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A Shopkeeper Will Not Appear
A Shopkeeper Will Not Appear
Price: £16.36

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Daydream notions, 8 Jun 2004
Heist is a musical collective founded by Mike Targett and Allison Thomson, two firm believers in the grand tradition of finely crafted British pop that is both lyrically audacious and melodically adventurous.
Heist creates lustrous, symphonic music, a melange of trumpet, strings, synths, bouzouki and zither, with the occasional burst of stinging electric guitar. In less talented hands, such eclecticism might verge on the wilfully exotic, but Targett's brilliant arrangements ensure that the instrumentation always serves the mood of the songs. Their first album, "Friday Night At The Trabi Races" was released in 2000 to critical acclaim, and several European tours won them new converts. Their second, "A Shopkeeper Will Not Appear" has been three years in the making, and it is an unqualified triumph.
Now, reader, take a deep breath. This is a concept album. Fear not though, there is nary an elf, dragon or keyboard wizard in a cape to be found here. This is "concept" as in The Kinks circa "Arthur", music with a thematic thread running through the fourteen songs.
The predominant lyrical preoccupation on the album is the way in which people's daydreams serve as a necessary parallel reality to everyday experience. For a fleeting moment, supermarket shelf stackers down their boxes and sing and dance in the aisles with the joyous abandon of a Hollywood musical.
This is a deeply Romantic record, its protagonists weaving their way through life's troubles and disappointments and viewing the world anew through flights of imagination... "On a clear day / You can see the world for miles from this window / And I've seen places more worthwhile where my mind goes / While the tap drips and the water overflows..."
Thankfully, Targett and Thomson's lightness of touch as writers and the sympathetic playing of the album's numerous contributors temper the weighty concerns on offer here. The songs may make you think, but with a gradual knowing nod rather than a furrowed brow. They have succeeded in the not inconsiderable task of encouraging us to look at the world in a fresh and interesting way, whilst never coming across as sermonising or polemical.
"A Shopkeeper..." is best listened to in its entirety, but standout tracks include the gorgeous "What Did You Do Today" with its melody to die for; "Weekend" - a classic pop record with a fabulous vocal from Thomson, and "No Parachute", a song for which the word "epic" is woefully inadequate. It's a four-minute encapsulation of everything that makes this band great. And great they most certainly are.
As all non-record company employees know, commercial success has never been a sure barometer of musical talent. Heist has yet to register on the mainstream charts, but "A Shopkeeper Will Not Appear", whatever its destiny in "shifting units" (cough!), is one of the finest records this listener has heard in a long, long time. This band deserves to be heard - pop music of this substance and quality is a rare thing indeed.

The Sound of the City: New Orleans
The Sound of the City: New Orleans

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Swingin'!, 6 Nov 2003
On his Sound Of The City series of compilation CDs, esteemed writer and broadcaster Charlie Gillett draws together the diverse music of the cities that shaped the course of American music. It's such a simple idea (all the best ones are) and he has executed it brilliantly.
Sound Of The City: New Orleans is a 2CD riot of music from start to finish. To listen to these joyous, jumpin' recordings in this era of branded and airbrushed pop pap feels so great, like a musical restorative. Feeling jaded by the soporific, lumpen grumblings of the likes of Limp Bizkit, Staind and the rest of the therapy rock generation? Then put on.. let's see.. Ronnie And The Delinquents' Bad Neighbourhood. Two minutes of pop perfection that says more about being young and wild than Fred Durst will in his whole career. Co-written by Mac (Dr John) Rebennack, it's a tale of juvenile dropouts playing pool, firing slingshots through church windows and generally raising hell. It is at once supremely silly, rhythmically addictive and very, very cleverly put together. Recorded in 1960, it features sound effects of pool balls being potted and police sirens and an echo-laden trumpet solo that could have graced The Specials' Ghost Town. It's the appeal of New Orleans music in microcosm.
What strikes me more than anything about this music is the sound itself. It rips out of the speakers, and is just so physical. The limitations of the studio technology available at the time the majority of these recordings were made was, in retrospect, a positive advantage. There is a terrific live feel to the music, with plenty of room for the instruments to breathe. This is stripped-down, funky stuff - intelligent, fun and great for dancing to.
Gillett sensibly mixes up the familiar (House Of The Rising Sun, Let The Good Times Roll, Lady Marmalade) with more obscure tunes. Particular favourites of mine that were new to me are Snooks Eaglin's Country Boy (what a groove, what a voice!) and Willie Tee's Thank You John, which just swings.
The CDs are beautifully packaged, with great illustrations and an informative essay. My only gripe is that despite the reasonable price, this is costing me wallet-worrying amounts of money. Now that I've been exposed to so much great new (old) music, I have spent a fortune on CDs by the artists in question. Oh well, never mind!
Mr Gillett deserves a medal for services to my ears, and I cannot recommend this compilation highly enough. As he says in his liner notes, New Orleans is a city whose name sets the imagination running wild. Amen to that.

