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Songs of Freedom
Songs of Freedom
Offered by Fulfillment Express
Price: £12.83

5.0 out of 5 stars freedom, imagination and depth, 8 April 2014
This review is from: Songs of Freedom (Audio CD)
This album brings an astonishing new life to many 60s and 70s rock, pop and soul classics, interspersed with original compositions by Nguyen Le that are evoked by these songs. The Beatles, Janis Joplin, Led Zeppelin, Bob Marley and others are all seen here in a rich and benign new light - and sometimes a humorous one, too (check out Uncle Ho's Benz, which acts as a kind of 'overture' to Joplin's Mercedes Benz).

Nguyen Le and his superb collaborators always find a new angle. Sometimes this is with the help of vocal gender-switching (Joplin's Move Over is sung by a man; Zeppelin's Whole Lotta Love by a woman) or with the help of a shift in musical idiom (Asian flavours sometimes coming to the fore). But this is all done with such sublime good taste and with - to my ears at least - a touch of generosity, and with tangible respect to the originals.

It's hard to name stand-out tracks. I love the Janis Joplin numbers and Bob Marley's Songs of Freedom, but perhaps most of all I enjoyed Stevie Wonder's Pastime Paradise, which is given an epic-scale treatment that's still full of subtlety and of haunting, understated feeling.

New Adventures In Hi-Fi
New Adventures In Hi-Fi
Offered by DVD Overstocks
Price: £4.26

4.0 out of 5 stars badly underrated, 31 Jan 2014
This review is from: New Adventures In Hi-Fi (Audio CD)
Critical response to this album seemed muted when it was first released and it is seldom cited as one of REM's classics - but I believe it is. The moody monochrome of the cover is fitting. This album was made during a time of emerging crisis for the band, in the period leading up to Bill Berry's departure, and it travels through a shadowy and sometimes mysterious world.

I am not giving it five stars, although I would like to. On a purely subjective level (i.e. anyone is entitled to have a different view!), I don't feel all of the live/'sound-check' tracks are quite on a level with the best pieces. I think sometimes it's to do with the sound - perhaps some of them lack the last bit of immediacy and atmosphere, for me at least.

But the best tracks on this album are amongst REM's most powerful and touching. The first two songs begin the album with a magnificent piece of track sequencing - I have always loved the dark glam parody of the second of them, "Wake-Up Bomb". Patti Smith's voice graces "E-Bow The Letter". "Undertow" has a dark, mysterious groove. "Electrolight" has poise and lightness without levity - a great album closer. Finest of all, "New Test Leper" mixes feeling, fragility and stoical resignation, in a mesmeric sea of acoustic guitar and feedback floating around and above Mike Mills' bass. 'Judge not lest ye be judged'!

Another reviewer here made an excellent point when comparing this album with its predecessor, Monster. Much of Monster seemed loud and one-dimensional. With New Adventures, nuance returned to REM's music with a vengeance. Strongly recommended.

Väsen Street
Väsen Street

5.0 out of 5 stars the light of experience?, 10 Jan 2014
This review is from: Väsen Street (Audio CD)
Do bands tend to stagnate over time? Well, Vasen have been playing together for well over 20 years now and I reckon they are putting their combined experience to good use.

I was blown away by this CD from the first few bars -- by its joyous life and by the way the tunes combine rhythmic intricacy with an incredible groove. I have now had it for several days and it is still making me very happy indeed. Old guys rule? Yes they can!

Revolution in the Head: The Beatles' Records and the Sixties
Revolution in the Head: The Beatles' Records and the Sixties
by Ian MacDonald
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.69

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars flawed masterpiece, 6 Jan 2014
I'd like to give this book five stars as I'd like as many music enthusiasts as possible to read it. It is so full of fascinating, insightful and entertaining content. Even many of the contentious bits surely have value if they provoke constructive disagreement. But why does it fall short? The main problem lies not in the body of the book - a detailed catalogue of the Beatles' recorded out put, song by song - but the introductory material.

The introduction, "Fabled Foursome, Disappearing Decade", was written during the 1990s. It is very perceptive about many of the cultural and political shifts that took place during the 1960s, and of which the Beatles were a part. One key point it raises is the importance of art schools in providing a broad cultural education for so many young British musicians. However, this introduction is also ridiculously judgement-laden in many respects - most of all when it talks about the inexorable decline (in the author's view ...) of pop music since the late 1960s. In fact, MacDonald's withering criticisms do not confine themselves to pop and rock music (and, for him, "rock" seems often to be a derogatory term). For example, he describes the minimalism of Philip Glass and others as "organised underachievement" and seems dismissive of compositional methods that introduce chance or random elements into the creative process.

