Exploring New Music

All posts tagged Exploring New Music

Half way through the year and it’s the sixth instalment of exploring new music (new to me at least) and this month, I’ve taken inspiration from Alfie’s new country set from his current shows.  Glen Campbell is one of those artists who has always been around, whose music is part of our culture, but I only really know a couple of songs.  Rhinestone Cowboy and Wichita Lineman were about the only songs I could name, so this month, I’ve been listening to some of his albums.  Researching this piece, I had no idea that Campbell had been a session musician before hitting the big time, working with just about everyone and was even a touring member of the Beach Boys at one point.  While recording country music, Campbell also crossed over (that term again!) into pop and some of his biggest hits were hits in the pop charts too.  His easy manner made him an ideal TV star and his own show ran for several years in the late 1970’s.

Campbell made over sixty albums so there was a lot to choose from, but taking advice, I settled for Wichita Lineman (1968), Galveston (1969), Southern Nights (1977) and Ghost on the Canvas (2011).  Of the four, I enjoyed Galveston and Ghost on the Canvas the most.

Campbell’s earliest recordings reflected the bluegrass tradition and Galveston sees a return to some of this music, If This Is Love is a notable example:

Slotted in amongst the majority country crossover tracks, this self penned beauty has a frenetic bluegrass feel and is full of energy.  Other favourite tracks are Where’s the Playground Susie and of course the title track, a song that jumped into the top five mainstream chart.  Many consider this to be Campbell’s best album and I can’t say I disagree.

Campbell had a smash hit with 1975’s Rhinestone Cowboy and 1977’s Southern Nights repeated that success, both artistically and commercially – Campbell had his second Number One pop hit with the sunny title track. Campbell also had a second Top 40 hit from this album, the catchy Sunflower, written but never recorded by Neil Diamond.

2008 saw a new album from Campbell, Meet Glen Campbell, in which, to glorious acclaim he covered artists such as Travis, Green Day and Foo Fighters.  Three years later, an album of mainly self penned originals was released, Ghost on the Canvas and is absolutely fabulous, vying for best album for me.  The opener, A Better Place is just beautiful – pared down, and perfectly complements the final track, No Me Without You.  In between, It’s Your Amazing Grace is that rare thing – a perfect song, with it’s pop-indie-country sound and In My Arms has danceability in spades.

Once again, thank you Alfie for inspiring me to explore different music – this is the best New Year’s resolution ever and certainly the one I’ve kept going the longest.

Ghost on the Canvas is available here:

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Prior to the start of the Together Again tour at the end of 2017, the talk amongst Alfie fans was all about which songs he would choose for his solo spot – not many of us guessed that one of the songs would be a rip roaring country song, Wagon Wheel, complete with Alfie on guitar.  I know I’m not the only one who had never heard of Old Crow Medicine Show, who co-wrote the song (from a part written sing by Bob Dylan) although Wagon Wheel is by far and away their best known song. The band have been around for a long time, coming from a live show background all the way to the 2014 Grammy for best fol album for Remedy.

Old Crow Medicine Show (OCMS) have a distinctive old time, bluegrass sound and have been putting out new music for twenty years, characterised by storytelling (the thing I love most about country), rip roaring catchy hooks, and a supreme danceability – always a plus for me.  Of their half dozen albums, the ones I chose to listen to were the eponymous OCMS (2004), Tennessee Pusher (2008), Carry Me Back (2012) and Remedy.

Their first, self titled album was the one that launched them and their most famous song, Wagon Wheel and where I started with this band.  I sailed through this album, loving it but not really finding a stand out track apart from Wagon Wheel.  Tennessee Pusher was a different story; I LOVE this album!  Every track delivers and has something to say on a diverse range of subjects.  Motel in Memphis reflects on the life and death of Martin Luther King Jr while Methamphetamine treads the sorry tale of that particular drug.  The upbeat, catchy music cleverly juxtaposes against the lyrics detailing the downfall of drugs and how small towns can be ravaged by it.  However, my favourite track is Caroline which is just lovely:

OCMS certainly know how to write and perform great albums, packed full of catchy songs you find yourself singing days after.  Carry Me Back and Remedy both have some stand out songs amidst a feast of equally good album tracks.  From the former, I liked Carry Me Back to Virginia and Levi, both tales of war, albeit from different centuries.  If you like a bittersweet love song, you could do a lot worse than Genevieve.  Half Mile Down is incredibly catchy too.

The last of the albums I listened to is Remedy and yet again, I loved it.  Sweet Amarillo (another Dylan collaboration, from a part written song) is my favourite:

Dearly Departed Friends is another song that takes war as its subject and brings the sadness right home with the lyric “twenty one guns [salute] for twenty one years”.

If you like your country music to come with a broad streak of bluegrass, lots of danceability and thoughtful lyrics, then this band is for you.  Fiddle, banjo and harmonica fans are in for a treat with Old Crow Medicine Show.  Thanks Alfie for the introduction – I loved this one!

