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The Basement Tapes Complete: The Bootleg Series Vol. 11
The Basement Tapes Complete: The Bootleg Series Vol. 11
Price: £89.02

24 of 28 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good but really essential ?, 5 Nov. 2014
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It's become clear over the last few weeks from the early magazine and newspaper reviews of this product that you have to give it five stars. I imagine most reviewers decided that before even hearing it and given the restrictions imposed on those wishing to pre-review it and the sheer quantity of material to listen to I'd further wager that most of the five star reviewers haven't heard it - not in its entirety anyway. I'd also stick my neck out further and imagine that most people who purchase this wont listen to it either. This is one for the completists and obsessives who simply must own everything the man has ever produced regardless of whether he ever intended it to be widely heard. And here lies one of the problems of this release. A set of poor-quality recordings from almost 50 years ago that were never meant to be released has become one of popular music's most sought after Holy Grails, so sought-after in fact that you can charge pretty much anything you like for it. Sought after as commodity and historical document rather than as something to be listened to and enjoyed I'd suggest.

I know the Bootleg Series has a reputation for fleecing the completists and obsessives (the standard double-CD and papery booklet package costs you £18, the extra disc and better quality book adds £80 to the bill) but this release seems particularly cynical. To drum up additional business for this one it's been declared a limited edition so in effect you've got to buy it now or you might miss it. So if upwards of 16 quid a disc seems expensive to you now, imagine how bad you'll feel if you miss out and have to pay some low-life who invested in five copies £500 for your piece of the action…. Ah those marketing guys...It's almost as if they're in cahoots with the aforementioned low-life.

And as for the quality of the music - well, as I said, it was never meant to be heard. This is a band (The Band) messing around in a basement with a rudimentary recording mechanism set up hoping to catch the good ideas. There was no album release in mind - it was about fun, recuperation and playing music for the sheer joy of playing music. Equally, this being Dylan and The Band many of those ideas are very good indeed (hence my fours stars for the music). The original officially released Basement Tapes double CD probably makes my top 10 Dylan albums - so it's good - any Dylan top-ten is rarified territory. It doesn't match the undisputed greatness of Highway, Blonde, Blood, Bringing but it's vying for mid-table alongside Wesley, Desire, Freewhelin', et al, certainly a cut above knocked out, Self Portrait, Blood Red and anything he's done in the last decade or so. Pare it down from a double to a single album and you've got quite a decent release…. True of most double albums as a rule. Especially true of six CD sets….

And finally, a word on motivation. Of course the motivation in releasing this is a pure one - to make available forever at a reasonable price, so everyone can share in its greatness, one of the "seminal recordings of all time". Why else would anyone with Dylan's reputation and legacy in mind have gone to the trouble of re-mastering, re-packaging and re-publicising this collection ? And you've bought this because you buy into that and believe the price is reasonable don't you? ...what's that? Overpriced by £50 but you just had to have it ?
Comment Comments (8) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 9, 2014 5:24 PM GMT

The Three Degrees
The Three Degrees
by (Music journalist) Paul Rees
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £20.00

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's not just about the football, 22 July 2014
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This review is from: The Three Degrees (Hardcover)
One of the least enjoyable eras of English football; an era of plummeting attendances, mud-bath pitches, terrace violence and the ongoing failure of the national team to qualify for international tournaments was briefly illuminated by the unlikely emergence of "Big" Ron Atkinson's West Bromwich Albion team. Containing as it did the meteoric talents of Batson, Regis and Cunningham, three black players in an age when to see one non-white player in a side was something of a novelty, this side really stood out as much for the swashbuckling style with which it played (with Cunningham pulling most of the strings) as for the colour of its players' skin.

