Love. Reel To Real. High Moon Records

 

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Arthur Lee, Love, Americana? Well, this blog is so named thanks to the great ZigZag magazine which informed much of this writer’s formative musical years (ears) and old Arthur was a ZigZag hero so news of a CD (and vinyl) release of the last “proper” Love album deserved some investigation.

By 1974 Lee was pretty much a done deal, his sixties glory days behind him and despite Love’s albums, in particular Forever Changes, considered classics of LA psychedelia, his band was gone, Bryan, Snoopy, Echols and DC cast to the wind. Lee himself was considered wayward and difficult but those fans of Forever Changes were desperate to will him into creating another masterpiece and so it was that RSO Records offered him a bunch of money to make another album. It sank like a stone.

So is Reel To Real worth a listen these days? Well, it’s the first time it’s been available on CD so diehards will go for it. In addition there’s a whopping 12 additional tracks and a 24 page booklet detailing the album’s genesis and ultimate death throes, more manna for Lovemaniaxs. It’s not Forever Changes, in fact it’s not remotely like any of the Elektra albums, but listened to in the clear light of day, preconceptions cast aside, it’s a sometimes thrilling and always intriguing slice of seventies funk, Lee not in rainbows anymore but Black and proud, digging Hendrix, Sly, Otis and Curtis Mayfield. There are some hypnotic grooves, fat horn riffs and clavinet propelled funk chunks that place the album firmly in its time, if this was an obscure act finally unearthed then I’m sure folk would be salivating over it and Quentin Tarantino would already be cueing it up for his next Blaxploitation flick.

There are shades of the super cool LA hipster on you Said You Would and Singing Cowboy (from Four Sail) gets a reprise but there’s a fascinating glimpse into what the moneymen (and fans) were wanting in the final track here. A previously unreleased rehearsal of a song that was written about the time of Forever changes, Wonder People has the vibe of that album, a freewheelin’, almost bossa nova swing as Lee half sings, half scats through the words. As it falters and ultimately fades out it’s a tantalising glimpse into an alternate world. Nevertheless there’s enough solid energy in the album itself to keep a listener satisfied. Time Is Like A River is a strong Gospel inflected churn similar to what Delaney and Bonnie and Leon Russell were popularising at the time. Who Are You? visits funk central, its busy horns, frenzied keys and percussion with some liquid guitar solos somewhat badass. With A Little Energy buzzes with its sloganeering tying it into the vibes of the time, all Wattstax and that and Be Thankful For What You Got is a gossamer glide into Curtis Mayfield territory.

Lee and Hendrix were apparently mutual fans and on Busted Feet Lee dives headlong into the distorted blues world of Hendrix coming up with a tremendous approximation of The Band Of Gypsies era. The original album had a truncated version and there’s an extended and indeed heavier take included here which is just sublime, Lee adlibbing as the guitars scatter and squall, the end result somewhat breathtaking.

So, a relic of sorts but an important addition to the Lee canon. Lee himself seemed reconciled to be forever tied to Forever Changes in his later years as he toured with his ensemble recreating those glorious sounds, a better ending to his turbulent and troubled life than many would have anticipated. Reel To Real however is another testament to his vitality. And while it’s cool that Reel To Real is at long last available on CD High Moon are also issuing it in a deluxe two disc vinyl edition.Go visit them if you’re interested.

High Moon Records

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Dan Stuart, Tom Heyman, Fernando Viciconte @ The Fallen Angels Club. Glasgow 25/2/16

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That sardonic grin, the black humour and occasional snarl can only mean one thing, Dan Stuart is back in town. With a new album under his belt, the invigorating slice of punk/garage rampage that is Marlowe’s Revenge, recorded with Mexico’s Twin Tones, Stuart is carousing around the country and further abroad with what he called tonight an old-fashioned variety show. No jugglers or performing animals, no comedians or showgirls but some comedy and political satire was promised. Fancy words for what was in reality Stuart and chums (in this case and for the rest of the UK dates Tom Heyman and Fernando Viciconti) but there was an element of an old fashioned package tour in there, Stuart the MC, providing the introductions (and the comedy) as he goofed about and mugged unashamedly before getting down to business. There were laughs and chortles aplenty, an impression of a besotted fan (with a Cockney accent) who remembered seeing a gig back in ’86, an ongoing argument with his amplification pedal, the occasional (and noisy) plumbing in the venue and his infamous brush with spear guns in an Edinburgh hotel just some of the pearls thrown to the crowd.

