sales pitch, right there.

Hearing about the band for the first time I’d expected that someone called Gunther Brown put a record out. That wasn’t the case. What is the inspiration or the idea behind the band’s name?
-        I stole the name from my wife, actually. It’s her middle and last name. I always liked the sound of it, felt it suited the music we play and so we used it. We tried to think of something better but nothing ever came. It has resulted in a fair bit of confusion which has been humorous.

All members are of a certain age. How did you come together?
-        Quite randomly, really. Derek, who plays drums, and I used to work together a long time ago along the way we picked up Chris (guitarist), having seen him play with someone else and then he was playing with Mark (bass) on another project and it all kind of came together at various points. Our newest guy, Joe, who plays harp and can do a bunch of other stuff, was known to us as well and we were glad he agreed to join us.

Your ages also suggest that there is musical past. What went on before Gunther Brown came about?
-        I’ve only ever done Gunther Brown music. I came to playing pretty late, compared to most. I was 27 before finding the nerve to play and sing in front of someone. From there, I just started writing my own songs rather than learning to play popular songs. I think, right now, if I had to, I could play less than 3 cover songs. That just never interested me. I started right out trying to write. Derek has really just been in this band, also. The other guys have years of playing with various projects under their belts. Writing, playing … they’ve put in some work.

Your music finds itself somewhere between rock, country and alternative.  Is this the music you like the best and in how far is it different from the music you grew up with?
-        I think it’s the music I relate to the most. I’m not sure if it’s the music I like the most or not .. but it makes sense to me in terms of who I am and where I’m from. These were the sounds around me, most certainly. I grew up in a very religious situation and wasn’t allowed music outside of the religious realm until I was a teenager so I missed a lot of music in those early years. Once I could explore a little, I went with the popular rock stuff of the day that my peers were listening to. Guns n’ Roses .. bands like that. But when I heard the Beach Boys, I felt like there might be more out there I should be listening to. Living relatively close to Canada, Canadian bands like Blue Rodeo and Tragically Hip became big favourites as soon as I heard them. I think some of what we do in Gunther Brown is rooted there.

Were there any albums or artists that influenced the creative process of ‘North Wind’ especially?
-        When I’m writing music, I tend not to be listening to much music. It sort of becomes a dry spell and I’m just left with what’s in my head. I really don’t get locked in to listening to something or feeling influenced by something. It’s almost like you have to shut all the outside sounds off to let your inside voices do their work. In the year before North Wind, I was probably listening mostly to Jason Isbell, James McMurtry, Tragically Hip .. but a lot of other stuff, too. I listen to soul and hip-hop. I listen to everything but modern country, really.

On the (back)cover of your album ‘North Wind’ there is a monument. What is the band’s message as you are all standing in front of it in a deliberate way?
-        That’s the monument that marks the spot of where the Battle of Norridgewock took place and so it was important to the album from that perspective. We went there to shoot for the Norridgewock video and it was a pretty moving moment to stand there. I think in some way, standing there with it was capturing that moment. That place is alive. Not because of the monument, the monument just tells us where we’re standing, it’s alive because of the memory of those who died there. It’s somber. But it’s also powerful and important. I want my standing there to be interpreted as “I know what happened here”. Prior to writing the song, I knew nothing of the story. Had never been taught about it. Standing there is a bit of saying, “ah-ha! I found you out. You didn’t pull one over on me.” The descendants of those murdered there still face issues of discrimination and inequality, today. It’s institutionalized. It permeates our culture. This story from so long ago was far from the end. It goes on today and we need to do better.

In Norridgewock you tell about a massacre to an Indian tribe that happened in the 1720s. An all but forgotten crime. What makes it so important to you to sing and tell about it now in the 20 tens?
-        Well, it’s important to tell the story today because we still haven’t fixed it. Things aren’t magically better for Native Peoples. It doesn’t just go away. The more years we put between us and this event, the more willing we are to let it slide from memory. As the saying goes, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” I could really go on forever about Norridgewock. I’m thankful the song came my way, and I have no idea why it did, but it has meant a lot to me and I’ve talked with people who’ve expressed their appreciation for it. That means so much to me.

