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Monday 30 July 2012

ReviewShine Time

It's time for our monthly round-up of new albums sent to me via the good folks at ReviewShine, and after a quiet month last month we have five crackers for you today. That's "crackers" as in "things that are good", not as in "Southern white trash". Or "biscuits". Or "things you have at Christmas with bad jokes and hats".

Best known of the five acts, by some distance, is Steve Forbert. He has rather dropped off the radar at least in terms of media coverage since his heyday in the late 1970s and early 1980s but he has been making consistently good records ever since (1992's "The American In Me" being a big personal favourite). His new album, "Over With You", comes out in September on Blue Corn Music and is well up to his usual high standard.

"Pollyanna" - Steve Forbert

With something of the same flavour as Steve's music, Dave Hardin is a new name for me. I believe "Miles of Nowhere", that came out a month or so back on Ride Records, may be his first album but he is no wet behind the ears naive young thing. Having joined the US navy straight from school, then had to make a living to support his family, it is only fairly recently that Dave has got back to making music. It has been worth the wait. His songs tell you he is a man who has seen the world and has sized it up pretty well. Like this one, apparently inspired by a news story about two brothers who robbed a petrol station.

"Gospel 101" - Dave Hardin

Next up we have the exotically named Natalie D-Napoleon. Originally from Western Australia but now based in California, her debut album "Leaving Me Dry" came out on Household Ink Records at the end of June. You can't always judge an album by the guest appearances, but with the likes of Greg Leisz and Victoria Williams on there you know there must be a chance it will be a decent album. And so it proves. It is a solid alt-country album, with good songs well played and well sung. There are no discernible Australian influences - not even a single Slim Dusty cover (boo!) - but that is a minor criticism.

"The Well Song" - Natalie D-Napoleon

Moving along, here are Big Snow Big Thaw, a Pittsburgh combo whose self-titled debut album is now available via Bandcamp. They describe themselves as having a "front porch" sound. Whether they can see the pawnshop on the corner from their front porch they don't go on to say. The album has a nice laid-back feel but with enough of an edge to it to stop it becoming merely "mellow". The highlights include "Rain-Streaked Map", a mandolin-led version of Iggy Pop's "I Wanna Be Your Dog" which shouldn't work but somehow does, and this, the opening track of the album.

"Damn Allegheny" - Big Snow Big Thaw

We finish off with some indie rock from California, courtesy of an outfit called The Shape Of The Earth. Their latest album is called "Fire, Then Rain", which is available now on Bandcamp along with their previous releases. From the same school as the likes of the Decemberists, it occasionally gets a bit too anthemic for my tastes, but when it works it works very well. My favourites include "Pharmaceuticals" and this next one.

"Re: Telescope Eyes" - The Shape Of The Earth

For today's clip, here is Steve Forbert back in the days when he was battling out with Bruce to be the New Dylan (with a bit of the New Van Morrison thrown in for good luck). I have to say that of the two of them, I prefer where he has ended up.

Saturday 28 July 2012

Rapping is my thing...

I recently paid one of my infrequent trips to the Oxfam shop in Dalston to offload some books and music and buy a load more in its place. You can't get to look at the cassettes what with the other feller hogging them, but there are normally some interesting CDs going from 49p upwards.

One that I picked on this visit was a promo copy of "Sugarhill Club Classics Volume 2 Disc 2" (there was no sign of Disc 1, or of Volume 1 for that matter). Very good it is too. I am not really much of a rap and hip-hop fan, but I do like some of those early records which were really pretty much straight funk tracks with people chatting away over the top.

Here are three selections from Disc 2. I would particularly draw your attention to "Ooh Baby", which features an early example of the vocoder voice and asks the not unreasonable question, "Why should we let you touch our pants?" (If you have an answer to that please don't put it in the comment box - we are not that sort of blog).

"Showdown" - Furious Five Meets The Sugarhill Gang

"Super-Wolf Can Do It" - Super-Wolf

"Ooh Baby" - West Street Mob

This is where it all started.