For those who want the wasted youthful Stuart from his days in Green On Red or who have honed in on his well publicised meltdown and incarceration in a mental institution prior to his flight to Mexico this larger than life and invigorated presence must have come as a bit of a surprise. For sure Stuart has a chip or two on his shoulder and there’s still an element of danger, of teetering on the edge about him but over the past few years he’s produced an amazing body of work. The sublime Deliverance Of Marlowe Billings record, an EP of home demos and the raw vitality of the new album along with his “false memoir” which is as good a rock’n’roll binge as any published since Ian Hunter’s Diary of A Rock’n’Roll Star. Tonight he appeared fit and limber, racing around the stage, energy in abundance and if there’s a devil on his tail then it’s going to have its work cut out trying to keep up with him.

With the introductions done Stuart introduced Fernando Viciconte on stage. Argentinian born, now domiciled in Portland Oregon, Viciconte has only recently returned to the recording studio after some health problems. Portland buddies, Peter Buck, Paul Brainard and Scott McCaughey are all on his new album, Leave The Radio On and tonight, armed only with his guitar he offered some insights into the album, in particular a moving Kingdom Come. He delved into his Latin roots for a sweetly affecting song sung in Spanish before a muscular reading of True Instigator from his 2011 album of the same name. However his most powerful and moving song was his closing tribute to the late Jimmy Boyers, a stalwart of the Portland music scene who recently passed away. Here Viciconte sang Hank Williams’ Angel of Death imbuing it with a Johnny Cash like gravitas.

Next up Dan Stuart introduced us to Tom Heyman, an SF musician by way of Philadelphia who has a CV to die for (Chuck Prophet, Alejandro Escovido, Go To Blazes, John Doe) and who recently released the excellent album That Cool Blue Feeling. Stuart’s introduction provided us with one of the lines of the night as he tried to describe Heyman’s music ending with the immortal words, “It’s not fucking Americana!” Perched on a stool and hunched over his acoustic guitar (with a very interesting headstock) Heyman parried Viciconte’s high and lonesome leanings with his bluesy and folky urban cool opening with Time and Money from the new album. Cool and Blue showcased his fine guitar picking on a wistful love note while Always Be Around saw him ringing notes from his instrument. A fine raconteur himself Heyman added to the merriment of the night when he spoke about his shared experience with Stuart, both having played with the mighty Chuck Prophet and both then suffering from PTCD, that is, post traumatic Chuck disorder. Black Mollies sounded like something that Bobbie Gentry might have recorded had she been on steroids and he topped his set with a great delivery of Chickenhawks and Jesus Freaks, a song that, to my mind, does touch all the Americana bases (we could argue this all night), whatever it’s a tremendous song. Heyman again closed his set with a cover, a fine and heartfelt rendition of Phil Ochs I Ain’t Marchin’ Anymore.

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Time then for the ringmaster to jump into the spotlight and with Heyman remaining on stage to add his guitar to Stuart’s the man launched into the aching Over My Shoulder from the new album. The Whores Above was the snarling Stuart beloved of old and was followed by a cover of Lou Reed’s Vicious, Stuart’s riposte to one of the reviews of his latest disc and a riff he defiantly returned to throughout the night with him deriding the reviewer prior to Name Hog. While he and Heyman were able to whip up some fine storms on their guitars there were quieter moments, his emotional scars on show on Why I Ever Married You and there was a tender reading of The Greatest, Stuart’s paean to Mohammed Ali, one of his heroes. Heyman was sterling on guitar throughout, whether punching out taut lines or adding some cutting slide and bottleneck and abiding Stuart’s rather random approach to guitar tuning. And of course, despite his disdain for the rock’n’roll ride, Stuart delivered several songs from his past, songs that once were pulverised by the garage abandon of Green On Red but now sit finely in his canon. Rock’n’Roll Disease, Baby Loves Her Gun, 16 Ways (with Heyman really on the ball here), Gravity Talks and Time Ain’t Nothin were all delivered, the latter less of a punk sneer now, more a reflection on the arrogance of youth. Scattered throughout the set, for some these songs might have been the gravy on the pie and there’s no denying the frisson of hearing Stuart revisit these but overall the new songs show that he still delivers and he does so in spades.

