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Steve Keen "therealus" (Herts, UK)
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Mammoth Waltz
Mammoth Waltz
Price: £7.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Rockin' Cajuns!, 14 Nov. 2012
This review is from: Mammoth Waltz (MP3 Download)
Strolling back to the car at the 2012 Festival Acadien et Creole in Lafayette, my head still spinning from the euphoria of hearing the roots Cajun of Balfa Toujours for the first time on the Blue Moon stage, my route took me back past the Scène mon Héritage stage, where the Lost Bayou Ramblers were already in full flow. The car forgotten, I immediately got swept up in the music, which didn't just swing, it bounced.

A couple of days later I rolled up in Austin and Waterloo Records, which I proceeded to strip of its Balfa and Lost Bayou CDs, one of which was Mammoth Waltz.

The opening track, Le Réveil De La Louisiane, is a little sing song which does indeed gently wake you up. It features, on vocals, Dr John. So unless I receive incontrovertible evidence of large sums of money changing hands, I am going to infer at least some kind of endorsement from the legendary Mac Rebennack himself. Later there is also a guest vocal spot for Scarlett Johansson.

Your early morning alarm call out of the way, we bound straight into the rollicking Carolina Blues, featuring from the off some seriously in-your-face accordion and fiddle, and full-on drumming. The title track is a little less explosive, but still has the hard-rocking feel. In 3/4 time, naturally, this one swings emphatically. Marée Noire opens with some more attacking fiddle, and gives way to Croche, another in 3/4 but underpinned by a 6/8 rhythm which makes it feel breathlessly fast. Coteau Guidry is a little slower, with more laid back drumming and some excellent backing vocals from the aforementioned Ms J.

The exuberance of the next track, Bastille, is amazing. A revolutionary shout. The high point amongst a bunch of high points.

There follows another in a series of paeans to Bernadette (one thinks of the Four Tops, for example, but Balfa Toujours do one too), which is maybe closer to zydeco than Cajun, though to be honest the boundaries seem pretty blurred, and Jolie Filles Veut Pas Moi returns us firmly to the Cajun fold.

O Marie, by far the longest song, at 6:39, is also the slowest. My French (Oh, did I forget to mention this is all conducted in French?) doesn't need to be good to know this is also the sad one, and we say goodbye with a reprise of Coteau Guidry.

Also recommended are the earlier recordings Live À La Blue Moon, which captures some of the excitement of the live environment, and Vermilionaire, which is as good in many respects as Mammoth Waltz but is a little lighter in the rhythm section.

The purpose of my visit to Louisiana was to find some exciting new music. Mission accomplished.

The Second World War
The Second World War
by Antony Beevor
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £20.40

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Reaches parts others don't, 31 Oct. 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Second World War (Hardcover)
This, I'm thinking, may be the last history of WWII I ever read. I don't think I'm about to die (though you never know), I don't think I know all there is to know, and I don't think all has been said that needs to be said. It's just that I may be at saturation point when it comes to indignation at the atrocities of the conflict. And whilst there's no doubt that, as Beevor makes sure we are aware, all sides (reading this, you realise there were more than two) committed them, there's also no doubt about who started it, and why their like should never be tolerated again.

Of more recent comparable histories, Niall Ferguson's The War Of The World had as its central theme xenophobia as a driver of 20th century conflict; Andrew Roberts's The Storm Of War concentrated on the essential nature of the axis ideologies as drivers of their inevitable defeat. Antony Beevor's focus is less clear, but there is certainly a much greater concentration on detail, and there is more about the usually less-mentioned spheres of war such as Greece (and not just Crete), and, fittingly for the source of an authoritative history of the Spanish civil war, how it was that Spain managed, by and large, to stay out of the conflict. (Franco may even have been happy to be rid of the falangistas who did fight for the Axis.) He also makes far greater overt use of documentary evidence from the field in the form of extracts from the letters and journals of the combatants, reflecting, for example, how the ordinary German soldier felt about the Slavic peasants he was encountering, or about his Italian or Romanian "allies" in adjacent trenches (who were famously unreliable, in the main, but maybe because they were the last to receive food, arms or ammunition, which were often in such short supply that sometimes being last to receive them meant never receiving them).

