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GlynLuke (York UK)

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Price: £4.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Arriving somewhere, 20 May 2015
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This review is from: Deadwing (Audio CD)
One of the many things I love about the Tree (as I have come to call them) and its planter and tender, the godlike genius that is Steven Wilson, is that there's always so much going on in their/his music. The intriguingly named Deadwing is definitely no exception.
The first couple of tracks feature Wilson's trademark choppy, rampaging guitar, along with the stunning drumming of the Tree's percussion supremo Gavin Harrison, a man who must surely be one of the two or three finest rock drummers working today.
Guests on this 2004 outing are Adrian Belew and occasional Wilson musical cohort Mikael Akerfeldt. Keyboardist Richard Barbieri makes his presence felt, as on the long central track Mellotron Scratch, a superb example of Wilson's remarkable ability for extended musical thought (the bulk of both music & lyrics are by SW).
I came very late to this guy and the PT movable feast, and I can hardly believe what I've been missing. This isn't just 'prog rock', it's endlessly fascinating music, full stop.
Open Car is a stirringly great track, and like so many PT songs manages to be at once a fine, stomping rock number and a musically poetic, melodic meditation. So many of Wilson's songs wrong-foot the listener, quite apart from his lyrical gifts: he's one of those rare rock lyricists whose words don't look embarrassing in print. Far from it, they are invariably literate and often moving.
Deadwing is pretty much as good as anything I've heard by the Tree - favourites so far being In Absentia and Lightbulb Sun - and that's saying a lot.


Lightbulb Sun
Lightbulb Sun

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rest will flow, 17 May 2015
This review is from: Lightbulb Sun (Audio CD)
Just when I thought In Absentia couldn't be equalled, along comes this beauty to confound the idea.
This is ecstatic 'prog rock' of a haunting, surprisingly melodic Crowded House quality - on the opening title track the great Steven Wilson even sounds like Neil Finn.
Listening to the drumming on this 2000 album (later updated with a DVD on two separate editions, as far as I can tell; I have the DVD with four extra tracks) I was sure it must be the Tree's usual octopus-limbed piledriver Gavin Harrison, whose inventive percussion has added so much to other PT records, but no! On this one it's Chris Maitland, and he has the same spirit, the same unwillingness merely to keep the beat.
Rather than a few lengthy tracks as on other Tree albums, this is mostly shorter songs, except the 13-minute Russia On Ice, and it makes a refreshing change, though the brilliance of Wilson's muse is still present and correct. What an amazingly talented musician and songwriter he is, with a blazingly stroppy guitar style that takes no prisoners.
The DVD is welcome and a real bonus.
I can hardly fault this marvellous music, and I feel so happy to have discovered, albeit belatedly, this tremendous band and its presiding genius.

Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 22, 2015 9:26 PM BST

Fear Of A Blank Planet
Fear Of A Blank Planet
Price: £4.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Ashes and diamonds, 16 May 2015
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This review is from: Fear Of A Blank Planet (Audio CD)
For such a widely praised band, Porcupine Tree and its presiding genius Steven Wilson are still something of a well-kept secret. Their music is so good, often stunning, that I just want to tell everyone I meet about them.
I came very late to PT & SW, so I've had a lot of catching up to do, a task that's been all pleasure and no pain. After the glorious peak of In Absentia, I assumed anything else might be a bit of a letdown. Not at all.
This themed album of just six songs - with none of them under five minutes long, the lengthiest being the 18-minute tour de force Anaesthetize, a tremendous track - is as powerful and as compelling as anything I've heard by the band. (I have the single-disc version, rather than the special edition, by the way.)
What is so striking about all the PT/SW releases is their superb production, as well as Wilson's passionate vocals and the astounding drumming of Gavin Harrison, who is not afraid to bash his kit all over the shop like the virtuoso percussionist he obviously is, rather than simply keeping the beat like many rock drummers. He adds such a lot to their overall sound.
The aforementioned Anaesthetize is a standout track but, like all PT albums, it's the cumulative effect that gets you in the end. There are a few moments of bathos, but most of the time this is vintage Tree, and I can't believe that Steven Wilson hasn't been given the keys to the kingdom by now.

I love this band. They give 'prog rock' a very good name!