There was another cover to end the night, Fernando bounded back on stage for this “unholy trinity” to delight us with their rendition of The Stones’ Dead Flowers, some of the audience joining in on this song that perhaps, many years ago, set the young Dan Stuart on his wayward path. A fine end to what was a fantastic evening. Mr. Stuart is on the road for several more weeks, the dates are here, if he’s near you then do go and see a man who is rock’n’roll to his fingertips and prepare to be amused, transfixed and mesmerised.

Carrie Rodriguez + The Sacred Hearts. Lola.

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Carrie Rodriguez first came to prominence on her collaborations with Chip Taylor before delivering several solo albums, her vocals and fine fiddle playing along with some deft song writing planting her firmly into the Americana camp, Austin, Texas chapter. Lola finds Rodriguez firmly embracing her Mexican roots, abandoning dusty Texas ballads for a set of songs, some staples of the Mexican music scene and some written in that vernacular, delivered in English and Spanish, all set to a wonderful Latin infused sultriness.

Rodriguez was inspired by her great aunt, Eva Garza, a San Antonio born recording star of the 1940’s and set out to capture some of that era’s Chicana romanticism, much in the manner employed by Ry Cooder on his reimagining of Cuban ’50’s music on Mambo Sinuendo. Cooder wasn’t content to just recreate the sound of the times, imbuing his album with a modern gloss and so Rodriguez does here, her ace in the pack being the presence of Bill Frissell whose guitar playing throughout sparkles. Frissell is but one part of the band conjured up for this album and christened The Sacred Hearts (the other members being Viktor Krauss, bass; Luke Jacobs, pedal steel, guitars; David Pulkingham, guitars; Brannen temple, percussion). Raul Malo of The Mavericks sings on one song and Max Baca adds bajo sexto with Gina Chavez also adding some vocals. Throughout the album the playing is exemplary and producer Lee Townsend captures the ensemble perfectly, the melodramatic ’40’s passion balanced expertly with a modern clarity.

The die is cast from the opening swoon of Perfidia, written by Alberto Dominguez in 1939, it went on to be a big band standard when Glen Miller glossed it up. Rodriguez ditches the English translation singing in Spanish with Raul Malo in tow. The music is a sinuous (and sexy) mix of twangy guitars, languid rhythms and exotic language (at least for those of us stuck with basic Anglo Saxon grunts) and she repeats this throughout the album albeit offering some of the songs in English. The covers include Que Manura de Perder, a wonderful duet between Rodriguez and Jacobs, she is singing in Spanish, he in English, both dancing around the song. There’s the tango drama of Frio En El Alma and the deep nostalgia of Nocha De Ronda, a song that begs to have a lush video setting as Rodriguez inhabits the melodramatic posturing of the era. Written by Maria Teresa Lara, Nocha De Ronda is here given a performance that elevates it into the heights. A torch song, beautifully realised by the band, it conjures up images as disparate as Isabella Rossellini’s stained victim in Blue Velvet and the stark monochromatic vision of Mexico in Orson Welles’ Touch Of Evil.

Rodriguez does well in her own writings, Llano Estacodo is a menacing stew of snarled guitars with a southern drawl while La Ultima Vez flows wonderfully. Z is a sassy slice of swampy blues and Cariocas lilts along with some tenderness and verve. She closes the album with a fine double whammy on an instrumental and then vocal take on Cuco Sanchez’ Si No Te Vas, the former stately and again reminiscent of Ry Cooder’s reclamation of this music, the latter, a wonderfully stripped down cantina type plea, Rodriguez giving it all.

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Findlay Napier. A Very Interesting Conversation.

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It was a tired but happy Findlay Napier who met up with Blabber’n’Smoke in early February to talk about his latest release, an EP called VIP Very Interesting Extras. As the title implies this is a companion piece to his 2015 release VIP Very Interesting Persons, an album that was given the accolade of second best folk album of the year by Martin Chilton, music critic of The Telegraph. We had meant to talk in January but there was the little matter of Celtic Connections to contend with, Findlay’s workload there, hosting the late night sessions at Drygate (seven shows in all) along with his work curating Hazey Recollections just too much for his diary.

