Friday, August 19, 2016


Everybody needs a break,
Climb a mountain or jump in a lake.
Sean Doherty goes to the Rose of Tralee,
Oliver J. Flanagan goes swimming in the Holy Sea.
But I like the music and the open air,
So every Summer I go to Clare.
Coz Woodstock, Knock nor the Feast of Cana,
Can hold a match to Lisdoonvarna.

Well this couldn't be timed any the better, being that time of year when I bundle my kit into the car and head off into the sunshine, hopefully the sunshine, in search of the outdoor muse. I commented here, just a couple of years ago about my intent to revisit my youth and to start attending music festivals once more, after a decade or so of good behaviour. It was Cambridge Folk Festival that broke my fast, a venerable warhorse of such events, now in its 52nd  consecutive year. Folk is a multi-faceted definition these days: this year featured such finger in the ear trad. arr. stalwarts as Wilko Johnson and Charles Bradley! But amongst the Satchmo all-inclusiveness was the fellow I praise today, Mr Christy Moore. The featured song is one he wrote about an Irish festival, sadly no longer in existence, but, judging by the lyric, would have been right up my street.

Lisdoonvarna is a small town in the west of Ireland. The video above gives a good grasp of the place. Small as in very small, less than 1000 inhabitants. But between 1978 and 1983 it was home to the festival that bore its name, described here as:"Lisdoon, of course, was the Irish Woodstock. First held in 1978, it was conceptualised as the Irish equivalent of the Glastonbury Festival in England: part-scout jamboree, part-Bacchanal frenzy, part-hippy-dippy roots-embracing finger-in-the-ear jig-'n'-reel extravaganza...If all those who now claim to have been at Lisdoon 1978 were actually there, Co Clare would have tipped up and slipped off the Cliffs of Moher."--Irish Independent

 Does that not sound wonderful? Sadly the combination of several "revellers" drowning off the coast, and the unhelpful presence of the ubiquitous Hell's Angels finished it off, the local council vetoing any further such endeavour. (Why do the media always refer to festival attendees as revellers, a seemingly compulsory journalistic term I abhor, even writing to the august British Medical Journal in 1994 to lambast them for this lazy verbiage. Sorry, no link, they didn't publish!) However, should you need still to get to Lisdoonvarna and happen to be single, there is still this, the worlds largest dating festival.......

So what about Christy Moore? A bastion of probably more folk festivals than nearly anyone, he has been a fixture on the circuit for an astonishing 4 decades, retiring more than once. A founder member of both Planxty and Moving Hearts, each of whom propelled traditional irish music out of pub back rooms and  into global recognition, first of all acoustically and then with the full electric band dynamic. Each, in my humble, never bettered. Thereafter he retreated to his roots and his battered guitar, often alone, or with longterm trusty sidekick, Declan Sinnot, mesmerising audiences with his combination of political commentary, eirocentric whimsy and unexpected covers. His voice a gentle fire, with an unusual power and a soft beauty, often as much a sound as a medium for the lyrical content, though you would be foolish to miss that aspect. And, having been forced off the road in the 80s through alcoholism and heart disease, both now seemingly in abeyance, his schedule as busy as ever. Here he is, playing at Cambridge barely a month ago. And here is an example of his latest and recommended release:

I must rush; next weekend sees me in Shrewsbury for another 4 days of, um, revelling....... (Indeed, the curious interested in seeing this scribe in action at last years event might stop the promo video at 1.13, catching the handsome fella with a goatee, enraptured by whomsoever was playing at that time. I appreciate it would be even more curious if you did.)

Buy the song, but do yourself a favour, check out the back catalogue, including his Planxty and Moving Hearts releases.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

STE* - Steve Jones, Give It Up

Purchase Steve Jones, Give It Up

Steve Jones is best known as the guitar player for the Sex Pistols, thus, he’s kind of the godfather of punk guitar. There’s really no debate: that’s his sound.  We’ve all been imitating it since 1977. But, Jones has led an interesting career, aside from the guitar. He’s played with myriad acts that span multiple genres. He’s acted. He’s written. He’s currently a DJ on the radio in LA.  I mention this because, one: he kicks ass, always had. He’s one of the major reasons I picked up the guitar in the first place. But, two, and more importantly: I like the fact that Jones has traversed so many sounds and styles for the simple fact that his talent belies the notion that punk in general and the Sex Pistols in particular was dumb music made by a bunch of one-syllable speaking knuckleheads. I mean, it often was, but I’ve always loved the fact that Jones went on to such a varied and interesting career.

