Saturday, March 26, 2016

Red Hot and the Dead

I’m a bit of a fan of The National, and prone to posting the odd random National-related clip.

Fresh on the Net this week, here’s a clip of the band doing the Bonnie Dobson-penned, Grateful Dead-immortalised ‘Morning Dew’, which is being released as part of a wider Grateful Dead tribute project/charity album, Day of The Dead.

Day of The Dead is a triple/compilation album, curated by The National’s Aaron and Bryce Dessner, set for release on 20 May on 4AD, with all profits going to the long running Aids/HIV-charity, the Red Hot Organization.

Artists involved include War On Drugs, Kurt Vile, Courtney Barnett, Wilco, Real Estate, Justin Vernon, The Flaming Lips, Mumford & Sons, Lucinda Williams, Bonnie Prince Billy, Aotearoa’s own Unknown Mortal Orchestra, plus many others.

I always much preferred Tim Rose’s take on ‘Morning Dew’ over The Dead’s more popular signature version, but The National really nail it here, giving an old song a brand new set of threads … rather fittingly, dressing it entirely in black:

Friday, March 25, 2016

Ondubground ...

On a Good Friday digital reggae tip: the Ondubground crew from Tours, France, return with another free download in the form of Addvice, a seven-track mini-album featuring luminaries like Brother Culture, Shanti D, and Panda Dub. Discovering this half hour of bassy dubby goodness made it an extra good Friday (yawn - Ed) … check it and grab it:

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Classic Album Review: The Beatles - Let It Be Naked (2003)

After posting the album review for The Beatles’ Love, it occurred to me that it took some 375 posts before everythingsgonegreen finally got around to covering The Beatles in any detail. Which is a pretty shocking state of affairs when you consider what a monumental pop cultural influence that band has been throughout my lifetime. Even more so when you consider that The Beatles were one of the first bands I truly loved – as a child, before the rather more rebellious teenager, and later, even more cynical adult, came along. Even today though, the band’s Revolver album still rates in any notional all-time top five albums, if I was pressed to name them. With Sgt Pepper not far behind. So, yes, coverage of The Beatles was a long time in coming and definitely overdue. But just like a number 17 bus, you wait an age for one, and then two come along at once. So here’s another one, another classic album review written some time ago. A variation on the same theme – a reconfigured classic album in the form of Let It Be, the 2003 Naked version. Most definitely not a George Martin creation:


It always seemed there was a direct correlation between The Beatles’ decision to stop touring/performing live (post-1966), and a distinct improvement in the quality of the band’s studio output/albums - see Revolver ’66, Sgt Pepper ’67, and the White Album ’68.

That’s a fairly strong run, whatever your poison, and those albums were all pivotal in sealing the band’s standing as iconic pioneers of the album format, far removed from the lovable boy band/singles band status of earlier years.

The same can’t be said about the band’s final studio album however, and by the time the original Let It Be album was released in 1970, The Beatles were a band in name only. Any sense of unity, commitment to each other, or indeed, genuine collective inspiration, had long since disappeared.

Let It Be was a swansong, but despite its undoubted historical significance, and one or two truly exceptional moments, it won’t go down as a classic Beatles album. Far from it - in fact, many of the recordings made in 1969 were originally shelved (others being released on Abbey Road), such was the group’s general nonchalance about the project. George Harrison actually threatened to quit the group while the 1969 sessions were still in progress.

Let It Be represented the sound of a band at the end of its tether, and the fact that the post-production reins were handed to Phil Spector suggests they knew as much at the time. Spector, famous for his “wall of sound” style of production, was belatedly called in to tart up the shelved recordings - something that evidently bugged Paul McCartney for the best part of three subsequent decades. Let It Be Naked is the result of McCartney’s attempt to de-Spector-ise (and remix) the original release. For better or for worse.

Essentially what you get on Naked is Let It Be stripped right back to its bare core - the most obvious development being the removal of the strings so beloved of Spector at the time of the original. The result is a marginally improved album, but certainly nothing spectacular, and sceptics will argue that the release of Naked in 2003 was nothing but another cynical attempt to milk the cash cow that The Beatles’ back catalogue has become.

