maandag 26 september 2016

Havanna Moon. The Rolling Stones Live in Cuba

One day, one cinema show, worldwide. Exclusivity all around. We reported on one such an event once before: 'Celebration Day', the movie of Led Zeppelin's one off reunion show.

Following The Rolling Stones on Twitter helped here and a few days before the cinema show I had my tickets secured. A bit to my surprise the show was far from sold out on Tuesday. Come Friday 23 September the room was full.

2016. The umpteenth movie, video, dvd, live album by the Stones. And yes, I liked it so much. On a big screen, the band up close, the music loud and perfect. Much better than at any live show, let alone the Amsterdam ArenA. It came close to the Imax experience of the early 90s.

The music is so well known. The only surprise to me was 'Out Of Focus'. Why play that song?, I had often wondered seeing the setlists from South America. I know why now. It is a song that has a perfect build up, an inner tension that is released each time in the chorus and definitely funky as shit. And allow me to pull out 'You've Got The Silver', that beautiful blues song sung perfectly (yes) by Keith with the lovely slide tones by Ronnie. I'll end there. The rest has been played for two millennia by now. And it is so good, but not new.

Let's look at the movie itself. What I really liked is that the director not only followed the show and effects of The Rolling Stones' live monster, but truly followed the music itself. The performance and inner dynamics within the band. So we did not only get the friendly smiles Ronnie and Keith give each other and the hairtossling of Mick to Ronnie. No, we followed the cues the bandmembers give each other. We got to see the whole band looking at Jagger, the question large on each face: "when is he going to come back into the song and stop the audience participation?" We saw Keith nodding to Charlie, saying here we go and the tempo is kicked up. We got to see the raised hand that announces the end of a song. There were many of these small flashes in the movie. Moments that define a successful show. Moments that define the quality of a band.

The four Rolling Stones are senior citizens  And it shows. They are not really trying to hide it either. In the interview before the movie I saw four men who are getting on in live. Set them on a stage and this transition takes place. They are still four rock gods who enrapture each other and God knows how many people in the audience. Both Cuba and the world('s embassies in Cuba) had turned out to see something Cubans have not been able to see ever before.

And there is another feature this movie shows. The universal strength of music. I don't know how hard the ban on things western were in Cuba itself. Just that it was impossible to get by due to the embargo on trade with Cuba. Let's face it, it was not as if the people in the audience didn't know the songs. Music can't be stopped and people find ways to get by it.

Four men, and their hired guns, who put on a great show, with their greatest hits set and can tour as long as limbs allow them to do so. "We are still getting better", Keith Richards says in the movie. The Rolling Stones can grow with such an excellent set of musicians around them. "It is you who keep us going", Charlie muses.. Yes, but it is you guys who make us want to come. Your songs, your shows, your exuberance, that make us forget that we are getting on in life as well. The greatest rock and roll band in the world? Perhaps no longer, but from their generation there is only one left in competition and in size. And they are best friends since the early 60s.

Havanna Moon. I loved it. Tied to a comfortable chair, I wanted to dance, sing and clap my hands. Perhaps we all did there in Pathé Haarlem, but no one dared to do so. The thought that we could have is hardly a solace.


zondag 25 september 2016

Box Of Letters. James Scott Bullard and the Late Night Sweethearts

James Scott Bullard is on the same label as Stephanie Fagan, Big Mavis Music, and as avid readers of this blog will recall, the singer-songwriter featured on this blog with her album 'Heart Thief, an interview and her recent EP, '' The March'. She also features on Box of Letters, the mini album under scrutiny at this point in time.

Box Of Letters is an album that sounds familiar immediately. It could have been made anywhere between 1972 and 2016. By now I have dozens and dozens of albums like it and I just don't mind this one extra. Why? There are two reasons that present themselves to me straight away. The first one is that I can hear the honesty in the music and the singing. This is who James Scott Bullard is, the music he excels in, believes in and loves playing. The second reason is even more obvious: his songs are good. So here you go. It may all sound very familiar, whether he touches on country, country rock or a country rock ballad, he and his band touch upon the deeper truths of the music that reaches out to and touches me.

Having been enthusiastic about Stephanie Fagan twice on this blog, I may surprise all with writing that 'Elizabeth' is the song I like less on Box Of Letters. Yes, I like hearing her voice, but the song is the kind of common country song where I usually stop listening. The softly whining pedal steel is too much for me, as is the melody of the song.

