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Friday 29 March 2024

One Careless Owner

A mere 31 years late I finally picked up a copy of John Hiatt's "Perfectly Good Guitar" album in a Belgian charity shop last week.

It turns out I have been a fool to myself. I was previously only familiar with the title track and today's first selection, but the rest of the album maintains the high standard set by those two tunes.

"Perfectly Good Guitar" was the first album Mr Hiatt made after his stint with Little Village, and today's second selection suggests that he picked up a bit of the trademark Nick Lowe bounce in the process.

"Buffalo River Home" - John Hiatt

"The Wreck Of The Barbie Ferrari" - John Hiatt

Wednesday 27 March 2024

Gigs A Go Go

I have had a little run of gigs over the last couple of weeks.

While I was in Brussels the Sunday before last I took the opportunity to visit the Centre for Fine Arts (Bozar as its known to the locals) to see Cécile McLorin Salvant perform her 'jazz opera' "Ogresse".

Ms McLorin Salvant is a three times Grammy winner with a great voice which she seems to be able to switch from Sarah Vaughan to Blossom Dearie on a whim. I would struggle to describe the show itself so I will leave that to the good folks at the Jazzwise website. Overall I enjoyed it and the final section was very powerful, but I must admit my mind wandered during some of the bits between the big set pieces.

Back in London the following Wednesday I joined the boys at the always reliable Shacklewell Arms in Dalston for one of their occasional free gigs. The headliners were Erotic Secrets of Pompeii from Bristol who were promoting their new album "Mondo Maleficum".

Their style was described by Mr F "like very early Ultravox before they sacked their first guitarist because he wasn't very good". I think it was meant as a compliment but may not be taken as such by the Erotic's guitarist. They weren't really for me but they put on a good show and I did enjoy the glam stomp of their 2022 single "Nemesis Please".

The support act were much more my cup of herbal tea, so much so I had a great big grin on my face from start to finish. Luiz Bruno is a London-based Brazilian hippy who has been churning out cassettes of his own unique sounds and whose songs tackle important issues like kids vaping on the bus and the inability to locate your fridge. His latest record "Chicken Dinner" comes out in late April and is available for pre-order.

Mr Bruno is backed live by the Adult Children and between them they put on a great show with lots of hot theremin action. They had huge fun and so did we. I am definitely going to see them again as soon as I get the opportunity and I suggest you do too.

Which brings us to Monday this week when we were at the Barbican for a concert marking the 25th anniversary of Songlines magazine. Top of the bill, and the man we were all there to see, was the Golden Voice of Africa himself, the mighty Salif Keita. He has a new acoustic album coming out later this year and we were told that this set was a bit of a preview.
He was accompanied by Madou Diabaté, brother of Toumani and a fine musician in his own right. The combination of his kora and Mr Keita's guitar was quite mesmerising, and the Great Man's voice is still pegged to the gold standard at the age of 74. All in all it was a pleasure and a privilege to be there.

The rest of evening comprised sets by the Balimaya Project, a large London based collective of mostly West African musicians; Divanhana, a sevdalinka (Balkan Blues) band from Bosnia & Herzegovina; and Le Vent Du Nord, a Francophone folk group from Quebec. 

I enjoyed them all in their different ways although probably not enough to dash off and buy their respective back catalogues on Bandcamp. You can though, just by clicking on their names.

Here is a virtual gig I have put together for you with a track from each of the artists mentioned above and a video from the two standout stars of the show. Its been a pleasure.

"Optimistic Voices/ No Love Dying" - Cécile McLorin Salvant

"Nemesis Please" - Erotic Secrets Of Pompeii

"Pest Control Man" - Luiz Bruno

"Tolon Wilile" - Salif Keita

"I No Go Gree" - Balimaya Project

"Emina" - Divanhana

"L'Auberge" - Le Vent Du Nord

Monday 25 March 2024

Duck Day Afternoon

Today we have songs about ducks. The post exists purely as a pretext to share the video, which is something rather special. 

At over nine minutes "Ducks On A Pond" doubles up as Monday's Lengthy Listen (copyright pending). 

