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Henry VIII (Penguin Monarchs): The Quest for Fame
Henry VIII (Penguin Monarchs): The Quest for Fame
by John Guy
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.59

4.0 out of 5 stars Henry VIII - John Guy's short study of "England's Nero", 25 Nov 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Product received for free

John Guy's standard text book on "Tudor England" plays a key role in navigating many a perplexed history student through the complexities of this fascinating dynasty. This latest book on "Henry VIII" once again majors on the search for clarity over voluminous output. It is a short but full introduction (140 pages index included) to a King most often remembered for his marital infidelity as opposed to his central place in British history.

Guy seeks to detach Henry VIII from some of the more "partisan" judgements on this King made at the time. A contemporary such as the priest and martyr John Hale questioned in the context of English history "was there never in it so great a robber or pillager of the commonwealth read of nor heard of as king". Guy goes out of his way to show that this King did have an inscrutable and cruel bent which would make the modern British citizen blanche. However this was the Tudor Court packed with intrigue and working on the foundation that any fall from grace would properly lead to a detached head. In this autocratic, absolutist state Henry did insist on unquestioning obedience and "from the moment he sent Empson and Dudely to death at the beginning of his reign, Henry always looked for scapegoats when things went wrong" (p113). Yet Guy shows that Henry VIII was no despot. He was keen to use Parliament and the legal system to bring about the momentous schism with Rome. Even his suppression of Abbeys looks like amateur hour in the terror stakes when viewed in the light of the appalling persecutions of the past 200 years. This is not to excuse these acts but an ideological war was raging as fierce as the current split across Islam and the forces of Rome at the time hit back with true vengeance.

Speaking of vengeance it was Henry's own body that eventually provided the fatal rebellion. By modern standards he suffered from intense morbid obesity. His diet was massively overloaded with protein which lead to constant constipation. Guy points out that the "Royal kitchen accounts show that over 30 years he he had consumed a dozen or more portions of meat, fish and fowl in two courses for dinner and nearly as much for supper". He cleaned his plate with huge chunks of white bread and washed it all down with levels of wine and ale that would have put Oliver Reed to shame. The posthumous image in the books pages of Henry engraved by Cornelius Metsys 1548 shows a man who really needed a crash course in public health.

Guy's book is a fascinating and very readable introduction. It may not please learned scholars of the period and makes no pretence to be in the camp of copious studies like those of Alison Weir or David Starkey. As a an introductory text however this is a splendid little tome by a master of the historical period who also writes very well and clearly. Recommended


Love Has Many Faces: A Quartet, A Ballet, Waiting To Be Danced
Love Has Many Faces: A Quartet, A Ballet, Waiting To Be Danced
Price: £31.99

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Joni Mitchell - Dances through time, 24 Nov 2014
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Having challenged herself to condense her 17 albums into a single disc of her best songs about love and heartbreak Joni Mitchell inevitably failed. She describes herself as a "painter of words" and this canvas was too constricting. As a consequence she has released "Love Has Many Faces: A Quartet, a Ballet, Waiting to Be Danced" a unusual career-spanning four-disc collection focusing on the trials and tribulations of her romantic wanderlust and split into the following parts -

Act 1- Birth of the Rock n Roll Days
Act 2 - The light is hard to find
Act 3 - Love has many faces
Act 4 - If you want me i'll be in the bar.

Joni Mitchell has compared this work to the construction of a film. She told Rolling Stone that "I had 40 years of footage to review..... "Then, suddenly, scenes began to hook up". The good news about this set is a very nice remastering of tracks, 4 discs presented in a sturdy book like casing, all the songs lyrics easily readable and a fascinating introductory essay from Mitchell. In it she describes her songs as "a casting exercise". If so the cast list is unusual. Billy Idol plays the part of the bully in "Dancing Clown", while Tom Petty is the victim. Willie Nelson is cast a "desert rat" in "Cool Water" and on it goes.

