December 31, 2010

Can The Circle Be Unbroken - The Carter Family

Along with "Singing Brakeman" Jimmy Rodgers, The Carter Family created the millenial template US Country, Bluegrass and Folk forms. Building on the string band tradition their influence and legacy are immense; their enduring appeal facile and mysterious. Harmonies simple and haunting, immediate and distancing. Alchemical interplay of voice and guitar.

Some of the greatest US music ever recorded.

Oddi wrth y brawd
keep on the sunny side

December 30, 2010

Wildwood Flower - June Carter Cash [2003]

Autobiography, mission statement, last will and testament, restless farewell.

A family affair, unpolished and grittily recorded at the Carter Family Estate (including June and Johnny's bedroom!). J.C. is around but keeps a low profile, allowing June to reinhabit the songs she grew up with - mostly A.P. Carter classics: Keep on the Sunny Side; Storms Are On The Ocean; Will You Miss Me When I'm Gone. Ghosts of the original Carter Family hover about uneasily in the mix offering ancient shards of harmony and broken notes. June no longer has much of a voice in any conventional sense but the expression is intimate and heart-felt. By turns uplifting and poignant as undistilled country music tradition pours down around the listener, cracked, flawed and more beautiful than ever.

Oddi wrth y brawd
anchored in love

December 26, 2010

Bitter Tears, Ballads of the American Indian - Johnny Cash (1967)

Bitter Tears tackles the experience of the Native American Indian and is, by a nose, the best of Cash's Americana albums of the 60s - collections themed on railroad expansion, the American landscape, outlaws, and the archetypal American working Joe. No crass exercise this. A set of strong, affecting songs and ballads mostly written by Peter LaFarge alongside a couple of Cash originals. Surely, among the first popular art to explore the Indian point of view and while somewhat romanticised compared with more contemporary renderings such as Cormac McCarthy's awe-inspiring Blood Meridian, these songs contain undeniable truth.

As the liner notes tell:
"Listen well to these words. They are the thoughts and feelings of a people who deem Custer's Last Stand not a massacre but an Indian victory over a foe who had broken a promise...Johnny Cash sings well these tales of the Indian's woe. His facility for perception and insight lends validity to these tales of anguish. Johnny is justified in the stand he takes. Johnny cash is proud of his Cherokee blood."

Oddi wrth y brawd

December 25, 2010

Bagpuss: The Songs and Music - Madeleine (Sandra Kerr) and Gabriel (John Faulkner)

Hey, it's December 25.

Join Madeleine and Gabriel, a chorus of mice, Professor Yaffle and his helpful interjections, and not forgetting a certain saggy old cloth cat.

If further encouragement needed, check Rob Young's (Electric Eden) comments:

"It's a series that's deeply saturated in ghostly echoes of the folk revival – full of songs, nursery rhymes and lyrics that are set to ballads and rustic old tunes. Each episode, in fact, turns on a story about an old item or fragmentary relic brought into Emily’s shop, at first unidentified, then gradually unravelled or mended by singing its history and identity into being – almost a metaphor for the whole process of folk revival itself.

What I notice and marvel at now, re-watching the series with a critical eye, is how subtly subversive it is, and how truly it adheres to the spirit of folk as an alternative people's history and mildly anarchic force, upsetting the normal orders of power and reversing stereotypical tales...And of course being an Oliver Postgate production it has an endearingly homemade, craft-y feel – the hand-drawn illustrations for the songs, for instance, are kind of rubbish in some ways, swashed-out watercolours and scribbles. But what a world away from kids' TV today, with its garish colour schemes and its sense – pervasive across all TV broadcasting these days, not just for children – that it has to clamour to keep its audience’s attention span before it wanders off somewhere else. The thought of anything aimed at today’s children with similarly encoded mild subversion is a distant dream.

