Posts Tagged ‘Paul Simon’

Sydney (via Melbourne) singer-songwriter Bill Hunt has released his debut album Upwey.

I use the title ‘singer-songwriter’, not as a descriptor of a songwriter who sings his own songs, but because this exceptional collection brings to mind that short, golden time during the early 70s when the Singer-Songwriter ruled – before the noisy boys in band pushed to the fore and pushed him/her off the front of the stage. It was a time when The Song was all, a rich time of  thoughtful, introverted, often mysterious, always personal braids of melody, lyrics and voice knitted into a perfect tapestry – or more precisely, Tapestry. All that was needed was a wooden guitar, a voice and now and again a simpatico band of musicians.

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Photo: Will Vickers

Upwey gets its title from the Victorian country location where Hunt recorded with Matt Walker. There’s simpatico right there. Walker’s steady hand on the tiller guides the entire album organically down a deep and willow-hung river – the whole thing has a gypsy jam feeling, an informality reminiscent of (yet not as tightly wound as) Astral Weeks. The band – Grant Cummerford on bass, Ash Davies on drums, Kris Schubert on occasional piano and Hammond and Alex Burkoy on violin – play like they have grown up with these six beautiful songs.

Burkoy’s violin – veering to sweet country fiddle just where it needs to – gives the album a Dylan Desire feel and lends the proceedings a unique gypsy perfume. His playing in and around the lyric lines adds so much – almost like a female mirror to Hunt’s words or a country blues response to his call.

Opener ‘Everything is Going to Change’ is melancholy minor-key country rock and you immediately get drawn in by Hunt’s voice – high, lonesome with a keening edge that is American and Celtic and Australian. I make much of Hunt’s vocal quality because it is what drew me to his music first up – doesn’t a music’s ‘sound’ get you first every time? Across Upwey his voice moves from hurt, to declamatory, to bent-by-blues, once even to an almost Gospel frenzy. This is why it is hard to beat a songwriter singing his/her own songs: the music and words are their very breath.Upwey1

‘You’ll Understand’ is a brighter song with a darker heart. A song of not-so-sorry goodbye. ‘The truth is, I’ve got another call to make/And I don’t want to be late…’

The bossa-swung ‘Sea of Love’ flows with ripples of lust and Desire – “Lips all sticky bittersweet/Like everything a man like me has ever been forbidden”. The lyrics here trip over themselves, tumble more like spoken words, which brings to mind (not for the last time on Upwey) the unique phrasing of Paul Simon.

‘Odalik’ also has those tumbled word phrases and much more. An entirely original song construct, it seems a cut-up of country pop, Spanish sketches, folk tango and church drone – all of which serve the moonlit dreamscape, verging on the dim-lit nightmare, of this remarkable song and lyric.

The almost seven minute ‘What you Choose’ has Hunt serenading the street-life in and around him, in an almost Van Morrison/James Joyce stream-of-consciousness linear rave. It captivates with pictures, some drawn by a child’s hand, some painted by a drunk Dylan, some harshly photographed by a journalist (all of which Hunt, the lyricist, is) – ‘There’s an old man walking up and down the street reading ‘Shop Closed’ window signs…/A dressing grown and a broken polystyrene cup in his hand/Sandals on his feet make him seem like Jesus to me/As he comes in closer I can see the yellow whites of his teeth…’

‘Song 55’ begins with the line ‘Some have a mad desire to succeed’ and ends, 4:10 later, with the line ‘Some have a mad desire to be free…’ (Hunt’s ellipses, not mine this time). The line peters out on that ellipses, and the album comes to a soft but sudden stop. There is a strong feeling of mortality, resignation and humanity. There is also a strong feeling of To Be Continued… (my ellipses again, this time).

Bill Hunt says of songwriting: “I want it so much to be like a trade, or at least a craft… I want it to be useful. I want to feel that there is some sort of mechanism – buttons, levers to push and pull like on a lathe or a drill-press, or a milling machine.”

He also says, of Upwey: “In closing, I will simply say that my dearest wish is that this recording serves no useful purpose, ever.”

Contradictory? Dark humour? Or the musings of a unique lyrical and artistic thinker. I stump for the latter, with flavours of the former two – Upwey is, at six tracks, a glimpse into a remarkable voice that is one of the most rewarding listens I have had for a while.