Very Interesting Extras, released this week, is a five song EP that complements the 10 songs on Very Interesting Persons. That album, a result of a mentoring project funded by Creative Scotland which saw Findlay teaming up with Boo Hewerdine, is a collection of songs about people who lived “interesting lives,” some famous, some not so. Favourably reviewed on release these songs about folk such as Hedy Lamarr and Mickey Mantle were fine poetic encapsulations with some biographical detail included but it was the imagery and allusions that stood out along with the quality of the playing and Napier’s strong vocals. Much of the biographical material was gleaned from the likes of Wikipedia in the first place with Findlay and Boo then taking the raw material and shaping it into song. Their success in bringing these characters to life in a musical setting was enhanced by the short notes which accompanied each song on the album sleeve. Tantalisingly brief they begged the listener to carry out their own Wikipedia expedition to find out more regarding these intriguing folk, folk like the Japanese soldier who refused to surrender until 1974 and Jimmy Angel, the pilot who accidentally discovered Angel Falls in Venezuela. Happily, Findlay has produced a book (VIP – Behind The Lyrics) which offers more detailed information on the subjects along with his inspirations for the words.

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The EP was recorded at the same time as the album and opens with another song about an historical character, this time Harry Houdini, and closes with another true story. The other three songs however are fictitious creations, dreamt up by Findlay from observations and situations he’s encountered. We started off by talking about the EP. The songs here are as strong as those on the album, there’s no sense of them being outtakes or demos so I asked Findlay why none of the five songs made the cut for the album.

Well, they were all recorded at the same time. We had 15 songs recorded but we only wanted to put 10 on the album, a self-imposed limit, so we had to consider which ones to leave off. After The Last Bell Rings, Princess Rosanna and 52Des aren’t technically about real people so they were the first ones to be left off. With How Will You Escape, well, we just thought there were too many songs in 3/4 time, Boo in particular was listening to the songs and making sure there was a certain amount of variation in the running order. So on the last day we recorded Eddie Banjo and Sweet Science simply because we had too many waltz time songs. The Houdini song actually was one of my favourite co writes with Boo. I wrote the three verses and sent them to him and he wrote the chorus and the music, he wrote it on a ukulele actually. And while it’s about Harry Houdini I was actually thinking of Amy Winehouse when I wrote it, that thing about having to please your audience and having to push yourself one step further. Houdini I think had to do that, in fact I think he died after challenging someone to punch him in the abdomen. And Winehouse, I mean Rehab was just perfect and then Back To Black came out and it was like, how can she top that? And when her drugs stuff was going on a bunch of us were drunk up in the Shetlands and we thought we should just get a van, go to London, grab her and bring her back to some croft and dry her out so she can get on with her music. Daft, but looking back maybe someone should have done it. However, back to the song and your question, as I said we just had too many in 3/4 time so it didn’t fit into the running order.

Can you tell us about these fictitious folk, Princess Rosanna for example?

I was underneath Jamaica St. Bridge, it was part of my running route and on the north side, under the bridge, someone had spray painted in luminous pink, “RIP Princess Rosanna” and I took a note of that on my phone and it just grew out of that. I haven’t found out who Princess Rosanna was, nothing on Google or anywhere so I liked the idea that it’s a bit of a mystery, was she murdered, did she drown, was it suicide? It’s a wee bit like Taggart, I wanted to leave that unknown and then I liked the idea of her body being taken out by the tide and then coming back in, I can see it as a wee black and white film. I used to hill walk with my dad on a place called Ben Rinnes and close to that is a smaller hill called Babby’s Moss. It’s named after a woman who killed herself and was buried there because as a suicide she couldn’t be buried in a churchyard or cemetery and that had always stuck with me, I mean, what an unchristian thing to do to someone who was so unhappy they killed themselves. At least let them actually rest in peace because they weren’t at peace when they were alive. So that was woven into the song.

And what about 52Des?

Well Des is not a real character but it was a real number plate on a car, a BMW I saw in Haghill when I was out running. In Haghill there were doorways were people were dealing and I thought, “Oh Man, don’t park a brand new BMW outside an old tenement,” because that’s giving the game away, telling the police a drug dealer lives here. The last line, “your beautiful things always give you away,” it’s like in crime films where there’s always one idiot in the gang who can’t wait to spend the money instead of sitting on it until the heat fades, so Des is that guy.

Folk will know who Harry Houdini, who you sing about on How Will You Escape, is but can you tell us what inspired the closing song, Showfolk?

