22nd November 2020:
It’s a brand new year, so what better way to celebrate than to start with a new album from Robbie Robertson, another beautiful song from Wren Hinds, a bit of wonderment from The Waterboys and whole lot more brilliant tracks. This is also the month we meet Orange Blossom with some mesmerising live performances from the World Music stage. It’s a great start to 2020.
January 1st – 14th: Musicians Featured
Robbie Robertson – Wren Hinds – The Waterboys – Sachal Jazz Ensemble – Skorpio – Matt Mulholland – Dukes of Stratosphear – Neil MacArthur – Stuart Copeland – The Heavy Horses – Harry Manx – Orange Blossom – ONUKA
1st Jan: With Christmas done and dusted and New Year celebrated, its time to start a brand new musical year, and what better way to kick off 2020 than visiting Robbie Robertson’s latest album, Sinematic?
Released in September of last year, this is his 6th solo album. The album emerged from various projects he had been working on, including composing the soundtrack for Martin Scorsese’s movie, The Irishman, and the feature documentary about his former group, based on his 2016 autobiography, Once Were Brothers; Robbie Robertson and The Band. At 76-years-old, age hasn’t diminished Robbie Roberson’s musical magic, and he is still the master of storytelling as we’ll hear in this first track from Sinematic – Shanghai Blues.
My second song choice from Robbie Roberston’s Sinematic album is a nod to John Lennon’s pleas for peace; Let Love Reign. “Some people think that John Lennon’s dream about love and togetherness went up in flames,” Robertson said in an interview with Rolling Stone, “I think that’s wrong. It’s everlasting. There was something a little naive about John Lennon going around singing about peace,” Robertson added. “But in that period young people celebrating love and peace helped end a war.” However, the song isn’t a ‘hippie anthem revisited’, this is swampy, gritty, and a tribute to Robbie Robertson’s prowess as a songwriter.
I’ve decided on an instrumental track from Robbie Robertson’s Sinematic album to close with. This tribute to his late friend Paul Allen features the unmistakable guitar work of Derek Trucks. The song was used for the closing credits of Martin Scorsese’s movie, The Irishman. Robertson says. “I was working on my album, and on music for the movie, and on the documentary. All these things were kind of swirling around, and I didn’t know how to keep them separate. So I didn’t.” And I’m glad he didn’t!
This album is a must for all Robbie Roberston fans and worthwhile addition to his musical legacy. I know tracks will be making an appearance on my future playlists. 😎
2nd Jan: A little catch of Samantha Fish to put a bounce in your Thursday night. This dynamo of the slide is among my favourites of the new breed of ladies of the guitar. Enjoy 😎
3rd Jan: I love it when this happens. I just posted the Spotify link to this new track – only to find it on YouTube a few minutes later. 🙂 This is the first new release of the year to cross my path.KZN born Wren Hinds, half of the Hinds Brothers, half of duo Faye & Wren, and master song crafter, brings in 2020 with a song of pure beauty. Enjoy 😎
3rd Jan: I think that anyone who was vaguely musically aware during the ‘80s has a favourite Waterboys song. The band who gave us classics like Whole of the Moon, A Girl Called Johnny and This is the Sea hasn’t rested on their laurels over the years, and although Mike Scott is the only remaining member of the original line-up, the Waterboys sound has endured through the many musician changes.
Their last album, Where the Action Is (May 2019) is no exception. This collection is a mix of the familiar Waterboys sound combined with a healthy dose of the unexpected – and it works. From rock and roll to lyrical stories, this album is a blend of references, influences and styles, and Mike Scott’s prowess as a songwriter shines throughout. I’m kicking off this threesome from Where the Action Is with the title track which is a great re-working of Robert Parker’s 2002 number, Let’s Go Baby. Here’s ‘Where the Action Is’ – Enjoy!
The Waterboy’s 13th Album, ‘Where the Action Is’ was announced for in March 2019, with the release of a video for “Right Side of Heartbreak (Wrong Side of Love)”. This is a classic rock-driven Waterboys ballad with sharp lyrics. It is one of those understated tracks, that was recorded by Mike Scott at home on guitar into a single microphone and completed in the Nashville studio. Let’s take a listen.
