Monthly Archives: January 2012

Remembering my favourite gigs of 2011

As is par for the course around here of late, I have been tardy in declaring my top gigs from 2011 (to go with my 2010 and 2009 lists):

#5 Foo Fighters and Tenacious D at Sydney Football Stadium, December 8 – simply because stadium rock was such a novelty (and because we were undercover for the persistent rain).  Grohl and co certainly can work a crowd!

#4 Michelle Shocked at Joe’s Pub, New York City, May 29 – captivating dinner and show set up with Michelle revisiting The Texas Campfire Tapes and showcasing some new stuff in a hilarious fashion:

#3 Bright Eyes, Wild Flag & Superchunk Radio City Music Hall, New York City, March 8 – A spectacular show with great supports.

#2 Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears at Bowery Ballroom, New York City, March 26 – So much fun, such a big surprise. Sweaty and groovy and all that…

#1 Bettye Lavette at Cafe Carlyle, New York City, May 25 – this is one of the gigs of my life time. In a fancy piano bar with this compelling chanteuse but metres away.  Her voice and emotion was compelling.

So what were your favourite live outings?

515. Holly Golightly – “God Don’t Like It”

As is my want, I’ll be peppering my M reviews with occasional recent purchases from preceding letters.

My US intro into the recent works of Ms. Golightly, means I do keep eye out for cheap discs from her back catalogue.

While my sense, HG jumps around genres at will, this album from 2000 isn’t too far removed from her current hillbilly schtick.  It’s definitely at the retro, rootsy lo-fi end of the spectrum.

There’s an energetic bluesy feel to the treble-heavy guitar work, and Holly’s vocals hold their own against occasional sweeps of Hawaiian guitar and quite a lot of reverb:

Golightly makes this particular genre look (and sound) extremely easy, but the familiarity and intimacy is a relatively rare thing.  Most importantly she avoids sounding too backward-looking or  precious in recreating a simpler, more plaintive yet painful style of music:

I’ll definitely be seeking out more from her oeuvre.  Anyone got any recommendations?

File under: What would God know?

514c. The Magnetic Fields – “69 Love Songs” (Disc 3)

I’m reviewing each disc in isolation (and ranking each – as it turns out they sell separately now).

MagneticFieldsThe-69LoveSongs sixty nine love songs merritt merit album cover review blog onealbumadayAlas and alack, this 3 disc listen has taken me aback.

I expected to find genius aplenty, but damn fine tunes I count around only twenty.

The exploration of genres – most notably Broadway, started off with a bang but too soon went astray.

This final installment careens like a carnival ride, more vomitous than pleasant on my Thai-based insides.

OK, I’m getting off this couplet endeavour. But, I was indeed alarmed by the significant decline over the journey.  Steve Merrit pens a few more very clever ditties on this disc, although even fewer are fully realised in terms of performance.  If you packaged this up as outtakes and demos, I’d believe it.

There is loads of fodder here too, the sort of songs you might catch in a b-grade off-broadway/university musical and forgot the minute the next number commenced.

I wonder whether the energy just ran out on this project, and whether I will listen to this in its entirety ever again.

Tracks I would include on my single-disc version: Busby Berkeley Dreams, Queen of the Savages, and Love Is Like A Bottle Of Gin (which probably won’t be used to promote alcohol real soon):

Coincidently a different song on this album had me thinking of Blackadder (the King of the Boudoir track), which also featured Fry & Laurie!

File under: Too much negativity

514b. The Magnetic Fields – “69 Love Songs” (Disc 2)

I’m reviewing each disc in isolation (and ranking each – as it turns out they sell separately now).

MagneticFieldsThe-69LoveSongs sixty nine love songs merritt merit album cover review blog onealbumadayIt must have been a very strange afternoon in the studio when they debated running order for this huge project, especially the split between each album.

To my ears/tastes, after a frenetic opening disc, the momentum gets all but lost on this awkward middle child.

