zondag 26 maart 2017

Let's Focus. Thoughts on the band Focus

This feature on the blog, an online discussion between two gentlemen from the U.K. and Wo., seems to be turning into a series. After a conversation on progrockers Emerson, Lake & Palmer followed an online discussion on Todd Rundgren and, I might add, who not? Both were published earlier in this year. At the very end of the Rundgren discussion Gary suggested to continue with another band. That invitation was picked up on, so let's focus on Dutch prog and classical rockers Focus.

Gary, 23-02:
We must have a discussion about another Dutch favourite band of mine… Focus!

Wout responded on 28-02:
As you know we have a minor generation gap. When you started to buy your first albums, I was still mainly dependent on the radio and bought a few singles that were on offer during sales. When you were into ELP, I was able to scratch together my very first self bought LP, 'Cuz I luv you' by Slade, with the two big hits of 1971 on it.

As Focus was famous mostly in the same years, the band sort of past me by. I must have known some of the singles, but I can't truly remember, 45 years later. My real initiation came in 1977 at the other end of the world.

In 1977 I quit school and packed my things and went to Australia for over five months to meet and stay with my family on my mother's side. She had left Australia in the mid 50s, met my dad on Canada's west coast and moved to The Netherlands to get married. Hence I travelled for over a day in late July 1977 and met people who I had never seen before.

I had saved a lot of money, in my eyes, for the trip and my parents doubled that. What did I do with a portion of that money? Buy albums of course. What I remember is Boston, Heart, The Rolling Stones, the 'Magical Mystery Tour' double EP book version, that great single by Mother Goose, 'Baked Beans', 'In The Flesh' by Blondie and a compilation album. Filled with songs from the late 60s and early 70s. 

Here I am, Down Under, and found a compilation album with e.g. John Mayall, Eric Burden's Animals, The Who, Jimi Hendrix and two Dutch bands. One is, of course I'd say, Golden Earring with 'Radar Love'. The other is Focus, 'Hocus Pocus'. One of those yodel songs with fantastic guitar work. Jan Akkerman was always what attracted me in Focus. I was a guitarist before I became one almost 10 years later. That Akkerman was voted best guitarist in the world did not pass me by. It was the music that did. Albums were too far away for me and my friends. The music most likely too far out for our 11, 12 year old ears. In 1972 I got my first record player, a GDR made one. Not before too long I was able to catch up with The Beatles, the red and the blue album in 1973 and 1974. Now that was a priority for me.

Now Jan Akkerman. I did know him a little better, but let me start here. There's a little more to come later on.

Gary, 1-3:
Yes I would imagine that Focus’ album material would not be easy listening for most people (then or now), beyond Hocus Pocus, Sylvia and House of the King (which was the theme music to a UK sit-com by Steve Coogan called Saxondale. See http://dai.ly/x37dgm9 . Saxondale was roadie during the 70s but is now a 'pest control consultant’. There are many names dropped including (in later episodes) Keith Emerson! I really recommend getting a box set!

I have always been a fan of Focus since the mid 70s, excellent musicianship and composition.

I look forward to your continuation…

Wout, 3-3:
Late in 1968 I discovered the Veronica Top 40 and that it was released every week on a leaflet that my local record store had laying on the counter. Although I listened to the radio already a lot, I now understood that songs were not just played. There were hits, tips, flops and golden classics. The Top 40 was broadcasted on this pirate station called Veronica on Saturday afternoons between 14 and 16.00: "The National Saturday Afternoon Happening", fanfare tune announcing it and all.

And so a song came by in 1969 by a band called Brainbox. 'Down Man' only became a moderate hit, yet drew my attention. It was different, harder, with a great guitar. Like I was attracted to that guitar sound in 'Hair' by Zen (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cO8cMRbDkfE), my second self-bought single ('Hey Jude' being the first). I was also told that the song was a hit abroad.

That might have been it, were it not that I was surprised at our yearly Saint Nicolas feast with a present I did not see coming: an LP! A compilation LP of Dutch bands with their hits in 1968 and 1969 called 'Their Greatest Hits'. The members of the four or five bands all stood gathered on a beach or sand dune, with the names of each on the back. So I knew what Jan Akkerman looked like, better I also knew how Pierre van der Linden, later Focus' drummer looked liked. These guys also looked distinctly different from the other bands. Blue jeans, hipper, not so much longer but wilder hair. The singer of Brainbox was Kaz Lux, with whom Akkerman made a few duo records after he left Focus. The second Brainbox song on the LP was 'Sea Of Delight', the band's second single and an edit of a song that took a whole side of the band's first LP, which I bought over a decade later. 'Dark Rose' being the third and final single of this version of Brainbox.

Now I haven't played that compilation for decades, yet that one song, 'Down Man', is still a fantastic song (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dJWLVYK9zk4). Aggressive, yet warm and passionate. The lyrics are a bit of a shamble I'm afraid, the music is fantastic. The interplay between Lux' voice and Akkerman's guitar solo is fabulous. The drive the acoustic guitar brings to the song gives it a great, propulsing pace. One of the highlights of our Nederbeat years.

Now of course Jan Akkerman had built a name for himself before Brainbox. Ask my friend Willem, ten years my superior, and he'll speak to you about The Crazy Rockers from the early 60s in which Akkerman was the guitarist as an early teenager. After that he played that Russian music inspired solo in 'Russian Spy And I' by The Hunters, a song that had caught my ear somewhere in those years (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TEH1qTiGY5w). It's a gimmick hit song, but the (speed of) playing is something else for 1966.

When we moved from the big city to the country late in 1969 I lost the reception of the pirate station, Veronica and there was no Top 40 in the town for over a year. A gap in my musical development. In that gap Focus started.

So what is your experience with this Dutch band?

Mark, 3-3: 
The interesting thing for me is how did a hitherto unknown Dutch band manage to break through the Anglo-American dominance of the 1970's rock scene? Focus were more successful than Golden Earring who we remember only for one impressive single: Radar Love. Three factors probably: the unique vocal histrionics of Thijs Van Leer on the instantly memorable Hocus Pocus single; Jan Akkerman's hard-edged guitar mastery that threatened to displace Eric Clapton in the best guitarist category in the annual Melody Maker poll - helped by Slowhand unaccountably drifting into softer, laidback Ocean Boulevard territory; and the power of the one and only British TV late night live rock show: The Old Grey Whistle Test which they performed on in December 1972 - watch it on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5owrU-axzXg.

Moving Waves was the lp that shot up the album charts as a result of that performance and posters of Jan Akkerman started to appear in the ads pages of the NME. Focus 3 which I also bought as a "must have" was an over-confident extension as a double album (you had made it if your label let you roam freely across 4 sides) but it showed their impressive versatility to the full. While I didn't put a poster up on the wall in my student digs, these two albums were a  part of the soundtrack to my university years - and when I worked In Rotterdam in late 1977.

Hamburger Concerto was heavier rock and the Mother Focus title seemed like a cheap shot at maintaining their profile. Inevitably, after their meteoric rise from university gig curiosities to UK tour concert headliners, they faded rapidly from view as the ground shifted and new wave swept all aside. The acrimony between Akkerman and Van Leer probably prevented them from adjusting to the changing times with a clear sense of musical direction: they failed to re-Focus. 