Boo wrote that one and it’s a kind of complicated story. The album was a Pledge campaign and a guy called Jono McLeod who is a filmmaker was one of our major backers at the level where we would write and record a song based on his idea. He then sent us a story that was just perfect for VIP all about his uncle, a Scots’ comedian called Jimmy Mac. I had several goes at writing it but they were awful, just dreadful attempts and then Boo just called me up and said I’ve done it and sent it to me and it was just right. It’s a great story. Jono’s uncle was a comedian in Glasgow working in music hall and he then fell in with a troupe called Fred Roper’s Performing Midgets down in London. Roper had this trick of promoting his show by organising midget weddings and he thought it would be a great idea to have Jono’s uncle, a tall, slim guy, marry a midget. Her name was Winnie and even though it was a publicity stunt she fell in love with Jimmy, Jono’s great uncle. It’s a bizarre story, in fact there’s a whole album of songs or even a movie in there all about Fred Roper’s Performing Midgets but you can’t really say midget these days, the term now is little person. Anyway the song’s about Winnie and her having to come to terms with it all being a publicity stunt and it’s full of killer lines from Boo like, “the angel on my shoulder lied, perhaps the lie was mine,” and really I can see Boo just running through this minefield of political correctness trying to write this song without using THAT word. It could be too easy to turn it into some funny circus type song but it’s turned out really beautiful. And another great thing about it and something I totally forgot to mention on the EP credits is that Jono sang the backing vocals on the song. He came in to film us recording and we managed to persuade him to do it so there’s a nice connection to the story and the performance as it was his uncle and he sings on the song. It’s even weirder how Jono came to find out about the story. He was at some exhibition in London and saw this photograph and recognised his uncle in it. So he went to his family and asked them and gradually got all the details. His uncle, Jimmy Mac, appeared at the Panopticon with Stan Laurel back in the music hall days and then years later he was actually in Dad’s Army as one of the Home Guard platoon!

Going back to the album, you mentioned Eddie Banjo and it’s a song that really stood out for me when I first heard it, it reminded me of Gerry Rafferty’s Can I Have My Money Back.

My dad told me about Eddie Banjo and Boo said, “let’s try to do a song with only one chord,” so up until the bit from You Are My Sunshine kicks in it’s only one chord. But, I can see what you mean about Can I Have My Money Back, I love that album. In fact one of my early memories was a birthday party, I must have been about primary one,  and my parents played that song while we were doing musical bumps, you know, everyone has to sit on the floor when the music stops and as we all jumped down the needle was skipping and jumping on the record. My dad, I think a lot of his records were stolen at one point but he had Penguin Eggs and Can I Have My Money Back and Do You See The Lights by Rab Noakes, maybe a Hamish Moore album as well. There was also an album called The London Hootenanny (recorded live in 1963 with martin Carthy, Alex Campbell and Nigel Denver among others) and I learned every song on that album and then later we got Rab Noakes’ Standing Up which was a big influence on me, I learned how to do all the songs on that album. Standing Up is a real good solid album, it’s like, “here’s how to write a song and here’s how to put a bunch of them together and if you do that it’s going to be great.”

Is it true that you used Wikipedia to find out about these characters?

We used Wikipedia for some of the songs, Hedy Lamar, The Man Who Sold New York, Angel Falls, Rising Sun, Idol in Decline. Sweet Science was mostly taken from an article in The New York Times. Eddie Banjo was a story from my dad about a guy who used to tramp around Wick, What A Shame About George, well, that’s just me because I love George Jones. Valentino I got from Tumblr when I saw a picture of her there. The Sport of Kings was mostly from a Guardian obituary of Sir Henry Cecil which I tweaked a bit

So, out of these twelve characters which one is your favourite or the most intriguing?

It’s probably Hedy Lamarr. It was again really weird how I found out about her. I was watching a documentary on The Adverts and they said that Gaye Advert, the bass player, looked like Hedy Lamarr. I’d never heard of her so, onto Wikipedia and it had this stuff about her inventing Bluetooth, “Aye right, typical Wikipedia,” I thought, but I looked a bit further and sure enough, she had developed a forerunner of the technology. I was playing a gig and when I was introducing the song some guy shouted out, “Oh, she didn’t actually invent Bluetooth,” and I was like, “Okay, this is a gig, not a lecture, let’s just say she did for the sake of the song.” But there was so much more about her, married six times, done for shoplifting, just a fascinating life but such a hard one. People think; Hedy Lamarr, rich and famous, but she was beaten up by her husbands, she wanted to be a scientist but the guys in charge said no, they didn’t want that, they just wanted her for her looks and that’s what that line, “every time the lights shine down you disappear,” means, Hedy Lamarr vanishes and all we see is the character she’s playing.