In Absentia [European Edition]
In Absentia [European Edition]
Price: £4.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Rock music can be beautiful, 13 May 2015
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There are certain special, one-of-a-kind albums that occasionally come along, sounding like nothing else before them, helping to rediscover and redefine 'rock music'. My contenders would include Astral Weeks, the first two Band LPs, Little Feat's Sailin' Shoes, Marquee Moon by Television, Tim Buckley's Starsailor, Buckley Jnr's Grace, Together Alone by Crowded House, and Change Everything by Del Amitri. To these masterpieces I'd now add In Absentia.
I had barely heard of Porcupine Tree until recently, and I don't know why. Turns out they've released a lot of albums since 1992, not to mention Steven Wilson's other intriguing projects. Ah well, better late...
Listening to this, I could hardly contain my mounting excitement. Here is a band and an album (with many more to discover!) so inventive, beautifully produced, with such intelligent, elegiac lyrics, and such tremendous use of dynamics, as well as some terrific guitar and drums - not a dud track either, with some songs so glorious, so transcendent as to beggar belief. I didn't know rock music could weave many more spells, but Wilson and crew can, and do.
It's all so melodic too. This is thoughtful music, without ever becoming either cerebral or twee. On one track they manage to sound like CSN&Y backed by King Crimson, on others I'm reminded of the blissful pop-rock of similarly neglected band Del Amitri.
Most of the songs are lyrically quite sad, or at least rueful, whether on a personal level or a more universal one. Wilson evidently cares about the planet and the various ways we mess it, and each other, up. His superb lyrics are printed in the booklet, which is also excellent. The extra Bonus Disc (on the 'European Edition') is worth having, though the main album is so perfect one hardly needs extras.
I can't believe I've gone twenty years without hearing this band's music, and have ordered the two that follow this one. If they're as good, which I have a feeling they will be, then I'm cancelling all engagements until future notice...


Greatest Hits
Greatest Hits
Price: £5.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Come all without, come all within, 12 May 2015
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This review is from: Greatest Hits (Audio CD)
Manfred Mann were one of the most popular groups of the mid-sixties, arriving on the scene a little after the Beatles, Hollies, Stones, Brian Poole & the Tremeloes, and the other trailblazers had got going. They had three number one hits - three more than many an equally famous band including, surprisingly, The Who and Cream.
All their hits and more are here, from the great (Pretty Flamingo, Come Tomorrow, Mighty Quinn, If You Gotta Go, Ha! Ha! Said the Clown) to the good (54321, Do Wah Diddy Diddy, Oh No Not My Baby, Just Like a Woman, Fox on the Run, My Name is Jack) to the somewhat forgettable (Sha La La, Hubble Bubble, You Gave Me Somebody to Love, and the tediously Kinks-lite Semi-Detached, Suburban Mr James).
They were a strange band in that they obviously had an r'n'b sensibility, yet only about half their hits - and all but two reached the Top 20, many the top 10 - were of that kind while the other half were pure pop, whether sung by bluesy, boyishly enthusiastic Paul Jones or his successor, the slightly more intensely soulful Mike D'Abo.
This comprehensive compilation has 22 tracks, in non-chronological order, something in its favour. I daresay some would prefer to hear them in the order in which they were released, though I can't really see why since this way you get the two singers' voices juxtaposed, which is more interesting to hear.
One of my very favourite singles of the sixties is Pretty Flamingo, by the rather obscure Mark Barkan (from 1966, in the Paul Jones years) and a later favourite is Ha! Ha! Said the Clown (from 1967 after D'Abo had taken over vocal duties.) The excellent song Come Tomorrow has always been one I've remembered and loved too, sung well by Jones.
They were never as confrontational as the Stones, Animals or Pretty Things, or quite as consistent or long-lasting as the Searchers or Hollies, but they definitely made their mark, and along the way gave us the occasional classic track.
A word for Manfred Mann himself, born in South Africa in 1940, and founder member of SA's first ever rock band: he was a tasteful organist and bearded backbone of this likable pop/rock group, and listening to these tracks again, one can hear how vital he was to their overall appeal.

The sound and the packaging on this 1993 compilation are adequate, the music is varied and often inspired.

Playin' With My Friends: Bennett Sings The Blues
Playin' With My Friends: Bennett Sings The Blues
Price: £11.58