The downside in this lavish collection is there is no new music to highlight, and no unrecorded gems or outtakes to digest (it would be nice to have a pristine version of "The Seeding of Summer Lawns" for example). Overall if you were to give this reviewer a choice between this set or the largely unmastered "The Studio Albums 1968-1979 Box set" containing ten of her best albums from the sublime seventies purple patch, then there would be no contest as the latter wins hands down. Listening to songs like "Harry House/Centrepiece" setting out the "The white picket fence dream" really only makes sense when preceded by "the Boho Dance" which is not present. Others like a "Blue's" sublime "A Case of You" is followed with the older Mitchell's smoky vocal on "Last time I saw Richard" from the orchestrated "Travelogue". In essence the pristine brilliance of the one exposes the weakness of the other. Equally as some one who would take a bullet for Joni Mitchell it still has to be recognised that much of her 1980s work left a lot to be desired not least "Dog eat Dog" jam packed full of musical mass-cult embraced synths and horrible production. Finally whilst "Night Ride Home" saw a career reboot in 1991 does it deserve better representation than songs from "Hissing" or more curiously the masterpiece that is "Hejira".

In the last analysis its Joni Mitchell so even the weaker songs simply mock those copyists who shall live forever in the shade of the greatest female writer of the past 50 years. The concept also does make you reconsider songs which have fallen down between the cracks, not least the wonders of the "Wolf who lives in Lindsay" from "Mingus" and "Hana" from her last full album "Shine" Yet in the last analysis there is something about this exercise which is does not fit properly and has a disjointed feel to it. The juxtaposition of songs from different eras and albums send you scurrying back to the originals begging the question would you recommend this set to anyone other than Joni Mitchell completists? The answer to that question is "yes" for if Mitchell sang the words from the train time-table between Cardiff and London this reviewer would get out the cheque book. But if you are approaching her music for the first time you would be well advised to start with "Blue", "Court and Spark", "Hissing of the Summer Lawns" and "Hejira" before heading in this eccentric if lovely direction.


SITCOM AFTERLIFE
SITCOM AFTERLIFE
Price: £10.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Frontier Ruckus - Enter their brass-bolstered chamber-pop phase, 24 Nov 2014
This review is from: SITCOM AFTERLIFE (Audio CD)
Following the sprawling giant double "Eternity Dimming" was always going to be a difficult task but to be fair to Matthew Milla and his chums in Frontier Ruckus they have recognised that a slight change of direction is in order. "Sitcom Afterlife" is far less of the sort of Sufjan Stevens meets alternative country they have previously mastered and much more of a breezy power pop/rock record with echoes of Teenage Fanclub and Big Star. The glorious "Sad Modernity" is worth the price of admission in its own right and remains full of Milla's wordy narratives that make the songs jam packed with wonderful imagery.

Look deeper however and there is more to this album than meets the eye. Songs like "Crabapples in the Century Storm" shows that Milla writes better Conor Oberst songs than Conor Oberst. It powers on a real pace with Milla spitting out his words over a lovely band dynamic. Equally "Down in the morning we never lose" employs horns and a saw to great spooky effect. True "Bathroom Stall Hypnosis" does sound that the band could pay royalties to Elvis Costello, but any slips are kept to the bare minimum.

"Sitcom Afterlife" is inevitably shaded by the the shadow cast by both "Eternity Dimming" and the bands masterpiece "Deadmalls and Nightmalls". There is nonetheless a fine album on display in "Sitcom Afterlife" and again begs the question when are record buyers going to beckon this Detroit band to stand on the main stage. Let us hope its not too long.


Intensity Ghost
Intensity Ghost
Price: £6.79

5.0 out of 5 stars Chris Forsyth & The Solar Motel Band - Elevation, 24 Nov 2014
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This review is from: Intensity Ghost (MP3 Download)
There is a school thought which argues that Television's 1997 masterpiece "Marquee Moon" has never been bettered in terms of album where dual guitar interplay hit heights hereto unknown since "Live at Filmore East" and where the songs were so good that if they were a rugby team they would be wearing an All Blacks jersey. Huge appreciation therefore can go out to Chris Forsyth & The Solar Motel Band on "Intensity ghost" for not only reminding the listener of the Verlaine/Lloyd partnership but on occasions aspiring to the some of that lofty ambition.

