An LA based journalist covering music and movies. First novel, "The Lobster Thief," coming 2013.
Friday, May 10, 2013
My Isla Fisher interview
Now in seatbacks on American Airlines planes: My cover story interview with Isla Fisher for American Way in-flight magazine. The truly delightful Isla is the star of two movies this month, "The Great Gatsby" and "Now You See Me." But you needn't buy a plane ticket to read my piece - you can meet the girl who tamed Borat by following this link.
Bass Communion—I (1998), II + III (1999), Atmospherics (1999), Molotov and Haze (2008)
Henry Fool—Men Singing (2013)
Steely Dan—Can't Buy a Thrill (1972), Pretzel Logic (1974 )
The Waterboys—The Waterboys (1983), An Appointment with Mr. Yeats (2011)
King Crimson—Larks' Tongues in Aspic (40th Anniversary box set) (1973)
The Cocteau Twins—Milk and Kisses (1996)
Taj Mahal—Maestro (2008)
Patty Griffin—Flaming Red (1998), American Kid (2013)
John Grant—Pale Green Ghosts (2013)
Rush—Rush (1974), Fly By Night (1975), Caress of Steel (1975), 2112 (1976)
Back in January, I saw a paparazzi shot of David Bowie in the streets of New York. He looked typically dapper in a flat cap and was carrying a shopping bag. I remember thinking how sad it was that he'd retired from music. Bowie's final tour, which I saw twice, was incredible. He was enjoying a purple patch with the fairly good Reality album and, especially, its magnificent predecessor, Heathen. It felt as if Bowie's great creative momentum had been cut cruelly short by health issues following a heart attack.
Bowie's surprise return—a masterstroke of mystique and publicity—more than took care of unfinished business. The Next Day is so good that I have cravings to listen to it.
The Next Day is a prickly album with sharp edges rather than a complacently cozy one. It has enough energy to power the Manhattan grid. And it's his most stylistically varied record in a while, touching on various sounds from his career.
"If You Can See Me" is almost prog rock. "Heat" owes much to the influence of latter-day Scott Walker. "Where Are You Know" is wistful and emotional. And "Valentine's Day" has a killer twist in the lyric and a guitar riff to match.
This album is great driving music for the car. By the time I reach late-in-the-batting order songs such as "I'd Rather be High," "Boss of Me," "Dancing Out in Space," "How Does the Grass Grow" and "You Will Set the World on Fire," I have to be careful not to floor the pedal over the speed limit. Just great tunes that I want to sing along to. Even "Dirty Boys," a song that initially did nothing for me, has suddenly bloomed into a favorite.
A lot of writers and fans and friends have spent much of the past month arguing over where The Next Day stands in the Bowie pantheon. The reviews have been almost overwhelmingly positive even as some naysayers claim it's overrated and that the adulation for the album says more about how much we miss artists of Bowie's caliber than the music itself merits. To me, that's all very academic. And boring. I'm planning to listen to all 24 of the Bowie albums that I own in succession and maybe that'll give me some context and comparison. But I don't really care about ranking it right now, to be honest. All I know is that this album is tremendously exciting, energetic, stuffed with great tunes and highly addictive.
Steven Wilson—The Raven that Refused to Sing (and Other Stories) (2013)
Atoms for Peace—Amok (2013)
Colin Edwin + John Durant—Burnt Belief (2012)
Otis Taylor—My World is Gone (2013)
Henry Fool—Men Singing (2013)
David Sylvian—Dead Bees on a Cake (1999)
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds—Push the Sky Away (2013)
Max Richter—Vivaldi's Four Seasons Recomposed (2012)
Howling Bells—The Loudest Engine (2011)
Richard Thompson—Electric (2013)
Miles Davis—Bitches Brew (1970)
Jesca Hoop—Kismet (acoustic re-recording) (2013)
Ghosting Season—The Very Last of the Saints (2012)
Peter Gabriel—So (25th Anniversary special edition) (1986)\
Foals—Holy Fire (2013)
Henrik Freischlader Band —House in the Woods (2012)
The James Hunter Six—Minute by Minute (2013)
King Crimson—Larks' Tongues in Aspic (40th Anniversary box set) (1973)
The Sundays—Static and Silence (1997)
Boss, original soundtrack—Brian Reitzell (2013)
Taj Mahal—Maestro (2008)
Patty Griffin—American Kid (2013)
John Grant—Pale Green Ghosts (2013)
Sorry for a longer list than usual. It includes some of the albums I've been listening to since last month and its mix of progressive rock, indie rock, alt-country, blues, folk, electronica, jazz, and classical reflects my schizophrenic music tastes. As usual, I won't write about each of the albums I'm listening to (tootime consuming!) so I'll just hone in on three worthy new releases that may not be on your radar.