Because of the magnitude of the impact it had and the musical revolution he helped to spark, nothing will ever quite live up to Jones’ work in the Pistols, but the man is a testament to being a multi-versed renaissance player and the essential nature of reinvention.

Check out his 1987 MCA release, Mercy. It’s decidedly of the era, with some heavy, floating keys on the power ballads, but tracks like That’s Enough and Give it Up pack a serious, decidedly un-80s pop guitar drive that sets these songs apart from the standard fare of the decade of silly hair and way too many effects.  Plus, the album showcases Jones’ serious Elvis-inspired croon, which somehow works, even over the more radio, Miami Vice-ready tracks. His 1989 release, Fire and Gasoline, is even better. It mainly eschews the pop stuff and goes for full throttle guitars. It’s a little metal, I suppose, but hearing it again today, it’s pretty much just rock n roll: big beat, rip saw guitar rhythms and big courses. Again, decidedly not what was popular at the time (I’m looking at you, Hair Metal), and really, a little ahead of its time.

There are a number of good tracks from both albums, but lets go with Give It Up, from Mercy. If for no other reason than it was the first song I remember hearing off the album, and one that I could easily pick out and play along to in my bedroom on my Stratocaster. Learn from the best. For fun, also, check out his cover of Bowie’s Suffragette City. It’s fun, loud and raw, like good covers should be.


STE* - STEve Miller

purchase [ Brave New World]

Seattle almost matches the STE* requirement - at least it has all the letters. And more. It's my legal home when I'm back in the US of A, but more important to you since you are currently reading this at SMM, is the strength of the city's musical output. I was sure that Steve Miller was from Seattle, but he isn't listed in the Wikipedia link to famous musicians from Seattle. However, the Wikipedia list hasn't got it quite right (your teacher always told you that you shouldn't use Wikipedia as a reliable source). Miller has in fact been associated with/lived in the Seattle area.

The Steve Miller Band was one of my favorites - for some reason up until about the time just after the band turned more commercial (after The Joker/Fly Like an Eagle, both of which I consider decent if not quite like the earlier output)

We have here a cut from 1969's Brave New World, shortly after Boz Scaggs had left. Apparently recorded in a single session in London, the album includes a musician billed as Paul Ramon - doing backing vocals on the track, but also drums and guitar on other tracks on the album. You probably know him better by another name.

Celebration Song

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

STE* : Steve Howe/Yes

 purchase [ Yessongs ]

A Newsweek article from about a year ago noted Steve Howe's resemblance to a wizard: long white locks, an angular face, and spectacles to match. A wizard not only in looks, but at the guitar as well. 

 Classically trained and multi-instrumental, Howe brought a jazz infused guitar style, combining with Rick Wakeman's keyboard and Chris Squire's bass to create a unique sound that is easily identifiable as the sound of Yes. He was then and still is today a man who flies under the radar. In a Guitar World interview, he suggests that rather than aiming to be a guitar player, he would advise aspring players to be musicians. Quite true - at least for him and his style.

More often than not, Yes songs ran to much longer than the default AM radio 3 minute limit - FM radio was only just beginning to take  over the air waves, and Yes songs didnt fit the formula.  But, for the first half of the 1970s, Yes alums regularly sold well. Yessongs  - a live set that shows how close they could bring their style to the stage -not one of those bands that can do it in the studio but come up short in live shows.

The cover art work of many Yes albums by Roger Dean added to the band's appeal: out of this world - but plausibly realistic landscapes floating in space - which is where many listeners saw themselves at that time. Howe and drummer Alan White, both members of the 70s era lineup are still in the still-touring band: Wakeman currently plays with other Yes alumni including John Anderson, Squire passed away last year. Original member Peter Banks, who Howe replaced in 1970 also passed away a few years back.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

STE*: E.S.T.

I seem to have hundreds of Steves and Stephens on my i-pod, so who said anything about not jumbling it up a bit, which is an apt metaphor, because that is exactly what E.S.T., or the Esbjorn Svensson Trio, did. Nominally a post-modern piano jazz trio, signed to the notoriously serious ECM label, one could be forgiven for suspecting their music to be far too sombre and far too difficult for you, and, at times, you would be right. But at others it can be amongst the most life-affirming use of this most traditional of formats, especially when a scintilla of electronica is added to the blend.

I would be first to admit that I don't know a whole lot about either the band or Esbjorn himself, much above he is no longer with us, having been drowned in a scuba diving accident 8 years ago. So rather than making this a retread of his life and works: you can get that here, I thought I'd just tweak your ears with a snippet or two of his work.
So is it jazz or is it not? Clearly, I guess, yes, but the question merely epitomises the problem with pigeonholing. By applying the label as many potential listeners will be repelled as will be attracted, perhaps many more, jazz often still having a stuffy reputation. So if you recontextualise it as within the classical/electronica interface it still fits. Indeed, with the expansion of this well nigh impossible to truly describe music genre, your Olafur Arnalds and Nils Frahms and their ilk, I am struck how prescient of their current output were this trio a decade or more ago. (Here is an excellent article from the Royal Opera House, of all places, which ties to explain this paradigm.) Anyway I'm listening to them as I write and the drumming alone smacks way more of the dance floor than it is supposed to or that you expect. Uncertain if I'm selling this, so have some more music.

Did I say classical? But this is heavy metal, or could be, already defeating my risible attempts to classify. Which is my point. But never is the eclecticism a distraction, nor the purpose. This is no tailcoat riding exercise in hipster posing, as the more orthodox piece below shows.

The 3 songs showcased are, in order, 'Dolores in a Shoestand', 'Leucocyte' and 'Elevation of Love', perhaps demonstrating that his titles are arguably the only impenetrable within his oevre. I hope this briefest of introductions may entice some further exploring. (Hell, if you come to this site, your ears are probably already open, but, if not?) You could do a lot worse than a lazy start with 'Retrospective: the Very Best of E.S.T.'

Buy it here!

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

STE*: Steve Tibbetts

Steve Tibbetts: Ur

If you love music enough to read blogs like this, I can almost guarantee that there are a number of times that you first heard a song or an album and had your mind immediately blown. A feeling that you have heard something that was so wonderful, so unlike anything else that you were familiar with, that it stays with you forever. I’ve written about other times this has happened to me, but today I want to write about Steve Tibbetts, whose second album, Yr was a revelation.

Tibbetts is not exactly a household name—he exists somewhere in the never particularly commercial intersection of jazz fusion, world music and ambient music. He is a virtuoso guitarist who painstakingly crafts his albums by overdubbing layers upon layers of instruments, sort of like Mike Oldfield used to do. I remember seeing the album at WPRB—I’m pretty sure someone directed me to it, and from the first listen, I was totally hooked. Our featured song, “Ur,” is the first one on the album, and thus the first one I heard, but they are all great. Beautiful guitar based instrumentals with Indian percussion that moved between soft and lyrical and fast and furious. Each side of the record flowed together as a piece, although there were separate tracks. I really lack the vocabulary to describe the music, so I’m going to steal a quote from a review of Yr from DownBeat Magazine:

Tibbetts overdubs acoustic and electric instruments in a Hendrixian mindscape of production wizardry, often combining up to 20 guitars on one track. He layers the sound into breathtaking guitar choirs and intricate superstructures. His solos are twisting, singing journeys that evolve with the sense of spiritual awakening you’d hear in a Coltrane soprano run. After building to an exuberant climax that nears the breaking point, he supplants it with a plaintive acoustic guitar passage that initiates the next trip. 

If that doesn’t make you want to listen to his music, then you cannot be my friend.

Tibbetts was born in Madison, Wisconsin, but is based in St. Paul, Minnesota. His first two albums were created and self-released. Yr was the second, but the first one I had heard. We had a copy at WPRB that had Tibbetts’ original pen and ink drawing (see above) as the cover—and I vaguely recall that it might have been personalized for the station (although in retrospect, maybe not by Tibbetts).

Later, Yr was re-released, with a different cover, by ECM records, a legendary jazz label known for a particular sound, and for recording its albums quickly. Tibbetts’ first album for the label was done in this manner, and was not a critical success. His later works, done more in his painstaking, time consuming way, were more successful.

I have to admit that I basically lost track of Tibbetts after I left college. I don’t remember hearing that first ECM release, and it wasn’t like there was a place to hear his style of music on the radio, even in New York in the 1980s and 1990s. His output slowed significantly after the 80s, and even more so in the 2000s, with his last album, Natural Causes released in 2010. He has also released two albums with Chöying Drolma, a Tibetan Buddhist nun.

A few years ago, an Australian music site, Guvera, briefly was allowing free, legal, downloads of certain music using a system that allowed the amassing of a huge number of credits for essentially clicking on advertisements. I downloaded hundreds, maybe thousands, of songs during this brief period, which ultimately ended when Guvera decided that it would become a streaming service (probably, because giving away thousands of downloads wasn't a viable business model). It did allow me to download a bunch of Tibbetts’ later music, which all sounds pretty good, although I admittedly haven’t given it a huge amount of attention. And it never again blew my head up the same way it did when I first heard Yr.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Family Bands/ STE*: The Pointer Sisters

The Pointer Sisters: Little Pony


If you only know the Pointer Sisters from their run of hits in the 80s, Little Pony will come as a surprise. This is straight ahead jazz singing, and as good as it gets. It comes from their 1974 album That’s a Plenty, which is mostly a jazz album, but it also features their country hit Fairytale. Fairytale is also the real deal; the song, a Pointers original, was good enough to win a country Grammy and land them an appearance on the Grand Old Opry. They were the first black artists to appear there. By this point in their career, the sisters had also recorded funk and blues.

Can you imagine such a career on a major label today? It couldn’t happen. As much as anything else, the Pointers’ story is about how much the music industry has changed since then. The sisters had varied musical interests and the talent to do it all, but they must have been a marketer’s nightmare. Nowadays, they would be independent artists, possibly self produced. Certainly no major label would want to touch them until they “decided” what they were. But look at them in the video, and you see four women who are happiest not having to decide. They are having a blast, doing what they love.

By the 80s, the Pointers were under increasing pressure to go mainstream, and they did. Their talent was realized in a string of major hits, such as I’m So Excited and Slowhand. But there was a personal price. The group had four sisters at the beginning of the 80s, then three, then two. Much later, one of the sisters wanted to rejoin the group, but was not welcomed back. By the 90s, pop music had moved on, and there were no more hits. They returned to jazz to perform songs from the show Ain’t Misbhavin’ in 1995 and 1996, but June’s health was failing by then. She died in 2006, and since then the surviving three sisters have rarely performed together.

Even in the 80s, the Pointers showed some stylistic range, doing numbers with contemporary R&B, girl group, and rock flavors. But I can’t help wondering what might have happened if their diverse musical interests had continued to be encouraged in that period. Quincy Jones made it big producing Thriller for Michael Jackson, but he came from a jazz background. What might he have done with the Pointers? And what might have happened if they had worked with Prince or George Clinton? We will never know, but I can’t help thinking that the sisters might have been happier, even if they didn’t sell as many records.

Friday, July 29, 2016

family bands: isley brothers

purchase [Stephen Stills: Love the One You're With]

There are various multi-guitar version on the U_tube with any combination of CSNand/orY - acoustic/electric/mixed, many of them satisfying (tho not always), but few come close to the sweet harmony that the original version from Stills' album brings. CSNY aren't related - as in family - except that they are known to fight like members of a family are known to do, and, after so many years, they must be just one notch down from family. But this post isnt about them as family. It's about the Isley Brothers doing a Stephen Stills song:

Love the One You're With: strikes me as rather "hippie" in theme. Take a minute to think it through:
If you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with 

(a phrase ascribed to Billy Preston, but with likely earlier versions dating back to the '40s or possibly Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello in the 50s)

Peace and Love, man. It's OK to love anyone on the moment/ go with the flow. Why not make the best of the moment:  the time only comes around once.

The structure of this song seems to call out for the incorporation of an organ (or whatever takes its electronic place). The Isely Brothers turned out a version of a CSNY song that almost matches Steven Stills' original.  In the original, Stills (Wow) plays guitar, organ and various percussion (along with the vocal). Crosby, Nash and Rita Coolidge add to the original.

The 1971 Isley Brothers rendition is decidedly more gospel - see the  vocals (gospel: may include clapping and foot stomping along with the focus on vocal harmonies) - the version linked to at the top