Photo: Wo.
The song ‘Jesus Ain’t Listening Tonight’ is set to a country tune. Somehow I get the feeling that you are giving off a message here. Am I right?
-        For a simple country song with sarcastic lyrics, I’d like to think there’s some good substance there. With the religious upbringing I had, the song really puts it all together. There’s this thing, when you’re an unwitting child participant of religion, where you’re half in and half out. You don’t really believe it, but if you get in a rough spot, you think well, it couldn’t hurt, let’s say a prayer! Like a get out of jail free card. Then, when it doesn’t come out the way you want, you can tell yourself that Jesus ain’t listenin’. And then to carry it all the way to today, as an atheist, the refrain is just what I believe. I really did want to add the choir and the gospel feel at the end, not out of disrespect or mocking but as a juxtaposition between the arrangement and the lyrics.

There is another side to ‘Jesus’. The song, together with ‘Old Man’, comes across as extremely personal to me as well. Both hold a story about breaking free from the (religious) past. It seems intentional that they are placed back to back on ‘North Wind’.  How do I have to look at the lyrics? More as settling the score or as making an inventory of where you are now?
-        The sequencing is definitely intentional. Jesus/Old Man is the most autobiographical section of the album. Old Man is entirely making an inventory of the current situation. I don’t usually agonize over lyrics all that much … what comes out, I usually feel, is what I was intended to say. On this one, I was far more deliberate about phrasing. I wanted to be very careful. I believe I ended up with a factual, unbiased picture of the relationship I have with my father. The song doesn’t place blame. There’s nothing about you messed this up or I messed this up .. it’s just, regardless of the blame, here’s where we are. I do believe it comes from us having differing religious views as I indicate in there lyrically but whose fault is that? There’s no blame pinned here. It’s just where we are.

We discussed politics after the show in Leiden for a while.  A song like ‘Jesus Ain’t Listening Tonight’ could cause your career harm in the polarised world the U.S. has become. What makes you tell this story, this somewhat mocking tale, despite of this possibility?
-        My cynical answer is  - there are still more of us than there are of them! I’m joking, of course … (but it’s true) … no, I don’t like the us/them thing. I think you have to be honest in your work. If you lose some people, so be it. But I have to say, people give you some creative freedom and even if they don’t agree with you, they can often get past it. I think delivery is everything. The song isn’t mean spirited, it’s very tongue in cheek. Lots of people can see that. So, first, I try to give the listener credit to be able to accept it as art and not as something they have to agree with. We had a show in Doetinchem where there was a very disapproving older lady in the crowd at the beginning of that song. By the end, everyone was clapping and singing along, and she couldn’t help herself from joining in. She didn’t lose her faith … she didn’t renounce her god in that moment, she accepted it for what it was and we’re all better for it. I loved that moment. I want her to have her faith if that works for her. That’s great. But I want her to have fun with us, too!

Photo: Wo.
In the interesting times that we live in many artists seem to just stay in a safe mode with no critique or anger being shown about what is going on around them. Do you have an explanation for this aloofness?
-        Man, everyone is so different. Some people may have business things in mind, wanting to toe the line and not turn away listeners. Others maybe don’t think it’s their place or might even be afraid to be challenged on their opinions. I think the biggest reason is probably because it’s difficult. It’s difficult to write about current events and have it be able to be timeless at the same time. You could write some songs and have them be outdated by the time the record comes out. It’s a fine balance and it is really hard to do. To keep your art intact and stay true to the quality you demand from your music while also speaking literally about current events is an extremely challenging proposition. I think I have the nerve to try. I’m not too worried about what people think. I’ve got a few songs in the works that speak to where we are today. I hope I can finish them in a way that makes it good music in addition to an important statement. It might not happen, but I’ll be making an attempt.

In the chorus of the opening song ‘What’s Left’ you present someone with a(n ethical) choice: either run or do the right thing and make it whole. What or who are you addressing here?
-        Talking to myself for sure. I like to do that. Some of the songs I write are just me beating up myself. It’s really about not quitting. We’re given so many opportunities to either quit or to move forward. Maybe daily, we have to make that decision internally. The verses here are set up as the excuses and the chorus is the admonition. The song (Don’t Forget To) Don’t Go is really from the same genre. Chiding myself for not really giving it everything I’ve got. Trying to teach myself how to ditch the excuses.

