Posts Tagged ‘Joni Mitchell’

Well-meaning friends, from time to time, alert me to Youtube clips of 8 year old Japanese Yngwie Malmsteens or junior Jaco bass shredders or, best (worst) of all, 12 year old Blues screamers.

While I admire the meticulous programming that is takes to get these little automatons to such a level of facility, I am general left yearning for a gnarly Dexter Gordon ballad or at least a few croaked Leonard Cohen lines. Because it is a life fully lived that ultimately makes for good – and real – music.

East Coast songwriter Marguerite Montes has lived a full, rich and colourful life – much of it in exciting boho circumstances, some of it in pain and darkness. Her new album of songs with violinist Peter Urquhart is informed, bruised and kissed with the ins/ups and outs/downs of her life. The eight songs on All the Time in The World are performed in a voice that carries the years in it – but is not worn out by them, only burnished to a clear, fine-grained glow, like any well-tuned and well-loved instrument.

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Five of the eight songs here are sung in Spanish, obviously saved from losing too much in translation to English. The three songs in English are full of depth, wry humour and spark. Joni Mitchell comes to mind as a sister songwriter, but largely for the toughness of spirit and depth of poetry here – in every way, Montes is her own woman.

Opening track ‘Navegar’ (‘Set Sail’) shows the effectiveness of Urquhart’s violin against Montes’ gut-string guitar and voice, lending the tune a deep gypsy flavour. At once intimate and full, this combination works equally well on the country flavoured ‘Big Beautiful Smile’ or the Bossa/jazz styled ‘Amor Fugaz’, Urquhart bringing to mind Stéphane Grappelli‘s spry work with Django Reinhardt.

All the Time in The World paints vignettes of shared experiences, especially those shared by women the world over (and down through the ages). Montes says ‘Navegar’ is about “finding yourself in the blue of the sky and the green of the sea far from everything.” ‘Asi E El Amor’ is about “unconditional love. How it seeks out the darkness to flood it with light. Love is the laughter if children floating in the wind.”std_15650

But among the poetry there is an earthiness that brings to the surface Montes’ Andalusian folk roots. “‘Soy Impulsiva’ (‘I Am Impulsive’) is about a woman who is many things to her man but when she needs him, he goes off with his mates to get plastered…’

Album closer, the title track ‘All the Time in The World’, is like a long-lost standard from the Jazz Age. Its late-night feel and street-lit ambience perfectly suit the lyric and Montes’ stylish delivery. Only a voice and a singer who has lived the song could sing it so real and so deep.

Recorded in only two one-hour sessions, All the Time in The World has a spontaneous, very human dimension to it; much of it coming from the chemistry between singer and violinist, a chemistry that Montes says made them “capable of conjuring Duende”.

Duende is a state of heightened emotion and expression – the essence of Soul. It took Marguerite Montes and Peter Urquhart a chance meeting and a few hours to conjure it. But in many ways it has taken Marguerite Montes a lifetime to conjure Duende and All the Time in The World.

 

 

 

Recently I took one one of those Facebook ‘challenges’ where one posts various pet picks every day. This one was ‘7 Songs in 7 Days’ – selecting songs or pieces of music which are significant to you.

Of course this could be interpreted in almost infinite ways, so I thought I would keep it simple and post seven songs that shaped me over the early part of my life as a fan and musician. I also included a song which shows that I continue to be shaped, maybe a little less cataclysmically, by music I hear up to the present day.

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#1: ‘Spirit in the Sky’ by Norman Greenbaum

1970. I was 13, very geeky and more interested in model hot rods and Marvel comics than music.

Then this thing came on the radio.

To this day I wonder what possessed the producer to underpin this sappy hippie-happy-clapper song with such a malevolent, heavy, fuzzed out boogie. Spirit of the times I guess.

Whatever… I was hooked. Something about the sound of the guitar on this song – beyond the lyric (daft) or melody (perfunctory) – just got inside me and made 13 year old me feel strange, a little scared and yet, good. (By the time I took drugs a couple of years later, I had already felt their delicious disconnect through musical and visual art experience).

