Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Kim Edgar - A name you should know.

Out there in the world there are hundreds, thousands of people quietly making a living from music sitting off the radar as far as the average music lover is concerned.

Last year Kim Edgar visited us in Crianlarich. here she is in the bar at The Ben More promoting her show. Sadly I didn't get to see her play, (drinks to serve, plates to clear) but I did investigate her albums, and found gold.

You may think you can classify her music by looking at the website and have parceled her off as folky singer/songwriter, true up to a point but each of her albums has a definite character and, most unusual in today's musical climate, show her writing and performing maturing and evolving.

Debut "Butterflies and Broken Glass" appeared in 2008 and drew the inevitable, lazy, comparisons with Sandi Thom and Amy MacDonald. Kim's songwriting was more assured and the arrangements less obvious than either of those relentlessly commercial artists. A review said "very moving, literate, allusive and expressively sung", and they were right, another review clearly written by some who had listened on fast forward described it as slick folk pop, no!

Album two "The Ornate Lie" in 2012 was a step forward particularly musically. Extra bite to the songs, a bigger production, and a more confident performance overall. The Tori Amos influence was more overt this time, but a perceptive review spotted signs of Aimee Mann as well.  

Most recently "Stories Untold" from 2016, is less ornate. Simpler arrangements, more folk, less Tori. Some of the songs, particularly 'Significant Other Deceased' remind me of Cara Dillon. It sounds like Kim has wanted to focus the listener on the lyrics, which have again taken a step forward. Try 'Well Worn' and especially 'Things Crack, Then Shatter' an affecting song simply sung and played.

As well as her solo work Kim plays, mostly in Germany, with the band Cara operating more in the Irish music world, does sessions, workshops, and directs choirs. So overall she is making a living (as far as I can see) playing her music, and finding an audience. In 2017 that is an achievement. The inevitable stripped down, keyboard & guitar live shows are part of life (Over The Rhine make the same compromise). She reminds me of Nerina Pallot in some ways, although she is 6 albums into her career has gone the big label route a couple of times, and had closer brushes with the "big time". But Nerina seems from the outside at least to have made more effort to satisfy commercial demands and her albums are less consistent and only intermittently hit the highs routine in Kim's music.

I've talked before about the difficulties of making a living in music, Kim has a good website, has the Social Media firing and gets good reviews for albums and live work. But you haven't heard of her and you should. Kim Edgar is a major talent, the equal and better of anyone in her field. As a fan I would like her to be heard widely and receive the rewards her music deserves (try Bandcamp Kim). This may of course not be what Kim wants.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Artist Choice; Bill Nelson

I'm gutted, Bill Nelson played an album launch show for his "Songs for Ghosts" album at the end of October and I couldn't go. There is the risk that every show might be his last, and having made it to the last two I was keen to get there.

The history from Be Bop Deluxe, through Red Noise and the solo decades is accurate enough on Wikipedia to get the picture, although for recent years it breaks down rather. As I write this Bill has a brilliant new website just launched. You should go there to understand the breadth and depth of his music and also to have a tour round the forum. This is far and away the best on the interwebs with a genuine community feel, and regular contributions from the object of our affection himself.

My Nelsonic journey started with the Be Bop De Luxe single "Japan" I doubt Bill would choose this as a point of entry to his work, but there you are...

When "Drastic Plastic" came along in 1978 I was undecided, the easier stuff was fine, but it took until the release of the Futurist Manifesto box set to really give this the attention it deserves. I'm not particularly a fan of Be Bop De Luxe, but as a stepping stone to the good stuff "Drastic Plastic" does it for me.

The good stuff being "Sound On Sound" by a group he called Red Noise. If you have any leanings towards the best 'Post Punk' or end of the 70s music you need to hear this. It's one of those albums that should be heard as an album. No substandard songs at all. Also responsible for a causing a lifetime of pain for others, as it is the album where I first took notice of fretless bass, still a work in progress.

In a story you may have heard before on the blog, I drifted with Bill in the mid 80s, vaguely aware of his new stuff and playing his old regularly. I reconnected in 2012 with "Joy Through Amplification" when it was reviewed in Classic Rock. Vortexion Dream is now one of my favourite Nelson songs. Sadly you will have to wait for it to appear as a download as the CD is sold out.

