17 August, 2010

Voices From The Blogroll II

I only just noticed the other day that one of my earlier posts, Voices From The Blogroll, had the Roman numeral I appended to it, indicating the eventual arrival of a sequel. I had no such intentions, but my blogroll's been made over a bit since that post so I really should introduce you to a few very interesting people.

The author of Audrey & The Bad Apples is Clementine Ford, an Adelaide-based writer and broadcaster. If you thought there were some right-wing nutters in the Melbourne tabloid media, the City of Churches has a cast of regulars to make them look like the Oxford Union. So it's a tough town in which to be one of the voices of reason. Writes warmly and honestly about personal matters too.

DK Presents
This music-based blog provides a really eclectic mix of album and artist reviews, much more so than what's usually found within the narrow confines of this blog. Delves into jazz and blues and manages to encapsulate what would normally be lengthy back-stories. Can cause you to reappraise your views (read prejudices!) about certain artists and their output.

Ears On Stalks
Boo had already made a name for herself with her other still-extant blog, The Galloping Skirt. A keen observer of the extraordinary in the everyday. Makes the personal universal.

Fifi Dangerfield
The Perth-based Frankie writes poignantly and yet matter of factly about her life there. I like the kick-arse iconography too.

Grog's Gamut
A political blog of some note. The best of his high-quality posts are those that deconstruct wrong-headed spin.

Happy Endings
Want to hear the viewpoint of a sex-worker? You've come to the right place. CJ works as a masseuse in a parlor in south-east Pennsylvania. A unique perspective with a clear leaning towards witty myth-busting.

Lady Pants
My only worry is Sydney might not be big enough for this 28-year old. She has a nice way with a snappy comeback and writes perceptively about her life in a vibrant metropolis. Maybe it is the Emerald City after all.

Lexicon Harlot
Interesting aspects of the English language are covered by this talented writer and knowledgeable linguist. Never pedantic, she always relates her arguments to meaning.

Lorna Lino
You could spend hours on her iconography alone. Fantastic images of women from the past, many juxtaposed ironically. And then there's her writing - always entertaining, she segues back and forth from the topical to the personal.

Man At The Pub
No, not the nasty drunk you try to avoid at all costs. This personal blog is always a little on the wry side and downright hilarious for it. You sometimes need to look very closely at the images.

Mike Fitz
Lean and Green. And why not? Somebody's gotta hang onto their principles. This activist is also a software architect. Work, life and community. Not a bad mix.

Much Ado About Sumthin'
Alternately prolific and dormant, Steph is one of the doyennes of blogging. Hilarious and not a little titillating, she also manages to make her legions of blogfans (I'm not kidding: 120+ comments per post, for chrissakes) feel special. Gives all comments a personal, and personable, response.

Penguin Hunter
Geoff is a comedian based in regional Victoria. The Penguin Hunter Diaries used to be wide-ranging but are now devoted largely to Geoff's passion for golf. Available for product endorsement contracts.

This was one of the first blogs I ever followed. She's twenty-something and lives and works in Sydney. Quite a stylish writer whose voice is unique. Another blogger who takes great travel photos.

Sixth In Line
Writes about writing. Always thought-provoking. Great interplay in the well-stocked comments section too.

Veni, Vidi, Blogi
Ah, Latin. There's no other language does it quite as well. This guy says he's trying to be wry. And I reckon he succeeds. Another clever linguist.

15 August, 2010

Some Classic Albums: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly III: The Ugly

Anthem of the Sun - The Grateful Dead:

I gave a curious workmate a lend of this album not so long ago. He didn't think much of it. Me either. I told him I didn't know if I'd ever bother to play it again. This was the Grateful Dead's "psychedelic album". Back in 1967, everyone was doing it. Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band; Their Satanic Majesties Request; After Bathing At Baxter's. Y'know, months in the studio, plenty of drugs, finally free to express themselves meaningfully, music would never be the same again, etc etc.