The opener (Roses) is dreary and skip-worthy.  Love is like Jazz is a clever exercise and conceit, but pretty much argues against its own merits (ah, a pun!). The quality level rises for a couple of subsequent songs, but then we’re back in noodly twaddle land.

In the end I spy only four excellent songs here — Kiss me like you mean it, Washington DC, (Crazy for you) but no that crazyc- and this cracking paen to the country genre, rodeos, trucking and to the wonderous surprise of lifelong romance:

That track speaks to the brilliance of Merritt and co. They subtly subvert a very familiar genre while retaining that which also makes such tunes tug upon the heartstrings of many.

Alas, four tunes (plus another 3-4 real ‘triers’) out of 23 doesn’t a love fest make.

File under: More repulsion than attraction

514a. The Magnetic Fields – “69 Love Songs” (Disc 1)

In light of the large number of songs (69 in fact!) on this 3 disc set, I’m reviewing each in isolation – with an overall rating to follow).

MagneticFieldsThe-69LoveSongs sixty nine love songs merritt merit album cover review blog onealbumadayNow, here is an album that came from left field into my life.  Hyped to the max, I jumped on it relatively early in its extremely surprising journey to success.  And I’ve never really got off the bandwagon.

The album is audacious, yet once heard seems so self-evident as a concept: Stephen Merrit and his troop of ne’er-do-wells belting out vaudevillean show tunes of all descriptions, exploring all facets of love.

This first disc kicks off like there isn’t going to be a bad track. From Absolutely Cuckoo on it capers and wordplay galore:

It takes ’til track 10 before I’m even thinking of hitting ‘skip’. And then the album delivers one of the great tunes of all time (indeed, the song we had a very talented friend sing as our wedding song): The Book of Love. So sardonic and as romantic or cynical as you’d like it to be:

This disc is sly, intelligent, wry and belligerent (at times). At least 18 of the 23 track on here are gems, and with that sort of hit rate one can’t argue.

File under: That big fat 3 disc set you can’t resist

513. The Magic Numbers – “Those the Brokes”

Like much of the world who fawned over their debut, I have paid a lot less attention to this sophomore effort from I Numeri Magicali.

It’s a shame because this is a much more complete and satisfying set of tunes.

Sure it never quite hits the same heights, but it is a somewhat more muscular, relaxed effort with greater consistency.

The band is still only just this side of B&S and the Luckas in terms of tweeness, but there is sufficient energy and pop sensibility to keep me interested. I’m even willing to accept the overly lengthy track times (3 songs are 6 mins+!), as there is enough to keep my attention.

The band is also a little more adventurous here, with an excursion into soulfulness (of a decidedly ‘white’ ilk) on Undecided:

In the end, I guess my call is that I dig what these guys do when they get it right, but like anything sickly sweet, it can be a little hard on the teeth and general demeanour when overdone.

File under: Going for break

512. The Magic Numbers – “The Magic Numbers”

When this release popped up back in 2005, I delighted at its freshness and, dare I say it, whimsy.

Album cover Magic Numbers debut album blog onealbumaday CD reviewHere were an act that were a complete throwback to ’60s flower-power pop (i.e. Mamas and Pappas), lovingly produced. It was basically seduction by harmony – an overwhelming cascade of familially connected male-female vocals.

I caught the band live (at a Big Day Out) and revelled in their hirsute, rotund dorkiness and mastery of their craft.

So listening back to this album over the past few weeks, I was very surprised at the patchy, and ultimately underwhelming, content of this debut release.

It kicks off in fine form.  The opening three tracks are the revelations I remember, teetering on the (right) edge of twee, but sufficiently energetic to have me singing along in a faltering falsetto:

Alas, the album than loses all momentum and just seems to drag and drag, with a stuttering mess of underdone, slovenly tunes.

There are some glimmers of the promise, and reminders into what works best for this pair of siblings, most notably on the gorgeous I see, you see me:

In essence, this could be one of the finest EPs in recent times.  Instead, due to padding, it’s a bloated debut that only hints at promise.

File under: Five (tracks) is the magic number