There are several distinct moods and musical styles between the songs. Do the lyrics determine this or is the music there first?
-        It’s always music first. The music dictates the mood and the mood dictates the lyrics. A lot of times I’ll have the melody and just play with that over and over until lyrics start coming. On North Wind, Mark brought some musical pieces which became For A Night and Swampland, and that was the first time I’ve done any co-writes. It was a whole new way of getting into it but it worked out okay because I’m always music first anyway. It felt very natural.

When it comes to songwriting and arranging, what are the roles within Gunther Brown and is the end result sometimes surprising to what was started off with?
-        Things have been changing a bit here. Typically, I would bring a finished song to the rest of the guys .. finished as in lyrics and melody .. and then everyone would start to develop their parts. At that point it’s very collaborative. Now, with other guys starting to bring in some bits of music, unfinished ideas, the collaboration starts earlier in the process. It’s still the same general idea though, everyone spends time with it and we work it out in a group setting and get parts locked in. It’s a true band, nobody tells anyone else what to play. You parts are your own. That’s important to me. That’s what gives a group its “sound”.

The band is from Portland, Maine. In what way, if at all, does your environment influence your music?
-        I’m not sure how environment influences work. It’s impossible to isolate that, I think. Harsh winters take their toll on you in a number of ways. The drudgery of them, the promise of spring, the rush to do the work or recreation you need to do before winter’s return. Winter has been my arch nemesis. Seasonal depression is a real thing. Other than climate, Maine is a very blue collar place, lots of fishing and working in the woods. I think everything is just subconsciously influenced by these things.

On stage you were with five on record with four. What is the story here?
-        We bumped up to five players for some added versatility. The New Guy, Joe, can do a lot of different things and gives us the ability to diversify sounds from song to song. Have a little more going on and fill out the sound. Joe has been with us for a year or so now. He’s a writer, singer, player and energetic performer. Has been a great fit. After our return from The Netherlands, our guitarist Chris retired from the band and we’re currently working as a four piece.

You toured The Netherlands for the first time this spring. How did the country agree with you?
-        We had a great time on stage and off and other than one or two of the shows, they were well attended, we met a lot of nice folks and were well received. The cost and logistics of bringing a full band overseas to play small shows are big challenges, but if those things can be worked out, we would love to return. We were in love with the polite, listening audiences. Sometimes over here you get used to being background music or a side note to alcohol consumption. It’s always wonderful to play and be heard. I’m really hopeful to return.

What are Gunther Brown’s plans for the coming period?
-        We’ll be spending some time working on new material. We’ve got some ideas to start hammering out. It has been a while since we’ve been able to hunker down on that creative side of things so it will be exciting to see what comes out of that. From there, we’re likely to start on making a new record. A band of our stature never really knows if there will be another opportunity to make another record so when you start heading in that direction again it feels pretty good. It’s both exciting and terrifying. Like life.

maandag 21 augustus 2017

Reiger live. Tivoli Vredenburg, Utrecht 18 August 2017

My introduction to Reiger was in the winter of this year as support to Bettie Serveert. I only saw three songs, but the EP #1 was reviewed favourably. When I found out that Reiger played the support to Strand of Oaks, I made sure to be on time this time around. And rightly so.

Reiger ('heron') plays energetic indie rock with a few influences from over the past decades woven in here and there. Reiger in general is influenced by U.S. acts, so the two bands fitted well together. They have a Neil Young side to them and both dare to go out and play long instrumental interludes pumping a song up to explodable proportions before reigning it all back in again. They don't object to a short punky song hidden into the set either. Reiger adds a hint of Queens of the Stone Age in there as well. As I wrote, a good fit.

Reiger is Matthijs Peeters, a man with a name in Utrecht because of his past band, The Gasoline Brothers. Reiger is his solo project with on stage three partners in crime who are very much a band together. The interaction is genuine and committed to the music. Peeters is allowed to go to the outer limits of the song, the rest holds it together for him. Even making things more exciting by playing with intervals in the rhythm at the right moments. Reiger definitely is a different beast live than on record.