I’m not so sure I agree with that sentiment entirely, and I’ll take the project at face value - as a genuine attempt to right what McCartney and others perceived to be a long-standing wrong. On Naked, aside from stripping back the excessive production - mostly to discard the decoration and gloss provided by Spector - the track-list also gets something of a minor revamp. This probably improves things slightly, placing as it does a raw version of ‘Get Back’ as a barnstorming album opener, and including the much-heralded ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ (absent from the original Let It Be, but the B-side on the ‘Get Back’ single release) as a welcome additional track.

As you might expect, the most obvious changes can be picked up on the best known stuff from the original Let It Be; the era-defining title track itself (the album closer), the epic ‘Long And Winding Road’ (a much improved version here), and John Lennon’s brilliant dream-like ‘Across The Universe’. Even after the exercise in revamping the original versions, it is these tracks - plus ‘Get Back’ and ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ - that stand out as the album’s best cuts. Proof surely, if it was needed, that regardless of any enhancement or additional production, you just can’t beat a quality tune.

Naked is a slight improvement on the original, but Let It Be was always an album of extremes (uneven in terms of quality), and it always contained a little too much filler for my liking.

My CD edition came with a bonus disc, which turned out to be a bit of a throwaway item really, containing mostly conversation snippets and short rehearsal extracts from the original recording sessions. In these post-Anthology days, it represents nothing particularly new or exciting, neither is it an especially riveting listen. But hardcore Beatles fans may beg to differ on these points given that it does offer a brief insight (albeit a limited one) into the inner workings of a band very much on the cusp of self-destruction.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Gig Review: Tami Neilson, San Fran, Wellington, 11 March 2016

Tami Neilson is not an artist I'm all that familiar with, but thanks to the generosity of Neilson herself, and Simon over at the Off The Tracks blog, I was able to catch New Zealand's reigning Queen of Country right at the top of her game last Friday night at Wellington's San Fran. It wasn't a gig I'd initially earmarked as a "must attend", but I’d been curious about Neilson’s music for some time, and the complimentary double pass made it a no brainer.
I really didn't need too much convincing. I knew enough to know that Neilson's back story is quite remarkable by local standards: raised in Canada, growing up trekking around North America with her parents - as part of the Johnny Cash-supporting Neilson family band - then settling in NZ nearly a decade ago, before going on to establish herself as an immense solo talent. A chart-topping, silver scroll and multiple Tui award-winning solo talent, no less.

It's easy to see why she's been so successful - not only does she possess a great voice, her song-writing is top drawer, and her stagecraft is as thoroughly professional as her band is tight.

It doesn't feel quite right lumping her purely under the "country" banner however. Sure, the likes of Patsy (Cline) and Wanda (Jackson) provide for fairly accurate and well-worn reference points, but there's shades of others in there too, and Neilson's particular brand of honky tonk effortlessly crossed over into soul, rockabilly, and even some swampy blues rock at various points over the course of her set. And while the key to that versatility and the glue to her performance was surely her “Hot Rockin’ band of Rhythm”, Neilson remained the consummate star throughout the near 90-minute set of covers and originals.

The highlights included a couple of walk-on appearances; the first from local luminary Jeremy Taylor who helped out on ‘Lonely’, the popular duet Neilson recorded with (the absent rising star) Marlon Williams, while the second featured the thumb-picking or “flatpicker” guitar technique of onetime band member Mark Mazengarb, who joined her on stage, direct from the audience, for a couple of older tracks.
Saving the best until last, Neilson completed her well-received encore with a Big Mama Thornton-inspired take on ‘Hound Dog’, one that differs markedly from the more popular Elvis Presley version - a slower, brooding, dirty/bluesy interpretation. A take that was far more indebted to old style rhythm n blues than classic rock n roll.
I’m fairly certain this particular San Fran gig was not part of the greater Arts Festival currently gracing various Wellington venues - more part of a short national tour - yet it was quite noticeable that the audience for Tami Neilson was not a regular San Fran-type crowd. Or even a regular Friday night crowd. The demographic was generally older and somewhat more stylishly dressed. It felt like something of an occasion even - it was certainly a birthday celebration for one of the band members (singalong, cake, and all), so perhaps it was simply that? ... post-gig, a class act to the end, Neilson made herself available to those exiting the venue, standing at the top of the stairs, smiling, chatting, and signing items as the assembled throng made its way past, heading out into the warm autumnal Friday night air …

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Orkestra Obsolete ...

