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Ellis Auditorium Memphis April 30th 1974 (Live FM Radio Broadcast Concert In Superb Fidelity / Remastered)
Ellis Auditorium Memphis April 30th 1974 (Live FM Radio Broadcast Concert In Superb Fidelity / Remastered)
Price: £8.49

4.0 out of 5 stars Steely Dan - Complete the journey to the studio, 16 Dec 2014
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Steely Dan are amongst that privileged elite of musicians which include The Beatles and Brian Wilson, who gave up touring at a certain point in their career to become the masters of studio perfection and release albums so good that they defined an era. In the case of Walter Becker and Donald Fagan the obsessive search for the "right cut" would see them use 42 musicians on the 1980s album "Gaucho" with its title track drum backdrop assembled from 46 different takes.

This live recording from Ellis Auditorium Memphis April 30th 1974 is taken from a live FM Radio Broadcast Concert which has been remastered. It draws on the bands album "Can't buy a thrill" "Countdown to Ecstasy" and "Pretzel Logic", The sound quality is very heavy on the bass and the description of it as "superb fidelity" is pushing it as on times the balance of the sound mix is often messy. What it usefully achieves is to presents the band in the raw demonstrating that they were a fine live act not least with the brilliant guitar work of Jeff "Skunk" Baxter giving them a nice hard blues edge on tracks like the Dan favourite "Pretzel Logic". This reviewer was never a fan of the original vocalist David Palmer who had left the band by the time this tour occurred. Here percussionist Royce Jones takes on a number of songs not least "Brooklyn owes a charmer", "Dirty Work" and sadly a very strained vocal "My old school" which does not hold a candle to the studio versions and in particular Fagan's sneering vocal on the latter track. The highlights inevitably come on standards where Becker and Fagan take control not least a brilliant "Rikki don't lose that number" and a rocking "Bodhisattva" where Baxter's jazzy runs are a thing of wonder, whilst in addition the ever dependable Kenny Diaz plays a key role. In addition the short instrumental here is actually the opening segment of the later "Your Gold Teeth II" from "Katy Lied". The funky cynicism of "Do it Again" still sounds great after all these years although a warning as this version does include a short drum workout! "Reelin' in the years" alternatively has perhaps become such a bar band classic that even a different take on it doesn't really add that much. It is great however to hear a wonderfully sleazy "Showbiz kids" and the rare "This all too mobile home" which would have fitted nicely on "Pretzel Logic"

Overall none of the versions on this live album surpass the meticulous studio cuts, many of which have been subject to some very recent remasterings, not least the pristine 2014 version of "Countdown". Ellis Auditorium however is a historical document of a band about to retreat into the studio and not emerge for decades. This is Steely Dan "warts an all" demonstrating the bands strengths and failings. It is well worth investigation.

Other People's Songs
Other People's Songs
Price: £10.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Owen - Mike Kinsella's careful covers, 10 Dec 2014
This review is from: Other People's Songs (Audio CD)
All cover albums have a pick'n' mix quality, with artists often going for famous songs that are so familiar that alternative versions inevitably suffer. Others take lesser known songs, often from unexpected genres (in this case "emo"), and somehow manage to define an approach which is much more worthwhile. Mike Kinsella is a veteran of various Ohio bands and records in a nice lo fi fashion including using the home of his mother as a studio.

Under the nomenclature Owen he has produced an album fitting to the current wintry mood made up of songs from obscure bands like Lungfish ("Descender"), Mojave 3 ("Some kinda angel") and Blake's Babes ("Girl in a box). clocking in at 30 minutes this is an economical but worthy album which grows on every listen. The cover of hard rock band Against Me's "Borne On The FM Waves Of The Heart" is particularly beautiful with the soft strains of Sarah Mitchell's voice on backing vocals. Equally the more cheery pop tune of the album comes in the form of a cover of the Promise's "Forget Me" which has a nice light, airy feel. perhaps best of all is one of the more well known songs covered, namely Depeche Mode's "Judas" which as one of that bands simpler tracks is now completely stripped back by Kinsella.

