[Cover Me]: Chet Faker, My Morning Jacket and Eels

Chet Faker – ‘Archangel’ (Originally by Burial)

Motivated partly by a love of Chet Baker’s fragile vocal style, and partly because a more established Australian artist shares his name, Nick Murphy has adopted the moniker Chet Faker to release his captivating blend of electronica and soul. When I came across this track last week it basically floored me. Murphy manages to keep things minimalist and pared down, while maintaining a palpable emotional energy through his soulful vocals. Largely solo for the first few minutes, with tasteful instrumental embellishments from the band, it is around 2:44 when the track gears up towards an aural squall of synths and crashing drums at its climax. The band clearly have a tight chemistry and I can’t wait to hear more from Mr. Murphy in the future. Stunning.

My Morning Jacket – ‘Rocket Man’ (Originally by Elton John)

This choice came about because I’ve yet to find the time to write about Jim James’s cracking solo album (which if you haven’t checked out yet, you really should), so this will have to do in the mean time. Elton John gets a bad rap these days, but there’s no denying that at his core is a fantastic storyteller (leaving aside that Lion King schmaltz). ‘I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues’  still gets me every time. Although the definitive cover of this song has been kicking around for over thirty years, I think there’s still space for this beautiful rendition by James and co. The lazy tempo and lulled mood of their cover really captures the isolation at the centre of an astronaut’s introspection, and James has always sounded like a man singing to himself out in space.

Eels – ‘Summer in the City’ (Originally by The Lovin’ Spoonful)

Probably most famous for preempting the explosion of a building in a Die Hard film, the original by The Lovin’ Spoonful is a classic slice of Vietnam War era American Rock, capturing the baking sidewalks and piled-up traffic of New York City in heat. Mr. E’s take on it however, is far more chilled and less hurried. Featuring just E and The Chet on guitars, this version is more like the mellow and cool summer nights spent shooting the breeze with friends than the sweltering chaos of a midday heatwave. Find it on the bonus disc for latest LP Wonderful, Glorious (which I’ve yet to write about as well).

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[Sneak Peek]: Johnny Marr – ‘The Right Thing Right’

johnny-marrr

‘Johnny’s in the basement mixing up the medicine…’

Tomorrow morning Johnny Marr’s long anticipated solo album, ‘The Messenger’, will land. Halle-bloody-lujah for that. Like Jack White’s solo release last year, the anticipation and hype surrounding the album has been huge. Not that there has been any real lack of Marr material since the break-up of that band. Whether adding some of his magic to various outfits such as Modest Mouse or Billy Bragg (credited as Duane Tremolo), lending a hand to soundtracks or fronting The Healers, Marr’s output over his career has been so prolific and varied that he puts much younger and more popular musicians to shame.

I’m a sucker for ‘Side One, Track One’ moments which set the tone for the album, and as the first track on Marr’s debut solo album, ‘The Right Thing Right’ is definitely a statement of intent. Marr’s in-yer-face guitar and the anthemic call-and-repeat chorus self-referentially gestures towards Britpop, a genre which he had a massive influence on. Meanwhile, there is the unmistakable beat and groove of Motown records that acted as the bonding impetus for the Marr/Morrisey songwriting partnership in the first place. Marr’s vocals, and the track in general, drips with Northern-English attitude and reinstates Marr’s reputation for soundtracking the North. Moving away from the Alt. Rock riffage, other tracks on The Messenger will apparently feature more of Marr’s psychedelic influences which I am definitely looking forward to. Even as recently as ‘The Last Ride‘, Marr’s flair for trippy guitar histrionics remains as exciting as ‘How Soon Is Now’ or ‘The Queen Is Dead’.

Like The Smiths’s music, you’ll either love it or hate it (Oh, the obvious Marr-mite pun!). However, if ‘The Right Thing Right’ is any indication, Marr’s decision to make his solo debut thirty years into his musical career is motivated out of inspiration rather than pandering to demand and The Messenger is set to be a barnstormer.

The Messenger will be released tomorrow and Johnny Marr will embark on a UK tour in March 2013.

[Album Review]: Richard Thompson – Electric

Electric‘There was some part of me knew, darling / To save the good stuff for you’

While many of his major label contemporaries have either faded into obscurity or ceased to put out anything of interest, Richard Thompson has been tirelessly mining his own rich seam of quality songwriting for over forty-five years. The eleven tracks that make up Electric show that he has absolutely no sign of slowing down, and further cement his status as a veteran songwriter.

For Electric, Thompson decided to take the core of his live band, bassist Taras Prodaniuk and percussionist Michael Jerome, and experiment by writing in a trio band format. The result is a concentrated and hard-hitting sound that Thompson describes as ‘a more folky slant on Cream or Jimi Hendrix Experience’. This set-up accentuates and complements Thompson’s style perfectly. Prodaniuk and Jerome lay out solid, muscular grooves throughout which offer a platform for Thompson to launch off from and show off his formidable guitar-work, while also enabling him to play off their presence. The album is a lot funkier than Thompson expected it to be, creating a form of folk-funk which Thompson says lies ‘somewhere between Judy Collins and Bootsy Collins’.

Never one to rest on his not-inconsiderable laurels, Thompson has toured relentlessly and Electric (along with 2010’s live recording Dream Attic) shows that Thompson is at the top of his game – his guitar-work is as twitchy and dynamic as ever. He is capable of spitting out searing solos that could singe your eyebrows one minute, then picking out a gentle melody the next. Album opener ‘Stony Ground’ is a foot stomping jig, while ‘Another Small Thing In Her Favour’ is a classic Thompson ballad, full of sage and melancholic sentiments. The album also sees Thompson pushing his boundaries and flirting with genres he wouldn’t normally be associated with, given his folk-rock reputation. ‘Good Things Happen to Bad People’ is a down-tempo rocker with tinges of psychedelia, featuring one of Thompson’s most demented guitar solos to date. Meanwhile, ‘Straight and Narrow’ is a ska-influenced jaunt which has been given a classic Thompson twist.

Although the focus is definitely on the electric pyrotechnics on display throughout the album, it is definitely acoustic meditation ‘The Snow Goose’ that takes the prize for me. It stands out as one of Thompson’s most haunting and poignant songs, based around a brooding acoustic melody and Thompson’s captivating voice. Beautiful harmonising vocals are provided courtesy of Alison Krauss, who admirably complements Thompson’s rough and bruised baritone. The bonus CD featured in the deluxe edition also houses some extra goodies. All are a joy, but the best of them is the traditional celtic reel ‘So Ben Mi Ch’a Bon Tempo’, which originally featured on Thompson’s 1000 Years of Popular Music.

The album title, Electric, is appropriate. Not so much that the majority of the album showcases Thompson’s intimidating electric guitar-work (in fact the latter end features some touching acoustic ballads), but because the album proves that Richard Thompson’s songwriting continues to be as exciting and vital as ever. His reputation as an elder statesman of impeccable songwriting remains undiminished, and I choose my words carefully when I say that he is a national treasure.

[Single Review]: Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Jubilee Street

jubilee street-592‘She had a history, but she had no past’

So, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds release their new album, Push The Sky Away, tomorrow and I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty excited about it. I’ve followed Nick Cave’s output for the best part of ten years now and he’s one of those rare artists that is relentlessly energetic and not afraid to turn their hand to anything. From film soundtracks to novels and all points in between, everything he touches turns golden. If there’s one artist you can always place good money on, it’s Nick Cave.

I suppose the reason I’m so interested in this album is that it will be the first Bad Seeds record to be released since the departure of Cave’s first mate, Mick Harvey. This move didn’t seem so strange as since No More Shall We Part, one of my favourite Nick Cave albums, Cave has been gravitating closer towards Warren Ellis as a songwriting partner, most evident in their stunning film soundtracks. This also means that the difference between the crews of the Bad Seeds and Cave’s busman’s holiday, Grinderman, is even smaller than before. Obviously, this means that there is an increased risk that the output of both bands will start to mimic the other. So I suppose I’m anxious as well as excited.

Listening to the two preview tracks from Push The Sky Away, ‘Jubilee Street’ and ‘We No Who U R’, it seems that these fears may be hopefully allayed. These songs definitely do not belong to the lecherously raucous domain of Grinderman. If anything, it seems that the departure of Mick Harvey’s groove-driven guitarwork has allowed for more space for the Bad Seeds to stretch out in. That is not to discredit Harvey, far from it. I consider him to be one of the most tactful and talented musicians of the last 25 years and his work with PJ Harvey is as great as his Bad Seeds work. But, these tracks are definitely of a more meditative and contemplative atmosphere that bears more resemblance to Cave’s soundtrack work than with any Bad Seeds or Grinderman precursor. They’re restrained and muscular, as if Cave and co. are pulling their punches, not quite revealing all. The bass, percussion and organ elements are definitely more fleshed out and it allows for what I can only really describe as ‘space to breathe’.

‘Jubilee Street’, named after what Cave mistakenly thought to be the red-light district in Brighton, is arguably the strongest ballad Cave has written since 2004’s Abattoir Blues/Lyre of Orpheus and, in typical Cave style, is about the relationship between a prostitute and her john. It’s a track that is beautiful in its restrained simplicity: The groove is solemn, the beats are minimal and the strings are lean and refined. The mood lingers somewhere between reverence and menace (Cave’s prime stomping grounds) and allows the perfect platform for Cave’s half parable/half pulp novel. It is a testament to Cave’s subtle yet commanding vocals that he can make a line like ‘I’ve got a foetus on a leash’ sound completely acceptable (given the circumstances) rather than shocking and distasteful. Juxtaposed with these raw moments are some of Cave’s finest cut sentiments, like ‘Here I come up the hill, / I’m pushing my wheel of love’ and ‘ten-ton catastrophe on a sixty-pound chain’. The song’s finale is magnificent, lifting Cave’s sermon to transcendental heights. That may sound wishy-washy, but honestly, it is that good. Ray Winstone also puts in a surprisingly restrained performance in the video.

If tracks such as this are any indication, then Push the Sky Away is looking to be a rewardingly enigmatic affair where the Bad Seeds have lost none of their energy and gravitas for their restraint. If anything it has honed and refined their craft to scalpel sharp keenness. The music seems more spiritual and gestures to what may lie beyond the song, rather than defining its limits. Maybe that’s what the forthcoming album’s title, Push The Sky Away, is really suggesting: an indication of the infinite.

Push The Sky Away will be available 18th February through Mute Records.