I don’t like writing about music and as I get older I even find talking about music somewhere in between tedious and frustrating. You the trouble is you see I don’t feel that I have the vocabulary to do music, the music that I love, justice.
I have been moved to write this however. I have compiled a collection (not a list before a certain Swings contributor wags his finger at me) of some absolutely exquisite pieces of music that simply don’t get the recognition they deserve. This is in no doubt due to the fact that the artists that made this wonderful music are not trendy and their names have very little weight if dropped in to conversation. They are, however, songs that are incredibly important to me and I would like to give them just a slither of the recognition they deserve.
So in no particular order;
1) Arthur Russell: Soon-to-be-innocent-fun/Let’s See. From: World of Echoes.
Much is said about music’s ability to paint pictures but its music’s ability to retain them that really interests and excites me. This particular song is song from Russell’s collection World of Echoes and will always take me back to a dreary January morning in 2008. My last band The Rantallion (we don’t feature in this collection) had just played their second and final gig and the next morning, realising that my venture in to music was all but over, I wearily boarded a train in to see a friend in Sheffield. As the train pulled in to Sheffield station in the shadow of the crumbling Park Hill tower block with the faint winter sun fighting its way through the dense blackened sky this beautiful blend of electric cello and soft vocals bled in to my ears from my ipod. Despite how it may sound this was a beautiful moment and anyone with any idea of aesthetics and poetry will understand just what I mean.
Arthur Russell isn’t an artist I know a great deal about. He was a New York based and died of AIDS in 1992. I was turned on to him after reading an interview with Anthony Hegarty.
Sounds a little like: Nothing I’ve heard before.
2) Dory Previn:The Lady with the Braid. From: Mythical Kings and Iguanas.
I have friends who are bored stiff by my lectures on Dory Previn but the fact is that she was a phenomenal talent and she has never had anything like the recognition she deserves. Sadly Dory passed away on Valentine’s day 2012 at the age of 87 and quite fittingly it was also my parent’s wedding anniversary. You see Dory Previn was a gift from my mother and as with all of her songs this takes me back to Sunday mornings as a child. The lyrics are really quite sad and very funny at the same time and I think ultimately this is a song about vulnerability.
Previn is of course a very famous name and Dory’s one time husband Andre will be well known to anyone that takes in an interest in cinema scores or Morcombe and Wise. Andre and Dory separated in 1969 after discovering that his affair with actress Mia Farrow had resulted in her pregnancy.
Sounds a little like: Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez.
3) The Low Anthem: Ticket Taker. Oh My God, Charlie Darwin
Perhaps the contempory act in this collection I first became aware of The Low Anthem in the summer of 2009. This is, for me, the stand out from their sublime debut ‘Oh My God, Charlie Darwin’ because of its beuatifully haunting quality and a double bass line that I still havn’t quite mastered.
The Low Anthem formed in 2006 in Rhode Island. ‘Oh My God, Charlie Darwin’ is their self released third album.
Sounds a little like: Midlake, The Decembrists and Fionn Regan.
4) The Walkmen: The Rat. From: Bows +Arrows
This track is an absolute adrenalin rush. With a husky tone Hamilton Leithauser delivers a Faces era Rod Stewart vocal over a water tight rhythm and a dirge of countless guitar tracks. The Walkmen are another New York based act in this collection and exist in the shaddow of The Strokes. A beautiful song laced with bitterness and bile and icluding the line ‘When I used to go out I would know everyone that I saw. Now I go out alone if I go out at all’.
Sounds a little like: The Faces, The Strokes, The Buzzcocks
5) Ghinzu: Blow. From Blow
A beautifully epic track which I first came across when I saw Koen Mortier’s ‘Ex Drummer’ for the first time. Ghinzu are a Belgian quintet that have also contributed to the soundtrack of ‘Taken’ and are fairly big business in Belgium.
The song builds from a melodic synth pop ballad into a guitar crunching frenzy. It sounds like it was written for the cinema and although the rest of the bands work is a little patchy this one is certainly worth a listen.
Sounds a little like: Soulwax, Interpol, Placebo.
6) The Veils: Under The Folding Branches. From: Nux Vomica
The Veils are like a fun sized Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds. This particular record contains some tracks that wouldn’t sound out of place on ‘Let Love In’ or ‘Henry’s Dream’ but it’s a piano based ballad that I have selected for this collection. With its soft string arrangement it wouldn’t sound out of place on a romantic comedy or something starring Jude Law but it has given me some pleasure over the years.
