Nov 172021
 

Cult Classics Vol. 1: I Don’t Even Think of You That Often arrives 30 years after the original multi-artist Cohen tribute album, I’m Your Fan: The Songs of Leonard Cohen. There have been other tributes since then – Tower of Song: The Songs of Leonard Cohen in 1995, Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man in 2006, and The Songs of Leonard Cohen Covered in 2012 – but Cult Classics Vol. 1 is notable for being the first to be recorded since Cohen’s death five years ago this month.

Drawing comparisons between this new album and the hugely influential I’m Your Fan is probably unfair: after all, the earlier record saved ‘Hallelujah’ from remaining an undiscovered gem in Leonard’s catalogue, and rescued his career by introducing his music to a new audience of young rock fans. Cult Classics arrives in a very different context (Cohen is now revered to the point of having a 10,000-foot mural in his honour on the side of a Montreal high-rise), and is more of an acknowledgement of the influence Leonard continues to have on the young singer-songwriters of today.
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Nov 162021
 

Soulsavers is, or was, the nom de guerre for the initially electronica production team Rich Machin and Ian Glover, who have increasingly developed into the providers of a lush neo-gospel soundscape, incorporating element of country, soul, and blues, into which a variety of singers have embedded (usually) rich and evocative vocals. Dave Gahan is, of course, the front man for Depeche Mode, as famous for his medical history as his work in those early adopters of electronica/pop. His tones are perfect for the Soulsavers brand, and he first came aboard in 2012, singing and writing much the material for The Light the Dead See. This prove a bigger draw than earlier material and the collaboration continued, with the next album, Angels and Ghosts, perhaps ominously now under the Dave Gahan and Soulsavers soubriquet. The duo then made an instrumental album, Kubrick, Gahan returning to Depeche Mode duties.

Last year Gahan began to drop hints as to a further collaboration, and that it would be a covers collection: “When I listen to other people’s voices and songs—more importantly the way they sing them and interpret the words—I feel at home. I identify with it. It comforts me more than anything else.” A taster, the Cat Power song “Metal Heart,” dropped a month or so back and all seemed to be auguring well. Now we have Imposter, the full basket of fruits of their labors. And we have a problem.
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Oct 182021
 

Georgia BlueWhen Joe Biden was bidding for POTUS, Jason Isbell declared his support by tweeting a promise. If the state of Georgia, his home state, went blue (Democrat), a possibility hitherto deemed impossible, he would record a cover album of Georgia-related songs for charity, “and damn is that gonna be fun.” As Isbell would later say, he had been looking for an excuse to record such a record for some time, but this now offered the ideal opportunity.

Well, Georgia went blue, against the odds and expectations, and with the release of Georgia Blue, three organizations are the better off for it, with all the album’s proceeds going toward Black Voters Matter, Georgia Stand-Up and Fair Fight.
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Oct 052021
 

I am uncertain how much traction the Specials had outside the UK, where they are rightly considered national treasures, riding a wave of energy since their most recent regrouping and reiteration. Now down to the core trio of Terry Hall on vocals, Lynval Golding on guitar and vocals, and Horace Panting on bass, here they are again aided and abetted by much the same cast who crewed 2019’s Encore, the touring of which had been rudely interrupted by Covid. Rather than sitting home and ruing, the band fired up their default setting of righteous indignation.

As a multiracial band in the English midlands city of Coventry, on the cusp of the 1980s, the Specials became famous, not just for their infectious bluebeat, but also as bastions in the burgeoning fight against racism, generally and in music, appearing, on occasion, on the Rock Against Racism platform. Their response to the George Floyd case last year, was to utilize lockdown and raid their record collections, putting together Protest Songs 1924-2012, a collection of covers which, in some way or form, cast a reflection on the circumstances that could allow such a thing to happen. Protest songs, one and all, if sometimes not necessarily appreciated as so, with about as eclectic a selection as could be, with source material including the unlikely triad of the Staples Singers, Frank Zappa and Leonard Cohen. The one style absent is of ska, the band’s erstwhile calling card and M.O., with any number other of genres embraced in its wake. If nothing else, this displays the broad grasp of musical strengths available within the Specials, yet without losing the strident declaratory croon of Hall, or, indeed, the collective identity. Ska or not, this could be no other band.
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Sep 282021
 

i'll be your mirror tributeI love the old chestnut that everybody who ever saw the Velvet Underground started a band. Certainly, were that the case, their shows must have been jampacked with underage punters, with children, even, since most of those in bands and who most keenly rate them and cite their influence would have been far too young. Many would have been in the wrong country, likewise. But, hey, it’s a great tale and, who knows, had they all actually been there, the band may have been a lot bigger and more successful in their lifetime.

For, undoubtedly, their imprint on rock music has been hugely out of proportion to their actual footprint. I forget, maybe it was all those who bought their first album started a band, but again, the numbers don’t really stack up until you collate the cumulative sales, decade on decade after the initial release. (Ed: It was, in fact, no less than Brian Eno who made this assertion, in 1982.) Hampered by a brace of lawsuits, relating to the copyright of some of the cover photos, the album limped out in 1967, taking some time to ratchet up many sales at all, trashed by critics and ignored by the record label publicity machine. Lyrics about sado-masochism, IV drugs and prostitution were seen as anathema to the mores of the day, and the linkage to Andy Warhol, then enfant terrible of the American art-house film movement, will have hardly have warmed them to any mainstream audience. But maybe that was the point. Be that as it may, in the half century plus since, the star of this still sometimes difficult record has shone ever more brightly. That first album was, to give it its full title, The Velvet Underground and Nico, with the iconic banana logo, and it is this record that is here recreated and revisioned, revalidated and recalibrated. Continue reading »

Sep 202021
 

How to begin to explain the enigmatic giant that was Jackie Leven? Most reviews, in his life and beyond (he died in 2011), will comment on the mystery that he were not better known and better acclaimed. Uniformly lauded, somehow, possibly even deliberately, he remained so far under the radar as to be non-existent. Not that his talent, or he, were easy to hide, both being immense. If The Wanderer: A Tribute to Jackie Leven opens a few more ears to his music, it will have served a purpose, although I suspect it may more appeal to the already converted, a hard knit, hardcore bunch who talk in awe of his live performances. Please let me be wrong, and if, as you read this, you find yourself unfamiliar with the name, go seek him out. A retrospective collection also released recently, Straight Outta Caledonia, is as good a place to start as anywhere. Continue reading »