Tagged: blues

The Loving Tongue


Here’s the latest outburst of mean-spirited evil acoustic gittarring hoodoo from Bill Orcutt, the guitarist from Harry Pussy who caused such a stir when he resurfaced from a long silence armed with an acoustic guitar so fierce that you could hear the very grain of the wood when he played it in his angry, restless and atonal way. On A History Of Every One (EDITIONS MEGO eMEGO 173) the ferocity that I seem to recall from 2009′s A New Way To Pay Old Debts may have mollified by one or two degrees, allowing us better to concentrate on Orcutt’s curious approach where he mixes primitive blues/country idioms with a very strong bent on modernistic free improvisation, so that he continues to comes across as a more forceful and grumpier version of John Fahey inhabited by a ghostly variant of Sonny Sharrock with thin reedy fingers clutching the neck like a lifeline. The sensation of hearing many poltergeists channelled through a single physical entity is reinforced by Orcutt’s eerie vocalisings on this record, which aren’t really singing so much as the sort of weird wailing that most great jazz pianists use, in what I had always assumed was a sort of guide-track to keep their keys in tune with the melody and their body in time with the swing. If you scope the back cover of this release you’ll see a clutch of titles that reflect either an appreciation of primitive swamp blues (‘Black Snake Moan’, ‘Bring Me My Shotgun’, ‘Massa’s in the Cold Cold Ground’) or allude to standards from the American songbook of Grade-A schmaltz, including ‘White Christmas’, ‘The Ballad of Davy Crockett’ and ‘Zip A Dee Doo Dah’ 1. And ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ may be intended as another nod in Fahey’s direction, viz. Fare Forward Voyagers or any of his works which hinted at his love-hate relationship with the Christian faith. However, as you will hear when he plays these tunes, they are by no means cover versions that remain faithful to their sources, and that’s putting it mildly, nor do they dwell in any known blues modes for more than five seconds at a time. While we’re looking at the cover, note how stark and unadorned it be with its sans-serif fonts and no images. Orcutt’s White Album, without a doubt. From October 2013.


Another strong record from the Norwegian trio Cakewalk who we last heard with their 2012 debut album Wired; they use synths, guitars, bass and drums to produce excellent improvised instrumental work, situated somewhere more or less in the area of avant-garde rock music, but enriched with plenty of ideas, innovation, and just sheer tough-mindedness driving every note, plus a great approach to making records that ensures clarity, depth, and a straight left to the jaw for every listener. Stephan Meidell, Øystein Skar and Ivar Loe Bjørnstad work hard to escape cliché and over-familiar sounds, and they can be quite indignant if ever challenged about their supposed “resemblance” to any given band or genre of music: “chances are we’ve never listened to them”, they assert, when presented with a music journalist’s review studded with lists of references. For the most part, Transfixed (HUBRO MUSIC HUBROCD2526) has a sombre and heavy approach in the performances which I would liken to holding a conversation with a troupe of heavy-set tattooed wrestlers who have somehow been awarded professorial chairs at a school of advanced study, and who now hold no truck with dissenters as they lecture from the podium on their chosen subjects with gravity and authority. This is especially true of the relentless chugging motion of ‘Ghosts’, a piece of music whose stern aspect is only slightly leavened by a surface of decorative electronic trills used about as sparingly as silver balls on a miser’s birthday cake; and the controlled hysteria of ‘Swarm’, which could be used to provoke a riot in any given crowded situation, for example the New York stock exchange floor. ‘Bells’ is trying a shade too hard to be more likeable, and in places could be mistaken for a media-friendly arthouse movie soundtrack, and ‘Dive’ is a misguided attempt to do the ‘bleak ambient’ thing, which this trio are not suited for; they’re just too loquacious for effective minimalism. But the remainder, ‘Dunes’ and especially the dour title track, deliver just the right tone of steely menace, all set to a thrilling rock beat. From 07 October 2013.