It's only February and I am already pretty sure that Steven Wilson's third solo album, The Raven that Refused to Sing (and Other Stories) will be the best album I'll hear in 2013. It is a flawless album. I wrote a cover story about Wilson (best known as the singer-songwriter-producer-guitarist of Porcupine Tree, one of his many diverse projects) for the current issue of Prog magazine.
Raven... is a decidedly old-school progressive rock album with modern virtues. The songwriting is memorable and though there are lengthy instrumental sections, the songs are tightly arranged so that there's no noodling and not a note wasted. It's a record of sublime beauty that will take you places. For starters, check out the (literally) haunting music video for the title track at the top of this blog. Then try this video, below, which excerpts the end section from an epic track titled "The Watchmaker."
(P.S. Porcupine Tree fans should also investigate the fine new album of instrumentals by Colin Edwin and John Durant.)
I'm knocked out by the latest album by Otis Taylor. In a just world, Taylor would be widely recognized as one of the great artists of our time. No exaggeration. He is nominally a bluesman, but the Denver-based musician's ouevre is much broader than that. (Ever heard blues played with a banjo?) His music incorporates elements such as jazz, folk, rock, and African rhythms. He is arguably the most progressive blues musician since Taj Mahal. Otis Taylor calls his style of music "trance blues." Indeed, his music is richly atmospheric and hypnotic.
Taylor releases an album a year. And every record is killer. He never repeats himself and gives each album an individual sound. With My World is Gone, Taylor has managed to outdo Contraband, which was one of my favorite records of 2012. Taylor's voice is his greatest asset. His voice is a little gruff and
stacatto and slightly reminiscent of John Lee Hooker but it is
astonishingly soulful instrument and affecting. (The third track on Contraband, "Look to the Side" has such an emotional vocal that it could pierce the blubber of the hardest heart.)
On My World is Gone, the mixed race musician has teamed up with Mato Nanji, the singer-guitarist of the band Indigenous. Mato has big shoes to fill: Many recent Taylor albums featured my all-time favorite guitarist, the late Gary Moore. The Native American more than rises to the occasion with guitar parts that linger long in the memory.
For his score for the TV drama Boss, Brian Reitzell wrote original pieces of music for each episode and roped in collaborators such as Air, Shearwater, My Morning Jacket, Mark Hollis, Explosions in the Sky, Paul Buchanan, Califone, Onehtrix Point Never and Ludwig von Beethoven.
You read that last part right. The creator of the show told Reitzell that the final episode was going to include a snippet of “Moonlight Sonata” so Reitzell wrote and recorded an 18 minute piece, titled"Punishment" (which includes an interpolation of “Moonlight Sonata”) in just two days. The result is pretty amazing. The whole soundtrack coheres as an album with a sustained mood. (The video below offers a seven minute preview of the music.) The new song by Shearwater (my favorite American band) is very good. Notably, the Boss soundtrack also includes the first new song by Mark Hollis, the reclusive songwriter and singer of Talk Talk, since his 1998 solo album. But downgrade your expectations for the Hollis track as it is only a 2 minute instrumental. Nonetheless, it reveals what sort of sound we might expect from Hollis on his next solo album (at least, we hope there will be another solo album).
Next, Brian Reitzell is doing the soundtrack for the new Sofia Coppolla's movie (he’s done them all, including The Virgin Suicides) and he did the soundtrack for Promised Land, the Matt Damon movie currently in theaters. He is currently scoring the TV show Hannibal, based on Silence of the Lambs.
I've been super busy of late as I near the end of the second draft of my novel, The Lobster Thief. I've also been busy, as always, with the music journalism day job and have seen a couple of cracking gigs.