Bill presses typically 500 cds which by and large sell out quickly, sadly often appearing on EBay at inflated prices fairly soon after. There are some great albums still available in his back catalogue at ridiculous prices, my choices would be "Fantasmatron" & "Signals From Realms Of Light". One of the joys of Bill Nelson's music is its diversity and if you are new I would have a happy hour browsing through the soundclips and reading the wonderful notes that accompany each entry. Some of his best work is being slowly re-released through Bandcamp. The three volume Dreamers Companion series is a good introduction to Bill's recent work, but you will be buying the complete albums as well.

A recent innovation was a live album of last year's show. "Tripping The Light Fantastic" currently on heavy rotation on the iPod, I hope there is one of this year's performance. This is Bill at the launch of the Blip! album in 2013.

Compare "I Always Knew You Would Find Me" here, on Tripping... & on "Plectrajet" for Bill's seemingly endless inventiveness over the same theme. He seems to be on a sort of stream of consciousness never ending recording session, with one album merging into the next, but with each still retaining a sense of completeness and individuality. And that is for me a lot of the appeal of Bill's music, while it is all undeniably him, with a clear definable style, you never know quite what you are going to get. Recent albums have shifted from Special Metal, one of his most 'rock' albums for a long time, to "All That I Remember" an instrumental reflection on his early life. The homespun quality of his work, warm & giving while remaining the work of a consumate professional, is another appeal in the age of the airbrushed, protooled to death recording.

Recommendations? I have 32 solo albums plus Red Noise & Be Bop De Luxe on the iPod so how to narrow it down. The albums mentioned above are all good starting points. Bill himself often mentions "The Alchemical Adventures of Sailor Bill" as a favourite. I'll admit I took a while with this one but persevering paid dividends and I agree it is one of his best and that I think is one of the big rewards of listening to Bill Nelson, for every "Special Metal" that is an instant win, there are two "Sailor Bills" that demands something in return for giving up their charms. By the time they have worked their way in to your soul you will have made friends for life. So, my advice, read the store page, visit the forum, and immerse yourself in some of the most thoughtful, considered music you can buy.

My next purchases will be the Trilogy of "Silvertone Fountains", "Illuminated at Dusk", and "Mazda Kaleidoscope" before one of them sells out. I'm feeling brave so will post this blog to the Dreamsville Forum and invite other people's reflections on the appeal of Bill. I'm sure there will be far more eloquent explanations than mine. Find it here.

Bill Nelson is one of those artists who people have "heard of" but who remains just off the radar for many. This is going to become a theme for the next few blog posts. Next time, Kim Edgar. Who?

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Labelled with Prog

My audiobook recently has been "The Show That Never Ends - The Rise and Fall Of Prog Rock" by David Weigel. While it focuses on the stories of the 70's heavyweights there are also diversions into other parts of Progworld which have pointed me towards yet more overlooked music.

Looking through the genre tab of the iPod it turns out I have quite a bit of stuff labelled "Progressive Rock". Seems strange for someone whose music tastes formed at the end of the 70's and the early 80's. Then there's the Prog Magazine Readers group on Facebook which spends most of its time arguing about what is or isn't "Prog". So what's it all about (Alfie)?

To set my stall out I don't like ELP, not too fussed about Pink Floyd (for me the Collection of Great Dance Songs compilation is all the Floyd you need) and I can take or leave most Genesis. I've nothing against the early/mid 70s, I just wasn't there...

King Crimson: My interest in Crimson starts in 1981, in fact I saw the band while it was still called Discipline at Moles Club in Bath on their first gig. The inventiveness of the trio of 80s albums still amazes me. Live they were constantly challenging, listen to any of the downloads at DGM Live, better, listen to them all. From there right up to the current 8 man band revisiting and rewriting earlier incarnations it's the sound of boundaries and envelopes being pushed. Nothing has ever got close to King Crimson. They are the musical equivalent of flicking away a lit cigarette without looking to see where it lands.


Camel: Much gentler stuff, and a different kind of inventive. If you like Gilmour's guitar but not Waters' polemics then try Camel. A much sparkier prospect live where the Jazz & Blues inflections that can sound twee on record catch fire and Andy Latimer's guitar work has space to stretch out.

