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Jim O'Donoghue (UK)
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The Rough Guide to Rock
The Rough Guide to Rock
by Jonathan Buckley
Edition: Paperback

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Buy it where you see it!, 16 Jan. 2009
The third and, presumably, final edition of The Rough Guide to Rock is already a little dated. But then why would you need another description of Duffy's album or Amy Winehouse's hairdo? The Guide is an excellent place to stumble across records that have been forgotten or were always obscure. I had never realised that David McComb made a solo album, for example - and who or what were Danielle Dax or Eg and Alice? When you look these things up you find an entry written by a fan, someone who has not just done his research by forcing himself to listen to all the albums of Judas Priest while doing the washing up but genuinely loves Judas Priest and wants you to love them, too! That said, he will still tell you honestly when he thinks Judas Priest underachieved. There are times, of course, when you find yourself disagreeing violently with an opinion. Can anyone really think that Springsteen's The River is full of 'weak ballads'? But because it is written by people who have some personal involvement in the material and not by some weary and embittered old hack, the tone of this Guide never descends to that of the dreadful Time Out film guides, for example, with all their supercilious snarliness.

The Guide gives no indepth study of punk or heavy metal, of course - that is why it has been discontinued in favour of the individual genre guides. But for someone who listens to music without thinking too much of genre boundaries, who is as likely to put on a Stevie Wonder lp as something by the Go-Betweens, this is a great book to have in your shelves. Keep scanning the thrift shops!


Struck By Lightning
Struck By Lightning
Offered by the_record_factory
Price: £6.95

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Camberwell Americana at its hottest, 16 Jan. 2009
This review is from: Struck By Lightning (Audio CD)
I stumbled on this lp in the local library and have listened to it sporadically over the years, having 'downloaded' it onto a C90 cassette. It's a fine collection of songs, meshed together into a glowing tribute to a kind of pastoral American life - the kind evoked on Van Morrison's Tupelo Honey. But when Graham Parker sings about Children and Dogs or The Boy With the Butterfly Net, you know he has seen those things with his own eyes. There is the same sharpness to his lyrics as there was in Howling Wind, Squeezing Out Sparks or The Up Escalator, but mellowed by a life you can almost visualise, listening to this album - a house in the middle of nowhere, opening onto a field at the back, with a forest and a stream somewhere near.

The band are good, too. At one point, it really is The Band, with Garth Hudson - as far as I remember from liner notes glimpsed long ago - playing the accordion. The musicians mesh in the way The Rumour did. For me, the non-stop acoustic guitars begin to sound a little pallid after half an hour, but at least the first half of the album is as good as anything he has ever done. Graham Parker has a voice that seems to talk to you, personally - which is rarer than it should be, in these days of chilly cool.


Between Thought & Expression
Between Thought & Expression

8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A clumsy round-up of a dodgy back catalogue, 15 Jan. 2009
Box sets can be cumbersome or they can act like a jukebox devoted to a single artist. In the case of this, the only largescale Lou Reed anthology, the jukebox effect is undermined by problems with song selection and ordering. It would be difficult to arrange Lou's 70s and early 80s highlights out of chronological order, due to the differences in production and ambience between the albums. Bowie's work on Transformer, for example, is neat and tight and sounds nothing like Bob Ezrin's rockist treatments on Berlin. Then there is the unfortunate fact that, as the 70s wore on, Lou Reed showed less and less concern with the way the band sounded behind him, arriving at the tired, possibly whacked-out session musician sound of Growing Up In Public.

Then there is the up and down nature of Lou's back catalogue. This compilation comes to a halt before the significant revival that New York and Magic and Loss represent and so grinds to a halt in the midst of some seriously mediocre early 80s songwriting. The tracklisting here was made by Lou himself - or that is certainly how it looks. Certain songs included here, such as My House, are simply inept, and see him striving for something that seems to recede the more he reaches for it - in both musical and lyrical terms. The box set title (not to be confused, incidentally, with the book of lyrics of the same name) taken from a line from a Velvets song, points to Lou's pretensions to something more than just a writer of pop music. It's when he gets these ideas in his head - that he has to do more than just write a pop song, that he must do something meaningful - that his songwriting tends to fall apart.

Lou's distrust of his pop prowess see him deliberately exclude Perfect Day and Sally Can't Dance, as well as a lowkey chestnut such as Bottoming Out. While he includes half of his beloved Berlin, he skips through other projects. Inevitably, nuggets turn up now and again, such as the oddly touching outtake from Take No Prisoners, Here Comes the Bride, one of the few rarities on the three discs. It is good to have in one place Street Hassle and Coney Island Baby, both wonderful in their own way. Some of the tracks picked from the lesser lps, such as Teach the Gifted Children, The Gun and My Friend George, are well worth having. Three songs come from the awful Rock and Roll Heart album - and, strangely, outside the context of the original lp, they sound great. It is a shame that the opportunity wasn't used to detach more gems from the dross.

