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Old 08-12-2011, 03:32 PM   #141 (permalink)
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Man of colours --- Icehouse --- 1987 (Chrysalis)


Their most successful album by far, “Man of colours” netted Australian band Icehouse no less than five hit singles, and it's again one of those albums you can play all the way through without having to skip over any tracks. Its success made Icehouse something of a hot property in the late eighties, but sadly as often happens, they had their day and then faded away. Their last proper release was in 1995, and since then it's just been a few greatest hits compilations. But this was the zenith of their catalogue, and it's chock-full of hits and great tracks.

“Crazy”, the opener, is also the first time I heard of them when it hit the charts. It's a great pop song, starting off with Robert Kretschmer's iconic guitar riff, then driven on keyboards and guitar, with the gravelly voice of Iva Davies carrying the whole thing. The follow-up, “Electric blue”, in contrast starts off with keyboard arpeggios, courtesy of Simon Lloyd, which accompany the song through its run. It sounds a little close to Eric Carmen's “Hungry eyes” for these ears though, especially the run up to the chrous. A little lightweight after the power of “Crazy”, but then “Nothing too serious” ups the ante, with a fast rocker, plenty of guitar with brass getting in on the act too, a real toe-tapper, before the title track brings everything back about four gears, an atmospheric, eerie, ambient track which really demonstrates the versatilily of this band. Davies' vocal is low and subdued, introspective and haunted as well as haunting. There's a lot of programmed keyboard on this track, used very well as the band build the backdrop to the song.

“Heartbreak kid” takes us to the Old West, for a tale about love and jealousy, revenge and murder, keyboards again playing a central role, and great lyric with a warning: ”Only takes a single bullet/ To bring the fastest trigger down/ Only takes a pretty woman/ To put a good man in the ground.” Great guitar solo at the end, then we're into “Kingdom”, a great little pop song that moves along at a decent pace, and “My obsession”, another single, ticks the same boxes, with poppy keyboard and piano and Davies on top form. It's in some ways a slower version of “Crazy”, but different enough to stand as a separate song in its own right.

A great drum solo opens “Anybody's war”, driven along on sharp guitar and at a faster pace than about any other track on the album to date, keys adding great backup, while the album finishes on the superlative “Sunrise”, a powerful indictment of the Hiroshima/Nagasaki bombings, with ominous piano and screeching guitar. ”You'll never see the faces of the fishermen/ But you may see their shadows/ Burned against the wall/ And in the temple grounds/ New bamboo grows again/ As if the heat of the flame /Had left no trace at all” Davies really lets himself go on the vocal on this one, giving vent to the horrors and pain of a nation as he cries ”And there's a light in the eastern sky ... sunrise/ And there's no place a man can hide, the sunrise/ Well, it buries the night, a brave new sunrise/ With a sweep of the sword, a blood red sunrise.” Serious, emotional, thought-provoking stuff, and a great way to end the album.

I've not heard any of Icehouse's prior work, or indeed anything post this, but I can definitely recommend this as an album you'll listen to, again and again. They may not have been Australia's biggest or most successful export, but for a short time there, at the tail-end of the eighties, you weren't cool unless you had this album in your collection. It's time to be cool again.

TRACKLISTING

1. Crazy
2. Electric blue
3. Nothing too serious
4. Man of colours
5. Heartbreak Kid
6. Kingdom
7. My obsession
8. Girl in the moon
9. Anybody's war
10. Sunrise
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Old 08-12-2011, 03:34 PM   #142 (permalink)
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Random Track of the Day
Friday, August 12 2011

Well, Jackhammer will be pleased! One of his favourite bands has come up in the crapshoot I call “Random Track of the Day”: Riverside, whose albums I have but have not yet listened to. So it's an opportunity for me also to get a feel for this Polish prog rock band. A long track indeed, taken from the “Live at Nearfest” bootleg CD, but originally from the album of the same name.

Second life syndrome --- Riverside --- originally from “Second life syndrome” on InsideOut


It's certainly got all the progrock mores in there: long instrumental passages, key and signature changes, atmospheric and also rocky. Great vocals, excellent keyboards. Like the sound of this. Guitar sounds very early Marillion, like the best Steve Rothery work. I must say, for a sixteen-minute song it went pretty quickly, which is always a good indication of decent music.