The Veils are a London based indie/alternative band. They hail from New Zealand originally and Nux Vomica, their second album, was released in Britain in September of 2006.
Sounds a little like: Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Secret Machines, The Stills.
7) Airport 5: Stifled Man Casino. From Tower in The Fountain of Sparks
There’s not a great deal that I can tell you about this band. A collaboration between Guided By Voices band mates Robert Pollard and Tobin Sprout they have two records to their credits; 2001’s Tower in The Fountain of Sparks and 2002’s Life Starts Here. The track is a guitar driven indie classic. Nothing too fancy or clever the song bounces along nicely and has a certain British mid-eighties indie sound.
Sounds a little Like: Guided by Voices, McCarthy.
8) Red House Painters: Uncle Joe. From Red House Painters II
This truly is a master piece about male fragility. I could have picked any RHP song but I think this one just about stands out above the rest. Like Dory Previn’s ‘Lady with the Braid’ the lyrics flick between humour and desperation and sometimes capture both. With lines such as ‘I’m not very well read and they say I will lose my house’ and ‘It was unintentional when I spit in your beer’ it’s hard to establish whether or not singer / song writer Mark Kozelek has his tongue stuck firmly in his cheek or not.
Kozelek formed RHP in San Francisco in 1989 and they went on to record six studio albums between 1992 and 2001. In 2003 RHP reformed under the name Sun Kil Moon releasing acclaimed album Ghosts of the Great Highway. A further reunion under the name RHP has been the subject of rumour for the last decade.
Sounds a little like:Big Star, Low, Sparklehorse.
9) Natalie Merchant: Golden Boy. From: Motherland
Former 10,000 Maniac Merchant’s velvet tones take the listener through this bitter and scornful tale of an ex lover’s rise to fame or fortune (possibly both). The backdrop is a subtle build-up in tempo and swirling guitars (even a pedal steel if I’m not very much mistaken). The sentiment of the song is as anger led as something like Dylan’s ‘Idiot Wind’ or Joan Baez’ ‘Diamonds and Rust’ except unlike the those this song is delivered softly, chomping at the bot and never quite reaching the plateau that the listener expects. This for me is what makes the song so enchanting.
Sounds a little like: Beth Orton, Tory Amos, 10,000 Maniacs.
10) Dick Gaughan/ Joe Solo: Tom Paine’s Bones. From: Outlaws and Dreamers/ Forwards is Just Backwards in Reverse.
Shamefully I know very little about the true origins of this song other than that it was written by Dorset born folk singer Graham Moore. I first came across the song when I peeled a free C.D off the cover of Q magazine and heard it delivered in Gaughan’s rich Scottish accent. The narrative of the song is that the protagonist runs into the ghost of Thomas Paine (English- American political theorist and author 1737- 1809) one evening on the ‘river of discontent’. What is appealing about this song is that it is a little history lesson. I have always had a passion for music, or any form of art, that makes you want to go away and delve in to a subject matter further. After hearing this song I just had to go away and read about Tom Paine.
The beauty of this selection is that it allows me to recognise two truly great artists as I cannot decide version I prefer. Dick Gaughan is a Glaswegian born folk artist who began his recording career in 1972 with a record called No More Forever. He continues to perform and currently presents a show called Crossroads on Midlothian’s community radio station Black Diamond FM.
Joe Solo is a local lad who fronted Lithium Joe in the early 1990’s (a name familiar to anyone who has travelled in and out of Hull by train) and continues to record and release prolifically. Joe is also a gifted writer and historian of all things World War 1 and is the author of Stories From Potter’s Field. He can be found in the dingy back rooms of Northern pubs on most evenings.
Sounds a little like: Dick Gaughan: Richard Thompson
Joe Solo: Ewan Macoll, Eliza Carthy.
Xavier Dwyer is 31 years-old and has a small dog called Oliver. He is a paid-up member of the Labour Party and used to play bass in semi-legendary Hull band Sal Paradise. In his spare time he makes his own wine and watches rugby league. He once claimed his favourite album was Electric Warrior by T.Rex, which was a complete lie. He holds a degree in Philosophy, but you’d already guessed that. You can find him at http://www.twitter.com/XavierDwyer1