Ladbroke Grove Symphony is my choice for tonight’s closing track from The Waterboy’s latest album and in my opinion one of the finest from this collection. It’s definitely Waterboys but has a hint of Dire Straits and The Clash buried within it. From the opening lyrics to the outro of street sounds, this track rolls with a laid-back rhythm punctuated by long-time member, Steve Wickham’s fiddle.
In the words of the musical press: “Where the Action Is is another reliably interesting and well-written addition to the band’s latter-day renewal. Mike Scott’s unexpected dalliance with dance and hip-hop-influenced rhythms while also delivering the more straightforward rock bangers and folk-infused introspections that are his bread and butter” – Timothy Monger – AllMusic
Guy Oddy of The Arts Desk states: “Scott may no longer be the young man who gave us “Don’t Bang the Drum” and “A Girl Called Johnny” but he is far from being a Bono-like pompous windbag and on this evidence, he’s not only not finished, but he may yet achieve the same mythic status of some of his own great influences. This album is a must, not only for fans of The Waterboys but all lovers of excellently crafted music. Here’s Ladbroke Grove Symphony – Enjoy! 😎
5th Jan: To close off this first weekend of 2020 I thought it would be fun to take a listen to some interesting covers and arrangements that have crossed my path over the last few weeks.
The first choice is for all the Jazz fans out there. East Meets West Music is the official recording label of the Ravi Shankar Foundation, and when I saw a link to this clip I knew I would be in for a treat. I wasn’t disappointed. Here’s the Sachal Jazz ensemble from Pakistan with American trumpeter, Wynton Marsalis bringing East and West together in a perfect performance of Rodger and Hammerstein’s hit from Sound of Music, My Favourite Things, ala John Coltrane. 8:47min of pure pleasure.
For tonight’s second choice of interesting cover versions we are heading back to the ‘70s. When Gershwin composed Rhapsody in Blue in 1925 I don’t think he ever envisioned it this way. Here’s Skorpio, the Hungarian Prog Rock outfit from the 70’s using early synthesizer tech to its experimental limit – and it almost works.
Part three of tonight’s choice of very different cover versions belongs to Matt Mulholland. Based in the UK, this Australian born musician, filmmaker and comedian lends a wistful tone to a song that drove many of us mad when it was big. Here’s Matt Mulholland’s cover of ‘Who Let the Dogs Out?’ Have a happy Sunday afternoon folks. See you next week. 😎
8th Jan: I stumbled across some interesting info regarding musicians and bands that, for various reasons, have recorded under a pseudonym. Tonight I am sharing three of these stories with you. The first in the line-up is the British new wave band XTC. Known for blending post-punk sounds of the ‘70s with the psychedelia of the late ‘60s, they recorded 14 studio albums during their 15-year career.
In 1984 the band decided to pay tribute to the sounds of the ‘60s that had heavily influenced them by forming a side project named Dukes of Stratosphear. Each musician adopted a pseudonym: Sir John Johns (Alan Partridge), Lord Cornelius Plum (Dave Gregory), The Red Curtain (Colin Moulding) and E.I.E.I. Owen (Ian Gregory). Under these new identities, the band recorded and released the album 25 O’Clock.
Three rules were set for its production: songs had to follow the conventions of 1967 and 1968 psychedelia, no more than two takes were allowed, and they chose to use vintage equipment wherever possible. 25 O’Clock was released on April Fools Day 1985. Virgin Records publicised the Dukes as a mysterious new act, and although rumours had started to circulate, when asked about the album in interviews, XTC initially denied having any involvement. In England, the Dukes of Stratosphear’s 25 O’Clock sold twice as many copies as XTC’s The Big Express, even before the Dukes’ identity was made public!