Must make a note to check these guys out further!
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Old 08-13-2011, 04:11 PM   #143 (permalink)
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Voice in the wind --- David Castle --- 1994 (Running Black Sheep)


Nobody --- and I mean nobody --- knows who David Castle is. Look for him on Wikipedia and all you get is some Canadian professor. Even the most obscure, Russian download album sites have never heard of him. You can't torrent him, and his first album is officially deleted. And yet, the guy is a genius and deserves to be far better known than he is. He's a multi-instrumentalist, and a passionate songwriter who cares about the planet. This is his third album, and you really should listen to it.

It opens with the title track, a beautiful keyboard and piano driven ballad, with some lovely sounds like harp and flute to weave a totally mesmerising song of hope and joy. Okay, so the guy is spiritual, and that comes through in his music, but there's no evidence of God-bothering, as they say, even in the next track, “Angel in your garden”, which is more about the idea of a guardian angel than any sort of organised religion. Again piano-led, with a beautiful opening sequence, it's a simple song in its lyrical theme, but gives the impression of an entire orchestra playing when it's just one guy. Both these songs are long, and probably just as well, as there are only nine tracks on the album, two of which are less than two minutes long (one is just over one minute), but with the exception of the somewhat embarrassingly trite “Peace, love and brotherhood”, there's not a bad one among them.
(Not in the least surprised to find there wasn't a single David Castle video on YT, so here are some I made earlier....)
“Lay your weapons down” is, on the surface perhaps, naively optimisic. The idea that people are just suddenly going to stop killing each other and live in peace is certainly a dream, but not one that any of us expects to come true in our lifetime, nor that of our children. Or their children. Or theirs. It's a nice little song though, distilling the reasons for war down to their very simplest bones, and making the offer ”You can learn to forgive/ Lay your weapons down/ Learn how to live/ Lay your weapons down.” Ah, if only if were that easy, David! It should be of course, but then that's the real world for you. Nonetheless, David sings with passion and conviction as though he truly believes this to be an achievable goal, and perhaps one day it may be.

“Pathway to home” is a lovely little piano solo, which in many ways evokes the earliest work of Billy Joel, then we're into that “Peace, love and Brotherhood” song. To be fair, it's not bad, and it's well composed, but it is a little cringeworthy. It's a blues/gospel hybrid with a really great melody, but it belongs in another era sadly. Things soon improve though for the gentle ballad “Turn around”, perhaps one of Castle's best since his hit (yes, he had a hit single!) “Ten to eight”, back in 1977. It's understated, quiet and reflective in that way Castle has of singing directly to your soul.

“Last days” is perhaps the most overtly Christian song, with its lyric concerning the belief that we are approaching the end,of the world and the advice that we should think about changing our ways. It's not bad advice to be honest. The song is a mid-paced ballad, starting off with a string section which would not sound out of place in any religious film or movie about the life of Jesus, then the piano takes over and the drums gently usher the song into life. ”We've seen the earthquakes,” sings David, “We've seen the fires/ We've seen the signs all of our lives/ We've seen the famine and disease/ Mother Nature has us down on our knees.” As songs of the Apocalypse go, it's a rather cheerful and optimistic one, the message being that if this is It, we had better get down on our knees and repent before the world ends in fire. It won't convince me, but hey, it's better than someone screaming at you that you're going to Hell, eh?

The two short tracks mentioned at the opening of this review complete the album, the first being a reprise of the title track, called, not surprisingly, “Voice in the wind reprise”. Not totally sure why he did this. It's nothing extra, just the end part of the song again, and gorgeous as that track is, it's long enough and doesn't need any addition. Oh well. The final track is the one I find the most personal, the simple “Thanks”, in which David thanks us for listening to his album against some lovely orchestration. Never had anyone thank me for listening to their work before. I'm touched, really I am.

To my knowledge, there's only one place to buy this album, and it's Castle's own website, david castle.net : Official Web Site of the Award-Winning Singer/Songwriter/Composer. Oh wait, no, I'm wrong. Small print on the website informs me it's also available through CD baby. Fair enough. It's only twelve dollars if you mention his website, and to be perfectly frank, it's quite likely the best value for money you'll get. This is an album you want to hear.