I dreamed about this song and waited and waited for it to reappear on 2SM and when it did, I stood before the radio in a trance for 3:47. There was nothing else like it on the radio, there was nothing else like it in the world.

Of course, as with most drugs, you need more, and more, and stronger. So the search was now on for The Sound. I didn’t have to wait too long…

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#2: ‘Whole Lotta Love’ by Led Zeppelin

Through a strange quirk of misread marketing, disc jockey taste and the wrath of Odin, Led Zeppelin’s five and a half minute ‘Whole Lotta Love’ also came out of our radios in 1970.

Intended to be the B-side of the one vaguely ‘pop’ single on Led Zeppelin II, ‘Livin’ Lovin’ Maid’, ‘Whole Lotta Love’ was (strangely) preferred by radio station programmers. Once again, spirit of the times. Soon there was a trimmed down version being played but not before the full heavyweight opus had done irreversible damage to my child’s fragile eggshell mind.

A toughened up reading of Muddy Waters’ ‘You Need Love’ (or callous racist rip-off, your call), ‘Whole Lotta Love’ remains to this day, the template of hard rock for me. A full, phat and badass bottom end of bass drums guitar, with sky scraping vocal and nothing much in between (which is why I prefer Maiden to Metallica any day, and love working with women vocalists in my current bands).

Too much wonder in this mini-symphony: the scraping slide guitar figure in the chorus, the kick in the balls when JPJ’s bass enters, Jimmy Page’s scratching and spitting guitar break, Robert Plant’s animalistic howls and choir-girl sighs and John Bonham, just John Bonham.

And the middle bit. You know, the bit where your mind splits in two and sonic magma runs out.

The whole thing roars like a machine: dead on in purpose, yet frightening in potential. Chills me to this day.

Did its European-ness awaken some Germanic race-memory in me? Did it clad a scared schoolboy in Asgardian armour to do battle with Trinity Grammar School? Maybe – all I know is it knocked my fucking socks off.

After ‘Whole Lotta Love’ I was gone. What would the wond’rous radio ensnare me with next? It was about to get strange…

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#3: ‘All Along The Watchtower’ by Jimi Hendrix

Still too young for a record player, I depended on the radio for my moments of musical satori. And there, among the Mary Hopkin and Brotherhood of Man pop fluff would come some dark jewels that made me shiver in my boots.

Jeff Beck’s ‘Hi Ho Silver Lining’ (if mainly for the grinning sarcasm of his overloaded guitar break), Melanie Safka’s ‘Candles in the Rain’, The Move’s ‘Blackberry Way’ and The Four Top’s ‘Reach Out’ made life worth living, but it was ‘All Along The Watchtower’ that really made my hair (short, back and sides that it was) stand up.

Jimi Hendrix came to me fully formed, godlike and alien. His name alone was future-primitive and his music was something I had strangely always known, down in my bones. Ancient, flamboyantly filigreed and above all, fucking trippppppy. When I finally saw a picture of him, I loved him even more.

Producer Chas Chandler’s vision for this nightmarish Dylan tune was widescreen with sets by Dali and lighting by Cocteau. And Hendrix does it to perfection – his Dylanesque droop at the end of every line, his stoned but wise delivery, his space-ace blues lines throughout.

His guitar break seems to be a show-reel: whammy bar dips, wah-wah retorts and Curtis Mayfield-style lead-rhythm chops. Like the best late-period Beatles, Hendrix and Chandler fit almost too much in and it all works, every note.

A couple of years later, my mother threatened to jump out the window if I played ‘Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)’ again, that loud. It made me renew my vows to Hendrix, as I have done regularly my whole life.

Oh, and it also made me want to get a guitar. But first, I would have to own a small Dansette-size record player. And a David Bowie LP…

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#4: ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide’ by David Bowie

Bowie was our Beatles.

I was born a little too late for the first flush of Beatlemania and only came upon them after they had gone ‘serious’ and split up. The void was filled by Bowie.

Bowie, like the Beatles, was such a perfect Pop creation, and so utterly of his time that he became an iconic object of adoration for an entire generation, equal in fame and influence to the Fab Four.