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Picture copyright Shaun Purser

You’ve said the release of the EP wraps up this VIP phase so what’s next on the cards?

There’s a tour coming up for late February and March, all over the place right down to Torquay and back up again. In London I’m doing a show called Boo Hewerdine and Friends along with Chris Difford and Brooks Williams, we did it last year at the Ely folk festival. We all do short sets and then bits together and it went down a bomb so I’m really looking forward to doing it again. It’s an honour to play with Boo and Brooks and especially with Chris Difford, he’s one of the greatest lyricists in the world in my opinion, him and Nick Lowe and Elvis Costello.

Then I’ve been thinking about a couple of projects. I’ve been living in Glasgow for 20 years come October so I’d really like to do something around that, 20 years in Glasgow, although it might need a snappier title. I’m also really keen to do a folky type thing with some of the hip hop artists around, folk like Loki and Solareye from Stanley Odd, I’ve got this thing in my head that’s a folk hip hop thing that I want to sort out. And then there’s a song writing workshop with Karine Polwart. That’s already sold out and it’s pretty exciting. Teaching or tutoring has really blossomed over the past few years and I’ve been really lucky because I’ve been doing it for some time so I’ve got the skills needed. Apart from the workshops with Karine I’ve done stuff at the Scottish Music Centre and some really interesting work with Vox Luminis who work with prisoners and their families. I went to Castle Huntly prison with Louis Abbott and Donna Maciocia for three days and we wrote songs with the guys in there and it was fantastic.

There’s also a couple of commissioned pieces I’m doing. One for the Hartlepool Folk Festival writing about East Durham and that was really interesting. East Durham is where the final scene in Get Carter was filmed, the black beach and the coal being tipped out to sea. Well now it looks like the Mediterranean, the sea is blue, so clear you can see the rocks below. It’s a beautiful place now but its surrounded by all these old colliery towns that have problems, no work and lots of drugs. A really rich history to write about. I’ve also been asked to write a song for the 250th anniversary of my hometown Grantown on Spey.

Finally, how did it feel when The Telegraph put VIP in second place in their folk album of the year list?

Fantastic, really really fantastic. Stuff like that, well it helps when you try to get a gig, they might not seem too interested but when you point that out they perk up a bit. It’s like a passport and it’s helping to open doors in America and hopefully Europe, I’d really like to do more tours over there.

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So there we have it. The album, EP and book are all available via Findlay’s Bandcamp page  and his tour dates are all  here including a show at The Glad Cafe on March 2nd. All very interesting indeed and, who knows, the knowledge contained within might just include that esoteric piece of information that will win you the tiebreak in your local pub quiz. If not, well, just enjoy some very fine and very interesting  music.

Miranda Lee Richards. Echoes of The Dreamtime.

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A daughter of the sixties, her parents being contemporaries of Robert Crumb in the Underground Comix world of San Francisco Miranda Lee Richards first came to attention as a member of the anarchic Brian Jonestown Massacre, appearing in the acclaimed film, Dig!, which, if you haven’t seen, you should. Echoes of The Dreamtime is her third solo album and it leans more towards what one might expect from a flower child’s child as opposed to The Jonestown’s more combatative efforts. Recorded at her home studio with husband, Rick Parker producing, the eight songs here are sumptuous slices of ethereal folk/pop/rock, bathed in a sunny glow, the instruments sparkling like reflections from a crystal pool.

Richards has a glorious voice, at times reminiscent of Laura Cantrell, which is heard to best advantage on the flowing Tokyo Dancing, gliding over the shimmering guitars and on the closing contemplative Already Fine where she’s multi tracked over a string section with the guitar underlay recalling the English folk revival of the late sixties; the weeping cello and viola melancholic. Lyrically she veers towards the self aware meanderings and symbolic portentousness common amongst some Seventies freak flag carriers (yeah, Dave Crosby, we mean you) but when the words are wrapped up in the hypnotic swoon of a song like 7th Ray the effect is just so appealing.