TRACKLISTING

1. Voice in the wind
2. Angel in your garden
3. Lay your weapons down
4. Pathway to home
5. Peace, love and brotherhood
6. Turn around
7. Last days
8. Voice in the wind (reprise)
9. Thanks
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Old 08-13-2011, 05:56 PM   #144 (permalink)
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SECOND SPIN

Yes, it's been a while since I first decided to grab a random number generator and see what album in my collection it turned up, and then review that album, be it good, bad or indifferent. My first shot ended up being one of my not-exactly-favourite-bands, the Moody Blues. This time it's a little different.
Songs for polar bears --- Snow Patrol --- 1998 (Jeepster)


The debut album from those guys who made “Chasing cars” a real anthem, or a pain in the whole, whichever way you view it, this did not do well on its initial release though predictably, once they had made a big splash with “Eyes open”, it was re-released and went gold. Now, Snow Patrol are not a band I know anything about, other than my brother once had the opportunity to support them here in Ireland --- fell through, I believe --- and of course, the song mentioned above. So let's have a little listen and see what we got, hey?

Opening with “Downhill from here” (not a great sentiment to put on your debut album!), it sounds a little raw to me. Production not too great, drums very brash, guitar a little too much up in the mix, but the vocals of Gary Lightbody (who also plays guitar and keys, whereas the bass player plays just bass and keys...!) is clear and distinctive, sounding somewhat a little at odds to me with the kind of rough-and-ready edge of the music itself. Not a bad opener, but nothing that has me sitting up and taking notice. Yet.

“Starfighter pilot” is a bit more like it. Squeaky keyboards, almost-punk guitar and a decent lyric with some okay backing vocals, and you have to give kudos to any band who title a song “Get balsamic vinegar --- quick, you fool!” The song is not bad, mostly driven on kind of feedback guitar, and follow-up “Mahogany” is a nice acoustic ballad, but the general feel of this album to me so far is of a demo tape, and a pretty rough one at that. Maybe I shouldn't be so hard on them --- it is their first album, after all, but come on: I've heard better produced debuts than this!

Man, I'm really not feeling it with this album! At least “Make up” has a bit of identity, even if that identity is somewhere between the Buzzcocks and the Clash! --- and “Velocity girl” gives the very first hints of how big they were to become, presaging “Chasing cars”, with some nice jazzy guitar and a laid-back beat, nice melody and understated vocals. There's a nice “hidden track” after the closer, the pretty standard “One hundred things you should have done in bed”, called “Marketplace”, an instrumental and far better than the song in which it's hidden.

My main problem, I now see, with this album is that not only does it seem boring, but the band seem bored. For a debut, they just don't seem interested in putting their music across to a new audience. And they have, at this point, no clear sound of their own. Sometimes they're a step away from Punk, sometimes they're emo and sometimes indie rock. They can come across as a hybrid of Coldplay and Travis, without the talent or hooks of either band. A quick look at how many tracks I haven't even commented on will show you my own level of interest in and appreciation of this album. I often leave out one or two, but here it's nearly half the album.

It's not surprising at all that this album flopped on its initial release, and I guess it's a good job that they became famous and the album was reissued and sold much better, but on the strength of this I can only think it was bought by people expecting songs of the calibre of “Eyes open”. They would have been sorely disappointed. I guess completist fans would want the album, but much like Kamelot's first two, this bears no resemblance to later releases.

Ah, maybe polar bears like it.

TRACKLISTING

1. Downhill frome here
2. Starfighter pilot
3. The last shot ringing in my ears
4. Absolute gravity
5. Get balsamic vinegar --- quick, you fool!
6. Mahogany
7. NYC
8. Little hide
9. Make up
10. Velocity girl
11. Days without paracetemol
12. Fifteen minutes old
13. Favourite friend
14. One hundred things you should have done in bed
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Old 08-13-2011, 05:58 PM   #145 (permalink)
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Random Track of the Day
Saturday, August 13 2011

Looks like the gods of progressive rock are looking down on me and smiling this week! After yesterday's treat from Riverside, today the die has rolled over onto a Genesis track. Now admittedly this has been reviewed before by me, in fact it was my very first review, but hey, that's no reason to leave it out!

From the double-live album “Seconds out”, and originally on the 1976 album “A trick of the tail”, this is “Squonk”, with a great little lyric about a mythic creature who is so scared of everything that when cornered he cries and dissolves into tears. Ah, poor thing!

The drawing for the Squonk featured as one of the many depictions of the tracks therein on the album “Trick of the tail”, making it one of the coolest Genesis album covers ever, and this song has been covered by among others Spock's Beard, who make an okay go of it, but do shorten it annoyingly.

Squonk --- Genesis --- from “Seconds out” on Charisma



I couldn't find a video from the actual tour, but this looks to be close, being the same year. For some reason it's totally devoid of any video, but then, it's the music you want to hear, right? This is from Genesis' heyday, when they had just released two albums the same year, and were riding high, even despite the departure of frontman and guiding light Peter Gabriel. Everyone expected them to crumble, but they just came back stronger than ever with Phil Collins taking over on vocals.

If you want to hear more from this album, head to the very first entry in my journal.
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Old 08-14-2011, 11:58 AM   #146 (permalink)
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Rebel soul --- Bonfire --- 1998 (Saraya)


Okay, pop quiz, hotshot! Listen to this band before you read any further and tell me what nationality you think they are? Go on, click the YouTube, I'll wait...

Back? Okay, so they're American, right? Maybe from Georgia, Tennessee? Somewhere in the deep south anyway.

BUZZ! Wrong! They're … wait for it … German!

Yeah, I was amazed myself. German, but they've gone to a hell of a lot of trouble to sound like something born out of the swamps of Louisiana, and to be fair they got it right. This is their sixth album, and is full of more hard-hitting rock and power anthems than you can shake a drumstick at. Vocalist Claus Lessman definitely thinks he's Axl Rose, and in addition to singing he co-wrote almost every track here, bar the covers of course.

There's a heavy cruncher to start off with; “Wake up” features a catchy chorus and snarling guitars from Hans Ziller and Claus Lausmann (not to be confused with the lead singer), with solid drumwork by Jurgen Wieler. Certainly has a good groove to it. The guitars get going a bit more on “Just to say we did”, some really nice riffing there, then we have “Before we say goodbye”, a southern ballad which surely must close most if not all Bonfire concerts. Great acoustic guitar, a real “thank you” song and no doubt a real crowd pleaser. Excellent guitar solo just to give it a kick up the arse too.

“Lay your heart on the line” goes way off field, with funky keyboards and a sort of reggae rhythm introducing the track, though the guitars of Lausmann and Ziller bring it back to a rock base. The reggae beat continues through the song though, and it's a little incongruous. One of the standout tracks is next, “Somebody's waiting” has everything: good hooks, decent beat, great lyric and powerful guitars. And a chorus you can't help but sing.

The first ballad on the album is great. A real cowboy-type song in the vein of Poison's “Every rose has its thorn”, Bonfire's “Hearts bleed their own blood” wrings every drop of emotion out of the song, another one for the cigarette-lighter brigade! Claus Lausmann's keyboard work does a lot to raise this song to the level of near-classic, while the plaintive guitar squeals from Hans Ziller add their own power and emotion. Over it all of course is the gravelly, drawling voice of Lessman: you can definitely see him in a stetson and fringed jacket singing this on stage.

“Rock me till I die” features some nice wah-wah guitar, with something of a Rolling Stones vibe, while “Desire” is a minor mini-epic, with chugging guitar and synth string section, a boogie waltz, essentially the second ballad on the album. This showcases the softer side of Lessman's voice, and he handles the ballad with ease and panache. They do two covers then, the first being Cat Stevens' standard “First cut is the deepest” (made famous by Rod Stewart, and it's his version that seems to inform Bonfire's take on the song --- with a lot more guitar, of course!), and the closer being the old southern anthem “Dixie”, of which they do two versions, one called “Wild Dixie”, the actual closer, and it's this second version that really gets the heavy metal treatment.

Bonfire plainly either want to be American, or have marketed themselves as such, and they've done a very good job. There's not a trace of “krautrock” or even a German inflection in Lessman's voice, and without being told it's not the case, you would definitely think that he at least is from the good ol' USA. The themes in the songs, the way they're played, even the title of the album, all lend themselves to the idea of a band from down south. So have Bonfire been dishonest in portraying themselves this way? I don't think so. Nowhere do they say they're American, or pretend overtly to be. If that's your conclusion after having listened to them, well that's just how it is.

But German or American, one thing can't be denied. They are one hell of a band, and “Rebel soul” is a great album.

TRACKLISTIING

1. Wake up
2. Just to say we did
3. Before we say goodbye
4. Somebody's waiting
5. Lay your heart on the line
6. Hearts bleed their own blood
7. Rock me till I die
8. Desire
9. Good or bad
10. First cut is the deepest
11. You'll be alright
12. Dixie
13. Wild Dixie
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Old 08-14-2011, 12:01 PM   #147 (permalink)
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Random Track of the Day
Sunday, August 14 2011

Seems like we end the week on a pretty regular track: not too many classical symphonies or weird instrumentals this week! My favourite track, as it happens, from the debut solo album by Phil Collins, way back there in 1981, “Face value”. First time I listened to this album I absolutely hated it, and it was a long time before I tried it again. I guess I had naively been expecting a new Genesis album, but then, why bother going solo if all you're going to do is the same music you play in your band?