And psychedelic rock is a sub-genre that I have a considerable soft spot for. Because at worst, even the ordinary psychedelic LPs still had at least two or sometimes three really good songs on them. But not Anthem of the Sun.

The Grateful Dead were unable to settle on a studio after finding facilities in New York and LA unsatisfactory and ended up completing the album in their hometown San Fancisco. Warner Records got very antsy about the time and expense the album was devouring. So the fractured nature of Anthem of the Sun's genesis is writ large in the quality of the material. Aimless, overlong jams pad out the album and I honestly couldn't think of one good song.

There are also a number of live tracks. I'm inclined to the view (and you can shoot me down for this if you like) that live tracks belong on live albums. The Grateful Dead's reputation as a great live band might take something of a tumble with a few listens to these tracks. And they sound like padding. I've always thought Goodbye Cream a terrible album due to its live-tracks padding.

Finally, after a few recent listens to this album, I was left with one huge unanswered question: where do you find the real Grateful Dead? They made their name during the psychedelic era, but this, their signature psychedelic album, is lousy. Their two most highly-regarded albums are Workingman's Dead and American Beauty, but these belong in the country-rock firmament and so their best stuff is actually a departure for them. I know, it doesn't make sense.

So I still think of the Dead as something of an enigma, one I haven't yet been able to unravel.

Anthem of the Sun at amazon.com - MP3 files and reviews

I normally try to steer clear of absolutism. So okay, I might like Bob Dylan a lot, but I can understand someone else not liking Dylan. The same goes for the Rolling Stones, the Who, Eric Clapton, you name it. If people just aren't that into them, I believe I can see where they're coming from. I really do. But not only do I not like the mid-60's Los Angeles-based Love's second album, I don't see how anyone could.

This is a stinking, steaming pile of complete shit. It sounds like a parody of self-indulgent, flighty, whimsical 60s music. I kept seeing it on those lists of the 20 Greatest Albums of All Time that kept appearing in the press during the 90s. And then, I shit you not, it came in at 40 on the Rolling Stone list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time!

I'm sure you can imagine that I bought this album expecting exciting new worlds to open up for me, as they did when I explored albums by The Byrds and The Doors. And it was a reasonable expectation, considering Love were one of the top bands on the LA scene during that seminal period from 1964-1966 that also gave rise to the Byrds, the Doors and Buffalo Springfield.

And like much of the output of that LA scene, Forever Changes is folk-oriented more than anything - but this isn't the kind of folk that Dylan might have generated. Nope, this is more the earnest undergraduate Poetry Major type folk, with mincing vocal stylings by Arthur Lee. Think Johnny Mathis. And then the lyrics are laid over atrociously annoying melodies and there's far too much in the way of strings and brass.

Redeming features? In short supply, but they include high production values - it's a much clearer, vibrant sound than anything Buffalo Springfield or The Byrds were getting on their records. Some songs display similarities to the kind of innocent trippiness that would be better realized a little later by star-studded British psychedelic band Traffic, so Love might even have been a little prescient. But they still sound like phonies.

So why is it regarded highly in some circles? Well, back in 1966, Love had the almost irresistable ultra-cool mix of black and white guys in the band. And they had two prolific and, it must be said, original, songwriters in Arthur Lee and Bryan McLean. I also think there were a lot of people making bets on the future of what would become rock music, and Love had all the trappings of the very now.

John Densmore said in his autobiography Riders On The Storm that he would rather have been playing drums with Love than the Doors. I had to reread this to be sure. Rather be with Love than The Doors?!? You've got to be kidding. He wasn't.

But look, it might well be that Love had a lot of fleeting LA street cred, but their music just wasn't substantial enough to make them sound like anything better than a fad.

Forever Changes at amazon.com - MP3 files and reviews

11 August, 2010

Some Classic Albums: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly II: The Bad

Blue - Joni Mitchell:
I hadn't heard much of Joni Mitchell's music. Just the 1971 hit Big Yellow Taxi and her version of Woodstock, which she wrote. Neither of which I was particularly enamoured of, but people raved about her, so I figured there must be something going on. Maybe there is, but I didn't find it with this album. Its formless and whimsical, like she's just piss-farting about. Don't get me wrong - whimsy can produce really good music. Just not in this case.

And yet, Blue was an almost instant critical and commercial success, peaking in the top 20 in the Billboard Album Charts in September 1971 and also getting to 3 in the British charts.What I do understand about Joni Mitchell is that it might well be a case of some people getting her and some people not, with me firmly in the latter category. What I hear as shapeless, meandering quasi-melodies with what seems like two octave shifts in every line, others undoubtedly hear as well crafted, tantalizingly-structured, not easily accessible songwriting and unique singing from deep inside a beautiful soul.

But put it this way: if I was in charge of security at my local shopping mall and had to find a way to stop teenagers from hanging around, I'd be piping this album through the PA.

Sailin' Shoes - Little Feat:
So many people I admired sang the praises of this outfit that I probably had unrealistic expectations. I thought maybe they might sound a bit like the Allman Brothers, or Atlanta Rhythm Section, or maybe Lynyrd Skynyrd. Or possibly even the Rolling Stones.

Little Feat recorded this album at Sunset Sound Recorders in Los Angeles, where the Stones' Exile On Main Street was being finalized in 1972, and apparently the two bands got along like a house on fire and traded a few licks during whatever down time the Stones' had. It was even rumoured that listening to Little Feat had influenced the songs on the "country side" of the Stones' double album, but this is very much unconfirmed.

What Sailin' Shoes sounds like to me is like an album of sub-standard outtakes from the Grateful Dead's country-rock period in 1969-70. I can't think of a single song that stands out as a really good track. The songs are lacklustre and unmemorable. Neither the country nor the rock really works and they certainly don't blend very well on this album.

But there's one thing about Little Feat that makes me not want to give up on them completely: the guitar playing of Lowell George. He is one of the greats of the slide guitar with a uniquely fluent, bluesy style. It's difficult to understand why he wasn't given more prominence on Sailin' Shoes. It might have made a few songs passable. His playing on a 1979 cover version of I Can't Stand The Rain from Thanks, I'll Eat It Here, his only solo album, is terrific. And on a cover of a disco song, for fuck's sake!
A great many players have cited George as an influence, particularly Mick Taylor, who started using a heavy spark-plug spanner after he saw Lowell playing slide with one.

I don't normally use this expression, but for Sailin' Shoes, it's the most apt description I can think of:


09 August, 2010

Brushes With Fame IV: Sophie Lee

It was twenty years ago, today. I was sitting in the Sale of the Century contestants' dressing room, one of many opening off a narrow corridor, waiting for shooting to start. Five episodes, a whole week's worth, were due to be shot that day, in Monday-to-Friday order one after the other, with just a brief interlude for costume and set changes in between.

The other contestants had all gone off on the introductory tour of the studio. I was sitting watching daytime television. As this was taking place at Channel Nine's Richmond studios, it kinda figured that there was only one channel available. I was leaning back in my chair with my back to the dressing room door when I heard a long, languid sigh from the open doorway behind me.

"This is sooo boring."

I turned around and it was Sophie Lee, then host of the linking segments between Bugs Bunny cartoons shown during kids' viewing time. The joke around at the time was that as much as the cartoons had universal appeal, Sophie had her own male-dominated fan-base too, and was dressed to keep them interested.
"What are you here for?"

"Oh, I'm one of the contestants on Sale of the Century today."
"Well, why aren't you taking the tour with the rest of them?"

"Um, I - I did it last week and they said I didn't have to do it again, so I'm here watching TV."

"Ohhhh, so you're the champ," she said, one eyebrow arched rather, um, archly.
"Yes, well," I stammered, "I - I had a bit of luck during the final episode last week and..."

But she'd already turned around and walked away.

We're still in contact though.