4.0 out of 5 stars Bennett's blues, 8 May 2015
Tony Bennett is one of the most versatile, least dogmatic singers on the planet, so it wasn't a surprise when he recorded a Duets album. Usually, these backslapping duetting bunfights are less than impressive, let alone advisable - and this one has its occasional embarrassing moment - but all in all this is great fun, with the ladies and the gentlemen getting equal time.
A highlight is the opening track, a very enjoyable Alright, Okay, You Win with Diana Krall, whose innate sense of good taste is matched by Bennett at his most pleasingly restrained.
Stevie Wonder is up next. On Everyday I Have the Blues (and we're left in no doubt at all of the title) he plays gorgeous harmonica, and they duet happily together.
A surprisingly good rendition of the Billie Holiday classic Good Morning Heartache with Sheryl Crow (not exactly known for her blues chops) is followed by a suitably rollicking Let the Good Times Roll with a rather wasted B.B. King.
Next is The Genius himself, Ray Charles, who duets on a song I didn't know called Evenin' - he and Tony B sound like the two old-timers they were by now (at 71 and 75 respectively) - and it's great to hear them in tandem, two of the twentieth century's greatest popular singers bluesing it up.
Ah, then there's Bonnie Raitt, a lady incapable of a bad performance, her guitar work eloquent as ever, her warm vocal a delight to listen to. She's followed by another superb singer, k.d. lang, and it's obvious she and Tony love each other to bits. 'Keep the Faith, Baby...'
The lovely Blue and Sentimental features veteran vocalist Kay Starr, and is sweet, with Mr B deferring to her evident age and relative vocal frailty.
Billy Joel sings with his customary take-no-prisoners sturdiness, on his own New York State of Mind, a good song that doesn't quite come off. It isn't really a blues (the album's subtitle is Bennett Sings the Blues, after all) and their two voices, both of them up-close and personal, tend to cancel each other out.
The least impressive track, sad to say, is the wonderful standard Stormy Weather, here in an ill-advised duet with Natalie Cole, who is simply singing at too high a register. The results are so-so: not exactly disastrous, but not very pleasant either.
The grand finale brings together all the singers involved, minus Ray Charles, who each take a line or two (a bit like a charity record!) led by Tony B on the title song of this generally excellent recording from 2001.
There are a few other songs sung solo by Bennett, which go down painlessly. His regular accompanists the Ralph Sharon Trio play beautifully throughout, and the whole shebang is mostly a classy success. Nobody actually lets the side down, despite some dodgy moments. And Bennett proves he can really sing the blues, even if he's no Muddy Waters or Lightnin' Hopkins, or even B.B. King...

The Concert Sinatra: Expanded Edition
The Concert Sinatra: Expanded Edition
Price: £11.31

4.0 out of 5 stars Sinatra's soliloquy, 7 May 2015
A strange one, this. A selection of songs from 1963, bang in the middle of his glory years, that seem a little more randomly chosen than most of his classic albums of the period. Stunning arrangements by the great Nelson Riddle, eight wonderful songs, including one or two definitive readings - but still something missing somehow.
On Lost in the Stars, the grand old man of American song actually sings slightly off key at times, and does so on at least one other track. The production (recorded 'on the Sound Stages at the Goldwyn Studios, Hollywood, CA') is unforgivingly immediate, which is both a boon and has the disadvantage of failing to hide the occasional less than perfect-pitch note from the great man.
Never mind, if you love, admire and respect Frank the singer supreme, you'll want this Sinatra-Riddle box of delights.
Highlights for me are a lovely This Nearly Was Mine (Rodgers & Hammerstein), a fine and sturdy Bewitched from Pal Joey (Rodgers & Hart), a stupendous version of the eight-minute Soliloquy from Carousel, and one of Sinatra's most incredible vocal performances: to hear him transform Ol' Man River from a rather hackneyed show tune into the revelatory meditation it becomes in Sinatra's vocally acrobatic version is to hear magic being created by both singer and arranger. Listen to what he does with the song near the end on the line "Get a little drunk and you land in gaol..." - that takes courage, a sense of occasion, and the kind of breath control that can't be taught.
The two extra tracks (on the 2012 reissue) are California, a minor Van Heusen-Cahn song, and America the Beautiful, which I shan't be bothering to play again.

A bit of an oddly titled curate's egg, which nevertheless contains some splendid Sinatra, singing with grandeur and dramatic flair. Easily worth four stars.

Moonlight Sinatra [Standard Jewel]
Moonlight Sinatra [Standard Jewel]
Price: £7.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Dressed up to go dreaming, 6 May 2015
The lyric "All dressed up to go dreaming" is from the opening song Moonlight Becomes You, on this 1966 album of moon-themed numbers from the dream team of Frank Sinatra and Nelson Riddle.
No one arranged & conducted a song quite like Riddle, and when he had Sinatra at the microphone the results were invariably like a string of precious jewels.
Frank's 'comeback' after his years in the doldrums was by now well underway, with successful films and hit records galore to his name. It's the albums he made in that unmatched period from 1953 to the mid-sixties that make him THE singer of popular songs of the post-war years. (This LP's follow-up was Strangers in the Night, the beginning of his later, arguably more commercial period - it all seems so long ago, doesn't it?)
You might think that ten songs with a lunar motif might be stretching it, but when said songs are by the likes of Burke/van Heusen (Moonlight Becomes You & Oh You Crazy Moon), Irving Berlin (Reaching For the Moon), and Mac Davis (the tenderly sweet, wonderfully tuneful Moon Love) such fears melt into vapour.
Also on the set list are The Moon Got In My Eyes, I Wished On the Moon, Moonlight Serenade, and the splendidly if dottily titled The Moon was Yellow (And the Night was Young), which closes this moon-drenched record in fine style.
Considering its theme, this isn't one of Frank's haunted ballad albums. Far from it, several of the songs are mid-tempo, while even the slower numbers have a more upbeat quality than the tracks on, say, Only the Lonely or All Alone.
This isn't perhaps quite a classic of the calibre of Nice 'n' Easy or In The Wee Small Hours, but it's still Sinatra at his peak, and that's The Best.
All the post-40s Sinatra albums are now beautifully remastered, and sound suitably pristine, as befits a singer of the unbeatable brilliance of the man from Hoboken, NJ. What a long way he'd come - with so far still to go...


