Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Thirty-one 'records' I quite liked in 2013

Thirty-one of the albums I quite liked this year (new, and stumbled upon from the past)

I had a bit of a problem with this list, as I found that – partly due to the show – much of my time was spent listening to individual tracks rather than entire 'albums'. Which of course raises the question of whether the 'album' is a song-package relevant to today's digital age. I guess for me it always will be, as  my musical tastes were formed in the days of  12-inch vinyl, and there is a lot of eBay plastic nostalgia here. But I came very close to just working out a list of individual tracks, and who knows what will happen next year, 'if we're spared' ! 

I'm not saying these are the best albums I listened to during 2013, but as I write in December, they're the ones that stick in my mind. I know there are some very highly praised and obvious things that are not there, and that local and personal bias may come through on occasion, but well...what can I say? I have no defence.

In no special order:

Pictish Trail – Secret Soundz Vol 2
Johnny Lynch paints his masterpiece. 2013 saw the Eigg/Fife/Fence/Lost Map division taking place. You can smell the secret acrimony.Who knows what's really going on, but there's some great music floating from one archipelago and a seaboard.

Foy Vance - Joy of Nothing
Born in Bangor, NI, raised partly in Oklahoma, living in Aberfeldy. Fantastic Morrison/Miller voice, songwriting on this is superb. The Ed Sheeran/Bonnie Raitt guest spots were a bit obvious. Serious US record company muscle. Expect worldwide success in 2014 if he doesn't go hermit in Perthshire..

Joe West and the Santa Fe Revue – Blood Red Velvet
The bold Joe and his exquisite art/country ensemble from Santa Fe, New Mexico. Funny, charming, beautifully sung and played, very poignant and funny. Oh, to be in Santa Fe on a Thursday night to watch an evening of this unfold. 'Hometown Shit Beer' is beyond brilliant.

Mr Niz – The Gospel According to Mr Niz
In which top Scottish sessioneer Stuart Nisbet, with a curiously parallel background to Foy Vance (expat fundamentalist preacher's son) revisits some classic gospel tunes with tremendous heart, soul and instrumental expertise. And an unexpectedly affecting voice.

Yvonne Lyon – These Small Rebellions
Greenock based, Coatbridge-produced, really resonant songs with depth and great melodic strengths, beautifully sung.

Rotifer – The Cavalry Never Showed Up
Edgy, dark, witty and full of energy and insight. Robert Rotifer's classic Aberdeen Marine Lab echoes in my head every time I arrive in Castle Greyskull, but this tackles age, culture, politics and the history of rock'n'roll with a colloquial verve astonishing in one whose first language isn't even English. Loads of great scrapy jangle as well.

Legend – the first album (weird beach scene cover)
Legend – the second album (the 'flaming Chelsea boot' cover)
Mickey Jupp's three Legend albums (from the late 60s/early 70s) have been lovingly repackaged and the first one especially takes me back to Fairbairns in Troon in 1970, where it sat reducing in price week by week until my friend Dougie bought it. All acoustic, 'National Gas' is a superb track. Tony Visconti produced the 'flaming boot' record and it has the original, wondrous version of Dr Feelgood's Cheque Book on it.

Arcade Fire – Reflektor
My ultra-discriminating and gig-seasoned daughter got into the Barrowland show and said it was the best thing she'd ever seen. The record has its ups and downs but it's the sense of ambition and scope, not to mention sheer breathtaking power, that I love. And Bowie's cameo makes up for his terrible album.

Nic Jones - Penguin Eggs
Introduced via the superb BBC4 documentary. Loved it so much I bought a 1979 Fylde Orsino guitar. The version of The Humpback Whale on this is absolutely staggering.

Sam Cooke – Portrait of a Legend 1956-64
Got into this via Spotify and Peter Guralnick's astonishing and massive biography Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke, which is shocking, revelatory and moving. There is an unbelievable amount of sex in it. But the incredible depth and range of Cooke's abilities, from commerce to production, songwriting to performance are key. Put this record on and you won't believe he wrote all these stone-cold classics. And the sense of a developing talent cut short is tragic.