Importantly, as with the Beatles, his art not only was blindingly brilliant and challenging, but also consistently led the pack, effortlessly breaking new ground with each new quantum release.

It has been said that Bowie was not more than a clever bower-bird, picking through the Twentieth Century and modelling the scraps and bits into new and shiny shapes. Even if that is true, which it may well be, those shapes blinded us to all else and gave us an almost religious hope.

I finally had a tiny, mono record player and my second album was The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars, for Christmas. ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide’, from the Ziggy Stardust album, has that disconnected, collage feeling. Bowie sings from a Ballardian dead-night dystopiascape, yet, as the song rises, the feeling of hope rises.

Even though I was a straight little schoolboy and he was something from another planet, I felt – as i lay in the dark, playing this over and over – that he was speaking directly to me, and me alone. It is what I have in common with One Direction fans and indeed anyone who has become besotted with a Pop artist. Musical worth really comes a distant second to such ecstasy.

But soon I would have a Guitar. And my days as a shining-eyed fan would be numbered, as I would become a Musician. Sadly, after that, I could never really listen to music again the same, simple and sweet way.

Of course, it was all Frank Zappa’s fault…

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#5: ‘It Must be a Camel’ by Frank Zappa

Studying jazz and jazz-fusion guitar with Australian guitar shaman, John Robinson opened me up to music that buzzes me to this day.

All I wanted to do was play like the guy in Steely Dan but Robbo put me through the ringer – Boulez, Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Berg. Heavy shit, Jim. And I greedily gobbled the lot and begged for more.

He also got me listening deeply into Frank Zappa – not the ‘comedy group’ stuff that had us in stitches as we loaded the next bong, but Zappa as a composer and musical mind.

‘It Must be a Camel’ is from the Hot Rats album and when I first ‘got’ it, it moved me deeply and fundamentally, as it does to this day. It is extraordinarily beautiful, yet of a beauty that only exists in its own world. If the mark of genius is to envision and create something that has not existed before, then ‘It Must be a Camel’ is that.

Rhythm, harmony and melody are pure Zappa and the band play it as if they jam this shit every day (gold star to drummer John Guerin, Joni Mitchell’s beau at the time – dig his drum break: tuned tom deeeeelite).

Zappa’s personal quirks and curdled world-view seemed to make him shy away from writing more swooningly beautiful music like ‘Camel’ in favour of jarring or shocking his listeners – but when he did (‘Watermelon In Easter Hay’) he could bring you to tears.

Through listening to this stuff, I became infected with that malady called Jazz. It took me a long time to fully recover…

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#6: ‘Funky Tonk’ by Miles Davis

I really took to jazz while I was studying with Robbo – I loved the harmonies, scales, rhythmic mathematics of it all. The stars of jazz blew my mind – Coltrane, Monk, Bud Powell, Wayne Shorter – and turned me into a kind of jazz zealot who would sniff dismissively at rock music and berate people for not knowing who the drummer was on ‘Milestones’. Yep, a royal pain in the jazz ass.

I had fallen in love with the Miles Davis Quintet’s albums Working, Steaming, Cookin’ and Relaxing and for Christmas asked my Dad for anything by Miles Davis – thinking that it would be more of the same: toughly swinging post-bop, elegant and sharp.

It wouldn’t be the first time Miles would throw me for a loop.

What Dad unwittingly bought me (at our local record shop!) was LIVE-EVIL, a cauldron of wigged-out electric, free rock that could not have been further from ‘Relaxing’. I still remember the jolt it gave me: I was all-at-sea, with this music thrashing and crashing around my ears.

Miles plays his trumpet through a wah-wah, the band leaps across hot coals. He had said to them “If I hear you playing any of that jazz shit, you’re fired…’

The utterly wildness and ‘fuck you’ element in this music shocked something out of my system: after I heard it, I was never the same again, musically, or personally – it seemed to express a permission to truly do your own actual thing. In spades.

My jazz nerd self realised I wasn’t in Kansas any more, and for the rest of my life, I have gone wherever Miles has led me…

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#7: ‘Pyramid Song’ by Radiohead

The last band that blew me away with any great force was Radiohead. And mainly the two very inspired albums they made within a few months of each other in 2000-2001, Kid A and Amnesiac.

