I don’t remember most of the episode nor the events leading up to it. All I remember is Adam Driver sitting on a bench somewhere in New York (or was it even him?) as the dusk was settling on the horizon. I was recently binge watching “Girls”, and as much as I liked the series, what I really walked away with was a song. Lena Dunham had asked twin duo Tegan and Sara to cover the Rolling Stones ballad “Fool to Cry” for the show. To be fair, I had no idea it was a Stones cover until I did some digging around. (“Girls” soundtracks are a slam dunk of brilliance by the way with Robyn, Fleet Foxes, Icona Pop, Jake Bugg… all masterminded by music supervisor Manish Ravel who’s a real wizard in setting music to mood.) I don’t know if it says more about Mick & Keith (Fool to Cry was originally recorded for the Rolling Stones 1976 album “Black and Blue”) or the brilliance of Tegan and Sara, but the sweet simple melody fell like soothing rain at the end of quite a heart-rending episode. The melting harmonies, the light guitar, the weary lyrics of apprehension, all end up as a surprisingly consoling piece of music. Like a deep exhale after a long day. Or a warm hug after an even longer year.
I can’t stand Dave Matthews (the band). It seems to be mandatory to mention Dave Matthews when talking about Phillip Phillips, or maybe that was only during Phil’s tenure at Idol last year, but nevertheless, I have never been able to stand Dave Matthews with his nasally rasp (is it just me but does he sound menacing to anyone else?). Funny then, given all the comparisons, I don’t have the same problem with Phillip Phillips. I love Phillip Phillips. I love the fact he stuck to his guns on Idol and wore his grey T-Shirts with pride. I love how he just stood there in the spotlight every week turning each song on its head so many times it came out as a Phillip Phillips original, and I love the place where the music comes from. Deeply rooted in the fertile soil of a land called Meant To Be, the sound is re-assuring, steadfast and so grounded. Under the starry skies, in the glow of paper lanterns, on barefoot surrounded by fireflies, something so absolute in an existence where nothing is certain is like a warm hug where none have been coming round your way for a long, long time. Phillip is about to set out on tour with Matchbox Twenty later this month, and if I was anywhere near the eastern seaboard, I would beg, steal or borrow to get a ticket. As much as I like Man On The Moon, I would do anything to hear it live.
In life one should always have a plan B. (In case you’re wondering, I’m currently on plan D. A.A. Gill in Vanity Fair writes interesting adults are always the school failures, the weird ones, the losers and the macontents…so yeah… *woohoo* for me). Gary Clark Jr.’s mother told him he should have a plan B in case the guitar playing lead nowhere but a few bucks a night at a local beer joint. He said, sure, I have a plan B. If I’m not going to play the guitar I’ll play the drums. And if I’m not going to play the drums I’ll play the bass. Turns out there was actual talent behind all the passion and the conviction, but that sort of fire for music is sexy as hell… and yeah, the GQ looks and the guitar don’t hurt either. He plays the blues but with contemporary radio squarely in the back of his mind and definitely has his sights set much further than the local club circuit. He was this summer’s festival breakout star with Eric Clapton and Alicia Keys singing his praises as the saviour of the blues, and he may very well live up to the hype. His Bright Lights video alone has over 1 million hits on Youtube. I just love his raw vibe, his in-your-face riffs and that juke-joint swagger, its like finally there’s a real man in the house showing all those boybanders exactly where to stick it.
Two things happened last week; Dan from This Man’s World introduced me to Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers (immediately turning me into a fan girl, check out their fabulous van sessions), and fellow blogger Elliot at Brain Splats gave Mixtape an award. Now, I have received awards before. This is by no means “I’m so full of my own magnificence” comment but rather a precursor to the error of my ways. I’m not ungrateful, but have previously regarded blog awards as more of a “spam element”. You know the kind… forward this to 7 of your best friends or the roof of your house will collapse or the sky will fall in etc. Admittedly blog awards don’t usually come with a threat attached but rather an obligation, you should pay them forward. Eliot in his (very clever) blog highlighted the community element of blogging. We blog, we read, we comment, we follow, we discover, we interact, and most important of all, many of us have made new friends in the process. All these wonderful, varied, creative blogs (way too many to mention here!!) and people behind them, how could I not salute you all, my blogging compatriots? Not to mention all my fellow music passionates who inspire, delight and amaze me on a daily basis. (With a special mention to Thom Cross- a great friend of this blog and a superstar in the making- listen!). So this Easter holiday I’ll be delighting in Nicki Bluhm’s raspy country rock whilst armed with my laptop, so you better buckle up blog world, there’ll be some awards coming your way!
Sunset, 1966. The sun beats down on my new jersey dress. My white Pilgrim pumps shafe in the afternoon heat but I wear them anyway, as they make me feel worldly and experienced, like Brigitte Bardot in “Two Weeks in September.” On my lunch break I steal away and walk in the direction of the Whisky, at some pretense to visit a drugstore or run an errand, but I slip into the small darkness of the club instead. The houseband is setting up on stage as I hide away in the shadows, nervously looking at my watch, hoping for a glance from the slinky dark singer at the microphone. In the evening I return as a moon maiden in my sliver boots and neon earrings, worshipping the lizard king on stage who holds the audience in a hypnotic grip of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll. Or that’s what I would’ve done had I been, well, alive. Five short years later Jim Morrison was dead and I was making sand patty cakes on stranger shores. Whilst remastering tracks for the 40th anniversary release of The Doors landmark album L.A.Woman, producer Bruce Botnick stumbled upon a long forgotten bluesy session track, that has now been released as a single. It is raw, the quality rough, but Morrison is as wild as ever. For those of us who wish we had been there, this is as close to a time machine we get.