A dour and uninspiring time for English football was mirrored in our society with industrial unrest, urban decay and a constant undercurrent of racism as the nation struggled to come to terms with the growing multiculturalism of its population. In this excellent book Paul Rees weaves these strands together expertly, always placing events on the pitches at The Hawthorns and elsewhere in cultural and political context. The bananas thrown at the black West Brom players at pretty much every away ground were echoed on the streets with more lethal projectiles as the National Front paraded in Britain's towns and cities every weekend. As befits a music journalist of his standing, Rees rarely misses a beat in the cultural context either, focusing on the emergence of black reggae and the black / white Ska bands emerging in the cities of the West Midlands ; music was changing too and the links between music and football are illustrated frequently here.

Some of the racism experienced by Cunningham and co is shocking to the modern reader and particularly I suspect to those who didn't watch football during this blighted era - it has the power to shock in the way that certain elements of the Mad Men TV series can: cultural norms of the time with the ability to astonish today. We have neatly buried those memories and it is uncomfortable to rake over them but Rees does so expertly in order to provide a visceral and painful insight into the ordeals that these players went through each week.

I suspect that most of those who buy this book will be West Brom fans looking to reminisce about a golden period in the club's history but it deserves much more than that. In its widest context this is a social and cultural history of Britain at a turning point in its history and particularly what those changes meant for the black and multi-ethnic communities in our provincial cities. Highly recommended.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 28, 2014 6:51 PM BST

Price: £27.06

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful but a little puzzling, 18 Jun. 2013
This review is from: Retrospective (Audio CD)
Through seven studio albums and a compilation of acoustic versions of album tracks Peter Bruntnell has proved himself to be one of the very finest songwriters ever to come out of the British music scene, certainly the very best that most people have never heard of. When I heard about this CD I assumed that it would be a kind of "best of" to put right the wrongs of the aforementioned neglected brilliance and put the man's finest work out in a belated bid for at least a fraction of the commercial success he richly deserves.

Not a bit of it though. It's almost as though Bruntnell is a little uneasy at the prospect of fame and reasonable amounts of cash coming his way. This collection, excellent as it is, because he is simply incapable of making a bad record, seems to wilfully exclude the finest of his output, instead plumping for the most part for less heralded tracks that, on the original albums represent the interludes between the masterpieces. I've been listening to Bruntnell for over a decade and there are only a couple of tracks here that I would have selected for a career retrospective. It's worth highlighting some bizarre omissions and puzzling inclusions. The title tracks of Normal For Bridgewater (shortened to NFB in the song), an alt-country masterpiece that saw Bruntnell garnering acclaim in the alt-country heartlands of the USA isn't here, the haunting and epic Ghost In a Spitfire from the album of the same name is similarly excluded. The two jaw-dropping masterpieces from the recent Black Mountain UFO album, the title track and Reggie Perrin don't make the cut yet three tracks (the most from any of his albums) from the least inspired of his albums "Ends of the Earth" are here....

This is a really good album, his lesser tracks knock those of most artists into a cocked hat, but it could have been considerably better. Highlights are the previously unreleased duet with Rumer on Played Out, the fantastic Little Lorelei and K2 from Ghost in a Spitfire along with the two selections from Peter and the Murder of Crows.

Recommended for Bruntnell fans as it will make them reconsider tracks they may have skipped over before and for newcomers to Bruntnell's music....but they must check out his other albums too. The recent, Black Mountain UFO would make an excellent starting point.

Dead & Born & Grown [Digipack]
Dead & Born & Grown [Digipack]
Offered by 5-star-media
Price: £7.73

35 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding debut, 13 Nov. 2012
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Plenty has been written about the harmonies which are unfailingly lovely throughout this album. Harmonies, or any musicianship, without the underlying songs to support them are pretty pointless so I'm pleased to announce that the songs here are strong themselves and would probably sound perfectly respectable without the aforementioned harmonies. The accompaniment is, for the most part subtle and mixed well down with a few notable exceptions where electric guitars, bass and drums kick in to great effect. The production on this album is as crisp and clear as you'd expect from the combination of Glyn and Ethan Johns and the girls have clearly decided not to drench the whole thing in reverb in the style of those other notable harmonisers The Fleet Foxes. Listen through headphones and the vocals sound as though they are being whispered in your ear which is, in my opinion, exactly as it should be when the vocals are the undisputed strong point of the band.