Dumb and Dumber – original movie soundtrack
The Farrelly Brothers have the 'proper' Dumb and Dumber sequel coming out in 2014 (original cast, with the sublime Jeff Daniels and Jim Carrey, but what a soundtrack the first film (my favourite, most watched comedy of all time, no question) had. Pete Droge, Crash Test Dummies, Butthole Surfers, The Proclaimers for starters.

Attic Lights – Super De Luxe
Back with their soaring melodic jangle and some great songwriting. One of the session highlights of Morton Through Midnight this year.

This is Blues (Guy Stevens' Sue Records compilation)
I got this as a cut-out bargain in Troon when I was about 13 and had never heard people like Elmore James or Willie Mae 'Big Mama' Thornton, Lowell Fulsom or Homesick James. Changed my life and so a total pleasure to acquire it on vinyl. This time without the ruined front cover due to scrubbing to get the bargain price stickers off.

The Age of Atlantic (1970 Atlantic compilation)
I bought this new when it came out (99p) because I couldn't afford full-price albums at 14. I know every note, every whisper on this record. Clapton's playing on Delaney and Bonnie's Comin' Home is staggering. And then there's the Allmans, the MC5, Led Zeppelin (twice!) and Dr John. Not to mention Buffalo Springfield and Yes when they were good...

Fill Your Head With Rock: The Sound of the Seventies (1970 CBS compilation)
Not as good as its 'The Rock Machine Turns You On' predecessor, but a bargain double album full of tracks that were hugely influential on my subsequent tastes: Al Stewart, Leonard Cohen, the exquisite Driving Wheel from Tom Rush, Taj Mahal and Janis Joplin. Bought on vinyl without the ostensibly devil-worshipping Come to the Sabbath scored out with an evangelical screwdriver!

Andy Irvine and Paul Brady – album
An absolute revelation, fuelled by Brady's appearance in Shetland and an interview. Hard Station may be his Gerry-Rafferty-inspired contemporary singer-songwriter breakthrough, but listen to this and you can hear why hardline devotees of traditional Irish folk felt betrayed. His approach to the ballad Arthur Macbride is utterly breathtaking, both vocally and instrumentally.

Kid Canaveral – Now That You Are A Dancer
More from the Fence-to-Lost Map stable. I fear KC (Kid Canaveral as opposed to King Creosote) may have been slightly nudged off course by all the shenanigans. I hope not.

Captain Beefheart – Safe As Milk
Featuring the young Ryland P Cooder in 1967 and as accessible as Beefheart ever was. Disturbing as ever, though, due to those strange shifts in time signature and the (best left indecipherable) lyrics.

Lost Soul Band – the Land of Do as You Please
Gordon Grahame, Mike Scott with splenetic rage instead of mysticism and ambition. A wonderful band and a major talent who had the wrong record company at the wrong time.

Gareth Davies-Jones – Now But Not Yet
Like Yvonne Lyon, Gareth is from/hovers on the edge of the Christian music scene and both albums were produced in Coatbridge's Foundry Music Labs by Graeme Duffin and Sandy Jones. There are some lovely songs on this, though, none more so than the opener, Dawn.

Billy Bragg - Tooth and Nail
Produced by the wondrous Joe Henry, this album has a laid-back Americana feel that initially distracts from the typical political power of some songs, notably the apocalyptic There Will Be a Reckoning.. Some lovely lascivious wordplay on Handyman and the closing optimism of There Will Be a Better Day is splendid. Bastard wouldn't do an interview though.

Frightened Rabbit – Pedestrian Verse
I was worried that FR had spent too much time on this and that their thunder had to an extent been stolen by fellow travellers in glottal stop territory Admiral Fallow, but no worries. All Scott Hutchison's plangent power is intact.

British Sea Power – Machineries of Joy
Why aren't this lot as big as U2? They have the electric muscle and the anthems. Is it the onstage-shrubbery? They're a stadium band hiding their light show under a bush.