And this is where it reached its peak. Its been downhill ever since in my opinion.

Thursday 26 July 2012

The Greatest Show On Earth

Tomorrow the Olympics kick off down the end of my road (well, down the end of my road, turn left then right, nip over the motorway and there you are). So here are a few tunes that more or less have a link, some of them more "less" than "more".

"The Olympian" - The Skids

"Dance By The Light Of The Moon" - The Olympics

"Carrying The Torch" - Generationals

"Winners Together Or Losers Apart" - George & Gwen McCrae

"They Don't Give Medals To Yesterday's Heroes" - Chuck Jackson

"Skylight Man" - The Greatest Show On Earth

 I was going to subject you to a clip of Spandau Ballet's "Gold" but, looking at some of the security arrangements that have been put in place, this might be just as appropriate.

Tuesday 24 July 2012

The Swingin' Sixto

Back in the 1970s, when I was knee-high to the bushveld, every right-minded white person in South Africa - admittedly a minority of a minority back then - had a copy of "Cold Fact" by Rodriguez, and we all knew the words to his signature tune, "Sugar Man".

At the time I assumed Sixto Rodriguez (to give him his full name) was equally popular everywhere. Yet when I came back to the UK at the end of the seventies I discovered nobody else had heard him, apart from a few Australians as he had been reasonably popular there as well. For some reason his music connected down in the Southern Hemisphere - something that he was apparently completely unaware of for many years - but went unheard elsewhere.

Now at last he is finally getting the worldwide acclaim he has deserved for so long. There is a film about him being released in the UK this weekend. He will be playing the Festival Hall in November, which I am greatly looking forward to. And both "Cold Fact" and the 1971 follow-up "Coming From Reality" are widely available.

Call me a wilful controversialist if you must, but while "Cold Fact" was the big cult album on balance I probably prefer "Coming From Reality". There is nothing to match "Sugar Man" but taken overall I think it is a stronger album. Here are a couple of prime cuts.

"Street Boy" - Rodriguez

"I Think Of You" - Rodriguez

As a bonus, here is a track from another American hippy who was unfeasibly popular in South Africa in the 1970s, Shawn Phillips.

"Song For Sagitarrians" - Shawn Phillips

And now we move from Rodriguez to Gonzalez. My mate Winston's sister used to go out with the lead singer, so we're virtually related.

Sunday 22 July 2012

The Real McCoy

I had not originally intended to post today, but an unfamiliar warm, yellow object has appeared in the skies over London, and I thought we ought to respond appropriately before the heavy artillery on Mister F's roof in Bow shoots it down for breaching the Olympic exclusion zone. On top of that Big Ernie - not me, the other Big Ernie - has won the Open. Put those two occurences together and it leads one naturally to some warm, mellow South African jazz courtesy of McCoy Mrubata.

"Phosa Ngasemva" - McCoy Mrubata

"Face The Music" - McCoy Mrubata

Now here's the story of the original Big Ernie and his rival, the even bigger Ted.

Saturday 21 July 2012

Tsonga on Tsaturday

Yes, it's Tsonga time, folks! Today we have a new name with some impressive family connections. He's Prince Rhangani and he is the baby brother of the mighty Joe Shirimani. He's a dapper young man, as you can see on the cover of "Phelandaba", which came out last year. Dig those cuffs!

Needless to say, Joe plays a prominent part on "Phelandaba", co-writing and co-producing, and roping in his latest protege Benny Mayengani on a few tracks. Also worthy of mention are the backing vocals of Nurse Matlala, which feature prominently on the first selection today.

"Vamaseve" - Prince Rhangani

"Mali Mali" - Prince Rhangani (featuring Joe Shirimani and Benny Mayengani)

 From a Prince to a Princess. This takes me back.

Wednesday 18 July 2012

Old Pals

We interrupt our normal programming to bring you some important news.

