Ryan Adams – Ryan Adams

7 09 2014

ryan adamsOpening with the first single Gimme Something Good, this self-titled album is the 14th by Ryan Adams, and it’s already shaping up to be my favourite Ryan Adams album since 2004’s Love Is Hell.

The album has a late 70s Bruce Springsteen/ Tom Petty feel to it. I think it’s safe to say that this is a classic rock influenced album.

Heartbreaker Benmont Tench provides the organ and piano so no surprise that there are nods to the classic Tom Petty Damn the Torpedoes sound

The sparse instrumentation on the intro to Kim is a joy to hear – just guitar, vocals and a distant keyboard before the full band kicks in.

“I watched you walk away, to be with him, Kim”

The production also harks to a bygone era – instruments panned sharply left or right, dry reverb-free drums. This album could have been released in 1979 and would not have sounded out of time.

Am I Safe is an acoustic driven but lyrically edgy track with some wonderful Johnny Marr’esque riffing. And maybe a hint of Fleetwood Mac in the backing vocals. A definite highlight of the album.

“All these things keep runnin’ through my mind”

My Wrecking Ball is a Springsteen like title, and a Springsteen like lyric (it’s all about cars and girls, right?). A stripped back arrangement highlights Ryan’s wonderfully gritty vocals.

Stay With Me ups the tempo and has a powerful, top drawer chorus (the guitar riff underpinning the build up sends shivers).

Feels Like Fire is a great driving song – perfectly build for the long drives on the freeway! I Just Might grows from a chugging guitar and vocals intro as the band creeps in. I love the way the lyrics mirror the playing – as Ryan sings that he doesn’t want to lose control, the mood shifts up a gear.

Tired of Giving Up feels strangely uplifting, even with it’s downbeat lyrics. Album closer Let Go is short, sharp and to the point, not overstaying it’s welcome. Just as it hits you, the song is over.

This is probably the most focussed Ryan Adams album for a long time, and all the better for it.

Buy Ryan Adams – Ryan Adams on Amazon UK

Buy Ryan Adams – Love is Hell on Amazon UK

You might also like this deluxe edition of the classic Damn the Torpedoes album from Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers

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Bruce Springsteen – High Hopes

7 01 2014

high-hopesBruce Springsteen’s 18th studio album is a mixture of covers, new songs and re-workings of older material, but don’t come to this album thinking it’s a thrown together collection.

High Hopes is an album that stands up as a complete, cohesive release and is one of the finest Springsteen albums of recent years.

Album opener High Hopes builds from a 1950s referencing (and I Want Candy like) scratchy rockabilly guitar riff, and is a high energy opener that sets the scene for the majority of the album.

Harry’s Place is a track originally recorded during The Rising sessions. The vocal effects and the distorted sax remind me a little (ok, a LOT) of the Sopranos theme by Alabama 3 (probably no coincidence as the track references seedy characters meeting up in Harry’s Place). 

“You don’t fuck with Harry’s money, you don’t fuck Harry’s girls, these are the rules, this is the world”

Some wonderful guitar work at the end of the song (I’ve not seen the liner notes yet, but I presume from Tom Morello).

American Skin (41 Shots) appears for the first time in studio form. Heavily processed synths and percussion underpin one of the two seven minute plus tracks on the album. A moving song, thats grown over the many years it has been performed live (the song was written in 2000). A definite album highlight, and one of the best Springsteen songs of any era.

“Is it a gun, is it a knife – Is it a wallet, this is your life”

Just Like Fire Would is a song written by Chris Bailey of Australian new wave band The Saints – of (I’m) Stranded fame. I love how 70s punk bands used paragraphs. (Get a) Grip (on Yourself) etc. But I digress!

Springsteen’s vocal power has lost none of it’s bite, and the shared vocals with Steve Van Zandt recall the Darkness on the Edge of Town / The River era. There are hints of The Beatles in the horn arrangement midway through the song and a Byrds like guitar sound features throughout.

Down In The Hole opens with industrial sounding percussion and mournful banjo that brings to mind a long lost 19th Century America. The drums reference I’m on Fire, one of my favourite Springsteen songs. Down In The Hole is simply a beautiful, emotive piece, with multiple layers and a wonderful, evolving production.

I love the production twist early on in the song, it’s as if the song moves from the past to the present. This is shaping up to be my favourite song on the album.

Taken from http://brucespringsteen.net/ website

Heaven’s Wall fully utilises the power of the current, expanded touring E Street Band. I look forward to hearing this song live (come back to the UK soon please Bruce).

The production really is top drawer on this album – a previously hidden in the mix bassline sneaks to the fore 3/4 of the way through this song, along with some powerful guitar and percussion workouts.

Frankie Fell In Love is a piece of Americana that zips by in just over two minutes 46 seconds. Just as it hits home, it’s gone and you are listening to the Gaelic flavoured This Is Your Sword.

Hunter Of Invisible Game is a rare down-tempo track on High Hopes. An addictive riff, alternating between strings and guitar, underpins this slow paced but nonetheless uplifting track. Percussion and a rustic sounding acoustic guitar give way to a rich arrangement as the song progresses.

“Your skin touches mine, what else to explain, I am the hunter of invisible game.”

The Ghost of Tom Joad will be familiar to long-term Springsteen fans, but this 2013 take sends the song somewhere else. Gone is the sparse instrumentation of the 1995 original, and the full band and co-vocalist Tom Morello make this into a companion piece to Neil Young’s Like a Hurricane.

The Wall is a tribute to the memories of those who never returned from Vietnam. A lightness of touch in the performance, with respectful, restrained playing, makes this one of the most moving songs in Springsteen’s canon.

“On the ground, dog-tags and wreaths of flowers
With the ribbons red as the blood”

I dare you to not feel choked up on your first listen to The Wall, especially when the trumpet fades out during the songs final refrain. That Springsteen is releasing songs of this quality 18 albums down the line is remarkable.

The Suicide song Dream Baby Dream is a fitting album closer. Looped percussion and dark textures underpin the mantra like track that lifts you after the raw emotion of the preceding song.

“Come on, we’ve gotta keep the fire burning.”

High Hopes does not trade on cheap nostalgia,but proves, just like David Bowie did last year, that age is not a barrier to making truly great music. This is an album that would have been rightly lauded if it had been released by The Boss in the late 1970s.

I’m only seven days into 2014 and I’ve already heard a contender for album of the year.

High Hopes
Harry’s Place
American Skin (41 Shots)
Just Like Fire Would
Down In The Hole
Heaven’s Wall
Frankie Fell In Love
This Is Your Sword
Hunter Of Invisible Game
The Ghost of Tom Joad
The Wall
Dream Baby Dream

Buy Bruce Springsteen’s High Hopes on Amazon UK





Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band – Wembley Stadium June 15th 2013

16 06 2013

This was my first Springsteen gig since the Tunnel of Love Express tour show at Wembley Stadium in June 1988. The 2013 show started around 20 minutes later than advertised, with Land Of Hope And Dreams, from the 2012 Wrecking Ball album. A natural opener, with it’s anthemic chorus, the sound in the stadium was quite muddy for the first few numbers, but soon settled down.

Jackson Cage was sadly one of only two tracks from The River featured in the show, and was followed by Radio Nowhere from the recent Magic album.

From early on in the set, Bruce was constantly running to the front of the stage, and picking set-list request banners from the enthusiastic crowd, and showing the banners to band members so they knew what to play next. The E Street band members never get the chance to phone in their gigs!

Wembley Stadium June 15 2013

Save my Love, one of the key tracks from The Promise (the Darkness on the Edge of Town companion album) was up next, and a hint to what was to follow shortly in the mammoth set. Rosalita (Come Out Tonight) was played quite early on in the set, and is always a highlight of Bruce gigs. I am sure Rosalita is responsible for turning on a lot of UK fans to Springsteen’s music, via the clip shown on the Old Grey Whistle Test back in 1979.

Lost In The Flood echoed around the full to capacity stadium, a powerful song from Springsteen’s debut album, and the first time the song has been performed live in the UK since 1975.

The moving Wrecking Ball and Death To My Hometown from the latest album picked up the tempo, before Bruce dropped the biggest Boss-bomb of the evening. Asking the crowd if they wanted to stick with more requests, or let him play the whole of the Darkness on the Edge of Town album. This is my favourite Springsteen album, and luckily the crowd roared their approval at the second option.

The next 40 minutes or so was the highlight of the show for me, transporting me back in time to when I was a teenager listening to this classic album on cassette. Badlands got the entire stadium raising their hands in time to the music.

Something in the Night was stunning live, with the vocals as powerful as they were back in the days when FM was the preferred frequency of music lovers. The short, frantic Candy’s Room is one of my favourite songs of all time, and I was so glad I was here to finally here this song live and in the flesh.

Prove it all Night has stood the test of time, and sounds as fresh now as it did back in 1978. Featuring highly visual guitar theatrics from Nils Lofgren, the album playback (in order) ended with the title track from Darkness on the Edge of Town. This was apparently the first time that Springsteen has played a whole album in this way in the UK, and while it may have slowed down the set for the more casual fans, it was a treat for long-term Springsteen followers.

Brice, Steve and Roy Wembley Stadium June 15 2013

The whole stadium were back on their feet for the remainder of the gig. Wrecking Ball’Shackled And Drawn got the crowd dancing and signing along.  I’m sure the beer being thrown down people’s necks also helped. After commenting on the end of the world rain witnessed in London in the early afternoon, it was maybe tempting fate to play Waitin’ On A Sunny Day, but thankfully The Boss kept the rain away.

The title track from 2002’s The Rising is a powerful live song, and fitted well in the running order before set closer Light of Day (a song recorded by Joan Jett in 1987).

Bruce explained that “30 seconds from now, everybody in this place is gonna be dancing” and Pay Me My Money Down followed by Born to Run certainly got the remaining bums off the seats.

A rarely mentioned track from Born in the USA, Bobby Jean, sounded much better live than it’s recorded version (I hope remastered versions of Springsteen’s older albums, including Born in the USA, is on the menu at some point soon).

Dancing in the Dark signalled the now customary invitation to dance with The Boss. On this occasion, Bruce took an audience members Mum up on stage to dance with him (gratefully accepting a dollar bill stuck to the banner requesting the dance as payment) and a younger girl to bash away at a thankfully not plugged in guitar.

Born to Run‘s horn driven Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, along with a Rocky referencing dance from Springsteen, included a poignant tribute to two departed E Street Band members,  saxophonist Clarence Clemons (the Big Man) and organ / accordion player Danny Federici.  The final song with the band was the cover of Twist And Shout that was famously cut short at Hyde Park. The E Street Band left the stage as Springsteen performed a curfew ignoring solo version of Thunder Road.

The 2013 Springsteen show was much more enjoyable than the two Wembley gigs I saw in the 80’s on the Born in the USA and Tunnel of Love tours. The show is so well paced, with something for diehard fans as well as the more casual audience. I know it’s a much repeated statement, but Bruce and the E Street Band have got to be the hardest working band in recent history, with setlists torn up mid-set and no two shows being the same.

If you get the chance to catch Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band on this tour, you really should take that chance while they are still performing. Nothing lasts forever.

Wrecking Ball 2013 tour poster

Setlist in full:

Land Of Hope And Dreams
Jackson Cage
Radio Nowhere
Save My Love
Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
This Hard Land
Lost In The Flood
Wrecking Ball
Death To My Hometown
Hungry Heart
Badlands
Adam Raised A Cain
Something In The Night
Candy’s Room
Racing In The Street
The Promised Land
Factory
Streets Of Fire
Prove It All Night
Darkness On The Edge Of Town
Shackled And Drawn
Waitin’ On A Sunny Day
The Rising
Light Of Day

Encore:

Pay Me My Money Down
Born To Run
Bobby Jean
Dancing In The Dark
Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
Twist And Shout
Thunder Road (solo acoustic)

Buy the Wrecking ball deluxe edition on Amazon UK

Buy the excellent The Promise: The Making of Darkness on the Edge of Town Documentary [DVD]

Buy The Promise – The Darkness On The Edge Of Town Story (3 Cd+3 Dvd boxset)

Buy London Calling: Live in Hyde Park [Blu-ray]





2010 Review

30 12 2010

Blimey, it’s that time of year already.  2010 flew by….

Here are my thoughts on my favourite music , film and TV from 2010.

Music

Francis and the Lights

My most played artist of 2010 (last.fm stats are so useful!) was Francis and the Lights.  I first came across the band, who are led by the enigmatic, and wonderfully named, Francis Farewell Starlite, in the Summer of 2010.

It was one of those chance discoveries, where I saw the name mentioned in a magazine, headed over to Youtube and saw (and fell in love with) the video for Darling, It’s Alright.

Francis and the Lights first full length album, It’ll Be Better was not out in the UK at the time, so I ordered a copy from the States.

The album highlight is the closing track, Get In The Car.

“You gotta be careful
These guys will eat you alive
You gotta believe me
You’re gonna want me by your side”

I don’t want to spoil the story, but it’s certainly no love song.

Sounding, vocally, like a cross between Randy Edelman and Peter Gabriel, and musically (at times) like early 80’s Prince, It’ll Be Better flows well as apparently the songs were recorded using the same instruments throughout, to give a feeling of cohesiveness.  So scattered amongst the 80’s synth sounds, are barely processed guitars and piano and a symmetry that makes sure the songs hit you immediately.

Tap the Phone is one of the more modern sounding songs on the album, and one of those rare songs that doesn’t waste a single note.

“I should tap the phone, take a taxi home
Write a song for the radio, then I could hear you
When you’re on the phone
And you could hear me on the radio”

For Days has programmed drums that sound as if they were lifted from Prince’s Parade album, but with a buzzsaw synth line, a supremely funky guitar and haunting piano.  Pure pop magic.

“If there was just an air strike or a natural disaster, You coulda been mine.”

Also recommended, from the A Modern Promise EP (2008), is the song Night Watchman – a lovely pop song about voyeurism.

Buy It’ll Be Better from Amazon UK

Buy A Modern Promise from Amazon UK

Everything Everything

Another new band, this time from the UK.  Their Man Alive album was released in late August, and follows a string of single releases dating back to 2008.  The songs are varied, with lovely layered harmony vocals, inventive guitar and nods to bands such as Talking Heads, Yes, XTC and even The Associates.

With many time signature changes (often within the same song) and quirky vocal tics, there is plenty to keep you listening throughout the 50 minutes of this charming album.

The production duties were handled by David Kosten (Bat for Lashes / Joseph Arthur and sometime no-man collaborator), and I hope he stays on board for the next album, as he added so much to the mix.

“If all the boys say you did it, and all the girls say you did it,
and if all the boys say you did it, and all the girls say you did it
Then man, you’re as guilty as the ones that came before, you sleepwalked over here, the drawbridge creaks ignored.”
Leave The Engine Room lyrics

If you don’t jump out of your chair and dance round the room like a dervish during Photoshop Handsome, you are already dead.

“Airbrush! What have you done with my landscape?
Flooding the fields with this clone shape?
Where is the country you died for?
And what is the century?
And Ah-Ah-Ah! Who did your Photoshop handsome?
You ready for reincarnation?
Gotta come back as something less frantic
You gotta banish that army of panic
Gotta come back as something organic.”

Schoolin’ has become my favourite from the album over time, mainly because of the middle 8 that sounds like it’s fallen straight off no-man’s Lighthouse.

Buy Everything Everything from Amazon UK.

Gavin Castleton

Portland, Oregon’s Gavin Castleton is a singer/songwriter I came across late in 2009, via someone’s end of year list on Facebook.  See, sometimes these lists are worthwhile!  Gavin’s music varies between progressive jazz-tinged pop, through to electronica and even rap, with traditional song arrangements and looping experiments.

My first purchase was the wonderful album called Home.  An album about a relationship breakdown, with the added complication of a zombie attack.  Yep, you read that correctly. It’s an intriguing idea, and surprisingly it works.

Home is a schizophrenic album, with twists and turns, and many genre changes, but like a good film, stick with it, and after repeated listening’s, its beauty will surely charm you.

“I might’ve survived if it weren’t for her eyes
that were eating mine up
She wanted a job so I brought her the forms
with my eyes held shut”
Coffeelocks from Home

Gavin is incredibly prolific, and hugely independent (through circumstances, not necessarily choice), and 2010 brought another new album, Won Over Frequency, which was released without record company backing late in 2010.

Stand out tracks include the slow-burning Why Is It So Hard? and the country-tinged I Only Haunt.

“I don’t love, I only haunt”.

My favourite Gavin Castleton album is For the Love of Pete, which was released in 2007.  It’s the most traditional (for the want of a better word) album from Gavin.

The beatbox driven Good Manbaby, and deep bass powered Tiny Triggers are current favourites.

Gavin does not have the support of a record label, so every purchase of his music is poured back into his next project, so have a listen to his music from the links below, but please don’t download his music for free, if you like it, buy it.

Listen to Gavin’s music on Soundcloud or via his official website.

Stream The Human Torch from the album Home

Buy Gavin Castleton music on cdbaby or iTunes

View Gavin Castleton videos, including the looping cover of Sledgehammer and the wonderful cover of Eyes in the back of my Head.

Lone Wolf

The Devil and I is the debut release from Lone Wolf aka Paul Marshall.  Leeds musician Paul Marshall released an album called Vultures in 2007, but his first release under the Lone Wolf moniker is a very different beast.  Losing the folk influences, and drawing from a wider instrumental palette, the Devil and I is as lyrically rich as it is musically.

I was drawn into the album by the single Keep Your Eyes On The Road, and its Sledgehammer inspired video.

Opener This Is War is the story of a nightmare relationship.

“I used my chemistry skills to bake her every pill she could swallow.
She prayed to god and she called me a sinner, science isn’t the way to win her.
She gave me every disease under the sun before she ran for another town.
My body reacts to her.
How bodies react to her.”

We Could Use Your Blood is my favourite song on the album, with a wonderful use of haunting trumpet and bells to lift the final chorus.

“I’m tired of the mutes in my life.
And I’m tired of this glass body.
It’s only transparent from the outside.
And my bee-stung lips have sank a fair few ships,
While they continue to flap like hummingbird’s wings deep into the night. “

15 Letters is a murder ballad, sung from the perspective of the deceased.

“My name will remain an unclimbable mountain in life.”

A wonderful album, and one that seeps into your soul after repeated listenings.  Here’s hoping for more from Lone Wolf in 2010.

Buy The Devil and I from Amazon UK
LoneWolf blog

John Grant

Queen of Denmark was a must buy for me, because of the Midlake connection (the band back Grant on the album).  Sounding very much like an album from the mid-70’s, with lush backing vocals and not sounding out-of-place in the company of Bread or Fleetwood Mac, Queen of Denmark reveals more when you dig deeper.  Silver Platter Club even sounds like Carole Bayer Sager meets Gilbert O’Sullivan, but in a good way, I kid you not!

John Grant was the singer in the US band The Czars, and this debut solo release apparently comes from the viewpoint of a gay man struggling for survival in a small town in America, and some of the songs touch on Grant’s struggles with addiction (pretty graphically, on the album’s title track, very uneasy listening).

Marz is a shopping list of all the treats available in a long-gone sweet store from Grant’s childhood.  Another standout track on the album is TC and Honeybear, an affectionate tale of a former love.

“For Tc and his Honeybear, the world will not stop moving
For rendezvous and longing stares and hearts that won’t stop burning”

There is humour, nostalgia and warmth displayed throughout the songs, held together by Grant’s effortless, rich baritone vocals.

My favourite song is actually one of the tracks from the limited edition bonus version, the simple piano, strings and vocals arrangement of Fireflies really highlights the beauty and sorrow in the song.

“I can smell the flowers,
they died long ago.
How I long for you.”

Buy The Queen of Denmark on Amazon UK
John Grant Myspace site

Arcade Fire

The Suburbs is summed up perfectly by its cover artwork, hinting at a time and a world long since disappeared.

Probably their most cohesive album, and one that should really be listened to as one complete piece.  The Suburbs is another of this year’s albums that references a bygone era, in this case taking cues from late 70’s Springsteen, the lean new wave pop of The Cars and The Psychedelic Furs.

Rococo is a ClockWork Orange-esque take on Mall-life, whereas Sprawl I (Flatland) is a slow-burning anthem, managing to be both menacing and nostalgic at the same time.

“Took a drive into the sprawl
To find the places we used to play
It was the loneliest day of my life
You’re talking at me but I’m still far away”

Buy The Suburbs on Amazon UK

Bruce Springsteen

2010 was the year I rediscovered Bruce Springsteen. My favourite Bruce albums were always The RiverThe Wild, The Innocent And The E Street Shuffle and especially Darkness on the Edge of Town.  I went along to the UK premiere of the film The Promise In November, which was attended by the Boss himself.  The documentary looks at the making of Darkness on the Edge of Town, and some of the songs that failed to make the final cut.  It was a fascinating look at this landmark album, and I treated myself to the box-set that contained a DVD of the documntary, a remastered version of Darkness on the Edge of Town and a double disc of The Promise, songs from the Darkness sessions.

Darkness on the Edge of Town sounds amazing in this remastered version, it’s like hearing a new album.  I’m still blown away by Candy’s Room, Badlands, Racing in the Street and Prove it all Night.  I find it hard to believe that I first heard these songs 32 years ago.

The Promise is not an album of fillers or countless versions of the same songs, virtually all these tracks could, and perhaps should, have been released back in the late 70’s.  Some of the songs were hits – Because the Night for Patti Smith, and Fire for The Pointer Sisters. The versions by the original writer do not disappoint. Save my Love has that signature E-Street band piano sound, and The Promise should have been on Darkness on the Edge of Town, it could easily have closed the album.

Buy The Promise on Amazon UK
Buy The Promise: The Darkness On The Edge Of Town Story (3CD+3DVD) on Amazon UK
Buy The Promise: Darkness on the Edge of Town Story (3CD/3Blu-ray) on Amazon UK

Film

Into The Wild

Ok, not a new film, but one I’ve just seen.  Directed by Sean Penn, and starring Emile Hirsch as Chris McCandless who leaves a life of comfort and safety to find a different way of life in the wild, open spaces of the US.

It’s an often bleak story, but lit up along the way with the now renamed Alexander Supertramp and his interaction with those he comes across as he heads to his destination, Alaska.  So sad, but so moving.

Buy Into The Wild on DVD or blu-ray from Amazon UK

Let the Right One In

As above, one bought on blu-ray this year, and a horror classic. In my eyes, the film deserves to be talked of in the same way that The Shining, Omen or The Exorcist are described as genre-defining movies.

Forget the obvious gore and dumbed down modern horror that films such as Saw serve up. Let the Right One In is restrained in what it shows you, but the darkness is in the way in which this story was filmed. It looks absolutely stunning, and the effects are simple yet effective.

The film was remade in 2010 as Let Me In, but I’m sticking with the cold beauty of the original Swedish version.

Buy Let The Right One In on DVD or blu-ray from Amazon UK

Television

Any Human Heart

A four-part Channel 4 adaptation of the book by William Boyd.  Telling the story of Logan Mountstuart from pre-Second World War up to the early 90’s, and his life, his loves, and his painful losses that haunt him to the end.

Memories are triggered by long-forgotten pictures, letters, notes and drawings. A powerful and moving adaptation, and easily my favourite TV event of the year.

Buy Any Human Heart on DVD or blu-ray from Amazon UK

The Pacific

From the same team that put together Band of Brothers a few years ago, whilst not as satisfying (the character building throughout the series is not as strong as Band of Brothers) but offering a much more accurate portrayal of the devastation and sheer brutality of war.

Buy The Pacific on DVD or blu-ray on Amazon UK

Buy Band of Brothers on DVD or blu-ray

Buy The Pacific / Band of Brothers DVD gift-set









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