  1. That last title is its own double-edged sword; it famously appeared in Disney’s Song of the South, the kitschy 1946 movie which has since been frowned upon, for what are now perceived as racist themes.

Then I saw the Congo, creeping through the black

As part of my musings today I consider a photograph I took on Friday of a Lego Giraffe in Berlin. All of us like to think we’re seeing something special on our travels overseas, but with the internet and digital cameras and everyone immersed in a rising tide of instantly-available images, I find some of that magic is wearing a bit thin. I need only click on to Flickr.com to discover multiple images of the Lego Giraffe from multiple contributors, each of them probably equally unexceptional, with mine being the most banal of them all. Before digital cameras, I suppose it was only the poor bloke who worked in the one-hour photo place that experienced this awful disenchantment brought about by a plenitude of interchangeable views of the seven wonders of the world. By sheer volume and repetition of images, the specialness and unattainability of experience is being worn away, its erosion measurable in bits and bytes.

An artist ought to give us a special view of the world. Today for me it’s possible to imagine a surreal vista of green sunlit fields of Cambridge in June, overlaid with a view of the Savannahs of Africa, a 1930s photograph of mud flats in Mississippi and the floodplains of Thailand as presented by National Geographic magazine. It’s a kaleidoscopic vision, but it’s coherent – all the geographical features match up. Hard by is my guide C Joynes in his sun helmet, his acoustic guitar and banjo under one arm, and a clutch of albums under the other – English folk from the Topic label, 1960s free jazz on Atlantic, old 78s by Skip James and Charley Patton, his mind constantly making cross-references between these and with the Folkways LPs of Indonesian and Asian music provided by friend Simon Loynes, who is within hailing distance. Images swim back and forth, birds fly backwards reversing time with their wings, mighty trees sink into the ground, and spectres rise from unknown locales. All this is accomplished in short, compressed musical utterances performed with the grace and lightness of touch of a true master.

Hope some of this conveys how delighted I am with the new album from C Joynes, Congo (BO’ WEAVIL RECORDINGS WEAVIL46 CD) which arrived here in October 2011, the follow-up to Revenants, Prodigies And The Restless Dead released in 2009 by this same label in a similar “house style” package. C Joynes continues to make gloriously beautiful instrumental music and, just like two years ago, I am barely able to write anything useful about it. In creating his crystal-clear blends of stirring melodies inspired by the folk musics of the world, Joynes plays mostly acoustic guitar and possibly the banjo, maybe some slide guitar on one track; he’s joined by his team of collaborators including Patrick Farmer, Dominic Lash, Simon Loynes and Richard Partidge, here credited as The Marsh Arabs and adding delicious touches of percussion, bass and stringed instruments. The violin work of Partridge is especially welcome, adding its scrapy and mournful drone sparingly at key moments, causing hairs to rise on the back of the spine. Further exotic voicings are added by Loynes (a.k.a. The Doozer) with his Indian Tarang, and his Phin (lute-ish) and Khaen (harmonica-ish) from Thailand. These additions are subtle, understated, not a jarring mix or a mannered contrivance; all natural, all good.

Bruce Russell, famed New Zealand guitarist and musical connoisseur, contributes the sleeve notes to this one and he joins the long list of writers, myself included, who are amazed and astounded to the point of being flummoxed at Joynes’ fluency with a wide range of international musics from the past and presents configurations of our wonderful globe. On this album Russell can hear exciting confluences of Indian, African, English folk and American bluegrass music, delivered by Joynes with his characteristic playing style – assured, measured, accurate as a diamond, and with no attempt at flashiness. Joynes is not attempting to bewilder the listener with an indigestible stew that mixes up genres, styles and indigenous musics simply for novelty’s sake. It’s not incumbent on us to decode all the resonances and layers of meaning, nor to attempt to spot the joins (pun intended) where the early country blues tune cross-bred with Martin Carthy leaves off and the Java gamelan music informed by Congolese drumming begins, and I’m not a musicologist in any case. Joynes has done all that work for us, and with his intelligence, discrimination, intuition and sheer raw talent, is carefully and quietly crafting a fully-articulated musical vocabulary that is quite unique and his alone. No purist he, one who insists on preserving ethnic music through slow fossilisation. Nor does he need to extemporise on his guitar at length with 20-minute guitar-orchestra symphonies; he packs dense volumes of information into tunes some two or three minutes in length. We can be assured, as we listen, that there is an honesty and authenticity to every note he plays, and all we need do is open our ears and let the beauty come streaming in.

