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GlynLuke (York UK)
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Snow Country (Penguin Modern Classics)
Snow Country (Penguin Modern Classics)
Price: £4.68

4.0 out of 5 stars Snowbound, 4 July 2015
While I was reading this 120-page novel I felt as if I were cocooned in deceptively warm and white drifts of cotton-wool snow, so pervasively does the winter snow cover all in this oblique, poetic tale by the late Japanese Nobel laureate.
Shimamura, a rather sketchily drawn figure, is a Tokyo-based husband and father who once a year enjoys the hospitality and geishas of the country district of the title, and gradually falls in love (one presumes) with Komako, a young and volatile geisha who falls for him too, though their impossible love brings them little happiness, as the final explosive, though enigmatic, pages imply.
This is all written in allusive, not to mention elusive, poetic prose, with much left to the reader's imagination. Often it is not obvious who is even speaking, which at times lends the narrative a suitably dislocated quality.
Shimamura arrives at the train station in snow, and the story ends with a fire. A woman named Yoko is another shadowy presence throughout, and other characters flit in and out of the novel as unpredictably as Komako's sudden appearances in the man's room. (Frequently a character will be referred to simply as 'the woman' or 'the man'.)
Some fellow reviewers have questioned the translator's clarity, but I can imagine how hard it must be not only to translate such a culturally specific novel, but to find English equivalents for both its words and phrases, and also its intangible, evasive way of storytelling. I'd be interested to read a different translation, if only to compare the two.
The tale Snow Country tells is on the surface a simple one, but Kawabata creates a world - of snow, tears, love, drunkenness, formality, fire, anger, hopelessness, and much else - that lives in the memory long after you close the book.


Pour Down Like Silver
Pour Down Like Silver
Offered by jim-exselecky
Price: £5.79

5.0 out of 5 stars Night comes in, 3 July 2015
This review is from: Pour Down Like Silver (Audio CD)
Night comes in
Like some cool river
How can there be another day
Take my hand
O real companion
And we'll dance, we'll dance till we fade away
O the songs pour down like silver

This third Thompsons album may well be their most beautiful - an easy word to use, but at their most affecting Richard & Linda could move you like no one else.
They tended to give us a strong, punchy opener, and this one's no exception, the bittersweet Streets of Paradise, followed by a song their pal Sandy Denny also recorded (under the title I Wish I Was a Fool For You, which forms the words of the refrain) the superb For Shame of Doing Wrong.
Next up is the forlorn yet lovely ballad The Poor Boy is Taken Away, sung by Linda with her typical impassioned yet restrained sensitivity.
Richard sings the astonishing Night Come In (quoted above) which gives the album its title, and it's balanced by the next track, the surreally titled Jet Plane in a Rocking Chair, a mid-tempo folky song with John Kirkpatrick making his presence felt on accordion.
Beat the Retreat is another RT tour de force of both singing and songwriting, a six-minute ambivalent dirge-like song about 'running back home to you'. He sounds a significant note of resignation as much as of delight.
Hard Luck Stories hears Rich & Linda duetting on an amusingly pejorative song about another's constant complaining. It's great fun!
The lengthy Dimming of the Day/Dargai is yet another beautiful song, sung to perfection by Linda, with a guitar coda from Richard, winding up this stunning record in downbeat style.
The extra tracks on the excellent remastered Deluxe Edition are welcome live versions of three of the songs, plus their take on the great Penn/Oldham song Dark End of the Street (also recorded memorably by James Carr, Percy Sledge, and Gram Parsons, among others).
After the astounding Bright Lights Tonight and hardly less good Hokey Pokey, Pour Down Like Silver in 1975 continued the run of uniquely brilliant albums by these two unrepeatably talented singer-musicians. Both went on to make some wonderful solo records - in particular the many absurdly consistent releases by Richard over the last three decades - and they're both still very much around, I'm delighted to say. This was an album they should forever be proud of, filled with impeccable performances of immaculately-composed songs.