Anyone wanting a Lou Reed compilation will presumably head for NYC Man, as they should. You have to hope that one day someone a little more objective will put together a more satisfying Lou Reed box set.


Dark Avenues (Oneworld Modern Classics) (Oneworld Classics)
Dark Avenues (Oneworld Modern Classics) (Oneworld Classics)
by Ivan Alekseevich Bunin
Edition: Paperback

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The last White Russian, 15 Jan. 2009
I believe I am right in thinking that this is the first complete edition of Dark Avenues in English. A few years ago I bought the Hyperion edition, which contains only a selection of the tales. In some ways, the selective approach works well with Dark Avenues, whose subject is remarkably narrow. How many stories can you read about listless Russian aristocrats falling in love with peasant girls or daughters of the house?

On the other hand, the scale of Ivan Bunin's dedication to the Dark Avenues project, as laid out in this complete edition, is quite astonishing. It must have been very painful for him to sit in wartime France, by then an old man, and recall in beautiful, infinite, fabulous detail the sound of birds, the smell of gardens and the corners of lace tablecloths in pre-revolutionary Russia. The real wonder of these stories lies not so much in the narrative itself but in the way Bunin conjures up, across that distance in time and space, the circumstances of lives long ago made unlivable by politics. Neither the men nor the women in these stories have much of a presence compared to the surface of a lake at night, for example, the moon being covered in clouds or the dark avenues themselves.

This edition features a useful mini-biography of Bunin, as well as the inclusion of Dark Avenues in its original Russian. The translation is perhaps a little functional, but you can at least hear a more beautiful language whispering beneath it.


Empty Glass: Deluxe Edition
Empty Glass: Deluxe Edition
Offered by jim-exselecky
Price: £12.99

14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Missing Who LP, 15 Jan. 2009
I confess that I don't own the deluxe edition of this CD - I can't justify buying it as I already have it on CD and on a vinyl copy bought when the album was released. This is a fine set of songs, consistently surprising in its switches between delicacy and muscularity, tenderness and bitterness, anger and wit. Rather confusingly, the songs on Empty Glass are more engaging than those on Who Are You or Face Dances, the two Who albums that come before and after it. Perhaps this is down to the heavy personal touch: there is a clear sense with this solo album that, for the first time, Townsend is writing for himself and about himself. There are hints at confused sexuality in And I Moved, I Am an Animal and Rough Boys - the last song a strange paeon to punk, sounding both older brotherly and lustful. Let My Love Open the Door is a very snappy little pop song and Just A Little Is Enough, with its swathes of synths and big drums, a scary and uplifting love song.

Then there is the reference to Keith Moon's death in Jools and Jim, a character assasination attempt on a couple of music journalists. Kenny Jones plays the drums for part of this album, as he does on Face Dances. Otherwise, the instruments are played by Townsend along with some seventies stalwarts. There is not a great deal of his guitar, all in all, just as there was little of it on the Who albums that lead up to this album. But there is a drummer-led thrashiness in places that is recognisably Who.

It is odd how soundly Townsend entered the 80s with this album, only to fade away quickly when the 80s got into their stride. If you like the Who and have never heard this, you will be very pleasantly surprised.
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SQUEEZING OUT SPARKS
SQUEEZING OUT SPARKS
Price: £5.99

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Spiky blue guitars and thorny hooks, 14 Jan. 2009
This review is from: SQUEEZING OUT SPARKS (Audio CD)
This is a great, neglected album, beautifully paced with not a dull moment. Unlike anything else that he did before or after it, Squeezing has none of the Van Morrison-style pastiche R&B effects of GP's previous lps. Nor does it sound like the Springsteen-style affairs that immediately follow it. Instead, it has a hard new wave sheen, not too far away from The Only Ones or even Television, strewn with spiky guitars and great drumming. The man who does the singing wears an angry smile, and there are lyrics to match - words that capture a moment when hedonism and protest collided, joyous and cynical at the same time. The funny, angry rush of a song like Protection has the kind of frenzied attack that only the Clash could really match. You Can't Be Too Strong, on the other hand, draws you in with its gentleness and empathy, into a situation that becomes more real with every line.

This is GP's greatest strength - the ability to make it sound as if he is talking, almost, about something that happened yesterday. On Squeezing, he combines his slightly gawky warmth with a headlong approach; we hurtle through song after song, anticipating the moment when the brilliance must come to an end but never reaching it. Alongside GP's tireless singing, Brinsley Schwartz's fantastic guitar playing is perhaps the key. No longer backed by horns, fully exposed, he snaps and crackles.

There are only classics on Squeezing Out Sparks, and this release won't change that. It includes two excellent bonus tracks, a great Motown cover in I Want You Back and the hilarious Mercury Poisoning, a dismissal of a record company on a par with the Sex Pistols' EMI. On the day of this album's release, GP really was, as the song says, the best kept secret in the west.


The Lonely Voice: A Study of the Short Story
The Lonely Voice: A Study of the Short Story
by Frank O'Connor
Edition: Paperback

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Submerged populations and other useful inventions, 12 Jan. 2009
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
It is odd that The Lonely Voice is recommended as a kind of guide for short story writers. There are other, more practical books that allow writers to see into the techniques needed for writing to the short form more from the inside. But for someone who wants a handle on how the mainly modernist short story writers of the period between the first and second world wars approached their art, this is a great place to start. It should also be read alongside Frank O'Connor's own fiction output, which it certainly illuminates - although it would not prepare a new reader for the almost anarchistic vitality of his stories.

The writers featured in this book, including Lawrence, Joyce, Kipling, Hemingway, Mansfield, and the Russians Chekhov and Babel, are now very distant eminences compared to where they were placed when O'Connor wrote this book. But his take on Hemingway, for instance, which is in places fabulously damning, explains quite a lot about the limitations of Hemingway's subsequent imitators. Some of the descriptions of writers' oeuvres, always remarkably concise, are descriptions of dead ends - how Joyce never wrote another short story after Dubliners, for example, or Lawrence gave up realism. These also help us to understand why the short story has developed strongly in some directions and not in others, although it must be said that O'Connor nowhere foresees the rise of a writer such as Barthelme or Stanley Elkin. The flavour of the month at the time he wrote The Lonely Voice was Salinger, who ran into a dead end of his own soon afterwards.

But O'Connor's blindspots are revealing too. While this book is often compared with Forster's Aspects of the Novel and shares some of its deliberate amateurishness, it in no way shares Aspects' feyness and intentional silliness. It is also very funny in places, especially on the subject of Kipling, who is brilliantly dismissed in the space of a few pages.


In Strange Gardens and Other Stories
In Strange Gardens and Other Stories
by Michael Hofmann
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £19.26

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Swiss Carver, 12 Jan. 2009
These are two slim volumes of short stories compiled into one satisfying tome. Peter Stamm has his own subject matter - romantic love which fails to become romantic, would be one staple, along with a recurring interest in how it feels to be temporarily in exile. He is especially good when writing from the perspective of a disappointed male; sometimes when he writes from the female perspective, as in the story of a grandmother whose grand-daughter brings her boyfriend back to spend the night at her house, he is less sure in his touch. But he objectifies with astonishing clarity the way how women appear to men, how they seem outside and beyond them. There is little writerly distace in these stories - that self-consciousness that turns characters into mere bunches of phrases. Instead, the reader quickly comes to inhabit the world of the characters, even when that world is full of awkwardness, as it often is. The work of Raymond Carver is the inevitable point of comparison with these sparse tales, but Stamm - at least in translation - seems to have even less of an agenda and a "style" than Carver. It is hard to explain why, but there is something emotionally satisfying to be found in even the shortest of these stories.


Resuscitation of a Hanged Man
Resuscitation of a Hanged Man
by Denis Johnson
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A transition piece, 17 Dec. 2008
'Resuscitation' is a fine, readable novel, but for me it is mainly a dry run for the weird and warped epic that is 'Already Dead'. The titles of the two novels hint at a similar theme, but while in 'Already Dead' the theme is not just carried to its conclusion but driven wildly beyond it into a land of mists you would hardly expect a novelist to reach, 'Resuscitation' never quite fulfils its ambition. Still, there are great things in it, particularly the details of the hero's two jobs - as DJ and private detective - and the landscaping of the east coast outcrop where the action takes place. Denis Johnson is usually happier creating men in depth than he is women; this comes over clearer in this novel than elsewhere, since the relationship between the hero and his Lesbian girlfriend is too central for her lack of substance not to show. What is most interesting about 'Resuscitation', for me, is that having tackled the theme once and not entirely succeeded with it, Johnson then tackled it again but on a far more ambitious scale, in 'Already Dead', and came up with something quite miraculous.


Already Dead
Already Dead
by Denis Johnson
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars His risk-taking best, 9 Dec. 2008
This review is from: Already Dead (Paperback)
This was the first Denis Johnson novel I read and, Tree of Smoke and all, for me it is still the best. It is hard to know where to start with a novel in which everything is done so beautifully. For one thing, DJ seems to have a particular affinity for the California coastline he describes. The landscape is always alive and changing, full of rolling mists and sudden losses of visibility. For another, the central characters - while they are enigmatic, to say the least - have a strange and magical clarity to them. But most of all, this is a novel that takes extraordinary risks and comes up with a solution to them all. There are so many disparate elements, bizarre motivations and mystical visions, as well as the ranges in register between the comic criminal types, the wonderfully flaky hippies and the beautiful drunk who stands at the heart of the book. The narrator rambles as well as Kerouac but somehow, at the same time, keeps it as tight as the Delillo of White Noise and The Names, although the closest direct comparison would probably be Pynchon's Vineland. The denouement is like an optimistic American riposte to Dostoyevsky - and the whole thing is full of subtle humour and a generosity of spirit.


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