TOP TEN: February 2014
Mar 7, 2014
A personal chart of current listening, reading, viewing and thinking
1• Willin’: Little Feat get their bio
Lowell George had an aesthetic all of his own; Van Dyke Parks called it a “cartoon consciousness”, Lowell himself was known to describe it mysteriously as “the cracked mosaic”. Veteran Rolling Stone scribe Ben Fong-Torres gets closer than anyone has to explaining where it all came from in Willin’, his new biography of Little Feat, of which George was the founder and architect. The book is better on personal details – George’s complicated romantic life, the intricate interpersonal issues that both bonded the group and ultimately pulled it apart – than it is on the music, which deserves closer analysis. But maybe that’s for another book. Anyway, a good read – and you can read my review here.
2• R.I.P. Duffy Power, 1941-2014
He was the rare British blues singer who had truly found his own voice, and there is a trail of evidence, starting in the early 60s (he was the second artist ever to cover a Beatles song) and winding up with his low-key Tigers album, released just last year. I have written a brief epitaph here.
3• Father and son
Thanks to Tony Backhouse for turning me on to Sam and Bobby Taylor, a father and son duo with a truckload of soul. Unfortunately it's another of music’s sad stories. Son Bobby died just a few years after this clip was filmed.
4• Shit You Hear At Parties
Simon Vita and Leah Lewis are old friends from Wellington who decided to share their weekly catch-ups with the world. Awkward subjects are their specialty. Since their podcast went live last year, topics they have covered include party injuries, the phenomenon of breast and testicle deodorants, and changing room etiquette. I doubt a broadcasting style as droll and hilarious as this one could come from anywhere but New Zealand. Listen:
5• Dock Boggs writes to Broadside
Elijah Wald turned up this March 64 facsimile of the folkies’ bible. A fascinating time-capsule, including letters from Johnny Cash (on the subject of Bob Dylan) and the great singing miner and 60s rediscovery Dock Boggs.
6• The Southern Magazine of Good Writing
The Oxford American is a literary quarterly that comes out of the University of Central Arkansas, devoted to southern writing. Every year it does a southern music issue, with a companion CD. The latest (US winter 2013) has Memphis as its focus, and it is the best yet. This time there are two discs; the first CD kicks off with a breathtaking sequence, starting with Sid Selvidge’s exquisite reading of Tom T. Hall’s ‘That’s How I Got To Memphis’, through piano genius Phineas Newborn’s solo blues, Jim Dickinson cursing Nixon on his early 70s masterpiece Dixie Fried, to 19th century-born banjo man Gus Cannon with his topical 20s recording of ‘Can You Blame The Coloured Man’. And it almost sustains that level of sublimeness for a further 45 cuts, including great and overlooked works by Charlie Rich, Ann Peebles and O.V. Wright. But there are even more hours of reading than listening, including priceless excerpts from Dickinson’s unpublished memoirs and terrific features on Charlie Rich, The McCrary Sisters and – perhaps best of all – Lesa Aldridge, “muse” of the late Alex Chilton, and the real star of Big Star’s magnificently broken Sister Lovers.
7• The 78 Project
In a designer 21st century homage to the great folklorist Alan Lomax, film-makers Alex Steyermark and Lavinia Jones Wright have undertaken a series of field-trips around North America, recording musicians direct to lacquer. You can hear and see some of these on their website. Richard Thompson, The International Blues Express, Victoria Williams and Valerie June all turn in spine-tingling performances, among others.
8• Sven Olsen’s Almanac
Sven Olsen’s Brutal Canadian Love Saga has nothing to do with Canada and there is no Sven Olsen. It is the name of a 20-piece self-described ‘unpop’ band from Wellington, led by songwriter Nigel Beckford. Beckford’s songs are brilliant capsules of Kiwi culture, in a tuneful folk-pop mode with lovely string and choral arrangements. A couple of years ago the Svens put out a double CD-set that came in a pizza box. It turns out that was just the warm-up. Their latest offering is The Almanac - An Unspoken History of New Zealand: 50 or so songs - more than four hours of music – stored on a flash drive, attached to a fly swat. There is also a book, containing Beckford’s lyrics and a glossary that explains such Kiwi iconography as Te Puke Thunder, the Nissan Skyline and the Ponsonby Clothesline.
9• Wellington 1963
Gorgeous 8mm home footage here of Wellington, in the year I turned five. I remember catching the tram with my dad. It took us all the way from Lambton Quay to the Newtown Zoo.
10• Krazy Legs
Debra Bustin, Tim Bollinger and Jonathan Crayford made this clip in 1985 for The Pelicans, Bill Lake’s band in which I played. It was only ever screened once.