Remedy and other albums are available here:

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This is now my fourth instalment of my 2018 resolution to listen to different types of music and for this month, I’m taking inspiration from Alfie again.  In a recent Instagram chat from Hong Kong, Alfie was listening to Chris Cornell, former lead singer with Soundgarden and Audioslave and I thought this would make an excellent choice for April.

Cornell sadly passed away in 2017 but was one of the leading lights of the grunge movement that came out of Seattle in the late eighties / early nineties and the early music of Soundgarden certainly reflects that, as well as the heavy metal and rock roots that are present throughout Cornell’s music.  Before I began listening to Soundgarden for this piece, I have to say that I wasn’t altogether aware of much of the band’s music…or rather, I was aware of the general sound (like Alfie, this music was a big part of my later teenage years) but not of Soundgarden in particular.  I definitely couldn’t have named any Seattle based bands other than Nirvana and Pearl Jam, and my only knowledge of Cornell was You Know My Name, the theme for 007’s Casino Royale.

I began by listening to 1988’s Ultramega OK and the sound instantly transported me back to my student clubbing days – guitar riffs, raw, powerful vocals and the driving rhythm that makes you dance.  Cornell’s vocals remind me of Robert Plant at times but he really comes into his own on the blues tinged Smokestack Lightning:

Moving onto 1994’s Superunknown, the music and lyrics become much darker and touched by feelings about depression and are quite bleak.  The album allows Cornell’s vocals to shine through much more (he has regularly been voted best rock vocalist by peers and fans alike) and as a whole, hangs together than previous albums.  Black Hole Sun and Fell on Black Days are great tracks, along with Day I Tried to Live.

Before coming back to Soundgarden, Cornell formed Audioslave with members of Rage Against the Machine and their self titled album first album was released in 2002.  When listening, I felt that this album was much more cohesive as a sound, with my favourite tracks being Like A Stone, I Am The Highway and Be Yourself.  Although I can appreciate Cornell’s music and voice through his collaborations with others, it’s his solo work that really shows his talent.  In particular, I liked Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart and The Promise:

I can hear Alfie singing many of these songs, as he definitely has the voice for rock (looking forward to finding out about Boston Pops) but it would be even lovelier to hear his take on these two solo songs.

Cornell’s solo album Higher Truth and others are available here:

If you would like to recommend any music to aid my 2018 resolution of listening to more music, fill in the form!

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Three months into my 2018 new year resolution to listen to more music and this time, I’m looking at an artist introduced to me by Alfie but suggested for this project by Gill Jansingh.  The artist is Warren Zevon and he wrote the song that has become my all time favourite song by Alfie Boe, the wonderful Keep Me In Your Heart.  Although the basics of the song are the same in both versions, it’s Alfie’s interpretation and voice that really shakes the buttons on my blouse – they’re perfectly safe with Zevon’s original!

Of Zevon’s albums, I concentrated on three for this post, the eponymous 1975 album, 1978’s Excitable Boy and The Wind, released just before his death in 2003 (Keep Me In Your Heart is from The Wind).  Of the three, although liking elements from all, my favourites are Warren Zevon and The Wind.  Encompassing musical genres such as country, rock, folk, pop and blues, Zevon’s own style is somewhat harder to describe; in this respect at least, he reminds me of Alfie’s eclectic musical career so far.

There are several outstanding songs on The Wind, namely Numb As A Statue, Prison Grove, El Amor De Mi Vida and Rest of the Night, that showcase Zevon’s talent as a lyricist.  Please Stay and Rub Me Raw are also little gems, while Knockin on Heavens Door is one of the best versions of the Dylan classic that I’ve heard.  Prison Grove sounds like an old chaingang style song, similar to the rhythms of Rosie, from Alfie’s Trust album, while Rest of the Night is a great dancing tune which exhorts us to just enjoy life while you can – “we’ve got the rest of the night”.

Zevon’s eponymous album of 1975 has some cracking tunes and eminently singable lyrics, even if the meaning of what you’re singing takes you by surprise on occasion.  Poor, Poor, Pitiful Me, also a hit for Linda Ronstadt, is a song with great danceability and simple yet powerful lyrics that take a somewhat dark turn, as does Carmelita, which beguiles with a country sound whilst Zevon sings about addiction.  Sleep When I’m Dead, surely an anthem for would be rockers, has a definite edge of punk.

Excitable Boy was the least successful of the three albums I concentrated on for this post and also seemed to contain the most pop / rock sound.  Having said that, there aren’t that many albums that reference the Biafran war early on – Zevon was certainly an intelligent lyricist who knew how to tell a story as well as make the listener think.

One of the most enjoyable parts of listening to music recorded a while ago is working out the musical influences; I could hear Springsteen, Dylan, Johnny Cash and Eric Clapton amongst others and yet I know that many of you will hear different things again.  What do I take from Warren Zevon? The joy of music written for the sheer joy of writing and recording and not with one eye on the sales market, and it seems that his music was a critical success right from the start with the sales being a little harder to come by.  This is perhaps due to the intrinsic difficulty of categorising the music so this would be a good moment to remind ourselves of Alfie’s perception of music: it’s either good or bad.  And Warren Zevon’s music is good, very good.