I recently wrote a feature about Marillion's upcoming album, Sounds that Can't Be Made, which you can read over at Rock Square (if you've never come across Marillion or if you only know them as the band that once had a hit with "Kayleigh," then the article will give you an introduction to a band that has showed me a better way of life). During the same interview with keyboard player Mark Kelly, he told a ribald story about a Marillion groupie, which you can read here. (Fun fact: The aforementioned incident inspired the line "the girl in the passing car" on the band's 1991 single, "Cover My Eyes.")
When Marillion played two concerts in Los Angeles late last month, they premiered two new songs from the album, "Power" and "Lucky Man." I enjoyed both of them, but I was was really
taken with "Power." I'm smitten with the studio version, which the band just released to the Interwebs. (The video is at the very top of this blog.) Steve Hogarth packs more emotion
into those few bars in the middle eight than most vocalists manage over
the course of an entire album. Guitarist Steve
Rothery told me that "Power" and "Lucky Man" aren't even close to the best songs on the album!
Marillion's two shows were stunning. Steve Hogarth's voice was perfect—he cleared the highest of notes without any difficulty at all! The
first night concentrated on moodier tracks and the second night was more
upbeat and more of a party. The second show opened with "Splintering
Heart." Everyone stared at the stage, perplexed, because they could hear
Hogarth singing the intro but he wasn't on stage. Then we spotted him up on
the balcony of the venue singing next to the concertgoers up there
before heading back down to the stage for the rest of the song. Very
cool way to start a show!
I got to hang out with guitarist Steve Rothery for a couple of days and we visited the rock photography exhibition Who Shot Rock & Roll (more on that, below). I
got to chat to all the band members at various times during that week, Steve Hogarth (here's my recent in-depth interview with him for PopMatters). Hogarth and I chatted about our shared love of Shearwater (also Steven Wilson's fave band of recent years after I introduced him to them).
Indeed, I got to see Shearwater play Los Angeles a few days ago. It was a very different kind of Shearwater experience to previous outings. Earlier tours featured trumpet, hammered dulcimer, glockenspiel, double bass, acoustic guitars whereas Jonathan's new lineup of the band is a full-on rock band intent on pinning your ears back with their power. So, not as subtle as previous tours - and I miss some of those additional colors - but as a kick-ass rock show I loved it. An incredibly tight band and Meiburg's voice was, yet again, astonishing in its range, power, and expressiveness. Still America's best band.
WHO SHOT ROCK & ROLL?
I recently covered the red-carpet premiere of Who Shot Rock & Roll, a tremendous exhibition of rock photography at the Annenburg Space for Photography here in Los Angeles. (Fun fact: the courtyard of the Annenburg is directly beneath the two skyscrapers pictured on cover of the YES album Going for the One.) You can read my report about the exhibition, and the special acoustic set by Heart to open the gala, over at Rock Square.
My wife and I recently caught a show by Shawn Colvin who is touring to promote her long-awaited new album, All Fall Down. I'm a longtime fan of this wonderfully talented singer-songwriter.
Her band featured Viktor Krauss (brother of Alison) on double bass and Buddy Miller on guitar. The hatted one added great textures and amplification to Shawn's songs with his black Gretsch and Dan Electro guitars. Colvin said that she's known Buddy since 1976 when they met in Austin.
I've been listening to Shawn's new album, All Fall Down, a lot these past days and it's good, though not on par with her best records. It's a very sparse and stripped down production and I miss the studio craft that John Leventhal brought to her previous records. There are a couple of killer songs on it, including the title track and lead single, which they performed. Another favorite is "The Neon Light of the Saints" (check it out on Spotify), which they didn't play. The trio played several other new songs, including "Anne of the Thousand Days" and "Seven Times the Charm," both of which are growers that reveal their manifold charms after a couple of listens.
Early highlights of the evening were "Trouble" and "The Facts About Jimmy" from A Small Repairs, both songs making a strong case for why Colvin can be an arresting talent when she's on top of her game. Great tunes and layered storytelling. One disappointment for me was that she didn't play any songs off her previous two records, These Four Walls and Whole New You. I would've loved to have heard the title tracks from both albums, and highlights such as "Tuff Enuff" and "Cinnamon Road" from These Four Walls and "Matter of Minutes" and "Another Plane Went Down" from Whole New You. Indeed, though there were up-tempo songs during the gig, especially the great "Sunny Came Home" (though "Get Out of This House" was sorely missed) Shawn played a hair too many sedate songs.