I was too young to realise this at the time though, and growled at the album for having wasted my money on it, and put it away. When I went for a second bite at it, I was amazed at what I had missed. I'm not going to say it's the best debut solo album ever, and it certainly has its flaws, but this is not one of them.

If leaving me is easy --- Phil Collins --- from “Face value” on Virgin



The best ballad --- indeed, the best track --- from “Face value”, it's a powerful, keyboard and sax-driven ballad, with Collins at his most acerbic. Great lyric, a thumping echo on the keyboard which scares the bejaysus out of you the first time you hear it, and a wonderful sax solo to take it to fade, courtesy of Don Myrick. Classic love song, something you may see featured on a future “Tunnel of love” slot.

So that's it for another week. Hope the weather's okay where you are (raining and high winds here) and if you have to go to work, don't work too hard and remember to bring your music with you.

See you all next week for more of the same. Well, not the same. Completely different probably. You know what I mean, to quote the man above....
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Old 08-14-2011, 03:22 PM   #148 (permalink)
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And yet another new section springs into being! I love to hear a good instrumental. There's nowhere for substandard playing to hide, unlike in a song where the focus is primarily on the singer and the lyrics. But a good instrumental can show just how talented and proficient a band is, and while some of them may be a little overindulgent, I'm going to try to showcase, three at a time, my own favourites in this section.

First off and I have to tip my hat to an all-time classic, Fleetwood Mac's unmistakable “Albatross”. Released in 1969 --- over forty years ago now, can you believe it? I was only six! --- it crops up on just about every instrumental compilation album with names like “Relaxation”, “Moods”, “Chill” or any variation of such. It's a lovely, relaxing piece, led by John McVie's almost heartbeat bass, Mick Fleetwood's cymbals that seem to sigh like waves, and Al Green's guitar work, starting mid-range and later going into the higher scales. The perfect piece to kick back to and let it all wash over you.


Another one I really like is from one of the Alan Parsons Project's early albums, “I robot”, which is in fact one of the first batch of albums reviewed by me here some months ago. It's a great little piece that also crops up on Vangelis' “The city”, under a different title, but here it's called “Genesis Ch 1 V32”, and gives a great feeling of drama and majesty.


And I have to complete this first trio with a piece that took me so by surprise when I first heard it, as I had no idea it was an Eagles number. You'll recognise it probably as the theme music to the old BBC sci-fi TV show “The hitch-hiker's guide to the galaxy”, but it's actually called “Journey of the sorcerer” and is from the Eagles' album “One of these nights”. Great banjo and some truly exceptional keyboard with powerful drums. Great music, but I can only ever seen Arthur Dent in space when I hear it!


So that's my first three instrumentals. Different tracks, by vastly different artistes, but all great in their own way. Hope you enjoyed them: now I have to go off and think about what the next selection will be!
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Old 08-15-2011, 11:03 AM   #149 (permalink)
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Time once again to pay homage to some of the best music to come out of my home country. Not everything I feature here will be rock, per se, and this particular album is a good case in point. It's more an Irish traditional/pop album, but don't hold that against it: it's a great album, and well worth listening to.

No frontiers --- Mary Black --- 1989 (Dara)


One of the most respected and successful Irish artistes, Mary Black assured herself of a place in music history with the release of her fourth album, “No frontiers”, which went directly to the top of the Irish charts and did well elsewhere. It's an eclectic mix of pop, folk, and Irish traditional, with some really nice ballads and well-crafted songs. Joined by such luminaries of the Irish trad music scene as Donal Lunny and Declan Sinnott, this is truly a great little album.

It starts off with the title track, a gentle, traditionally-flavoured ballad, sung with consummate grace by Mary, her light Dublin accent adding to the charm of the song. Carried on acoustic guitar and simple percussion, with accordion accompaniment fleshing the track out, it's a lovely little song, and one of her best known, with some inspired lyrical ideas: ”If life is a barroom/ In which we must wait/ For the man with his finger/ On the ivory gate/ Where we sing until dawn/ Of our fears and our faith/ And we stack all the dead men/ In self-addressed crates.” Lovely backing vocals too from Mandy Murphy.