The new songs I heard make me curious for EP #2 or whatever the name will be. The ones of #1 all came over well enough, but were familiar to me having reviewed them in January last, with 'Hollow Man', again as the absolute masterpiece, the song with a strong Blur element in it. No matter how different, Strand of Oaks' 'JM' and 'Hollow Man' are both epic songs. The kind of song that goes beyond the obvious, beyond the three minute popsong and goes all out. Something Reiger managed to do successfully several times in its 40 minute show.

A lot of people had taken the trouble of coming out early to see Reiger play and that was a correct decision. The band got the response it deserved as it gave its all and a little more here and there. Peeters is probably too old to hope for a breakthrough, but there's nothing stopping him from rocking out this way for a good time to come. There will always be an audience for better alternative rock songs and he is able to write them.

(All photo's by) Wo.

You can buy EP#1 here:

zondag 20 augustus 2017

Strand of Oaks live. Tivoli Vredenburg, Utrecht 18 August 2017

The support finished playing, took of its gear and five men enter the stage and get their stuff together. It's Strand of Oaks. Some intricate sounds between the two guitarists are exchanged and they leave the stage again. Everything set to their liking, with no one from the outside interfering. A fairly rare sight nowadays. Not so long ago I saw two roadies mixing drinks for band members on stage. Here there was one man, laying out the setlist, distributing water bottles.

Again I had to go up all the way for a show in Tivoli Vredenburg. Flights of stairs that seem to have no end. Each time I'm there it surprises me how high up one can go in the building. The room itself appears to be somehow floating underneath the roof. The way there is so open, that it seems like nothing could be supporting the structure high up.

Strand of Oaks has featured a few times on this blog. At least three albums have been reviewed over the past years, so when 'Oor' offered a free ticket I knew it was time to go and see the band live.

The show started with my favourite song from the 'Heal' album. 'JM' is this Neil Young sort of 'Cortez The Killer' kind of song. We were 10 minutes into the show before the 'JM' jams were over and the audience all warmed up. By then the venue had filled itself quite nicely. It may not have been sold out, but standing together was just comfortable, so a good turn out. As soon as the first outburst in 'JM' commenced it turned out what a great band Timothy Showalter has gathered around himself. Explosive, subtle and everything in between.

Especially around the intro of songs, while either of the guitarists were tuning, the drummer showed some nice subtle playing or the lead guitarist played all these little motives with harmonics and muted notes, creating a great atmosphere in which to start the song as soon as Showalter was ready to commence. Despite the fact that I was listening to warming up notes, in between things, these moments set the tone of the evening. Creating small moments of magic that the show profited from 110%.

What surprised me most was that Strand of Oaks' front man seemed to have a good time. From the little I had read about him in the past, he seemed to me someone who never smiles or enjoys things. He sure did this Friday evening in Utrecht. The audience response and sheer appreciation clearly resonated within him and was returned abundantly. So much for reading impressions.

What amazed me was the playing of the lead guitarist. I did not get his name, but a quick Google search tells me that his name is Jason Anderson, a singer-songwriter on his own accord. Equipped with a beautiful guitar, with bird in flight inlays between the frets, he played with an ease that just makes my mouth drop and stand in awe of the beautiful sounds and all the right notes that fly out of his fingers.

But let's not forget the rhythm section. The interaction between bass and drums is phenomenal, while both individually are great players. When things go so smooth in the background, it is easy to excel up front and that is what Anderson and Showalter did. The songs moved smoothly forward enrapturing the audience by the song.

Strand of Oakes plays music that can only be called American from the outside. That can fall two ways with me. This band is totally on my right side. The balance between the instrumental and the vocal parts remains no matter how long an instrumental jam takes, simply because the songs nearly always have enough melody to remain interesting. Even songs that consist of three chords, the melody between those chords are interesting to follow. In others, like 'Radio Kids', there is this delicious guitar riff that keeps coming back after each chorus. The kind it is impossible to get enough of. And when the band really rocks out, like in 'Rest Of It', it has the right punky attitude to really go out there.

My live introduction to Strand of Oaks was an extremely pleasant one. Not only did I have a good time, I was impressed several times by what Strand of Oaks presented on stage and I could tell from the faces around me that I wasn't the only one. Next time hopefully another venue size up? That would be a good thing for this band, as the latest album 'Hard Love proves also, it is ready for the next step.

(All photo's by) Wo.

You can listen to and buy the music of Strand of Oaks here: