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

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

Album cover features a colour photograph of the artist. She is sitting in a green field with buttercups. She looks directly into the camera and has a bunch of the buttercups on her lap.

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

Album cover shows the title in white lettering on a black background

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