"Intensity Ghost" is a pure guitar album of five long songs and on the surface sounds like a unmitigated instrumental bore fest. Chris Forsyth however is a massive new "axe" talent. He hails from Philadelphia and like his city counterpart Adam Granduciel and the wider virtuoso work of Steve Gunn, he puts old wine in new bottles but makes the brew completely fresh and intoxicating. Listen to the brilliant 11 minute opener "The Ballad of Freer Hollow" where Garcia meets Verlaine and a dash of Robbie Kreiger is thrown in for good measure. The track soars from a simple motif to exploratory guitar jamming of the highest order that is completely locked down in terms of melodic discipline. In addition Forsyth's incendiary concluding solo is a thing of economical wonder no doubt driven by the competition provided by his worthy partner in crime Paul Sukeena who is a sort of modern day Richard Betts to his Duane Alllman. Throughout the songs never drag and the twin guitars keep you pinned to the speakers wondering what is going to happen next. "Yellow Square" is a slower outing set around a strutting base over which the two guitarist weave huge power chords. "I ain't waiting" alternatively is a real beauty and again the Television comparison is unmistakable particularly through the use of soaring step chords changes from around 2.20 minutes. It is one of the best pieces of sustained guitar work this reviewer has heard in years. The title track is the nearest thing on the album to a conventional rock song but even here the complex patterns of play are deceptive and reveal their talents slowly not least as the song breaks off in a slower and more intriguing direction around the 3 minutes mark. Finally "Paris Song" starts with a meditative tone that slowly builds with cascading scales. It is tightly controlled throughout and echoes some of the patterns that the Doors used in their epic "The End".

If you adore the great twin guitar bands of yore but desire them spruced up all clean and fresh for the age of Twitter this album by Chris Forsyth & The Solar Motel Band will bring joy to the tail end of 2014. All in all unadulterated guitar heaven.


ROCK JAW HYDRA V2 In Ear Headphone
ROCK JAW HYDRA V2 In Ear Headphone
Price: £39.99

4.0 out of 5 stars ROCK JAW HYDRA V2 - Passes the "Fire-starter" test, 24 Nov 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Product received for free

All headphones should be forced to submit to the Prodigy test. That is the ability to play "Fire-starter" whilst ensuring that the bass doesn't becoming a pounding dull thud requiring two paracetamols as the listeners brain is pummelled into submission. For the price involved the ROCK JAW HYDRA V2 In Ear Headphones do justice to the music plus handle Liam Howlett and his merry bunch of wicked noise merchants very well. Granted there are brands out there where you can detect a small insect circling the studio at a hundred paces on some tracks; but these do fine. They also look very nice and clearly someone in this company decided to hire an designer with some flare to make them aesthetically pleasing and also very comfortable. Another sure sign of quality is that my son has already purloined them. We ceased the use of the spoken word when he received a pair of Steinheisers as a present some two years ago. With these new Rock Jaw Hydra there is no sense that conversation will improve at any point in the near future. So there we go both the "Fire- starter" and teenage delinquent test passed.


Eternity Dimming
Eternity Dimming
Price: £12.68

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Frontier Ruckus - Frozen lakes, swaying trees and highway lights glowing, 17 Nov 2014
This review is from: Eternity Dimming (Audio CD)
Frontier Ruckus should be feted by all music lovers of good taste and are one of those puzzling bands which demand the question "why aren't they famous". Hailing from Michigan they are a cross between Neutral Milk Hotel and Sufjan Stevens singing alt country. They comprise David Jones, Zachary Nichols, Anna Burch and the remarkable Matthew Milla. The latter's lyrical intensity puts to shame the poor efforts of this years simple rhyming of rock veterans like Neil Young and Ryan Adams. Milla sometimes cannot seem to pack his songs with enough words with Rolling Stone highlighting them as being "full of rich, rural details: frozen lakes, swaying trees, highway lights glowing in the deep night...a perfect recipe for Gothic Americana"