I thought this was easily the best thing on the internet this week - a version of the New Order classic 'Blue Monday' made using only instruments that were available in the 1930s - the theremin, musical saw, prepared piano etc.

Obviously there were other instruments of a more classical and chamber music variety around at that time, and much earlier of course, but Orkestra Obsolete place focus on more innovative, novel, and less common instruments, which is what makes this all the more special.

New Order released 'Blue Monday' 33 years ago this week, and it quickly went on to become the best-selling 12-inch of all-time. I can still recall the sense of shock and awe I felt when standing in a Palmerston North record shop hearing it for the first time. I think even at that moment it was obvious it was about to become a serious game changer.

But nothing could have prepared me for this wonderful slice of musical genius  ...

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Classic Album Review: The Beatles - Love (2006)

Long-time BBC studio guru and renowned producer of The Beatles during their heyday, Sir George Martin, died yesterday, aged 90. I wanted to pay tribute to him in some form, so I’ve re-written an album review I originally wrote for another site a few years back. It relates to the 2006 Beatles compilation album Love, which was surely one of the more ambitious projects of Martin’s semi-retired later years:

It was once something of a default tradition at the everythingsgonegreen mansion. Each Christmas the notoriously “hard to buy for” old man (aka yours truly) got another Beatles CD from the kids.

I was belatedly (and rather forlornly) attempting to replace all of the old Beatles albums from my own childhood – on worn out old LPs/tapes, most of them awol – with a digitalised version, and the ankle-biters had taken it upon themselves to help me out. Bless.

It started with Sgt Pepper, next up came Revolver, then Let It Be (the “Naked” version), and in 2006, it was the (then) new release double CD of Love holding pride of place at the foot of my otherwise rather barren looking Christmas stocking.

It more or less became the “done thing”, but one of the problems with such an exercise was that the ever-expanding Beatles back catalogue just kept getting bigger and bigger with each passing year. One Beatles purchase per year just didn’t cut it, and birthdays had to be targeted lest I ran out of time in my quest to compile the complete collection.

And as my dear old Scottish granny used to say … “it could be later than you think, son” … what a pleasant thought!

As it turned out, a few years later, I wound up downloading the entire Beatles catalogue (every album) in a remastered digital format, which isn’t quite the same, but it ultimately served the same purpose.

Love (aka the Cirque du Soliel album) is a wide-ranging collection of Beatles standards done in an entirely refreshing and not so standard way, with lesser known cuts and old favourites given a fresh coat of gloss by the only master painter truly capable of doing them justice. Legendary producer George Martin and son Giles were able to embrace the then relatively new “mash-up” technology, where stems are separated and songs are blended together to produce a brand new remarkably fresh sounding track.

There is excellent track selection throughout – with especially compelling versions of ‘Strawberry Fields’, ‘Eleanor Rigby’, ‘Yesterday’, and ‘A Day In The Life’; plus the four George Harrison classics (each one a gem), and the closer ‘All You Need Is Love’ (blatant advertising if ever there was!).

A couple of small complaints – how good would it have been if the bonus Audio DVD had actually been, you know, a video DVD with a compilation of Beatles footage and/or at least a series of classic photo stills to further emphasise the mood of the times? And there’s a transitional bit right at the end of ‘Help!’ … leading into ‘Blackbird/Yesterday’ … where ‘Help!’ is cut in such an abrupt fashion I almost thought the CD was faulty.

Overall though, Love was a more than worthy new/belated addition to the Beatles catalogue.

Sir George Martin R.I.P.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Under Mi Kultcha

I’ve blogged about ace melodica exponent Art-X previously, and once again he’s come up with a gem of a new release – this time in the form of a collaborative EP with Roots Addict, titled Under Mi Kultcha. This brand new mini-album features six melodica-drenched (naturally) roots-flavoured tracks, and it’s available as a free (or donation) download from the ever reliable Original Dub Gathering website (click here) ... don't be shy. If you like this, have a browse at the veritable feast of dubby goodness available on the Art-X Bandcamp page (click here). Here's a taster from Under Mi Kultcha: