More amazing free music

Right, I’ve got loads of fascinating stuff to blog about (no, really), but that can wait, cos right now, I’ve got loads of great free music to tell you about. First up, Lobelia is giving away a whole album of voice ‘n’ piano stuff on Reverb Nation. The album, called 040515 (the date it was recorded, in Canadian apparently), was recorded live at Power Base Studio in Nebraska, which is where she and I recorded our fantastic live E.P last summer.

It’s a really beautiful record, and was the first thing I heard from her ages ago. The track ‘Wake Up And Lose You’ is particularly amazing. Some of the songs you might recognise if you’ve seen us live over the last year and a half, but perhaps not in this format…

Anway, downloading it is v. easy, either via her Reverb Nation page or via the widget embedded below – just click on ‘songs’, and the downloadable ones start with Wake Up And Lose You… You’ll have to sign up to her mailing list, if you’re not already, but you’ll want to anyway, cos she’s amazing. :o)


LobeliaQuantcast

For more on Lo and her music, see her website, or add her as a friend on her Facebook musician page or via MySpace page.

Go! download! download like the wind!!

Billy Bragg/KT Tunstall at HMV – the value of screwing it up…

I went to a fabulous lunchtime gig yesterday – Billy Bragg and KT Tunstall at HMV on Oxford Street. I had no idea why they were doing it before I went – I assumed it was as promo for the iTunes festival that’s coming up, where both of them are on a bill with the wonderful Leo Abrahams.

As it turned out it was as promo for Q magazine’s top 100 greatest british pop/rock albums or some such bollocks. Q magazine used to be good, but is now, sadly, largely unreadable shit. Endless top lists of either journo picked or reader-submitted stuff, rehashing the tired and nonsensical line that they greatest bands in the history of music are Radiohead, Oasis and Nirvana (nothing against those three in particular, though I not a big fan of any of them, just that it’s pretty pointless saying it in every other issue…).

Anyway, what it meant for the gig was that Billy and KT did a whole slew of great cover versions, most of which neither of them knew particularly well. Peppered in amongst more polished versions of songs like ‘Every Day Is Like Sunday’ (KT, complete with looped vocal harmonies), ‘Ever Falling In Love With Someone (Billy’s Buzzcocks tribute) and ‘The Drugs Don’t Work’ (both of them together) were really ropey versions of ‘Don’t You Want Me Baby’ and ‘I Predict A Riot’.

But here’s the thing (as Trip might say), the rubbish performances were at least as affecting, engaging and entertaining as the ones that ‘worked’ – there’s something really magical about seeing musicians over-stretch themselves and not take it too seriously, not getting to precious. Billy Bragg has long been not just one of my favourite songwriters and guitarists (he is, as I’ve said before, a guitar genius, IMO) but one of my most favouritest performers, speakers, writers… he’s just great, and his sense of adventure in trying songs that he doesn’t know the right chords to etc. is just wonderful.

And KT Tunstall was always utterly mis-labelled as part of the Blunt/Morrison etc. crowd – she’s been playing live for over 10 years, playing folk clubs, coffee shops, festivals, learning her craft, and no doubt spending night after night playing requests that she barely knows and getting away with it. That Sony manage to strip away all the energy, vibe and magic from her performance on her records is both sad and a testament to her strength of character that they still manage to be far better records that the rest of the ‘nu-acoustic’ crowd can come up with, but in a situation like this she really shines. She has fun on stage, she reaches for things, she’s willing to look a bit of a muppet and as such draws everyone in.

Here are some pics that Sarda took of the gig – damn, he’s getting good at this photography business!

Anyway, the lesson is – take risks, have fun, and don’t be afraid to look a bit of a berk on stage, it’ll make you look far more human, engaging and funny to your audience…

For reference, you might want to watch mine and Lo’s version of ‘Love Is A Battlefield’ –

(and here’s a link to one of the songs they did – Don’t You Want Me Baby – but be warned the quality is REALLY bad.

free MP3s featuring Nels Cline…

My other latest recent musical obsession is guitarist Nels Cline. Best know these days as the guitarist in Wilco, he’s nevertheless been a mainstay of the LA experimental/free/out/weird scene for decades, as well as guesting with some big name dudes like Mike Watt (his guitar playing features heavily on Contemplating The Engine Room by Watt – an amazing album)

Anyway, there are a few free downloads on last.fm that feature him – first, there’s The Darkness Of Each Endless Fall by Stueart Liebig – Stig is an outstanding bassist from LA, and I just bought this track yesterday from eMusic, but on clicking on his name on last.fm just now, discovered I could’ve got it for free… So you can, and then go and buy loads of Stig’s music cos it’s amazing.

