Brooklyn folk has the roughed of tinges to it – soulful urban folk, strummed in bright inks on the side of the laundromats, sung from the fire escapes in the warm summer months. Some folk sounds like forest music, some of nostalgia, or small town America. She Keeps Bees, despite their rural moniker, stomps darkly through the underbelly of their native New York. In anticipation of forthcoming album Dig On, we grabbed the band for a Six Albums (which according to their email to us was ‘written by Andy, approved by Jess’).
Millie Jackson – Caught Up Jess’ parents introduced her to Millie Jackson’s music when she was a kid. This record is probably inappropriate for children, but it beats the hell outta the crap they’re listening to today. Possibly the world’s greatest love-triangle concept album.
Burning Spear – Garvey’s Ghost This is probably the record we’ve listened to the most in the last two or three years. We love reggae, y’all! Kidding aside, this is some ridiculously awesome dub. It also comes in handy if you’re ever DJ’ing a lazy party.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Axis: Bold As Love The guitar sound on ‘If 6 Was 9′ is the coolest thing I’ve ever heard. Actually, that whole song is the coolest thing I’ve ever heard. This is the other album we’ve listened to the most in the last two or three years. Though we don’t particularly like ‘She’s So Fine’, we think it’s nice Jimi let Noel have a song on the album.
Tom Waits - Swordfishtrombones Picking a favorite Tom Waits record is pretty much impossible. Swordfishtrombones was one of the first I heard and is still the one I go back to the most–aside from Blood Money or Rain Dogs or Real Gone or Alice or…
Songs: Ohia – The Lioness Jess heard Jason Molina for the first time at a house-show in Philly when she was 19. He left such an impression, this album remained in almost constant rotation in her ‘92 Mazda until the stereo was stolen a few years ago.
The Love Story – S/T We’re very privileged to have some amazing friends. The Love Story are three of those people. This record is truly great from beginning to end, as is their second full-length Mink. Sometimes we’re not even sure why they hang out with us.
She Keeps Bees are Brooklyn duo Jess Larrabee and Andy LaPlant, which roughly translates to ‘Andrew the Plant’. Fact. Dig On is released this month and if you listen to all of their Six Albums choices, you won’t be surprised by just how great their actual music is…
April 2, 2011 No Comments
Diverse and comforting, Lotte Mullan draws together all sorts of sounds to create the songs she makes – cosy, curious pop music accented by a folk musician’s touch. Mullan started out trying for a Tom Waits sound – a sound that perhaps unsurprisingly resulted more in throat issues than musical breakthrough. It was love that created the music Mullan now plays – falling for a boy at school who spent his days wandering about huddled under headphones. She fell for him, and for the music that held him – old blues and folk. Nevertheless, as this week’s Six Albums post demonstrates, Lotte Mullan finds her inspiration across the board…
Bill Withers – Live at Carnagie Hall This is one of the best performances I’ve ever heard. Whenever I hear Simon Cowell say to say to a young hopeful “that was a great performance” in his smug, self satisfied tones I’m screaming at the television “No it wasn’t – Bill Withers at Carnagie Hall in 1972 – THAT was a great performance!!”
He has the ease of delivery and performance that comes with years of touring, having a collection of killer tunes and being backed by an amazing band. The musical interplay is something else – it’s energized and totally laid back at the same time – it’s what every musician aspires to. His inbetween song banter alone is worth buying the record for – the introduction to Grandma’s Hands makes me laugh everytime and ‘Use Me’ is just the sexiest song ever – if I ever get married that’ll be the first dance!
Various Artists – O Brother, Where Art Thou I was 16 when I first saw this film and the soundtrack introduced me to country music and totally changed my musical approach… like a lot of other people I used to associate country music with line dancing and Hicksville America – and there is that – but there’s so much more! I didn’t even know what it was when I heard it – I just loved the soulfulness and storytelling – it made me realize you can tell a story with music instead of just lamenting a first person narrative of your own pain. The album was produced by T-Bone Burnett who has the most incredible ear for how things should sound – everything he does sounds beautiful and he captures the pureness in a performance and doesn’t interfere with it with studio trickery…then again he doesn’t need to as he has the most amazing singers in the world to work with: Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welsh, Alison Krauss and The Union Station Band…. the best voice on the record for me is Dan Tyminski singing ‘Man of Constant Sorrow’ – it’s that deep soulful southern sound coming out of George Clooney’s mouth in the film – what’s not to like?