I would add that on this occasion, what comes over very strongly is a sense of warmth and compassion as well, and it’s embedded in the very musical forms they play but also in the collaborative playing which is much more to the fore than previous releases that have tended to showcase Joynes solo. In his trusted team of cohorts and friends, Joynes is constantly arriving at a shared view of the mysterious other-worlds in past and present incarnations, and they are able to pass this on to us, giving us magical glimpses of ‘Joseph in the Sea of Corn’ or the terrifying ‘Ghosts of the Field’. As with previous releases, the musical tapestry is enhanced by a rich array of visual and written clues, scattered about the artwork of the release, and I will leave you to discover and interpret these in your own time, but the patterns continue to emerge – nature, fields, birds; musicological studies, tracing of sources, unlikely and unexpected connections; travel, geography, transport; personal and poetic names for things, such as ‘The Beast of Elham’ which is just too wonderful a name to simply be another musical instrument. Through these combined and oblique magical forces, Joynes welcomes you back into the world of the living and invites you to open your eyes and share the joy of simplicity.

Also available as a limited vinyl LP with a silkscreened cover.

1st March 2012 update: C Joynes writes to point us here and tell us “If Congo had an annotated bibliography, it’d look like these two mixtapes.”

Good Friday (TSP radio show 14/04/06)

  1. John Coltrane, ‘Ascension (part 2)’ (fade) (1965)
    From Ascension, UK JASMINE RECORDS JAS 45 LP (1970)
  2. Thomas Tallis, extracts from Cantiones Sacrae Volume One
    Sung by Cantores in Ecclesia (Michael Howard)
    UK L’OISEAU-LYRE (DECCA) SOL 311 LP (1969)
  3. Terry Riley, ‘Chorale of the Blessed Day’
    From Songs for the Ten Voices of the Two Prophets, GERMANY KUCKKUCK 067 LP (1983)
  4. Olivier Messiaen, ‘Offertoire: Les choses visibles et invisibles’
    From Messe de la Pentecôte, FRANCE CALLIOPE CAL 1927 LP (ND)
  5. Pierre Henry, ‘La Bête de La Mer’ (1968)
    From Apocalypse de Jean, FRANCE MANTRA RECORDS 080 2 x CD (1994)
  6. Charlemagne Palestine, ‘Alloy’ (fade) (1969)
    From Alloy (Golden 1), ITALY ALGA MARGHEN plana-P 13NMN.035 CD (2000)
  7. Alfred Deller, ‘Iam Christus astra ascenderat’ (Tallis)
    From 50 Years of The Deller Concert, VANGUARD CLASSICS 99220 2 x CD (2000)
  8. Morton Feldman, ‘Voice, Violin and Piano’ (1976)
    From Only. Works for Voices and Instruments, USA NEW ALBION RECORDS NA085CD CD (1996)
  9. Krzysztof Penderecki, extract from Lukas-Passion (1967)
    GERMANY HARMONIA MUNDI 157 EX 19 9660 3 2 x LP (ND)
  10. Albert Ayler, ‘Holy Family’
    From Lörrach / Paris 1966, SWITZERLAND hat MUSICS 3500 2 x LP (1982)
  11. Blind Willie Johnson, ‘John the Revelator’ (1930)
    From Anthology of American Folk Music Volume Two. Edited by Harry Smith, USA SMITHSONIAN FOLKWAYS RECORDINGS SW CD 40090 6 x CD (1997)

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