This reviewer would advise the new listener to head first to the previous release in bands catalogue "Deadmalls & Nightfalls" a work of quiet genius not least the incredible "Pontiac:The Nightbrink" with Davey Jones lovely banjo accompaniment and fan favourite "Nerves of the Nightmind". 2013's "Eternity Dimming" makes more sense in light of its predecessor where Milla was given full reign to stretch out on a double with an expansiveness that may intimate a lesser songwriter and lead to the accusation of self indulgence. Infact the whole album is packed with great songs and minimal filler. Opener "Eyelasses" does have echoes of Ben Gibbard and is a fantastic start. Equally the closer "Careening Catalog Immemorial," Milia manages to pen one of the best Conor Oberst song you've never heard not least the amusing line "I was a queer balladeer, so proud of our mini-van,". In between are tracks like the glorious "Granduncles of St. Lawrence County, the pure country of "Open it up", the echoes of the Band on the title track and the sterling double punch of the acoustic perfection of "In Protection of Sylvan Manor" and "Dealerships," where Milla's sad voice holds sway and his thousands of words just pour out.

It is certainly the case if a wise hand could have been placed on Milla's shoulder and some advice about "less is more" uttered this would have been a more coherent album. Some tracks like "Funeral Family Flowers" detract rather than add, and any song called "Surgery" demands to be cut. And yet why should this stream-of-consciousness be silenced or constrained? For those looking for something different and outsized, here it is. This is a band musically busting a gut and occasionally failing, plus a songwriter who words overflow the edge of the vinyl. Try this great band out first on the single album "Deadmalls & Nighfalls" from 2010 then graduate to this messy but wonderful double. Their new album "Sitcom Afterlife" is also imminent and the preview tracks suggest a treat in store.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 24, 2014 10:24 PM GMT


Lost On The River
Lost On The River
Price: £12.99

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The New Basement Tapes - Lo and Behold!, 17 Nov 2014
This review is from: Lost On The River (Audio CD)
In the past month the six disc legendary sessions that Bob Dylan and the Band recorded in the inspirational Big Pink Basement in 1967 have become the key "target" for discerning music lovers with the delivery date being December 25th. In the meantime here is another project drawn from that plentiful source. "Lost on the River - The New Basement Tapes" owes it genesis to a phone call from Dylan's publishers to that former member of the Rolling Thunder Revue and red hot producer T Bone Burnett. Having found a box of Dylan lyrics from those sessions he was requested to arrange these and set them to music. He has also managed to bring together a modern super group to perform these songs.

The musicians include Elvis Costello, Marcus Mumford, My Morning Jacket's Jim James, Dawes lead singer Taylor Goldsmith and Rhiannon Gibbons from he Carolina Chocolate Drops. The latter takes the lead on a spirited "Duncan and Jimmy" a sort of Appalachian power ballad full of brilliant instrumentation and a great vocal from Giddens. She is even better on the traditional sounding "Spanish Mary" and emerges from this exercise with real kudos. Goldsmith alternatively is a great musician but plays it rather straight and in doing so loses the essence of Dylan. "Florida Key" is essentially a song that could have appeared on any Dawes album. It is certainly nice and lovelorn, but its difficult to make a Dylan connection. The same critique could be applied to "Liberty Street" which owes more to Jackson Browne although this song is a grower. Interestingly Elvis Costello reinterprets it on the deluxe edition to greater hard rocking effect in "Six Months in Kansas City (Liberty Street)". Throughout his contributions tend to evoke the ramshackle nature of the original Basement tapes with "Married to my Hack" a rough and ready mediation which sounds like it has been filtered through the much later "Cold Irons Bound". However Costello's dullish take on the title track "Lost on the River #12" is no match for the much more soulful and powerful performance that Giddens gives on the #20 version of the deluxe edition