But there was ample compensation from many of the best songs from early in her career: "Steady On," "Polaroids," "Tennessee," "Diamond in the Rough," and "Shotgun Down the Avalanche." Shawn has an easy charm to her in chatting to the audience. The El Ray, with its red walls and beautiful red curtains, is a lovely venue. Probably 500 people in the audience (including Jackson Browne) which was surprising to me. Around 1996 she probably would have double the attendance.
But Kim and I enjoyed the show and Kim was struck by how good her voice was live. Check out the single "All Fall Down" below and, on Spotify, seek out Viktor Krauss's cover version of "Shine on You Crazy Diamond" featuring Shawn on vocals. Utterly spectacular. Viktor's a terrific guitarist.
I'm currently enjoying Shawn's just released memoir, Diamond in the Rough. She lived a life, and then some. The book chronicles her many relationship disasters and addictions. A friend of mine recalls a show she did a decade ago when she broke down midway through, crying buckets of tears while her daughter crawled around the stage. Thankfully, Shawn seems to be in a better place now and her good humor and wit made for an enjoyable show.
If you're not a fan of Rush, I won't try persuade you otherwise. They're a band people either adore or loathe. But, as a fan, I declare that Rush's Clockwork Angels is the trio's best album since Roll the Bones or Presto. This album has a cohesive feel and "sum of its parts"
strength that that surpasses that of recent efforts and I enjoy every single song on it, even the lesser songs. To my ears, the album has at least four all-time great Rush songs: The title track, "Seven Cities of Gold," "Headlong Flight" and "The Garden." Incredible!
If Clockwork Angels doesn't break new musical ground for the trio and doesn't quite surpass their best work of the mid '70s to early '80s, it nonetheless retreads older tropes with a dynamism and fire that puts the musicians' younger selves to shame. Indeed, it puts most youngsters to shame. Rush's scorched earth performances on this album makes the Foo Fighters sound like Barry Manilow. If I tried to play air drums to Neil on this record, I'd get carpel tunnel syndrome within a day. Astonishing performance. Geddy's bass is also the business. Alex's guitarwork is incendiary throughout and plays a classic Lifeson solo on the closing track.
I first heard about Jesca Hoop from David Baerwald (one of America's great unknown songwriters who produces infrequent solo albums and, in 1985, was one half of the duo David & David who only produced one album, the classic Boomtown).
I was smitten by Jesca's debut record, Kismet, in 2007 and wrote this review:
Tom Waits likens Jesca Hoop's music to "swimming in a lake at night." To see what he's getting at, dim the lights and fully immerse yourself in "Kismet," one of the year's most invigorating albums. Like Kate Bush and Björk, two primary influences here, Hoop orbits pop's fringes with an individualistic oeuvre that's simultaneously adventurous and accessible. On Hoop's debut, a surprise lurks around every verse. A melody will be floating serenely downstream and then suddenly plunge into a swirling eddy of choral harmonies and counterpoints, as on "Seed of Wonder" and "Dreams of the Hollow." Just as unpredictable: Hoop's lyrics, which range from straightforward ("Love Is All We Have," a lament about hurricane Katrina's devastation) to maddeningly abstract ("Intelligentactile 101," a supremely catchy tune that might make sense in "Alice in Wonderland"). From start to finish, a dazzling accomplishment.
Not long after I'd discovered this Californian songwriter, Guy Garvey of Elbow (a band that I love) began to evangelize her talents. In fact, Garvey saved her career. Though Jesca can pen great hooky songs, they're unusual and she is a genuinely unusual and quirky person and her record label, Columbia, didn't know what to do with the record and so they barely promoted it and dropped her. Garvey encouraged her to relocate from her native California to Manchester where she could relaunch her career. Her second album, Hunting My Dress, included a duet with Garvey and was a deserved splash with the UK music press. Last year's EP, Snowglobe, was another triumph. (Listen to the spectral title track here.)
