TOP TEN: December 2013

A personal chart of current listening, reading, viewing and thinking

1•Rough Justice reunion

I’ve begun to prepare for three gigs with Rough Justice, the band I played bass with from 1977 to 1979, who will be reuniting this January for the first time in 34 years. Our repertoire consisted mostly of classic and occasionally obscure soul tunes, by the likes of Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, The O’Jays, Temptations and Aretha Franklin. This was long before The Blues Brothers, The Commitments, Daptone or any other fashionable revival. We were smack dab in the era of punk, new wave, disco and Doobie Brothers, none of which we supplied, making our survival on the New Zealand pub and club circuit a continual struggle. But we did have good taste in material, something I’ve been reminded of as I reacquaint myself with old set lists. YouTube has been invaluable when it comes to relearning the basslines. Someone has even isolated James Jamerson’s bass part on the Gladys Knight version of ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’ - not that I am any closer than I ever was to being able to play it. The descending lines are labyrinthine, the rhythmic variations digit-defying. It’s what he leaves out as much as what he puts in, and he puts in a lot. It’s as brilliant as Bach and twice as funky. Have a listen

2• Aradhna, Bobbitts and Bobettes

Delighted to see the lovely Indian-Samoan singer Aradhna acknowledged in the New Zealand Music Awards as Best Female Solo Artist, and win ‘Best Urban/Hip-Hop Album’ for her Treble and Reverb - though the latter category barely describes what is really a collection of classic pop songs, the kind I used to buy on 45s from the Lamphouse discount bin as a kid in the 60s. A standout is ‘Lorena Bobbitt’, a homage to the American woman who infamously took vengeance on her abusive husband by amputating his penis, which reminded me particularly of one of my one-shilling bargains: a chirpy tune with a cheerfully homicidal lyric called ‘I Shot Mr Lee’, sung by what sounded like a group of girls in their early teens. As I recall, it was on the local Viking label (though obviously licensed from an American indie). Funnily, the group who sang it were called The Bobbettes.

3• M Ward at the Tuning Fork

I love M. Ward’s records, but they have an opaque quality. His fingerpicked guitar and craggy singing often seem to be draped in gauze, or drifting out from the back of a cave. On stage at The Tuning Fork (November 8) those layers were stripped away. With no other instruments and few effects - save a bit of Sun-style slapback - the music greeted us without barriers, whether it was one of his own pre-aged folk songs or a rearranged standard, like Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’ or the wistful version of Buddy Holly’s ‘Rave On’ with which he closed his satisfying set.

4• What The Brothers Sang

Last month I mentioned I was having an Everly Brothers binge, for no reason other than that their simple uncluttered recordings still sparkle. But it seems I was tapping the zeitgeist, as a sudden slew of Everly tribute records goes to prove. Most sublime is Dawn McCarthy and Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy’s What The Brothers Sang, a faintly psychedelic journey through some of the more obscure corners of the Brothers’ catalogue. Most unexpected is Foreverly – a cover of the Everlys’ 1958 folk album Songs Our Daddy Taught Us in its entirety, by Billy Jo Armstrong (of punk-popsters Green Day) and Norah Jones. I’ve reviewed both for the Listener (in an issue that should be out before the end of the year.) And there’s also A Date With The Everly Brothers by The Chapin Sisters (nieces of the late Harry Chapin): essentially the Everlys’ greatest hits, lovingly remade as sister duets.

5• Bob the Builder

Given that he still performs something like 100 concerts a year, I’m surprised Bob Dylan has time and energy left for other pursuits - arc welding, for instance. But I like the look of the gates he has made, currently on display in London’s Halcyon Gallery. And I like the image of Bob with visor and welding torch (above right), which might make an interesting change of stage gear from the Mariachi-style apparel he seems to favour these days.

6• Bob the Broadcaster

The 100 or so of episodes of Theme Time Radio Hour, the satellite radio show Bob Dylan presented between 2006 and 2009, are an encyclopaedia of Americana, full of great jazz, blues, rock and folk obscurities. Some of it offers windows into Dylan’s own work, especially that of his later albums. But for all his arcane knowledge and musical wisdom, he could not have written the entire (obviously scripted) series himself, could he? When would he have the time, with all that arc welding? (see above). This interview with Theme Time’s producer Eddie Gorodetsky partly answered my questions.

7• Viola organista!

Amongst the creations of Leonardo Da Vinci – the original Renaissance man – were drawings of an extraordinary musical instrument that was part harpsichord, part-organ and part viola, and involved strings, keys, a pump, a crankshaft and a set of spinning wheels. Some 500 years later, Polish pianist and instrument-maker Slawomir Zubrzycki has built one. It looks magnificent and sounds like, um… a cheap synthesizer.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xS9c76V4RDE

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sv3py3Ap8_Y

8•Remembering Walter Davis

‘Please Remember Me’ was the name of a song from 1946 by Walter Davis, one of the last this blues singer and pianist recorded. Its message was largely ignored. But his blues is worth remembering. It could be splendidly bawdy – ‘I Can Tell By The Way You Smell’ is his classic – or near-apocalyptic (try ‘Ashes In My Whiskey’) and he accompanied himself with a rambling, impressionistic, almost free-form piano, occasionally joined by a great guitarist or two – Big Joe Williams, Henry Townsend or Robert Lee McCoy. 

9a • Abbey Road

At this creative site http://beatlesinstudio.blogspot.co.uk you’ll find a good collection of photos of the Beatles during recording sessions; some I had seen before, some I hadn’t. But the best feature is the 360 degree panoramas of the interior of Abbey Road’s studio 2, viewed from the perspectives of each individual Beatle and producer George Martin.

9b• Muscle Shoals

And here is a lovely set of photos and selection of songs illustrating the prolific recording scene of the 60s and 70s in the tiny Alabama town of Muscle Shoals.

10• One string guitar

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E8H-67ILaqc One string, great rapping and a killer chorus. All guitarists should be able to do this before they are allowed a second string.

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