O the songs
Pour down like silver
They can only
Only break my heart


I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight
I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight
Price: £5.00

5.0 out of 5 stars The end of the rainbow, 1 July 2015
This is to my mind one of the most impressive, in fact astounding collections of songs ever recorded - it's as good as any Beatles LP or indeed anything else from the musical golden period of the late 60s/early 70s.
Richard T may have written all the songs - early notice of his genius - but Linda sings most of them, and she not only had the sexiest voice of her day but also one of the most evocative, heartbreaking on some of the more despairing songs on this fairly downbeat yet oddly uplifting album.
I wouldn't say this album has highlights as such, as each song inhabits a perfectly realised world of its own, each one perfect in its own unique way.
When I Get to the Border is a strong opener, with both Thompsons on vocals.
A song I've always stood in awe of - as much for its ominous, 'ancient-of-days' quality as for its brilliance - is The Calvary Cross, a song with a lyric that RT must have dredged up from some dark deep well of his own, and all at the precocious age of 23! (Right from the start, with the Fairport classic Meet on the Ledge, he was writing tremendous songs with sophisticated lyrics, and he's kept on doing it, his latest album 'Still' containing a stunning set of songs.)
The unforgettable Withered and Died is Linda singing at her considerable best, as are the poignant Has He Got a Friend For Me, the appropriately abandoned title track, the gutter poetry of Down Where the Drunkards Roll, and coming across all cheeky on The Little Beggar Girl (with Linda the Scot putting on a fine 'cockney sparrer' accent). Richard joins her on the choruses where necessary, and sings solo on Calvary Cross, We Sing Hallelujah, and the hopelessly desolate The End of the Rainbow, a terrific song.
The backing band include Fairport's Simon Nicol, Timi Donald on drums, and John Kirkpatrick highly effective on various squeeze-boxes.
The extra (live) tracks on this remastered reissue (and it really did need remastering!) are a pleasantly shambolic Bright Lights Tonight, the country ballad Together Again by Buck Owens, and a ten-minute version of Calvary Cross, with an extended RT guitar solo playing us out. They're good to have, if somewhat superfluous.
This was the first of six mostly superb Richard & Linda albums, and is arguably the best of the lot - though the two follow-ups are wonderful in their own right, as is the last one, Shoot Out the Lights.
All in all, this is simply a flawless set of ten incredible songs - one or two of them sounding like they've existed for centuries - by the finest British songwriter since, ironically, RT's friend and colleague Sandy Denny, and a never-bettered showcase for the sensual, always sensitive, often dramatic singing of then-wife Linda.
Songs to listen to and take to your heart for all time.

Silver moon sail up and silver moon shine
On the waters so wide, waters so wide
Steal from the bed of some good friend of mine
My dreams are withered and died


The Definitive Collection
The Definitive Collection
Price: £3.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Didn't I blow your mind, 30 Jun. 2015
Decades ago - over 45 years ago in 1969! - I bought a single by pop-soul group The Delfonics, which I'd heard on the radio and loved. It even made the charts. It was called Didn't I (Blow Your Mind This Time) and had an irresistible stop-start effect at certain points during the song which I couldn't get enough of.
It's taken me all this time to acquire a compilation of this excellent group, second only in my affections to the Chi-Lites, not dissimilar purveyors of well-written, classy 'soft soul'. It's been worth the wait.
Another great song of theirs was Ready Or Not Here I Come, which is irrepressibly catchy. Along with La-La Means I Love You, When Yo Get Right Down To It, Somebody Loves You, and the marvellous Trying To Make a Fool Of Me (B-side to Didn't I Blow Your Mind) there are another fourteen tracks by the trio from Philly on this superb collection, making twenty in all.
There isn't a dud among them, though not surprisingly some are more memorable than others. The cumulative effect when in the mood can be mildly overwhelming. This is a group who never quite received their due praise, despite a few hits. But it was worth buying this nicely presented disc, with its booklet and fairly comprehensive notes, if only for the abovementioned songs, in particular the timeless, essential and unforgettable Didn't I - one of the most distinctive soul-group classics of its era.

Didn't I blow your mind this time? Sure did, guys - this and every time.