Rickie Lee Jones – Rickie Lee Jones I love this record because it captures the feeling of the beatnik era – staying in sleazy motels, listening to jukebox jazz and cruising through life like you just don’t care. It’s rock ‘n’ roll played by jazz musicians. The beat played by Steve Gadd on ‘Chuckie’s In Love’ has to be my favourite groove of all time – my test of a good drummer relies on whether they can play this groove. The way Rickie Lee Jones delivers a melody is totally unique, she just sounds like she doesn’t care and is so far behind the beat she’s in the previous song! The record came out in 1979, but was the antithesis of the 1960’s singer-songwriter era – it’s not obviously confessional and there’s a real a playfulness to the storytelling – it makes you want to go and sit in a bar all night and take other people’s stories home with you.
Joni Mitchell – Blue Joni has so many records to choose from but this is one I always come back to – no singer-songwriter’s record collection would be complete without it. It’s the ultimate confessional record and is so spare instrumentally – music just isn’t made like this anymore. There are no drums but she plays guitar and dulcimer very percussively and hits the instrument as she plays so it sounds like there’s a rhythm track. James Taylor is the only additional player adding some of his characteristic finger style playing. It feels like the end of the hippy dream and there’s a resounding melancholy throughout – perfect solitary listening with a bottle of wine. ‘River’ is the most beautiful alternative Christmas song and ‘Case Of You’ is the best song ever written according to Prince and I think he’s right “I could drink a case of you and I would still be on my feet” – that’s a line I’d retire on.
Tom Waits – The Heart of Saturday Night Tom Waits has to be my favourite song writer – he has the rare talent of being able to write ballads to break your heart as well as stomping Blues Grooves that make you want to go out and break stuff. This is one of his more laid back records – I love the way the bubbling swamp of his voice can sound so tender – particularly on ‘San Diego Serenade’ with the orchestra – you get the sense of a drunk broken-down crooner at a dinner party where no-one is noticing the genius in the corner. He always has a new way of describing an everyday scenario “Cloud are like headlines/on a new front page sky” and his lyrical observations always feel so acute and hit the nail on the head without ever being overly sentimental – lines like “I never felt my heartstrings until I nearly went insane” – it feels like he has an all-seeing eye on the human condition.
Aretha Franklin – I Never Loved A Man The Way I Loved You I am completely in awe of this record – it’s not just Aretha’s incredible vocal prowess or the top draw songs written by the likes of Ray Charles and Sam Cooke – it’s the raw energy of her performance with the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section – the vibe is so infectious it makes me want to go out dancing or drive around with my windows wound down. It’s one of those records that makes you feel you can do anything – even in its sadness it is celebratory, which is something I really love about gospel music.
‘Respect’ is the ultimate girl power anthem (written by Otis Redding!) and one of the first of it kind but it still feels relevant now nearly 40 years later. Apparently Aretha used to record her vocals whilst smoking and eating from a bucket of fried chicken – that’s my kind of woman!
Lotte Mullan releases her debut album this Spring, and we will be picking up a copy first chance we get. Until then, it’s a shorter wait until the first single, ‘Would You Be So Kind’ finds its way into the world on February 28th.
January 21, 2011 No Comments
Peter Broderick is somewhere in my top five list of People I Would Be Alright About Swapping Lives With. He’s not even a year older than me, and yet he’s released something like seven albums of piano pieces and heartwarming folk, worked alongside Efterklang, and played with Zooey Deschanel (alas, not in that way). He’s a magnificently talented guy, and I’d probably hate him in that jealous sort of a way that slutty hillbillies on Jerry Springer think the audience hate them, if he didn’t make such wonderful, beautiful, enchanting music. He’s a left-field musician in an often bland and uninspiring world and his most recent record, How They Are, will no doubt find it’s way into the WWL albums of the year list with very little effort. We were, as ever, honoured to have him write for us in our regular Six Albums slot.
Brian Eno – Music for Airports Brian Eno has made so much great music, to a point where I will listen to anything he’s done without trying to pick favorites and compare, and I will just take it in knowing that it will fill me up with something nice. I single this album out because it’s probably the one I’ve listened to the most (Another Green World is up there too), and it’s the first of his music that really caught my ear. Plus with all my traveling and time spent in airports, it just seems to be a perfect soundtrack to my life.
Arthur Russell – World of Echo After countless listens this album continues to puzzle me. I don’t get how he made all those sounds and why he structured his “songs” like he did. So in one way this album seems very foreign to me. But on the other hand it just draws me in so much and his voice and the way he sings feel very intimate and close. I’ve been so inspired by Arthur Russell and the huge variety of music he created, and to me this album seems to be the centerpiece of his output somehow.
John Cage – Litany for the Whale I guess John Cage doesn’t need much of an introduction these days. He was an amazing man. His writings, his music… This compilation of vocal based works is so diverse and so rewarding, but it’s the first piece (also titled “Litany for the Whale”) that really makes me melt. The voice alone, with so much space. It sounds so peaceful. I’ve taken much inspiration from this great man, and I continue to discover more and more of the treasures he left behind.
Arvo Pärt – Alina The music of Arvo Pärt has moved me over an over again. This was the first album of his that I bought, and when I first heard it I was shocked by how simple and quiet it is. I listened more and more and bought more of his recordings, and listening to Arvo Pärt became an almost religious experience. His piece “Lamentate,” released just a few years back, must be the most powerful music I’ve ever heard, and the notes he writes about the piece in the cd booklet are so beautiful. All of his music is almost sacred to me, but it all started when I heard Alina.
Steve Reich – Music for 18 Musicians Hypnotizing. That’s the best way I can describe this piece. Steve Reich’s pulsing rhythms are completely hypnotizing. And this is the one that does it for me every time. I’ve had many long drives on tour with this one on the stereo. Time just seems to float away as soon as the first note starts. I would really love to see it performed live one day.
Tom Waits – Swordfishtrombones I’ve always admired Tom Waits, but it wasn’t until recently that I really started buying all of his records and listening all the time. I really admire all the different sides of Tom Waits and how he has created such a unique character out of himself. He’s an amazing story teller and he has the perfect story telling voice. Swordfishtrombones is just such a bizarre album. It rocks and grooves and creaks and cracks and it’s filled with this strange and spooky and amazing energy.
Peter Broderick is a singer-songwriter whose most recent mini-album, How They Are, was released on Bella Union earlier this year. It’s just about the most perfect piano-based album you’re likely to hear, so we’d recommend you buy about seventeen copies. If you want to see Peter live, you’re in luck – he plays the Bella Union Christmas Party, alongside Lanterns On The Lake, Philip Selway and Six Albums alumnus Alessi’s Ark in the beautiful Union Chapel on December 16th. Tickets are still available too – I’ve already booked mine!
November 26, 2010 1 Comment
I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but I kind of like making lists. I’ve made lists regarding my favourite socks, my favourite Subway sandwiches and my top three Chaplin films (The Great Dictator, The Kid, Modern Times). Last year however, when it came to making a list of my favourite songs of the last decade, I copped out. I couldn’t decide. Which is better: Mr Brightside or One Day Like This? Falling Slowly or Bad Romance? Only one thing was certain to me: in the last ten years no song has affected me more, hit me harder, been better, in any sense, than The Leisure Society’s ‘The Last Of The Melting Snow’. Simply, it is a gentle, reflective and uncomplicated song. A sad song. But also an intensely beautiful song. I was relieved, when I came to hear the full album, to find that the rest of the record was magnificent also. The Sleeper fast became one of my favourite albums of the last year, and The Leisure Society one of my favourites of the century so far. And so, it is with twitching excitement that I can proudly present a new entry in our Six Albums series from none other than the band’s own Christian Hardy…
“These are six albums that mean something to me. Not just six albums I like. Of course there are other albums that mean something to me. But these six albums won the battle this morning.
Swordfishtrombones by Tom Waits
I love things that are ambitious, melodic and rhythmic but also heartfelt and ramshackle. For me, Tom Waits is the master of that balance. His lyrics and soundscapes make me feel attuned to a part of America that my favourite writers like Hemingway, Kurt Vonnegut, Saul Bellows and Bukowski inhabit.
In Ear Park by Department Of Eagles
Daniel Rossen sings like a Muppet version of Roy Orbison. The guitars sound like they’re being played in your room and it’s 1930 and we’re floating in a zeppelin and everything is possible and nothing can go wrong. One of my producer heroes is Jeff Lynne, whose ambition was always backed by his skill. I think Chris Taylor has the same ability. When I met him at Green Man I wanted to say that, but it came out as a choked sycophantic gurgle.
Third by Portishead
If you were to steal my iPod, you’d find the song ‘The Rip’ at the top end of my 25 Most Played list. I love that song from the first warbly moments to the cheap synth arpeggio fading out at the end. It’s not often that music engages me so totally with great songs, playing, singing AND fascinating angular production and esoteric mixing. Third makes me want to make records every time I listen to it. Please don’t steal my iPod.
Teen Dream by Beach House
This record crept up on me, the stealthy kind of album that doesn’t show its hand at the first opportunity. ‘Zebra’ is a very perfect recording, the sound of a shipwreck survivor waking on a beach, disorientated, elated to be alive but full of grief. That’s what I want from the music I listen to.
Deserters Songs by Mercury Rev
‘Opus 40′ makes me feels very alive and joyous and romantic and nostalgic and musical. The whole album is magical. I got to make friends and perform/record with pianist Justin Russo through his Silent League project and he and producer Shannon Fields have been sort of wise musical mentors to me.
The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan by Bob Dylan
Early Bob Dylan is my comfort food. I take comfort in the raw performances, how you can hear the hiss of the smokey air in the studio and every breath and chuckle and sigh. This record just squeezed out Another Side Of Bob Dylan today because the guitars sound better.”
Christian Hardy is a member of The Leisure Society, who are currently recording their second album and will be playing a few festivals over the summer. Check their MySpace for more details, and buy their debut record The Sleeper, because it’s ruddy brilliant, and you’d be a fool not to.
June 30, 2010 No Comments
When we caught up with Franz Nicolay recently, we asked him if he would be willing to write for our humble little site a guest post. I’m not particularly sure we ever expected he’d be willing to, let alone write one as insightful as the list that found its way into my inbox a short day ago. So here, for our lovely readers, is a We Write Lists Exclusive! Franz Nicolay’s top six favourite records:
1. Mercury – American Music Club
“Simply my biggest influence as a songwriter and on my sense of what a record should sound like. I learned to play guitar and sing with three things: Mercury, Mark Eitzel’s Songs Of Love Live and the Bob Dylan lyrics book; and got my sense of what interesting piano in a rock band was from Bruce Kaphan of AMC, and Richard Manuel and Garth Hudson of The Band (see below). Unpredicatable, noisy guitars, swelling strings, Danny Pearson’s melodic basslines and high-lonesome backing vocals; and Mitchell Froom’s dusty production: The conventional wisdom is that is was the wrong time to make their ‘arty’ record, but more likely, they were never going to be stars no matter what kind of album they made, and in the event they made their greatest.
2. Rock Of Ages – The Band
“The model of musicianship, taste, and skill in a rock band. Their authenticity and credibility remain unchallenged. The studio albums are great, but a live show with three-piece horn section and Marvin Gaye cover is The Band at their best.”
3 & 4. Symphony #4 – Charles Ives & Mingus Ah Um – Charles Mingus
“A lot of what interests me musically is the mixture of the familiar and the avant; people who work with or within established forms and make them seem strange and unfamiliar. Both Ives and Mingus took as their raw materials the canon of Western romantic classical music, American gospel and church hymns, the gestures of their spiritual fathers (Beethoven and Ellington, respectively) and the popular songs of their day and surrounded them in a fog of dissonance and improvisation. In the same vein, my favourite Cecil Taylor is his earlier records where he’s still close enough to bebop to sound even stranger; and my favourite Sun Ra and Monk is when they’re playing Tin Pan Alley.”
5. As Time Goes By – Jimmy Durante
“Speaking of Tin Pan Alley: I’ve said it before, but there was a great generation of entertainers trained on the vaudeville circuit who could turn on a buffalo nickel from slapstick schtick to heartbreaking sincerity. I have and love Durante’s patter songs, but it’s the ballads that are the cloest to my heart: simply delivered and deceptively agile.”
6. Rain Dogs – Tom Waits
“…Though is a stand-in for “the entire catalogue”.
January 23, 2010 No Comments
I think every music fan goes through periods where they favour a particular genre over any other. Something to do with where you are in life, I suppose. How the world is treating you. You can learn a lot about a person by the music they listen to, and you can learn even more by understanding their changing tastes.
Recently I’ve been enjoying a lot of soulful blues ballads. I’m not even sure what you’d call them. They’re the sort of jazz blues songs that you used to hear in the fifties and sixties, but only if you were in a grimy dark bar swamped with cigarette smoke. Except the ones I’m enjoying are much more modern. The oldest is the stunning ‘Grapefruit Moon’, from Tom Waits’ 1973 debut album.
But many are more recent. Last year’s film Gran Torino offered a title track written and sung by Clint Eastwood and Jamie Cullum. It’s slow and soulful, and even if you don’t listen to it knowing the context of the film it still breaks your heart.
Similarly, Deanna Storey’s ‘Little Person’ was found on the soundtrack to the wonderful Synecdoche, New York. Unlike the previous two, Storey’s vocals reek less of cigarette smoke and years of living a hard life. Regardless, the song is a gentle plea, and again it’s dreadfully sad and soulful.
I don’t know what it says about me, that I find this warmth and comfort in these dive bar ballads. There are certainly worst genres to love than these whiskey songs.
I think it’s the fact that though there is sadness – though these songs often consider the futilities of life – there is always some sort of optimism present. It’s often a world-weary optimism, but ultimately ‘Grapefruit Moon’ is a love song; ‘Gran Torino’ a song about that which holds your world together and ‘Little Person’ a song about someday finding someone. It’s a sad sound, but it’s a heartening message.
Top Six Dive Bar Ballads:
1. Grapefruit Moon – Tom Waits
2. Gran Torino – Clint Eastwood and Jamie Cullum
3. Little Person – Deanna Storey
4. Surviving Twin – Loudon Wainwright III
5. Say It To Me Now – The Frames
6. Most Of The Time – Bob Dylan
August 8, 2009 No Comments