Bill Hunt writes: “Second album is in the works – I’m kinda hooked now.”

So am I, Bill. Kinda hooked.

 

Upwey launched July 7, 2016.

Upwey is available at Bandcamp https://billhuntmusic.bandcamp.com/album/upwey

Check Bill’s Facebook page for live launch dates  – https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100009119425732&fref=ufi

 

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The first time I listened to Jen Cloher’s new record, In Blood Memory, I was in bed, awash on a sea of cheap red wine, rolling in that place between sleep and wake. I always thought it was the perfect place to listen to music – an uncritical space where intellect is irrelevant and feeling is all.

Sort of like the best rock and roll.

The second time I listened to In Blood Memory – thinking its beauty had seduced me on that first drunken listen while I wasn’t looking – was on a night train, rolling through the city. Once again, Cloher’s music took me away, the passing rail lights twinkling as if in a dream.

Jen Cloher

In Blood Memory is a collection of songs that seem to call from that primal place where the best music and art is made. Evanescent, ill-defined, dreamily visceral, cloudy. It is the hazy place of The Velvet UndergroundBitches Brew, one-chord blues, Mark Rothko’s blur-edged canvases.

It is also very very beautiful, with a beauty that is just beyond your grasp, and far far beyond language.

A song such as ‘Name In Lights’, the album’s second track, swings between angular rock and roll (with a nicely smacked-out ‘Wild Thing’ garage breakdown in the middle) and a frenzied ending, the band almost drowning Cloher’s “There’s nothing I can do” refrain in dervish-like intensity. This coda brings to mind that of the Beatles’ “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” where a repeated pattern is slowly sand-blasted by howling synthesized wind until detail is eradicated down to white noise. Once again, the blurred shape.cloher2

The final track, ‘Hold My Hand’ has a similar curve, with an ominous thunderhead of an ending (with a raw-edged dissonant final chord) surprising after a coolly passionate song.

‘Kamikaze Origami’ and ‘David Bowie Eyes’ (“one is green and one is blue”) are Lou Reed country-rock gems. The latter has Cloher singing “She’s got David Bowie eyes” with the same downward inflection that Kim Carnes put on 1981’s “She’s Got Bette Davis Eyes”. Pop culture references abound throughout In Blood MemoryDarren Hanlon rubs denimed shoulders with YokoMeryl Streep breaks on through with The Lizard King. Cloher can’t help singing the word “changes” as “ch-ch-changes” on ‘Name In Lights’.

As wonderful as the songs are – and every one is wonderful – it is Jen Cloher’s voice and the band that elevate the album. She inhabits each song as only a songwriter can (think Paul Simon, Reed or Lennon), swaggering, aching (the luminous ‘Needs’), spitting over unwashed guitars (the Stonesy rolling ‘Toothless Tiger’). ‘Toothless Tiger’ shows her band as a band – a breathing many-armed beastie that lives a full life if only for 3:52. That the same band can also weave fresh-air country tapestries such as ‘Kamikaze Origami’ is nicely surprising.

In Blood Memory is a very beautiful album of great rock and roll. It puts Jen Cloher firmly to the forefront of Australian songwriters. If I hear a better Oz album this year I will be pretty bloody surprised.

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Prior to publishing this review I asked Jen a handful of questions. Here are her responses:

TOP: It is four years since your last album, Hidden Hands. What was the spark that led to In Blood Memory?

Cloher: I’d been writing for a couple of years, doing all sorts of stuff. I spent some time co-writing and even recorded some duets, one with Kieran Ryan and another with Courtney Barnett. But I found co-writing strange, it was fun but it didn’t feel like I’d want to write a whole album that way. I guess I was trying to find something new to open up my songwriting. One day I picked up the guitar and started writing a song called ‘Mount Beauty’ and it felt different, there was something about it that felt new. That was the first single from the new album and opened the door to the rest of the album. It came very quickly after that, over about six months, then we headed straight into the studio and recorded the album in six days.

TOP: The band really sounds like a band – how do you as songwriter interact with your chosen musos? Benevolent despot or one of the guys?

Cloher: We recorded live in a big room with my band at Headgap Studios in Melbourne. They’re my closest friends and I see them pretty much everyday, so there isn’t too much that needs to be communicated. When you’re recording live you have to listen closely to each other and move as a whole. I love that feeling, of finding a great performance in the studio and committing it to tape.

TOP: There are references to a return to youth in several of the songs – ‘Make me feel like I’m seventeen/Listening to the Lizard King…’ or ‘I’ll pretend I’m younger…’  Do you feel your generation feels this more keenly than any previous generation?

Cloher: It’s hard to say. All I know is that I’m getting older, and when you get older you start to reflect on where you’ve come from. It’s strange because you never think you are going to get older and then all of a sudden you are. We live in a society where expectation is placed on your age. I see younger friends feeling like failures in their mid 20’s! It’s ridiculous how much emphasis we place on achieving certain things by a certain age, people are celebrated for being young and successful. But when it comes to art, who really cares how old you are? It’s the art that will stand the test of time.

TOP: Where do your songs come from?

Cloher: If I knew I’d go there all the time.

TOP: ‘Ch-ch-changes’, ‘David Bowie Eyes’, Yoko, Meryl Streep – Pop culture seems to be just under the skin of your songs. Does Pop culture inform your approach to writing?

Cloher: It’s strange but for some reason all of these pop culture references started to find their way into my songs. I guess I discovered how much I am influenced by what has gone before me. While I was writing the album I was reading Patti Smith’s ‘Just Kids’ and Neil Young’s ‘Shaky’ – two artists with very different but equally intriguing journeys through rock n roll. I also name check Darren Hanlon in the song ‘Name In Lights’ because he’s a legend.

TOP: Your vocal delivery seems to carry a great deal of light and shade. You are a NIDA graduate – do you feel as if theatre work shapes how you deliver a song?

Cloher: Absolutely, it’s not a conscious decision I make when I write a song but songs are essentially stories, and a story is always going to end somewhere different to where it started. I love epic songs for that reason. After listening to Leonard Cohen’s ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’ or Patti Smith’s ‘Horses’ you feel transformed. That’s the power and chemistry of music – the ability to communicate so much in such a sort amount of time.

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Jen Cloher and her band launch In Blood Memory at Melbourne’s Vic at The Corner Hotel Friday 28 June. In Sydney the launch is at The Oxford Art Factory Friday 12 July.

Published June 2013 on theorangepress.net

 

Firmly established in its 24th year as one of the premier music festivals of the world, the Byron Bay Bluesfest continues to top its already heady highs. The lineup for this year’s festival was a dream program for lovers of blues and roots music and anything else festival director Peter Noble decided to throw our way.

Criticised in the past for veering too far from its original blues brief, Bluesfest has outgrown these criticisms purely by booking the biggest acts in the world, and some of the most interesting – over the past few years headliners have been Bob Dylan, B B King, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Yes, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s John Fogerty, Paul Simon and (almost) Roger Daltrey performing Tommy (even though Daltrey didn’t show – next year maybe?).

Noble’s knack for picking the greats, blues or not – and a demonstration of the power he wields on the world festival circuit in doing so – was vindicated by this year’s record attendance: capacity crowds of 17,000 per day which adds up to 85,000 in toto.

And I was one of those fools dancing in the rain. And the smile is still on my face.

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Taj Mahal

Accompanied by Gaz T, my intrepid local tracker and native guide, my 24th Byron Bay Bluesfest experience started on the Friday with the wonderful Taj Mahal. Mahal was one of those bluesmen – like Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee – that the 1970s hippie freaks took to their hearts back in those fragrant days. His popularity has remained undiminished since then. As is often the case, I expected a creaky veteran, tottering on a chair – but what we got was a big man, standing tall, whipping his trio through modern blues, pre-war country blues and even calypso flavoured blues. Yeah!

And if Taj Mahal surprised me with his age-denying vigour, reggae and ska legend Jimmy Cliff utterly floored me. Cliff was already a star in Jamaica while Bob Marley was merely learning his trade, and at 65 he has lost nothing – twisting, dancing, leaping through his set. It is this pin-sharp showmanship that reminds us of the huge influence classic 60s Motown had on pre-Marley Jamaican artists. Slick, soulful and bang-on, his beautiful songs had heart, message and groove.

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Jimmy Cliff

Shuggie Otis

Shuggie Otis

While everyone headed to Steve Miller in one of the big tents, I moved towards the smaller Jambalaya stage and blues guitarist Shuggie Otis. Otis was a child prodigy of the blues guitar, the son of rhythm-and-blues bandleader Johnny Otis. After a few semi-hits in the 70s he faded from view. After a 40 year hiatus for whatever reason, he is back touring the world and I could not miss him. Rail thin and now with the angular almost-Latin good looks of his father, Shuggie seemed troubled and ill at ease. But when he found his zone and soared, he soared higher and higher. His beautiful playing took my breath completely away. In a way it was more exciting to see an artist who could easily miss, but hit it so well; compared to all the other in-the-pocket coolly-pro bands at Bluesfest, Otis’s set had that element of danger. Sublime and edgy.

Then the rain hit and my Bluesfest experience sprung a leak. Not having brought a raincoat or wet-weather gear I was soaked to the skin in minutes. Not being able to squeeze into the Steve Miller tent I stood in the rain and watched him play ‘Fly Like An Eagle’ – rain will come and go, the beautiful epoch-defining voice of The Space Cowboy (some call him Maurice…) singing this glorious freedom song was here and now. Around me, teenage fans danced in the rain to Miller’s golden period hits, singing every word to ‘Rockin’ Me Baby’ and ‘The Joker’. It’s only rain, it can soak our skin but it can’t dampen our spirit.

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Carlos Santana

Keeping the San Fran psychedelic vibe going – albeit in a very very different way – Santana’s set began with cosmic interstellar graphics fading in and out of the two huge screens either side of the stage. Then it was a brief drum roll from drummer Dennis Chambers and the Santana band roared into 1971’s ‘Toussaint L’Overture’. As well as Chambers, the percussion backline was made up of long-time conguero Raul Rekow and Karl Perazza on timbales – who together propelled the music like a freight-train, but a freight-train which skips and dances lightly along the track. Of course the main voice of this band has always been the elegant guitar playing of Carlos Santana – always lyrical, always going for the emotional connection over the empty dazzle of technique. Which ultimately makes him, above and beyond his Latin and jazz phrasing, one hell of a great blues guitarist – as we heard from a short (and all too rare) snatch of Santana playing some straight blues during the set. Can music reviewers still use words like ‘celestial’? I guess I just did, because it is the only word I have left to describe Santana’s unearthly performance.

Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi

Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi

The day ended with a truly soulful set from The Tedeschi-Trucks Band. The absolute highlight of my first ‘Fest two years ago, the band of slide ex-wünderkind Derek Trucks and his wife, vocalist Susan Tedeschi never fails to amaze. For their 2013 return they brought their three-man horn section along and their firepower went up a notch. The thrilling ‘Midnight In Harlem’ – a song that is built on an almost sexual upward curve – had Trucks’ solo coda taking it up and up into that region that Carlos Santana used to (and I am sure still does) call ‘spiritual orgasm’.

I was saturated with rain, good vibes and killer music. And I still had two days to go.

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Allen Toussaint

Saturday we eased in with the once and future king of the Big Easy himself, New Orleans magus Allen Toussaint. The man’s CV is virtually a history of modern R&B, soul and funk and his urbane cool belies his immense impact in shaping these musics. As if his beautiful, artfully funky music (and stunningly virtuosic piano playing) wasn’t gift enough, he threw Mardi Gras masks (and green and yellow AFL footballs?) to the crowd. A charmer in every way.

After a while cruising the human river and people watching (a Bluesfest pastime in itself) I chanced upon Jeff Tweedy and Wilco. And it was one of those wonderful music moments when seeing a band live makes you an instant fan – all subsequent listening experiences filtered through that thrilling ‘Eureka!’ moment of discovery. Wilco’s music seems to beat with the same American-classic heart at the centre of the songs of Neil Young and the darker Bruce Springsteen material. The band (especially guitarist Nels Cline) seem to be able to paint perfect soundscapes behind any of Tweedy’s songs, be they dark rockers or sweeter country-tinged ballads. A revelation.