Still (Deluxe Edition)
Still (Deluxe Edition)
Price: £12.99

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Don't bet your shirt on Long John Silver, 30 Jun. 2015
This review is from: Still (Deluxe Edition) (Audio CD)
Although (on first hearing, at least) there's little here as immediately compelling as, say, Beeswing or Vincent Black Lightning, this one's what's called a grower. I find I'm getting more out of each play of this latest in the great Richard Thompson's continuing proof of his musical genius. He's certainly the finest songwriter from these shores since the death of Sandy Denny. As a guitar wizard he also happens to be a miracle man, and he's a damn good singer too, with a uniquely ominous timbre to his urgent voice - the nearest to it tonally might be John Cale's.
The opener has a superb title, and is a great track too: She Never Could Resist a Winding Road, a wonderful song snd surely destined to become another classic of his now enviably extensive repertoire.
Beatnik Walking is taken at an appropriately ambling pace, and Patty Don't You Put Me Down is another memorable song of the kind RT turns out with absurd consistency.
Long John Silver is great fun, with the advice that "There's nothing but black in a pirate's heart". The song's conceit is that "Not every pirate's sailing the sea" - beware of duplicitous landlubbers, eg. bankers:

Long John Silver, he's good with numbers
He makes hay while other folks slumber
Gives me the brass, and keeps all the best
The better to feather his pretty little nest

Guitar Heroes is a seven-minute tour de force (though oddly hesitant at times) that pays tribute to such veteran guitarists as Django, Hank Marvin, James Burton, Les Paul, and Chuck Berry. Few could have got away with a song like this, but Mr Thompson can do anything and it tends to work, so we happy listeners - we happy, happy few! - get to hear him impersonate to perfection the above luminaries. His lyrics to this song strike me as far too modest.
The extra tracks on the Deluxe Edition are well worth having - for example the driving Fork in the Road and typically grave Wounding Myself - but you certainly won't feel short-changed if you only have the single-disc one.
I don't think I've ever felt short-changed by RT. And as for that guitar - well, when I first saw him live I knew that I was witnessing the most jaw-dropping guitar wizardry I'd ever see and hear - and I'm old enough to have seen Hendrix more than once. It still holds true.
This album just gets better and better...

His songs are treasures, and so is he.


Clouds of Sils Maria [DVD]
Clouds of Sils Maria [DVD]
Dvd ~ Juliette Binoche
Price: £9.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Snaking smoke, 29 Jun. 2015
This review is from: Clouds of Sils Maria [DVD] (DVD)
Acting awards are at best a shallow but harmless distraction, but it's worth noting that Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart - along with director-writer Olivier Assayas, the cinematographer and the film itself - were both nominated for a Cesar, the French equivalent of the Oscars. Stewart bagged the gong, and she thoroughly deserved to do so, though I would have given all of them the keys to Paris.
Binoche, as a forty-ish actress Maria, and Stewart as her P.A. Valentine(!) are stunning in their many scenes together in this astonishing, engrossing and utterly memorable film, the best I've seen from any country for ages.
The plot is a hard one to elucidate, being more of a series of scenes in the relationship between (mainly) the two women, both of them strong-minded, each with her own life to lead, but caught up in each other's lives in ways that are neither predictable nor in any way straightforward. An underlying, subtly written and portrayed erotic element is intelligently played out, without once seeming prurient or 'tagged on'.
I found the extensive scenes in which Valentine goes over (or 'hears' in acting parlance) Maria's lines from the play she's learning weirdly dislocating, as one often had to remind oneself that these were 'scenes within scenes' as it were, which is exactly what we are meant to feel. The two actresses are brilliant here.
Then there is the valley of smoke, snaking along ominously between the photogenic Swiss Alps (and it is a compliment to Assayas that, despite many ravishing shots of the incredible landscape, the film never once looks like a travelogue).
The rapport between Binoche and Stewart is a rare delight, the former looking as if she's enjoying every moment of such a meaty, witty role, while Stewart gives the performance of her career so far, building on her supporting part in the superb Still Alice (her scenes there with Julianne Moore being a highlight of that film).
Chloe Grace Moretz (who is new to me) scores high as a notorious young film star 'going legit' and the other roles are played flawlessly, in particular seasoned German actress Anglea Winkler as the widow of the playwright whose play Maria once acted in as a young ingenue, and in the revival of which she is preparing to act, this time in the older role in a lesbian relationship...
I have never seen a film quite like this - and am, I'm ashamed to admit, new to the work of Assayas, who seems to me to be a cinematic master in the making, perhaps the most striking European director to appear since Almodovar or Haneke (though he's been around as long as the latter).

