Monday, 8 February 2010
A few months ago I was involved in choosing 12 tracks that would make up the final Beatles' album had they stayed together - it involved choosing your 12 favourite tracks by them in their solo years. As an English teacher, that last sentence contained not just one, but two repetitions. We'll let it pass. This month, we're choosing our 12 favourite tracks by Female Singers. Okay, to be quite honest, I haven't necessarily gone with my favourite tracks by them but tracks I most want others to listen to. This all sounds easy.
Until you come to actually choose them and pass a CD you've burned on to your associates. All of a sudden, as Neil Young was wont to say, it all comes real. People will judge you by the choices made! Ah well. This posting serves as the sleeve notes for the album. If you don't have all the tracks suggested several of you know where to contact me and get a free CD of some great music (Andy, Brendan and Mike take note) so you can listen along and make up your own minds.
I titled it "Fallen Angels" after some deliberation - I was going to call it "Songs We Taught The Angels". Which, I'm sure you'll agree, is a completely crap title. I went for an Edward Burne-Jones painting as the cover illustration because I could. Burne-Jones - isn't he great? A future posting, perhaps.
I knew all along, as soon as it was discussed and agreed what the subject matter would be - female singers (stay awake at the back) - that I would open the album with Bridget St John's Fly High. I'm probably not her greatest fan (I understand she's touring again nowadays) but this song blew me away when I was a kid (14 or so). It's a beautifully evocative summery-sounding song. Oh and the late, great John Martyn is playing electric guitar on it. This song was released in 1972 - her quavering voice matched with Martyn's effected guitar over her own fingerpicked acoustic guitar all underpinned by a lovely resonant bass just reminds me of endless summer days. Wasn't summer great when you were a kid? Still is, actually. But then, I'm speaking as a teacher. You know, those people Hitler got rid of first, who you think only work for about 3 weeks a year and train your kids to hate you. Spot on.
Next up is Shelby Lynn. The Look of Love is from an album released in 2008 which is a total re-recording - in homage - of "Dusty In Memphis". Okay, so you like Dusty. I like Shelby. I love the simplicity and heartfelt take on the track. I've enjoyed all of her albums and she is fast becoming one of those great lost treasures music throws up every so often. Then, Lucinda Williams' Car Wheels On A Gravel Road. What a great voice. I really struggled here in deciding what to include - Drunken Angel was the other track. She's got such a world-weary voice with a fantastic Southern twang. The guitarist goes by the unlikely name of Gurf Morlix (I love America!) and this is the title track from her 1998 album.
I saw Aimee Mann a few years ago on the same bill as Neil Young and Crazy Horse and Paul Brady (and, er, The Undertones - including Shergal Farkey). I was willing to stand in the pouring rain all day to witness NY and CH - Brendan turned round as they played Cortez The Killer and said, "You could die happily now, couldn't you?" However, Aimee Mann had also been on and was every bit as good as I'd hoped she'd be. Beautiful voice, beautiful songs, beautiful woman. What more can be said? It was released in 1993 on "Whatever". Stupid Thing is a great song, but just after I'd burned the CD, several Aimee Mann songs came on Radio Dave (my iPod) and each one made me think I'd made the wrong choice. I stuck with it. The guitarist/producer is her husband Jon Brion. Look out for "Lost In Space", it features a graphic novel as the cover. Anyway . . .
Walking On A Wire by Richard and Linda Thompson. Well, I was never going to be able to produce an album of songs without LT on it, was I? This is a different take from the "Shoot Out The Lights" version. This version is available on "Dreams Fly Away" - a compilation of LT's best performances. This is from the classic "Rafferty's Folly" album. For those who don't know, it was the original version of "Shoot Out The Lights" produced by a more sober Gerry Rafferty sometime in 1982. Yes, I have the bootleg of it. This has a fantastic Richard Thompson solo. It also prompted my eldest daughter to accuse me of making a CD by stealth - one of featuring favourite guitarists rather than female vocalists. The very idea!
Gay and Terry Woods are next up with The Reward from their 1978 album "Tender Hooks". This song has haunted me for years and I don't know why - I just love the quiet grace of it. Ray Davies' nephew Phil Palmer is on electric guitar. And then . . . Kate Bush with The Trio Bulgarka singing Rocket's Tail. I went through all sorts of decisions about which Kate Bush track to include, for there had to be one. Eventually I decided this because it sends shivers through my spine every time I hear it. Okay, first born, yes it does include some great guitar by Dave Gilmour, but it is still an essential track (1989 - and I thought I hated the '80s). I also had to include Joni Mitchell. Again, which one? I wanted to steer away from the obvious really. So, I put The Jungle Line from The Hissing Of Summer Lawns (back to the '70s here). I love the Burundi drummers crashing away with Joni's vocal fighting over their insistent beat. Otherwise, it was going to be Edith And The King Pin. Volume 2, maybe?
I also knew that there was no way I was making a compilation that wouldn't include A Smiling Shore by June Tabor. Written by the rather wonderful Andrew Cronshaw. It's the only song (as far as I know) that he has ever written. If you're going to only ever write one song, you might as well make it an absolute cracker. He also produced the album this came from.This is about a guy who lived through the Second World War and it's absolutely heartbreaking. I tell you what, listen to it late at night with a glass of single malt in hand and I defy you not to shed a slight tear. Mournful piano and cello lead us through one of June's tearjerkers (try her version of Bill Caddick's She Moves Amongst Men too, if you're downloading it). Bonnie Raitt's Nobody's Girl is an absolute favourite of mine. It may not be her most well-known track - but just listen to her playing the slide. I was introduced to Raitt's music many year's ago by a lovely Stevenage girl (they did exist) called Debbie Brady. This was back in the early '70s. I don't know whatever happened to Debbie but Bonnie's still providing me with pleasure. A single acoustic guitar with an electric slide guitar (Fender Strat, of course). Great voice. Such simple pleasures in life.
I will have to one day give a whole posting over to Sandy Denny's Who Knows Where The Time Goes - this is Fairport from 1969, of course. I still can't listen to it without welling up. I played it at my mother's funeral and it'll be played at mine. Richard Thompson's guitar throughout is probably the most melodically inventive you'll ever hear. Sheer tone. I want everyone in the World to hear it. It drives grown men to tears. It's one of the most evocative, sad but uplifting songs ever recorded. If you can't see it, you have a heart of stone. Have a good life, fellow traveller, there's nothing for you here.
And finally . . . it was to be Who Knows but I decided to really go out on a limb here. Shelagh MacDonald's Stargazer. She is one of the great lost 1970's artists. Evidently, she turned up a few years ago - an acid casualty, I believe. This one has an orchestra, a Welsh male Voice Choir and (can't quite hear it, though) RT himself on guitar! Shelagh MacDonald made one or two albums, was ignored and then disappeared. A good one for the avid collectors perhaps but not necessarily a good career plan. This is from the compilation CD "Let No Man Steal Your Thyme" but I still have the original vinyl album. Another slow one but it's my choice, after all.
Well, there we go, the sleeve notes to a non-existent CD. Let the fireworks begin - I know you don't agree because music is so personal. But that's why we keep listening, isn't it?