Their records alas then headed for the cheaper sections of the second hand racks: that's where I off-loaded my copies, along with Yessongs, ELP's Trilogy and Pictures at an Exhibition - sorry Gary but back in London in 1979 I was unemployed and severely strapped for cash to buy my Jam and Clash singles. However, my recent more affluent circumstances have allowed me to do some serious record collecting and I've sought out replacement copies during my tours of record shops worldwide; so these two albums are now rightfully restored to my collection - and not solely for nostalgic reasons: they do make it the turntable from time to time because they have hardly dated at all: testimony to their impressive musicianship. skilful embrace of classical and jazz influences and the sheer thrill of tracks like Silvia and House of the King. I have yet to replace my copy of Van Leer's "Introspection." I can't remember too much about that record other that it was serious and heavy in the "prog" sense: will continue to keep an eye out for a decent copy.

Wout, 7-3:
@Mark, Funny you mention 'Introspection'. It triggered a memory I had nearly forgotten about. I only have one experience with the album. One of my uncles, who we visited very regularly, had the album at the time. And now I remember that I must have known the hitsingles of Focus. My uncle announced that he had an album by Thijs van Leer of Focus and I remember that that fact impressed me. Until he played the album. The impression I got was that he had put on a classical album. That was the first and last time I have listened to it. I am still not one for things classical.

'Introspection' was, if I remember correctly, the best sold album of 1973 over here, followed by a few more Introspections in the 70s. In second hand stores there ought to be legions of copies, there were so many of them around. Several parents of friends of mine had the album.

Looking it up, thank you Wikipedia, the album charted in the spring and summer of 1972 for 15 weeks, to return just before Christmas of 1972 and remain charted for well over two years, including a #1 spot for a month in the winter of 1973, well into 1975.

By the time I started to earn enough money to buy albums regularly, 1978, Focus was a thing of the past. Still, I have looked into my collection and behold one album did pop up, 'Focus 3'. A double album. I had forgotten that. Also 'Sylvia' is in my 45 collection. Bought second hand only a few years ago. So I'll give 'Focus 3' a serious spin and come back at you on that.

Also I dug up the compilation from Australia. It is called 'Immortal Rock'. Even nearly 40 years down the road it gives a sense of pride that these two Dutch bands are among the 14 odd songs selected on these grounds:

"The late 60s and early 70s was an era when rock came of age. This album features a collection of all time rock classics emphasising the strong influence of British and European musicians. From Hendrix to Status Quo,...the Who's Who of Rock's golden era".

Well, to put things into perspective, the artists had to be on Polygram. Clapton is on it in three guises I notice, Cream, Derek and solo. Pete Townsend in two, The Who and Thunderclap Newman, which he produced and played bass on. As a whole it still looks like a strong compilation though. I was surprised to find a 1976 track by Status Quo was on there though. 'Rain' seems totally out of place, as does 'I Shot The Sheriff'.

As a fun fact. Inner sleeves in Australia at the time were made of plastic. So no liner notes and stuff on inner sleeves there.

Wo. has started to listen to Focus and reports on 14-03:
To update on my listening sessions. I turned to Spotify and started with Focus' first album that can either go by the title 'Focus I' or 'In And Out Of Focus' it seems.

That album truly surprised me. I have always associated Focus with instrumental, touching on classical music and nonsensical yodelling. Thijs van Leer is singing a lot on the album. Next to that there's a lot of psychedelia of the kind that had gone out of style for a while by then. The sort of music that is quite in vogue again since a few years. 'House Of The King' is the hitsingle, over here at least. It charted in the winter of 1971 for four weeks (#14). It seems like I remember Jan Akkerman's solo hit of the same song in 1974 (5 weeks, #17) better. More guitar driven and not flute. Overall conclusion: I rather like this album and may go out and buy it in the near future. As an extra. Akkerman's 'House Of The King' comes from his solo album 'Tabernakel', an album filled with classical compositions, played Jan Akkerman's way with Tim Bogert and Carmine Appice as rhythm section. It seems he followed Van Leer here, with a lot less commercial success.

'Moving Waves' was up next. It seems that this is a hybrid album with one foot in 'Focus 1' and one foot towards the big breakthrough. The tandem Van Leer - Akkerman is getting into its stride. Pierre van der Linden has joined the band. There's more power in the pace of the album.

What I heard brought Ekseption to mind. A Dutch band with an international career in the early 70s. It scored hits in 1969 in NL with rock adaptations of Beethoven's 5th, Bach's 'Air', e.g.  Something that really impressed me at the time. That same uncle I wrote about before had the album, so I got to know Ekseption's version of 'Sabre Dance' as well. Both key players, keyboardist Rick van der Linden and trumpet player Rein van der Broek, are not among us any more.

From 'Moving Ways' it is not even that far away in time that the two driving players were to fall out. Now Akkerman, from a giant distance, seems a grumpy sort of man. The only way he communicates about Van Leer in the past decades is by calling him "that yodeller". It stands in the way of a potentially successful tour of enacting whole albums like many artists do nowadays. There's still a Focus and Akkerman played his 70th birthday tour last year.

It seems you got me into Focus a little. I'll dig up 'Focus III' soon.

BTW I'm about to score some tickets for the "It was 50 years ago today" show. It was announced last week.

Gary, 14-03: 
I was not aware of Ekseption before, I may have to check them out... thanks!

I love all of the early Focus albums and Moving Waves is certainly high on my list! I can still 'listen' to the title track in my head and get the words right even today! I even have early Focus bass player Cyril Havermans' solo album Cyril! Pierre van der Linden is one of my favourite drummers who was heavily influenced by Buddy Rich... as was Carl Palmer.

I have seen Focus in the mid 70's at an 'all-nighter' and they blew me away (although it may have also been the clouds of heady 'incense' that permeated the venue? ;)  ) and also Jan Ackerman's Focus at my local Mick Jagger venue (Mick's old school in Dartford, Kent) about ten years ago. I would have liked to have seen Thijs Van Leer's Focus that was touring at the same time but sadly I couldn't go.

A great band that excelled in something that is lost to music today... instrumentals!

And here we left Focus and focused on ..... Stay tuned to find out.
 
Gary Hunt
Mark Carvell
Wo.

 P.S. from Wout:
While editing this conversation I clicked on the link to the 'Hocus Pocus' performance on 'The Old Grey Whistle Test'. It looks like this tells all of how Akkerman views Van Leer. As soon as Van Leer starts his yodel you can view Akkerman snickering towards Van der Linden. Has he ever really liked what he was playing here?

Focus is on Spotify.





zaterdag 25 maart 2017

Closure. Adna

The cover of Closure is not a common one in pop. A veiled woman, showing as much hair as possible. Not unlike I have seen in pictures or footage from Iran. Suppressed yet defiant? Closure is a word that so far I have heard most often used in a diplomatic sense: Do we have closure? Do we agree and can we move on to the next topic? For Adna Kadic herself it was the closure of the writing process. The song that came last became the title track and opening song. So there seems to be no link with the cover art.

Erwin Zijleman had the honor to write about Adna first on this blog. He wrote the review of her sophomore album, 'Run, Lucifer' in 2015. Her debut album 'Night' (2014) did not make it to these pages.

Closure is a heavy handed album by the Swedish singer who now lives in Berlin. The mood is solemn and serious. Perhaps not so much dark of tone yet subdued. Life is something serious and her music reflects that. Her voice is somewhat deeper than most women's voices, adding to that particular mood. French singer Lou Doillon comes to mind, although she dares to rock out every once in a while like on her last album, 'Lay Low'. The music, Adna says, comes from a dark place within herself that she has tried to come to grips with and give a place within her where she's o.k. with it. A serious process that is reflected in the music.