Also on last.fm are four free downloads from The Scott Amendola Band, featuring Nels. Again, I downloaded both albums from eMusic, but you can get tasters of them from last.fm, then go and buy them on emusic!

And lastly – same as before, I bought it on emusic before discovering the freebies – some of Nels’ own trio, The Nels Cline Singers, whose music is all instrumental, just in case the name throws you.

Get stuck in – you can get about an hour or so’s worth of free loveliness from that lot on last.fm. Seems like their label, Cryptogramaphone have free tracks from all their artists on last.fm – i’d recommend Jenny Scheinman, Alan Pasqua and Nels’ solo stuff as well, but it’s all worth checking out. Hours of spikey goodness.

End of year eMusic round-up…

So, end of December, time for everyone to do their end of 2007 best music lists… I’m just going to offer the stuff I got off eMusic, and a few of them were released in 2006 even though I didn’t get them til 2007 – with the way digital releases go, things released on CD one year might not end up being available for download until early in the next year anyway, so there’s a little ambiguity about what a ‘release date’ is these days…

Draw Breath – Nels Cline Singers – LA-based avant guitarist keeps on melding ‘out’ weirdness with amazing tunes. This new one is no exception.

Line By Line – John Patitucci – John continues to grow as both a composer and player on this beautiful guitar-led album of introspective jazz and beautiful chamber music. My favourites of his since One More Angel.

Double Talk – Theo Travis – push comes to shove, probably my favourite album of the year. Theo just gets better and better, and here his band are just amazing. It’s no wonder he’s so in demand right now… Look out for our duo live album some time in the next 12 months….

Shine – Joni Mitchell – seems like a very personal record, much smaller in scope than anything she’s done for years, a beautifully understated return to the recording world. Now let’s hope she tours…

The Antisocial Club – Alan Pasqua – anyone savvy enough to put Jimmy Haslip and Nels Cline on the same record HAS to have it going on. A beautiful album of spikey post-miles jazz, and the kind of project that Jimmy excels at, even though people don’t think of him as an out player…

You’ve Got To Laugh – Nik Kershaw – when are people going to wake up and realise that he’s one of the finest songwriters of the last 25 years – how long can one man’s reputation be defined by his mullet of two decades ago?

Sermon On Exposition Boulevard – Rickie Lee Jones – mad freewheeling gospel album, sounds unlike anyone else that I can think of. In a good way.

These Friends Of Mine – Rosie Thomas – really a trio record with Sufjan Stevens and the wonderful Denison Witmer, Rosie’s yet to record a bad song, let along a bad album. Now when is Sheila’s first album coming out?

Rock Garden – Ty Tabor – Ty finally allows himself to really rock out without the rest of King’s X.

Strange Conversation – Kris Delmhorst – as with everything she does, it’s full of great tunes and great words.

there you go, no Radiohead, no Britney, no Arctic Monkeys, no… whatever, you can go and read about their tedious nonsense elsewhere… :o)

This week in review

So, we’ve done the Stop the War march… What was next? Ah yes, Stars at Scala – one of those bands that the kids listen to that Catster has made me aware of. The album is rather lovely, equal parts bleepy and electronic, huge and anthemic. It’s bleepy to the degree that I had no idea whether on stage they’d be a band or three peoples with laptops. As it was, they were a classic Rock 6 piece – guitar bass drums keys, and two singers who also played guitar and keys.

stars at Scala

What was sad is that they pretty much removed everything from the live sound that made the record interesting. They transformed from electronic rock pioneers into an early 90s stage-2-at-greenbelt fairly dull-sounding rock band. I stayed for about 6 song – apparently they got better after that point…

Tuesday was a lotsa fun – the evening started with Douglas Coupland at the Bloomsbury, with Sarda and Kari. We three Coupland geeks, all v. excited to hear this king of zeitgeisty cool speak. And what did we discover? That he’s a proper geek, talking in half finished phrases, jumping from topic to tangental topic, and reading extracts from his book, or rather from the book within his book, and then from the book within the book within his new book, The Gum Thief. And he was fab. I like geeks, a lot – I like being around them, finding their absence of concern for what’s cool or not comforting (as a solo bassist, one has to gravitate to places were Cool is not a Concern :o) and I found him witty and charming.

douglas coupland

The event ended slightly oddly, with Douglas looking slight uncomfortable, perhaps like he was about to cry, saying something to the effect of ‘you do know this is the last one of these I’m ever going to do. My book reading days are over, thanks, goodnight.’ He did a signing after this, but we were onto new things.