Stating your opinions is all very well but in my view MacDonald's pessimistic assessments of the music and culture of recent decades sometimes cross the border into disrespect, and that's not a good thing at all. For heaven's sake, if popular music has been on a downward path since 1969 (or whenever), how does one explain the originality and brilliance of such works as the Who's Quadrophenia, the songs of The Smiths, and the sustained output of Radiohead? As much as anything, the author's approach disregards the bravery - as well as the talent and originality - that these latter-day artists have displayed.

The main body of the book itself, by contrast, is fascinating and hard to put down. There's so much insight into the interplay between Lennon and McCartney. Even though he might occasionally have looked too hard for evidence of rivalry and point-making between them, he offers a thoughtful exploration of how (and to what extent ...) they really worked together as writers. One of MacDonald's interesting suggestions is that the early Beatles were far more concerned with creating exciting sound worlds than with "proper" lyrics and poetry, in contrast with the songwriting traditions exemplified by Dylan, Mitchell and Young on the other side of the pond. He is also full of insights into Harrison's personality and predicament as a songwriter within the Beatles. This book has strengthened my admiration for Ringo - a vastly underrated musician.

The book is consistently fascinating on recording technology and gives full credit not only to George Martin but also to the engineers Geoff Emerick and Ken Scott who achieved so much with the Beatles. It also mentions rather sarcastically the frustration of American engineers who found it so hard - even in the most sophisticated studios in the world - to replicate many sounds (for example, drum timbres) that the Beatles and the EMI recording team captured so well in the "primitive" Abbey Road.

As for the assessments of individual songs - well, there is potential for happy argument far into the night. MacDonald is not shy of an opinion and if you love the Beatles I guarantee he will get a reaction from you.

One reason why the book's so hard to put down is that you can never tell what he's going to say next, in a critical sense. It is nice when favourite songs (in my case, She Said She Said, from Revolver - also, I Am The Walrus) get the seal of approval. Sometimes he upsets the natural order, though (for example, preferring Long Long Long to other Harrison songs on the White Album). Fans of Rubber Soul may feel offended by many of his comments. One of my own favourite songs, Glass Onion, gets short shrift. In my humble opinion it is all pretty harmless. If it gets us all talking and arguing, and perhaps listening to familiar songs anew, then that's a good thing. Many of his judgements (especially of later songs) do seem to be coloured by his pessimistic views about pop's decline and his seeming distrust of "rock".

This book is seriously flawed in some respects, but if you like the Beatles do please read it. I have learned so much from it and also often found it very funny as well as informative.

Price: £10.91

4.0 out of 5 stars first flight with the Aeroplanes, 3 Jan 2014
This review is from: Beatsongs (Audio CD)
I get to hear this "cult classic" at last, having heard people talking about it for twenty years or more now. It is powerful stuff - from the first bars there are intricate arrangements and a weighty guitar sound (I especially liked the slide player lurking in the mix). Many of the songs, like the opener Huh!, are exhilarating and quick on their feet. You can hear things clearly. Credit to producer and engineer - it must be tough to record and produce dense, fast-paced guitar music like this.

One of the best known facts about the Blue Aeroplanes is that they were closely associated with REM during the late 80s and early 90s. I wonder sometimes if the influence cuts both ways. On this album, sometimes I feel I hear echoes of REM albums like Monster and New Adventures in Hi-Fi which were recorded AFTER Beatsongs. (For example, listen to "Wake-up bomb" from the latter album after hearing Beatsongs ...)

Blue Aeroplanes are sometimes referred to as art rockers. Perhaps some of their other output is more experimental or "edgy" than this, but Beatsongs to me is extremely competent, guitar-heavy mainstream '90s rock with a strongly American accent - in fact, I would never have guessed on a first hearing that the band was actually British! Perhaps the fact that this album was recorded and produced in the US helps explain this.

I can imagine that Blue Aeroplanes are a knock-out live act. I am not quite convinced that this CD captures their onstage energy and inventiveness but I still enjoyed it and I'll go on listening to it. The stand-out track for me is Paul Simon's The Boy In The Bubble - almost a pre-echo of the bruised guitar-laden majesty of Radiohead's The Bends which was to follow a few years later.

Pete Townshend: Who I Am
Pete Townshend: Who I Am
by Pete Townshend
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars definitive biography still awaited, 10 Dec 2013
Pete as a musician can have few bigger fans than me. Starting with the Live At Leeds album, the Who have become part of my life over the last 30 years.

There is lots of interesting stuff in this book, to be sure, and actually a good deal of honesty. He will surely appreciate that his endless stories about sex and substance abuse won't make a good impression on many readers and it is genuinely puzzling to me that he goes on and on about these strands in his life. Perhaps it just reflects the more self-obsessed side of his personality, or the element of self-loathing that he documented so superbly in many of the songs on The Who By Numbers. There is also a lot of name-dropping, and it genuinely surprises me that Pete should have been so keen to make much of his connections with celebrity.

Townshend has been known for decades as one of the most articulate people in rock. Ironically, this very articulateness (and the calculation that goes with it) might be getting in the way of a truly rounded picture. I'm not so much concerned here about the "child porn" debacle - on balance, I am inclined to believe his account. I just suspect there is lots of other stuff - especially about music, and about what really went on in The Who - that he's not telling us here. Why not? Is it because there are specific things he would rather not discuss? Or does it feel more important to him, for some reason, to go on about the booze and the birds? I have always been fascinated (for all its flaws) by the first Who album, My Generation, and I wondered what Pete would say about it. It is not mentioned - you look in the index and it simply ain't there! I was also puzzled reading about Quadrophenia, one of my favourite albums, since his account seems to me almost to make light of the conflict and confusion from which this masterpiece arose. Another favourite album of mine is his 1972 Meher Baba benefit LP, Who Came First. Again, it is not mentioned at all, nor is the project that gave birth to it. And this is not a short book. Far from it, in fact!

I don't want to sound too unkind about the book as I did find it very interesting. Perhaps some of my disappointment is my own problem, really, in that I would have loved more comment on the music itself. A lot of the most revealing and touching material in the book deals with Pete's childhood, family and early life. Here he shares some quite vivid impressions of a past world (I am a good deal younger than him!) and his accounts of family members and friends are sometimes poignant. You do also learn about some of his other interests and loves - for example, of sailing and the sea.

Pete - I cannot imagine my life without your music but I'm still waiting for a thorough biography by a third party. Tony Fletcher's biog of Keith Moon shows the way - a book that documents a person's life unflinchingly yet still does so with kindness and respect.

Dear Boy: The Life of Keith Moon
Dear Boy: The Life of Keith Moon
by Tony Fletcher
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.53

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I ended up feeling sorry for his family and friends ..., 10 Dec 2013
... but what a guy! Fletcher makes clear that many of the old stories about Keith are fabrications (or at least much exaggerated), but the "authentic" ones he comes up with are incredible enough. I'll not go on about them as I don't want to spoil the book for anyone who has not read it yet. Suffice to say that I ended up feeling genuine surprise that he lasted as long as he did, despite his tragic early death.

People who recommended this book to me did so mostly on the strength of the "Moon the Loon" stories, but I feel I learned a lot about rock music in general, and the Who in particular. Fletcher explains quite clearly how Keith really did break the rules as a drummer, with such devastating effect. These analyses are really rewarding - especially his working relationships with John Entwistle and Pete Townshend. As the bass player John was freed, in a sense, from a conventional partnership with a drummer in a "rhythm section" of a band because Keith just didn't lay down a beat in any traditional sense. Pete clearly had an incredible empathy with Moon onstage - the way in which this is described makes it all the more difficult to understand why Pete was so keen to continue with the Who, and with a very different drummer, so soon after Keith's death.

My only criticism of this thoughtful and sensitive book is the written style, which sometimes seems a bit overworked. Fletcher sometimes goes in for long sentences, with lots of semicolons and sub-clauses. Sometimes you reach the end of one of them and find you have lost the thread and have to read back. Or I did anyway! Tougher editing and a bit less "phrase-turning" by the author would have made the book more direct and occasionally easier to understand. But this is still a great book and I have learned so much from it.

Price: £4.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars sensational, sinuous, relentless rock, 1 Nov 2013
This review is from: Relayer (Audio CD)
I hadn't listened to this album for a long time until a discussion with another Yes fan (below the line on another Amazon review, in fact) got me listening again.

Relayer must have come as quite a shock for people who had finished absorbing their previous offering, Tales From Topographic Oceans, which unfolds over a much broader timeframe. The sound here is generally hard-edged and sinuous. Much of the music absolutely ROCKS - not in the loping jazzy manner with which Bruford and Squire drove previous incarnations of the band, but with a relentless funky power and energy. It is not surprising that some fans at the time were nonplussed by Sound Chaser or even thought the band had gone mad. As many others have pointed out, there are echoes here of classic albums by the Mahavishnu Orchestra - and I mean that as a compliment!