I can't recommend this wonderful film highly enough.


Edward Burra
Edward Burra
by Simon Martin
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £32.00

5.0 out of 5 stars All human life, 28 Jun. 2015
This review is from: Edward Burra (Hardcover)
They used to say of for example Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, Shakespeare's plays, or Mozart's operas, that 'all human life is there'.
This could also, at least in one sense, be said of the vibrant, frenetic, loudly populated paintings of the still massively underrated Edward Burra (1905-76). As an artist, he has with some justification been compared to Stanley Spencer, but if the latter was in essence a religious painter (though of far more worth than that meagre description implies) then Burra could reasonably be said to be his secular counterpart.
This magnificent book crams in as many examples of Burra's colour-hungry, sometimes fantastical paintings as you could wish, including as it does works from all stages of his career.
Many of them are breathtaking, not simply for the wild and wonderful inventiveness of his compositions, and for their often visceral emotional pull, but also for his ability to paint, through his use of perspective - and sheer bloody-minded audaciousness - with an unsentimental beauty, a kind of supercharged enthralment with the things, and people, of this world that is both invigorating and awe-inspiring.
This is a painter who never stood still, so to speak, and an artist whose subject was the world - in all its Chaucerian, Dickensian, Shakespearean wealth of colour, rage, lewdness, joy, pain, incessant busyness, surprise and wonder.
His watercolour of 'Dartmoor' from 1974 (and I was surprised to realise that he was primarily a watercolourist) is a bold, sweeping panorama with, unusually, not a human in sight, while 'Near Whitby, Yorkshire' is a misty, rather ominous, even less populated vista of a winding slate-coloured road disappearing into the cloudy distance.
But these are rare examples of pure landscape in Burra's art. Most of the time, something is afoot! Even a marvellous 'The Harbour, Hastings' - with its lolling sailors and tired rope-pulling, box-lugging labourers - is packed with incident and moment.
The least interesting works for me (though fascinating all the same) are the few where he seems to be imitating Ernst, Dali or some other surrealist. Burra wasn't of their kind. A fabulist, yes, but an artist whose art needed no 'movement' to bind it.
With contributions by Simon Martin, Jane Stevenson, and Andrew Lambirth, with a full rundown of Burra's unorthodox life, and a mass of alarmingly immediate and riveting reproductions, this is one of the most welcome - and long overdue - art books on the planet. (Published to coincide with an exhibition at Chichester and Nottingham in 2012).

An essential book celebrating an unignorable artist.


Quo
Quo
Price: £3.00

4.0 out of 5 stars Fine fine fine, 27 Jun. 2015
This review is from: Quo (Audio CD)
Things get off to a cracking start on this 1974 album (their 7th) by the catchiest - and often most underrated - of all rock bands, the institution we now simply call Quo, with the stunning and inventive Backwater, an extended workout that heralds a thoroughly professional, mostly superb rock record.
Next is the less memorable Just Take Me, intriguingly and seamlessly seguing on from Backwater without a pause.
Break the Rules is one of Quo's finest early singles, a glorious rock number that has a longish guitar solo in the middle, and an irresistible beat's pause before each new verse.
Don't Think It Matters is another great track, and one of this rocking good album's highlights.
Fine Fine Fine is a wonderfully catchy, typically upbeat Quo number, and would have made a suitably fine single. Surprised it wasn't.
Lonely Man is a rather bland slower song, but Slow Train redeems things, and is another excellent track, followed by what was the original b-side of Break the Rules, the decent if unremarkable Lonely Night.
Status Quo were and are one of the best (though not always so appreciated) singles bands of the last fifty years or so, but 'Quo' proves that Quo could turn out rockin' good albums too, this being one of the best.