Jesca is a big fan of Kate Bush and her fave album is The Dreaming, so that'll give you an idea where she's coming from. Yet she sounds nothing like Kate Bush as her sound is more avant-garde folk and pop and punk yet she shares Kate's leftfield imagination and willingness to dive into unusual and quirky areas. Here's a link to my feature length interview with her for Filter magazine circa the release of Hunting My Dress.
I haven't fully absorbed Jesca Hoop's new album, The House That Jack Built. My initial impression is that the album is very good. Take a listen to the lead single, "Born To," above. The song seems to have taken up a permanent residence in the space where my frontal lobe used to be. Another highlight, "Peacemaker," borrows from raga and shimmies and sways over its programmed groove. The indelible "Hospital" is the most poppy thing she's ever released. Alas, a few of the quieter tracks aren't quite as memorable as the acoustic-based tracks on last year's Snowglobe EP and I almost wish she'd held those tracks for the new album. The House That Jack Built has a strong finish. "Deeper Devastation" features a sparse guitar by Blake Mills and the very distinctive sound of Bulgarian background singers (see also, Kate Bush's The Sensual World for her use of Bulgarian folk singers). The closer, "When I'm Asleep," simply tickles the ears with its amazing chorus.
In 2009, the Mercury Prize for music in Britain drew my attention to two
promising new bands, The Invisible and Sweet Billy Pilgrim. Both bands
have just released their follow-up albums and, in both instances,
they've more than delivered on their early promise. The Invisible is
British band and they sound like a fusion of Radiohead and TV on the
Radio. The new album, Rispah, is a great showcase for the deep,
booming and soulful singer Dave Okumu. Rispah is all about the death of
his mom, so hardly cheerful but very powerful. Check out the first
single, "Protection," below, or download it free here.
SWEET BILLY PILGRIM
Sweet Billy Pilgrim may not be for everyone. The band's singer and leader, Tim Elsenburg, sounds like an 80-year-old David Bowie at times. Personally, I think they're tremendous. Their new album Crown and Treaty (which received a 5 star review in Mojo magazine and has received great plaudits in Prog magazine) sounds like a collision between XTC and King Crimson. Take a listen to "Brugada"(above) and "Joyful Reunion" (below).
Next month is quiet for music releases, so I'll be telling you more about some of the new music I've just been sent by my pal Simon in the UK.
I was recently invited to contribute to a short piece to a new book about the seminal British art-rock band Talk Talk, which features contributions from band members of Arcade Fire, Broken Social Scene, Weezer, Pink Floyd, Shearwater, Blur, Elbow, and many others.
Toby Benjamin has also put together a companion piece to the book: A tribute album. Overseen by Benjamin and musical director Alan Wilder (Depeche Mode/Recoil), the double album is released in September on Fierce Panda and includes the following artists: King Creosote, Jason Lytle (Grandaddy), Zero 7, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Richard Reed Parry (Arcade Fire), Joan As Police Woman, Alan Wilder (Recoil), White Lies, Sean Carey (Bon Iver) and Turin Brakes. Also contributing to the album are ex-Talk Talk collaborators Ian Curnow, David Rhodes, Gaynor Sadler and Martin Ditcham. (More details at: http://spiritoftalktalk.com/the-cd/)
I contributed a piece about Talk Talk's influence on North American musicians to the book and also helped rope in contributions by Steve Hogarth of Marillion, Tim Bowness of No-Man, Richard Barbieri of Porcupine Tree/Japan, David Torn, and Glen Phillips of Toad the Wet Sprocket/Mutual Appreciation Society.
Until now, I've been making the assumption that you, dear reader, are aware of Talk Talk and its unique legacy. To this day, many people—especially in North America—only know Talk Talk for its early New Wave-style hits and have never come across the band's late-era musical transformation into a timeless art rock band. It's no exaggeration to say that Talk Talk's The Colour of Spring, Spirit of Eden, and Laughing Stock are profound works of art.
Quick history: In the early '80s, this British group started out seemingly in the same league as new wave synth bands like Spandau Ballet and Flock of Seagulls. Ok, not quite. Singer songwriter Mark Hollis always had a depth that distinguished the band even then. Their early albums sound very much of their time, but the title track of the group's third record, It's My Life (1984), was a hit and hinted at hidden depths. The turning point was 1986’s breakthrough, The Colour of Spring, a great album featuring stellar guitar work by Peter Gabriel's axeman, David Rhodes, and Robbie McIntosh of The Pretenders. Steve Winwood guested on organ. The album even yielded a minor hit, “Life's What You Make It,” a classic pop song that pivots on an impossibly hooky recurring piano motif. (See video up top.) On that album, Talk Talk had begun to strip away the synths in favor of a more organic sound.