All Alone
All Alone
Price: £7.31

5.0 out of 5 stars Solitary Sinatra, 6 May 2015
This review is from: All Alone (Audio CD)
There are lonelier, more haunted Sinatra albums, as there are those with even more memorable arrangements than this one from 1962, but few that are as beautiful, or on which Frank sings so tenderly or, contrastingly, with such improvisatory abandon. At times he seems to be toying with a lyric or phrase like a confident cat with a ball of wool. Well, he was always a pretty confident cat.
Irving Berlin composed nearly half these songs, while some of the others are not ones necessarily or immediately associated with Ol' Blue Eyes, including Charmaine (a first top ten hit for The Bachelors only a few months later), Are You Lonesome Tonight (a No.1 for Elvis a year earlier), and The Girl Next Door, its female version inextricably linked to Judy Garland, though Frank manages to make it his own . He also sings Together as a ballad - they're all ballads this time around - while none other than P.J. Proby had a hit with his frenetic uptempo version two years later.
Trust me, Sinatra's authoritative readings do not suffer by comparison with any of the above.
The whole recording is in beautifully remastered sound, and is a perfect melding of the lush arrangements of conductor Gordon Jenkins (who was the go-to guy for lush orchestrations in those days) and Sinatra at his most thoughtful, his vocal chops never better or more affecting.
This album was new to me until recently, but I'm very grateful to now have a copy and be able to listen to it. I'd place it alongside classic Sinatra LPs such as Where Are You, No One Cares, and September of My Years. It's good enough to keep such company.
There's nobody like Frank Sinatra when he's singing songs of love lost and love's longing, and here are eleven beauties.

Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 13, 2015 10:15 PM BST

Poems: Montale (Penguin Modern Classics)
Poems: Montale (Penguin Modern Classics)
by Eugenio Montale
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Crazed with light, 3 May 2015
Portami tu la pianta che conduce
dove sorgono bionde trasparenze
e vapora la vita quale essenza
portami il girasole impazzito di luce

First published in 2002, this Penguin selection of the poems of Nobel prizewinning Italian poet Eugenio Montale (1896-1981) is both a blessing and a frustratingly, temptingly incomplete glimpse of one of the truly great European poets.
There are extracts from (as far as I can tell) all Montale's books of poetry, by over fifty translators - including Galassi, Arrowsmith, Wright, Farnsworth, Gioia, Jeremy Reed, Ben Belitt, Eamon Grennan (both superb), Edwin Morgan, and Uncle Sam Beckett and all, along with Lowell's splendid freer 'versions' - as well as giving us tantalising, if all too few, multiple translations. These latter prove most valuable in editor Harry Thomas's excellent pithy introduction, in which he dissects the enigmatic, delightful poem Verso Vienna as rendered by Arrowsmith, Galassi, Farnsworth and Belitt. What it shows, as do the comparative translations elsewhere in the book, is how wildly at variance with each other different versions of the same poem can be.
Frustrating (though not worth docking a star over) are the only occasional poems given in their original Italian, so that the reader who has even a little of the language can at least compare the neighings and whinneyings of the inevitably imperfect translations with the clear voice issuing from the horse's mouth. Where this is made possible, the results are either enlightening or exasperating, depending on your point of view - or both, which tended to be my response.
Montale's poetry is self-recommending. Anyone with any love for and knowledge of twentieth century European poetry must surely consider him a master, to place on poetry's Mt. Olympus alongside Rilke, Milosz, Herbert, Brodsky, Celan, Akhmatova, Transtromer, Seferis, Cavafi, and a few others.
As a toe-dipping introduction to this most approachable and lyrical of poets, this generous selection could hardly be bettered. For a deeper plunge, there have been recent Collected editions from both Arrowsmith and Galassi, and those by Charles Wright are also worth seeking out.
The Ligurian coastal light glows through this sometimes languorous, though never less than concise, poetry, as in the famous poem concerning sunflowers that heads this review, which (in Bernard Spencer's rendering) ends so:

Bring me the flower which leads
to the springs of transparent gold
where life like an essence turns to vapour
bring me the flower crazed with light

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