Renaissance: I know, not very radical whats with the orchestras and all. Forget Northern Lights, it's Betty Thatcher-Newsinger's lyrics sung by Annie Haslam and earlier by Jane Relf that make Renaissance's best albums worth your attention.

Procol Harum: Again ignore the hit and go for the live stuff. I got properly interested when BBC4 showed their Live at Union Chapel, and it's a good place to start.

David Weigel's definition of Prog drifts towards Jazz Rock, Electronic and AOR. Consequently people like Soft Machine, Robert Wyatt, Mike Oldfield and John Wetton get a fair covering. His look at 80s "Neo Prog" doesn't go much further than Marillion, and the more recent revival, or perhaps that should be reappraisal, concentrates on Porcupine Tree, which is fair enough given Steven Wilson's ubiquity. It stops short of his recent chart shaking "To the Bone" album, which itself has generated some "is it Prog?" debate. Personally I think the place to start with Wilson's work is "Hand Cannot Erase".

John Mitchell, the other name to conjure with in modern Prog circles, has a very definite sound that he brings to his albums with Frost*, Lonely Robot and his production work, particularly Kim Seviour's excellent "Recovery Is Learning" album. Kim was previously singer with Touchstone, who highlight much of the problem with current Prog leaning music. Talented musicians, decent production, but hit and miss material, making most albums a struggle. Mitchell and Wilson have the songwriting skills to move beyond the banal to something with some lyrical bite and most importantly a tune. You see why I'm not keen on ELP now.

A few recommendations some from slightly outside the Prog box, that I think are "progressive" within a fairly traditional rock music format.

Elbow. As I suggested in my live review in March, Elbow have many of the qualifications for Progressive-ness, better live than on record, songs that can be the stuff of epics, and a comfort with the fact that they re good at what they do.
Try: "Live at Jodrell Bank", "Build a Rocket Boys" and "Little Fictions"

Steeleye Span "Wintersmith" with Terry Pratchett. I'm not a massive Pratchett fan (although try The Long Earth written with Stephen Baxter), but this rendering of his stories hits the spot. Chris Tsangrides production toughens up the sound without losing the organic, folk based feel. Get the deluxe edition with extra tracks and live material.
"The Dark Morris Song" "Crown of Ice" and "The Good Witch" for a flavour of the album

Robert Fripp / Andrew Keeling / David Singleton: The Wine of Silence. Fripp's soundscapes orchestrated by Andrew Keeling and produced by David Singleton are a thing of beauty. Probably more accurately seen as modern classical music, nevertheless meets the definition of progressive as something challenging and involving. Don't try it, just buy it.

Yes: The best of the "proper" Prog bands for me. Rick Wakeman describes their studio albums as "sterile" and by and large he's right. Despite a tendency (mostly Steve Howe I gather) to repeat the recorded works the same every night, right down to the solos, Yes can be a great live band, or at least before they turned into their own tribute band.
Try Keys To Ascension, very close to the best of live from a time when they were playing at their best. The only song missing is Southside of The Sky. Also try Live from the House of Blues, and the best studio album Going For The One.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

In praise of Bruce Brodeen

Unless you inhabit the corner of the musical jungle that calls itself Power Pop, you may be unfamiliar with Bruce Brodeen. In 1994 he started a record company called Not Lame. If ever there was a well named label that was it. I came across one of his compilations in Revolver Records a few years later and got on the mailing list. I'm still there, despite Not Lame shutting up in 2010 and Bruce moving onto a portal site called Pop Geek Heaven.

Now however Bruce has hung up his jangly guitar and joined the grown up world. His big contribution for me was promoting the notion of music curation. I have talked about this before on the blog and given the speed with which the digital world is overwhelming what has gone before there will inevitably be a lot of music left behind that one day is lost forever. Thanks to Bruce the world will still have The Shazam, The Mockingbirds and many other proud purveyors of guitar pop. 150 compilation cds later he has just released his last.

If you haven't caught up with the world of Power Pop then the starting point is "Shake Some Action:  The Ultimate Power Pop Guide" by John M Borack. The best music lists book bar none. Best of luck finding one, they do come up on E-Bay occasionally, the good news however is that a new edition is due out in 2018. However a google will give you an idea of some of the music recommended.