The North Star Grassman and the Ravens
The North Star Grassman and the Ravens
Offered by RAREWAVES
Price: £11.08

38 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bewitching, 4 Nov 2003
This neglected classic was Sandy's first solo album following the demise of the short-lived but superb Fotheringay. The cast of musicians she gathered round her to help make TNSGATR included the members of that group and Richard Thompson, whose contributions to the album are uniformly excellent.
Her decision to work with people who were both great musicians and good friends was a wise one. From the entirely sympathetic backing to the understated production and engineering by old Fairport Convention collaborator John Wood, the sound of the album is one of its strongest points. It is less polished than some of her later solo records, and I think it is all the better for that. It also has the most consistent feel and mood.
That mood is one of ethereal beauty. I have spent many an evening listening to this record under the stars by the sea, and it's the perfect soundtrack. Sandy's writing was very elemental, her lyrics often reflecting upon the power of nature and the inevitabilty of change in life. This quality gives the songs a depth and mystery that is both beguiling and timeless, never more so than on Next Time Around...
For this listener, Next Time Around is one of the finest songs and performances ever recorded. Everything about it is perfect, from the startling, abstract lyrics to Ian Whiteman's haunting piano and the gorgeous string arrangement by Harry Robinson. And then there is Sandy's vocal. Was there ever another voice of such bewitching, transcendent beauty? There have been many truly great singers, but none with that quality of other-worldliness that she could convey with such seeming ease. I am still so in awe of her talent - she was only 24 when TNSGATR was released in 1971, yet she sings like a woman who has experienced all the world has to offer, good and bad.
Every one of Sandy's songs on this album is a pearl, my other favourites being Late November and Wretched Wilbur. The only relative low points are the rockier material, covers of Dylan's Down In The Flood and Charles Robins' Let's Jump The Broomstick. Both performances are fine, its just that her voice sounds less convincing on harder-edged songs. I would never pigeon-hole her as purely a folk singer, but I think slower songs drawing from that tradition allowed her voice the room to soar and permeate the space between the other instruments.
All in all, The Northstar Grassman and The Ravens is an exquisite album by a singular talent who is sorely missed but not forgotten. At Fairport's Cropredy Festival in Oxfordshire each August, 20,000 massed voices continue to sing the songs of the greatest female singer that ever came from these green and pleasant lands.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 17, 2011 11:04 AM BST

Rock Bottom
Rock Bottom
Offered by EliteDigital UK
Price: £34.95

47 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dreamlike, 2 Nov 2003
This review is from: Rock Bottom (Audio CD)
Trying to explain what this remarkable album sounds like to someone who has never heard it before isn't easy. And I suppose that's unsurprising, as it's a record that demands more than a few casual listens before one can make sense of it. However, with patience and time, it seeps into the listener's brain as if by osmosis, and gradually reveals its condiderable beauty and charm.
More than anything, Rock Bottom is a record to be felt, and it feels like a dream. Swirling, drifting currents of sound wash out of the speakers, Wyatt's abstract lyrics coming accross like a poem that is difficult to understand in a literal sense, yet one instinctively knows exactly what is meant. It is remarkably visual music - it would be the perfect soundtrack to film of newly discovered creatures that live undisturbed on the ocean floor. Fittingly, as the sea and its inhabitants are recurring themes in the lyrics. I can think of few other albums (well, none) which namecheck brine, porpoises, baby sperm whales and starfish!
I won't dwell much on the merits of the individual tracks - the album is best appreciated as a whole in one sitting. However, my personal highlight is the exquisite Alife, Wyatt's deeply personal long song about his relationship with Alfreda Benge, who painted the beautiful album cover.
Love and hope abound on this album. Wyatt began writing the songs shortly before suffering the accident which left him confined to a wheelchair, and finished them during his long convalescence. Unsurprisingly, there is a palpable sense of uncertainty about the future in his fragile vocals, but ultimately the overwhelming feeling is one of positivity and acceptance. Maudlin self pity doesn't even appear on his emotional register.
Rock Bottom is one of the most thoughtful, beautiful and original albums of the 1970s. It is truly progressive music -groundbreaking and idiosyncratic - without any of the bombast that characterised so much of the musical output of his contemporaries. The only record I can think of comparing it to is Miles Davis' In A Silent Way, with which it shares a soothing, meditative quality. I would recommend it unreservedly to anyone wanting to have an unforgettable musical experience.

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