Promo photo
Having that off my chest, I can focus on the other songs that I like all. The mid-tempo country rocker 'First Thing On Your Mind' with Rebecca Morning has this delicious lead guitar that does all between The Rolling Stones and The Outlaws. Nice and rough but like a reigned in, wild horse by an excellent rider. Add the warm organ sound and a slide guitar and I'm sold. Not to mention the great oohs and yeah-yeahs going on in the background. This is the sort of country rock that I get out of bed for.

'Another Heart' is more one dimensional than the previous song, but has this change leading up to the, one line, chorus, that packs me in again. The third duet on the album, 'Heartache No More' with Taylor Nealey, again tends to the cleaner side of the fence, but is more alive. A dirty guitar caters the ache, while the organ takes care of the heart. The two voices match in a great way.

If anything Box Of Letters shows that Bullard swings back and forth between the cleaner and the rougher sides of country music. He convinces in both, but I prefer the dirtier side of things and when he steps a bit more out of style with the ballad 'Town Square'. Bullard is able to tap into some heartfelt feelings and shares them with us translated in finest kind of southern music.


You can listen to Box Of Letters here on You Tube:

zaterdag 24 september 2016

No Burden. Lucy Dacus

Ik presenteerde het een aantal weken geleden nog als een unicum; vrouwelijke singer-songwriters die zich omringen met lekker rauw gitaarwerk.
Inmiddels heb ik een handvol platen die in dit hokje passen besproken en ook No Burden van Lucy Dacus past er uitstekend in.
Lucy Dacus is een pas 20 lentes tellende singer-songwriter uit Richmond, Virginia, die met No Burden een geweldig debuut heeft afgeleverd.
Het is een debuut met lekkere rauwere gitaarriffs, maar het is ook een debuut vol geweldige en opvallend melodieuze songs. Lucy Dacus beschikt over een mooie stem, die het prachtig zou doen in een volledig akoestische setting, maar die ook uitstekend gedijt in het rauwe gitaargeluid op No Burden.
De muziek van de singer-songwriter uit Virginia ligt in het verlengde van die van de eveneens jonge vrouwelijke singer-songwriters die de afgelopen weken op deze BLOG opdoken (Margaret Glaspy, Emma Russack, Frankie Cosmos), maar No Burden ontsnapt ook niet aan de vergelijking met de platen van Sharon van Etten en Courtney Barnett. Het is een groot compliment voor het debuut van Lucy Dacus.
No Burden laat zich vergelijken met de platen van anderen, maar ik vind het uiteindelijk toch vooral een originele plaat. De naar de voorgrond gemixte gitaren klinken anders dan op de meeste andere platen, de ritmesectie is speelser dan gebruikelijk en ook de stem van Lucy Dacus is er niet een waarvan er 13 in een dozijn gaan.
De negen songs op No Burden zijn vooral rauw, maar ze strijken geen moment tegen de haren in. De songs van Lucy Dacus overtuigen makkelijk, maar blijven ook nog lang intrigeren, wat van No Burden een echte groeiplaat maakt.
Zeker wanneer de Amerikaanse wat gas terug neemt vindt ze aansluiting bij de eigenwijze folkies van het moment, maar No Burden is uiteindelijk meer rock dan folk. Het is rock die strak en meedogenloos kan klinken, maar de muziek van Lucy Dacus krijgt ook volop ruimte om te rammelen, wat het onderscheidend vermogen van de plaat nog wat verder vergroot.
Bijzonder aangename plaat dus, die in Nederland echt veel meer aandacht verdient dan de plaat tot dusver krijgt (maar misschien ligt dat aan het feit dat een Nederlandse release pas voor september gepland staat).

Erwin Zijleman

Je kunt hier luisteren naar 'I Don't Want To Be Funny Anymore':

vrijdag 23 september 2016

Primitive Smile. Emanuel and the Fear

There is not a lot primeval about this album, I find, it gives cause to smile though. Emanuel and the Fear may dip their pens into many inkwells, the music is totally up to date with the age of bits and bites and what went shortly before. I wondered for a while whether I was going to write anything at all. Not because I don't like what I'm hearing, far from, I've played Primitive Smile many a time. It's more that I find that the album is such a hotchpotch of familiar sounds and songs that I found it hard to find the right words. Have I found them? No, but Primitive Smile is to good to pass up on.

Who are Emanuel and the Fear? According to Wikipedia an American symfo band from Brooklyn that released two EPs and two albums, the last stemming from 2012. Symfo? Is this the same band. Doing some more research I found that the band announced Primitive Smile on Bandcamp, so I am on the right track. From the sound of Primitive Smile I had expected a U.K. based band. Coming from NYC may explain that the third song, 'Holding On' reminds me so much of NYC singer-songwriter Steve Waitt. The song is even sung with the same diction.