julie mckee

New Things being Julie McKee and Beth Rowley at the Troubadour (a club with which I have a long history, having recorded my first album there). Was great to see both of them play, with their lovely respective bands. All in a lovely night out (though £17 for three drinks and a two bowls of chips was insane! )

beth rowley

Wednesday night I went out to Pizza Express on Dean Street to see Robert Mitchell’s Panacea, featuring Robert on keys alongside Richard Spaven on drums, Tom Mason on bass and Deborah Jordan on vocals. ‘Twas a sublime gig, and Robert’s choice of Deborah as vocalist is inspired – the tunes are really complex jazz melodies, with big intervals and weird rhythmic twists, which in the hands of ‘normal’ jazz singer would end up sounding like Manhattan Transfer does the Elektric Band, but with the superb funky rhythm section of Richard and Tom, and Deborah transforming the jazz into soulful songs, it becomes something entirely different, and beautiful. A very fine gig.

Thursday – a me-gig, another one of these acoustic singer/songwriter nights I’ve been doing, just seeing how what I do works to an audience of acoustic music fans who have no idea who I am. Once again, it was fun and well received, but I’m probably going to knock these on the head for a while, as the way the venues are set up is to get as many acts through as possible in the hope that a) the performers themselves will drink and that b) they’ll bring friends to watch them. There’s very little concern for quality control (last night was a fairly even split between pretty good and Godawful), and a big focus on turnover at the bar. Which is understandable – with property prices being what they are in London, nowhere can really afford to have a half-empty night just for the sake of putting on a cool gig, and none of the venues have got the balls – or capital – to book only great acts, charge and entrance fee, let the bands play for longer, and wait for the night to gain a reputation… Instead they are either 20 min sets, free to get in, happy for the audience to talk, or pay to play band-gets-a-pound-back-for-each-punter-they-bring deals. Total bollocks for musicians, but fairly intractable for venue owners.

it’s why I’m so grateful to have found Darbucka, though I appreciate that I’ll not be able to book there if it gets busier during the week – they can’t afford to have music to the detriment of their business any more than any other venue…

But it’s been fun doing the acoustic nights, wowing a few people and no doubt boring the arse off a few others. :o)

File under 'who'd have thought it!'

“Wish I had a home with ten million rooms/I’d open up the doors and let the street children through/Wish that I could scoop up all those children in my arms/Give them all they needed to protect them all from harm”

That’s a lyric from the new Ian Brown album, an album that apparently tackles other socially conscious subjects such as war in the middle east and environmental concerns. It’s great to see someone doing this, sad to hear that he’s been getting swiped at in the press for it, but as is so often the case, Andrew Collins writes about it in a great way.

It’s such a shame that labels such as ‘earnest’ and ‘worthy’ are applied pejoratively, and artists who dare to express an opinion on anything bigger than their own sex lives or fancying the woman opposite you on the tube are considered ‘self-important’.

As someone one said, artists are the nerve-endings of society, and can either reflect back it’s concerns – or lack thereof – or can seek to offer something of substance in terms of a way forward or a change in focus… I for one am delighted that Ian Brown’s writing about things he thinks are important. Long may he continue.

It’s also the first time I’ve been interested in actually buying anything he’s done since the 12″ of Fools Gold came out, so that can’t be a bad thing!

New Joni album out yesterday…

Just found out this evening that Joni Mitchell‘s new album, Shine, was released yesterday. So a quick scout around the interwebs revealed that it was on iTunes, but only in those grisly low res DRM’d M4Ps that they sell on there, so balls to that. amazon.com now have a download store, and so long as you use a US billing address, it’s fine to buy from it with a UK CC/debit card. Hurrah! How smug was I feeling to get the album for the equiv of £4.50 ? very smug indeed until I found out that the album is also on Emusic!!! Balls, I could’ve had it even cheaper… Ah well, it’s lovely – I is listening to it now. Stripped down affair, with very little guitar, lots of piano, pedal steel and words about how we’re all screwed – environmentally, politically, globally. Cheerful stuff, and utterly gorgeous. Proper review will arrive when I’ve had a chance to fully digest its majesty.

The one question though, is: what the hell is Joni doing on Starbucks label? After her quitting the industry over its inherent venal nastiness, it’s contempt for creativity and slave wages, she signs for a company who have a very chequered track record on workers rights, and see music as the background to coffee drinking… But it’s a minor quibble, given that SHE’S BACK! WITH A GREAT ALBUM! HURRAH!