But it is in detailing the brutalities that Beevor goes beyond the other two mentioned, as with the despicable behaviour of the Red Army as it rampaged through Europe, raping almost anything that moved, including Russian women interned in German labour camps, Jewish women just freed from the threat of death in concentration camps, nurses, and women from German communist organisations attempting to greet them fraternally on the street. He also reveals the almost institutionalised cannibalism of the Japanese Imperial Army, using the locals, allied servicemen and even each other as human cattle on a systematic basis. And then there were the concentration camps, and here Beevor makes it quite clear that they are a historical fact, that if anything they were even worse than generally portrayed, and that they were not an accident, a horrendously out of control piece of mission creep. They were part of the plan.

The Red Army is portrayed as a maelstrom of competing interests and egos, with generals happily sacrificing the troops under their respective charges in the interest of doing down their internal opponents in order to grab a little extra favour with Stalin.

Not that the western allies were above a little backstabbing. FDR had a habit of currying favour with Stalin at Churchill's expense. American generals worked counter to Eisenhower. British generals worked counter to Eisenhower. Other British generals worked against the British generals working against Eisenhower. And so on. But at least none of them, as far as we know, anyway, was actively trying to assassinate their political leaders, which is more than can be said for the Germans, some of whom have become semi-heroes for trying to kill Hitler, when in fact their real objective was simply to prosecute the same war in a different way. And who can blame them? Hitler, as already shown well by Roberts, was pathologically incapable of visiting either the German citizenry or the troops laying down their lives. He kept well away from the front line physically, but metaphorically his hand was everywhere, preventing soon-to-be-trapped divisions from pulling back to more favourable positions, ordering counter-attacks by battle-shredded armies, and in his sleep preventing decisive action by a cowed general staff on the morning of D-Day which, were he alive today, he would probably still think was a diversionary tactic. Perhaps the only piece of real tragicomedy in the whole of Beevor's account comes as his lickspittles impatiently await his suicide so they can get out of Berlin before the Red Army arrives.

As ever with Beevor, his writing style makes reading a book of over 800 pages feel almost effortless, and the proofreaders have done an excellent job, with maybe only two or three tiny errors surviving. If there is a quibble, it is the oft-exercised one of a hint of Eurocentrism, with the Pacific theatre probably receiving proportionally the same amount of coverage as in any other such history, but still feeling a little neglected. This is all relative, and I'd like to see Beevor serve his penance by making his next project a history of the Vietnam war. I have a feeling there's more to say on that subject.

Pulphead: Notes from the Other Side of America
Pulphead: Notes from the Other Side of America
by John Jeremiah Sullivan
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Everybody I've asked thinks this is great!, 25 Oct. 2012
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In amongst all the serious stuff about going on holiday, you have to mix in some fun, so when I saw this reviewed I thought it might make a suitable companion on my long-planned Deep South Musical Odyssey between Mobile and Austin. Specifically I thought it would be good for the flights between London and Houston, an antidote to all those government papers and intelligence briefings I usually carry with me.

Some of Pulphead was particularly apposite, given that I was finally bound for New Orleans, seven years after my original visit was postponed by Katrina, with a chapter about post-Katrina New Orleans: the dead animals, the new camaraderies, the stories of near death, and of how WWIII nearly breaks out in the queue for gas, an episode which prepared me well for the driving etiquette on I10.

What's really striking, and skilful, about much of Sullivan's writing is the way each article slips seamlessly and almost unnoticed away from its supposed subject. So the first chapter, supposedly about a Christian rock festival, is used as a vehicle (no pun intended) for a cautionary tale regarding the perils of driving oversize RVs. Here also is revealed the author's enviable ability to quote the scriptures, without believing a word, an ability which also comes in useful in a later chapter when he catches a Christian fundamentalist attributing to Marx a mantra actually originating in the Bible.

In previous times I have, despite his political leanings, enjoyed the writings of PJ O'Rourke (I have shamelessly stolen the joke he uses as epigraph to Republican Party Animal, and refer ad nauseam to Holidays In Hell, especially that teasing farm animals is the national sport of Spain, though I did find his explanation of The Wealth Of Nations rather dull). Sullivan, it transpires, I can enjoy guilt free, as in American Grotesque, for example, he manages to confirm for me all my prejudices about the Tea Partiers, with their dog-whistle racism, superstitious opposition to Obamacare and general antipathy to government, usually to their own detriment. (In fairness, I'd guess PJ himself would do a job on the TP, and possibly has.) But Sullivan is mostly quite subtle in his put-downs, applying the judo approach of using his targets' own numbskullery to tell its own story. Give `em enough rope...

