ALBUM REVIEWS

DAVID CROSBY - FOR FREE

Crosby For Free

How David Crosby is still alive and looking forward to his 80th birthday on August 18th, never mind being in an incredibly fertile vein of form, is a wonder of the 21st century world? The world is full of wonders that on a daily basis we walk past and take for granted. Let us not do it with For Free.

For Free is Stills, Nash and Young’s former buddy’s 5th record in 7 years. The last one Here If You Listen was like a vocal work with Michael League, Becca Stevens and Michelle Willis. 

Sky Trails before leaned heavily on his love of jazz.  

Its predecessor Lighthouse was gentle song writing. For Free harks back to the first of the five Croz. For Free uses all the angles of these last seven years and nails it better than any of the first four. It seems more rounded, solid and thus satisfying.

It all comes, as so often with Crosby, with a little help from his friends. Michael McDonald fills in for the aforementioned harmonisers Stills and Nash on the opening River Rise.

Sarah Jarosz adds stunning vocals to the time track. That track, For Free, is a Joni Mitchell cover, adding to Amelia and Woodstock on his last two records and gets to the true meaning, nature and purpose of music making.

Maybe the best track sounds like, but isn’t, another cover. If She’s Got To Be Somewhere from Sky Trails sounded like Steely Dan then Rodriguez In The Night is an actual co-write with Donald Fagan. A whole album of such a collaboration would have great potential!

Crosby’s son James Raymond might be the main cause of all of his long lost dad's resurgence. He is all over this as producer, co writer and player. His own daughter Gracie even sings. Does she call Croz Grandpa?

Into all of this Crosby sings about life and mortality. His own mortality is there in the beautiful closing I Won’t Stay Long whereas Shot At Me is a cafe conversation with a veteran who served in the Middle East. He’s doing Crosbian deals with the devil in the fictional story line of Rodriguez In The Night. The utter beauty of The Other Side of Midnight takes me on some boat journey with sailor boy Crosby.

I Think I might be a man with a very colourful life story finding his way or maybe coming to terms with all the times he got lost.

For Free shimmers with vibrancy and positivity. The guitars light it up, the harmonies allow it to soar and hanging all over that are these songs of a world weary human making sense of the life of his generation, most of which he lived in his own broken, messed up, often dark but contradictorily light seeking life of an artistic adventurer.  

David Crosby is a wonder and For Free is wonderful!


JOY OLADOKUN - in defense of my own happiness

Oladokun

The musical revelation of my summer of 2021 this young lady is Joy by name and utter joy by musical nature. 

Ricky Ross had alluded to this record and a day or two later I spotted her loitering in a Youtube thread. It was her performance of Sunday on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert. My body literally lifted off my chair. The unadulterated purity of her voice. All at once angelic while stuck in the everyday issues of the world.

You knew she’d name check Tracy Chapman but she takes that very obvious folky singer songwriter template and sprinkles gospel and R&B and pop and even rap all across the mix, creating a sound that is at once familiar but so young and fresh you think it’s the first time. 

There is a spiritual energy too. She, sadly like so many, has struggled under the weight of the Church’s expectations but, unlike so many, she continued to find her way to hold on to faith.

On the opening Jordan she tells us:

 

I tried to build an institution

Instead of trying to keep the faith

 

On that song Sunday that I heard first she explains:

 

Sunday, bury me under the weight of who you need me to be

 

Not everyone so young can divide the wheat from the chaff but Oladokun does it joyously. She is a soul singer with just an acoustic guitar and  almost creates what a never ending abundance of hope might sound like. You feel it. You ride on it with her. And she wants you to. As she sings on If You Got A Problem:

 

If you got a problem

I got a problem too

If you’re standing at the bottom

I’ll reach out for you.

 

It's pastoral. On her website she writes, “When you listen to me, i want you to feel like you’ve taken an emotional shower”. Yes, that is how I felt that first time I heard her voice. Like she was this refreshing gift full of songs that  could heal or inspire and help something grow inside your soul. As on Brick By Brick where almost hymn like she sings:

 

We are making all things new again

We are making all things new

We are searching for the difference

We are making all things new 

 

That’s what she’s doing!


INHALER - IT WON'T ALWAYS BE LIKE THIS

Inhaler-it-wont-always-be-like

The vibrant sounds of the hot hot summer of 2021. Dublin’s, Inhaler are top of the UK album charts so fast that I didn’t get a review done quickly enough and I might need my to use my Ventolin.

I have followed the lead singer’s life since the day he was born and wondered at one point (in a dither over a move to a Dublin church) if my daughter might have been in his class at St. Andrews College (she’d have been a year below me thinks!).

It’s not easy being a rock stars son when you are trying to be a rock star. Ask the off spring of Lennon, McCartney, Simon or Taylor for example. Young Eli Hewson does it with ease, backed by a tight wee band - Ryan McMahon, Josh Jenkinson and Robert Keating.

I struggled a little with the early singles. I wasn’t at all convinced. Yet, here they are fully bloomed and booming out the most intoxicating guitar rock sound since… well there have been some since his dad’s band… but that’s always going to be the reference for this one.

In the end I guess it should be. The immediate sound is more Joy Division and Interpol than U2 but if people are trying to see Eli as more Elisha to his dad’s Elijah then it does have U2’s accessible grab for radio and big full stadiums. 

The current single Cheer Up Baby and the title track are all over your ears immediately. The latter a perfect song for lockdown and the coming out there of… It Won’t Always Be LikeThis. Indeed! Yet, it was written way back in the day. As a first song ever written it was some sign of potential. 

Everything, as you’d expect is bouncy and youthful, though they can change gear nicely as on My King Will be Kind and Totally. 

The former gets angry and personally, though I can handle bad language as long is it for poetic intent, “She says I’ve got no love, I fucking hate that bitch” is a little out of keeping with everything else I am hearing. 

Love and heartache and finding belonging are all readily made themes for a debut record by a young band. If they were keeping one thing from the singer’s dad’s band I’d hold on to the eternal spiritual questions. That might more than anything be the reason that Eli and dad are going to end up competing in some awards night or best of the year poll!

I do love their ode to America, A Night On The Floor. This is perhaps as close to U2 as the young pretenders get. It’s that recurring U2 theme of a love/hate relationship with the States. 

In an Apple interview Eli, after sharing a love for America, says, “And it’s just sad to see America in that kind of state, because it symbolises so much to us. It feels like, I guess, the States is having a bad hangover or something. It needs to get off its arse and have a coffee or something.”  

The falls close to the tree there but I do love the lines : “This for all you sinners/Saved by saints/God bless the madness/Of the 50 states.” 

So Inhaler have arrived with a big relieved puff. They deserve their number 1 and they might just be the saviours of guitar bands. As a first album it is up there with, yip, Boy as a more than impressive debut.


STOCKI'S FAV 10 ALBUMS OF 2021 (SO FAR)

Vinyl-Records

My ten favourite albums of 2021 so far. It is always intriguing to see where they end up in my year end best off.

 

10. CROWDED HOUSE - DREAMERS ARE WAITING

Neil Finn with an original band mate and two sons restores the melodic stealth of early Crowded House. Very fine return to former glories.

 

9. THE HOLD STEADY - OPEN DOOR POLICY

Back to the intriguing narratives and soaring bar band rock of old. There best in years.

 

8. GREAT LAKE DIVE - OBVIOUSLY

Just caught this one as I went to press! Sunny jazz soul shine on a great collection of accessibility.

 

7. DEACON BLUE - RIDING ON THE TIDE OF LOVE

An extended Ep of out takes from City Of Love and some even newer songs. These guys are on a five year roll. 

MY FULL REVIEW HERE

 

6. ADRIAN CROWLEY - THE WATCHFUL EYE OF THE STARS

I have discovered Galway songwriter Crowley late but he right up my street. John Martyn territory and deeply embedded with quality.

 

5. FIRST AID KIT - WHO BY FIRE; A LIVE TRIBUTE TO LEAONRD COHEN

A recording of a wonderful live concert where First Aid Kit curate a tribute to learned Cohen’s songs and poems. Beaut.

MY FULL REVIEW HERE

 

4. DEL AMITRI - FATAL MISTAKES

First record in 19 years. It is a corker. Currie’s voice and lyrics, Harvie’s guitar. Every tune grabs the head and heart.

MY FULL REVIEW HERE

 

3. DECLAN O’ROURKE - ARRIVALS

O’Rourke follows his astounding Songs Of The Great Irish Famine with something a little more universal. With these songs O’Rourke will have you conjuring up scenes by Irish coasts, searching your own fragile heart and imagining how to change the world. 

MY FULL REVIEW HERE

 

2. CARNAGE - NICK CAVE WITH WARREN ELLIS

Cave describes it best in a lyric, “Reading Flannery O’Connor with a pencil and a plan”. He does it rather well.

MY FULL REVIEW HERE

 

1. DAVID GRAY - SKELLIG

Meditative and reflective, Gray’s best record in a long while is spiritual whether by intention or accident. 

MY FULL REVIEW HERE


JONI MITCHELL - BLUE 50 (DEMOS AND OUTTAKES)

BLUE 50

50 years today one of the most exquisite albums of all time was released. Joni Mitchell’s Blue is sublime. It is also so darn personal that it launched a new genre of albums of personal introspection. 

Presbyterian minister and writer Frederick Beuchner once said that the best art is just opening a vein and letting bleed on the page. The only books worth reading suggested Buechner were books written in blood. So too albums worth listening to. 

If ever any songwriter bled on the page it is Joni Mitchell. Blue might be 12 inches of vinyl on which she bled the most.

When the songs on Blue were being spilled, Joni was living a rock star drama of her own up in Laurel Canyon. This one record is strewn with 4 minute diary entries about love affairs with Graham Nash and James Taylor and there is “a redneck on a Grecian isle” as well!

For its 50th anniversary we get an advance release of 5 demos and out takes. I say advance as they will all be included in the second in Mitchell’s Archive box set series in October. This second collection covers 1968-71. I cannot wait.

This little download taster is rather tasty. We get A Case Of You, maybe the best song ever written with slightly different words. It’s not quite formed. So too California with a harsher sounding guitar.

Then we get Hunter, which has been subtitled The Good Samaritan and does prove what Mitchell has said that she was a little obsessed with Jesus around this time. Perhaps that is why it was eventually left off Blue. It is a wonderful out take to discover 5 decades on.

River get a different mix that includes French horns. They do give the song a more Christmasy feel but a whole lot less Bluey. 

The final outtake is Urge For Going with strings. It’s a beauty. I never knew this much earlier song was slated for Blue. It would have fitted. It is one of Mitchell’s most accomplished songs and finally being released as a b-side seems very harsh, almost disregard, for such an accomplished song. 

So, on what should be called Blue Day, here is a wee celebration. A way to listen afresh. Back to Buechner. He went on to say that “anything written in blood bring about transfusions that can save souls if not lives”. 

 

“I remember that time you told me

You said, "Love is touching souls"

Surely you touched mine

'Cause part of you pours out of me

In these lines from time to time

 

Oh, you're in my blood like holy wine

You taste so bitter and so sweet

Oh, I could drink a case of you”


DEL AMITRI - FATAL MISTAKES

Fatal_mistakes

19 years since we got a new Del Amitri album. It is so good to have them back.

I remember seeing Del Amitri sing Nothing Ever Happens on a TV show, must have been early 1990. Almost like a protest song with acoustic guitars and this amazing voice, it was the lyrics that caught my attention most. Here was poetry and biting social critique:

 

And bill hoardings advertise products that nobody needs

While "Angry from Manchester" writes to complain about all the repeats on TV

Computer terminals report some gains in the values of copper and tin

While American businessmen snap up Van Goghs

For the price of a hospital wing

 

I bought the CD single (they rage in the early 90s and I have everyone the Del Boys released!) and loved all three of the extra songs. So Many Souls to Change almost brought it to Church:

 

So mother and child while traveling to Deli

Have to jump off a burning train

While the puppet rich bible class third world society

Meets to discuss it's slogan campaign

 

After that it was the whole album Waking Hours with Kiss This Thing Goodbye, Hatful Of Rain, Move Away Jimmy Blue among others. Their next album Changes Everything was a constant soundtrack during a short break up with Janice making heartache almost glorious. I was also using quotes in my preaching:

 

“So look into the mirror do you recognise someone

Is it who you always hoped you would become

When you were young” 

 

Though I wouldn’t say that the lyrics on Fatal Mistake have the poetic density of those earlier songs the flair for turn of phrase is alive and well:

 

I am lipsticked like a tart

In the cherry red of Côtes-du-Rhône

Prodding at the little fire of my phone

The lights behind the bar

Twinkle like they've always known

Only desperate little men ever drink alone

 

Fatal Mistakes is quite a comeback record. In the usual subjects of love, broken usually, mortality and social observation they reel off catchy song after catchy song. If we were still back in 1990 there would be a swathe of CD singles off this accessible batch.

Every listen throws up another wee sound or more important for me a punchy rhyming couplet. Missing Person, I’m So Scared Of Dying, the near Crosby, Stills and Nash sounding Lonely and the 7 plus minutes of the scathing Nation Caners. It is all so immediate but will take a long time to get tired of. 

Add to Currie’s pen still flowing, his voice is a strong as ever. Iain Harvie’s guitar playing is as good as ever but dare I suggest more mature than ever, the chugging riff on I’m So Sacred Of Dying, delicate touch on It’s Feeling to fragile picking on the campfire light of Mockingbird, Copy Me Now. 

For Del Amitri fans this is well worth the wait. No mistakes. Let’s hope it’s not fatal.


IMELDA MAY - 11 PAST THE HOUR

Imelda 11

Recently, I put together an Imelda May playlist. Songs that didn’t appear on her albums. Guest appearances, collaborations and soundtracks (My Imelda May Playlist here). 

It is the most extraordinary eclectic collection of songs. She can play rock chick with Ron Wood and Jeff Beck, light jazz with Jeff Goldblum, folk rock with The Levellers, her former trade mark rockabilly on Elton John’s My Sister Can’t Twist But She Can Rock N Roll, actual folk with The Chieftains and Sharon Shannon, big ballads like Lilac Wine and a vocal only version of U2’s I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.

Such a gifting is a blessing and a curse. It means that you can do whatever you please. You can come out from behind your iconic rockabilly quiff and conquer the mainstream. The downside is that it can be hard to decide which direction to go down. 

On this her second post rockabilly record, if you don’t count her spoken word Tongue, she doe a fine job of throwing all the genres into one big stew. If we take the middle of the record, Don’t Let Me Stand On My Own her duet with  actor partner Niall McNamee is followed by the near Blondie punk of What We Did In The Dark with Miles Kane of Last Shadow Puppets and then the piano led delicacy of Can’t Say.

More intriguing going forward might be the lead off tracks. 11 Past The Hour and Breathe might be the next Imelda sound sneaking through. Touching on a darker near Nick Cave mood these songs have menace and words tumbling through intriguing rhythms and rhymes. 

Elsewhere ballads like Diamonds and Solace give May’s voice its purity and Just One Kiss and Made To Love with Ron Wood driving the guitars gives that voice a stretch and rock strength.

Made To Love is the big song. Written for big crowds to sing along with, it is Imelda’s Sermon On The Mount, her take on Jesus refrain about all of the law captured in “Love the Lord with all your heart and soul and mind and strength and your neighbour as yourself” though the theological police will be standing by.

Imelda May is a force of rock n roll nature. She is also a growing force in her art. I think her best is yet to come but in the meantime, this is more than fine…


BOB DYLAN COVERS ALBUMS BY CHRISSIE HYNDE & LUCINDA WILLIAMS REVIEWED

Chrissie Sings Bob

The Coronavirus pandemic has not been the best friend of musicians or the music industry but there have been many wonderful exceptions. 

Two of those come in the form of Bob Dylan covers albums by Chrissie Hynde and Lucinda Williams. There are many albums by artists who have felt the need to record an entire record full of Bob Dylan covers. I haven’t heard many that I don’t like at least a track or two. I obviously favour some much more than others. These two are up there with the very very best.

