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Previous Journal Entries

"The cords of all link back...strandentwining cable...

"Hello...put me on to Edenville... aleph, alpha: nought, nought, one"

Thursday
Apr172014

No Bob Dylan in 33 1/3 short list

The short list of possible new commissions for 33 1/3's series of slim volumes on classic albums maintains Bob Dylan's surprising under-representation on that list.

Of course, I find it particularly scandalous that they didn't take up my pitch for a study of John Wesley Harding, but I do find it more generally odd that Highway 61 Revisited remains the only one of the maestro's many memorable releases to be covered. One can argue that the world has enough Bob Dylan books in it already, but I still think that there is room for a rigorous and focused look at an undoubted classic.

You can read a draft introductory chapter here which explains why.

Saturday
Apr122014

Wussy's Attica streaming now

Wussy's latest album, Attica, will be released next month and you can listen to it now on Bandcamp. The website of Damnably, their UK label, suggests it will be coming out on vinyl, though I haven't seen that advertised anywhere else yet.

Sounding good, so far – there's an encouraging range of noise and softer moments, with Chuck and Lisa both in excellent voice...

I started saying that I hadn't heard a killer song yet, but now 'Halloween' is definitely getting under my skin: lovely arrangement, great singing.

I'll let you know

Thursday
Apr102014

Ryley Walker

Being on a record label's mailing list is not always productive, but Paradise of Batchelors will seldom steer you wrong...

They have just drawn my attention to an imminent album from a young singer/songwriter/guitarist from Chicago called Ryley Walker. After one listen, I've placed my order.

His singing style is uncannily like that of the late, great Bert Jansch. He's a mean guitar picker. And the arrangements are great too, featuring some lovely viola (possibly the most underused instrument in rock) and a drummer who could be Pentangle's Terry Cox.

That all may sound artificial and knowingly retro, but the end product strikes me as organic and convincingly in the here and now. I'm going to enjoy getting to know it.

There's a nice video here and you can stream the whole album here.

Wednesday
Apr092014

The song of the year, so far

My high hopes for The Hold Steady's Teeth Dreams have largely been realised - and 2014 has finally delivered some classic songwriting for me to enthuse about.

It's great to have a new record from this band, after about a four year gap. No-one else has quite the same combination of power chords, punch-the-air choruses and (shaggy-dog-) story-telling lyrics. And, on top of the record, they've just been added to the bill for Brighton's Great Escape festival, so I hope to see them live for the first time next month.

Front man Craig Finn might look more like a middle-manager than a rock god, but he can give the best account of the redemptive potential of the music this side of Bruce Springsteen and Patti Smith. 'We've gotta stay positive', as he famously sang on the band's 2008 album of that name and he still generally does, despite a lyrical predilection for picaresque tales of losers and lowlife. He's 42 now and came to the classic rock stylings which inform his writing via the likes of Hüsker Dü and the Replacements, growing up in Minneapolis, which is still the setting for many of his songs. There has always been a slightly punky, eighties edge to the band, though they do seem consciously to have gone for a more consistently rock feel to the current album. I have some issues with the limited-palette production, particularly with the way Finn's voice is back in the mix and often heavily echoed: you sometimes need the lyric sheet to work out what's going on - and that's silly when the words are as good as they often are. Never mind: do what it takes.

If you don't know the band, let me recommend two songs from Teeth Dreams as a fine entry point. (If you do know the band, you're probably already raving about them too.)

'Big Cig' (listen here) makes me want to bounce around in a way which I entirely understand is both unseemly and unwelcome to the world at large. The mix of scything chords, feedback, pounding drums and shouted-along backing vocals is right up my street, but listen to the words: a self-deprecating account of a relationship, the importance of which the protagonist can't quite bring himself to admit to...

She's a girl 'with burns on her skirt and smoke in her eyes' who likes long cigarettes because they're better value:

I know that's she's gorgeous.

I can't take her serious.

She looks kind of ridiculous

With her Malibu 120s.

The singer acknowledges that 'she can probably find a better guy', but that doesn't matter because:

It's not love.

It's not even a crush.

That's fine.

We don't believe him, of course.

On to 'Almost Everything' - my song of the year, so far. (Listen and watch here.) Chiming acoustics, instead of the album's mostly electric guitars. No drums. It's a lovely collection of life-on-the-road set-pieces:

The bus it rolled up into Franklin at dawn and everything seemed super slo-mo

The Waffle House waitress that asked us if we were Pink Floyd.

Finn could be singing about a particular relationship within that tour-bus setting or talking more about his feelings about performing and his audience. The imagery works fine both ways:

Yeah, there are nights I get terrified.

I'm sure you get terrified too.

So, hey, won't you show me a sign

If I'm getting through to you.

I'm still pretty into you.

There's an impressive amount of narrative substance in the song's 4 minutes 17. A hospital admission; one of those rambling conversations we've all had about 'movies and Krishna and hardcore and Jesus and joy'; a medical emergency where 'the kid who went down isn't dead, he just can't find his phone'. But the very best bit of the lyric, which I can't help grinning at even as I write it down, is an account of a cinema visit along the way. With my limited exposure to popular culture, I'm not even sure if it's describing a real film - it should be:

Went to some movie. It was loud, dumb and bloody.

The third act took place in a wormhole.

The hero ascended to heaven.

Then we headed home. 

The Hold Steady are one of those bands who I think should be a lot bigger than they are. I assumed Stay Positive would be the breakthrough album, their equivalent of REM's Green. That didn't happen, and now they're on to the equivalent of Monster. That album wasn't perfect, of course, but rocked out splendidly with plenty of verve and wit. The same is true of Teeth Dreams. Give it a go.

Wednesday
Apr092014

London Marathon

Just four days to go till this year's London Marathon.

My splendid daughter Harriet is running on behalf of RoadPeace, a charity which works with and on behalf of the victims of road crashes. (She had a very nasty accident herself when she was 16, which rather adds to the otherwise trifling challenge of 26.2 miles of tarmac...)

Generous Eden On The Line readers may like to make a donation here. Tight-fisted ones should also feel free to follow suit. 

And for any pedantic ones of either persuasion wondering just what the musical connection is to this post, here's a link to Harriet's always-entertaining Secret Sessions internet channel.

Run like the wind, Hat...