Four of the standout chapters deal, one way or another, with the music industry. There's a touching chapter in defence of Michael Jackson, in which both barrels are levelled at those involved in the Martin Bashir-inspired witch-hunt against the singer. There's an amusing account of how the author succeeded in interviewing just about everybody ever involved in Axl Rose's life except Axl himself. The account of his interviews with Bunny Wailer is interesting for the insights into the story of reggae in Jamaica, especially those dealing with Bob Marley, and chilling for the insights it gives into the politics of the island. And he provides an impressive textual analysis of a blues country song as a lead-in to an essay on the blues industry as possibly invented by whites, which also gives a fresh look at Robert Johnson and his lyrics, in a chapter inviting comparisons with Amanda Petrusich's It Still Moves, a book examining Americana music which nevertheless manages to spend a whole chapter looking inside the Cracker Barrel restaurant chain.

Sullivan's Epilogue is set in Disney World, which is portrayed as little less dystopian than the theme park in Westworld, a movie in which Yul Brynner, playing a robot gunslinger, goes rogue and, somehow overriding the park's safety features, starts killing people. Just like, in fact, the world's animals will soon start doing if you believe the chapter Violence Of The Lambs. Hilarious.

I'd almost say there was something for everybody, but then I realise the everybody I've polled here is just me.

British Imperialism: Innovation and Expansion, 1688-1914
British Imperialism: Innovation and Expansion, 1688-1914
by P. J. Cain
Edition: Paperback

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Impressive, 25 Sept. 2012
In British Imperialism, Cain and Hopkins revise some of the conventional wisdom surrounding the development of British power, influence and economic wealth, starting with the time of the so-called Glorious Revolution and ending with the build-up to the First World War. They explain how the institutions that grew up during this period, especially the finance houses whose innovations helped fuel British expansionist adventures, were shaped by a culture of "gentlemanly capitalism" which was diffused around the world by the various kinds of agents dispatched, or who dispatched themselves, from the British Isles. As David Landes, in The Unbound Prometheus, has also noted, one of the strengths of the British way of doing things, notwithstanding its obsession with class and status, was the willingness in the upper echelons, within limits, to accept newcomers into its ranks, the "low-born" who in the 17th and 18th Centuries were developing the banks, and foreigners who brought with them money, know-how and influence. From here developed the service economy which has become so central to the British identity and which, far from being parasitic and creating no real value, as some contend, the authors claim helped put Britain at the forefront during the age of imperialism, giving it something to defend and, critically, funding the means by which it was defended, a theme developed in great detail by Findlay and O'Rourke in Power And Plenty. By the late 19th Century the power of the "gentleman", originally centred on the landed aristocracy, had shifted inexorably to The City, the place where wealth was being generated. The merchant bankers were the new aristocracy, with their own networks, often cosmopolitan reflecting their Jewish backgrounds. It was a new old boys' network.

Some of the names gathering prominence at that time would be familiar to anyone who worked in The City during the 1980s, prior to the "Big Bang" which swept away many of the old ways of doing things. But many of them have now, as a consequence of those changes, disappeared, some into other entities which have also since disappeared. The book resounds with strange echoes, such as its account of the rescue of Barings, during the 19th Century, which a century later underwent a further crisis from which it could not be rescued. And there is an interesting discussion of the possible roots of underinvestment in British industry since 1870, including City indifference to all but large corporates and the inability of non-corporates to present a compelling vision. The resulting industrial malaise finally came home to roost post-1945 when, after two world wars and a global contraction, the UK was left in everyone else's dust with poor capital stock.

The third part of the book breaks the world down into parts to examine the different roles British Imperialism played globally, explaining the roots of Australian antipathy to London rule but also the way in which Canada preferred informal economic dominance from the UK to formal political absorption by the US. They attribute Canadian independence now to huge financial support from Britain, though also acknowledging the US contribution and the entrepreneurialism of the Canadians themselves. They reevaluate the value extracted by Britain from its dominion in India, and gently, with the benefit of hindsight, debunk some old conceptions of this relationship and its benefits and disadvantages for Britain, including an analysis of the prices and volumes of trade between the two. And from a personal point of view there is an interesting focus on South America, where some British eyes swung in the 19th Century with a view to bringing places such as Buenos Aires under British sway. In 1807 Castlereagh unsuccessfully attempted a takeover in the River Plate region, they tell us, but tantalisingly leave it there. British financiers were pouring cash into the region, and bilateral trade boomed, and there were numerous signs of British influence, such as a replica Harrods in Buenos Aires (as Niall Ferguson, in The Ascent Of Money, also tells us), opened in 1912. The influence was also considerable in Brazil and Chile, with one US commentator condemning Valparaiso as little more than an English colony.

The volume concludes with an assessment of how Germany overtook France and Russia as the great adversary of the British Empire at the beginning of the 20th Century. The outcome, of course, was that none of the great imperial European powers emerged as winners after the blood-letting of 1914-18: as they were picking themselves out of the rubble, or continuing the fight internally, as in Russia, the US was building itself up as the new big kid on the block.

Whether or not you agree with some of the theses advanced by Cain and Hopkins, this is without a doubt an impressive piece of work. Sometimes it also comes close to fascinating, although often, as in the case of Castlereagh's adventure in the River Plate, the account could have done with a little more detail. I was also left puzzled, to say the least, at how little attention was paid to the question of slavery, not just the role of "gentlemanly capitalism" in its creation, but Britain's ambiguous attitudes during the American Civil War despite its more laudable role in the abolition of slavery as a legal institution.

The Lion's Roar
The Lion's Roar
Offered by Fulfillment Express
Price: £9.11

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well worth a listen, 31 July 2012
This review is from: The Lion's Roar (Audio CD)
Fortunately I had listened to The Lion's Roar before I read the simpering comparisons with Fleet Foxes, whose album I managed to listen to a couple of times before the Grossly Overrated light came on.

No, this is actually a record with variety and verve, and outstanding harmonies which are nevertheless not the duo's be-all. The only, very occasional, cracks in the wallpaper occur when there appear to have been too many words to fit with the music and there's a scramble to finish the line before the bar finishes, and when the enunciation of the words takes a back seat to the direction of the melody, factors which may end up being endearing, but they haven't quite yet.

Apart from the harmonies, the entire collection is dominated by excellent arrangements and instrumentation, from the guitars and keyboards through to accordion, strings and horns.

Three tracks in particular stand out. The opening, title track is an immediate hook, a beautiful song sung to a 3/4 beat with background woodwind instrumentation that is uncredited but sounds like tenor recorders, although it's more likely to be flute. Dance To Another Tune also begins in 3/4, but there's a change to 4/4 which effects a quite dramatic mood change, which is accompanied by some Beach Boys-like vocalising. And King Of The World, which closes the set, has some great, Latino-tinged trumpet and lyrics which read, and are delivered, so ambiguously that it's difficult to know if it's a sad or happy song, and somehow works as both, and features an evocative image of a waitress sitting smoking outside a restaurant. She has a look of total fear in her eyes, we're told, but still manages a smile as the singer drives off. What, I'm wondering, is the story behind that?

Also deserving a special mention is Emmylou, which namechecks the lady herself plus Gram, Johnny and June, and the hauntingly in-your-face lyrics of Blue, especially the lines about the death in a car accident of an only love.

Price: £11.97

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars High octane, 23 July 2012
This review is from: Emergency! (Audio CD)
Though slightly less likely to leave your ears bleeding than Turn It Over, this is still nevertheless loud enough to leave them ringing between tracks. Led by Williams on thundrous drums, John McLaughlin and Larry Young, respectively on guitar and organ, spend much of the album apparently trying to outrace the leader and each other, with the volume turned up loud. The musicianship is truly awesome on the part of all three.

Only Williams's attempts to sing detract from the overall effect: on Beyond Games getting up in the pulpit to preach about something in doggerel verse; on Via The Spectrum Road sounding, with the multi-tracking, like a bunch of drunks who've crashed the session with a banal barroom chant.

Fortunately the good drives out the bad, with the singing giving way to some of the finest guitar you'll hear anywhere, making it worth the ride.

The sessions for this record took place the same year Williams and McLaughlin were employed by Miles for the recording of In A Silent Way. The two records make an interesting contrast: though both can be labelled "fusion", between them they manage to bestride an enormous spectrum of musical sensibilities. Listening to the opening of Emergency and that of In A Silent Way, it's amazing to think that it's the same drummer. Similarly, McLaughlin's gentle tickling during the Miles sessions bear almost no resemblance to the incendiary attacks on Emergency, though the incipient Mahavishnu sound is well in evidence.