The Wind and other albums are available here:

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an an exclusive interview!

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My 2018 new year resolution to listen to more music is into the second month and this time, I’ve chosen Led Zeppelin, recommended to me by the lovely Linda Wellington.  In fact, when I asked for recommendations, I would have been shocked had Linda not mentioned Led Zeppelin as she absolutely loves them!  Aside from Stairway to Heaven, I wasn’t really aware of much of the music of Led Zeppelin until I heard Alfie sing Rock and Roll and Kashmir – this made me listen to the originals but until now, that was as far as I got.

Linda kindly supplied the whole back catalogue for the band but especially recommended Led Zeppelin IV and Physical Graffiti as being the best albums to start with.  Led Zeppelin is a band that I would never normally listen to, having the preconceived notion that I’m not keen on that genre of music.  Now however, whilst admitting it’s still not 100% my kind of music, there is a lot to like, not least the different influences apparent over both albums.

My highlights from Led Zeppelin IV include The Battle of Evermore, with it’s eastern inspired sound and acoustic guitar and mandolin, Going to California, When the Levee Breaks and Misty Mountain Hop.  The shorter, acoustic inspired tracks appeal to me more but I really loved the blues infused Levee Breaks as well.  Rock and Roll is also a favourite, but I hope I’m forgiven if I say I like Alfie’s version better!

You can see how much I liked Led Zeppelin IV by how many highlights I picked but Physical Graffiti is also a great album.  Besides Kashmir, my favourites here are Night Flight, Down by the Seaside, The Rover and Trampled Under Foot:

Although many songs pass the get up and dance test, Night Flight, with it’s opening bars sending you headlong into the song is the best.  Some of the other songs have fabulous long intros which allow the listener to really appreciate the musical skill on show but getting straight into the main body of the song is what I liked about Night Flight.

As I mentioned earlier, my New Year resolution is to listen to more music, especially that inspired by Alfie, so I’m looking for more recommendations.  If you have any recommendations for me, fill in the form and I’ll see what I can do:

Led Zeppelin IV and Physical Graffiti are available here:

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Back in 2015, I interviewed Alfie just before he went off to Broadway to do Les Miz and just after he had created the role of Jimmy in the world premiere of Classic Quadrophenia.  Naturally, we spoke about the highlights of that concert at the Royal Albert Hall and I told Alfie that I was surprised by how good Billy Idol was.  I had to admit that aside from the obvious few hits, I didn’t really know much about Billy Idol and his music, to which the answer from Alfie was unequivocally, “well, you should – you should definitely listen more, especially to Rebel Yell“. That was over two years ago and although I had the best intentions, I still had not researched and listened to Billy Idol!  Now, however, looking around for a new year resolution that might actually stick, I came up with the idea of listening to more music, especially music that I would not normally choose to listen to and has been introduced to me by Alfie.  Of course, my first subject for this monthly post is Billy Idol!

Growing up in the 1980’s, I couldn’t help being aware of Billy Idol, particularly White Wedding, Hot in the City, Mony Mony and Rebel Yell but I would never seek out his music to listen to; rather, it was part of the music culture of that time.  So, embarking on project Billy Idol, what did I actually know about his music?  If you had asked me a month ago I would have said his music was punk but I came to realise that although the music is definitely originated in punk, it has much more of a pop sound and style about it that I wasn’t expecting.  Punk Pop, perhaps.

Although, this was the song that Alfie had recommended me to start with, he might have meant the whole album, also entitled Rebel Yell.  Regularly cited as Idol’s best album, I’ve now listened to the whole album and I agree, it’s great! It’s catchy, it’s got rocking rhythms and tunes and above all, it’s reminiscent of that whole era.  Aside from this song, Eyes Without A Face is my favourite track. Luckily, Idol was making his mark just when MTV started and I can still remember the novelty of watching music videos  non stop on the TV…something that we today can scarcely credit, with our non stop on demand music!

From Rebel Yell, I worked my way through his other albums but nothing caught my ear until his 2014 release, Kings and Queens of the Underground.  This is the title track:

I’m a sucker for songs that tell a story and the lyrics on this song are fabulous; recalling past glories whilst also moving the story forward.  It doesn’t hold back on the highs and lows of the rock and roll life either; it could be subtitled, ‘how the hell am I still here’? The sound is unexpectedly pared down and would be a great song to hear live.  Other tracks that appeal are Save Me, Postcard From The Past and Ghosts In My Guitar.  They have different styles, from the understated to the classic Idol sound but as a whole, it hangs together perfectly.

Kings and Queens of the Underground is available here:

As I mentioned earlier, my New Year resolution is to listen to more music, especially that inspired by Alfie, so I’m looking for some recommendations for another eleven posts.  If you have any recommendations for me, fill in the form and I’ll see what I can do:

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xx