7th Ray opens the album with a bang and the following Tokyo Dancing promises a full garden of delights here. However Little Radio is somewhat clumsy, the guitars too charged up as if the aim here is FM radio play (if that still exists), the same applying to the menacing First Light Of Winter while It Was Given tends too much towards the twee pastoral psychedelic folk that stuffed record racks back in the days. However there’s pay dirt in the two songs that are the centrepiece of the album. Julian is a direct hit into the heart of the sixties, tabla and sitar pinning the song into the Indian music fetish of the times while Colours So Fine shines, its arabesque guitars and busy drum sound hitting a Byrds like groove, the harmonies soaring aloft. More of this and the album would be that much better.

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Dan Stuart With Twin Tones. Marlowe’s Revenge. Cadiz Records.

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“He was safe here; this was the place he loved – sanctuary, the paradise of his despair.”
Malcolm Lowry – Under The Volcano.

Malcolm Lowry, author of Under The Volcano, a novel about a drunk and disillusioned ex consul falling apart in Mexico, was an English writer who fled to Oaxaca, Mexico back in the 1930’s following a marital breakup and a spell in New York’s Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital. Dan Stuart, known primarily as the singer of the now lauded Green On Red, trod this self same path around five years ago, rebuilding himself with the assistance of his alter ego, Marlowe Billings, under which name he wrote a “false memoir,” The Deliverance of Marlowe Billings and recorded an album of the same name. Mexico, despite its murderous reputation, appears to have been some kind of salve for the battered and bruised Stuart as he slowly re-entered the music business, however he seems to have been somewhat repelled by the current rules of the game, the sanitisation, the pigeon holing that goes on; he wanted to sound dangerous, to get some revenge on the business that all but chewed him up and spat him out back in the eighties. Holed up like some Graeme Greene character Stuart recorded some songs with a Mexican engineer, Daniel Sanchez Jimenez, who added some rudimentary percussion backing to Stuart’s guitar strums (a little black egg shaker and thumped telephone directory). Some of these songs were released briefly on Stuart’s A Little Guitar EP but he wanted more, some danger, someone to really spark off of.

“In Mexico your wishes have a dream power. When you want to see someone, he turns up.”
William Burroughs – Junky.

Stuart already had a foil, the mercurial Italian band, Sacri Cuori, who are like a dream band from an Alexandro Jodorowsky vision but they were 6,000 miles away. Burroughs’ drug stained quote is apt however as Stuart found a bunch of Mexican upstarts via Google who played scuzzy surf and garage rock, Twin Tones they were called. Contact made, turns out they had some mutual friends including Steve Wynn and Danny Amis from Los Straitjacket, and lo, holy mescalito, a union was formed and thus came about Marlowe’s Revenge.

Bolstered by the retronuevo garage blasts, fuzzed guitar and cheesy organ throbbings of Twin Tones Stuart lets loose his demons here, his voice snarling, sneering, sometimes vulnerable. Hola Guepo (Hello Beautiful) is a blunderbuss slice of 60’s fuzz punk, the guitars snarling like a two headed dog as Stuart pens a poisonous will for his wife singing,” you’ll get my ring, wear it from your neck, try not to choke on it.” He returns to his sense of abandonment on the spectacular guitar blazoned epic Soy Un Hombre, almost spitting out the words, “I’m a man who has always loved you no matter what the world had to say but you decided to leave with another less worthy than me.” There’s despair on the melodrama of Last Blue Day, a song that recalls Loudon Wainwright’s desolate Central Square Song on the opening bars before the band weigh in with a hefty thump sounding like a psychedelic version of The Band, Stuart at the end of his tether, dark thoughts on his mind with this stark image, ” darkness greets me as I open my door the rope on the crossbeam hangs to the floor.”

There’s  bi-polar mood swings throughout the album, rage, despair, defeat and a manic edge to some of his Boho tales of life on the skids, the cannibalistic fantasies of The Whores Above swimming in a scuzzy garage punk morass of guitar and organ mixing up Burroughs, Bukowski and Brion Gyson, an evil laugh from Stuart catching the unhinged joy of narcotic revenge. I‘m All Over You is an amphetamined Dylan sneer,  the tune pummelled into submission by massed handclaps and a stratospheric guitar solo while Name Hog roots itself in a Lou Reed strut as Stuart snarls his contempt of the treadmill rock’n’roll route.