The sense of adventure I took from these incredibly creative and idiosyncratic albums was the same as I felt from when I first came across Pink Floyd.

Radiohead seem to use every trick in their trick-bag, musically and production-wise on Kid A and Amnesiac: they both crackle with electronica and whim. And it all works exquisitely and elegantly.

‘Pyramid Song’ does not go for any sort of electronic palette, but simply uses piano, bass, drums and orchestral strings. Its stately grandeur rises from the urban space-port of Amnesiac like a cloud-castle.

I finish my seven days with this anthem to sorrow and beauty.

For her latest album, Nightlight, Sydney singer, songwriter and pianist, Rachel Collis has reinvented herself.

For many years a creator and performer of music at the sharp and witty end of cabaret in a series of one-woman shows, this time round Collis has dug deeper, painting bleaker vistas of both landscape and the heart with her songs.

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And there is some serious songcraft at work here. At a time in pop-musical history when the various Song(s) of The Year are too often simple-minded earworms more suited to tipsy beach sing-a-longs than anything to do with our deeper lives, Collis’ songs are a welcome jolt – a jolt back to the time of Jim Webb, Carole King (circa Tapestry), Stephen Sondheim and Joni Mitchell.

Beautifully realised by the sympathetic yet full-blooded production of Collis and Sean Carey (Thirsty Merc), the ten songs on Nightlight range from the heart-swelling and wide-screen to the introverted and folded-inward. Collis and Carey’s musical vision never gets in the way of the songs, remaining transparent and thoughtful.

The supporting musicians equally read the songs beautifully – two tips of the hat to bassist Michael Galeazzi and drummer Michael Quigley for their sure yet light footprints over all this. Jack Wiard‘s clarinet solo deserves a mention for lighting up the faintly silly but charming ‘A Duck Named Sybil’ (yep, you can take the girl out of cabaret, but you can’t, etc…)

Yet speaking of cabaret, it is those lessons learned from Collis’ previous musical incarnation(s) that give this music so much of its drama, ease of storytelling and direct emotion connection. Lighter forms of music – music tooled for ‘entertainment’ rather than cap-A Art – have often informed the supposedly ‘higher’ levels of the form: Miles Davis transformed popular Broadway showtunes of the day for his exquisite mid-1950s jazz quintet recordings; the Beatles, especially the early 60’s tunes of Paul McCartney, drew heavily on showtunes, cabaret favourites and pop hits of previous decades for their bittersweet loveliness.collis2

The direct yet personal voice across opener ‘Tomorrow’, the smoothly strident ‘Those Words’ and closer ‘Make Room’ – a delicately held piano ballad – is reinforced by Collis’ smart piano voicings: here Top 10 cap-P Pop, there Aaron Copland autumn rustic, each track knits the piano around and behind the voice to variously luscious, bleak or colourful effect. Comparisons to early Elton John and Billy Joel are obvious – yet i was reminded more of Joni Mitchell’s piano songs, such as ‘Court and Spark’.

Nightlight‘s centrepiece is the seven and a half minute ‘Winter In Munich’ – a long-form song that rises and falls through several cycles, as Collis meditates on loss and transformation, her piano icing the edges of our window. The Kinetic String Quartet‘s strings (arranged by Collis) widen the screen, painting the bleak winter of earth and heart.

The ambition of ‘Winter In Munich’ appears to be Collis’ mission statement with Nightlight –  a banner of her maturing and growing as an artist. The ten songs here hit the mark in every way and i know we will hear more of the good stuff from her.

One does wonder though whether there is a place for songs this good anymore? In an age of fast-forward-to-the-good-bit, instantaneous gratification and throw-away downloads dripping like a tap, do pop listeners still give anything the chance to grow and unfurl, as Collis’ songs do? I do not know the answer and am betting on the side of quality over convenience, despite all indications to the contrary.

Whatever the answer, Rachel Collis’ Nightlight deserves as much of your time as it asks.

 

Rachel Collis’ website is http://rachelcollis.com