Bagpuss’s sepia-toned bookend sequences are bang in tune with the retroactive mood of those times, the power-cut years in the immediate pre-punk era. Emily’s chant, to wake the sleeping cat – wise, sleepy demiurge of the old curiosity shop – recalls enchantments of other children’s fables, such as "Oak and Ash and Thorn" from Kipling’s Puck of Pook’s Hill – a song arranged by that folky fan of all things Rudyard, Peter Bellamy. Bagpuss’s hermetic world of lost and unhoused objects speaks directly to that profoundly British obsession with the past and how to reconstruct it."

Peace, hope and blessings to all.

Oddi wrth y brawd
row row row your boat

December 23, 2010

Winter's Turning - Robin Williamson [1986]

Robin Williamson brings his bardic musicianship to bear upon a joyful celebration of the season of ice and snow. Drive the Cold Winter Away; Sheep Under the Snow; Blow Blow Thou Winter Wynd...may well strike a chord with those currently labouring under the season's might on Albion's shores. Terrific arrangements: brass embellishment, piping and pervasive stately early music feel.

Oddi wrth y brawd

December 20, 2010

Live at The Old Ash Tree, Kent 1972 - COB [Clive's Original Band]

Time entwines my very soul,
The tangled briar kills the tree
 - Music of the Ages, COB

Unutterably magical performance for the ages. Anachronistic creativity heightened by rough around the edges lo-fi recording. Mantric, hypnotic songs; harmonium drones and homemade "dulcitar". Ur-text for all things wyrd, and, somewhat ironically, more compelling than anything the Incredible String Band were producing at the time.

Mystic, timeless and absolutely essential listening.

Huge thanks to Pagan Dad for this one (undoubtedly the coolest horticulturalist in Devon).

Oddi wrth y brawd

Ark 1 - Beyond The Wizard's Sleeve [2008]

Re-animators extraordinaire Erol Alkan and Richard Norris serve up a collection of esoteric,  freakbeat weirdness, revitalising long lost / stale psychedelia with an injection of krauty beats and sprinkling of balearic fairy dust. Play spot the source track and get your ears round this gorgeous stuff.

Oddi wrth y brawd

December 19, 2010

Darkspace III - Darkspace [2008]

Top drawer ambient doom metal. No Satanic nonsense from the mysterious Swiss trio. Instead a spacy, bleak vortex of pealing emptiness. Strangely enervating.

Oddi wrth y brawd
kama loka

December 18, 2010

III - Espers [2009]

With III a backlash of sorts fell upon Philadelphia's own Espers: much wyrder than thou lamenting that Greg Weeks, Meg Baird and co. had - horror - moved on to more concise, melody-driven songs, emphasising songcraft over opium den mood and effect. Worse, was wanton besmirching of droned out layered mysticism with obnoxious distorted electric guitar leads and drums actually audible in the mix.

Well, let's hear it for psych prog directness, dive-bombing violins, flanged out guitars and heavy free folkery. Like Albion cousins Trembling Bells, Espers just get better and better.

Oddi wrth y brawd
that which darkly thrives

December 16, 2010

Gwymon - Meic Stevens [1972]

"Clasur gan y cawr o Solfach" - Llinos A.

Y brawd agrees: classic from mighty Meic Stevens.

Having tried to please label Warners with 1970's Outlander (the public, wisely, ignored the "Welsh Van Morrison" shtick), Meic goes on to please himself with quietly stunning results on Gwymon. More laid-back, rootsy and unforced, the quality of the songs and performances shines through. A mix of light-hearted stoned chooglers - Shw' Mae, Shw' Mae [How's it going?]; Mae’r Eliffant Yn Cofio Popeth [Elephants remember everything];  Mynd I Weld Y Byd [Off to see the world] - and more weighyy, heart-felt meditations on loss - Traeth Anobaith [Beach of despair]; Daeth Neb Yn Ol’ [Nobody returned]; O Mor Lan Yr Oedd Y Dwr [How clear was the water].

The loose watery theme explains the title: Gwymon = Seaweed.

Welsh language desirable but not essential. Do yourself a favour, dive right in. 

Oddi wrth y brawd
shw' mae shw' mae

buy Meic

December 15, 2010

Autumn Response - Richard Youngs [2007]

Elemental and mystical in a non-specific, nature drenched kind of way. Borderline droned, often simple finger picked phrases repeated seemingly endlessly as one cut blends into another; moments not so much frozen in time as outside it. Digital delay on voice and guitar and lines in each song repeated and overlaid in ghost-like but in no way gimmicky mimic. Voice closely self-twinned - without exactly harmonising - like a mirror reflecting a symmetry within which the listener slips between cracks of meaning.

Beautiful, literate songs that pull off the Drakean trick of being utterly personal while dissolving identity in wash of acoustic riffs that drive onwards only to disperse like breath in air.

Like many of today's envelope-pushing folk experimentalists, Richard Youngs hails from Scotland. Must be something in the water. Drink up.

Oddi wrth y brawd
something like air

December 13, 2010

A Map of Derbyshire - Muckram Wakes [1973]

Another trio: Roger and Helen Watson and John Tams play earthy tunes from Derbyshire county. Somewhat uninviting name derives from a small township in the region of Somercotes where Tams originated, and "Wakes" the North England word for a fair or holiday.

Fine concertina work.

Oddi wrth y brawd
muck raking

December 12, 2010

Galleries - The Young Tradition [1968]

Gamely vogue-ish album art aside, The Young Tradition seemed suspended between the diverse folk currents of 60s. Neither four square traditional, despite some fine Copper Family type plainsong and a dedication to unearthing the most "authentic" versions of the songs, nor fully immersed in the psych folk zeitgeist, although Galleries enlists mediaevalist du jour David Munrow a year ahead of his stewardship of Shirley and Dolly Collins' Anthems In Eden. Soon their sound would be drowned out altogether by the Mattacks thwack of 4/4 folk rock.

A shame, as this outing by trio Peter Bellamy, Royston Wood and Heather Wood  - the last of their three together - is more than worth the time of day. A blend of traditional material and early music arrangements.

Oddi wrth y brawd
mediaeval mystery tour

December 11, 2010

Shahen-Shah [Brightest Star] - Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan [1988]

Over relentless handclapping, harmonium drones, and tablas, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and his nine-man "Party" work up a trance swirl of escalating vocal fireworks. Singers repeat lines with growing intensity, each repetition extracting more joy from the words as Nusrat's scat-like improvisations weave around and about bringing the whole crew back to unison chant melody. They sing qawwali: devotional music drawing on religious and romantic texts of Sufi poetry.  If Islam tends towards the dogmatic and paternalistic, Sufism represents a contrary esoteric impulse: a mystical immersion into the gentler more feminine side of spirituality and the search for direct personal experience of God.

This music captures the ecstatic revelation of spiritual truth, and is therefore very special indeed.

Oddi wrth y brawd
unveiling one to oneself


December 09, 2010

Polyphonic Voices of Georgia - Anchiskhati Choir

The Anchiskhati Choir, based in Anchiskhati Basilica, is the world's leading exponent of Georgian polyphonic choral music. Polyphonic traditions in Georgia began before Christianity and were incorporated into church worship during the early Middle Ages, flourishing in the mountain monasteries. The Choir has researched age-old celebrations to Easter, Christmas and Harvest festivals and has recorded them with a "glorious exuberance and spirituality".
Warning: rumour has it that God binned his collection of Fall albums (He has the lot) when He heard this, and now listens to nothing else.

Oddi wrth y brawd
the angels in heaven


December 08, 2010

On The Way To A Little Way [Soundtrack of Herzog's Nosferatu] - Popol Vuh [1978]

Not exactly a soundtrack but equally a stunning compilation of previous and unreleased works. Luminous and ethereal prime Popol Vuh:  serene, mystic, and contemplative. Imagine Hosianna Mantra transposed as meditative gothic. While context renders some genuinely creepy moments, this music works on a whole other level - rather like the movie itself.

Florian Fricke at the peak of his powers, and so, highly recommended.

