Sunday, 14 September 2014

Music Review - St. Vincent - Tim Garland - Robert Plant

It is high time I wrote of some of the music I have been listening to lately. In fact, I should have written sooner about St. Vincent as I have been playing her (Annie Clark) album at every opportunity since June. First, though Robert Plant's latest album "lullaby and...The Ceaseless Roar."

Robert Plant has a questing heart. It is one that has led him along paths that explore his passions both musically and spiritually. Ever since, and long before, his remarkable 2005 album 'Mighty Rearranger' Robert Plant has walked his own road. That album was my wake up call or rather my re-awakening call to the talents of a man whose voice, and the group he fronted, I loved in the early seventies. 'Mighty Rearranger' had all the elements I enjoy in music, combining roots with progressive and sounding incredibly good too.
Ever since Led Zeppelin III we have witnessed Plant's love of the blues, folk and what we now refer to as 'world music.' It this source music, elemental at times, plaintive at others, that has driven him on, rediscovering not just the melodies he loves both past and present but also himself.
Plant is no onion. There is something rich and deep at his core. His ever searching soul seeks out not just the pretty tunes heard  once played by the heroes of his youth but also darker mysteries both traditional and self-composed.
A blog friend of mine, a violinist, once said that no matter how well she played she always believes she could have done better. This self-examining process is shared by Plant. He too has taken the older material, most notably 'Please Read the Letter' and re-worked then in much the same way Kate Bush, Richard Thompson and Bob Dylan have done with their songs.
"lullaby and...The Ceaseless Roar" is an album that continues Plants quest. It is rooted in tradition, and by that I mean it is rugged, of the sawdust floor, yet still it is progressive utilising techniques from the present that add relevant colours to the hues of heritage. 'Little Maggie' starts the album introducing a pulsating rhythm that carries echoes of a blood red sun sinking over dun baked sands curiously mixed with verdant green, rolling hills. It is of the now and of the then. Of the over there and over here. Something common to us all yet exotic too.  Many of the songs here encompass a shared perspective sounding uncommonly alike -  Irish jigs mixed with Middle Eastern beats. Humanity gathering like black ink spots on a parchment plain.
'Rainbow' is a memory released, a DNA sample taken from something we once knew, have briefly forgotten, that comes back to haunt us. 'Turn It Up' sounds to these ears autobiographical and somehow sums up far better what Plant has been doing these last few years. There is also a sense of new love blessing these recordings. Perhaps it is the knowledge I have that Plant is living happily with Patty Griffin that provokes that feeling? Whatever, there is something fresh about his singing here, something outside of the dirt and dust gathered on his boots, something more than his love of music created by common people on distant shores.
Robert Plant lullaby and The Ceaseless Roar 300x300
Is it as good as 'Mighty Rearranger?' No, I don't think it is but that doesn't by any means suggest it is bad. It is yet another good album in a rather splendid run of them. Long may it continue.
Tim Garland has probably produced, along with his band mates, what surely must be a classic album?  "Songs to the North Sky" really delivers and in such an emphatic way. Of all the many musicians, and there have been a wealth of them, who have attempted to kernel Jazz and Classical, who have stuttered when fusing two obviously compatible genres together, here is one staggeringly good double album that does just that - brings them seamlessly into a union. 
Songs to the North Sky cover art

Cleanly, yet not sanitised to create perfection of sound, this remarkable album lines up some crisply wrought pieces. Balancing virtuosity with emotional content often means sacrificing one for the other. Here Tim supported on disc one by a Jazz band, Lighthouse, fuses both together sublimely well.  Reminiscent in some ways of earlier fusion bands but with a character all its own.

The first album tricks the turn with Jazz both intricate and thrusting. Flights of imagination coruscate playfully as the players juggle the sound as though they were Doctor Who explaining some knotty slice of logic, taking of tangentially, bounding from one seemingly disparate subject to another. It is only when you take stock, look around a bit, you realise that all the while he, Garland in this case, not DW, has been leading you further down a tunnel then out into the brilliant light. Such concentration must be required for these pieces. Each musician must forever be alert to what the other is performing yet at the same time be nimble and fleet-footed enough to leap in at a given nod, a tickle of the bass, spang of the cymbal and play something captivating and hopefully majestic.

Majestic is what best describes disc two. Performed with The Royal Northern Sinfonia and composed by Garland, together they take us to the rugged landscapes of Tim's homelands. The music reflects the lush greens, the harsh winds, the rains lashing down like stair rods, the rough terrain that few can describe as anything less than that word that opens this paragraph. CD one is superb, all I could expect from a competent Jazz quartet but it is here, on CD two that the magic of the first disc crystallises, morphs into a voodoo that shimmers and cascades creating new concepts, populating new musical worlds.

The album was released in June. Worth a listen even if you don't like Jazz.

Fizzing like a coke can with ring pull tugged open comes self-titled fourth album by St. Vincent.

Real name Anne Erin Clarke this girl, this wonder kitten, brings all I love most together here in one sumptuous, clickety clackety, musical feast. Think 'Revolver' or 'Low' or 'Hounds of Love.' That point when pop unashamedly meets experimental and no one present minds the huffs and puffs of disapproval from those established regulatory numbskulls who dispel sneers and derisory comments like they know sweet FA about music in the first place.

Think Byrne, Bjork, Bowie and Bush, a flotilla of B's merged, mixed, mumbled up and shaken but not ass stirred into a cup of effervescencesssss.

Remember when Fripp dazzled us with his guitar work on 'Scary Monsters?' well, here is a girl, ex-Polyphonic Spree whose guitar, spiky, spunky, spirited recalls that sound - banjo meets sonic scream. The songs here, some flighty, some crestfallen are bright as buttons, shark-toothed and hungry gobbling up swathes of rock and pop highway, devouring chunks, spitting out gems, sparks that hiss like mini meteors, lighting any other than dull minded horizons. Her voice is from another era entirely. Sweet, note perfect. She could be a siren from the fifties. As her collaboration with David Byrne proved, Annie has no sense of fear, nor of danger. She rides that edge skilfully, never afraid of falling for falling is only a fear of flying and this girl certainly does that -  she fly's with the very best of them.

I have not been so gob-smacked in an age. I simply cannot stop playing it.

And Annie, the answer to the question on your album, you know the one, yes the first - of course, I will.
Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.


Opal Zushaquon said...

I don't think Plant has ever done anything I didn't like. Of course I love the work he did with Led Zeppelin, but I also love the fact that he never rested on his laurels. I love the fact that he's a grizzled old troubadour now, not trying to recapture his lost youth with botox and face lifts but letting himself just be what he is.

Russell Duffy said...

Opal>>>Exactly so. He is grizzled but the better for it in my opinion. He looks like a man who has lived. The music he chooses to play, Americana to Middle Eastern, European to Bluegrass also resonates as it feels and reflects us somehow but also him - gritty.

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