If the band ever was sympho, then in the past four years it went through a great musical transition. From an eleven piece band to six is a major step for one. There are still loads of strings involved. Half of The Fear's members play classical strings. It is the rest that takes care of the great American songbook style of songs that come by. Together Emanuel Ayvas, guitar, piano, synths, vocals; Nic Cowles, synths, rhodes; Gil Goldin bass; Jeff Gretz, drums, percussion, rhodes, space echo; Sarah Haines, violin, viola, vocals; Liz Hanley violin, vocals with guest Mark Humburg on cello play an enthusiastic mix of music in which basically anything went. Many ideas were explored so that in every song different influences were found and brought to a satisfying end. Whether Foo Fighters or Giorgio Moroder, the listener is able to find something that he may recognise and/or appreciate.

No. I'm not going to tick off everything that I'm hearing on Primitive Smile. That may take away too much of your fun in exploring the record. What is important to write is that Emanuel and the Fear made each song a strength in itself. Whether through an interesting instrumentation or the beautiful singing between Emanuel Ayvas and the two ladies in the band. This definitely is one of the fortes of this album. Ayvas' voice is a perfect mix between Blind Willies' Alexei Wajchman and the aforementioned Steve Waitt. It's strength is augmented by Sarah Haines and Liz Hanley. The music is a mix of so much that at times I seem to run a couple of ears short. There's so much to discover that each spin of this cd is an adventure in itself.

Primitive Smile is an album not to let pass by unnoticed. It seems too good to be true at times.


You can listen to and buy Primitive Smile here:

donderdag 22 september 2016

Absolute Loser. Fruit Bats

De uit Chicago afkomstige band Fruit Bats ken ik alleen van het in 2003 verschenen Mouthfuls, dat ik destijds vooral een hele aangename plaat vond.
Dat geldt ook weer voor het na een pauze van vijf jaar verschenen Absolute Loser. De band rond Eric D. Johnson doet op haar zesde plaat misschien geen hele opzienbarende dingen, maar wat klinkt deze plaat lekker en wat word je vrolijk van de bijzonder aangenaam voortkabbelende pop- en rock songs van de Amerikaanse band.
Fruit Bats laat zich op Absolute Loser inspireren door de folk(pop) uit de jaren 70, de singer-songwriter pop uit dezelfde periode, de alt-country uit de jaren 90 en de countryrock van een aantal decennia ervoor en verpakt al deze invloeden in songs waarvan je alleen maar een brede glimlach op je gezicht kunt krijgen.
De opgewekte popsongs van Fruit Bats strijken geen moment tegen de haren in, strooien driftig met zonnestralen, klinken volstrekt tijdloos en hebben ook allemaal direct iets memorabele.
Fruit Bats doet in muzikaal opzicht misschien geen hele verrassende of vernieuwende dingen, maar de songs op de plaat zijn van hoog niveau en doen niet onder voor die van de vele voorbeelden van de band.
Die voorbeelden zijn er in overvloed. Fruit Bats heeft een zwak voor mooi verzorgde en licht psychedelische folkrock zoals Love die maakte, sluit aan bij de grote platen van alt-country pioniers als The Jayhawks maar ook bij countryrock bands als The Flying Burrito Brothers en komt zo nu en dan op de proppen met songs die McCartney gemaakt zou kunnen hebben gedurende de jaren 70. Hiermee zijn we er nog niet, want Absolute Loser klinkt 10 songs lang als een omgevallen platenkast, waarin ook ruimte is voor net wat stevigere en net wat zweverigere songs.
Wat voor de songs geldt, geldt ook voor de instrumentatie en de zang op de plaat. Alles klinkt even mooi verzorgd en alles is even trefzeker. Natuurlijk kan ik vol blijven houden dat Fruit Bats geen hele bijzondere dingen doet op haar zesde plaat, maar dat doet de band uit Chicago natuurlijk wel.
Absolute Loser is immers niet alleen een ijzersterke en onweerstaanbare feelgood plaat, maar het is ook nog eens een heel knap gemaakte plaat. Mouthfuls heb ik uiteindelijk heel vaak gedraaid. Dat zal voor Absolute Loser niet anders zijn. Heerlijk.

Erwin Zijleman

Je kunt hier luisteren naar 'Absolute Loser':