Oddi wrth y brawd
It will cost you sweat and tears and perhaps a little blood

December 06, 2010

Dracula, Film Score for String Quartet by Philip Glass - Kronos Quartet [1999]

Y Brawd can't top this excellent review of Kronos Quartet performing Dracula at Hackney Empire, London, July 2010:

"Despite its establishment as a 20th century music, minimalism is an oft derided genre in classical circles. With its conceptual leanings, its cultural promiscuity, its art of the repetition and closed, poppy structures, minimalism is sometimes seen as the chavvy cousin, busking monotonally outside the citadel of serious classical music.

Philip Glass has never had much time for the bourgeois gate-keepers, nor for history for that matter. His is a thoroughly modern career, multi-media, high and low, culturally experimental - a 20th century oeuvre. The instantly recognisable rhythmic and harmonic patterns have established themselves as an idiom across art forms from opera to cinema, testament to which is tonight's white chattering throng, which is younger, slightly more shabby and hip than you might expect at a typical UK premiere, filtering into the music hall baroque of the Hackney Empire to hear the latest.

That Glass has chosen Todd Browning's 1931 film Dracula is perhaps odd. The same director's 1932 film Freaks is his usual claim on cinema history. The cinematic seriousness of Nosferatu, German Expressionism's hook-faced poster-boy, is the most obvious vampire touchstone. But as creaky scene after creaky scene unfolds, the staged hyper-emotions, the bats on strings, the cardboard sets, Bella Lugosi's superbly immobile Dracula, the realisation that this is tied up in Glass's pop universe, his catholic tastes, and tireless work on the borders of unacceptable trash, is all but unavoidable.

The score itself, delivered by the avant-pop classical heroes Kronos Quartet, is familiar Glass. The piano is a delicate nag. The violins scissor and wallow, while the cello clambers within the narrow confines of the 4/4, almost like a hard sexless funk bassline. The trademark double-time arpeggios carry that familiar momentum, like a train window flashing by in an old movie. All those elegant iterations, extended through time, deliver their carefully modulated moments of jouissance. His grasp of pop vernacular is as tight as it ever was.

One effect this has on Browning's film is to create something of an ironic rephrasing of Golden Age Hollywood - what amounts to a pop art moment. Glass's music, which many have labelled as empty of history, is here engaged in active dialogue with the past - that it only goes as far back as 1930s Hollywood is wryly typical of the man. The film's dialogue crackling underneath Glass's score becomes like lost fragments; there is both nostalgia and hauntology at work here. The tragedy of the brave glamorous present gone to the past, Hollywood's failure at loss, a kind of aural Warhol.

While the emotions are not new, Glass using his classical tropes as pop art makes for a compelling night. It's not all sepia. He invests the film with his own stature as a composer of scores, his energy and care. He lifts all those stagey, hammy moments of excess emotion out of the text, and in doing so returns their melodramatic power. For brief moments Glass's ability to tap us, his deep resonant connection to the emotional narratives of the past hundred years, resurrects the film like its undead star.

But the irony is never too far from the surface, aided by the relative glibness of Glass's music, which can often sound tongue in cheek. We get the same impulse that drew Johnny Depp as Ed Wood in Tim Burton's film of the same name to resurrect the career of Lugosi; a sort of affectionate curious hipster irony. It's a tragic bravery, but with a sense of humour. It took a long time for the shabby youth in the upper circle to stop laughing at Brown's ancient cinematic techniques. Catching the mood the largely middle-aged arts crowd in the stalls began laughing at the deliberate light moments in the film. Between laughing at things that weren't supposed to be funny, and those that were, the night threatened to dissolve into fun, like an echo of Hackney Empire's boisterous music hall past. Surely Glass wouldn't have it any other way."

Oddi wrth y brawd
undead, undead

December 05, 2010

Let The Right One In - Johan Soderqvist [2009]

For some time teenagers the world over have been getting erotic kicks from vampires on page and screen. Mainstreaming and commoditisation inevitably obscure the psychologically troubled themes at the heart of the genre: aliention, isolation, troubling sexual and transgressive impulses. 