For music the DIY series are a good starting point and come up second hand regularly
DIY: Teenage Kicks - UK Pop 1 (1976-1979)
DIY: Starry Eyes - UK Pop 2 (1978-79)
DIY: Come Out and Play - American Power Pop (1975-78)
DIY: Shake It Up - American Power Pop 2 (1978-80)

If you find any of the the Rhino Poptopia series on sale grab them

The best intro to Not Lame's catalogue is "Six Years of Power Pop!" available digitally.

Not only was Bruce a great promoter of the music but also of writers. Another book recommendation is "A Brief History of Jazz Rock" by  Pop Geek Heaven contributor Mike Baron which takes an oblique and unique view of another niche.

So thank you Bruce Brodeen for 20 years of great music, and for introducing me to musical archaeology, I will keep digging but it won't be the same without you.

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Podcasts. The Which, How & Why.

I'm a big fan of Podcasts, they make great in car listening and having always been a lover of speech radio they are a good way of getting a comedy fix without waiting for 6.30, or for catching up on my pet interests. My suggestions are further down the page but with over 250,000 podcasts to choose from how do you sift the wood from the trees? while this started as a guide to listening to Podcasts, if you are thinking of doing one yourself then some of the following may be useful to you.

What do you want?

If there's an area of human activity there will be a podcast about it. A search on iTunes, Stitcher or your preferred pod provider will bring up a list. Even if you don't use it to subscribe iTunes is the most user friendly and has the largest content count. For your own podcast ask yourself: Do I have anything new to say on my subject? Is there a gap that I could create a podcast to fill?


Quality Counts-subject matter

Frankly there are some pretty shoddy podcasts out there.Science Fiction, Sport and Business all have their great and their ghastly. The problem is often an inability to press the self edit button by the podcaster. Listen with a critical ear to your efforts. Edit ruthlessly, less really is more.

Quality Counts-listening experience

Audio quality is a huge problem with many "fan" produced podcasts. A decent microphone will cost about £50.00, Audacity is ideal software to use for an amateur. Hindenburg is good for a more professional job. Think about where you will record the Podcast, sounding like you are in the bath is not a good plan. Record somewhere that gives a flat response when you listen back. The software can add the tiny touch of echo needed to give the sound space. Voice is important. Experiment and find the best tone of voice and speed of presentation for you. Practice really does make perfect, if you cringe at the sound of your voice why should the listeners be any different.
Personally I have a voice made for silent movies so a Selling Service podcast is not a priority. Having said that Jeremy Hardy has made a career out of a nasal grating voice so there may be hope. A friend of mine is blessed with the ideal radio voice. She has been a podcast guest several times and comes across well. She can also speak off the cuff with little rehearsal, a rare skill, and should certainly do a podcast. Oh and music behind the speech? NO!


Script it

Many podcasts suffer from lack of preparation. Even that bastion of free
form radio "I'm Sorry I A Haven't a Clue" is actually tightly formatted and has many of the jokes and lines pre-prepared. Trying to record something that sounds like a chat down the pub will sound exactly like that. If there are more than one of you recording a podcast then script it so that everyone gets a turn. If you think of something good to say that isn't in the script, don't adlib, stop, add it to the script and record again. Talking over each other seems to be a particular problem on books and sports podcasts where the sound of 3 "experts" all talking at once means any good content is lost in a mush of background noise.



The best podcasts, particularly those on history culture, books or similar need lots of time to get right. Robin Pierson of the History of Byzantium says the research has largely taken over his life. If you can't commit, don't start. My daughter has listened to a Harry Potter podcast that is so full of errors that even a casual reader and viewer can spot the holes. If you want to give opinion and supposition make it clear, there is a place for it and it can make for an entertaining podcast, giving fans something to respond to. Just don't present your guesswork as facts.
 Research presentation, listen to good radio and podcasts and analyse why it is good. Radio 4 is top of the list, followed by some of the NPR podcasts. Many of the podcasts I suggest below reach very high standards and are worth examining if you plan to podcast yourself, or as a listener just because they are so good to listen to, if you are interested in the subject or not. Then there is...

