Thursday, April 2, 2009

April 2009

Album of the Month

Easy Come, Easy Go : Marianne Faithfull

Easy Come, Easy Go is the sort of album the Nevstar usually avoids. The industry is replete with formerly great artists resorting to doing cover versions of songs written by others. Few are worthy of listening too, and even fewer are worth investing your hard earned dollars in. However this is an exception. Marianne Faithfull has collected a large and talented band to assist her interpretation of a number of excellent songs with a diverse group of guest vocalists.

Most people know Marianne Faithfull's story. Former teen beauty star turned pop star who became the girlfriend of Mick Jagger, she turned in and tuned out the 60s eventually suffering from addictions to heroin and alcohol. Following her outstanding comeback album in 1979, Broken English, she fills her days in the new century interpreting the works of others. Such cover collections rely on two essential elements; a good selection of songs matching the vocalists talent, and the quality of the backing band. Both are abundance here. The band, numbering 16 players on the first track alone, are in excellent form with crackling, precise playing. The songs are both eclectic and mesmerising, aptly matching her vocal talents while exploring a variety of styles.

There is the beguiling opening Down From Dover written by none other than Dolly Parton which ably matches Faithfulls world weary vocals with a wistful yearning. Its a cracking opening, but merely an entree to the delights to follow. The third track, Solitude is a effort penned by none other than the Duke of Jazz, Duke Ellington. It features a bevy of mournful clarinets and is so slow that you can barely wait for each additional note. Then follows the terrific track The Crane Wife 3 which is a song by the indie favourite, The Decemberists. It features the redoubtable Nick Cave on accompanying vocals which is the perfect choice as its a song Cave could easily have written. It is thus probably the highlight of the album. The title track that follows however is also a stonking good tune, recreating the days of cabaret shows in speak-easies in the 30s. Fabulous.

There is more to follow though including appearances by Jarvis Cocker, Rufus Wainwright and the everlasting Keith Richards along with songs written by such luminaries as Brian Eno, Smokey Robinson, Merle Haggard and even Morrissey.

The album is now available in New Zealand as a deluxe 2 CD edition but was originally only available as a ten track single CD. The first of the two CDs is superior to the second but both are worth having in your collection. They are great tonic for the soul in these tough and trying times.

Listen to or purchase here :

If you like this try :

Strange Weather : Marianne Faithfull
Dusty In Memphis : Dusty Springfield

Essential Classic Album

Kind Of Blue : Miles Davis

Jazz can be a difficult genre to love for the uninitiated. Its lack of structure often makes it a challenging listen. Yet at its best, when played by the finest musicians on the planet, jazz uniquely creates a moment and a memory, sonically reassuring doubts and derisions, alternatively setting or soothing your mood. If you are not a jazz fan, the best place to start your future love affair with this extraordinarily broad category is the landmark album from Miles Davis, Kind of Blue. On the 50th anniversary of it release, lets investigate and profile this amazing treasure.

Featuring only five tracks, all written by Miles Davis, Kind of Blue firstly features perhaps one of the finest collection of jazz musicians ever to fill one room. Davis, a world class trumpet player in his own right, had spent a lot of time in the mid 50s performing with the incomparable saxophonist, John Coltrane. These two were joined for this session by five others, all of whom belong in the jazz Hall of Fame; Cannonball Adderley (alto sax), Wynton Kelly & Bill Evans (piano), Paul Chambers (bass) and James Cobb (drums).

Kind of Blue features only five tracks running about 45 minutes in total. Amazingly, the entire recording session lasted a mere nine hours over two sessions and only six takes were required for the five songs. (only Flamenco Sketches required two takes). Also, as was his practice at the time, Davis presented the songs to the musicians on the day they recorded the sessions. As such, the entire album has a lounge act feel to it; an immediacy and intimacy as we are introduced to the sounds at the same time as the instrumentalists. It is music to luxuriate in either bearing close examination or as a background to work or play.

The recording has been called by no less a source than All Music Guide, as the pinnacle of modal jazz where - 'tonality and solos build from the overall key, not chord changes, giving the music a subtly shifting quality'. It is music where the musicians strive express themselves through their instruments in a way that they could not possibly vocalise. Its sexy and seductive, yet restrained and reflective.

With some musical genres, there is rigorous debate about what is the genre's greatest album. Blues purists may debate the merits of Muddy Waters versus Robert Johnson. Rock critics may argue the merits of Stones, Beatles, Radiohead, Dylan or REM. Similarly with classical, country, punk or pop. But for one genre, there is absolutely no discussion. The greatest jazz album of all time is Kind of Blue by Miles Davis.

Listen to or purchase here :

If you like this try :

Birth Of The Cool : Miles Davis
A Love Supreme : John Coltrane

Top Ten

Well, I made a little mistake. Last month, while profiling the outstanding Together Alone by Crowded House, the Nevstar noted that it was in my All Time Top Ten albums. This triggered the perhaps inevitable query from a couple of readers, "so what are Favourite Albums of all Time?". Gulp.

Its an intensely personal question and one I've been avoiding a little as its an obvious Top Ten list to do. Nothing opens a writer to ridicule more than attempting to list their favourite albums if for no other reason that it invites the question - "how can you leave out (insert one of a million albums here)?" Its the ultimate Top Ten list and as such, is never perfect, always evolving.

As its my list, I will add a couple of provisos. Firstly, have excluded from consideration any album that has been released in the last five years. You cannot have an all time favourite album until you have had at least five, if not ten years to see how it ages. Entries from The Doves (The Last Broadcast) , Franz Ferdinand (Franz Ferdinand), British Sea Power (Decline of British Sea Power), and Muse (Origin of Symmetry) are potential candidates in the future but excluded from consideration here. Secondly, its important to point out that this is a subjective list, not objective. I am NOT claiming these are the greatest albums of all time, merely my favourite. No greatest albums of all time would dare leave out The Beatles! But with those in place lets check out :

The Nevstar's Top Ten Favourite Albums of All Time

10. Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs : Derek & Dominoes
The finest white blues albums of all time, we finally have Eric Clapton showcasing his otherwordly guitar talent to some intensely personal songs. Profiled in Nevstar Music Guide in March 2008. See here.

Best Track : Layla
Hidden Gem : Bell Bottom Blues

9. Together Alone : Crowded House
As profiled last month, Neil Finns finest hour featuring 14 incredible tracks which Neil himself opined that he would find hard to better. A must have for any serious music collector.

Best Track : Pineapple Head
Hidden Gem : Nails In My Feet

8. Highway 61 Revisited : Bob Dylan
The first Dylan album I ever heard, and still my favourite. One of the greatest rock songs of all time (Like A Rolling Stone) opens Dylans first fully fledged electric offering. The soundtrack of a generation, setting the standard for others to follow. Few would come close to emulating.

Best Track : Like A Rolling Stone
Hidden Gem : Ballad Of A Thin Man

7. Live at Folsom Prison : Johnny Cash
The album which relaunched his career, Live at Folsom Prison showcases all that was great about Johnny Cash; his gravelly voice, his clever songwriting and his rapport with all his fans, even those that are convicts.

Best Track : Cocaine Blues
Hidden Gem : Joe Bean

6. The Bends : Radiohead
An immaculate album which is clearly evolving into a modern classic. Thom Yorke's plaintive vocals accompany this downbeat set of songs which are somehow never sad. Arguably not topped by them or any other band.

Best Track : Fake Plastic Trees
Hidden Gem : Street Spirit (Fade Out)

5. 16 Lovers Lane : Go Betweens
I cannot recommend this effort highly enough. A faultless set of perfect pop songs ruminating on the capriciousness of love and relationships. Sublime. Profiled earlier here.

Best Track : Love Goes On
Hidden Gem : Quiet Heart

4. Born to Run : Bruce Springsteen
Down to his last chance to prove the prophesy of being the 'future of rock and roll', Springsteen finally delivered. An amazing record vocalising the thoughts and dreams of a generation to a stonking soundtrack.

Best Track : Thunder Road
Hidden Gem : Jungleland

3. Who's Next : The Who
A terrific band at the apogee of their powers, musically, vocally and lyrically. At times raw and thunderous, at others, restrained and thoughtful. One of the greatest rock albums. Profiled here.

Best Track : Wont Get Fooled Again
Hidden Gem : The Song Is Over

2. Definitely Maybe : Oasis
A debut album of power, vivacity and sneer all at once. An impeccable suite of tracks, most of which make you want to pick up and learn a guitar. Scaled heights they would never approach again, but who cares.

Best Track : Rock n Roll Star
Hidden Gem : Cigarettes and Alcohol

and the Nevstar's favourite album of all time is .........

1. Stone Roses : The Stone Roses
A note perfect debut album effortlessly combining the best of all British music that came before it and influencing a generation that followed after it. I never tire of playing it. I hope I never will. Profiled in greater depth here.

Best Track : Waterfall
Hidden Gem : This Is The One

Phew, now thats off my chest, I feel much better. But the Nevstar Music Guide is supposed to be interactive. Why dont you send me your Top Ten list? There is no right or wrong, just ten albums that you absolutely love. Go on, take ten minutes out of your day to think about your absolute favourite albums and create your own list of musical majesty. Leave a comment with your Top Ten list (anonymous if you prefer) so we can see and enjoy them or send me an email. Love to see what turns you on.

Thats it for another Nevstar Music Guide. Hope you enjoy it reading it as much as I enjoy writing it.