Six Albums with Herons!
A little while back I was sent an album by a band called Herons! That’s their exclamation mark, not mine. They wanted to play the fortnightly gig that I put on with Folkroom Records. I popped the CD in, sat back and listened. What followed was thirty seven minutes of sprawling, exciting and entirely visual music. Lyrics that drew pictures between your ears and a musical hand that took you and carried you from track to track. We booked the band in to headline our April 11th gig immediately. I also grabbed the lead singer Ben Kritikos for an installment of Six Albums. Pay attention to his selection – I’ve been obsessed with a few of them ever since he wrote this! Over to Ben…
No way could I make a list of my six favourite albums. Not possible. The top of my “favourite” list is a tie — and it’s a three digit figure. And everybody tries to out-cool each other with strange and obscure indie records. Or 50s surf rock. So here are six overlooked or underrated albums that I think are simply beautiful. And probably not cool. Unless you think the Bible is cool.
Kíla & Oki – Kíla & Oki Kíla are an Irish band who play traditional Irish instruments (bodhrán, uilléann pipes, low whistles, etc.) and sing in the Irish language, making ecstatic music with catchy tunes and thumping beats. Oki is an Ainu Japanese music revivalist who plays the tonkori, a traditional Ainu stringed instrument. It’s as unlikely a pairing as you could imagine. But it works. The music is totally foreign but immediately accessible. You could play this at a nightclub and it wouldn’t sound weird, or you could get toddlers to dance to it. Drunks and toddlers will love it — what more could you ask from an album?
Rachel’s - Music For Egon Schiele Rachel’s play instrumental music that has more parallels in Southern Gothic fiction from their home Kentucky than in any musical genre. This album is a departure from their usual unusual sound. A trio of piano, cello and viola create a stark, melancholy atmosphere. There’s long-settled dust all over this music. Music For Egon Schiele was originally written to accompany a play about the life of the Austrian modernist painter of the title.
Bill Evans Trio - Everybody Digs Bill Evans Bill Evans’ playing is subtly powerful, much like Miles Davis, whose famous Kind Of Blue is probably the most famous thing Evans ever played on. Everybody Digs… is equally great. Bill Evans set his own compositions against a selection of what were essentially slightly old fashioned songs at the time (1958). This allows his unsentimental, lyrical style of playing to demonstrate the huge scope of his musical vision. The long improvisational “Peace Piece” is one of the greatest piano recordings ever made, no matter what kind of music you like.
Moondog – Sax Pax For A Sax Not enough people know who Moondog was. Louis Hardin was a blind man who in the 1950s dressed as a viking, invented percussion instruments with which he busked on 53rd & 6th, near Manhattan’s famed 52nd Street, and wrote some of the weirdest and most beautiful music of the time. He’s the very definition of avante-garde. Sax Pax… is an album made later in his career, when he’d left the US for Europe. An ensemble of saxophones, accompanied by Moondog himself on a single large drum, play his kind-of jazz, kind-of-like-nothing else compositions. You’d probably recognize the track “Bird’s Lament” from Mr. Scruff.
Jinx Lennon – Know Your Station Gouger Nation The three stages of introduction to Jinx Lennon’s music are as follows: 1) raised eyebrows and struggle to pinpoint his Dundalk accent; 2) awkward laugh, like opening and shutting the bathroom door to find your flatmate naked; 3) “Holy shit, this guy’s amazing!” Know Your Station… is catchy in a way you didn’t know catchy could be. Jinx more often than not bellows instead of singing, spitting out poetry that is somewhere between flights of lyric imagery and plain good sense simply spoken. Some of Gouger Nation’s songs consist of one chord. Less than one chord. One note. Not even a note, just a violent scratching of the guitar and some bafflingly amazing shouting.
Louis Armstrong (and an uncredited chorus of singers) - Louis & The Good Book It’s easy to forget that the US has a culture. The narrative about itself and the associated paraphernalia are the US’s main export. But Louis Armstrong is, to me, at the heart of American culture. At its heart, American culture is predominantly African-American. And for good or ill, it’s often tied up with religion. On this album, Louis Armstrong manages to sing classic Christian songs in the evangelical tradition — mostly stories from the Old Testament — without letting the preaching detract focus from the music. The actual religious element is a bit too comical to take seriously. These are just cracking tunes, accompanied by the best uncredited chorus of singers this side of Looney Tunes.
Ben Kritikos heads up Herons! – the band behind So Long! (they really like exclamation marks). They’ll be headlining this week’s Folkroom gig at The Queens Head.