Things get a bit faster then with “Past the point of rescue”, a real toe-tapper with again Pat Crowley's squeezebox leading the way, and great sax solo from Carl Geraghty. The truly beautiful “The shadow” is a mournful ballad, carried on piano and keyboard, with some stunning cello work from Caroline Lavelle heightening the melancholy air of the song. Mary's simple and clear vocal floats above it all, neither strained nor lost in the music, but perfectly in control, using just the right amount of her considerable vocal power to relate the tale of, I think, either the infamous Bloody Sunday massacre, or the 1916 Rising, not sure which. Definitely a song about war or conflict of some sort in Ireland.

In contrast to this stark ballad, “Carolina Rua” is great fun, a bopper which just skips along, with a very simple lyric concerning a little girl called Carolina Rua (rua being the Irish for red, so she obviously has red hair). “Shuffle of the buckled” is another ballad, led by saxophone, and telling the story of the dispossessed and the poor, gentle guitar and percussion laying down the beat and accompanying the mournful sax.

And then we're at the standout track (though there are a few, this is far and away my favourite), the haunting “Columbus”. Piano-driven, with a simple vocal, double bass from Garvan Gallagher lends the song a sombre air, the percussion never more or less than the heartbeat of the piece. The piano is the true lifeblood of the song though, leading us in a gently meandering voyage across the sea and back, its notes echoing in our ears like the cries of far-off gulls, or the spray washing over the bow of the ship.

“Another day” lifts the somewhat introspective mood, and allows Noel Bridgeman on drums to have his head, after much restrained percussion in the last tracks, and he certainly sounds like he's enjoying being let loose. Geraghty has great fun on the sax too, his lines forming the centrepiece of the song. Even Mary sounds like she's letting off steam, but things slow down after that for “Fat valley of pain”, a track led by acoustic guitar and with some nice male backing vocals courtesy of Sinnott and Crowley, among others.

I could do without the cover of Aretha's “I say a little prayer for you”, even if Mary does an adequate job of it. I just feel she's a good enough songwriter that she need not be filling her albums up with covers. Well, maybe she just liked the song, or maybe it holds some special significance for her. That brings us to the rockiest and most commercial track on the album, another favourite of mine, the uptempo “Vanities”, with great guitar and keyboard, the drums again bopping, and again great vocal harmonies.

Mary Black is a real example of someone who doesn't need to shout or scream to make herself heard on her records. Even on the faster, louder tracks she's perfectly audible and understandable, just as she is when crooning on the ballads. Her voice is clear and pure, and has the power there to call on when it's needed. It's not surprising that this album made the crossover from Irish trad to commercial, as it's got some very poppy songs on it, most of them are catchy and there's hardly a bad track on it at all.

I would have preferred the album to end there, but there's one more track, the country/folk-tinged “The fog in Monterey”, which, while nice enough, doesn't really add that much to the album. As a result of this, “No frontiers” closes less strongly than it opened, and indeed, up to “Vanities” the high quality is maintained and, the cover aside, Mary and her band don't put a foot wrong. So it's a great pity that it's a weak ending, but it's a small quibble on a basically excellent album.

Kind of thing that makes you proud to be Irish!

TRACKLISTING

1. No frontiers
2. Past the point of rescue
3. The Shadow
4. Carolina Rua
5. Shuffle of the buckled
6. Columbus
7. Another day
8. Fat valley of pain
9. I say a little prayer
10. Vanities
11. The fog in Monterey
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Old 08-15-2011, 11:08 AM   #150 (permalink)
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Raintown --- Deacon Blue --- 1987 (Columbia)


Does anything look more depressing than the cover of Deacon Blue's debut album “Raintown”, with its monochrome photograph of Glasgow city on a rainy day? Looking at the cover you could be forgiven for thinking that here is an album which will be full of doomy, poe-faced and depressing songs, but it turns out not to be that way at all. While many of the songs do deal with the feeling of being trapped and going nowhere, “Raintown” is a surprisingly upbeat album, for the most part.