02 August, 2010

Great Gigs IV: Mick Taylor at the Lone Star Cafe

We were at a loose end in New York City, my two mates and I. It was late December 1986, and we'd been in The Big Apple just a few days. We'd seen the hit novelty movie Crocodile Dundee at a cinema just off Times Square the previous night. Thought it might be an idea to check out a band. So I went downstairs from our hotel room to a chilled-to-the-bone December afternoon on 47th St in Midtown Manhattan. I walked past steaming manholes and walk-up brownstones until I found a newstand and grabbed a copy of the Village Voice.

The gig guide at the back contained some good news for me. Well, actually it was sensational news. The Lone Star Cafe in Greenwich Village had the Mick Taylor Band playing that night. Ex-Rolling Stone Mick Taylor is one of my all-time favourite guitar players. And I'm not alone in that.
But first I had to be certain. Mick Taylor can be a fairly common name. I've known three of them in Melbourne alone. Plus there was a Michael Taylor who played football for Collingwood and another who played cricket for Victoria. That's five all up. And the Lone Star Cafe sounded a bit country to me. What if the Mick Taylor playing there was some good ol' boy from Lubbock, Texas and not the ex-Rolling Stones guitar player? A simple phone call to the venue sorted out any possible mistaken identity and we were off to check out the guy who replaced Brian Jones in the Stones in 1969 and Ronnie Wood's predecessor.

I'd seen Mick Taylor once before at the Chevron in Melbourne in 1982. If that was the realization of a dream, this took it up a notch. I was going to see Mick Taylor. In New York, for fuck's sake!

We caught a cab downtown and ate at a cheap Mexican restaurant in the East Village. But still got to the Lone Star Cafe just in time to snag one of the last available tables. The joint was starting to fill up as the support band, a blues outfit from Chicago, went through its final set. Our waitress reluctantly introduced herself. She didn't seem to like the look of us and it soon got to the mutual stage. My experience of the Big Apple is that it is NOT a friendly town. But we were prepared to peacefully co-exist with her. The Japanese couple sitting opposite were nice though, and we exchanged pleasantries with them until Mick hit the stage. Just as the guy was assuring me that "Everrywun rrliike Rorrrling Stonez."

Mick kept things pretty bluesy throughout his two excellent sets. And there were no complaints. The audience were way too cool to call out the names of Stones numbers. He played a couple of songs from his excellent eponymous 1979 debut solo album and I was rapt that the knowledgeable crowd reacted to these little-known gems. He even dipped into the Clapton catalogue with Key To The Highway. His singing was fine. Nothing to write home about but well-suited to the material.

And Mick Taylor played great guitar. His sound and his style were just beautiful. He's a really sweet blues guitarist and I suppose I'd rather listen to him cut loose than anyone. I heard recently that Slash rates him as a major influence (I'll update as soon as I track down a link for it) One thing that's always struck me about his slide guitar playing was that he seemed to do a fair bit of it in standard tuning, unlike Keith Richard who wouldn't use a standard tuning if his life depended on it. So it was tempting for rank amateurs like me to think they could go home and just churn it out like Mick. Fat chance.

When it was over, our waitress gave us the bill as perfunctorily as her service throughout the evening and we argued amongst ourselves about the tip. Suitably warmed by the drinks and the fact that I'd just spent an evening with one of my idols, I argued for ten percent, what I thought would be the base rate for tipping based on what I'd gleaned form the last few days in New York. They were either a cheapskate regular crowd at the Lone Star or she hadn't been making much in tips because she whooped and high-fived. She might have been taking the piss, but it was the first time she'd looked happy all night. Not like me.

During a break earlier in the evening, the guy next to me at the urinal said something that still haunts me. Nothing to do with size, you sillies. No, he mentioned that if I'd been there the night before, I would have seen Keith Richard on stage with Mick and his band. According to this bloke, Keith had strolled around from his nearby Greenwich Village home and got up and had a blast with his ol' Stones offsider. I thought the guy might have been mouthing off and didn't give his info much credence but bugger me if I haven't read of exactly what he described referred to in separate interviews with both Mick Taylor AND Keith Richard a couple of times since. Missed it by THAT much!


Mick Taylor performing with the band at around the same time as this gig occurred.