Adna adorns her music in a different way. Often adding a special touch to a song. A light sounding guitar or some electronics give a song a spark or a cloud with a silver lining. Somehow I have the idea that the end result I am hearing is what remains from a process of hard work and trial and error to find out what suits a song best. My guess is that she has found just what she was looking for. Although the music on Closure is not really my kind of music, I can totally relate to it, I find.

 Take the title song and the first on the album. The basis of the song is Adna's voice and a piano. The voice exhumes and takes up space. Made fuller by echo. Added to the song is a firm drum. Almost like Dotan's big drum percussion. It creates a tightness from which the song can't escape in any way. Not the musicians, nor the listener who is more or less forced to listen to the pounding drum. Taking in the rest of the song along the way.

Promo photo
'Overthinking' is a song that I somehow seem to know already. The light guitar notes that accompany the singing with the same chord pattern in the verse sound familiar. The song fits into the neo-folk sort of music the world has heard a lot of over the past years. Again the drums play a distinct role. It's the vocals that are so much more involved. Little vocal melodies and voices come from all sides. An intricate vocal ballet. Part of the sounding familiar part is explained by the fact that the melody and approach to the song returns in 'Soaked Eyes'. A different lyric, but quite similar.

Moving into the album Adna shows that she presents us with both piano songs and guitar songs. With the piano she certainly moves into Agnes Obel territory. Adna's songs appeal to the atmosphere she brings her listeners in. There's no blatant virtuosity in sight. What she does present is an intricately layered sort of music. Where a limited number of instruments are layered in such a way as to give the impression of a full sound, over which her voice(s) is/are draped. If I'm to choose, Adna plays her music far beyond of what Agnes Obel presented to the world last year. An easy win.

Closure is the ideal album to listen to with a headset on. All the details come to the listener once emerged totally. A moment between you and Adna and her musicians. It is this intimacy that makes me like Closure more than I'd expected at first listen. The carefully layered sound gives the album a distinct, own sound. It seems that the soul-searching and defining her music has paid off. Not much in life comes for free and even having talent takes hard work to cultivate. Adna has taken that lesson to heart and presents us with a beautiful album

Wo.

You can listen to 'Overthinking' here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DSo8Y_UD14k




vrijdag 24 maart 2017

Burn Something Beautiful. Alejandro Escovedo

Alejandro Escovedo is een bekende naam in de Amerikaanse muziekgeschiedenis.
 
Hij werd geboren in San Antonio, Texas, maar zette zijn eerste stappen als muzikant vanuit Los Angeles en San Francisco. Hij trok vervolgens naar New York, waar hij niet alleen terecht kwam in de punkscene, maar ook in aanraking kwam met hard drugs.
 
Vervolgens begon hij samen met zijn broer Javier en rootsmuzikant Jon Dee Graham de cultband True Believers.
 
Sindsdien maakt Alejandro Escovedo vooral rootsmuziek, al is hij nog altijd niet vies van een flinke portie rock ’n roll. Escovedo maakt soloplaten sinds 1992, maar ondanks het feit dat ze altijd kunnen rekenen op positieve recensies heb ik er maar twee in mijn bezit (A Man Under The Influence uit 2001 en het door John Cale geproduceerde The Boxing Mirror uit 2006). Allebei overigens zeer indrukwekkende platen, maar er moeten er meer zijn, zeker nu ik weet dat Escovedo het afgelopen decennium een aantal platen maakte met muzikant Chuck Prophet en David Bowie producer Tony Visconti.
 
Desondanks veerde ik niet direct enthousiast op toen onlangs Burn Something Beautiful verscheen. Dat enthousiasme was er echter onmiddellijk toen onlangs dan toch de eerste noten van de plaat uit de speaker kwamen, want wat is dit een lekkere en ook bijzondere plaat.
 
Alejandro Escovedo is inmiddels 65 en heeft al lange tijd een wat broze gezondheid, maar op zijn nieuwe plaat gaat hij tekeer als een jonge god. Dat doet hij niet alleen, want de gastenlijst op Burn Something Beuatiful is even indrukwekkend als de plaat zelf.
 
Escovedo toerde de afgelopen jaren met R.E.M. gitarist Peter Buck en Scott McCaughey van The Minus 5. Beiden staan op de gastenlijst, waarop verder de namen van onder andere John Moen (The Decemberists), Corin Tucker (Sleater-Kinney), Steve Berlin (Los Lobos) en Kelly Hogan (Neko Case) prijken.
 
Escovedo levert, zeker gezien zijn leeftijd een verrassend energieke en gedreven plaat af, waarop invloeden uit de rock domineren en de gitaren heerlijk mogen janken. Burn Something Beautiful doet me meer dan eens aan de muziek van David Bowie (en af en toe ook aan Roxy Music of Lou Reed), maar raakt ook aan de rootsrock zoals die in de huidige thuisstaat van Alejandro Escovedo wordt gemaakt (hij werkt tegenwoordig vanuit Dallas, Texas) en citeert hiernaast uit de punk en de rock ’n roll die Escovedo in zijn jongere jaren in New York omarmde.
 
Met name het gitaarwerk van Peter Buck, die er vrolijk op los soleert, is geweldig, maar ook de rest van de band heeft er zin in en dan zijn er natuurlijk ook nog de fraaie psychedelische invloeden en de geweldige strot van Alejandro Escovedo, die zingt als in zijn beste jaren.
 
Keer op keer ben ik Alejandro Escovedo uit het oog verloren, maar na het fantastische Burn Something Beautiful heb ik mezelf beloofd om dat niet meer te doen. Burn Something Beautiful is immers een vijfsterrenplaat. Niets meer, maar zeker niet minder.

Erwin Zijleman

Je kunt hier luisteren naar 'Farewell To The Good Times':

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nbyRw4uJ8MI

donderdag 23 maart 2017

Under The Pines. Bardo Pond

There are albums and there are albums. There are impressions of albums and you have impressions of albums. In this particular case the band called Bardo Pond has tossed me across a whole range of impressions, moods, responses, physical assault of my ears and brain. In short: Under The Pines is not your average sort of album.

Bardo Pond is a band that started in the U.S. in 1991. Released its first EP and album in 1995. Under The Pines is the band's 11 studio album. Not counting, compilations, EPs, jam recordings and numerous side projects of the five members.

There's not much that prepared me for this album. Simply because I do not have any. The closest that comes to mind is Esben and the Witch, a band I saw in Leiden a few years back. The music is as mysterious as the album cover is. Yes, in a way it is art. At the same time it is strange, overwhelming, ever present. The voice of singer Isobel Stollenberger is a mixture of a fairy and a witch. Double tracked a lot of the time. The voice floats, hovers, like a ghost or a paranormal experience, over the music. Strangely enough her voice or better voices is all that seems to keep a song like 'Out Of Reach' together. The only sane element in an onslaught of the senses. The lead guitar is out of control for most of the song. The rhythm guitar or what is supposed to be one goes all out as well. The drums pound away. Certainly it's a rhythm not one that necessarily keeps a song together. The bass is underneath that all somewhere doing something, who knows what. It is Stollenberger who is floating around as the sanest member of Bardo Pond, but only by comparison. Just listen to her doubletracked vocal lines. The song takes forever, over 10 minutes long.

Now it's fair game to ask, but why are you listening? Simply because I'm intrigued. Trying to find out what is going on here, with a positive attitude. It doesn't work in all tracks. 'My Eyes Out' is too monotonous for me. It just goes on and on. Gazing at their shoes, but I need a song in there. Like there is in the opening song, 'Crossover' and 'Out Of Reach'. Just a repetition of chords, endlessly the same is not enough, no matter how noisy the solo is, how loud the drones in the back are, I'm not engaged, just shaken, loudly, violently.

When the noise dies out in 'Moment To Moment' and a bluesy acoustic slide guitar comes in over the dark undergrowth, it is like the doors are thrown open and fresh air is let in. It's still night out there, but there may be the hint of moon and stars. The slide guitar at times sounds like two swords sliding off one another. A hint of danger never leaves Under The Pines. The fact that Bardo Pond allows for some variation in the aural sludge it drags itself through scores a point with me. When a flute enters the mix, a 60s psychedelic element enters the music. Making it breathe even more. The inner dynamics of the song lets it grow and grow into something larger, but that is o.k. Some restraint is shown making the album come alive.

Promo photo
The same goes for the title song. Stollenberger even moves off into Stevie Nicks territory, speaking of witches. Which is a surprise. 'Under The Pines' is the song that deserves that title most. The brothers Gibbons, John and Michael may still be fuzzing their guitars far and wide. With its six minutes the song is a bit too long. I can't lay away the idea that with a little more effort 'Under The Pines' could have been great, not just good. Repetition can bring one in a trance, but when that doesn't happen what remains is repetition.

The final song is 'Effigy'. It starts out so great. The lead guitar just growls every so much bars. Stollenberger's flute, mixed somewhat in the background, leads the way. As if keeping the animal locked up in the guitar's amplifier enthralled with its movement and sound. The sanity in the madness. Slowly but surely the whole band takes over more and more. The flute stages a losing battle, surrounded, slowly sinking beneath the maddening crowd, about to be trampled, but seems not to be afraid of what is bound to happen. It keeps its calm and holds out, yet barely.

Under The Pines is not my average day album. Yet I have played it a few times and am surprised that it touches me. Albeit in different ways on different days, touch me it does.

Wo.

You can listen to 'Effigy' here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bStNovCY0vU

or listen and buy the album here:

https://bardopondmusic.bandcamp.com/album/under-the-pines

woensdag 22 maart 2017

Long distance information ... Chuck Berry I.M. #2. Chuck and John

Earlier this week Wo. wrote down his thoughts on the passing away of Chuck Berry. Today Mark Carvell shares some memories on tv shows he watched in the past starring Chuck Berry.

I hope the blog will commemorate another major passing: Chuck Berry. I first became aware of him through The Beatles' covers on the early lps (Rock'n'roll Music, Roll Over Beethoven...) - and then there was a great BBC "in concert" TV programme in 1972 with an unknown British pick up band dong their best to keep up with him (I don't think he ever had a regular touring band). This show gets repeated every now and then because it is a great performance and he was quite a raconteur (though it does alas include sing-along-a-ding-a-ling which was his big freak hit at the time that amazingly passed the BBC censors unnoticed....).

Most of the original rock-n-rollers and bluesmen all came to London around that time to record their obligatory "London sessions" albums with the British kings of blues rock who had done so much to keep them in work. But nobody in the early 1970s was at all interested in the rock'n'roll pioneers of the fifties - except John Lennon! He did a TV show in New York in 1972 with Chuck as special guest. I have an original vinyl bootleg of course but the historic audio-visual recording is readily available these days on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ULJZbNQRNgU    - They played Memphis and Johnny B. Goode and there's a great interview with Chuck and a reminder how fab, fun and relaxed John was on TV in the early 1970s - and just imagine turning up as audience member for a TV chat show and there's John Lennon playing with Chuck Berry!!!! Not long after that John did his full on fifties tribute album with a photo of him on the sleeve in a Hamburg doorway and the other Beatles running in front past him. I have stood in that very doorway of course (see attached photo)......but that is another tour in another city!

Mark Carvell

Archivo Pittoresco. Lula Pena

Bij muziek uit Portugal denk ik aan fado en dat is een genre waarin ik niet of nauwelijks thuis ben en dat ik eerlijk gezegd ook lang niet altijd kan waarderen.
 
Ik had dan ook nog nooit van Lula Pena gehoord toen haar nieuwe plaat Archivo Pittoresco een week of twee geleden op de mat viel.
 
Heel gek is dat niet, want de wat teruggetrokken levende singer-songwriter uit Lissabon is tot dusver niet erg productief en wist met haar vorige platen slechts een kleine (maar naar verluid fanatieke) groep fans aan zich te binden.
 
Lula Pena komt net als de fado uit Portugal, maar het is te makkelijk om te beweren dat Lula Pena een fadozangeres is. Archivo Pittoresco bevat wel invloeden uit de fado, maar bevat voornamelijk muziek die ver is verwijderd van de klassieke Portugese fado.
 
Archivo Pittoresco valt op door een instrumentatie die veel ingetogener en subtieler is dan in de fado gebruikelijk en ook qua vocale intensiteit laat Lula Pena zich niet vergelijken met landgenoten die vooral binnen de kaders van de fado opereren.
 
De vocalen op Archivo Pittoresco zijn vaak net zo ingetogen als de sobere maar zeer smaakvolle akoestische instrumentatie en ook als de emotie en weemoed het even winnen van fluisterzachte zang, zit Lula Pena dichter tegen Braziliaanse Bossa Nova zangeressen aan dan tegen de gemiddelde fado zangeres.
 
De Portugese singer-songwriter laat zich hiernaast nadrukkelijk beïnvloeden door Spaanse flamenco klanken en Franse chansons en maakt bovendien muziek die in de smaak moet kunnen vallen bij ruimdenkende folkies.
 
Uit de verhalen die ik over Lula Pena lees op het Internet, maak ik op dat vooral de teksten van de singer-songwriter uit Lissabon van een bijzonder hoog niveau zijn. Dat kan ik gezien mijn beperkte kennis van het Portugees (dat domineert op de plaat) niet beamen, maar Archivo Pittoresco klinkt door de intense voordracht van Lula Pena wel poëtischer dan de gemiddelde plaat.
 
Ook in muzikaal opzicht wordt de lat op Archivo Pittoresco hoger gelegd dan gebruikelijk. Het ingetogen akoestische gitaarspel is soms veelkleurig en vol, maar kan net zo makkelijk lang blijven focussen op een paar bijna minimalistische noten.
 
Het is absoluut een handicap dat ik geen woord versta van de teksten op de plaat, maar desondanks slaagt Archivo Pittoresco er steeds meer in om me te benevelen en betoveren. Lula Pena doet dit met zeer bescheiden middelen, maar ze sorteren een maximaal effect.
 
Waar ik de fado over het algemeen net wat te aanwezig en dramatisch vind, maakt Lula Pena intense en emotievolle muziek die zijn kracht ontleent aan subtiliteit. Bij eerste beluistering gaat er veel langs je heen, maar hoe vaker je de plaat hoort, hoe meer er valt te genieten op Archivo Pittoresco.
 
Ik zou bijna Portugees gaan leren om ook de laatste dimensie van de muziek van Lula Pena te kunnen begrijpen, maar ook zonder deze dimensie is haar nieuwe plaat van een breekbare, intense en vaak onwerkelijke schoonheid.

