Monday, July 4, 2011

Stay With Me

From the liner notes of
The Jerry Ragovoy Story: Time Is On My Side 1953-2003...

I have two favorite Rags stories and here's the first one: Frank Sinatra had booked a huge 46-piece orchestra session for a Reprise album he was working on. Three days before the session he cancelled, as icons are wont to do every now and then. The record company staff had a coronary - it was too late to cancel by union rules and a 46-piece session is mighty costly. They called all the New York producers who had current artists on Warner Bros/Reprise and offered them the three hour session gratis. It was not a throwaway because arrangements had to be written for 46 musicians and that, my friends, takes time. When they called Jerry, he took the session. By then it was Monday and the session was on Wednesday evening. He called his sidekick, arranger Garry Sherman, and the two of them dived into arrangement-land, eschewing sleep for a few days. The artist Jerry was attempting to record was Lorraine Ellison and she was prepped on the song as well. In those days there was no overdubbing and barely four tracks to record on. Jerry was lucky to have engineer Phil Ramone at his disposal that night. As they rehearsed the complicated arrangement, replete with rubato bars and high trumpet section notes, Ramone slowly put together a stereo monitor mix which he recorded right to a two-track recorder as well as to the four-track. "Take one," Jerry intoned from the booth, and with Lorraine singing live with the entire orchestra. They were off and running. At the end of the take, there were tears in a few eyes.

Sinatra's musicians had been indoctrinated into the Ragovoy Kingdom Of Soul in one take and Lorraine's vocal was a keeper. They took one more take to correct a lyric flub in the second line, but everyone there knew the first take was golden and the vocal track was corrected and spliced into the first take and 70 musicians and friends went home early that night. The stereo monitor mix is the track you hear on this CD and the one folks heard back then on vinyl. I'm sorry, I forgot to say the title - 'Stay With Me' - not a bad night's work.

Al Kooper
, 2008

Lou Reed - "If it was me I would have"

Monday, April 26, 2010

Have Moicy!

Sometimes there's one moment on a record when you think to yourself... "I'm gonna like this album." On Have Moicy! it happens about two minutes into opening track "Midnight In Paris" and it was a timely intervention. I was questioning whether I was going to be able to get over Peter Stampfel's unique vocal style (my girlfriend asked me if I was listening to The Muppets) when all of a sudden he yells "Awwwww kick it..." and from there on I was hooked.

To be honest I had a good feeling about this album before I listened to it. I read about it while looking up Michael Hurley whose mesmerising "The VT- Ore. Floor" is a song I was obsessed with for a while. This album is credited to Michael Hurley, The Unholy Modal Rounders and Jeffrey Frederick & The Clamtones and despite the amount of cooks around the broth it works brilliantly.

However, if you're coming to this with your serious hat on you can forget it. The subject matter in these songs is quirky to say the least but it endears you to the personalities involved. If you get it you feel like your in on the joke, almost part of the session. Never does it distract from the quality of these fantastic songs.

"The Slurf Song" is a highlight while the start of "Jackknife/Griselda" has the finest use of a yodel this side of Michael Nesmith's "Mama Nantucket." One of the best songs on here though is Hurley's gorgeous "Sweet Lucy." The soulful backing vocals put me in mind of Ry Cooder's definitive version of "Little Sister" and when I hear it I pray for an alternate music history where this was the benchmark for popular 70's folk/country instead of The Eagles.

The truly great "Robbin' Banks" is the kind of song that would sound great soundtracking an early Tarantino film. In fact the whole album sounds like it could be a soundtrack to some little know cult road movie. Something like Vanishing Point meets The Dukes Of Hazzard with the protagonists blazing a trail cross country leaving a trail of empty banks, poached chickens and police in their wake. I for one would pay money to see it.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

MGMT - Flash Delirium

After a depressingly lacklustre performance in The Ambassador in Dublin a friend of mine said that MGMT were going to release a "difficult" second album and disappear. I just put it down to bad sound so you can imagine the smug grin on his face when I expressed my disappointment at this new offering.

The song is all over the place. There's a whiff of a decent melody in there somewhere but it's bookended by a lacklustre start which segues into a truly cringeworthy middle section and a terrible ending.

I loved their first album, but they got a bit of a kicking from some sections of the hip blognescenti. It sounds like they may be trying a bit too hard to prove some of their detractors wrong here. Difficult second album on the way then!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Music Highlights 2009 Part 3

Arbouretum - Another Hiding Place

Arbouretums' Song Of The Pearl is a great record, and I mean that literally. This music lends itself beautifully to the vinyl format with the kind of loose organic jams that Crazy Horse would be proud of. That is if Crazy Horse spent their time listening to British folk acts like Pentangle and Fairport Convention of course.

Local Natives - Airplanes

The standout track from their Gorilla Manor album I was hooked on this one from the first time I saw this live clip that a friend sent to me. This song refused to leave my head for quite a while. Gorgeous stuff.

Alisdair Roberts - The Hallucinator & The King Of The Silver Ship Of Time

Scottish singer songwriter Alisdair Roberts is a singer songwriter who puts his own unique spin on traditional folk music making him a contemporary of James Yorkston and Trembling Bells (whose members are also in a band with him called Black Flowers which I must investigate further). The Wyrd Meme EP was my introduction to his music and this is the opener from it. Unfortunately I couldn't find a stream or clip of the song but I did find this lovely video of him playing in Kilkenny.

Dirty Projectors - Temecula Sunrise

More proof that Brooklyn bands are listening to a shit load of African music! Bitte Orca had its flaws but when the highlights are as good as this who cares? This is perfect pop music, or at least my idea of what perfect pop music should be.

Grizzly Bear - Ready, Able

No other album this year has enthralled, surprised, confused & frustrated me more than Veckatimest. Roundly praised by critics everywhere it faced accusations from some quarters of being too distant & cold but the rewards for sticking with this gem of a record are still paying dividends. The Beach Boys are perhaps too obvious a comparison for some people but I can't help being reminded of Pet Sounds, such is the ambitous reach of the sound and arrangements (helped by Nico Muhley whose excellent Mothertongue I was introduced to this year). They then converted any remaining doubters with the gig of the year in Vicar Street.

Antony & The Johnsons - Epilepsy Is Dancing

Although I found the album slightly disappointing, there's no denying that when you put Antonys' voice to a melody as beautiful as this, you get pure magic. One of only a few songs on the album that I would hold in the same regard as those from I Am A Bird Now which was one of my favourites of the decade.

White Denim - Regina Holding Hands

One of the finds of the year for me. White Denim's stunning Fits is one of my favourite albums of 2009. Running the gamut from power trio garage rock to psychedelic jams and even proving they can pen a catchy pop song like "Regina Holding Hands". If that sounds all over the place well... it kinda is! But the album holds together brilliantly, it's eclectic without being jarring. Now if you'll excuse me I'm off to find their debut album Workout Holiday.

Alela Diane - Lady Divine

A beautiful singer songwriter who pens music which seems timeless, Alela Diane's To Be Still is a spellbinding album. The gorgeous appalachian harmonies on "Age Old Blue" almost took pride of place here but the gorgeous descending melody of "Lady Divine" won me over in the end.

Animal Collective - Brother Sport

Merriweather Post Pavillion was my introduction to the world of Animal Collective where I have been happily squatting since. A psychedelic swirl of beautiful samples, harmonies and endless hooks, typified by this closing track. This encompasses everything I love about this band. Another group released a single this year called "Lust For Life" but here was where you heard the proof of it.

Charles Spearin - Mrs. Morris (Reprise)

One of the live highlights of the year for me was seeing Broken Social Scene in Vicar Street. And although their marathon set may have been outstanding, it was the support that stole the show. If memory serves me correctly the scheduled support had to cancel providing Do Make Say Think and sometime Broken Social Scene guitarist Charles Spearin to premiere an album he had been working on called The Happiness Project. It's the only time I recall an audience baying for an encore from a support act. This video can explain better than I can the concept behind the album. And although the album didn't quite live up to the promise of that wonderful performance it's still worth a listen, especially for Mrs. Morris infectious monologue on the meaning of happiness.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Kate McGarrigle RIP

A brief interruption in the highlights of 2009 posts to report some more sad news this week. I remember hearing Kate & Anna McGarrigle's "My Town" on Donal Dineen's show on Today FM over 10 years ago. It's one of those moments where you stop whatever it is you're doing to take in every note. The song was a constant inclusion on compilations I made for friends. It's a heart wrenchingly beautiful song, made even more so with her untimely passing.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Music Highlights 2009 Part 2

Wild Beasts - This Is Our Lot

Leeds Wild Beasts this year became Britains next contenders for the "New Smiths" tag. Aside from all the hype they did make a huge leap forward on Two Dancers. Your liking of this band depends on how you react to Hayden Thorpes' near operatic falsetto. On the more extreme offerings on their debut he sounded like Mika with rabies. They reigned their excesses in somewhat on the follow up to brilliant effect typified by this track. The hook before the last chorus always gets me.

Drunken Boat - Underground

When the Choice Music Award shortlist was announced there were a few voices from the underground lamenting the omission of Plumb The Depths, Drunken Boats' follow up to Cut The Engines, Raise The Sails. OK I have to own up a little here... I'm one of the band members' house mates! But any thoughts of favouritsm are blown away with this album. This track grabbed me from the first time I heard it... fierce but beautiful. An admirable feat.

Julianna Barwick - Cloudbank

A recent discovery for me when I heard this track on the excellent GvsB blog. My jaw dropped immediately. Using what sounds like just her voice and very few words she creates beautiful soundscapes. Think of a less pretentious Sigur Ros or even Bjork. The choral nature of the music made me think of James Blackshaw. Reading my futile attempts to describe her music though is pointless... just listen for yourself.

James Blackshaw - Cross

Blackshaw is an artist whose music I've been listening to constantly since discovering 2008's excellent Litany Of Echoes. A gifted 12 string guitarist & pianist, he composes music which is grounded in folk but is also influenced by classical & minimalist composers. And that's where I stop pretending to know what I'm talking about! I'm not at all familiar with his influences so I feel slightly inept writing about his music. Suffice to say this does not take away from the enjoyment of this amazing music and "Cross" was the stunning opening track, with Lavinia Blackwall from the awesome Trembling Bells providing haunting vocals.

Wooden Shjips - Down By The Sea

If I were ever taking a drive down a very long desert road I imagine this would be my soundtrack. From their Dos album this track stole the show with its squalling psychedelic guitars melded to a hypnotic motorik beat. Think Jim Morrison fronting Neu! but without the shit poetry.