2009's Let The Right One In reinstated the potency with a perfectly balanced mix of romantic bildungsroman and revenge on the bullies shocks. Set in early 80s Sweden, the film's 12-year-old hero -  sweet-natured, shy, studious Oskar -  is being bullied at school. One night, while he's stabbing a tree with a knife, a girl his own age appears in the frozen playground. She's pretty, barefoot, moves with a nimble grace, has a pale complexion with dark rings under her eyes and turns out to be a dab hand at Rubik's Cube. Eli has recently moved in next door to Oskar, and lives with HÃ¥kan, a middle-aged man she calls her father. She only comes out after dark, when the school day ends and is, of course, a vampire.

Johan Soderqvist's score fully renders the icy mis en scene and snow-bound landscape as a setting for this oddly innocent romance between the two "children". Perhaps deliberately, Soderqvist references the elegaic feel of autumnal 80s Morricone work such as The Mission - crucially, without overdoing it.

Intimate, affecting and rather beautiful.

Oddi wrth y brawd

December 02, 2010

Hapmoniym - Magical Power Mako [1972 - 1975] 5 CD Box

1970, teenager MPM spends summer holidays in long bedroom recording sessions, ping-ponging tracks back and forth on a reel to reel, eventually writing on tape box: "Summer 1970, things a 14-year-old boy thinks about". The modus operandum sticks. Hapmoniym was created between 1972-75 in Mako's private studio while working on second album Super Record. Essentially these 5 CDs are notebooks for ideas either polished up for proper release, or else discarded for posterity.

Necessarily, the work is oftimes unfocused and rambling but, steady, there is plenty of shinola amongst the shit; when the mountain contains so much gold it makes the digging worthwhile. The Hapmoniym experience is by design one of excavation and sifting in a single shift: separate "songs" are mounted onto each disc as one index track -  ranging between 43 and 65 minutes in duration - each track in effect its own album. Canny.

And what strange trips the discs are: campfire acid folk, Karakoram kosmische jams and Faust-like grooves collide and morph backwards and forwards into wild tape-splices, synthesiser sound-effect blasts, chanting and indescribably twisted digressions. Ideas take vague shape, feel themselves out, and slowly push to ridiculous limits. Many pieces meander for 10 minutes or so leading to majestic revelation or studio-inflicted self-destruct.  

A monument of sorts to creativity and self-indulgence, and proof that excess can sometimes lead to the palace of wisdom.

Happy digging.

(BTW Japanese avant garde noise fans take note: a young Keiji Haino makes an uncredited vocal appearance somewhere on disc 1 - perhaps his earliest recorded "performance")

Oddi wrth y brawd

December 01, 2010

Super Record - Magical Power Mako [1975]

A landmark music read of the past few years, Julian Cope’s Japrocksampler inevitably rattles the cages of some Japanese music aficionados, with its obsessive focus (Cope, obsessive? gedadahere...) on lumpen jazz-rock crossover no-marks at the expense of the wild early 70s free jazz scene, Mikami, Tomokawa, Keiji Haino et al., and more to the point, the dismissal of this righteous album from Magical Power Mako aka Makoto Kurita:

"Super Record was unlistenable New Age twaddle of the World Music variety, with sleevenotes comparing it to Folk music of India, Turkey and Russia...expressing fully the odour of the soil!. Where the cattle pissed, mate. Sheesh!"
 - Japrocksampler

Sheesh, and shame on you Jules for pissing so liberally over a psych folk classic. Curiouser still, given that opener Andromeda comes on uncannily like the mid-section guitar solo-ing of Peggy Suicide's Safe Surfer and the sonic dynamics that introduce the final four tracks would not be out place as an intersong cut on JC's first solo outing World Shut Your Mouth.

Forget folk, the record starts with a spacerock outing in high late 60s Floyd stylee, all brain-throbbing bass and heliocentric intent. Mako’s vision then descends earthward and explores a weird cultic ethno-fusion along the silk road to Asia Minor.

No twee, no twaddle, and don't believe everything you read.

Oddi wrth y brawd