One very slight criticism of the album as a whole would be that there is a certain uniformity of mood and "feel" to these songs. It's all a bit safe, all a bit nice and even when the F word is used it is dropped into the song in a slightly apologetic way as though it were the only thing they could think of to rhyme with "luck". A very minor criticism though and it should not deter you from checking out this wonderful album. It's come from the same stable as Marling, Mumfords, Emmy, Noah, Flynn and co but in my opinion surpassed them all at the first attempt.

Gift For The End
Gift For The End
Price: £19.16

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Magical, mystical and delicate, 2 May 2012
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This review is from: Gift For The End (Audio CD)
Mariee Sioux is from the same small City in California that is home to both Alela Diane and Joanna Newsom. Like those luminaries of female alt-folk there is an individuality to Mariee Sioux's work which makes it stand out in a genre that is not exactly short of representation in the current music scene.

Not as outrageously talented as Newsom and not as strong-voiced as Diane (with whom she has collaborated), Mariee Sioux sticks to what she knows and does it very well. Her fingerpicking has a beautiful, soft fragility, barely there at times and augmented here by subtle yet evocative instrumentation with flute particularly to the fore. Her voice does not have the range evident on Alela Diane's recent recordings but it is nonetheless a sweet, highly melodic and beautifully controlled instrument, soft yet with a strength that sticks with you after you have finished listening to the album.

Her main point of interest though is the way she seems to evoke the myths and legends of native american culture and folklore in her understated but memorable songwriting. As on her debut, 2007's "Faces in the Rocks" there is a strong sense of Sioux's ancestry at play here with songs like "Ghosts In My Heart" and "Swimming Through Stone" the most striking examples of this. These are songs that have a mystical, hypnotic fascination, gently pulling the listener in and rewarding revisits as more secrets seem to be revealed with each subsequent listen.

This album wont tear up any trees. It's not really designed to do that, but let it enfold you and whisper beautifully to you a couple of times and you'll be glad you took a chance on it.

Animal Joy
Animal Joy
Price: £12.28

6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More grit, same depth, 9 Mar. 2012
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This review is from: Animal Joy (Audio CD)
Jonathan Meiburg, lead singer and songwriter of the Austin TX based Shearwater promised something a little different from this release and whilst there is no radical sea shift evident, listeners of the band's previous albums will notice a more muscular approach with loud guitars and more prominent drums dominating. On previous releases there was a little more room to breathe with Meiburg's piano leading many songs and Thor Harris's excellent percussion always subtle and varied beneath an array of diverse instruments including Kimberley Burke's airy and melodic double bass. On Animal Joy there is less space in the music making for a more claustrophobic listening experience and meaning that intensity is created by louder distorted guitar rather than the array of instruments prevalent on the likes of the last album, The Golden Archipelago.

Comparisons with Spirit of Eden era Talk Talk (a millstone around the band's neck courtesy of lazy journalists for a few years now) can well and truly be put to bed with this release. Whereas previously the lengthy instrumental passages using diverse instruments could indeed be compared to Mark Hollis's band, on Animal Joy we have an altogether rougher sound, much more like a conventional rock band playing short, concise numbers interspersed with feedback and strong bass (Burke seems to have shelved the double bass in favour of bass guitar for most of the songs on this album).

One thing that hasn't changed is the quality Meiburg's compositions and the breadth of the band's ambitions. From the opening Animal Joy with its joyful, soaring melody and thunderous drums we are in safe hands and as the album develops tune after tune reveal themselves with You as You Were and the closing Star of the Age standing out as particular highlights.

Highly recommended for fans of melodic and bookish indie rock.