The contribution of Jim James is rock solid. His superb opener "Down on the bottom" is a standout mixing Dylan's lyrics with an almost Roy Orbison backdrop. Equally the punchy "Quick as a Flash" sees the whole band tightly pulling together to back a raspy James vocal. Whilst "Hidee Hidee Ho #11" is not the greatest Dylan lyric ever, the slow blues swing of the song is perfectly constructed. Finally Marcus Mumford is not out of place here and its good to see him moving on from Nu folk. His "Kansas City' with Goldsmith is a fine song with a big chorus, while the much slower "When I get hands on You" is a track you would love Dylan himself to road test.

On balance this album is well in credit and it is a fascinating exercise. Granted on times it does lack coherence and sometimes the sum of the parts are greater than the whole. The star turns in particular from Giddens, James and Costello stand out, although no one does a disservice. "Lost on the River- The New Basement Tapes" like Dylan's own act of retro fitting on Hank Williams "Lost Notebooks" is an excellent piece of musical refurbishment.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 21, 2014 11:18 PM GMT


Sings Christmas Carols
Sings Christmas Carols
Price: £7.49

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mark Kozelek - Takes Christmas and turns it into a problem, 16 Nov 2014
It has been an strange year for Mark Kozelek which has not been assisted by his own increasingly curmudgeonly outbursts. Indeed the prospect of a Christmas album from him is somewhat ironic in light of his Scrooge like behavior of late. Granted in 2014 he has recorded a brilliant album in "Benji" full of his most personal reflections and sadness. Yet he has also started a ongoing row with Philadelphia rock titans War on Drugs arising from a festival where a "sound bleed" from Adam Granduciel and Co drowned out some of Kozelek's quieter acoustics. Kozelek has reacted by recording the now infamous if largely humorous "War on Drugs": Suck my Cxxx" and the horribly puerile "Adam Ganofsky Blues" which should now be the signal for him to move on and concentrate on music.

In light of this an album dedicated to traditional songs of the season of goodwill will at least confirm his status as a contrarian. It was planned before the feud broke out and sees Kozelek taking these well known carols and giving them an "Admiral Fell Promises" style treatment. He infuses them with wintry melancholy and underpins them with a rolling, almost Flamenco like guitar. When they work produces it results in tracks of real crystal beauty. Check out the wondrous version of "Christmas Time is Here" the choral number from A Charlie Brown Christmas, written by Vince Guaraldi. In a spoken passage during the song a Linus like character announces that "Mark, you're the only person I know who can take a wonderful season like Christmas and turn it into a problem". Others tracks include a gorgeous cover of Chrissie Hynde's "2000 Miles" and Greg Lake's "I believe in Father Christmas".

There is however a problem with the album namely that he can make any song sound like a song that Mark Kozelek has written. His styling patterns and voice are such that it sometimes feels like a pastiche of a Kozelek album with the workmanlike versions of "Hark the Herald Angels" and "God rest you merry gentleman". Equally if you want straight covers of "Silent Night" or "The Christmas Song" buy Frank Sinatra or Nat King Cole for the definitive product. Consequently this is nice album. It does provide an alternative to more mainstream artists and some of the songs here are of things of beauty. "Sings Christmas Carols" is certainly much better than the Xmas abomination put out by Bob Dylan a while back, but ultimately it's a musical egg nog, a mixture of sweet and sour.


Lonely In A Crowded Room
Lonely In A Crowded Room
Price: £9.63

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Pegi Young & The Survivors - The "Unknown Legend" takes front stage, 10 Nov 2014
Pegi Young has been in the news recently because of her estrangement from Neil Young. What seemed like the perfect rock pairing have split after 36 years, which is clearly a matter for them and them alone. What is important is that Pegi is a very fine musician and frankly its about time that the talent in the former Young household is recognised as extending beyond one man. Indeed "Lonely in a Crowded Room" is in many respects a far more spirited affair than the lacklustre "Storytone" where Pegi Young's impeccable R&B voice is in fine form. In the "Survivors" she also has a top class backing band made up of longtime cohorts keyboardist Spooner Oldham, guitarist Kelvin Holly, and drummer Phil Jones, as well as the great Rick Rosas who sadly died recently and backing vocalists Paula and Charlene Holloway.