Two years later, Spirit of Eden completed the band’s transformation. All the synths have been replaced by instruments such as guitar, piano, drums, clarinets, harmonium, bassoon, oboe, trumpet, and violins. The beautifully recorded album is at once atmospheric and textured without seeming cluttered and Baroque. It’s experimental, too.
You cannot tell that Spirit of Eden was recorded in the 1980s because it sounds so timeless. If Erik Satie had been a rock musician, this is the record he'd have made. It's a very dark album. Hollis, with his singularly unique and emotional voice, sounds like he'd be better off on a psychiatrist's couch than in a recording studio.
As Alan McGee (who signed Oasis and Primal Scream) recently described it in The Guardian:
Spirit of Eden has not dated; it's remarkable how contemporary it sounds, anticipating post-rock, the Verve and Radiohead. It's the sound of an artist being given the keys to the kingdom and returning with art. Yet upon completion it was seen as utter commercial suicide, as if Duran Duran had released a krautrock, free jazz, gospel album after Notorious.
In reappraising the album recently, Simon Harper of The Birmingham Post wrote:
Spirit of Eden is best described as a collection of compositions, sparse and spacious, than an album of conventional pop songs. Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space. Even the concept of the traditional rock line-up is subverted on a record of such hushed beauty. Built upon layers of piano, organ, bass and guitar, it nevertheless takes in bassoon, oboe and clarinet, while “I Believe in You” features the Chelmsford Cathedral choir. Listening to its six tracks now, Spirit of Eden is still markedly alien-sounding; a feat which Radiohead have clearly tried to emulate, while coming nowhere near the spectral grace imagined by Mark Hollis. While the Cocteau Twins and various other 4AD bands have been roundly praised for their dream-pop collages, Talk Talk's contribution to the British rock canon has long been ignored.
Tragically, this album is an example of an artistic success that was a commercial failure. Spirit of Eden was ahead of its time. The record company EMI didn't understand the record and they didn't hear a hit single. Hollis and co. had a messy divorce from EMI amid several lawsuits when the label released an album of dance remixes of the band’s songs.
Yet few records have been as influential. To this day, Talk Talk continues to be a band that finds fresh converts through word of mouth. For instance, Jonathan Meiburg, leader of the Texan art rock band Shearwater, recalls how he first heard Talk Talk when he stayed the night on a friend’s floor and awoke to the smell of fresh coffee and the sound of a record-player needle touching down on the timeless grooves of Spirit of Eden. To Meiburg, the sound of Mark Feltham’s overdriven harmonica cutting through the sonic fog of “The Rainbow” was a revelation. When he heard the forlorn lament of Hollis’s voice moments later, he was forever changed as a musician. Similarly, the likes of Elbow, Robert Plant, Doves, Radiohead, Sarah McLachlan, Porcupine Tree, No-Man, Sigur Rós and Bon Iver cite Talk Talk as a key influence.
Talk Talk made one more album after Spirit of Eden, a fine farewell titled Laughing Stock. To many, the album is the band’s very greatest and it further refined the sound of Spirit of Eden. Pitchfork awarded an exceptionally rare grade of 10/10 to the recent reissue and also named it the 11th best record of the 1990s. By the release of Laughing Stock, however, bassist Paul Webb had been marginalized. The record was largely the word of Hollis and producer/co-writer Tim Friese-Greene with contributions by drummer Lee Harris. It was inevitable, then, that Talk Talk would disband. The rhythm section of Lee Harris and Paul Webb formed the band O.rang. Producer Tim Friese-Greene, the unofficial fourth member of the group who co-wrote songs with Hollis from The Colour of Spring onward, started recording under the name Heligoland. Bass player Webb also hooked up with Beth Gibbons of Portishead and made a good album under the band name Rustin' Man.