Bad radio:

Radio 5 Live can be very good at "event" radio. It's coverage of the Grenfell Tower Fire was excellent. However when it just has 24 hours of live radio to fill and nothing much to report it can be dreadful. Dotun Adebayo is appalling, gabbling his way through the script too fast to understand him. He clearly loves the sound of his own voice and opinions at the expense of anyone unlucky enough to be sharing the airwaves with him. Steven Nolan's evening show is a prime example of "zoo radio" lots of opinionated guests all talking over each other with the host unable to control them and allowing content free radio to ramble on until it peters out into silence (dead air in radio parlance). Dreadful and mostly unlistenable. Hear the good the bad and the ugly and make up your own mind about what to listen to, or as a guide to creatig your own Podcast.

My current choices.

History: The History of Byzantium Robin Pierson has a good style and presents a subject that is complex to say the least in a fashion accessible to the average listener. The History of Egypt Podcast by Dominic Perry, a proper expert in his subject which can at times make this a little detailed for easy consumption, but that's why I and may others love it. Our Fake History. Sebastian Major's style is a bit histrionic and the music gets in the way, but on the right subject he can be fascinating, just be prepared to pick and choose. The History of Rome is the standard by which other history podcasts are measured.

Comedy: The BBC Friday Night Comedy Podcast is a mix of shows, and usually good listening. By and large the BBC don't use their huge comedy archive as they could. Answer Me This by a group of seasoned podcasters is only as good as the questions asked in a given show, but demonstrates how good the results can be from recording in your front room.

Business: I have listened to more business advice podcasts than I can count, but have struggled to find anything that doesn't feel like the product of someone else's reading. I have the same problem with business coaches. Different is Dickie Armour - Monday Motivation. Full disclosure, I know Dickie and am a fan of the way he thinks and speaks. This is off the cuff stream of consciousness podcasting, and it is hard not to get caught up in his enthusiasm for life and business. From the early episodes I have listened to the technical side needs a little work, but as a pick me up on the way to a meeting you can't beat it. Try it if you are in business or not just for the joy of hearing someone on top of his subject speak.

Music: The Word Podcast - A Word In Your Ear, what was left after the magazine collapsed. David Hepworth and Mark Ellen bring on a series of guests to talk about their books on music. Insightful and always good value. Costs me far too much in new books.
A podcast I wish was better is A History of Jazz. In what is being touted as the music's centenary (at least that of the first recorded "Jazz"), a podcast that matched the detailed research and professional presentation of the history podcasts mentioned above was needed. Arik Devens' show isn't it. After 5 shows we are still only just into 1919. This could have been covered in two shows. the over use of music clips, making up nearly 50% of most shows suggests he is struggling to keep up with the research, as does the long summer hiatus. Presentation is ok and improving with each show. The problem is that its existence will likely put off a more professional show being started. If you want to sample it listen to his most recent on James Reece Europe. I suspect this show will fade away fairly quickly.

Guilty Pleasure: I like Star Trek, there I said it, the Trek.FM network has podcasts on every aspect of the shows and films. I listen to Literary Treks which focuses on the books set in the Star Trek universe. The presenters are resolutely amateur but are well drilled enough to give good audio. Dan Gunther particularly is a good interviewer of the authors. The weakness of his co host is highlighted by the regular inclusion of guest presenters to hold up the conversation. Compare this with some of the other Star Trek or Science Fiction podcasts out there to see what I mean about quality counts.

There are others I listen to, The Infinite Monkey Cage and The New Yorker Radio Hour, among them. But search for yourself in your areas of interest and let me know any good ones you come across.

If you would like help getting a Podcast on the air talk to me

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Walter Becker

There have been lots of eloquent tributes to Walter Becker, but these are a few random personal thoughts.

I've mentioned before how I came by some of my early music choices, none have stayed with me as consistently as Steely Dan. I joined the party with 'Aja' which arrived for Christmas 1977. It opened up new possibilities in music for me. From there I explored backwards and found riches that have lasted me a lifetime.

The guitar solo on "Home At Last" grabbed me early on, but because of the obtuse way credits were handed out didn't know had played it for some time. Of course at age 14 I didn't appreciate the finer points of Becker and Fagen's humour, so the liner notes were lost on me.

