Soundtrack to February and March

Cassandra Wilson, Coming Forth by Day (2015)

This is just a gorgeous album of slow, atmospheric Billie Holiday covers (plus one original). There is such love and respect for the material, but the interpretations also sound new and inventive. Cassandra Wilson is amazing.

Top tracks: You go to my head, Good Morning Heartache and Strange Fruit

Adwaith, Melyn (2018)

I bought this album after hearing it playing in a local record shop. Adwaith are a welsh language, indie, feminist rock band. This is such exciting music. Wearing its indie rock influences proudly, but completely fresh. Brilliant melodies and instrumentation.

Top tracks: Lipstick Coch, Fel i Fod, Y Diweddaraf

Jaimee Harris, Red Rescue (2019)

One to watch in country music. Jaimee has a fantastic voice and this is such a fun album. Soaring country songs with big melodies.

Top tracks: Damn Right and Red Rescue

Joan Baez, Dark Chords on a Big Guitar (2003)

Great album of covers from Joan. I love her later work.

Top Track: In my time of need

Alabama Shakes, Boys and Girls (2012)

Raucous, bluesy album full of songs of resiliance and determination.

Top track: Hold On

Nina Simone, Gold

I’ve been listening to a lot of Nina Simone recently. Impossible to choose a top track, it’s all so good.

2019 Mixtape

Here are the tracks I had on repeat during 2019.

Anna Calvi & David Byrne, ‘Strange Weather’ (live)

This song is just so melodramatic and the live version with choir takes it to new heights. I love it!

Wake up slowly, there are blue skies
Cutting white lines in black matter
I see them shinin’ through your drunken eyes
Carving silver in strange weather

Marianne Faithful (Feat. Nick Cave), The Gypsy Faerie Queen

A beautiful song. I get chills when Nick Cave joins the chorus.

And I follow, follow, follow
The gypsy faerie queen
We exist, exist, exist
In the twilight in-between

First Aid Kit, Wolf

This is one of my favourite tracks of the last couple of years and I’m still not tired of hearing it.

Wolf-father, at the door
You don’t smile anymore
You’re a drifter, shape-shifter
Let me see you run, hey-ya hey-ya

Thea Gilmore, Grandam Gold

I could have picked several songs from Thea Gilmore’s lovely album, ‘Small World Turning’, but I think this delicate melody with tough words is my top track.

Like those who before us full well understood
We’re told that the poison is for our own good
While they dry up the seas and set valleys on fire
The coins on the hill pile higher and higher

VRi, Cob Maltreath

Absolutely beautiful Welsh folk music.

Anna Calvi, Wish

The second Anna Calvi track to make the list. Sexy and slightly menacing.

I got one more wish before I die
So please don’t you stop me
No don’t you stop me
I got one more wish before I die
So please don’t you stop me
No don’t you stop me

Veruca Salt, Alternica

I love the way this builds to a huge musical climax.

This is Alternica
Desert and the plains
And the ocean waves
Oh brave Alternica
Remember what you know
And you’re not alone

‘The Body Electric’ is a powerful song for our times, as well as a brilliant response to Johnny Cash-style murder ballads.

He shot her down, he put her body in the river
He covered her up, but I went to get her
And I said, “My girl, what happened to you now?”
I said, “My girl, we gotta stop it somehow”

Melanie Safka, Dust in the Wind

I’ve done a lot of reflecting on meaning and loss this year, sometimes accompanied by ‘Dust in the Wind’.

Same old song, just a drop of water in an endless sea
All we do crumbles to the ground though we refuse to see
Dust in the wind
All we are is dust in the wind

The Albums that Made Me #6 – Kate Bush, ‘The Dreaming’ (1982)

I’ve written about The Dreaming before, so this is a bit of a repeat post, but I just had to include it on my ‘Albums that Made Me’ list.

I can’t overestimate the influence The Dreaming has had on my taste in music and, possibly, in shaping aspects of my personality. I must have been around six years-old when I started listening to it. My Dad was a Kate Bush fan and we always had her albums around the house.

The Dreaming is probably the album that first sparked something in me which could be called a sense of “taste” in music. I loved it, but I was also quite terrified by songs like ‘Get Out of My House‘. I was fascinated by the soundscape and the way Kate Bush manipulated her vocals on different tracks. I was slightly outraged that a woman could sound like that! In summary, it got me to start thinking about music.

I would play it in the kitchen and dance madly to ‘Night of the Swallow‘, ‘Sat in your lap‘ and ‘The Dreaming‘. That’s what I mainly remember. Dancing, dancing, dancing until I was exhausted. One time, I ran up and down the room so wildly, I winded myself on the kitchen sink.

As an adult, my favourite Kate Bush album is Hounds of Love, but I still have a very special place in my heart for The Dreaming.

Sapphic Link Love #9

Thea Gilmore Live & New Album

I first heard of Thea Gilmore sometime back around 2003 when my friends were sharing round a copy of The Lipstick Conspiracies (2000). I didn’t really get into her music until I heard the album, Rules for Jokers (2001), which I loved. Since then, she’s been putting out consistently excellent albums.

Thea Gilmore has a beautiful voice and writes catchy, melodic, socially aware folk/rock songs in the tradition of people like Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Sandy Denny and Billy Bragg, but with very much her own distinctive sound.

There’s been quite a lot of buzz about her new album, Small World Turning and I finally got to see her play live last week. The gig was as good as I expected. New songs featured heavily, with ‘Cuttleslowe Walls’, ‘Glory’, ‘Don’t Dim Your Light for Anyone’, ‘Grandam Gold’, and ‘The Revisionist’ all being highlights. She also played ‘Saviours and All’ and ‘This Girl is Taking Bets’ from Rules for Jokers, and ‘Old Soul’ from Liejacker. There was a lovely cover of ‘Sweet Child of Mine’ and a great song I hadn’t heard before, ‘The New Tin Drum’.

I’ve listened to Small World Turning a few times since the gig and I think it’s one of her best albums, a gorgeous collection of songs for our time. This is even more of an achievement when you realise that Gilmore did almost all of the work herself after three record companies pulled out.

Here’s to another seventeen albums!

Soundtrack to Spring

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Nocturama (2003)

While this may be Nick Cave’s happiest, soppiest album, I think it’s far from his best and don’t listen to it very often. But I do like a few of the songs.

Top tracks: Wonderful Life and Bring it On

VRï , Tŷ Ein Tadau (2018)

We saw this Welsh chamber folk band play at a local folk festival and loved them. Such a great energy. Here they are performing

Patti Smith, Gung Ho (2000)

Not one of my favourites by Patti Smith, but a perfectly decent rock album.

Top tracks: Glitter in their Eyes and New Party 

Super Furry Animals, Fuzzy Logic (1996)

Wow, this was a nostalgia trip. I first saw them supporting Radiohead (or was it Blur?!) back in 1998 and they were amazing. I still think Fuzzy Logic is a fab album – upbeat, anarchic and really, really fun.

Top tracks: Gathering Moss and Bad Behaviour

Gillian Welch, The Harrow & the Harvest (2011)

I seem to have made a thing of listening to some of my least favourite albums by some of my favourite artists this spring. But it’s Gillian Welch, so it’s still pretty excellent. I saw them touring this album in 2011 and they were brilliant live.

Top track: The Way it Goes (live)

Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, Gorky’s 5 (1998)

Another blast from the past here. Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci were a Welsh psychedelic folk rock band who made a lot of lovely music.

Top tracks: The Tidal Wave and Sweet Johnny

Kate Bush, 50 Words for Snow (2011)

This is definitely a winter album, but I got in a last listen in March. 50 Words for Snow is a beautiful, meditative work. Elusive and a bit bonkers in a few places, but that’s Kate. 

Top track: Lake Tahoe (love that rolling piano riff)

Delyth & Angharad (DnA)

We were lucky to see this mother and daughter duo play at a local folk festival recently. Delyth & Angharad write and play absolutely beautiful Welsh folk music.  There’s an excellent review of their latest album Llinyn Arian (Silver thread) here.

Here they are playing Viva Cariad and an old favourite from my West Wales childhood Sosban Fach

The artwork by Carys Evans is gorgeous too. Love the Gwen John influence.

Soundtrack to February

Album of the Month 

Tanya Donelly, Swan Song Series (2016)

This three-CD set brings together all the Swan Song series releases. In style, I’d say the music is a combination of the more poppy Lovesongs for Underdogs and the melodic, country-inflected This Hungry Life.  It’s a wealth of gorgeous songs.

Top tracks: Making Light, Why So Sad, VivaKaraoke

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The Albums that Made Me #5 – John Williams, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (soundtrack) (1982)

The second John Williams soundtrack to make it onto the list of music I was listening to during my most formative years.

My mum took me to see E.T. at the cinema when it came out. I would have been about 6 years old. I found it scary and upsetting and only really liked the bit when the kids’ bikes take flight. I was too young and sensitive for this movie and I don’t know what my mum was thinking. I’ve never actually watched it again!

However, I did absolutely love the soundtrack and nagged my parents until they bought me the cassette. I have clear memories of putting it in our old cassette player in the kitchen and dancing up and down the room.

It’s another beautiful, sweeping score, but as with the Star Wars soundtrack, I don’t think I could bear to listen to this now. The emotions would be too overwhelming.

Top track: Flying theme

Marianne Faithfull, ‘Negative Capability’ (2018)

“It’s taken me a long time to learn, in fact my whole life so far”

Damn Marianne! This album near destroyed me.

Negative Capability seems to occupy a similar territory to some of Leonard Cohen’s last works. There’s a very conscious sense of someone staring down mortality and trying to tell us something of what they’ve learned from a long life.

Nick Cave and Ed Harcourt are perfect songwriting collaborators for Faithfull. The instrumentation is gorgeous and the songs bring out her strengths, along with a sensitive production from Head, Warren Ellis and Rob Ellis. Yes, her voice is cracked and broken, but boy, can she still put a song across.

And the songs! Faithfull’s 1965 hit ‘And Tears Go By’ has a very different resonance when sung by a 72 year-old woman (“I sit and watch the children play”) and is especially moving because we know what Hell she went through in the following years.  ‘The Gypsy Faerie Queen’ is a beautiful song and Nick’s Cave’s rich backing vocals give me chills.  There’s a broken-down cover of ‘It’s all over now, baby blue’. No Faithfull album would be complete without a rambling, angry, in-your-face song like ‘They Come at Night’.

One to treasure.

Lovely little video about the making of the album and interview with Faithfull here 

January Life Round-Up

January has been pretty quiet.

The second week saw both the anniversary of our civil partnership in 2011 and our first proper date back in 2007, so we decided that was worth celebrating and went out for a nice dinner at a little French bistro near where we live.

We went to one gig. It was supposed to be folk legends John Kirkpatrick and Martin Carthy, but Martin had flu and had to pull out. John Kilpatrick  managed to get a set together at the last-minute and it was a really fun gig, with all the joy of watching a tuly consummate performer. Plus he sang one of my favourite songs by Fairport Convention, ‘Crazy Man Michael’.

Books

I finished and wrote a post about Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers.

I also read Star Nomad  the first in a series by Linda Buroker which was fun (CN for rape threat though).

Film

We went to see The Favourite and seem to be in disagreement with pretty much the rest of the universe because we didn’t like it!  I won’t get into the reasons here because it would take an entire post.

Television 

We watched Lucy Worsley’s series History of the Home which was fascinating. I love social history.

Soundtrack to January

Album of the Month

Kristin Hersh, Possible Dust Clouds (2018)

Hersh’s latest has a rough-edged, vigorous and gritty sound. It’s more percussive and textured than some of her other solo work. I’ve got my tickets booked for her UK tour.

Top tracks: No Shade in Shadow and Tulum

Tori Amos, From the Choir Girl Hotel (1998) and The Beekeeper (2005)

My partner is a big Tori Amos fan. Choirgirl is one of my own favourites. It marked a shift for her musically and I remember how startled we all were back in 1998. I loved it, though. I like The Beekeeper, but I think it’s one of her least innovative works and is more of a background album for me.

I love pretty much everything on Choirgirl, but I’ll go with Spark because it just blows the album open and Playboy Mommy for its grappling with the experience of miscarriage. My favourite track on The Beekeeper is Sweet the Sting.

Patti Smith, Trampin’ (2004)

Not one my top Patti Smith albums, but still a good listen.

Top track: In my Blakean Year

Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Greatest Palace Music (2004)

An album of Will Oldham covering himself! These are all versions of songs originally released under his various Palace incarnations. He basically turns them into (slightly) more upbeat country songs.

Top track: Riding (this one’s still creepy)

Neko Case, Furnace Room Lullaby (2000)

This was my first encounter with Neko Case. It’s not her best and is much more of a straightforward country album than her later work, but it has some great songs and foregrounds her amazing voice.

Top tracks: Set out Running and Twist the Knife

Cat Power, The Greatest (2006)

This is a beautiful, warm soulful album.

Top track: Love & Communication

Leonard Cohen, Field Commander Cohen, Tour of 1979

Cohen at the height of his live performance powers here, with bonus jazz band.

Top track: Lover, Lover, Lover

Joseph Arthur, The Graduation Ceremony (2011)

I don’t know much about Joseph Arthur, but I like this album. It’s a gentle collection of quality songs.

Top track: Out on a Limb

The Albums that Made Me #4 – Sky, Sky 2 (1980)

At some point, I become old enough to start rummaging around in my Dad’s record collection. It was probably the cover that initially attracted me to Sky 2.  I still think it’s just beautiful.

Sky were an English/Australian progressive rock band and were hugely popular and successful at the time. I don’t remember much about the music, apart from the single ‘Toccata’ which may have been a favourite, but I can clearly remember getting the album out, putting it on our record player and dancing madly around the living room.

I haven’t kept up an interest in progressive rock, but I think Sky 2 played a big role in firing my imagination when I was a kid.

Top track, Toccata

The Albums that Made Me #3 – Mary O’ Hara, Music Speaks Louder Than Words (1978)

Mary O’ Hara’s Music Speaks Louder than Words (1978) is the first album that I can remember identifying as something that I liked for myself. I must have been around three or four years old at the time. I couldn’t quite manage to say her name, so I called her “auntie”, much to the amusement of my parents.

I now suspect that I was more interested in the photographs of O’Hara on the album cover than I was in the music. I had begun to realise that I was supposed to grow up to be a “lady”, as the people around me said in the sexist language of the time, and here was a “lady” that looked quite appealing to me.  We had fields full of buttercups like the one she’s sitting in on the front cover and I was fascinated by the dress she’s wearing on the back.

Image shows a studio photograph of Mary O' Hara. The picture is shot from just above the waist and shows O' Hara with her elbows on the top of her harp, leaning her head on her hands and wearing a brightly coloured stripey dress.

I didn’t know anything about her, so I looked her up and found that she’s a very influential Irish singer and harpist.  She’s had a pretty interesting life, which includes a period spent as a Benedictine nun.

This album has a lot of covers, so I think it must have been aimed at a more mainstream audience, but it’s her traditional Irish folk recordings seem to have had the staying power.

My favourite tracks when I was a child were the covers, ‘Music Speaks Louder than Words’, and ‘Annie’s Song’. As an adult, my top track is ‘Dust in the Wind’. I can’t find O’ Hara’s anywhere, but here’s a great version by Melanie.

I felt I should include one of her performances in this post, so here’s Óró Mo Bháidín which seems to be a favourite and has the most listens on Spotify.

Thanks auntie.

The Albums that Made Me #2: Star Wars (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) 1977

By John Williams

Like many Gen Xers I’m completely imprinted on the original Star Wars trilogy and the music that accompanies it.

I decided to make this soundtrack the second entry on my list because I have no memory of when I first started listening to it. The overwhelming emotional effect that it has on me feels like something that predates language and psychological defense mechanisms! It’s almost too exciting. My parents were fans of the film and we had the album on vinyl as far back as I can remember, so it was probably playing in our house from around 1978.

The music is incredibly beautiful and stirring and is, in many ways, what makes the film brilliant. Orchestral soundtracks would never be the same

I’m sure it fueled my imagination and love of science fiction, but I don’t think I could sit down and listen to the Star Wars soundtrack now. I might have a nervous breakdown or something!

Top track: Main Theme

The Albums that Made Me #1 – ABBA, ‘The Album’ (1977)

Of course it’s impossible to remember exactly which album I heard first, but I’ve decided to start with this one by ABBA because I know it would have been playing in our house around the same time as I started to become aware of my environment.

The Album was released in the UK in 1978 when I was a year old and, although my Mum pretty much gave up on popular music when I was born, she still liked ABBA. Even now, hearing these songs gives me that strange thrill you get when you listen to music associated with your earliest childhood. I can remember the cassette when I was a few years older, battered, the letters almost entirely rubbed off and the sleeve long gone by then. I loved it and would campaign to have it played on car journeys.

The best tracks on there are the hits ‘Take a Chance on Me’ and ‘The Name of the Game’, but my favourites were always ‘Move on’ and ‘Eagle’, which is a very odd song about someone turning into an eagle (?!).

I still love ABBA.

Top track, Move On

Soundtrack to a Week in the Country

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We spent last week in rural Mid Wales.  There was a crispness on the air and the scent of wood smoke as the local pubs started lighting up their fires. You could feel winter moving in.

Time to break out the folk and Americana.

Recent Listening

The Butchies, Make Your Life (2004)

This album is SO much fun. It’s just catchy, dumb, lesbian pop/rock tunes from beginning to end.

Tanya Donelly, This Hungry Life (2006)

I love everything Tanya Donelly’s done. This album feels less innovative than most of her other work, but it’s lovely.  Top tracks: “Kundalini Slide” and the title track, which makes me think of my grandmother for some reason.

This hungry life won’t let you out whole
But you can change a thing or two
Before you go
This hungry life
Might not leave you with much
But you can change your story
And throw a hand up from the mud

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Grey Hair Goals #Grombre

One of my ambitions in life is to have amazing grey hair.  I stopped dying my hair three years ago, but the result can’t yet be called “amazing”.  It’s ….  a journey I guess, an interesting one which I would like to write more about at some point.

When I feel insecure about it, I’m going to look at this picture of Natalie Merchant from the cover of her retrospective collection.

This is everything and I’ll be happy if I can get my hair to look half as good.

Gillian Welch’s hair is looking awesome these days too