Thoughts on the 2022 Grammy Nominations

What a long, strange year it’s been. The fact that we’re even having an almost normal 2022 Grammy ceremony is a miracle in itself, considering the pandemic has caused havoc to the music industry on so many different levels. Consequently it’s been a variable year in terms of quality releases, so I’m thankful to have these nominations to remind us of what good stuff deserves further attention. Continue reading “Thoughts on the 2022 Grammy Nominations”

Album Review – Aimee Mann – Queens Of the Summer Hotel

Susanna Kaysen once said that what inspired her to write Girl, Interrupted was ‘rage and a desire to dissect this world.’ The book, about her stay in a mental hospital in the 1960s, was not a traditional misery memoir of personal confession, it was postmodern and episodic, full of silences and omissions – an ‘artefact’ rather than a transcription of reality.

The filmed version abandoned this structure for a more traditional narrative arc, so much so that Kaysen said she felt like she ‘didn’t even write this book’. Despite its deviation from the source material, the film’s central performances from Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie still encapsulated the madness and despair of the book. The excellent soundtrack used sixties pop songs with sweetly miserable lyrics like ‘Downtown’ by Petula Clark and in one shocking and brutal sequence ‘The End of the World’ by Skeeter Davis.

A few years ago plans were made to write a Girl, Interrupted stage musical and singer songwriter Aimee Mann was enlisted to compose the music. The project is much delayed and may never see the light of day, so Mann decided to release the songs separately as a full album.

Queens of the Summer Hotel’ uses the original elliptical nature of the book’s structure and successfully captures the true essence of the source material in beautiful songs of despair, dark humour and quiet hope. Continue reading “Album Review – Aimee Mann – Queens Of the Summer Hotel”

Album Review: Brandi Carlile – In These Silent Days

When Brandi Carlile won her Grammy for Best Americana album her speech was not just a moment of personal celebration, it was also a statement about the genre itself:

Americana music is the island of the misfit toys. I am such a misfit. It is this music that has shaped my life and made me who I am. I came out of the closet at 15 years old…and I can assure that you I was never invited to any parties and never got to attend a dance. To be embraced by this enduring & loving community has been the dance of a lifetime. Thank you for being my island.

To find a place where your difference makes you not an outcast but part of a kind and harmonious patchwork of people is not just what a musical genre can be, it’s an ideal that America, and the world itself, should strive for. A lifted lamp by the golden door. A welcome for all. Continue reading “Album Review: Brandi Carlile – In These Silent Days”

Album Review: Adia Victoria – A Southern Gothic

On her last album Adia Victoria was deep in the Silences, wrestling with death, the devil and the blues. Last year, in response to the turbulent traumas inflicted on her country, she released the potent single ‘South Gotta Change’, a rallying call for a new American future. Interesting then that ‘A Southern Gothic’ does not include that song, offering instead a narrative arc which explores the push and pull of the place she has long been ‘stuck in’, ultimately finding some peace within the oppressive reality of living in the South. Continue reading “Album Review: Adia Victoria – A Southern Gothic”

Dolly Parton’s Discography: Little Sparrow (2001)

On Dolly’s album ‘Eagle When She Flies the sparrow of the title song was broken, small, defeated in comparison with the soaring majesty of the bird of prey. Here on her second full length bluegrass album Little Sparrow, the title track takes that idea further with the sparrow as a symbol of femininity, fragility, which men ‘crush’.

The sorrow never ends,’ Dolly sings with an understanding of the tragedy of a woman’s life. Musically this melody was adapted from an old folk song. Her voice is quietly hushed, the music a haunting tale of heartbreak. She has a confidence in her vision on these albums and with the help of the excellent band she realises it with stunning authenticity and immediacy.

The photos for this album were shot by Jim Harrington who recalls that Dolly wanted a ‘grittier…back-to-her-roots’ aesthetic. He shot the pictures in a cabin outside of Nashville, creating an eerie out of time kind of atmosphere. Dolly leans on the ‘blue’ of the genre here, singing a darker, more reflective take on the genre. In fact Dolly called the album ‘blue mountain music’. Continue reading “Dolly Parton’s Discography: Little Sparrow (2001)”

Album Review: Kacey Musgraves – star-crossed

In her recent New York Times interview Kacey Musgraves joked that she ‘wasn’t going to be a real country artist without at least one divorce under my belt’. That’s the kind of self deprecating, knowing humour which she sprinkled through her first three albums, culminating in her triumphant success at the Grammys in 2019.

Golden Hour was strikingly original, hugely influential and every single song on that album could have been a radio hit. The fact the Grammys understood its power more than country radio tells you why she had to leave that genre behind. Mainstream country is a lost cause, more so now than ever – it’s become such a difficult place for most progressive female artists I’m just glad that some of them get out of there alive. Take country with you but dear god don’t look back.

star-crossed works best when listened to as a whole and indeed as a sequel – a splintering to what came before. Despite the light modern production this album strangely feels less commercial, with fewer big hooks and melodies. After the Golden Hour faded Kacey sounds like she got high and disappeared into the clouds. Blur the pain away. Continue reading “Album Review: Kacey Musgraves – star-crossed”

Slight Return

Doesn’t everyone at some point dream of going back in time to their youth? Who wouldn’t want to experience life again without the crushing reality of adult human existence weighing us all down?

After the last eighteen months of coronavirus hell, I was craving such a moment. So when I saw the chance to get tickets to see two bands I had loved as a teenager – Britpop legends Sleeper and the Bluetones – it felt like a strange kind of serendipity. Restrictions had just been lifted in Scotland. I was double jagged and desperate to get some kind of normality back to my flatlined existence. Continue reading “Slight Return”

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