As stated at 30 minutes this is not a particularly demanding listen, although the covers here do send you back to compare with the originals and the outcome is generally positive. The fact that many of the songs make no claim to fame in the first place also is a positive as Kinsella's choices flow easily and there is a unified whole that binds this work together.

11/18/72  Hofheinz Pavilion, Houston TX [VINYL]
11/18/72 Hofheinz Pavilion, Houston TX [VINYL]
Price: £50.36

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Grateful Dead - Texas thunder, 10 Dec 2014
This album was put on on vinyl release by the Grateful Dead as this years Record Store Day offering. Sadly a turntable no longer plays a part in music playing in this household so it was pleasing to see the Hofheinz Pavilion, Houston, Texas concert (11/18/72) released as a single CD over on the bands official website. Can this reviewer thank a good American friend in the beautiful city of Charleston in the Palmetto State for this copy.

This is the second set from the concert in question and stems from a golden period for Deadheads when the band were at their absolute prime. It is the same era effectively committed to vinyl in Dicks Picks Volume 11 which captures the previous nights show at Wichita in Kansas. The undoubted highlight here is by far the best version of "Playing in the Band" ever captured. It extends to over 25 minutes and sees Garcia, Weir and Lesh open up into a free form jam of impeccable quality. Phil Lesh in particular is awesome throughout the record and this song captured on a a "single side" is worth the price of admission alone. The good news is that in a relatively short package of music by Dead standards there is plenty of interest here in great versions of other standards. The extended "He's Gone" is towering and has a groove so wicked it should be X Rated. The opener "Bertha" is pure gold with Garcia's singing at his best. Granted there are better versions of "Sugar Magnolia" but this is perfectly fine, so to the languid "Jack Straw".

In honesty the asking price for the vinyl seems prohibitive and for nearly £60 quid there are plenty of better Dead live albums out there. Indeed you could fork out the same amount of money and get fuller representative samples from across phases of the Grateful Dead. Thus you might wish to consider the brilliant "Ladies And Gentlemen... The Grateful Dead: Fillmore East, New York City, April 1971', add in the recent "Wake Up To Find Out: Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, Ny 3/29/1990 Box set" and possibly one of the greatest live albums ever "Live Dead 1969, Original recording remastered". All these can be purchased for under the asking price for the Houston concert. Alternatively if you are a Dead completist this Texas concert is of high quality and can be purchased from the Dead's Website on CD for a much cheaper asking price.

Carte Noire No.6 Lungo Nespresso Compatible Coffee Capsules 56 g (Pack of 4)
Carte Noire No.6 Lungo Nespresso Compatible Coffee Capsules 56 g (Pack of 4)
Price: £10.23

3.0 out of 5 stars Carte Noire No.6 Capsules - The triumph of packaging over flavour, 30 Nov 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Product received for free

Those of you who own a cat will know that once you feed the old moggy a certain brand of food they tend to get rather snotty about any other brand. The same appears to be occurring in this household for the many alternatives to the expensive but truly wonderful Nespresso brand. It is the Bentley or Rolls Royce of coffee capsules and even attempts to make a "decent BMW" does not come up to scratch. So it is with these Carte Noire capsules. They work nicely in the machine although they are a bit slow and they generally taste fine. Yet where is the wonderful aroma of the originals and that taste that hooks you more effectively that Walt's crystal meth recipe in Breaking Bad?

Carte Noire have clearly decided withe these to put the emphasis on the packaging than the flavour. Indeed the sheer weight of unnecessary plastic wrapped around the 10 individual capsules, all contained in a box with glossy presentation ought to lead to some reflection that there has been a recycling revolution in the UK over the past ten years and this sort of showy extravagance actually puts purchasers off. Overall then these are decent capsules but if you want the best sadly you need to pay more for the originals.

Henry VIII (Penguin Monarchs): The Quest for Fame
Henry VIII (Penguin Monarchs): The Quest for Fame
by John Guy
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.68

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Henry VIII - John Guy's short study of "England's Nero", 25 Nov 2014
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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 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
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 15, 2014 3:34 PM GMT

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: £29.99

19 of 21 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 end of a "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".

Ultimately it is 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.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 4, 2014 9:39 AM GMT

Price: £11.65

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
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. It was a record where dual guitar interplay hit heights hereto not scaled 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

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