Floating on the beauty of Wilco’s music I was yanked back down to earth by Status Quo. Britain’s answer to AC/DC, the indestructible Quo have been playing the same song for over 40 years – a variant on 12-bar pub boogie that has sold 118 million albums (think about that figure for a minute). Watching their flawless set, with mainstays Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt rocking hard before banks of white Marshalls, I could (almost) forgive them their awful Coles ads. Some bands are simply a force of nature and Quo are a blast of the simple joy of undiluted rock’n’roll.

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Robert Plant’s Sensational Shape Shifters

The straight-from-the-botttle thrust of Quo was perhaps a good brain-scourer –  an astringent appetiser – for the almost too-rich feast that was Robert Plant, which followed next. The fabled Led Zeppelin vocalist has been the main obstacle to any Led Zep reunions, as he has always moved forward with his music, taking his former band’s world-music aesthetic to greater heights than they ever did. His new band, The Sensational Shape Shifters, are the best version of Plant’s patented future-primitive groove – to one side of the stage we have Juldeh Camara working a Gambian wooden banjo, to the other side keyboardist John Baggott (ex-Massive Attack) sits in a nest of synths and laptops. Plant acknowledged the faithful with a few Led Zeppelin tunes, but messed with their anthem ‘Whole Lotta Love’, bedding it in a chugging African drum figure. Unlike almost every other ‘legendary’ act at Bluesfest he made no attempt to recreate his past, instead giving us a show we would think about for many months to come – a show driven by the restless creativity and often contrary nature of a true and uncompromising artist.

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Sunday we awoke to clouds and gray skies over the succulent green of Byron Shire. At the ‘Fest, Tony Joe White’s Swamp-Fox baritone conspired with the dull skies to lull us into maybe too deep a state of ‘relaxation’. We needed a wake-up!

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Saskwatch

And we got it in the shape of Melbourne nine-piece Saskwatch. Bursting with chops and youth – and fronted by their not-so-secret weapon, vocalist Nkechi Anele – the band mixes soul, funk and Afrobeat horns to great effect. Like Mayer Hawthorne in the US they also take the bouncier, pop-soul side of Motown and do great things with it. Last year it was The Eagle and The Worm that assured me music is in good hands for the future – this year is was the snap, crackle and (soul-)pop of Saskwatch.

My 2013 Bluesfest experience wound to a finish in a mix of rain, muddy dancers and 1970s progressive rock classicism. Jon Anderson, the vocalist of perhaps the greatest of all Prog bands, YES, played an intimate solo show for us that was quite sublime. (Oddly, YES played Bluesfest last year with –surreally – a replacement vocalist who was drawn from a YES covers band). Listening to Anderson peppering his set with acoustic, folky versions of YESsongs made me realise that it was in this form these tunes were written and presented to the band – who then proceeded to inflate them to Prog size. Unadorned with pomp, they are lovely songs, Anderson’s voice is one of the sweetest in all Rock and the man is once of our most beloved space cadets.

My prize for 24th Bluesfest Festival Moment goes, however, to the experience of standing in the teeming rain, with my 5 dollar poncho disintegrating on my back as I listened to Supertramp’s Roger Hodgson singing ‘It’s Raining Again’ (with not a drop of irony from what I could gather). But of course, the magic of his songs – one beautifully uplifting hit after another – sung in his spacey tenor blew away the rainclouds in my head and warmed the souls of all who listened. Once again, it’s only rain; this was bliss, a good reason to live right here, right now.

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Beautiful people

So that was it – right there, right then. Bluesfest 2013 – a festival beyond belief in so many ways. Criticisms? Around me I heard faint grumbles of over-selling and over crowding, and yes, it seemed fuller that previous years. But it is never anything like a problem – considering the logistics of an event that has grown to such proportions, artistically and attendance-wise.

What will Peter Noble conjure up for us next year? Being the 25th Bluesfest, he and his intrepid team will need to go beyond the pale to top the jaw-dropping line-ups of the last few years. The Jimi Hendrix Experience? The Beatles? Elvis Presley (pre-Hollywood of course)? I am just putting it out there – and knowing Noble’s almost supernatural powers (coupled with the soul of a true music fan), I really wouldn’t entirely put it past him.

