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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"


2014: gigs of the year

I've just looked back at 2013's equivalent post. The cornucopia of live delights recorded there was sadly not replicated in 2014. A couple of days at The Great Escape but only nine other gigs this year, so perhaps not incredibly meaningful to come up with a top five performances. But I saw some excellent sets, so I will anyway...

5. John Surman - Dome Studio, Brighton, 18 November

A treat to see a long-time hero for the first time. Wonderful horn playing and some nice duets with guest Norwegian singer Karin Krog in the second half. Soprano and baritone saxes and bass clarinet, sometimes alone, sometimes set against loops: mellow and satisfying.

4. Neil Young - Hyde Park, London, 12 July

A storming set, often crowd-pleasing ('Heart of Gold', 'Only Love Can Break Your Heart', etc), but only after he'd stretched the patience of less partisan festival-goers with some protracted guitar work-outs ('Love And Only Love', 'Goin' Home') and rewarded the cognoscenti with the rarely-performed 'Days That Used To Be'. A shame that after playing this well he then turned in a decidedly mediocre album in the shape of Storytone.

3. Jackson Browne - Royal Albert Hall, London, 25 November

I've seen Jackson half a dozen or more times over the years and he never disappoints. My favourite of those shows was probably one in Edinburgh with the collaborator who fits his style best - the great David Lindley. But this was a close runner-up: Greg Leisz's pedal steel filled some Lindley-shaped holes and the rest of the band were on fine form. Some stone classics performed unimpeachably in the course of a marathon 25 song set: 'These Days', 'Before The Deluge', 'Late For The Sky', 'For A Dancer', etc, etc. OK, the ones from the new album weren't quite in that league, but I was in no mood to quibble...

2. Powder Blue - The Great Escape, Brighton, 10 May

Reviewed here. One of those sweet festival moments when a band you've never heard of and have no expectations about grabs hold of your ears and makes you pay attention... Saskatoon's finest, playing Krautrock, shoegaze and a whole lot more. I gather there is a full length album due next year, which I'm looking forward to - I've been listening to Dream In Black a lot.

1. The Hold Steady - Great Escape, Brighton, 9 May

Also reviewed here. Another occasion where I was pleased to see live a band whose albums I've rated for some time. They took the gig by the scruff of its neck and never let go: a tight, explosive and thoroughly entertaining three quarters of an hour.


An explanation

Just in case anyone is wondering about the breaking of radio silence...

Braden Gates' new album is certainly worth talking about, plus the talented young man was kind enough to send a CD to me.

Otherwise, I haven't heard or seen anything new or transformational since I lasted posted here. In the absence of new discoveries, I can recommend some strong and enjoyable records from folk I already knew had it in them - such as Hiss Golden Messenger's Lateness of Dancers, Steve Gunn's Way Out Weather and Robert Plant's Lullaby & The Ceaseless Roar.

In that category,Thurston Moore's The Best Day deserves special mention for housing some strong and varied music in a lovely sleeve. 

There have been some excellent archive releases too, notably Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young's 1974 boxset and Paradise of Bachelors' repressings of early 70s Mike Cooper albums. And, of course, 6 CDs' worth of the Complete Basement Tapes will land with a substantial thud on Dylan fans' doormats tomorrow...

Not much on the gig front to report: Neil Young excellent for tens of thousands in Hyde Park, Harry Manx similar for tens in a Brighton pub. James Taylor doing his thing with commitment and grace, for those whose boats he floats...

Onward and upward.


Braden Gates: Whyte Avenue Revisited

The assured, level gaze with which Braden Gates meets the camera on the cover of his second album was definitely reminding me of something and I went flicking through the record racks. My first thought was Jesse Winchester, facing the world down on his first record - and that is a pretty good, and not inappropriate, pedigree for this fine young singer-songwriter.

Then I was reflecting on how rooted in place much of Braden's writing is - you can often see and hear, and occasionally smell, his stomping ground in Old Strathcona, Edmonton's art-and-nightlife-and-lowlife quarter. (All the best towns have one of those - check out The Hold Steady's 'The Sweet Part Of The City' if you need further directions.) I was looking at the picture of the Commercial Hotel on the CD and visualising the panhandler Gates was bringing to life in a song:

Old man Jason Lee

On the corner of Whyte and 103

Says 'Hey Braden, you got a buck

And an extra smoke for me?'

and I was definitely revisiting Whyte Avenue, Old Strathcona's main drag. So then I pulled out Dylan's Highway 61 and, yes, there's definitely some shared lineage in that stare and the set of their jaws.

Gates has enough talent and potential to make these sorts of comparisons more than fanciful. He's made real progress since his first release, the engaging Break It To Me Gently. While that was essentially a solo recording, the new one, Ferris Wheel, adds friends on bass, piano and harmonica, as well as backing vocals. Importantly, Braden has also overdubbed fiddle on some tracks. Live, his songs are either guitar or (less frequently) fiddle based and it's great to be able to hear the two together. He's a very accomplished picker but, for me, his fiddle playing is in another class, with an attack and verve that raises a song's energy level as soon as his bow bounces on the strings. There are a couple of essentially live fiddle songs on the new record, 'Bound To Win' and the title track, with Braden keeping a stompboard rhythm under pizzicato verses and bowed breaks - very much in the manner of the wonderful 'Gator's Gym Girl' on the first album. They work well, but there is only so much you can do with that format. So it is nice to have the variation of a violin twining around other instruments on songs like 'Holding On' and 'Ocean Blue'.

 I'd heard 'Life's A Picture' live last year, introduced with a wry account of the meeting with the drifter who inspired it. Gates risks putting that spoken story to music and I am happy to say that 'The Story Of Chicago Bob' comes off well and stands up to repeated listening.

But for me, the stand-out song of this strong set is the final one, 'Song For Casper'. Inspired by a friend being arrested for public intoxication, it starts from a description of the party life they are leading but is somehow undercut simultaneously with melancholy, wistfulness and hope. The repeated hookline

now is the time to be free

is strangely moving, combining an appreciation of the transient here-and-now with a yearning for something else. On the record, the arrangement is particularly fine, with Ken Stead's piano adding strongly to the emotional heft in combination with Braden's fiddle.

Some nights you'll end up wasted

Some nights you'll end up bruised

Some nights you'll end up lonely

Just howling at the moon.

It works pretty well as a solo performance too, as you can see here:


All in all, a strong recommendation for Braden Gates and for Ferris Wheel. You can download or order CDs from Braden's Bandcamp page.


Eden off the line

It's coming up to 4 years since I launched this site and now, having taken on some new commitments elsewhere, I've decided that it's time to take a break.

I've said most of the things I wanted to say when I started and there's clearly no shortage of music criticism available elsewhere. So I'll shut up for a bit.

Many thanks to everyone who has visited, read and commented so far - it has been fun.

Au revoir.


Guest review: A Tale Of Two Shows

By popular request, legendary guest reviewer Rob Zanders is back with an account of two rather different blues shows. You can read it here.