Musical ramblings

Having purchased an iPod recently I’m feeling a renewed interest in all things musical and have invested in a few albums of varying quality. Inevitably therefore comes the rambling post about a shedload of music.  I’ve put up a few tracks to download here and there. Tracks removed as they were killing my bandwidth allowance. đŸ™‚

Josh Ritter – The Animal Years
“the best artist of his generation” – Dan Hartland.   I bought this one based on the preceding hyperbole recommendation and am really enjoying it.  It’s an album of pure singer-songwriter goodness, for values of singer-songwriter that include acoustic alt-country.  The tunes are fine, as is Ritter’s slightly raspy voice (reminiscent of Tom Petty if he was, y’know, a serious artiste) but the real strength is in the smart lyrics.  There’s hardly a single line here that’s predictable, but each falls into place with the pleasing inevitability of great songwriting.  If I have a criticism it’s that there are a couple of fairly gentle songs that feel more like B-sides, but even the weakest song has some truly quirky imagery and the subjects range from nostalgia to war, terrorism and religion.  (‘Thin Blue Flame’ is genius).  Here’s ‘Girl in the War’.

Roddy Woomble – My Secret is My Silence
(sneerpout recommended this a different Roddy Woomble folk album entirely, but she’s still very wise.) As evidenced by the hilarious Most Folk Ever cover art this is a rustic solo effort from  Idlewild‘s front-man.   I’d be tempted to say this sounds like an Idlewild Unplugged album except that the electric guitar gets plugged in surprisingly often.  Really it’s a fusion album:  ‘Waverley Steps’ is about 90% Idlewild to 10% folk and wouldn’t sound out of place on Warnings / Promises;   the beautiful ‘If I Could Name Any Name’ is about half and half; and the instrumental ‘Whiskeyface’ is about 110% folk and should be skipped at all costs.  (There’s only so much I can take).  Fortunately Woomble hasn’t really attempted to modify his songwriting style which means that the tracks are dragged bodily back towards the mainstream.  When you’re thinking “hey this sounds just like old R.E.M.” you know he can’t have strayed too far from the fold.   It starts me musing on how superficial the divides between musical genres really are.    If this were Idlewild I’d be pining for the oomph of Make Another World but my expectations were different and this is an excellent album.   Here’s ‘Every Line of a Long Moment’.

Crowded House – Time on Earth
This began life as a Neil Finn solo album and it shows.  The songs are an uneven mix of his more experimental solo style and a retro feel.  Parts are fantastic, such as the superb ‘Silent House’ (co-penned with the Dixie Chicks) or the melancholic ‘Say That Again’.  Other parts seem to reach knowingly for a Crowded House vibe and wind up being annoying (‘She Called Up’) or half-hearted  (‘Don’t Stop Now’).   Still others reach further back, like the pleasingly 80s vibe of ‘Walked Her Way Down’.  Here’s ‘Silent House’.

Suzanne Vega – Beauty and Crime
Following a couple of  offerings that veered in a more mainstream direction I’d say this is Vega’s best album since 99.9F degrees, bringing back some of its percussive pop edge .  She has a slightly aloof, self-conscious songwriting style that you either respond to or you don’t (I mostly do), but there’s some thoughtful and accessible stuff here.  There’s a strong theme of desire, age and fading beauty in tracks like ‘Pornographer’s Dream’, ‘Edith Wharton’s Figurine’ and ‘Bound’.  Here’s ‘Zephyr and I’.

Matt Nathanson – Some Mad Hope
Bland, bland, blandy mcbland.  I’m sure this album wasn’t written with the sole intention of getting played on Smallville, but it may as well have been.  It’s actually not bad for middle-of-the-road American rock-pop, but Nathanson used to be so much more interesting than just another radio-friendly crooner.

Newton Faulkner – Hand Built By Robots
We saw Faulkner at the Carling Academy in Newcastle recently, and he revealed himself to be an funny, playful performer and a terrific talent on the guitar.  His writing is probably less consistent than his playing but the best material on the album is well above average.  He sounds like he’s dabbling with wildly different styles from addictive pop to morose Del Amitri ballads and off-beat comedy numbers.  (He finished the gig with a serious-yet-funny solo acoustic performance of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, which says it all.)

Hue and Cry – Seduced and Abandoned
You heard me.  Look, I got onto a real 1980s kick recently, and notwithstanding their later pop ignominy with tracks like ‘Looking for Linda’ I used to adore this debut album, back when CDs were just a twinkle in Sony’s eye.  It’s aggressively tuneful pop but fused with surprisingly strong jazz-soul elements and Pat Kane’s rat-pack styled vocals.  Some of it is painfully obvious and hasn’t stood up well to the test of time, but there are some strong tunes here.  Or maybe I’m blinded by nostalgia.  Yes, that seems more likely.

Deacon Blue – Raintown / When the World Knows Your Name
Did I mention the 80s thing?  I had these two albums on cassette back then, and played them on endless loop.  Ricky Ross’s heartfelt vocals are like a scalding-hot cup of coffee when your mouth is gummed up in the morning.  Raintown is probably the stronger album: despite When the World Knows Your Name having endless hits on it the staccato verses and sing-along choruses do all begin to sound a bit samey after a while.  (I adore ‘Fergus Sings the Blues’, though.)

EDIT: My wife demands your sympathy for having been subjected to my 80s nostalgia.

Coming up in the next few weeks are the new Counting Crows and R.E.M. albums, which (on early evidence) could tentatively represent a return to form for both bands.

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