Sunday, 22 November 2009

Week 14 - Talkin' Different Genre Blues

Now, don't let me mislead you from the start. This isn't about Blues. This is about songs with Blues-style titles that are anything but.

I'm never sure what to think of Cat Power. On the one hand, I admire her as an artist, but on the other I can't get into her style. I don't necessarily mean that with regard to different songs, sometimes it happens within one track. However, from her Jukebox album, Blue is a stunningly soulful piece. Lovely sounds complemented by, rather than topped off by, her vocals.

One female artist I do like is Joanna Newsom. Her voice isn't everyone's cup of tea. Some people may say it's like a cat being strangled on a washing machine, but I like it (the voice, not laundry-themed feline murder). The harpist's This Side of the Blue is a stunning dreamscape of sounds. One of the most beautiful songs I know of, plus it's about time I put a folky track on here. Trust me, there'll be a lot more to come!

The Coral are a great band. They burst onto the scene in 2002 with their eponymous album, containing tracks like Goodbye and Dreaming of You. Since then, they've had a mixed output. Magic and Medicine was a great album - Don't You Think You're The First, Pass It On and Bill McCai. However, Nightfreak and the Sons of Becker was a quite dodgy album. It was a modern psychedelic work, but a bit too piecemeal for me. The Invisible Invasion contained In the Morning, a quality song, but little else. Fortunately, their most recent album, Roots and Echoes, is possibly their best since their debut, containing She's Got a Reason and Put the Sun Back.

But enough of the biographical stuff, the song I've chosen this week is a beaut off Magic and Medicine.

It's called Talkin' Gypsy Market Blues and its lyrics go thus: Talkin' gypsy market blues, I was too late and I never got to choose.

As you may know, there are many Talking blah-blah Blues song titles throughout history - whether it's Woody Guthrie's Talkin' Dust Bowl Blues, Townes van Zandt's Talkin' KKK Blues or Bob Dylan's Talkin' Hava Negilah Blues.

Now, to try to tie this back together, when I first heard Talkin' Gypsy Market Blues, I imagined The Coral as a bluesman in modern times. I figured they wanted to do a song in the talkin' blues spirit, but because all the good titles had gone they were stuck with a song about a gypsy market. Hence "I was too late but I never got to choose".

A lovely story, but hopelessly inaccurate! Instead it seems like a holiday in Portugal gone wrong. A man wants some boots, goes into an Al Stewart Year of the Cat-style haze, then decides he doesn't want the boots anymore. But, it's still a cracking song.


Monday, 16 November 2009

Week 13 - Ode to Ewar Woowar

Very sad news came out on Monday from Cornwall. The actor Edward Woodward died at the age of 79. For a man who hasn't particularly been full-on in the public eye for quite some time, he's certainly never been off my screens for long.

This is due to the quality of his roles. Arguably his finest moment came in 1973 when he teamed up with Britt Ekland and Christopher Lee in the Wicker Man. The film is fantastic for many reasons. Without giving too much away, it's all about suspense, symbolism and eerieness. And the soundtrack's awesome.

It wasn't all big-screen adventures. Woodward was perhaps best known for playing Robert McCall in the 80s American crime drama The Equalizer. In the 90s, after the high octane rollercoaster of The Equalizer, came a very British drama. Common As Muck was a wonderful BBC comedy drama about the lives of northern binmen. Sounds odd, but Woodward was exemplary as the leader of the group, Nev. It ran for two series, but has stuck in my mind as a pleasant, down-to-earth and occasionally very funny piece of TV-friendly drama.

But, Woodward's last great role was as a busybody Neighbourhood Watch enforcer in the Simon Pegg/Nick Frost film, Hot Fuzz. I'm sure he was cast as a tribute to The Wicker Man. The plot of Hot Fuzz follows the Anthony Shaffer's cult classic somewhat, but is a brilliant film in its own right.

As I'm sure you'll have guessed, this week is all about songs to do with the great man, Woodward himself.

First up is a surprising one. It's Woodward singing.

He released an album or two in the 1970s and his swing-style voice is surprisingly good. Check out him singing a beautiful, relaxing version of The Way You Look Tonight.

Next is one from the soundtrack of the last film I mentioned, Hot Fuzz. It's quite easy to see why I chose this - it's got 'fuzz' in the title. This has been in my mind quite a bit this week, as I've thought about Woodward and Hot Fuzz, but Supergrass's Caught By the Fuzz doesn't quite nudge the next one off the top of my mind.

The reason why I've not included the original of this song is because I thought I'd included it in the Halloween blog. Turns out I didn't! Anyway, this is another unexpected track. There's not many (my guess is none) Madchester bands who released an album that included a cover of a Wicker Man song on it. However, in 1991, Mock Turtles released Turtle Soup. It contained their standout hit, Can You Dig It?, plus a final song called Wicker Man. But, the song of the week is their version of the track which featured in The Wicker Man as Britt Eckland stripped off and banged and wailed on the walls of the room next to Woodward's, Willow's Song.

RIP Edward Woodward.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Week 12 - Verifique o nível da óleo

Bom dia! As they might say in Portuguese-speaking nations.

The other week, a strange thing occurred to me: Apart from songs in English, my favourite language for music is Portuguese. I'd always assumed it was French (Jaques Brel, Serge Gainsbourg, Sylvie Vartan) or Welsh (Gorky's Zygotic Mynci, Super Furry Animals). However, if you take the 60s psychedelia boom and couple that with the cool jazz of
bossa nova, and various other oddities, Portugal and Brazil have supplied some truly

First is arguably the greatest introduction to Brazilian psychedelia you could ever wish for. There's so much wonderful Brazilian psych out there, from the Beat Boys' O Meu Tamborim to, well, there's too many to mention. Check out some Nuggets albums!

But, top of the list is Rita Lee and Sergio Dias's group Os Mutantes. There's so many styles of music in the Mutantes' back catalogue - bossa nova, tropicalia - but they're best liked by me for their fuzzy psychedelia. There's no better example of this than A Minha Menina. The Bees covered this too and Os Mutantes' influence is easy to spot in their music...and it's all the better for it!

The quirky Wes Anderson film The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou brought to my attention a Portuguese musician called Seu Jorge. He starred in the film and provided some cool musical interludes. Most of these were Portuguese language cover versions of David Bowie songs. The best is probably the chilled out take on Life on Mars.

But the song that's been in my head all week is from an odd source. I first heard it on 2009's Eurovision! The stage show was lush - as if designed by Lemon Jelly. Have a look at it here. It was such a happy and musically interesting song I fell in love with it. How it only finished 15th I'll never know. That's not true, I think we all know why it finished there!

I've heard that Flor-de-Lis, the band behind the song Todas As Ruas Do Amor, are releasing an album in December. It's a strange time to release what will hopefully be a sunny slice of tropicalia, but I'm certainly looking forward to it. I like Eurovision, but there are songs that are just too good for it, this is one of them and Sebastian Tellier's Divine was another.

* In case you were wondering, the title means 'check the oil level'.

Week 11 - Celebrating Samhain

So, this is Halloween and what have we done?

Well, quite simply, I've put together a few top spooky songs. Not all of them are necessarily associated with Halloween, but they all have eerie undertones.

Halloween is a great time of year - apart from the trick or treaters. People get dressed up in weird and wonderful costumes, there's a blitz of excellent films on TV and it's the proper start of dark and dangerous winter. Ooh, frightening eh?

First up is a bit of a jokey one. It's the Benzedrine Monks of Santo Domonica doing their version of Nirvana's Smell's like Teen Spirit. I've never really heard of them (BMoSD) before, but I've just checked on t'internet and apparently they did a film called Chantmania. I'm going to have to hunt it out as Smell's like Teen Spirit is great. Like I said, it doesn't really link to Halloween, but monks chanting are definitely a bit eerie. Especially if you're wandering around the historic East Riding town of Beverley...

Next is the Killer Tongue by Spanish rock group Fangoria. It's from the film of the same name (or La Lengua Asesina in Spanish) - not that I've seen it - but it's a beautifully cheesy horror rock song with a great dance-like intro.

Finally is a song that will really take quite some time to leave your head. It's the one and only Gonk. Created by H Chappell for George A Romero's Dawn of the Dead, the Gonk is a fantastic rollicking instrumental number. If you've seen the film, you'll recognise it from the end credits as the zombies wander round the shopping mall.

Listen away to arguably the greatest incidental film music and then try to get it out of your head. It'll take quite some time.