Howlin' Wolf – Blues from Hell
Arrived at via Beefheart and an old TV appearance. Mighty, mighty music with enormous amounts of humour, aggression and style.

Kevin Ayers – Songs for Insane Times (Anthology)
Huge compilation that reveals one of the great English eccentric talents in all its variations. Stranger in Blue Suede's like Graham Greene filtered through Lord Snooty, Noel Coward, Chuck Berry and, well, Soft Machine.

Clifford T Ward – Home Thoughts from Abroad
Am I the only person in the whole world who rates the late Clifford? Lushly orchestrated, very English chamber pop with real emotional power. Avoid the whimsy and there's some wonderful things here.

Graham Kendrick – Footsteps on the Sea
As a member of the Key Record Club in 1972, this arrived in the post, unrequested, and at 16 I was transfixed. Christian singer-songwriter material, sung with serious sinus issues and with the legendary Gordon Giltrap on guitar, but done with a lot more than just sincerity. Proper poetry, actually, in places. I later got to know Graham and he became the titan of waved-arm worship song that he is today. But before he was hoist on his own theological petard, he was great. The acoustic sound of this on vintage vinyl is magical too.

Larry Norman – Only Visiting This Planet
Lyrically it's almost unlistenable, and hindsight/knowledge/the internet makes the late Larry's up-and-down (but very American gospel – see Sam Cooke) life seem odd and disturbing. But the sheer bonkers power of 'Six O' Clock news' and the threatening fundamentalist bombast of 'Why Don't You Look Into Jesus' crunch effectively. Hugely important figure for those of us who grew up in the extreme corners of Christianity.

Peter Nardini – Hug. Came to this and indeed getting Peter on the show through the fuss over his song 'Larkhall' which is both very old and very funny, still. I had no idea of his own family ties to the place. One of the great overlooked Scottish songwriters – better and a lot funnier than The Proclaimers and with a real cutting intelligence. His paintings are superb, and very good value for money when you compare the prices to those of other visual artists.

Tom Waits – Round Midnight: The Minneapolis Broadcast 1975.
Waits at his (apparently) sozzled piano bar peak, with all the tall tales and Nighthawks at the Diner songs. For some of us, everything from Raindogs on will be a let down. But this? This is gin alley magic.


Single Track said...

Interesting list Tom; great to see the magnificent Lost Soul Band on here; had The Land Of...on in car en route to Glasgow last week, still sublime.

Can I add to your list for a wee peruse Heidi Talbot's new one feat King Creosote & Louis Abbott and also the Temperance Movement (feat glasgow's own Phil Campbell, great Black Crowes/Faces type stuff....)

Single Track said...

Interesting list Tom; great to see the magnificent Lost Sould Band on here; had The Land Of...on in car en route to Glasgow last week, still sublime.

Can I add to your list for a wee peruse Heidi Talbot's new one feat King Creosote & Louis Abbott and also the Temperance Movement (feat glasgow's own Phil Campbell, great Black Crowes/Faces type stuff....)

Unknown said...

You got to put a Lindi Ortega album in there Tom. She's touting UK in January and playing Glasgow and Edinburgh - one of the most refreshing talents to emerge in decades !!

Unknown said...

You gotta get a Lindi Ortega album in there Tom. In my opinion one of the most refreshing talents to emerge in many a year !!!

alandoak said...

No, Tom you're not the only Clifford T. Ward fan around. When I was 19 (40 years ago)I discovered "Home Thoughts", as did a bunch of my friends. Subsequent albums weren't as good but still worthwhile. This remains a classic.
The title track in particular
immediately takes me back to nights listening, with my first love, to this masterpiece of whimsy

norrie said...

Have not herard most of these so will check them out.

I appear to be in a minority that thinks The Next Day is superb. Ho and indeed hum.

Anonymous said...

Tom, I was another Key records subscriber and still have Upon This Rock and Footsteps on the Sea. Graham Kendrick's early stuff was good and I must listen to it again sometime.