The art of Pop

Having a flat-mate who works for in the world of gig promoting/tickets/organising etc. means that I occasionally get invited to gigs that I probably wouldn’t have bought tickets for had they been offered to me for money.

Last night was one such gig, going to see Erasure at the Albert Hall. Before going I thought, ‘ah well, it’ll be fun in a night out at a gay club kind of way, and I’ll know about three of the songs’. How many Erasure hits can you name off the top of your head? But I found I knew about 3/4 of the set – loads of great songs I’d forgotten even existed! And I mean REALLY great songs. I’d forgotten what a pop genius Vince Clarke is, and how great Andy Bell’s voice is. It was pop in it’s most condensed, distilled, honed form – Pure Pop as Art. Not throw away or disposable, just immediate, hook-laden, crafted, every bleep and drum machine hit exactly where it should be. Vince Clarke looked a little like he was working at a checkout, stood behind a small podium with a laptop and a largely unused mini-keyboard in front of him – he was probably reading wikipedia or something during most of it, but it didn’t in anyway mess up the gig… it was just that kind of gig.

One lovely touch was that during the costume change, the screens played a scrolling comedy monologue about what they were up to. Kept everyone interested while they changed into ever-camper gear. it was a fabulously gay night out, and SBJ and I had much fun.

Musically, the highlight for me was ‘Ship Of Fools’ – I’d forgotten what a great song it is! Have a listen –

If you get a chance to see them, and fancy a very gay very fun lots of arms-waving-in-the-air dancing night out, jump at it! :o)

It was 30 years ago today…

…actually, it was 30 years ago in February, but for some reason, someone over on the guardian music blog saw fit today to post a piece in defence of the wonder that is Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours – a pertinent post round here as Lo. thinks it’s a load of old balls, and I love it. Really love it. Dancing-around-on-the-tube-singing-along-even-though-people-think-I’m-a-mentalist love it. It’s an album fueled by extreme tensions within the band, but one possessed of a number of the most gorgeous tender love songs I’ve ever heard (‘You Make Loving Fun’ is in my all time top 20 or so songs).

As the Guardian bloggist says, ’77 is seen as the year of Punk. It was also the year of ‘Bat Out Of Hell’, ‘Saturday Night Fever’ and ‘Rumours’. The biggest bands of the late 70s weren’t the Clash or The Pistols, but the Mac, Queen, ELO, and in the US, the stadium behemoths of Journey, Boston, Foreigner etc… Of course punk was significant, it just didn’t wipe the slate clean in any way at all. It offered an alternative, but thank God it wasn’t the tsunami of disco-crushing, prog-destroying, MOR-trampling destruction that the tainted hindsight of most music journos would have you believe. I’d still rather listen to Chic than the Pistols any day. Sure, I like the Clash, but I’m still not averse to a quick listen through Mr Blue Sky either.

No, the late 70s was no more an artistic monoculture than any other time in music – it was as much about the creative tension-laden folky MOR-ness of the Mac as it was about the New York Dolls rip-off that was the Pistols (I still contest that – aside from The Clash – Americans did punk way way way better than the UK, from The Stooges, and the Dolls through The Minutemen, Blondie and Talking Heads, up to Big Black, Black Flag, Husker Du and on up to Green Day, Rancid and the fake-but-tuneladen pop punk of today.)

So, go and listen to Rumours. With pride. Revel in it, embrace the genius that is the Fleetwood/McVie rhythm section, bask in how Songbird is meant to sound when it’s not being overcooked by Eva Cassidy. Ditto Dreams and The Corrs. And remember that the middle bit out of The Chain is probably the most financially lucrative bit of bass playing in the history of the world, thanks to someone at the BBC’s Formula One production team. Dummmmmmmmm, De-De-Dum De-De-De-De-Dum Dummmmmmmmmmmmm.

Todd Reynolds' EP…

Those of you who saw Todd Reynolds play at the Recycle Collective last year already know what a genius he is, but for those of you who don’t, you owe it to yourselves to head over to the CDbaby page for his new EP and have a listen to the previews – layer upon layer of beautiful violin playing, looped and processed into a gorgeous soundtrack, bearing the influence of both his many years in Steve Reich’s ensemble and his time with Bang On A Can.

More recently, Todd’s been touring with the cooler-than-cool The Books, both opening the shows on his own, and playing with them in their set. He’s all set to become huge, and you’ve got the chance to get his EP now ($6 – that’s £3, for 3 really great tracks, which are a lot longer than your average pop single too) – go over to the CDbaby page, have a listen, but it, then come back and thank me… :o)