Soundtrack to February

Album of the Month 

Album cover is an abstract painting with black, yellow and pink shapes hovering above what looks like a green sky and green and blue landscape below

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)

Album cover shows ET and the human protagonist's fingers touching with a background of stars over the top of planet Earth

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)

Album cover is a colour photograph of Marianne Faithful looking directly at the camera. She is holding a cane in the foreground.

“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 

Soundtrack to January

Album of the Month

Album cover is a black and white abstract painting with black shapes against a grey background

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

Album cover is a colour photocopy of the the artist

Album cover is a colour photograph of the artist against a background of stylised flowers

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.

Album cover is a black and white photograph of a bare foot

Patti Smith, Trampin’ (2004)

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

Top track: In my Blakean Year

Album cover is a watercolour painting of mountains above a blue lake

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)

Album cover is a colour photograph of the artist lying on a dirty floor

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

Album cover is gold chain with a gold boxing glove pendant against a hot pink background

Cat Power, The Greatest (2006)

This is a beautiful, warm soulful album.

Top track: Love & Communication

Album cover is a close up photograph of Leonard Cohen's head. He is staring directly into the camera.

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

Album cover is an abstract painting in blues, greys and yellows

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)

Album cover shows a painting of a gold and orange sunset over dark red hills with a blue sky fading into darkness above

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

Soundtrack to Last Week

I somehow managed to publish this post yesterday before it was ready. I must have hit ‘publish’ instead of ‘update’. Anyway, properly updated now.

Album cover is a blurred photograph of Hersh's son, Wyatt,with a purple filter. He is looking down and wearing a white t-shirt and dark trousers. The track listing is in white text on the left

Kristin Hersh, Wyatt at the Coyote Palace (2016)

I love everything Kristin Hersh has ever done. This is a beautiful, spiky, life-affirming album.

Top track: Bright

Album cover is a stylised drawing of a skull on a black background

Album cover is a colour photograph of a rough track leading towards the sea

Bonnie prince Billy, I See a Darkness (1999) and The Letting Go (2006)

My two favourite albums from Will Oldham. Both winter listens for me.

Top tracks: I See a Darkness and Strange Form of Life

Album cover shows a faded bunch of flowers against an off-white background

Sleater Kinney, No Cities to Love (2015)

Always enjoy listening to Sleater Kinney. I cleaned the kitchen to this last night.

Top track: Surface