After releasing the Dukes second album, Psonic Psunspot, XTC told interviewers that the group had been killed in a “horrible sherbert accident” As Dave Gregory said in a BBC interview “I could carry on making Dukes albums for the rest of my career, but there are only so many laughs you can get out of one joke!” Let’s take a listen to the title track of the first album, 25 O’Clock,
The ‘60’s hitmakers, The Zombies, may have had a short-lived career, but their groundbreaking 1968 album, Odessey and Oracle, continues to influence musicians 52 years after its release. When the Zombies disbanded, lead vocalist Colin Blunstone retired from the music business. It wasn’t long before Mike Hurst (producer of many early Cat Stevens songs), tracked him down to the insurance company where he was working and persuaded him to record again.
In a bid to separate himself from the Zombies, Blunstone chose the pseudonym Neil MacArthur. I’m not sure to what end as the first of the three singles he recorded was the Zombies huge hit ‘She’s Not There’ penned by Rod Argent. Although the arrangement was lusher than the original, Blunstone’s vocals were easily recognisable and very few people were fooled.
The recording achieved moderate success reaching #34 on the UK charts. .By this time it was fairly well known that MacArthur was, in fact, Colin Blunstone, especially as his picture appeared in ads for the records! Neil MacArthur was shelved when Colin Blunstone launched a solo career under his own name. Here’s Colin Blunstone as Neil MacArthur singing the Zombies classic, She’s Not There
The last of tonight’s strange pseudonym stories involves Stuart Copeland of The Police. Having written ‘Don’t Care’ as a Police song, Sting had difficulties identifying with the lyrics and felt he couldn’t do the song justice. Copeland realised that the song had potential and went on to record it as a private project, playing all instruments and laying down vocal tracks so as not to disrupt the career of The Police who was then an emerging band.
Copeland chose the pseudonym ‘Klark Kent’ and released Don’t Care in 1978. It reached #48 on the UK singles charts which earned it a debut on the huge TV show, Top of the Pops. Not being able to say no, the Police agreed to back Stuart Copeland and arrived for the show wearing masks. Copeland’s vocals couldn’t be heard through the mask, so he ended up wearing heavy make-up and shades, which left his true identity quite clear!
The success of “Don’t Care” prompted Copeland to record and release three other singles, and eventually, the eight tracked ‘Klark Kent’ was recorded and released. The Police had just released Zenyatta Mondatta at the same time to huge commercial and critical acclaim and as such it got a lot of media attention.
It was widely assumed that Klark Kent was Copeland working under a pseudonym, but Copeland initially denied it, stating that Kent was just a friend and that he helped him making the album. In an interview on Australian TV in 1981, he stated that Kent was a young Hungarian ballet instructor trained by the CIA! I hope you’ve had fun exploring some of the musicians behind the pseudonyms with me. Here’s the Klark Kent EP containing his three singles, ‘Don’t Care’, ‘Thrills’ and ‘Office Girls’.
10th Jan: Thank goodness for musically-minded friends! Over the last week I have been introduced to three musicians, each very different and all masters of their chosen genre. An opportunity like this is too good not to share, so today’s selection is all thanks to friends Anthony Shelley and Dave Pollecutt.
The first of today’s tracks come from the intriguingly titled album Murder Ballads & Other Love Songs, the 2012 release from The Heavy Horses, the pseudonym for Canadian musician Justin Mahoney who, in his own words,” plays the guitar, drinks tea and writes songs about outlaws, love and murder.”
He has a Country/Folk-style that tips its hat at his childhood diet of ‘old country’, but unlike so much formula-driven Country music, The Heavy Horses has a sound of its own, and it’s excellent. Mahoney is a skilled musician and after receiving his B.Mus (Jazz), went on to open for big names like Taylor Swift, INXS, Collective Soul, and Akon amongst many others. He has also played most of the worlds major music festivals. Here’s In Darkness He Came from the debut 2012 album, Murder Ballads & Other Love Songs. Enjoy!
Part two of tonight’s selection comes from one of my oldest friends, Anthony Shelley. We’ve shared so much good music in the 42 years of friendship that when he gives me the heads-up on an artist I take notice. I love cross-cultural musical fusions, so when I read that Harry Manx blends Blues, Folk and Hindustani Classical music, I knew it would be interesting, and I wasn’t disappointed. Harry Manx has released twelve albums in as many years for which he has won 16 major awards. He is a multi-instrumentalist but his signature instrument if the 20-stringed Mohan-veena, invented by Vishwas Mohan Bhatt with whom Manx studied under in India for five years.