 

Published April 2013 on megaphoneoz.com

Guitarist and composer Jessica Green saved me.

Depressed after listening through a covermount CD that came with a recent Blues magazine, her new album Tinkly Tinkly put a big goofy grin right across my face. (Now, I love the Blues dearly but it all is starting to sound the same – new Blues artists seem so scared of losing market share they opt for the tiresomely obvious and the well-worn over new ideas. Can this be the same music that is stamped with the character of great innovators such as Hubert Sumlin and T-Bone Walker?)

Wearily replacing the covermount with Tinkly Tinkly I was sat straight up by the loping township jive of album opener ‘Bamako Youth’. For the next 11:12 I followed the track through chirpy sax motif, tough fusion solo from Green, a Paul Simon-ish vocal section (again by Green – great lyric!) and a coda of massed horns and Matt Keegan’s snarling outro solo. Unlike the drab Blues-by-numbers that had brought me down, this track told a story and took me willingly along its dusty African road.

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The next track ‘Orange Rock Song’ was equally thrilling in its twists and turns, its unexpected rhythms, horn voicings and snaky riffs. Unlike the Blues-under-glass, this track and every one that followed showed Green and her band – the aptly named Bright Sparks – willing to experiment, take chances and strike out for the unknown.

I hear this a lot now in Australian jazz: younger players such as The Alcohotlicks, Aaron Flower, Tim Willis in Melbourne and anyone named Hauptmann (James and Zoe are two of the Bright Sparks on this album) taking the freedom and chops of Jazz as a starting point and filtering it through the kaleidoscopic lenses of rock, electronica, bluegrass, trip- and hip-hop. These mongrel musics – as in nature – cannot help but strengthen and invigorate the music nominally called Jazz.jess green 1

The title track ‘Tinkly Tinkly’ is a good case. Starting with percussionist Bree van Reyk’s glockenspiel-like intro, a building eighth-note lattice of harmony is built until a heavy guitar solo from Green pushes the tune over its tipping point into a jabbing 6/8 riff that could be a cousin of Weather Report’s ‘Boogie Woogie Waltz’. It all hangs beautifully together in a deceptively simple manner, but you are always aware there is a shrewd compositional mind behind it.

The moody blues of ‘The Alias’ transforming into a lop-sided oom-pah under Dan Junor’s alto solo; the ambience and snaggle of ‘Rothko’ (I could see the painter’s glowing colours at times here); the ominous leaden riff of ‘Postcard for Alice’ reminiscent of Frank Zappa’s ‘Filthy Habits’ leading into a sprightly latin 6/8 under Simon Ferenci’s spitting trumpet and back again; the hilarious high-spirits of party-jam ‘Dear Mr Cave’; transformation, play, smart decisions, seeking and finding – wonderful stuff from a bright spark.

Thanks for saving me, Ms Green, from a fate worse than deaf.

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Prior to posting this review I asked Jessica Green a few short questions. Here are her responses:

1. You have recently completed your new album Tinkly Tinkly. What was the moment that told you now was the time to record?

Well the first session was 4 years ago, so it’s hard to actually remember! This project is way overdue really, we’ve had a bunch of new good tunes kicking around for ages, more appropriately the question might be “when did I know it was time to release” which was having a good tax return to fund it!!

2. Jazz nowadays – especially releases by younger players – seems to really stretch the genre thing. Tinkly Tinkly has heavy Zappa-esque rock grooves quite happily cheek-by-jowl with New Orleans joyful blues; what is it that you enjoy about mashing (and even utterly ignoring) genre divides?

Well I suppose it’s difficult for me NOT to mash up. This is how I hear music. I am heavily influenced by Zappa (I played in Sydney Zappa band Petulant Frenzy for a year) but also I’ve grown up listening to so much different music. I like to tell a story that leads the listener to unexpected places.

3. Your Bright Sparks really are quite a cast of the best and the brightest – how do you settle on your players?

Well this band had been around for a while. I loved their originality and talent right from the beginning, and at that time I was relying on recommendations. I’m just lucky they keep agreeing to play with the group!

What makes a lot of the songs work is their unique personalities coming through, I’ve always aspired to this sort of band, right from first hearing and reading about the way Duke Ellington worked. He wrote for each player.