Our old friend Richard from the Wild Hare Club in Hay-on-Wye has been in touch to let us know of what sounds like an excellent show he is putting on this Saturday - Catherine Feeny singing songs from her forthcoming album "America". Details of the venue, time and prices can be found on the Wild Hare website, while on Catherine's website you can download a song from "America". To whet your appetite further, here is a video of hers from a couple of years back. Get yourself up there if you can.

What's more, our old pal Bram Decock (aka DJ Leblanc) is featured today on Gonzo Circus with a mix of Tsonga Disco classics, some of which you may have heard here previously. He has been kind enough to give me a plug, so I thought I ought to do the same. As you would expect from Bram, it is a very well-chosen selection, so check it out.

Coming round to what I was intending to post, it features yet another old pal. I was up in Leeds yesterday working and stayed on for the evening to meet a couple of friends, one of whom - David Ford - I met in my first week at university just over thirty years ago. After a varied career including a long stint as a Green councillor in Bradford, David now runs the Saltaire Bookshop. If you are in the area, pop in and support an excellent local business. Use them or lose them, folks.

Essex University in the early 1980s was a fairly right-on place (with the notable exception of the current Speaker of the House of Commons, who was an odious little right wing shit in those days, although he seems to have mellowed a bit since). We used to sit around having earnest discussions about whether it was acceptable still to support the striking miners who were picketing the port in Wivenhoe to prevent the import of cheap foreign coal when many of them were appalling sexists. To paraphrase Tom Robinson, we were middle class kiddies and not entirely sure where we stood, but we weren't gonna take it.

David and I first bonded over our mutual love of music and ended up jointly presenting a four hour programme once a week on University Radio Essex. We were the Smashy and Nicey of our day. I learned a lot from David, mainly to avoid like the plague anything by Test Department or Einstürzende Neubauten. Here are a couple of his, suitably right-on, favourites from way back when.

"Sexism's Sick Parts 1 and 2" - Lost Cherrees

"Stereotyping" - Jam Today

For David, for Ben and his many friends called Ben, but mostly for all of you out there in radio land, here are Medicine Head.

Sunday 15 July 2012

The Guthrie Inheritance

As you may have heard, yesterday marked the centenary of Woody Guthrie's birth. His songs remain as relevant today as they were on the day he wrote them, this first one in particular.

"The Jolly Banker" - Woody Guthrie

"Do Re Mi" - Woody Guthrie

In these difficult times, is it any wonder that the likes of Steve Earle and Billy Bragg are echoing the words of the Barracudas and imploring Woody to return.

"I Want My Woody Back" - The Barracudas

In a sense he has never really gone away. He left two legacies: his songs and his descendants. For Woody begat Arlo and Arlo begat Sarah Lee. Here they both are, covering songs by two of the men most influenced by Woody, Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger.

"When The Ship Comes In" - Arlo Guthrie

"Sailing Down This Golden River" - Sarah Lee Guthrie

Here are some more fans doing what is perhaps Woody's best known (and most misunderstood) song. You'll know the first fellow. After that you get Joe Ely, Alejandro Escovedo and some young people I don't recognise but who apparently include Arcade Fire, The Low Anthem and the bloke from Rage Against The Machine. Mind you, the person who posted this on YouTube claims Eric Burdon is there as well, so the rest of what he has written may also be lies for all I know.

Saturday 14 July 2012

Ms. B

Last night was one of the highlights of the year so far for me. We went to see Betty Wright live at the Jazz Cafe. It would have been good if the venue would have let her play for longer rather than have to make way for the disco at 10.30, but if we could have done with a bit more quantity you couldn't fault Betty on the quality. She was utterly fantastic.

It would be wrong to single out highlights - the whole set was a highlight - but the extended versions of  "After the Pain", "No Pain, No Gain" and "Tonight is the Night" deserve special mentions. And "Clean Up Woman", of course, which we feature below with a few more little gems from her back catalogue. Her new album "The Movie" is well worth checking out as well.