Nick Brown has some brass balls. He may just be a punk from Dayton, Ohio but his band Mona are here to save rock’n’roll. And be bigger than Bono. Confidence is sexy. It can also fill your head with a lot of piss and make you announce Robert Plant claimed Mona nailed the blues better than Led Zeppelin, but hey, the meek may inherit the earth but they never sell out stadiums. And that’s exactly where he is aiming to go, to drive their hook laden gritty rock sound to a pit ring near you. There is a whiff of Kings of Leon about them, sure, but its the whole chicken or the egg thing. If the Followill brothers had not set Sex On Fire in 2009, who knows, it might have been Mona Shooting The Moon. Sometimes there is just a sound the cosmos is ready for, and rarely its a slam dunk for just one band. Mona spent 2011 on top of many next big thing lists in the UK and experienced the best the good ol’ Blighty has to offer; torrential rain, oceans of mud and the greatest rock’n’roll festivals on earth. They are going back home for 2012 as their debut finally gets its star making turn in the US. I can totally respect a band who are exactly what it says on the tin. Four guys with huge ambition, whisky tinged lead singer channeling The Clash and barefaced rock’n’roll going straight for the jugular.
Kings of Leon’s fifth offering was tailor-made to fill stadiums. “Come Around Sundown” echos off nosebleed rafters into the starry starry night as the Followill boys graduate to the U2 echelon of rock’n’roll fame. Two years ago “Sex On Fire” took a ramshackle bluegrassy rock band from the deepest darkest Tennessee to the centre of the universe. Caleb, knowing full well ‘heavy lies the head that wears the crown’ has fretted over the band’s phenomenal success. But once you’ve found gold in them cornfields, there ain’t no way back my friend, no matter how many times you deny Glee the opportunity to murder “Sex On Fire” on global primetime. The cat is out of the proverbial bag and you only really have two options- you either go big or you go home. Kings went big of course, but there is one song in the middle of “Come Around” that suggests to me home remains where the heart is. For nearly two and a half minutes “Back Down South” has only one bass note and one chord. There are no big choruses here, just a sombre invitation to dance, perhaps for the last time as the Followills intended; sweaty and high on moonshine, with only the country fiddles and the slide guitars guiding your way to a future that in the end was never to be.
Secret Love arrives from 1975, dressed in ribbons and lace, with the swish of the palm trees still whispering memories of cocaine cowboys and the songs that made us all check into Hotel California for a while. Stevie Nicks is as timeless as the tide. At 62, she is still dancing on the moonbeam. What started as a scribbled love note to a long forgotten love, Secret Love ended up as a discarded demo on Stevie’s attick for nearly 30 years. Enter 2011 and Dave Stewart who glossed it up to launch “In Your Dreams” her first solo album in 10 years. The bells and whistles here don’t search for the keys to the current, but her pointy boots are firmly rooted in classic rock, the kind that made her in the ’70s. And it is so easy and effortless, the sound of knowing who you are. Today’s music is so high on hemlines and so low on genuine rock stars, its great to have a real rock queen back who can show’em how it’s really done.
If you are not from England, you may not be familiar with Margate, the seaside town that Victorians based their mediterranean holiday dreams on and what the Spanish costas deprived Margate of; namely tourists. For centuries, weary Londoners have travelled the easy few hours to the fresh shores of Kent, to partake in that very English past-time of eating fish and chips on the beach. That was until the huddled masses were given proper wages and packed up nan and auntie and buggered off to Benidorm in Southern Spain to…er, east fish and chips on the beach. Whats left of Margate’s glory days is whats evident on local band Two Wounded Birds’s surf-rock video Britannia-style, the beach and one of the last remaining Wimpy’s hamburger restaurants. I like the Birds efficient and no-nonsense sound, you’ve got what you need; the guitars, the drums and a few cool kids (one of them is even called Johnny Danger, how rad is that?!) riding the very British grey clouds and waves. Even the song comes in at a decisive 1 minute and 51 seconds, keeping the fuss to a minimum and the impact to a maximum. Not surprisingly Jacob Graham of The Drums sniffed out this band like some indie pop surf hound before anyone else did and they are now Moshi Moshi label mates and opening gigs for The Drums. Exhilarating stuff.
God bless Jack White and his excellent taste in women. In 2004 he brought the Coalminer’s Daughter back into the limelight by producing Loretta Lynn’s Grammy winning album Van Lear Rose. Now his gone and done the same by launching rock-a-billy pioneer Wanda Jackson onto the cretinous ipad generation. Back in the 50s Wanda dated a young whippersnapper called Elvis Presley. He suggested ditching her country roots in favor of the emerging rock-a-billy music. She rasped and rocked with her dirty, mean vocals . She shimmied and strutted, played her guitar. Not only was she the first woman in rock, for a while she was the only woman in rock and in many ways years ahead of her time. Wanda is 73 years old now and White is not letting her rest on her laurels here. He’s taken Bob Dylan’s “Thunder In The Mountain” and giving it a rock-a-billy spin. He’s gathered a tight group of backing musicians (including a few of the Racountours), whilst Wanda growls like a catwoman in heat, looking for Jerry Lee all over Tennessee. What I love about this is there are no gimmicks. Just good ol’ straightforward rock’n’roll proving age is just a number when you let the good times roll.