It starts out with an acapella intro by lead singer Ricky Ross, soon joined by piano, then some keyboard as “Born in a storm” plays out its one and a half minutes, seguing directly into the first real track, the boppy title one, showcasing further the vocal talents of Ross, who would become the easily identified sound of the band. He's joined on vocals by Lorraine McIntosh, who partners him on most Deacon Blue songs. The keyboards and piano set up a sound which recalls rainfall, fitting the lyric perfectly: ”Raintown, raintown, rain down/ On all these tired eyes and tears and frowns.” The vocal gets angrier as the song comes to a climax and ends abruptly.

“Ragman” is played at a similar pace, piano-led but with more guitar, while “He looks like Spencer Tracy now” is more introspective and restrained, with bongo-type drums and bells and keyboards; in effect, the first of three ballads on the album, with a lot of historical references in the lyric. Most of the songs on the album are written by Ricky Ross, and those that aren't are co-written by him, two with keyboard player James Prime and one with Prime and guitarist Graeme Kelling.

Things kick back up a gear then for “Loaded”, where Ross notes that ”Things are different from there.” The message in the lyric is that when you have money people treat you differently, and you see things in a different way to those who have less than you. There's also an inference that Ross' determination to hold on to his love is seen as pathetic by the rich person he's singing about: ”I've got love that I cling on to/ And I'll stay there till the end.../I have found an answer/ Don't think you don't care/ Just you laugh cos you're loaded.”

The next song, and in fact “Loaded” before it, and the next two, were all released as singles from the album. “When will you (make my telephone ring)” is the second ballad, a very soul track, with close vocal harmonies and a laid-back beat, but yet with a desperate hope in the lyric that the girl will call, thus the title. “Chocolate girl”, another single, is a far more fun song, and poppier, and despite what could be misinterpreted in the title as a mildly racist song, nothing could be further from the truth, as borne out by the lyric: [i]”He calls her the chocolate girl/ Cos he thinks she melts/ When he touches her.” The truth though shows this up, as ”She knows she's the chocolate girl/ Cos she's broken up and swallowed /And wrapped in bits of silver.” It's quite a feminist song, for the time, revealing the shallow nature of the guy in the song, and how off-base he is about his girlfriend.

The final single, “Dignity” is the pleasant tale of a man who plans to be more than he is, and dreams of buying a dinghy called “Dignity”, but ends up (whether in reality or in his mind) actually getting a boat. He sings about how he'll ”Sail her up the west coast/ Through villages and towns/ I'll be on my holidays/ They'll be doing the rounds.” It features a great little piano run by Ross, and is a nice uplifting little song, very popular when it was released as a single; even though it only got to the number twenty slot, it's still regarded as one of the most popular Deacon Blue songs. “The very thing” is the last fast song on the album, as it closes on two slower tracks. This however is a boppy song, and starts with an optimistic line: ”One day all of us will work/ We'll stand outside this orchard/ And we'll talk.” Again some great piano work and jangly guitar as the song gets faster towards the end before fading out on the opening line, more sombre this time.

One of the standout tracks on the album, “Love's great fears” is the last ballad, and features some really nice backing vocals by Lorraine McIntosh, conjuring up images of happier days slipping away as the real world has to be faced. Useless factoid #34,901: the piano riff in this reminds me almost exactly of the chorus to Nik Kershaw's “Wouldn't it be good?” Just thought I'd mention that. There's also a really great slide guitar solo from, of all people, Chris Rea, at the end.

The final track is also slow, but smouldering with anger. “Town to be blamed” starts on keyboard and piano, slowly building up as Ross sings with passion and rage, then the drums kick in and the song gets much heavier, but retaining its slow beat. The guitar of Graeme Kelling comes to the fore here, and then halfway through the music almost fades away, and Ross sings quietly, with the instruments coming in one by one and joining the track, until it again builds up to a crescendo. One of the two songs on which James Prime collaborates with Ross, it's in fact the longest track on the album, and ends on a slow outro with Ross singing ”Work, work, work/ In the rain, rain, rain/ Then go home, home home again.”

Although Deacon Blue achieved better chart success with their second album, aptly titled “When the world knows your name”, I prefer this one. It's got a raw, honest edge that the follow-up did not. That album was more polished, commercial and mostly lighter-toned than this, a product for the charts with catchy, easily-sung songs with hooky choruses, and while I do like it, “Raintown” still stands as my favourite Deacon Blue album.

TRACKLISTING

1. Born in a storm
2. Raintown
3. Ragman
4. He looks like Spencer Tracy now
5. Loaded
6. When will you (make my telephone ring)
7. Chocolate girl
8. Dignity
9. The very thing
10. Love's great fear
11. Town to be blamed
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