Thursday, December 28, 2006

albums of the day

A lengthy period of home maintenance at Halibut Towers tonight; some heavy duty washing up, cooking and then a bath. All of which offered ample opportunity for some musical appreciation, and it turned out to be Folk Night, to a certain extent anyway.

Little Lights by Kate Rusby.

British folk music has a dodgy reputation in a way that American, French, Bulgarian, etc., etc. folk music doesn't. Mention it and an image of bearded, arran-sweatered, morris dancing, half pint of mild swilling, finger in the ear, banjo-playing blokes like Keith out of Mike Leigh's Nuts In May pops into your head.

And this is all a bit unreasonable, really, because this is tremendous, Kate Rusby's voice being very much the focal point of the whole thing, particularly the charmingly unaffected way she lets her native Barnsley accent show though so that she renders "my" as "me", "up" as "oop" and "love" as "loove". As a general rule of thumb the slower and sadder the songs, the better they are, in particular Let The Cold Wind Blow (which appears at first glance to be sung from the perspective of a dead lesbian, which is unusual), Who Will Sing Me Lullabies and Matt Hyland. And anyone who isn't reduced to a blubbering wreck by My Young Man's story of a devoted wife nursing her coal-miner husband through chronic respiratory illness (which may or may not have been pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis) should probably have their pulse and other vital signs taken urgently. The only false note on the album is struck by the cover of Richard and Linda Thompson's Withered And Died; not that there's anything wrong with this version, just that the original is so instantly definitive that unless you're going to reinvent it as a death metal anthem any sort of cover version is a bit superfluous.

Time (The Revelator) by Gillian Welch.

Similarly, American "country" music has had a bit of a bad reputation which it's only now recovering from, thanks to the so-called "alt.country" movement, of which this, Ryan Adams and many others would be considered a part.

Really, "Gillian Welch" the album-releasing entity is a duo, Gillian Welch herself and her partner and musical collaborator David Rawlings. Their previous two albums Revival and Hell Among The Yearlings are well worth investigating, but this is The One, if One is what you're looking for (I'd recommend considering buying them all). The previous two weren't exactly lavish big band affairs, but this strips things down to the bare minimum, specifically (for most of the songs anyway) Welch and Rawlings' acoustic guitars and harmony vocals, and not much else.

Like the Kate Rusby album, this works best on the slow, stark numbers like Revelator, April The 14th Part I and Everything Is Free, where you get the full benefit of some interestingly twisted lyrics and David Rawlings' jaw-dropping acoustic guitar playing. I guess a reasonably good indicator of whether you're going to go for this or not is: the last track is a funereally slow guitar and vocal number called I Dream A Highway which lasts a little over 14 and a half minutes. If this sounds intriguing to you, carry on. If it makes you want to run for the hills, you might be better off with something else. If you're in any way interested, though, it's an absolute steal at £4.97 on Amazon. Go on.....

The Trials Of Van Occupanther by Midlake.

Not strictly, or even loosely, a folk album, but two out of three ain't, as they say, bad. It's always nice to discover things which don't get heavy rotation on Radio 1 or get recommended to you by friends; you feel as if you've had to work a bit for them. This was buried in the middle of a 100 Essential Tracks of 2006 in Q magazine, I downloaded Roscoe (the opening song on the album) from iTunes, and bingo.

A lot of comparisons have been made between this and clasic 70's "soft-rock" like Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles. I don't think that's quite right, though the opening bars of Roscoe do sound uncannily reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac's Rhiannon. Flaming Lips have been offered up as a comparison as well, but this is much more rooted to the earth than those particular space cowboys. It's probably a vocal thing; both Tim Smith and the Lips' Wayne Coyne have more than a little Neil Young about them. But the funny thing about this album is not how it sounds like other people, but how unlike anything else currently on offer it sounds, not just musically but in the frankly peculiar lyrical department as well; it's all concerned with log cabins, settling in the woods, hunting, etc.

Roscoe and Young Bride are the best two things here, as head-noddingly melodic and at the same time head-swimmingly peculiar as anything you'll hear. The rest is of a similarly high standard, at least until the last few tracks, which tail off a bit.

This is what independent music is all about, though: stuff which seems to exist outside of any context or precedent, stuff not written to slot into any particular marketing demographic but because the people concerned just felt like writing it. It's almost enough to restore your faith in human nature, or it would be if Take That and Westlife weren't numbers 1 and 2 on the album charts at the moment. Oh well.

2 comments:

blogabob said...

Thursday myst be bath day then!!

everlands said...

Does a bath really count as home maintenance?