Price: £7.05

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A revelation, 23 July 2012
This review is from: Mwandishi (Audio CD)
Back in time a little for part 3 of the Discovering Herbie Hancock's 70s Grooves project, following a knockout listening of Sextant, and before that Crossings. Like both, it has the feel of the music on Miles's Bitches Brew sessions.

After a dream-like intro, Mwandishi (Hancock's "African name") opens with Ostinato laying down exactly what it says, accompanied by hypnotic percussion. This is overlaid at first with the trumpet, followed by the Fender Rhodes and then Bennie Maupin's bass clarinet, familiar from Bitches. You'll Know When You Get There is a flute-led fantasy, the mystique emphasised by the celeste-like tinkling of the Fender Rhodes. And Julian Priester's long, perambulating Wandering Spirit is well-named, a mostly laid back cruise with some semi-free sections, mostly gentle, sometimes tending to a rougher texture without seriously rocking the boat.

Finding this music, thanks to Kevin Fellezs's Birds Of Fire, about the formation of fusion music, has been a revelation. Makes you wonder what else is out there to rediscover.

Price: £5.06

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Who knew there was stuff this good in existence without Miles on it?, 20 July 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Sextant (Audio CD)
Being part 2 of my rediscovery of Herbie Hancock's 70s recordings.

After Crossings, part 1, I was ready to take a hit. Couldn't possibly be as good. It is.

Rain Dance begins with synth-produced dancing raindrops, with other sound effects also contributed electronically, building the ambience. Drum, bass and Fender Rhodes then join in. There's a feeling familiar from (the subsequent and more well-known) Headhunters, but it's too long to be that commercial.

Hidden Shadows is opened by an electric jazz groove from the bass and bass clarinet, underpinned by mellotron (there's a word I never expected to have to type!) and synths and the horns making occasional forays.

Hornets is the closest Hancock gets to a tribute to Miles live. The trumpet, though unmistakably not Miles in timbre is nevertheless uncannily close in phrasing. Bennie Maupin's presence hints at how life would have been had he played Bitches Brew live, and he goes on to channel Airto on kazoo (or Hum-a-zoo as it's called here). There are occasional Miles-like climaxes, and then quite unexpectedly it goes out on the hi-hat.

Part 3: Mwandishi...

No Title Available

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Does its job, 18 July 2012
My needs for sports bags are quite demanding, especially Friday night when I need to supplement the local gym's kit with some of my own. This bag is big enough to enable me to carry all my stuff but not so large, fortunately, as to encourage me to take more. The two end pockets are useful to segregate wet stuff and non kit stuff, and there's a handy inside pocket, though it's velcroed where my previous one was zipped, which was better for storing change and keys.

Its one real deficiency, and the reason it loses a star, is that it comes without anything to make the base rigid. Fortunately I was able to transfer the base lining from my old bag, but if you're starting from scratch you may end up with a floppy bag.


5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Breathtaking, 12 July 2012
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This review is from: Crossings (Audio CD)
Reading Kevin Fellezs's Birds Of Fire, about the birth of fusion music, opened up a few new portals for me, not least of which was a previously undiscovered trove of Herbie Hancock recordings.

Crossings is the first of these, and having listened to it now several times I wonder that I'd previously overlooked it, it's so breathtakingly good, and not a million miles away from music I already have, though sufficiently different that it's not just more of the same.

Sleeping Giant opens with drums reminiscent of Joni Mitchell's The Jungle Line, but shifts through phases dominated by piano, trumpet and soprano sax, with transitions provided by the synths, at times heavily funky, but constantly restless, with the tempo and texture never settling down. The muted horn itself is reminiscent of Miles.

Quasar begins with some thunderous piano chords, though overall the piece is gentle, notwithstanding the turbulent flute (well, it is the 70s!) and horn.

Water Torture is the most atmospheric piece, with the flute and horn now ethereal, complemented by the synths. The groove anticipates Headhunters somewhat.

Upon giving this a listen once I immediately ordered Sextant, so enthused was I. There's a little bit of a feeling that what Hancock was doing at the time was a logical extension of what Miles began with Filles De Kilimanjaro and which developed through In A Silent Way and on to Get Up With It, though there's nothing of the weirdness of On The Corner. Instead we have the experimentation with the synths that at the time would have put this at the leading edge technologically. According to Fellezs, at the time audiences found difficulty in accepting what Hancock was doing. Listening to it now it feels both still fresh but also somehow familiar. Maybe now people are ready.

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