Lest it be thought that these are just the musings of a misanthrope set to a farfisa and tremeloed heaven (or hell) Stuart actually delivers a bona fide (although slightly skewed) love song on the delicious Elena, a twisted Tom Petty like song that some brave radio shows might pick up on while Over My Shoulder is almost tender. Zipolite is a script in waiting, a sonic Mexican riposte to Alex Garland‘s The Beach, the band ominous as waves crash and dogs howl in the mix, this is really quite wonderful. Stuart winds it up with the languid flow of The Knife, a song that allows the band to show their mellow Santos & Johnny side although there’s a hint of menace in the guitars as if they’re being honed to kill; his whispered words recalling Brando’s utterances in Apocalypse Now.

Marlowe’s Revenge is an album that will surely please those who hanker for the unruly days of Green On Red, Stuart teetering on the edge, still sounding dangerous. However, This Dan Stuart is older, maybe wiser, certainly bearing more scars. I’ll leave the last words to his old sparring partner, Chuck Prophet, “It’s like I tell people, mark my words: Dan Stuart will end up in jail or an institution or living above a discotheque in Mexico City still writing real songs and shaking his fist at the world.”

Dan Stuart is embarking on a lengthy European tour including a date in Glasgow on 25th February where he’ll be supported by Tom Heyman (whose album Blabber’n’Smoke reviewed here) and Fernando Viciconte. A compelling performer this is not to be missed. All tour dates here.

And here’s a taste of Twin Tones

Villiers and The Villains. Songs Of Love and Fate.

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Tony Villiers from Armagh, N. Ireland seems to be a bit of a Dylan fan calling his first album Thin Wild Mercury, a reference to a famous Dylan quote when he was asked to describe his mid sixties music. Songs Of Love and Fate, his second album, could similarly be a nod to L. Cohen’s 1971 album, Songs of Love and Hate however anyone expecting an album of dyed in the wool existentialist angst will be somewhat let down. Now surrounded by his Villains (Paul Meehan – Guitar, mandolin, banjo, Kevin Mahoney – Bass guitar, Aidan McGillion – Percussion , Paul Gurney – Piano, organ, guitar, accordion , Danny Sheerin – Backing vocals and Tony Fitzgibbon – Violin) Villiers still has a bit of a Dylan habit, witness his Big Old Dancin’ Bear Blues. It opens with Villiers coming across like the early Dylan; scuffling for basket money in Greenwich Village with his talking blues songs before the band come in after a few bars, the focus switching to Dylan and his Canadian buddies holed up in Big Pink having fun as they recalled that old weird Americana. Of course Villiers et al aren’t up there with Bob and The Band but he does grab the essential sense of fun that was conjured up in Woodstock and lyrically the song is a tremendous grab bag of Villiers’ heroes referencing Johnny Cash, Ray Charles and of course Dylan himself while also throwing in Pretty Boy Floyd for good measure.

The heady mix of country and blues that composes The Basement Tapes is recalled on several of the songs here. Lucky Rabbit Foot is a fine loose-limbed ramble with a fine joke in the opening lines as Howlin’ Wolf comes “a ‘knocking at the door” while Dear Mama is a steady rolling song with some fine bar room piano barrelling throughout. Villiers and band deliver this type of folky blues with some aplomb, able to go old time on Rabid Dog Blues and get down and dirty on the lascivious Last Night although here they’re leaning more towards an urban electric blues groove.Rocksalt meanwhile leans more towards the UK sixties acoustic folk scene, almost easy listening but with a slight nod to that old refrain of having cocaine in my vein.

Dylan is again recalled as Villiers opens his song Ramblin’ Man with the words, “Woody Guthrie was a ramblin’ man” but here the band hit a different stride as they hit a groove that, despite the Dylanish harmonica, recalls the strut and swagger of Lou Reed or Willy DeVille. Whether this was written after Villiers and the band were more comfortable together is not known but it serves notice that they’re capable of much more than their very efficient delivery of country blues songs. This is compounded by the excellent opening song, Devil And The Deep Blue Sea which again has the Lou Reed street suss and arrogance delivered with a grand sweep that, as the fiddle becomes more prominent, moves into Waterboys territory. More so, Swinging Into The Sunshine mainlines Lou Reed like lyrics and vocal warbles, the band humming in the background on what is a minor gem of a song.

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