Thursday, 28 January 2010

Neil Young

Neil Young.  His music has had an unprecedented impact on me.  He creates vivid imagery with just a few lines and is undoubtably one of the Rock's rawest guitar players, often being sited as the Godfather of Grunge.  His work transcends genre ranging from Folk to R&B, Country to Electronica & Blues to Rock & Roll.  He has created a body of work which has confounded critics as he constantly reinvents himself often releasing music wholly different from what is expected of him.  After the massive success of his best known album Harvest, the 'ditch trillogy' began; a complete u-turn in musical and lyrical terms.

I won't go on to write a complete biography of Young's life, you can find that on Wikipedia here, however if you're a fan you may be interested in reading Jimmy McDonough's biography Shakey, I've read it an I found it fascinating.   Young's career began with Buffalo Springfield in the mid 60s, when the band split he began to work as a solo artist releasing 2 albums before collaborating with Crosby, Stills (who had also been in the Buffalo Springfield) & Nash in the early 70s.  1972 saw Young's seminal album Harvest, he continued to release albums throughout the 70s and 80s covering numerous genres from Rockabilly to Electronica.  The 90s saw a resurgence in popularity as he toured and recorded with  Pearl Jam.  He has recently released an archives collection spanning the first 20 years of his career.

I don't pretend to like every song Young has ever released, I don't, but the vast majority of his music is worth delving into.  The Songs I'm going to share with you here are among my favourite, I like far too many of his songs to post.  If you have Spotify, you can find a playlist to accompany this post with all of my favourite Neil Young songs here.

In Roughly Chronological Order:

Mr Soul

Cinnamon Girl

Down By The River

Tell Me Why

Southern Man



Heart of Gold

Old Man 


Walk On

My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)

Like A Hurricane

Cortez The Killer

Keep On Rockin' In the Free World

I hope you've found this interesting, I've been meaning to write a post about Neil Young for a while now, I hope that you will watch a couple of the videos and find something you like.  Young's music is well worth discovering. 

You can find the Spotify playlist to accompany this post here.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Sky Blue Sky - Wilco (2007)

This is such a brilliant album, I've loved it for years, it's relaxing yet quirky.  The lyrics are excellent and the arrangements and instrumentation is perfect.  Nels Cline's guitar work is quirkyly exquisite.  I listened to the whole album last night in bed, I hadn't listened to it in a few months.  But it made me realise how great an album it really is.

One of my favourite songs from the album Impossible Germany:

Sky Blue Sky:

You Are My Face:

A great album I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Musings on Musical Texture.

I realised last year that I could make my music far more interesting simply by making better use of texture. Some of the greatest songs ever recorded are examples of expert musical use of texture - the layering of instruments within a song. Now I’m no musical expert, even though I’ve never studied academic music, excluding music tech of course but I am a decent musician.

I was writing a song earlier and I was layering up harmonies and melodies, not the normal way I go about writing - I normally start simple and work up but I’m trying new things.
Anyway let me site a prime example of textural variation. ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ by The Rolling Stones. If you don’t know it, find it. It’s classic Stones.

The song begins with a choral part but this subsides into Keith Richard’s understated acoustic guitar line. Then a French Horn, played by Al Kooper, comes in panned hard left with Mick Jagger’s vocals coming in a few bars later as the Horn part drops out. As the prechorus begins a shaker adds rhythm.
As the chorus comes in a gospel choir enters along with drums, percussion, Richard’s bluesy electric lead guitar line as well as Al Kooper playing the piano. As the verse begins a Hammond Organ, again played by the great Al Kooper, comes in riffing over the piano line. The song ebbs and flows. It climaxes with the return of the full choral chorus and it seems every possible instrument is layered into the song over the chord progression as the tempo doubles up.

This expert use of texture is what bakes the song so brilliant. There are hundreds of songs that also use the same technique. To name a few: Stairway to Heaven (most Led Zeppelin songs are texturally exquisite), Hotel California - The Eagles, the Phil Collins one of the Cadbury’s advert (R.I.P Cadbury) and many more, almost all good ballads. However saying that texture is just one aspect of a good song. There are many brilliant songs with very little textural variation.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

My interviews with musicians and singer songwriters can now also be found at at the moment my most recent interview with Rachael Dunn can be found here.

Liverpool Acoustic is a brilliant central resource for anyone interested in acoustic music in the Liverpool & Greater Merseyside.  I originally found out about the site while looking for gigs for my band CGW last year.  The site has a comprehensive diary of open mic nights, gigs and festivals happening in and around Liverpool, well worth a look if you're a musician or not!  

Monday, 11 January 2010

An Interview with Rachael Dunn

For this years first interview I was lucky enough to speak with Rachael Dunn, a north-west singer-songwriter who the Liverpool Echo described as having "warm, sweet, intoxicating vocals and gorgeous insightful songs."  Having performed on BBC Radio Merseyside her music has also been aired by several American radio stations.  Rachael's next album 'Alpha Ghost' is slated for a Febuary release.

You’ve become part of the Liverpool acoustic scene within the last few years what made you want to perform live?
My first live gig was May 2008 at 'The Mocha lounge' with encouragement from local poet and writer Amanda de Angeles I decided to share my music, Prior to that the idea of getting up in front of people scared me to death, and although my first live experience was nerve wracking and scary, I felt such a buzz and rush of adrenaline, overcoming fear can give you a real sense of achievement.