Offered by MediaMerchants
Price: £9.29

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars High quality, radio friendly, 7 Mar. 2012
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This review is from: Voyageur (Audio CD)
Most reviews of this album have concentrated on the fact that its protagonist is, apart from being a fine singer/songwriter in her own right, in a relationship with Justin Vernon, the man behind Bon Iver. The important question then is, will this romantic and musical tryst have an effect on Kathleen Edwards the artist ? It's true that Mr Vernon's fingerprints are all over this album. He sings, plays guitar and other instruments but it's fair to say that die-hard fans of Bon Iver would be hard pushed to recognise his contributions as they do not really conform to any style he has previously presented on his records. It seems that he has chosen to fit in with the prevailing style of Edwards' previous work rather than imposing his own on the record and this comes as something of a relief to longer term fans of Edwards' work

The overriding impressions of the album is that this is a set of very well crafted, very radio friendly songs with tunes that will stay with the listener long after the CD has been ejected. It's not in any way a criticism to say that this music fits very neatly into the daytime Radio 2 formula; songs that have great hooks, tell stories but don't require too much cerebral effort. The opening "Empty Threat" typifies this style, bringing to mind the likes of (a gentler voiced) Neko Case combined with The Sundays "Here's where the story ends". And this is a style that prevails throughout. All is light and breezy, summery in many places but with enough distorted guitars and little lyrical weirdnesses to ensure that the sunlight doesn't fall into all the dark corners.

The highlight of the album "Change the sheets" comes on like Fleetwood Mac thrown into a room with Neko Case (again) and shows perhaps the most Bon Iverish touches on the album in the superb intro and main hook. A mention also for some of the slower numbers on the album. Edwards' voice and songwriting are at their most emotional on tracks like "House full of empty rooms'.

Nothing particularly radical here but superb adult-oriented songwriting combined with fine musicianship and one of the best voices you'll hear make for a very satisfying listen.

PJ Harvey: Let England Shake - 12 Short Films By Seamus Murphy [DVD] [2011] [NTSC]
PJ Harvey: Let England Shake - 12 Short Films By Seamus Murphy [DVD] [2011] [NTSC]
Dvd ~ Seamus Murphy
Price: £10.99

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lovely companion to the album of 2011, 21 Dec. 2011
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Such is the quality of PJ Harvey's masterpiece of war and national identity I had a few doubts about how a film maker might interpret the songs that make up this album - a wrong move or two could dilute the message of the songs or worse still, distract the viewer from the brilliance of the music. The challenge then for Murphy was to complement the music and not to overwhelm it whilst taking it to new and unexpected places. I believe he has achieved this brilliantly.

Potential purchasers need to know that these films are not in any way conventional music videos. We do not have extensive shots of Harvey and the band performing the songs althouh Polly Harvey does crop up throughout the films generally solo, playing autoharp or acoustic guitar in what looks like her front room. The sound recordings from these clips are played under the soundtrack but occassionaly Murphy brings the sound level up interspersing the solo acoustic recording with the album recording, often to great and spine tingling effect. But these films are not about PJ Harvey or the process of making and performing the album - they are very much a film maker's interpretation of the songs.

The bulk of the films show images captured by Murphy in his travels around England seeking to capture the essence of the album. Many of the images seem at first unrelated to the subject matter of the songs yet accompany the music perfectly. In the very first film Murphy shoots in an off-season fairground concentrating on a ride with tiny helicopters on a roundabout. Murphy seems fascinated by the way the toy rotor-blades turn slowly in the breeze and as Harvey sings "England's dancing days are done" somehow the metaphor of a closed down fair ride, well past its best and being moved by the elements rather than influencing its own environment is totally apt.

Elsewhere Murphy uses the English countryside as a stock subject often choosing shots of the same hill, tree or field in different weather conditions for variety. Many of the landscapes seem to have been filmed in Harvey's native Dorset whose rolling "white chalk hills" are incredibly photogenic in Murphy's hands. The message seems to be that we have an incredibly beautiful country in spite of all the obvious flaws and the violent and often repressive past of its people "the land is ploughed by tanks and feet, feet marching". The beauty of Murphy's photography in these rural passages is worth the purchase price of the DVD alone and somehow seems to go right to the core of what it is to be English in a way that even Harvey's lyrics don't achieve.