I particularly like his official website’s description of his music being a ‘blend of Indian folk melodies with slide guitar blues, a sprinkle of gospel and some compelling grooves which gives Manx a unique “mysticssippi” flavour.’ This music comes with an addiction warning. I can’t stop listening to him! Here’s Death Have Mercy recorded live on the Raven & Blues Houseboat Studio (London).
The third and closing track is also thanks to Anthony Shelley, this time from a talented fellow by the name of Felix Martin. This graduate of Berkley College of Music released his album, Caracas, last year on which he takes traditional Venezuelan songs and blends them with a unique Latin, Jazz and Progressive Metal twist. Sound unusual? It is.
In Felix’s words, “The techniques I used for this song vary from percussive power chords, double melodies, chord and melody, plus regular lead lines. I tried to use as many of my own techniques as I could, but keeping a good flow between parts in the song and ensuring the melody is always present.” But don’t let the technicalities baffle you, sit back and take a listen for yourself. Here’s the link to the track Querencia which shows his skill on the 16-string Kiesel guitar.😎
11th Jan: You know that anything is possible when you start the day with a Beatles tribute band playing Led Zep in Lennon / McCartney style. Could be an odd Saturday 🙂
12th Jan: My music-loving buddy, Greg May, shared a track from the French group, Orange Blossom recently and on hearing it knew that I had to find out more about them. I’m a big fan of World Music and this Electro/Arabic fusion ticked all the right boxes for me.
Orange Blossom formed in 1993 and after some early changes in the line-up, released their self-titled debut album in 1997 which they toured internationally. After a sabbatical and another reshuffle of members they released the album Everything Must Change in 2004 and that is where I am starting tonight’s selection
The energy of the band and powerful vocals from Egyptian born Hend Alwary is something to behold. Here’s Habibi, the track that got me hooked. Thanks Greg!
Orange Blossom’s style of World Music didn’t happen by chance. As Mexican born Djembe guru, Carlos Robles Arenas recounts, “I met fellow band members P J Chabot (violin) and Mathias Vaguenez (Percussion) in France. At first we started to play in an acoustic style. There was violin, guitar, accordion and Hammond. Then we started to mix it and used samples from all over the world. For two years we worked every day to find a style that we really felt and resonated in all of us”.
This dedication to their distinctive sound is obvious in this live footage of Orange Blossom performing Black Box, a track from their third album, Under Shades of Violet released in 2014.
French World Music outfit, Orange Blossom, has managed to break through the perception that audiences don’t want to listen to Arabic music. They have become popular at major World Music festivals and were asked to tour with Robert Plant after a friend had given him an album of theirs. “Touring has reinforced my beliefs that music is the only truly global language”, says core member Carlos Robles Arenas. “It is one of the best ways of understanding each other’s culture“. I agree.
My closing track for today is a live performance of a powerful track from the Under Shades of Violet album, Maria. Once again, thanks to Greg May for the heads-up about this gem of a band. Have a good Sunday folks. 😎
14th Jan: More amazing World Music found its way onto my Facebook timeline thanks to Hardy Loubser who posted a link to this video from the Ukrainian Electro/Folk band ONUKA earlier today. The word Onuka translates to Granddaughter, and the name was chosen as a tribute to the lead singer’s Grandfather who was a renowned instrument maker. This group of very attractive granddaughters include traditional instruments like the Bandura and Sopika in a bid to revitalise their popularity which waned during the Soviet era. Coupled with electronic drums, trombones and French horns, ONUKA’s sound is unique – and the video is beautifully filmed.
ONUKA has released two albums since forming in 2013, and if this example is anything to go by, we will be hearing a lot more of them in the future. 😎
This article was first published on the Design train website.
Words © Andrew Knapp
The author does not own the copyright of any of the videos used in the article