4. As a guitar player myself, I am always interested in what makes a player settle on a particular weapon of choice. You seem to have your beautiful Telecaster Thinline in every pic i have seen of you – why the Tele Thinline?

The Thinline was a recommendation from James Muller. I was trying to find a lighter guitar and when I tried this one I was hooked!

It’s such a versatile guitar which suits my music. It can be warm as well as have lots of bite!

5. What are your thoughts on jazz on Australia today?

Seems pretty healthy to me! There’s a lot if experimentation but also it’s great to see a lot if younger players embracing some of the earlier styles of jazz and blues and making it their own.

6. What are your thoughts on today’s music outside of jazz?

Mmm I do listen to a lot of cross over indie pop/rock. I love what bands like St Vincent, Dirty Projectors, Grizzly Bear are doing and also groups that are under the New Music banner. Particularly in Australia there is some really interesting music being made.

For more information visit: http://jessgreen.com.au/

To hear and buy the album, go to http://jessgreensbrightsparks.bandcamp.com/

Label: Yum Yum Tree http://www.yumyumtree.com.au

Published February 2103 on australianjazz.net 

Brown, it’s all brown. Brown, orange, mustard, gold ochre. Earth tones – the album artwork is all earth tones; nostalgic, warm and earthy 1970s earth tones.

But in this case, to paraphrase another popular 1970s signifier, Brown is (definitely) BeautifulMichael Kiwanuka’s debut album, Home Again, is earthy, rich and fertile all the way through. Even its title, Home Again, has a golden-hazed loveliness about it. The 24 year old UK singer-songwriter’s voice is deep brown too – the brown of chocolate, cocoa, old wood, long-loved leather. You could climb into the gnarled arms of this album and look down on the silly-speeding world, protected by the haze of an eternal late-Autumn afternoon.

Kiwanuka was one of UK mag MOJO’s artists to watch in 2012. And while MOJO often tends to get a little hot and bothered over anything that remotely whiffs of the fragrant 70s, their taste is, in the main, pretty impeccable. It is understandable that they went for Michael Kiwanuka – this album could easily have been the singer-songwriter hit of 1971, ranked alongside Carole King’s Tapestry or Jackson Browne.

I personally hear it as in the groove of Sixto Rodriguez’s Cold Fact or Donny Hathaway before the hits – an urbane and urban (urban in the original sense, before hip-hop urban) masterpiece of soul-folk with one sandal in the street and the other in the garden. Like Rodriguez, Michael Kiwanuka’s voice seems the voice of experience, not bitter, just full and knowing. Its old-wood and sepia timbre lends each song a lot of weight, and they are heavy songs to begin with.

Opener ‘Tell Me A Tale’ is a jazz groove, but a la Astral Weeks – open and flowing, complete with brass, flutes and a gnashing tenor sax solo by Gary Plumley over the coda. Very lush, very full, none of the album seems over-produced. Producer Paul Butler has gone for a gorgeous, chart-friendly sound in the full knowledge that Kiwanuka’s songwriting and delivery will always keep the material deep and real.

From ‘Tell Me A Tale’ the album drops down a gear or two, and stays there – Home Again unfolds at its own pace, the main focus being to frame Kiwanuka’s ochre voice and deep-rooted songs – the Paul Simon-like shuffle of ‘I’m Getting Ready’, the country-blues of ‘Rest’, the lovely finger-picked title track, ‘Home Again’. 

‘Bones’ has a strangely distant sound about it – distant in both space and time – when I listened to this haunted ballroom tune I felt like I had dropped the needle on a scratchy Sam Cooke 45 unearthed from a garage sale. Quite gorgeous, topped off by the touching and humble line ‘Without you I’m just bones…’

By the time I arrived at the closing track, the minor blues ‘Worry Walks Beside Me’ I realized that Home Again – like Back to Black or even Adele’s 21 – is not a nostalgia trip; it just doesn’t seem to give two shits about the current way music is made (whatever that may be). Like those two monster albums it deserves to be a significant and enduring hit. And like poor Amy and rich sweet Adele, Michael Kiwanuka has a voice that is of the ages, unforgettable.

Published March 2012 on theorangepress.net