My favourite film in the series is that of "The Words That Maketh Murder". In a sequence halfway through the song Murphy uses footage of elderly people at a ballroom dance and, inappropriate as dancing seems for the subject matter of the song (war again!) the way in which the footage synchronises with the music making it appear that the subjects are actually dancing to the song combined with their serious expressions makes this sequence one of the most powerful on the whole DVD.

For such a serious album this could easily have proved a harrowing and disturbing watch but Murphy pitches his films in just the right place between reverence for the music and subject matter (shots of recent war victims seen through magnifying lenses in a couple of the films)and humour (Polly strumming through "The Words That Maketh Murder" on her autoharp and muttering "oh b*gger" as she hits a clanging wrong chord) making this a compelling and entertaining watch for lovers of the album. This is brilliant film making to sit alongside one of the finest albums made by a British artist. Highly recommended.

Let England Shake
Let England Shake
Price: £5.99

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The very best of this or any year, 8 Dec. 2011
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This review is from: Let England Shake (Audio CD)
I've lived with this album for almost a year and only the end of year accolades for it (Uncut and Mojo album of the year added to the Mercury Music Prize) prompted me to write a review simply because, for once I am fully in agreement with those who voted on these awards. Notable for the fact that for the most part the album was a unanimous favourite and for uniting journalists from a variety of musical backgrounds this album is something really special.

This is not only PJ Harvey's best album, the best album of 2011 by a country mile but I think it will be seen as one of the finest British rock albums of all time. It's difficult to place a finger on what exactly is so great about this album and perhaps it is a combination of many factors but key to its success is music that perfectly compliments the lyrics yet somehow (miraculously given the harrowing subject matter throughout) allows you to tap your foot and sing along as well as becoming absorbed in the stories told.

Harvey says things on this album that have not to my knowledge been said anywhere in any medium before - the assertion that England's land and people are not forged by culture, landscape or art but by war and battle for example, don't only make for an interesting and thoughtful listen but actually ring true.

Away from the lyrics and the study of what it is to be English another hugely successful feature of the album is Harvey's inspired use of samples, most notably drum tracks from the Police, a bugle from the Irish Guards and Niney the Observer's fabulous Blood and Fire sampled on Written on the Forehead. Without a single weakness this is a mighty achievement perfect musically, lyrically and in the cultural concepts it introduces. No serious music fan can be without it and listener's credibility as music lovers can reliably be assessed by whether or not they like this album.

50 Words for Snow
50 Words for Snow
Price: £7.99

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wintery and evocative, 25 Nov. 2011
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This review is from: 50 Words for Snow (Audio CD)
This is a concept album about snow and winter that arrives with a flurry of snow falling on forests and fields. The beautiful, evocative "Snowflake" encapsulates, over sparse, reverby piano and through twin vocals (Kate and her son Bertie's choirboy flasetto) the magical moments when snow begins to fall on the countryside.

We're a long way from the immediacy of earlier albums such as The Kick Inside and Hounds of Love here, although there are plenty of suggestions that the same talent that created those masterpieces is at work, usually through the piano phrasing and some of the lyrical oddities. Sex with a snowman, sightings of the yeti, talking snowflakes and 50 very odd words for snow are all here and only Kate Bush could get away with such strangeness and have it be seen as loveable eccentricity with genuine artistic merit rather than certifiable lunacy.

Primarily a piano album that evokes and suggests stories and scenes rather than painting them in great detail, this will not be everyone's cup of tea but for fans of Aerial and that album's slowly developed songs there is plenty here to enjoy as the sometimes impenetrable songs slowly reveal their secrets. Not a 5 star album by any means but just about worthy of a 4 for fans of Kate's later material.

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