And now it's fine fine fine
'Cos you're with me all the time...


Please Don't Touch
Please Don't Touch
Price: £5.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Hackett's 2nd, 26 Jun. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Please Don't Touch (Audio CD)
Having left Genesis, and having already proved to be one of the tastiest guitarists in the country, after the excellent Voyage of the Acolyte our man then made this delightful and musically upbeat piece of work.
With contributions from among others Randy Crawford, and Richie Havens on two songs (the touching story of how he and SH met and became friends is told in the superb accompanying booklet) and a plethora of musicians on the same wavelength as the protean, eclectic Hackett, this is an early marvel in the now extensive Hackett discography.
The song How Can I? as sung by Havens is an undoubted highlight, but even the joyous opening track Narnia will delight fans and newcomers alike. Randy Crawford sings Hoping Love Will Last in her inimitable, oddly vulnerable way - what a distinctive voice she has.
The title track is prog rock heaven, with a heft dollop of the Hackett guitar wizardry. The rest of this fine album is up to to the same high standard.
Still to come from the modestly impeccable guitarist were such wonders as Spectral Mornings, the superb Guitar Noir, and the astounding Beyond the Shrouded Horizon, among many others, but this was early notice of the musical spirit of one of rock's most likable and durable personalities.

Lovely stuff.


The Professor Of Desire
The Professor Of Desire
by Philip Roth
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Memoir of a sexual butterfly, 24 Jun. 2015
We should all be so lucky to have a quote from Milan Kundera adorning the front cover of a novel - to wit: 'Philip Roth is a great historian of modern eroticism'. Well, he should know.
Over on the back cover, an anonymous blurb says of this 1977 near-masterpiece: 'There is great beauty in it, humanity and tenderness.' Too true. Melvyn Bragg's comment is the equally accurate: 'His prose is both elegant and furious. It can be witty, tender and brutal in a single paragraph.'
That last sentence is so right, some passages in this novel (the second of his three books about priapic Literature professor David Kepesh) performing a verbal balancing act so virtuosic as to leave the greedy reader exhausted, or at least, appropriately enough for what is at times a fairly explicit erotic novel, sated.
The women Kepesh meets, loves, loses, longs for, and lusts after are all written as richly as the men, their voices resonantly heard, and this is no male chauvinist fantasy - though I'll bet some critics saw it as such forty-odd years ago. Another reviewer here has called the style of the book 'stream of consciousness', a description I would question. It makes it sound either Joycean or like a Kerouacian ramble, neither of which is really the case. It's more that, as so often, Roth seems to be writing at a white-hot pace, idea, character and occurence tumbling over each other in prose of such potency and energy as to seem - well, as I said, exhausting.
Roth puts his readers through the mill. He did it in, say, The Human Stain and he does it here. It's as if he's chasing elusive truths, hunting down half-glimpsed verities through the medium of a relentlessly uncompromising prose, so we are carried along, often breathlessly, into whichever areas of his characters' lives he needs to dissect and probe at any given moment.
I have no doubt at all that Philip Roth is one of the twentieth century's greatest writers, and certainly one of America's two or three finest. At full throttle he takes my breath away simply by the force of his prose and the recognition and revelation of truths - not always comfortable ones - his writing uncovers.
We are taken on a journey at once physical, geographical, erotic and emotional, through the life of Kepesh up to his mid-thirties, from his early delighted sexual discoveries to his later loves, none of which bring him lasting happiness, but all of which act as a kind of rite of passage, albeit a messy one (in both senses of the word).
There are no easy solutions or conclusions (this is a novel after all: perish the thought) and one of Roth's attributes as a writer is his willingness to explore and question - it's no accident that Chekhov and Kafka figure so much in this novel's narrative - rather than explain or offer answers.

I found reading this book an exhilarating experience, as I usually do with Roth, being disappointed only by the oddly inscrutable last three lines of its final sentence...


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