I came to recognise and appreciate Walter's guitar work, he had a clear bluesy tone as biting as his sarcasm. He is as has been observed many times in the last few days a greatly undervalued player, the equal of the high calibre names that pepper Steely Dan albums. I saw them live at Wembley in 1996 and his relaxed demeanour on stage remains the epitome of cool, leaning back into a solo on one of his understated Sadowsky guitars.

Oddly one of the best showcases for his guitar playing is on Donald Fagen's 'Kamakiriad' where he played pretty much all the guitar & bass (apparently because it was easier to do it himself as he was on board anyway as producer). Listen to "Countermoon", "Springtime" and "Tomorrows Girls" for Becker at his best.  His own solo albums showed that it was Becker who put the nip in Steely Dan's lyrics, try "Cringemaker" and "Lucky Henry" on '11 Tracks of Whack'.

Donald Fagen's promise to continue as Steely Dan is a bit questionable for me. Walter Becker was every bit as much Steely Dan as he is, without him it is just the Donald Fagen band. You Tube video's from earlier this year show an ill looking man so he may have dropped out of touring anyway. Fagen's voice is not what it was so perhaps time to retire the band with dignity.

My top Becker tunes.
Hey Nineteen from Gaucho. One of the best Becker bass lines, meshing with the drums (Wendell or Steve Gadd? Who knows)
Book Of Liars from Alive in America, his best solo tune and proof he should have sung more
Jack Of Speed, heard on tour in 1996, better than the version on Two Against Nature
Glamour Profession from Gaucho, the essence of Steely Dan distilled into 7 minutes.
Home At Last from Aja, one of their best and they knew it from the comments on the Aja sleevenotes
Shame About Me and Cousin Dupree from Two Against Nature, great lyrics

and too many more to mention...

The best tributes to Walter Becker

From his daughter Sayan
From Rickie Lee Jones
From John Beasley

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Covers In Company

This months RnR Magazine features Lulu on the cover. She's an artist I haven't given much Pod space to until now, which is strange as I'm definitely a fan of her French equivalent France Gall. I did however get her latest 'Making Life Rhyme' on the strength of the videos at her website. Prompted by the article I invested in The Atco Sessions, her go at a Dusty in Memphis, which brought forth two albums at the time and a whole raft of out takes available now. It's good, her voice suits the Muscle Shoals backing and Duane Allman pops up on guitar.

Then I spotted her duets album from 2002 predictably called "Together". There seems to have been a vogue for this sort of thing in recent years but for every Linda Ronstadt "Duets" there are a dozen by artists, whose star is not what it once was, dragging in friends, acquaintances or names from the phone book to perform a list of random covers to stick on the racks in Tesco. Lulu's is hardly the worst of the genre but as she started me thinking about it...

In the credits list Elton John & his partner get fulsome thanks, his duet on Womack & Womack's "Teardrops" leads off the album and is far and away the best production job. The fact that he and Lulu share a label may explain the leg up given to this song. Most of the tracks appear to have been recorded by the team of whoever is buddying up to Lulu on that song with Lulu's vocal sellotaped on top later on. This may explain the mess on tracks two & three. "Shame, Shame, Shame" should be an ideal disco stomper for her to rival Relight My Fire (which closes the album, despite being 10 years old then) but in the hands of Atomic Kitten's producers turns into a twee, affected piece of pop drivel. As for "Inside Thing (Let 'Em In)", I hope this was just a sample of McCartney's original (certainly sounds like it) as it may be the worst thing to bear the name of any Beatle, and no I haven't forgotten "The Frog Chorus".

There are some good song choices "Sail On Sailor" with Sting is creditable, "Now That The Magic Has Gone" with Joe Cocker, but by and large there is little of Lulu on what is after all her album. The whole thing has a hollow feel to it. Elton John is executive producer and it does have the feel of him ringing around a few people to see what spare songs they had which Lulu could be added to.

This album will find its way straight back to the charity shop. If you want to catch up with Lulu I suggest the albums recommended above and her 2003 Greatest Hits which has the three best songs from "Together" along with the hits and a DVD which includes performances of some of the "Together" songs from the ITV "An Audience with..." TV show that tied in with the album.

Next time, or soonish at any rate, I will talk Podcasts, any suggestions of good podcasts on any subject would be great.