"Clean Up Woman (Live)" - Betty Wright

"Fakin' Moves" - Betty Wright

"Gimme Back My Man" - Betty Wright

"From Pain To Joy" - Betty Wright

"If You Abuse My Love (You'll Lose My Love)" - Betty Wright

Here is Betty back in the 1980s. I was going to say "in her prime" but last night showed she is still in her prime and will be for a long time to come.

Friday 13 July 2012

Love Machines

There are plenty of people who love technology - I have an uncle who has to get all the latest gadgets, for example. But these next people love technology in a whole different way.

"The Robot" - Alessi's Ark

"Robot Man" - Connie Francis

"Robot Man" - The Gymslips (Connie punked up)

"The 'Lectronic Brain" - The Moonbillies

And here are some machines that love back.

"Robot Blues" - The Incredible String Band

"Automatic Lover" - Dee D. Jackson

Wednesday 11 July 2012

Congo Time

Today we bring you some tunes from the Congo, plus one that isn't (see if you can guess which).

Leading us off is J.B. Mpiana with his tribute to Kinshasa. I spent a night there once, nearly twenty years ago, although I probably did not see it at its best. My dear friend Shelley and I had gone out to South Africa for my sister's wedding and being young, impoverished, and frankly foolish had booked a very cheap flight between Brussels and Joburg with Air Zaire.

Going out was not too bad, going back was a different matter. We set off 24 hours late after the plane failed to turn up on the due date of departure. We then made an unscheduled stop at Lubumbashi where we were strongly encouraged to buy up all the stock in the airport bar and shop as a sort of tribute to the local warlord.

We finally reached Kinshasa for what was meant to be a short stopover. While waiting in the transit lounge we saw our luggage being taken off the plane and dumped on the runway, at which point a torrential downpour started. A gentleman came in and announced that we were not now flying on that night, and that the first 40 people who could find their luggage and clamber on the only available coach would have a hotel room for the night. The rest would be left to take their chances in the transit lounge.

Shelley and I were among the relatively lucky ones and made the coach. We were driven to a series of increasingly shabby hotels until they were able to find one that had room for all of us. It was in what appeared to be a shanty town and was essentially a brothel (judging by the number of gentleman callers knocking on our door during the night).

Somewhat to our surprise the coach came back for us all the next morning and we made it out of Kinshasa a mere 48 hours behind schedule. The rest of the journey was not straightforward either, but I will bore you with that some other time. Let's get back to the music.

"Kinshasa" - J.B. Mpiana

"Fongola Boule" - Abeba Lipordo

"Moto Na Tembe" - King Kester Emeneya

"Eswi Yo Wapi" - M'Bilia Bel

"Foshi" - Zaiko Langa-Langa

"Ami Gabim" - Modogo Gian Franco Ferre

"Congo Man" - Mighty Sparrow

Sunday 8 July 2012

The Human Storm

We're back after a week away followed by some broadband problems. Hope you are all thriving. I am since I discovered on my return a message from the mighty Helen McCookerybook promising to do us all a copy of "Locked Out" (see the earlier post for the background).

The cultural highpoint of the last week was the Wales Choir of the World concert yesterday at the Royal Festival Hall. Organised by Bryn Terfel as part of Brynfest, it brought together male voice choirs from around the worlds with a combined membership of over 500 people. In the first half of the show the choirs from different continents each performed, and in the second half they performed en masse with the Cory Band and Bryn himself.

It is not the sort of thing I would normally go along to but there was a special reason for being there. Old Father Goggins is a member of the Cape Town Male Voice Choir and they were taking part. Their first half performance, with another choir from Johannesburg, was a newly commissioned piece called "Africa South". I know I am biased, but it was definitely the highlight of the show. Judging by the applause and the comments at the interval and afterwards many other people felt the same.

Here they are in action. My Dad is the grey haired gentleman in red and black in the back row.

The reason they are all bending over is they are impersonating a thunderstorm. In honour of their performance and the lovely weather we have been having here in the UK, here are some songs.

"The Rains Came" - Big Sambo & The House Wreckers

"Raining For So Long" - Bob Livingston

"Lightning and Thunder" - Bim Sherman

"Cruel Storm" - Espers