In terms of sheer musicianship I'm not sure Yes ever surpassed this. Squire's bass is breathtaking but it never draws attention to itself. The way in which the guitar and bass often interlock is sublime. Steve Howe breathes fire as a rhythm guitarist as well as when he has the spotlight. His decision on Gates of Delirium to use the trebly, biting Telecaster - not a guitar he was associated with before - shows how he saw this material as a new departure for Yes. Sometimes Moraz's keyboards lock with the guitar; sometimes (as in the central section of Gates of Delirium) they fight the guitar, with extraordinary effect. Alan White's drumming is fantastic, especially in Sound Chaser.

And all this is before we consider the music itself. Apparently the album was recorded in quite a piecemeal way but the melodies and grooves combine into wonderful long, sustained lines. These are long compositions which have been created with a clear overall vision, not simply cobbled together from thousands of bits of tape. The melodies are often long-breathed and sustained. Even in the driving battle section in Gates of Delirium the key signature seems to keep changing. As you listen, you always want to know what's going to happen next - even if you have heard it many times before.

Great album. I can't help wishing this Yes line-up had made at least one more before Patrick Moraz was replaced by the returning Rick Wakeman.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 20, 2013 9:32 PM GMT

Brahms Violin Concerto in D, Op. 77 - Yehudi Menuhin with the BBC Shmphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Adrian Boult - 1943 BBC archive recording (BBC Music)
Brahms Violin Concerto in D, Op. 77 - Yehudi Menuhin with the BBC Shmphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Adrian Boult - 1943 BBC archive recording (BBC Music)
by Yehudi Menuhin
Edition: Audio CD

5.0 out of 5 stars why isn't this performance famous?, 3 Oct 2013
I was a bit complacent about the Brahms concerto for years. I knew it, of course, but I listened to it respectfully rather with great affection. Then this CD came along. I was ill and I bought a copy of BBC music magazine to cheer myself up a bit. This disc was on the cover. The Brahms concerto has never been the same again.

You will probably adjust to the 1943 sound within 30 seconds of the start. We may have a stereotypical idea of Adrian Boult as a stiff and formal character. Well, he gets the BBC Orchestra breathing fire in the initial section, even before the soloist even enters. The atmosphere is exultant; clearly everyone involved knows this is a special event. Boult was well-known as a great accompanist. Interestingly, he sometimes rehearsed the orchestral introduction to a concerto last, after working on the rest of the piece with the soloist. Even in these first two or three minutes he captures something special here.

Mehuhin's playing just SINGS. In this so-called 'concerto against the violin', where so much of the solo part is played obbligato to a large orchestra, his matchlessly flexible phrasing is always in evidence and projected naturally without apparent effort. And he plays the Enescu cadenza in the first movement - a beautiful surprise. The accompaniment by Boult and the BBC Orchestra is well captured, even in the elderly recording. It is especially interesting to hear the fine woodwind playing and the timbre of the narrow-bore horns - a vivid reminder of how many orchestras sounded seventy years ago before greater homogeneity set in.

Forgive me getting slightly emotional but I would never live without this recording. It cries out for reissue. I will even forgive the buffoon who shouts 'bravo' in a cut-glass BBC accent as the final chord dies away. By the way, the unaccompanied Bach too is breathtaking.

Listen to This
Listen to This
by Alex Ross
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.69

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars provocative and humane, 27 Sep 2013
This review is from: Listen to This (Paperback)
I spent an unseasonably cold weekend camping in a cabin next to the Tamar Lakes, on the border between Devon and Cornwall. Any distress at the cold was made up for amply by two things - the beautiful scenery and (particularly) this book, which I had brought with me. I have always been a big fan of The Rest Is Noise. As a collection of essays, rather than as a grand narrative, this book has quite a different feel but it still moves and convinces.

One of Ross's assets is his fine disregard of genre boundaries. Another is his mysterious ability to empathise with creative musicians. This came through clearly in The Rest Is Noise where he showed unflagging interest in the creative motivations of a very wide range of composers - including some composers with deeply flawed characters and questionable political records.

For me the highlight of the book is the concluding trio of essays, about Bob Dylan, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson and Brahms. The piece about Dylan is revealing and often very funny. That about Brahms is downright moving. Some of the insights may have come from Jan Swafford's superb biography of Brahms, but I have Ross's book to thank for encouraging me to read it. Even as a child, I somehow felt that Brahms's music spoke to me in a startlingly direct manner - Ross's comments may have helped me start to understand how Brahms has had such an effect on me, and continues to do so.

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