To quote Forrest Gump, that's all I have to say about that.

"Nice Weather For Ducks" - Lemon Jelly

"Duck Hunting" - The Creekdippers

"Ducks On A Pond" - The Incredible String Band

"One White Duck/ O = Nothing At All" - Jethro Tull

Thursday 21 March 2024

Gimme Some Leuven

If you happen to find yourself in the fine medieval town of Leuven in Belgium, as I did earlier in the week, there are two reasons for visiting Bilbo Records on Ladeuzeplein. The first is the view across the square:

The second is the small but high quality bargain bin where you can find some real goodies for €3 a pop. I picked up a couple of African CDs. One of them is by an artist from a country that we have not yet reached on my African Odyssey, so I will save that one until we get there. The other is by a gent who has already featured in the series, Côte d'Ivoire's very own MAR superstar, Tiken Jah Fakoly.

The album is question is Mr Fakoly's most recent, "Braquage De Pouvoir", which came out in 2022. Very good it is too.

"Farana" - Tiken Jah Fakoly

"Gouvernement 20 Ans" - Tiken Jah Fakoly

Sunday 17 March 2024

Single Song Sunday

I'm off to Belgium later today for a work trip to Brussels followed by a day's sightseeing in Leuven. I'll do my best to scour some bargain bins and find a bit of Benelux bop and boogie to bring back for you.

Before that, though, we have the little matter of the first Single Song Sunday of the year. The song selected for that honour is "Blue Moon".

Written by the crack team of Rodgers and Hart, the tune first appeared called "The Bad In Every Man" in the 1934 film "Manhattan Melodrama" starring Clark Gable and Myrna Loy. It was already on its third title and set of lyrics by then, and after one more rewrite became "Blue Moon" later that year.

The song topped the Variety sheet music sales charts in early 1935 but no recorded version would do so until 1961 when The Marcels hit the No. 1 spot in both the US and UK. That is why I am starting with them even though there are two earlier versions included - Elvis Presley (No. 9 in the UK in 1956) and Nat 'King' Cole (1957).

After that things start veering off all over the place. I am sure many of you will be familiar with the Cowboy Junkies' reinterpretation from 1988, but perhaps not the football chant version found on the On-U Sound' 1991 compilation "Pay It All Back Volume 3" credited to Barmy Army. Not one that is going to make the "Now That's What I Call On-U" hits collection I suspect.

Last month I posted about the 1986 album "Underworld Shakedown" by Greek band The Last Drive and mentioned that it included a remake of an old standard which I was saving for a future Single Song Sunday, This is it. In the interest of balance I have included a version from 1991 by Macedonian band Raketamagazin. The two countries don't see eye to eye on many things but maybe "Blue Moon" can bring them together.

Finally we have Guts McGeorge with the Mandatory Reggae Version. I know nothing about Guts. Apart from this 1970 single Discogs lists only one other recording which was the B side of a Lloyd Charmers single. Lloyd also produced this so maybe Guts was his imaginary friend.

"Blue Moon" -  The Marcels

"Blue Moon" -  Elvis Presley

"Blue Moon" -  Nat 'King' Cole

"Blue Moon Revisited (Song For Elvis)" - Cowboy Junkies  

"Blue Moon" -  Barmy Army

"Blue Moon" -  The Last Drive

"Blue Moon" -  Raketamagazin

"Blue Moon" -  Guts McGeorge

In England the football chant version is most commonly associated with petrochemical giants Manchester City who number Oasis among their celebrity supporters. I'm not a fan of either but we will start the videos with Oasis Jr to get it out of the way,

Friday 15 March 2024

Halo Can You Go

Today is Part 2 in a new series that I'm calling "Things I bought in the Buddhist Bookshop's 3 CDs for £1 offer Friday". There won't be a Part 3 in the immediate future as the third CD was a blues compilation which had a good track listing but the sound quality was so poor as to make it effectively unlistenable.

Last week we brought you Dickson Sings Dylan. This week its "Don't Tell Me Now" by The Halo Benders. They were led by Calvin Johnson (who has featured here previously in various guises including Beat Happening and Dub Narcotic Sound System) and Doug Martsch of Built To Spill (who hasn't).

The Halo Benders were a side project for both of them. They released three albums between 1994 and 1998 before deciding to focus solely on their day jobs. "Don't Tell Me Now" was the middle album and came out in 1996.

I find I'm partial to pretty much everything I've heard by Mr Johnson, and this album is no exception. It is rather splendid and there is a bit of a Silver Jews vibe in places (particularly evident on "Mercury Blues"). My mission now is to track down the other two Halo Benders albums and also to investigate Built To Spill who completely passed me by back in the 1990s.

"Mercury Blues" - The Halo Benders

"Bombshelter Pt. 2" - The Halo Benders

And now, lots of Brits bending on "Beat Club" in the 1960s. Ariel Bender not included but if you want to know what the visual equivalent of the dreadful sound quality on that blues compilation looks like type "Ariel Bender Skegness" into YouTube.

Wednesday 13 March 2024

Ernie's African Odyssey Pt 29 - Libya

We have reached our third and final L country - Libya. I'm going to take a short break from the series after this to build up my strength before plunging into a run of seven Ms.

Today's post would not have been possible without the good folks at Habibi Funk records, who for the last ten years have been releasing interesting sounds from the Arab world. In the last twelve months alone they have released four albums by Libyan artists, all of which feature today. 

Without them there would not have been much here. For whatever reason I have found it more difficult to track down Libyan music than for most of the other countries in the series - just a couple of weedy crooners and the two bands that kick things off today (although see the PS below).

Weedy is certainly not a word you would use to describe Oydis, a death metal band from Tripoli. Death metal is not my cup of Libyan tea, but it seems to be almost as ubiquitous as reggae in some parts of Africa. This track comes from their 2019 album "As Humanity Falls", something it has a tendency to do with depressing regularity in Libya.

I know nothing at all about the next group. I'm not even sure of their name. I think they are called Groupe Amnar Awal but they may actually be Chaco, which is the name that Bandcamp has assigned to the album "Awal Akalin". Either way, the album came out it 2015 and might appeal to you fellow Sahel Sounds enthusiasts out there. 

The rest of today's tracks come courtesy of Habibi Funk. We'll start with Hamid Al Shaeri, one of the biggest stars of Arab music in the 1980s and 1990s. Most of his success came while based in Egypt but he was born in Benghazi and started his musical career there before moving to Cairo in his early twenties. "Reet" can be found on a compilation of his 1980s recordings titled "The SLAM !Years".

Heading backwards to the 1970s we find The Free Music, a band led by composer/producer Najib Alhoush (whose magical rendition of "Staying Alive" you really need to listen to). The 2023 compilation "Free Music Part 1" features some of their original material from around 1976.

We finish with not one but two big slabs of the finest Mandatory African Reggae. First up is the man known as "the Father of Libyan Reggae", Mr Ibrahim Hesnawi. That is also the title of a compilation of his 1980s recordings that Habibi Funk issued late last year. Then we've got one of his musical offspring, Ahmed Ben Ali. "Subhana" is a compilation of his works from the mid 2000s.

"Internal Strife" - Oydis

"Anar Asanagh" - Groupe Amnar Awal

"Reet" - Hamid Al Shaeri

"Law Yom Saalak Had" - The Free Music

"Watany Al Kabir" - Ibrahim Hesnawi

"Ya Ghalian Alakheera" - Ahmed Ben Ali

PS Since writing the post I discovered the first video and was inspired to track down a few recordings by leading Libyan funkateer of the 1970s and 1980s Ahmed Fakroun. I am enjoying them very much but none of them match the song in the video so we are sticking with that.

PPS I would not rule out the possibility that MC Mego is a Sacha Baron Cohen creation.


Monday 11 March 2024

Rodney With An A

Some early 1990s country for you today from the man who perennially tops my personal Top 10 musicians called Radney list, Mr Radney Foster.

Having had a string of country hits in the late 1980s as one half of Foster & Lloyd (a less cool version of Foster & Allen), the Radmeister went solo in 1990. 

His first solo album "Del Rio, TX 1959" - named for his place and year of birth - came out in 1992 and fitted in well with the New Country scene that was all the rage at the time. The likes of Albert Lee, John Hiatt, Kim Richey and Marty Chapin Carpenter all turned up and helped out.

It is a pretty solid album and included two songs that made the Top 10 in the country charts (to date still his only two Top 10 solo hits). These are them.

"Just Call Me Lonesome" - Radney Foster

"Nobody Wins" - Radney Foster

I think this video of Foster & Lloyd explains the reason why they split. Lloyd (without glasses) was clearly developed in a 1980s lab and, unlike Radders who could just cut his hair and remove his red braces, he was unable to be reprogrammed to be usable in the 1990s.

Friday 8 March 2024

Babs 'n Bob

A change of pace for you today. We are not so much surfing the zeitgeist as rolling our trousers up and taking a tentative paddle in the shallows. Ladies and Gentlemen, Ms Barbara Dickson.

I am still scarred by the Elkie Brooks episode many years ago so I want to make it clear that this will not be a Barbara bashing exercise. 

Her version of the old standard "Answer Me" was one of the first singles I bought with my pocket money when I was 12. She has made many more fine records over the years and counts movers and shakers like Mr & Mrs CC among her many fans.

I popped into our local Buddhist charity bookshop earlier this week and checked out the small selection of CDs that are always on offer at three for £1. After finding two that looked quite promising I filled the quota with this:

Released in 1992, this is Dickson Sings Dylan with the production values you associate with that era plus a guest appearance by Gerry Rafferty on "The Times They Are A-Changin'".  

It is a bit of a mixed bag. When they play the songs straight it generally works pretty well, but there are a few 'experimental' arrangements that might have been best left on the cutting room floor. Here is an example of each.

To use the official Charity Chic Classification (CCC) system it is probably not a keeper, but I'm glad I gave it a go. 

"Ring Them Bells" - Barbara Dickson

"Maggie's Farm" - Barbara Dickson

And now... Dylan Sings Dickson! Or possibly Frankie Laine or Nat King Cole, you decide. You also get some Richard Thompson as a bonus. 

Wednesday 6 March 2024

Ernie's African Odyssey Pt 28 - Liberia

We've over halfway, folks - 28 countries into our 55 country tour. At some point between Lesotho and Liberia we crossed a metaphorical Equator as well as the literal one. 

To mark the occasion I'm messing with the format a little. All the videos are from the same band, and that is the band that is probably Liberia's most successful musical export.

Soulful Dynamics relocated from Monrovia to Hamburg in 1969, and the very next year they topped the charts in many European countries with "Mademoiselle Ninette". You could not possibly tell from their hits that the band were from Africa - mostly they sound like a schlager version of The Equals - but they have some fantastically cheesy clips on YouTube.

Our audio selection starts with the woman rightly known as "the Golden Voice of Liberia", Princess Fatu Gayflor. Ms Gayflor (she's not a real Princess) has been recording since the mid 1980s. This track is on her 2014 album "The Princess Diaries", and my guess is that is is a tribute to Liberia's national arts ensemble, the Kendeja National Cultural Troupe, where she started her career.

Like many other Liberians she fled the country during the civil war that dragged on for nearly fifteen years (1989-2003). Having spent some time in refugee camps in Cote d'Ivoire and Guinea, she eventually ended up in Philadelphia where she is still based.

In 2013 the Princess was joined in Philadelphia by Marie Nyenabo, another fine female singer who had released three albums in Liberia before deciding to emigrate. Together they were founder members of the Liberian Women's Chorus for Change, who use traditional songs and dances to call attention to issues impacting the Liberian community in the US.

"Joya" can be found on the 2011 compilation album "Lone Stars Vol 1: Hipco & Gbema" (hipco being Liberian hip hop and gbema modernised traditional music). Also to be found on the album is the track from Junior Freeman which was apparently impossible to avoid in Liberia that year, even being adopted by the victorious Presidential candidate as her campaign song for national elections. 

2011 was evidently a good year for Liberian music because that was when the exotically named Kojato & The Afro Latin Cougaritas released their excellent "All That Jazz" album. Main man Kojo Samuels hails from Monrovia but the band were based in Germany. Who knows, maybe they included some descendants of the Soulful Dynamics. 

The influence of Fela Kuti is pretty obvious on "All That Jazz", which is perhaps not surprising when you learn that Mr Samuels played with the Great Man for a while after his previous group Kapingbdi broke up in 1985. A few years back Sonorama Records compiled some of Kapingbdi's previously unreleased recordings from 1979 to 1981 on an album titled "Born In The Night". Very good they are too.

We end as always with some Mandatory African Reggae (there is a limit to how much messing with the format I'm willing to do). A very warm welcome please to Nasseman, former winner of Best Reggae/Dancehall Artist of the Year at the prestigious Liberia Music Awards - where Kojo Samuels was deservedly given a Lifetime Achievement Award last year.

"Kendeja" - Princess Fatu Gayflor

"Joya" - Marie Nyenabo

"Dumyarea" - Junior Freeman & African Soldier

"Funky Man" - Kojato & The Afro Latin Cougaritas 

"Deadea" - Kapingbdi

"Justice" - Nasseman

Monday 4 March 2024

Scratch Patch

Because they're long and they're songs and its Monday here are a couple of tracks from Lee "Scratch" Perry's album "On The Wire" (which is not to be confused with "Scratch On The Wire", a compilation of his production work from 1979).This album was recorded in 1988 but not released until 2000. It was well worth the wait though as it is magnificent from start to finish.  

While both the selected songs clock in at over seven minutes they are actually among the shorter tracks on the album. There are three more between eight to nine minutes long and one that runs all the way up to eleven, as all good things should do.

"Yes My Friends" - Lee "Scratch" Perry

"Burn Funky" - Lee "Scratch" Perry

Mr Perry isn't the only thing you'll find on a wire if you go looking.

Friday 1 March 2024

Newness Abounds

Timed especially to coincide with Bandcamp Friday, here is one of our irregular looks at some of the freebies that the nice folks in Promoland have sent me over the last couple of months. Get your wallets out now.

For my tastes there have been two standout albums. The first, while technically a new release, was actually recorded about twenty years ago. The Children's Hour were a duo consisting of the warble-tastic Josephine Foster and one Andy Bar (presumably not this one). They released one album in 2003 and then teamed up with David Pajo (of Slint, Tortoise etc fame) to record a second which is finally seeing the light of day. 

The album is called "Going Home" and it is utterly charming. It came out last week and you can get it from Bandcamp - just click on the title (the same goes for the other albums featured below).

The second standout album comes from my favourite Welsh language Americana band (if that isn't a contradiction in terms), Cowbois Rhos Botwnnog. They have been around since the late 2000s and "Mynd â'r Tŷ am Dro" is their sixth studio album. It comes out today. 

Their sound on this album is a bit rockier than in the past, with the title track and the one below being particularly strong with a bit of a Neil & Crazy Horse vibe. If you enjoy this you might also appreciate their live album that was released last year.

I would also like to give a bit of a plug to two more new albums, both from artists based in California. The first is "Hideaway" by Breezers, the pseudonym of Evan apRoberts from LA. It is due out on 8 March and is not yet available on Bandcamp, although you can find his previous stuff there including his self-titled 2002 album.

The Umbrellas hail from San Francisco although you might be mistaken for thinking they are Scottish as they have clearly immersed themselves in the Postcard Records back catalogue. "Fairweather Friend" is their second album and it came out back in January. It is pleasingly chirpy.

"Dance With Me" - The Children's Hour

"Blodau Haearn Blodau Glo" - Cowbois Rhos Botwnnog

"Cemetery" - Breezers

"Goodbye" - The Umbrellas

To round things off here are some videos featuring songs from three more albums that came out in January and which are worth a listen: "Goose" by Mol Sullivan, "Alas" by Lily Seabird and "In The Midst Of You" by Brad Stank. Enjoy!