What drove you to write your music?
Being born into a very musical and artistic family was the driving force that lead me to be creative on many levels.  Visual art was my first choice of expression but I had an underlying fling with music, it's something I picked up and put down many times throughout my life. In March 2007 I found myself becoming more drawn towards music and after polishing up and improving my guitar skills the song writing started to flow.

Which artists/bands influenced you as you began to write? Would you say these people still influence your music?
I grew up listening to Kate Bush, Clannad, Japan and David Sylvian, my brother who is five years older, certainly influenced my musical ear. I’ve always had very eclectic taste and love 50's and 60's harmony bands like Dion and The Belmonts and The Everly Brothers. When it comes to my own style of music I think melody and harmonies are very important.

What inspires you to write?
My inspiration to write can be triggered by many things, all the things life throws at you, weather positive or negative I try to put a reflective or spiritual slant on what I’m writing about, rather than bitterness, pain or blame. I’m inspired visually by the beauty of nature and also the harsh contrast of the changing seasons.

How do you approach song writing, do you find it is different each time or do you have a formula that you stick to?
Generally I start with a theme or idea of what the song is about then I try to seek out the music on my guitar, after I have a melody I'll write lyrics and the song comes to life sometimes instantly other times more slowly over a matter of days or even weeks.

Which songs do you wish you could have written?
To me songwriting or any creative expression is so personal and individual that I never really wish I had written someone else’s songs. Although we all aspire and are appreciative of great music, your own songs are a little piece of you and you cannot be someone else.

A lot of musicians struggle or are reluctant to categorise their music what genre would you place your music in?
Everyone will have a different opinion so its difficult to pin down what my style is but if forced to categorise I would say Folk/acoustic organic and natural. Although with any genre of music you either like it or you don’t.

Are you writing at the moment?
I’m writing with musician and producer Alex Dun ford on various songs, for my forthcoming album 'Alpha Ghost' that I'm releasing at the end of February all being well.

What's coming up for you, any gigs or recording?
My next gig is on 26th Feb. The Folk Upstairs @ The Zanzibar and my album 'Alpha Ghost' will be available from the end of February and all the details will be on

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Florence & The Machine - Lungs. A 6 Single Phenomenon.

It’s pretty rare when a single album has 6 singles taken from it. The norm is 1 or perhaps 2. Lungs’ next single will be. ‘Hurricane Drunk’ in March. Now whether or not you like Florence & the Machine you can not deny their success, with Lungs being certified platinum; selling 300,000 copies in the UK alone. And reaching No.2.

Clever marketing by her record label, Island, has seen tracks from the album appear in Channel 4’s hit teen drama Skins as well as appearing on the sound tracks of American blockbusters aimed at US teens such as Jennifer’s Body.
It is interesting to note that singles have been released over 2 years with ‘Kiss With A Fist’ being released summer 2008. Long before the album was even recorded. If you listen to the song with the rest of the album it seems strangely out of place from the album as a whole.

The critical aclaim of the album, with the Brits’ Critic Choice award being won even before the albums release, along with the considerable hype created by NME mean that upon release it was almost certain to be one of the years ‘big’ albums, it has been voted just that in several ‘Album of the Year’ articles. Held from the top of the chart only by MJ’s untimely death and an unprecedented out pouring of grief and cash on the hastily assembled MJ best of.  Incidently MJ's albums 'Bad' & 'Dangerous' had 10 singles taken from them.

The reason for this post is not to review the actual album and whether you like the album or not you have appreciate how unusual it is for and album, a debut at that, to have 6 singles taken from it. Especially so when none of the singles reached the top five. With ‘Rabbit Heart’ reaching #12 during the albums period of maximum hype. It is also interesting to compare Robbie Williams’ ‘comeback’ album ‘Reality Killed the Video Star’ which was also a No.2 album; being narrowly beaten by JLS’ debut. Robbie’s album has had just 2 singles taken from it both reaching the top 10. So is it possible that Florence & Island Records are chasing a top 10 single or perhaps a No.1?

I think the main reason so many singles have been taken from Lungs is because the album has been in the top 40 UK for 26 consecutive weeks, a long time. It’s half a year exactly, in the music business that’s a lifetime.
While Florence’s label may have been expecting a bigger hit, than #13 with ‘You’ve Got The Love’ perhaps they feel they’ll strike gold with ‘Hurricane Drunk’. To finish on a cliche, only time will tell.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Some albums I'm looking forward to in 2010

Massive Attack - Heligoland (8th February)


Peggy Sue - Fossils and Other Phantoms (5th April)

Laura Marling - I Speak Because I Can (22nd March)

Fionn Regan - The Shadow Of An Empire (8th February)

Vampire Weekend - Contra (12th January)


Album preview available on their myspace, click link 

John Butler Trio - April Uprising (mid 2010)

(lead single artwork)

Adele- TBC (late 2010)  She says it's half finished.

Damien Rice - TBC (2010?)'s a long time due, he's been recording.

Johnny Flynn & the Sussex Wit. - Been Listening (June 7th)

Fran Healy - Wreckorder (Second half of 2010)

I just found out about this, Paul McCartney, Tom Hobden (from Noah & the Whale) and Neko Case all play on it!

Crosby, Stills & Nash - TBC - Covers Album (2010?)

MGMT - Congratulations (Spring 2010)

Jakob Dylan - Women & Country (19th April)

Jack Johnson - To The Sea (June 1st)


Rumours for the end of the year:
David Gray, Coldplay and Laura Marling albums due..

To be updated!