Erwin Zijleman

Je kunt hier luisteren naar 'Pes Mou Mia Lexi':

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mCVfQA9qBmU

dinsdag 21 maart 2017

Close Eyes To Exit. Klangstof

On 17 February Moss released its fifth album, 'Strike'. It happened that because of that (announced) release I found out that Moss' bass player Koen van der Wardt had left the band to pursue his own career and had already released an album called 'Close Eyes To Exit'. As good a reason as any to start listening.

What to expect? My guess was alternative/indie rock with a pop element, in other words not unlike Moss. What did I hear?

Klangstof basically is Van der Wardt who has been working on his demo's for years. After leaving Moss, as that ultimately is Marien Dorleijn's band, he worked with the two other Moss members at first, nearly splitting Moss in the process. Kruyning and Stam decided to return to the mothership, after which Van Der Wardt gathered his own musicians around him of which two come from Norway where he spent most of his teenage years.

Close Eyes To Exit starts with an instrumental called 'Doolhof'. A hum, atmospherics before more traditional sounds of a guitar enter. If anything the music can be called dreamy. A cymbal fades in, synths, a second guitar, drums. It is easy to imagine that all were already playing but the switches on the recording console were turned to zero. One after the other is turned up ever so slightly, towards a full release. No one holds back any longer. The beast is out of the cage, searching, loudly, for a way out of the "doolhof".

Is this representative for the rest of the album? No and a little yes. The dreamy quality remains, like in the singing of Koen van der Wardt. Soft voiced, not necessarily organic, but always modest is his voice of choice. As is the mood of most of this album. The music is quite minimal in large sections. 'Doolhof' in all his largesse is not exactly representative for the songs following it.

Electronics is a main part of the album. Either the sound or the atmosphere created by synthesizers. Underneath the sounds a fiery drum can be played, electric guitars are present for most of the time. Again that does not explain the whole album. There are enough songs that simply slide by. Soft of tone. Like Talking Heads without the punk, new wave and beats and Dandy Warhols without the drugs. Klangstof challenges its listeners regularly. Take 'Amansworld'. There is no common rhythm, the song jumps from one form to another. It has different melodies, yet it sort of explodes around a by then familiar theme, in whatever beat it has. I haven't a clue. The album holds pure beauty. Just listen to the instrumental parts of 'Sleaze'. 80s synths all over the place, like Soft Cell in its most beautiful song 'Say Hello Wave Goodbye'. (Its best song is 'Torch'.)

So to return to Moss. Where the bands meet is in the dreamy sequences. After that both take an opposite direction. Moss aims for the perfect indie rock song. Klangstof is experimenting a lot more and that can result both in a 'Amansworld' or in a 'We Are Your Receiver', which has a chorus to lick my ears for. Earlicking good. That is not Klangstof's standard though. Concluding I have to say that I still do not really know what to make of the album. I'm hearing some great music and also hear things that I simply have a hard time interpreting. It may well be that it simply takes more time to get familiar with. The question remains whether I will make the time to do so. "I'm not ready with 'Kid A', I told a friend soon after its release, but never got around to play it again. There's simply too much music for that sort of investment. Time will tell, folks.

P.S. In the meantime I've listened again and 'Sleaze' pushed itself forward a lot harder. So who knows?

Wo.

You can listen to 'We Are Your Receiver' here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tm9jYDkkayI

maandag 20 maart 2017

Don't. Low Hill

It's been quiet for a while on the I Have A Tiger Records front. That ended with this song. The first release by a band called Low Hill.

Low Hill is a band round Laurens Vanhulle and based in Antwerp, who gathered some musicians around himself for a new musical project. The band name is as appropriately modest as it is right for the lowlands Antwerp is situated in. Low Hill may sound modest, the music is far from once the song develops itself towards its climatic ending.

In a way the same bells go off as when I listened to 'Love When You Don't Want It' by The LVE for the first time in 2014. I'm not as short of breath as I was then, but the effect the song has on me is similar. It touches me on a deeper level. Now both bands have the same producer, Joes Brands, so that may explain some of it, but certainly not all.

'Don't' starts with a faint rhythm far off in the mix. It could have been there by mistake or coincidence. It seems so distant, so not part of the intro and atmospheric first verse and chorus. There's so much room for the singer to move around in.

It is in the second verse when a muted, rhythm guitar joins and a female voice lifting mood and song up some more. A lead guitar joins as well, there's drums. Slowly electronics emerge and psychedelic treatments of the voices make my head spin around and around. The lead guitar takes the song over and starts playing a beautiful solo. Reminding me again of the way The LVE's hit song plays itself out. Don't is able to capture me in the exact same way. The difference is in the melancholy undertone where The LVE convinced me more. That takes nothing away from Low Hill's song that is a beautiful song all by itself.

Don't is the first song to be released by Low Hill. A first glimpse of what the band is about to unleash into the world. Vanhulle has worked for two years with his companions, Emiel Rymemans, Anke Verslype, Jordan Hudson and Marlon Leue to create music on the edge of classical songwriting, electronics and neo-soul, as the band describes its music. Add to that a lot of atmospherics and playing with the mood of the listener and the combination is intriguing to want to hear more in the future.

I can't tell the future but I understand that an album is under way. Too bad that it may still be some time off.


Wo.

You can listen to Don't here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fykoyEG-2tg

You can buy Don't here:

https://lowhilltheband.bandcamp.com/releases 

zondag 19 maart 2017

Chuck Berry, I.M. (1926-2017)

Chuck Berry was born as Charles Edward Anderson Berry in October 1926. In a totally different, formally segregated world. Yet he managed to change the world of rock and roll with his songs, influencing hundreds upon hundreds of white teenagers in the western world to play his songs and take it from there right onto this day.

My introduction to his music went indirectly. Being too young to know his music directly or to hear his direct influence on the beat boom coming out of England, the first time I knowingly heard a Chuck Berry rock and roll song was in the winter or early spring of 1974. I deliberately write rock and roll as I do not need to be remembered of that awful song 'My Ding-a-ling'. Somewhere I had heard Johnny Winter's blistering version of 'Johnny B. Goode' and very shortly after that Jimi Hendrix' version that a friend had on the 'In The West' live album. It more or less stayed that way for a while. I learned some more songs but never the original. Starting with 'Carol' and 'Little Queenie' on the Stones' 1970 live album. That changed with a very cheap cd around 1990 with his greatest hits. The quality was so bad and some songs were abominable live recordings. Not an invitation to learn more. That would take some more years.

I only learned how important Chuck Berry really was to the generation behind him when I viewed the picture 'Hail Hail Rock And Roll' on TV somewhere in the 90s. Keith Richards deciding to give Berry a good backing band and Chuck Berry being a total asshole all of the time. Doing his best to derail the whole venture right up to the last minute and start a song, on stage, in a different key than agreed and practised on. The music was great though. The "duckwalk" present and all.

Don't forget that other hail moment in a movie as well. In 'Back To The Future' Michael J. Fox plays a blistering version Van Halen style of Johnny B. Goode with the band of "Chuck Berry's cousin". "Chuck, listen, this may be the sound you were looking for" while his cousin holds up the phone for him to listen. The world that the movie showed us, the world where Marty McFly turns up in, is the world that Chuck Berry described and in a way gave back to the youth of America and to poorer Europe a few years later. A world of promises, full of cars, freedom, girls and Saturday nights dancing and drinking.

One of the stories I had learned in the meantime, was about the payola system of dj Alan Freedman. The other side to the glamour story, the less glamorous. Freedman's name forever is tagged to Berry's first single. The only way to get his song 'Maybelline' on the radio was to give Freedman songwriting credits. On the other hand there's a theory that the best of Chuck Berry's songs were at least co-written by his pianist Johnnie Johnson. Most songs are in chord progressions that are illogical for the guitar, not for the piano. As young men like Brian Wilson put a new lyric over what basically is a Chuck Berry song. 'Surfin' USA' holds the name Berry next to Wilson for some time now.

For people my age a party with a live band is not complete without at least one Chuck Berry song on the setlist. Mostly because of the versions by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and all those other bands that played and recorded his songs in the early to mid 60s. Fact is that it is a good question whether The Rolling Stones would ever have become this band if Mick Jagger did not have an import Chuck Berry (and Muddy Waters) album under his arm at that fateful meeting on Dartford's railway station. Something bonded there that changed the face of rock and roll. Right up to this day that bond is intact. When I practice with my band, the biggest smiles always come out when we've played 'Johnny B. Goode'. It just makes us feel sooo good.

Chuck Berry has been in contact with the law many times, served jailtime and in general seems not to have been a very nice person. At the same time he was a family man, married for nearly 70 years. Never judge a book by the cover. Yet, all this is inconsequential to his legacy as one of the people who shaped modern music.

On his 90th birthday he announced a new record called 'Chuck'. His first since 1979. Sadly it will be released posthumously. For now let us hail hail rock and roll, as his music will live forever and inspire many people over the years to come. People who start playing guitar and learn rock riffs will always learn a few of or based on his.

Wo.

You can listen to 'Johnny B. Goode' here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZFo8-JqzSCM

Waiting To Derail. Paceshifters

Tune in your ears for some noise. On the basis of the name I'd expected to hear some surfrock. The reason I put the album aside in the tremendous load of records coming out these days. And then the band came by in the minute on DWDD. Surf rock? Ha, no! Paceshifters is in the Nirvana alternative rock spectrum of things. Kurt would have turned 50 this year, so it's time for a new generation of grunge rockers. So that my grandchildren can form or listen to their grunge band 25 years from now.

It's kind of shocking to realise that Kurt would have turned 50 this year. Frozen forever in his 20 something guise. What sort of music would he have made today? We'll never know. All grungers who lived to tell have faced or are facing their 50th birthday. It's no surprise when I look at my own age though. Time flies by, fast. Is the world waiting for another grunge record? Probably not. Is this one welcome? Oh yes, it is.

Paceshiftters is around since 2008 and Waiting To Derail is the band's fourth full length album. Brothers Paul and Seb Dokman sing and play bass and guitar, respectively. Jesper Albers bangs away on the drums.

Waiting To Derail is one of those albums that I can be extremely short and straightforward with. Why? Simply because it holds everything that I expect it to hold. Hard rocking songs on the verge of rock, punk and enough elements of powerpop to make each and every song interesting. Full of energy, enough melody and some fiery guitar riffs and solos to appeal to my voice and my body.

Being a trio it means that all have to go full force in order to create a big sound and Paceshifters' members do just that. Even when the distortion and volume know goes down Jesper Albers keeps his power up laying the foundation for the play with dynamics. The brothers both supply the rhythm and lead elements. Then a bass run, then a guitar solo or (power)chord melody.

Despite that Waiting To Derail holds all I expect from a grunge album of the Nirvana variety, it is welcome. The album holds the right kind of excitement and joins that with songs that deserve to be heard. Another band from this country that scores far above average. Something is in the water, that's for sure.

Wo.

You can listen to 'Draw A Blank' here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aVtiQN8dcFU


zaterdag 18 maart 2017

Little Fictions. Elbow

Elbow is a band that slowly grew on me. There's a parallel there. The band grew slowly on the world as well. Together since 1990, it took the band 11 years to release its first full length album. Step by step an audience was won over that grew by the album, easing the band into fame. My introduction was through a compilation album that accompanied 'Oor Magazine' somewhere in the 00s. With that introduction came a listen to the whole album, which I found highly boring. Nothing seemed to happen in the music, except in that one song: 'Leaders Of The Free World' in which so much came together. An anthem, a uniquely great song. With 'The Seldom Seen Kid' Elbow still did not convince me totally. The next step was 'Build A Rocket Boy', which convinced my girlfriend, so I got to hear the album more often. For me it was 'The Take Off And Landing Of Everything' that won me over. That was a slow progression, as slow as the music of Elbow, in its own particular way is. Come 2017 there's the bands 7th album: Little Fictions, the first without their drummer Richard Jupp, the first band change since the inception of the band in 1990.

Lose a drummer and come up with a very percussive album? It seems Elbow does just that. All electronic and programmed. It seems the band had a field day playing with rhythms. Something I notice when listening to Little Fictions for the first time. Instruments strangely enough perhaps when discussing music is something I do not associate with Elbow. Listening to the band, I hear mostly atmosphere over which Guy Garvey sings his lyrics in his typical way, that rightly so has been compared to Peter Gabriel. I am fully aware that by writing this I'm doing the four, now three, musicians wrong in a grave way. Yet this is how Elbow feels to me. Like mist from which someone comes towards me to disappear into the mist again. Where the individual musicians put themselves aside totally for the atmosphere they create as a band. So the surprise with Little Fictions is that the music is so much more direct. Without killing the typical Elbow atmosphere. It seems to be built up differently.

What hasn't changed is Guy Garvey. His voice is omnipresent on Little Fictions. His solemn presence and delivery is like a bellow right on top of the music. There's nothing modest about his singing, where in the past there always was a hint at hesitation in his voice. A little hint at doubt whether he was doing the right thing. The little crack in the armour of the lead singer. On this album he is 100% the frontman. Sounding so self-assured.

The same goes for the whole band in that sense. With the much more open sound all flower as individual musicians. Heck, even the drum machine does. Whether the keyboards take over the lead or the guitar, with a nice delay in 'Head For Supplies', they sound beautifully and central to the song.

So is that all because of the leaving of the drummer, who allegedly always was slow to work with, in combination with the decision to speed up the writing and recording process? If so, I would recommend it to all bands. Fact is that something really has changed and that it worked a miracle for Elbow. The band has taken a new step in its career and not only made it go up a new path. Once again I have to state that the quality of the songs and the album as a whole is of the level that I expect Elbow to be at. Extremely high.

Elbow is not alone in its part of the musical universe. It has become the sun, with all other acts left behind as mere satellites. One of the top bands of the 10s, artistically and commercially. For a band that developed so slowly that is no mere feat.

Wo.

You can listen to 'Magnificent (She Said)' here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XQl5KYiiFDI


vrijdag 17 maart 2017

Help! Help!. Moon Moon Moon

Help! Help!? Moon Moon Moon? Someone who likes repetition is at work here. A Donald Trump fan? My guess is no, but then I do not know Mark Lohmann, just his music. For certain is that he does not like to stick to saying things just once.

Moon Moon Moon is Mark Lohmann, a 23 year old musician from Heerhugowaard. That Lohmann is Moon Moon Moon has to be taken literally. He played and recorded all you're hearing here in his bedroom studio. So far he recorded two albums and an EP since 2014. This is his first release on Tiny Room Records.

There's a lot to discover on Help! Help!. Mark Lohmann produces dark, brooding songs, with undercurrents spelling danger for each and everyone involved in playing and listening. Mark Linkous is not around for some time anymore, but his music released under the name Sparklehorse is celebrated on this album. The next song can be as fragile as Bright Eyes'/Conor Oberst's most delicate songs. Just an acoustic guitar and a dreamy voice. Another explodes in your face like a bomb of noise. The songs can attract or estrange. Be warm or cold and distant. In other words Moon Moon Moon is interesting. This record does not let itself be pushed into one corner.

Promo photo
Let me focus on 'Disintegration Loop'. Far away thunder. A whistling sound, electronic, but it could be the wind in a rusty windmill, pumping up water for the cattle in the distance. Sounds on the veranda of the farmhouse from things moved by the wind. A very elementary sounding and played bass, around which all sorts of electronics are whistling, rustling, whining. Underneath some drumming and guitars. Barely over it the soft, subdued voice of Lohmann hovers. Like a tightrope dancer about to fall off. Yes, it's that same wind. The song is so delicate, yet so much happens at the same time.

When listening to Help! Help! just do not expect the obvious. Yes, there is beauty in most songs (the instrumental part of 'Goodbye, Seabed'!!!). It takes some stamina to find it at times though. Each and every time I listen to the album I find it. Often in a different places as the session before this one. New things are noticed each time. Even in the songs that seem buried underneath the dust of decades that stored itself into the groove of your grandfather's records. Where the needle can hardly work its way through. Even there there is this delicateness, this tender feeling. A yearning for something far away.

Do I toss the album away? It has happened also when I was not in the mood for the darkness surrounding the music. I needed something more lively. Never did I toss the album far. For that it is too good. For that Help! Help! is too interesting and fascinating. As I wrote: a lot is going on here that is worthwhile exploring. And I have and I will in the future.

This is all you need to know, dear reader. If you're intrigued, this is your moment to start listening. Enjoy!

Wo.

You can listen to 'Disintegration Loop' here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kq8tG64x0as

or buy the album on the bandcamp site of Tiny Room:

https://tinyroomrecords.bandcamp.com/merch

donderdag 16 maart 2017

Prehistoric Rhythm. My Baby

In the past Erwin Zijleman wrote about My Baby on this blog. Having seen the band last year at Haarlem's Bevrijdingsfestival, I had the band noted for future listenings. The set of the trio was exciting and captivating, despite the afternoon setting it had to play in. With the release of its new album, it's time to start moving the caps on the keyboard myself. Excitement is on your way, folks. My Baby is something else. A strange hybrid of many things, but above all the word excitement is what hovers in my brain the whole time while listening. Let me try to explain why.

My Baby is a band from Amsterdam with brother and sister Joost (drums) and Cato (bass, violin and voice) van Dijck and New Zealander Daniel 'Dafreez' Johnston (guitar). Around since 2012, having come out of The Souldiers, the band is ready to release its third album.

The music is an hybrid of blues, soul, dance electronics, funk and sheer energy. A lot of things happen on Prehistoric Rhythm. Not that I like every song as much, but somehow that seems beside the point. Most of the music of My Baby speaks to the heart, to my spinal chord telling me to move and not to my mind. Take the first single of the album, 'Love Dance'. Beats are a part of this song, but not unlike my favourite Warpaint song 'Love Is To Die', there is this organic quality, in this case a violin, that give both songs a unique quality. All I have to do is picture myself in a venue with My Baby playing this song. It suffices to conclude that 'Love Dance' is a great track.

The stage lays some limitations to a trio, the studio does not. It is safe to conclude that the studio itself is an instrument used by My Baby. All sorts of instruments, sounds and atmospheres are incorporated into the My Baby sound. Some of the songs are more experiments in sound than true songs in the traditional sense. Now I'm a sucker for songs, but find I come a long way with Prehistoric Rhythm. All things rhythm will have its origin in the pre history, i.e. times before written records. In other words for each region that day has a different date. The rhythms on display here have nothing to do with those days. 'Ancient Tribe'? A nice title, however without electronics there would not be a lot of rhythm left. Pulsating, deep, like a living creature from ancient fable days it slivers through the song, just like the delayed guitar part that keeps repeating itself throughout the song. Still the blues kicks in with the slide guitar with some less effect on it. Yes, 'Ancient Tribe' is exciting.

Promo photo: Semuel Souhuwat
'Moon Shower' is totally organic. Dreamy, soft, moving into triphop territory. Cato van Dijck loses her harder edge and sings ever so dreamily. Johnston's guitar is simply beautiful, a folk influence reveals itself. The song is twisted around when it gets a jig like infusion taking the tempo up. The folk side of Jefferson Airplane pushes itself on me, listening to 'Moon Shower'. The ballads sung by Grace Slick. While that band could never have played a song like this in this vein. That's what music does.

My Baby's version of the blues meets De Staat in 'Make A Hundred'. I just love this track. It has power, zest and the blues. Again modern rhythms touch upon the over a century old music from the cotton fields in the Mississippi delta. No one ever figured that the blues could have been played this way. Yet we can in 2017 and do and dance to it till we drop. This is party music 2017 style. Whole clubs will jump and shout when this is played.

What Prehistoric Rhythm shows is that My Baby has a few sides to its repertoire. The over excited one, see above and the soulful one, where Cato van Dijck shows that she can sing with the best of them. Where the band creates a load of atmosphere of soul, not necessarily without rhythm, but full of classy guitar parts and effects creating the right atmosphere.

Prehistoric Rhythm is clearly growing on me and in the right direction. Hopefully I'll get to see the band somewhere in the year. Ought to be a great party. For now I'll enjoy myself with the record.

Wo.

You can listen to 'Love Dance' here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YShSiCSjv94

or buy the album at the label:

http://label.glitterhouse.com/upcoming.php?show=257



woensdag 15 maart 2017

Hanne. Hanne

A Hanne sent me an email. Can you listen to my EP? Well, of course. Not really paying attention the first time around I thought what am I listening to? The second time I paid the kind of attention a new record deserves and made up my mind to really start listening.

Hanne is Hanne Peetermans from Eekeren near Antwerp. She sang in a band called Bottle of Moonshine. Together with her new band, named after herself, she recorded three songs. All three are of a lightness that makes me float on the notes as soon as I close my eyes. I'm taken back decades. As far as the 1940s, years before I was born. Music not even my parents played. It is that my grandparents never played music, otherwise I would have learned it from them. Now from an act like the Star Sisters. I am talking about The Andrew Sisters of 'Rum And Coca Cola' and that train song. But let's not get ahead of things.

The three songs on Hanne all have a jazzy infusion in them, yet there's also a pop angle that makes the songs pretty irresistible to listen to. The band laid a lot of effort into the arrangements of the songs. Surprises are all around, as the EP offers so much diversity in the way the songs are approached and the dynamics within them. Hanne had no fear to rock out after a simply heavenly sung section in 'Freddy' or to throw a dark net over lightness in 'Don't Go'.

The EP opens with 'Don't Go', the most jazzy song. Singing almost alone, Hanne Peetermans is not afraid to make herself vulnerable. A double bass and a guitar join her and bolster her voice. During the chorus the sound grows, taking the song in a different direction, mood wise. The harmonies show that this is no ordinary song and no run-of-the-mill band. A double bass solo? Why not. The Andrew Sisters reference is already in place here. Not where the harmonies are concerned though. This is so much darker what happens in the background. An intriguing song 'Don't Go' is. It takes the listener from his lazy settee and tosses him about a bit before releasing him again to his chair. Beautiful, dark, light, sharp, it holds it all and then some more.

Vaya Con Dios is another name that popped into my mind, listening to the handclaps that start 'Freddy'. Here we have arrived at the most poppy song of the EP. Upbeat, in love, floating. The muted guitar notes provided the stones in the water to hop onto from shear happiness. A song like in a musical where the girl seems to float waving her skirt while singing the song. The music is far from modern, yet to different to be part of a musical from the 1950 or 60s. And then the "la la la la" parts starts, ending the song with a full out rocking guitar. 'Freddy' has a few angles that are extremely interesting to follow. What a nice song.

'Round & Round' is the final song. This starts a cappela, Andrew Sisters style. Hanne Peetermans told me that she got on to this blog through The LVE. Not so strange since The LVE's drummer Joes Brands produced the EP and singer Sara Raes does background vocals on the EP. 'Round & Round' is the song where the link between the two is strongest. It has that same subdued atmosphere that The LVE has. The quality to be very direct in a modest way. To that a jazzy atmosphere is added that gives Hanne its own voice and sound.

Hanne is an EP that is so pleasant. The kind that allows someone to escape from every day's reality. To dream for a few minutes of different things and recharge, to face whatever there is to be faced. In my case right now cooking dinner. Oh, does that allow me to put on Hanne again? I guess you're right.

Wo.

You can listen to 'Freddy' here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sXjM15vi3j8

dinsdag 14 maart 2017

Ruins. Wolf People

De Britse band Wolf People bestaat inmiddels ruim tien jaar en brengt sinds 2010 platen uit. Het zijn platen die ik voorbij heb zien komen in (over het algemeen zeer positieve) recensies en die ik in een aantal gevallen zelfs in handen heb gehad, maar tot voor kort was ik er nog niet toe gekomen om te luisteren naar de muziek van de band uit Bedford.
 
Daar leek het eind vorig jaar verschenen Ruins niets aan te gaan veranderen, maar sinds ik de plaat bij toeval beluisterde ben ik flink in de ban van de muziek van Wolf People.
 
Ruins laat zich immers beluisteren als een omgevallen platenkast en het is een platenkast die verdacht veel lijkt op de platenkast die ik in mijn jongere jaren op mijn kamer had staan.
 
Wolf People vermengt op haar nieuwe plaat op fascinerende wijze invloeden uit de folk, progrock, psychedelica en hardrock en sluit met haar muziek aan bij flink wat van mijn voormalige favoriete bands.
 
Zo ben ik wanneer een dwarsfluit van stal wordt gehaald direct terug bij de beste platen van Jethro Tull, komt Wolf People op de proppen met gitaarriffs waarvoor Led Zeppelin en Black Sabbath zich niet zouden hebben geschaamd, maakt de Britse band geen geheim van haar liefde voor Britse folk, is het soms net zo onnavolgbaar als Soft Machine of strooit het met geniale passages als Yes, Genesis of Rush en maakt het ook nog eens benevelende psychedelische muziek die herinnert aan de jongere jaren van Pink Floyd.
 
Het knappe is dat Wolf People je ruim drie kwartier lang mee terug neemt naar de jaren 70, maar muziek maakt die geen seconde gedateerd klinkt. En ook geen seconde verveelt. Het is een kunstje dat Wolf People deelt met bands als Syd Arthur en Tame Impala, maar vergeleken met de platen van deze bands is Ruins een stuk veelzijdiger en een stuk dynamischer.
 
Ruins is een plaat die je bij voorkeur met de koptelefoon moet beluisteren, of op stevig volume uit de speakers moet laten komen, want wat gebeurt er veel op de nieuwe plaat van de Britse band. Alle songs op de plaat zitten vol invloeden (ook van recentere datum) en al deze invloeden worden door Wolf People voortdurend op één hoop gegooid.
 
Hierdoor kan Ruins op het ene moment bijna pastoraal folky klinken om je op het volgende moment omver te blazen met meedogenloze riffs of onnavolgbare progrock. Wolf People maakt muziek vol hoogstandjes en vol prachtig gitaarwerk, maar de band schrijft ook nog eens geweldige songs, waardoor Ruins meer structuur bevat dan je op het eerste gehoor verwacht of in de jaren 70 gebruikelijk was.
 
Ik weet zeker dat als Ruins in de jaren 70 was verschenen het inmiddels een onbetwiste klassieker was geweest, maar wat nog niet is kan nog komen. Hoe vaker ik naar Ruins van Wolf People luister, hoe beter en indrukwekkender de plaat wordt. En waar de plaat me in eerste instantie vooral mee terug nam naar een ver verleden, staat de plaat inmiddels met twee benen in het heden en tussen de betere platen van het moment.
 
Wolf People heeft al met al een fascinerende luistertrip afgeleverd die je nog lang zal heugen. Je bent bij deze gewaarschuwd.

Erwin Zijleman

Je kunt hier luisteren naar 'Ninth Night':

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eafkYEXJKg4

maandag 13 maart 2017

Elenne May in-home show. Haarlem, Sunday 12 March 2017

In-home shows are intimate. Just a limited number of people get to see the show very much up close. For artist and audience. For both there's no hiding in this setting. The music of Elenne May, which has been reported on regularly on this blog since the winter of 2016, lends itself very well for an intimate show like this.

It was somewhat strange to see the poster Elenne May had posted online announcing the winter in-home tour of Elenne May and to know that the last show announced as a private show would take place in our own home. With circa 20 friends we were in the presence of grace and beauty played by four aspiring artists.

12 March was the first real spring day of 2017. The band arrived in full sunshine and after the soundcheck mixed with the audience in the garden. All enjoying the sun and drinks. Band and friends from different friendships mixing and socialising.

Come showtime Elenne May played songs from its two albums, 'Misleadingly Soft' (2012) and 'Veggie Patch In The Desert' (2016). There is no way that I can do more right to the beauty of this band's songs than I already have in my reviews of the three EPs that were released in 2016 and make up the cd 'Veggie Patch In The Desert'. I'll just quote myself, as I'm quoted on Elenne May's Bandcamp page. These words say it all:

"This is a band for people who like to listen to music, truly listen. The music is beautifully layered, breathes space as well as atmosphere, with enough left to discover. The slightly mysterious voice of singer Elenne is soft, broken and hinting at unknown things, perhaps even the mystery beyond what we can hear."

Behind Elenne Roeland, Eveline and Eddie create beautiful soundscapes, atmospherics and melodies. Together they make up the songs that make Elenne May unique.

I stood mesmerised for the two sets the band played and watched the faces of the people in the audience and saw many faces that were caught by the same magic that caught me over a year ago. At the same time I saw the pleasure of the musicians while playing their music, of singing together. The subtleties in the music, how the space and time within the songs are created by pulling back in sound or push the peddle in at the right moment. How much Eddie is able to do with a bare minimum of what can be called a drum kit. This was a super special event that I'm very glad to have been able to host. For an audience it is not possible to be closer to a band and to its music than in an intimate setting like this. The music is nearly personalised and made exclusively for those present.

Elenne May is a very talented band that I put on the same level as singer-songwriters like Sophie Hunger, Christine Owman and Agnes Obel, to name three. Perhaps it's no coincidence that all are from a Germanic language speaking country? All four join quality of compositions with space and atmosphere in special ways and mix pop with a range of influences from more serious sorts of music ranging from singer-songwriter to classic. It's time for more people to take notice of Elenne May. You can even invite them to come and play at your home, before it's too late and they have been noticed.

(All photo's by) Wo.

You can listen to and buy the music of Elenne May here:

https://elennemay.bandcamp.com