There are three things that guaranteed that these projects couldn’t fail.

First of all the is the track record of the singers. Chrissie did I Shall Be Released at the Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary Celebration, Forever Young on The Pretenders’ Last Of The Independents record and most intriguing of all she used to close out concerts with a version of Property Of Jesus.

My Lucinda’s Rarities Playlists Trying To Get To Heaven, Chimes Of Freedom and Positively 4th Street on In Their Own Words Volume 1.

Second, these voices. Both of these rock chicks bring their attitude and drawl (a southern and northern one) across those literary lines of imagery and insight. It is not everyone can navigate the lines of Dylan’s genius. These women have the chops. 

Lucinda Sings Bob

Third, the musicianship. Lucinda’s band gives Dylan the full whack. Tasty guitar solos and riffs even on Meet Me in The Morning. There is mood and menace throughout with guitar strings getting stretched to add all kinds of glorious grace notes.

Chrissie has James Walbourne. I first heard Walbourne playing in Pete Bruntnell’s band in The Errigle In in Belfast while he was still in his teens. He’s fulfilled all the potential he showed that night and as well as his own band The Rails with his wife, Kami Thompson (daughter of Richard and Linda) he is now guitarist with Hynde’s Pretenders.

Standing In The Doorway seems to have been very much a collaborative effort, music and vocals bouncing across computers before an amazing mixing job by Tchad Blake. Walbourne has just this sensitivity to what a song needs. With just two of them there is more space. It really works. 

Of course above all, it Dylan’s songs that stand out. Wonderfully neither artist goes particularly for the hits and reach for songs across most of his catalogue. Williams’ Not Dark Yet and Hynde’s In The Summertime prove my point. Of the ones they double up on Idiot Wind and the incredibly brilliant Blind Willie McTell, that Dylan only released in an out takes record, are highlights.

As two celebrations of Dylan’s 80th birthday, look no further. I promise you’ll hear a lyric or an angle or a mood that you missed before. Williams and Hynde add to the legend. 

 


CROSBY, STILLS, NASH & YOUNG - DEJA VU; 50 THE ANNIVERSARY BOX

Deja Vu

Crosby, Still & Nash - and in this case Young, when he is attached like an extra conservatory - were the last great act to make their way into my favourite rock acts. 

I started as far back as 1992. My aunt Lila worked at WEA in Toronto and as a staff member was able to take home a  number of records at $1 each. She got me the Crosby, Stills & Nash box set and over the next 20 years at regular intervals I tried to fall in love. Nothing doing.

Eventually around 2012 something clicked. I got it and bought everything as my love of collecting does. I am talking solo albums and records of any combination. 

As the bigger combination CS&N or CSN&Y have never equalled the first two records. I debate with myself whether the debut without Neil Young or this one where they let him join the band is the best. It is too close to call.

I was delighted though that they decided on this 50th Anniversary box and the format they chose. I came to this band in the days of CDs so it was a treat to have a reason to buy the vinyl. That they packaged the vinyl in a box set with 4 CDs and at a price that McCartneys, Lennons and Springsteens could learn from.

Deja Vu is everything the Crosby, Stills & Nash debut is with that added Neil Young’s earthy grit. Their symphony of harmonies that is their sound, is showcased immediately on the opening Carry On, written to be the Suite; Judy Blue Eyes of the debut. The breadth of styles and topics of songs is still there. Nash’s amazing love-caught-in-a-moment in Our House and social comment on Teach Your Children; Stills introspection on 4+20; Crosby’s hip anthem and political provocation Almost Cut my Hair.

You can add to this perhaps Neil Young’s finest song Helpless. When Crosby doubted inviting Young on board he heard him play this song and immediately was convinced. I have a personal love for it in that it is set in north Ontario where I have visited and my Uncle Bobby was laid to rest.

Above all of this we have maybe the finest song of the entire era, not written by any of the band. Joni Mitchell, the other half in Nash’s house, who pulled out of Woodstock to get TV exposure, stayed at home and wrote Woodstock. Like Our House, this is a song about a moment in time, one weekend, and into that space sprinkles political comment and spiritual search. It is the anthem of the generation and Stills was quick to ask permission and give it the CSN&Y stamp.

Young, was asked to join the band initially to beef up the live sound. He certainly gives an earthier edge to the album. The latter half of side 2 is heavily Young. It added another dimension for sure.

Even better in this box set is a fabulous array of extra tracks, alternative tracks, demos and out takes. It is a treasure trove, not at all fillers to up the price. Fewer from Young and more from Stills than the others but so many lovely touches. Joni singing with Nash on a version of Our House, demo of John Sebastian’s How Have You Been and Nash’s Sleep Song are just three highlights. 

Great album. Great price. Great excuse.


VARIOUS ARTISTS: DYLAN... REVISTED - UNCUT JUNE 2021

Dylan Revisited

As Bob Dylan cover albums go this might be one of the very best. It comes from a strange source.

I hate free CDs with music magazines. CDs? Surely streaming has stopped any need for a few taster songs from top and coming albums. Mostly, they are not the best songs. Advertising money can be the only reason.

Yet, Uncut’s June 2021 free CD is a revelation. Just a glance suggests as such. I mean it only needs a glance for proof. Cowboy Junkies, Low, Courtney Marie Andrews, The Weather Station, The Flaming Lips, Richard Thompson, Frazey Ford, Weyes Blood… and more.

But even with a strong bill I can still be suspicious of these darn things hanging off front covers of magazines. My suspicions were well and truly smashed by a stunning collection of Dylan’s songs, tastefully done. Even better is that when they brought all these versions together with a certain 

It is the female vocals that marvel most. Courtney Marie Andrews’s To Ramona, Bridget Mae Power’s One More Cup Of Coffee and Frazey Ford’s The Times They Are A-Changing bring a vocal purity that is surely beautiful and Low’s Mimi Parker is only a little short of angelic on the haunting requiem that is Knockin On Heaven’s Door.

There is a special world music shift in the African rhythms and harmonies that Fatoumata Diawara brings to Blowing In The Wind, an assured addition to our next Ugandan Bus Trip Playlist.

Most intriguing of all are The Weather Station and Cowboy Junkies. The former tells us that she has tried to strip away the Christian parts of Precious Angel, “I found a way to remove some verses and reorder others to make it a secular song”. Bless her heart but Tamara’s caricature of following Jesus is a little out of sorts. She might have removed Jesus but the Holy Spirit is still hanging all over what is still very much a prayerful spiritual.

Cowboy Junkies don’t have Lindeman’s seeming queasiness with Jesus and don’t tamper with the Holy Spirit in I’ve Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You. The most recent Dylan song here, a blend of Make You Feel My Love and something from Saved they preach it in that gentle Canadian arrogant free way:

 

If I had the wings of a snow white dove

I'd preach the gospel, the gospel of love

A love so real, a love so true

I've made up my mind to give myself to you

 

The other remarkable thing is that there is not one duff track here. Richard Thompson thinks he has nailed This Wheel’s On Fire better than anyone before him; The Flaming Lips do psychedelic country on Lay Lady Lay; Thurston Moore get’s closest to the original on Buckets Of Rain; Patterson Hood and Jay Gonzalez from Drive By Truckers bring an appropriate southern crawl and drawl then add a little menace to Blind Willie McTell; Joan Shelley’s purity on Dark Eyes with Nathan Salsburg on guitar; Jason Lytle’s stripped back strum and luscious lazy vocal on Most of The Time reminds how good a tune that is. 

After all that the Musical Excellence Award goes to Weyes Blood for her 11 minute Sad Eyed Lady Of the Lowlands, starting in the same Americana ambience as everything else before building to a psychedelic baroque drama of the most beautiful climactic kind.

All this and I haven’t even mentioned that Bob appears himself in a rare track from the very fertile Infidels sessions. Too Late merged eventually into Food Of Pride and still didn’t make the cut. Here, it is an acoustic lash, echoing Dylan’s early Greenwich Village days and has all the lyrical intrigue you would like. 

This does deserve an official release but if that doesn’t happen, get yourself to a shop now and buy Uncut June 2021 and make sure that infernal free CD is attached!