"Lonely in Crowded Room" is a very nice album. Young has a smoky, dusky voice that is tailor made for for this type of punchy country rock as evidenced on the excellent opener "I be Weary" which is underpinned by a great vocal and tough lyrics. Certainly parts of the album resonate with the anguish of lost love, not least her cover of the Bob Luman's hit "Lonely women make good lovers" and the poignant soul of her cover of Irma Thomas's "Ruler of my heart". Perhaps the best of the lot is the tough rock n roll of "Feels like a Memory" which has echoes of Rosanne Cash and which you should head to as the starting point for downloads. Interestingly Pegi Young is a staunch environmentalist and in "Better livin' through chemicals" she eschews the simplistic green cliches of Neil Young's "Who's going to stand up" for a funky jazz-blues indictment of the pharmaceutical industry which lands its punches with ease. Finally the gorgeous restraint of "In my dreams" shows that the late Dusty Springfield's influence continues to great effect with a slinky louche blues standard that oozes class. Overall while no new ground is broken on this album, it does it job well in terms of delivering a fine mix of soulful tear jerkers to swingy jazz.

Inevitably "Lonely in a crowded room" will be viewed through the prism of the Young's divorce. Yet Pegi Young is a musician who has paid her dues, has her own clear identity and on the evidence of this album deserves much more deep musical respect, particularly now that the long shadow of her ex husband is receding, allowing in turn her own bright light to shine through.


Marigolden
Marigolden
Price: £12.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Field Report - Heartbreak and Enchantment, 10 Nov 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Marigolden (Audio CD)
Field Report's debut captured a mood of wintry heartbreak set to lush acoustics and Chris Porterflield's distinctive Mid Western voice. Porterfield was in the mythical Wisconsin band DeYarmond Edison, the group famously known for featuring Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and members of Megafaun. Porterfield looked for a while to be the one who would be labelled as the "underachiever", however good things come to those who wait and following the debut's quiet success its time for the follow up.

In many respects "Marigolden" is a very different sounding album. Part of this stems from a fuller production plus liberal use of synthesizer and drum machine. On first listens it does jar slightly as the previously hushed quiet acoustics that predominated on the debut are now filled with more pulses and intricate percussion. Thus opener "Decision Day" whilst lacking the sheer joy de vivre of "Fergus Falls" creeps up on the listener and reveals itself as a splendid slice of Americana. The exuberant "Home" could become one of those anthems frequently picked up by travellers longing for their spiritual motherland. It starts with bubbling synths and Porterfield's warm voice announces "Cold snapped like a coiled spring/You can feel the frost is coming on/We are marigolden - dropping orange and umber/Just barely holding on". Other songs are quieter not least the achingly sad piano ballad "Ambrosia". The title track is also a melancholy wonder although it is the sheer emotional punch of "Pale Rider" dealing with the tragic loss of a child that rips at your heart. The especially poignant lines “Now you’re cantering crooked and screaming at the wind/ And shooting off flare guns in memory of the kid/ His birthday was yesterday, he would have been six/ Oh my God, I am so sorry” will trouble the hardest heart. The sad closer "Enchainment" shows that "less is more" for Porter's sad songs and this ghostly acoustic lament is a fitting end to an excellent album.

This album is perhaps not quite as accessible on first listens as its predecessor, but stick with it, let is creep up on and suddenly you are humming tunes and wondering how they have invaded your consciousness like an army on manoeuvres. "Marigolden' is an album just waiting for the frost to grip and the first outbreak of snow. Porterfield may need to expand his sonic palette further in the future but for now this an intoxicating beauty of a record.


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