Mark Hollis released one eponymously titled solo album in the mid '90s. It distilled Talk Talk’s sound to a purely acoustic, chamber-music sound record live in a studio with no overdubs. While that album lacks the melodic strengths of earlier Hollis work, it's an exquisite recording—you can hear the scrape of fingers on frets— and "A Life (1895 - 1915)" is one of his finest compositions. Not long after the release of his solo record, Hollis followed in the footsteps of the likes of J.D. Salinger, Harper Lee and Bill Watterson by retiring early and leading an entirely private life, shunning all interview requests. But, like those other creative geniuses, he has left an astonishing legacy.
Seek out Talk Talk’s last three albums. Listen to them loud and with the lights off….
UPDATE: I had a brain fart and initially wrote James Marsh's name as Richard - apologies for that and I have made that correction!
I've waited more than a decade for a new album by one of my all-time favorite guitarists, Trevor Rabin who is best known as the guitarist and principal songwriter in the band YES from 1983 to 1994. (Yep, he's the dude who wrote "Owner of a Lonely Heart.") His last solo record was 1989's Can't Look Away and his last rock record was YES's Talk in 1994.
that Rabin has idle over the years. Far from it. In fact, he's released
an album or two -- sometimes even three -- every single year since he
quit YES. Those albums are soundtrack records, usually for Jerry Bruckheimer movies such as Enemy of the State, Remember the Titans, The Scorceror's Apprentice, Gone In 60 Seconds, Armageddon, National Treasure and Get Smart.
I've enjoyed many of the South African guitarist's compositions from
those movies but I've missed his guitar playing which only occasionally
makes an appearance on his soundtracks. Jacaranda isn't anything
like Trevor's great back catalog of solo records or his work with YES.
In fact, it's a purely instrumental record and it's gonna surprise a lot
It's also going to confound a lot of listeners. A good friend of mine who is a big fan of Trevor Rabin hates this record. Personally, I love it and I've been playing it repeatedly for months ever since I received
a promo copy of it. (I had the pleasure of interviewing Rabin for Rock Square and the interview will soon.)
Here's what's so interesting about this
album: At one time, many YES fans accused Rabin of just being merely a
flashy rock guitarist who lacked Steve Howe's diverse vocabulary of
classical guitar, bluegrass, and jazz. Yet Jacaranda demonstrates that Rabin is virtuoso in all those areas, too, and is so much more than just a flashy rock guitarist. Jacaranda
is a very unusual record that spans a wide range of influences (usually
in just one song) ranging from traditional jazz guitar, bluegrass,
progressive rock, classical music, jazz fusion, and hard rock.
instance the second track, "Market Street," is a great summation of all
those influences. It starts with a Carl Verheyen-style electric guitar
riff and then segues into YES-style prog with tricky time changes
(almost reminiscent of "I'm Running" from YES's Big Generator)
before detouring into jazz guitar licks and then bluegrass dobro similar
to that of Union Station's Jerry Douglas. All in the space of one
When the epic "Anderley Road" starts with jazz
licks, you may wonder if you've stumbled into a Joe Pass record, but
then it transforms into something that sounds almost like Chris Squire's
"Fish" but with rootsy dobro guitar and then it goes into some pretty
spacey jazz-rock guitar over jazz-y drumming and piano.
the Tunnel" starts off as with tranquil piano and pastoral bluegrass
guitar and then it works up a head of steam before the track shifts into
some very recognizably Rabin-esque hard rock with a jazz rock section
that is pure Jeff Beck-inspired stuff with fiery lead guitar.
(Appropriately enough, Jeff Beck's former rhythm section, drummer Vinnie
Coliauta and bassist Tal Wilkenfeld, guest on this track.) You can also
hear the DNA of Rabin's solo work plus some elements of his adventurous
YES stuff (such as "I'm Running," "Miracle of Life," "Endless Dream").
The guitarwork in this one gets my adrenaline pumping every time.
A few of the tracks, such as "Rescue," sound very soundtrack-y.
very far out stuff, bold and adventurous and unpredictable. Those
hankering after some old-school Trevor Rabin will get a kick out of the
track "Me and My Boy." (If the title is anything to go by, I assume that
Trevor's son, Ryan, is on drums). It has a killer big rock riff. Truth
be told, I'd worried that Rabin's formidable guitar skills may have
waned since he left YES to compose movie scores, but Rabin's six-string
gymnastics on this record are pretty kick ass.