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Albums of the Year: 2009

December 22nd, 2009 7 comments

You can finally exhale: here are my top 20 albums of 2009. Apart from the two top spots, the order is rather random. Ask me in ten minutes’ time, and Grizzly Bear or M. Ward might sit at number 3 and 4. I’ve put sample tracks of each album on a mix; the song titles appear at the end each abstract.

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1. Richard Hawley – Truelove’s Gutter
I didn’t expect Hawley to top his majestic 2005 album Coles Corner. A profoundly soulful pop symphony with accomplished and unusual instrumentation, Truelove’s Gutter may very well be the best album of the decade.
(Open Up Your Door) Homepage

2. Ben Kweller – Changing Horses
Kweller at last finds his sound (changing horses?) with an outstanding country album that provides an antidote to the corporate side of the genre. An absolute joy.
(Gypsy Rose) Homepage

3. Wilco – Wilco (The Album)
Wilco are incapable of releasing a bad album. The eponymous album will probably not go down in the band’s history as a classic, but it’s solid quality.
(You And I) Homepage

4. Brandi Carlile – Give Up The Ghost
It took me a few listens to realise just how good an album this Rick Rubin-produced effort is. Stay-At-Home Indie Pop put it better than I could: “Anthemic, brash, cool… the abc of Brandi, and I could go on to devilish, euphoric, fresh but fragile, and beyond (to gargantuan, hoarse-heavenly, incandescent), but all I want to really do is pathetically declare my love.” But will you still do so when Brandi gets that first clutch of Grammys, Indie-Pop? See if you can guess, without googling, with whom Carlile duets on Caroline.
(Caroline) Homepage

5. Farryl Purkiss – Fruitbats & Crows
The South African singer-songwriter dude returns three years after his excellent full debut with rockier effort. Purkiss draws his influences widely but manages to create his own coherent, late night sound.
(Seraphine) Homepage

6. Elvis Perkins – Elvis Perkins In Dearland
Here’s what I wrote earlier this year: Imagine Dylan as an indie artist, but with an appealing voice. There is a bit of an experimental edge to it, which in the wrong mood can be annoying, but exhilarating in the right mood.
(Doomsday) MySpace

7. Prefab Sprout – Let’s Change The World With Music
Released 17 years after it was actually recorded, this is supposed to be Paddy McAloon’s lost masterpiece. It’s not a masterpiece, but a damn good, and very accessible album, on which McAloon is on a bit of a God trip.
(Last Of The Great Romantics) MySpace

8. Neko Case – Middle Cyclone
Pitchfork calls the New Pornographer “a force of nature”. Hackneyed turns of phrases, even when they intend to pun on an album title, sometimes are just the most appropriate. Case is so much a force of nature that listening to the album can leave the listener exhausted.
(People Got A Lotta Nerve) Homepage

9. Monsters of Folk – Homework
I should love this. Two Bright Eyes guys, M. Ward and the singer of My Morning Jacket, and a batch of very good songs. It’s a fine album, and yet it fills me with a sense of unease, the same vibe I got from the Travelin’ Wilburys (and one song here sounds like a Wilburys track!). And yet, I keep returning to Homework
(Man Named Truth) Homepage

10. Peasant – On The Ground
This deserved more of a buzz. Nicely crafted guy-with-guitar stuff that recalls Joshua Radin and, yeah, Elliot Smith, with a bit of Simon & Garfunkel. A lovely cool-down album.
(Fine Is Fine) MySpace

11. Eels – Hombre Lobo
E offers nothing much new here, but, hey, it’s an Eels album, and does everything you want an Eels album to do. That’s enough for me.
(That Look You Give That Guy) Homepage

12. Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest
Beguiling and frequently surprising. It’s an aural extravaganza. Now, which Ben Folds does Two Weeks borrow its riff from?
(Two Weeks) MySpace

13. Mindy Smith – Stupid Love
Indie-Pop may be in love with Brandi Carlile; I declare my (admittedly promiscuous) love for the likewise deceptively named Mindy Smith. Stupid Love, it must be said, is not as breathtaking an album as Mindy’s debut, One Moment More, but it has Mindy’s beautiful voice and pleasant enough songs.
(What Went Wrong) Homepage

14. Bob Evans – Goodnight Bull Creek
I’m a great fan of Evans’ 2006 sophomore album, Suburban Songs. Like that set, Goodnight Bull Creek was recorded in Nashville. Creek lacks the immediately catchy songs of the previous album, but has a much richer, textured production.
(Brother, O Brother) Homepage

15. Jason Paul Johnston – Willows Motel
Solid country, recalling Prine rather than Twitty. And just when I think Johnstone has settled into predictable country mode, he pulls something that makes me think, “What the fuck was that?”
(She’s A Friend) MySpace

16. Marissa Nadler – Little Hells
Again, to quote myself: I am not acquainted with Nadler’s previous effort; apparently it is gloomier than Little Hells. Well, this one isn’t a courtjesters’ convention of heedless madcappery either. It is, however, a beautiful, hypnotic album which draws much of its inspiration from medieval, cloistered sounds.
(Rosary) Homepage.

17. M. Ward – Hold Time
Here Ward draws from the heritage of country and soul, from the Beach Boys and from Spector — the choice of two covers affirm the retro vibe: an excellent cover of Buddy Holly’s Rave On, a less than brilliant rendition of Hank Williams’ Oh Lonesome Me (featuring Hank Sr’s namesake Lucinda). The production is polished, the sound a lot more mainstream than previous albums
(Rave On) Homepage

18. Loney, Dear – Dear John
Our Swedish homestudio-bound genius returns with another magical multi-layered chamber-pop epic which is at once orchestral and, largely thanks to the man’s voice, intimate.
(Airport Surroundings) Homepage

19. Micah P Hinson – All Dressed Up And Smelling Of Strangers
I am not a big fan over covers albums. Usually they are self-conscious about doing something “different” with a song, or issue redundant carbon copies. Cover albums work when the performer is idiosyncratic, so unique that he or she need not try to make a song sound differently. Johnny Cash pulled it off; and for the most part Hinson does so here, where he takes on the likes of Sinatra (My Way, the ambitious fucker!), Leadbelly, Holly, Dylan, Beatles and John Denver, armed mostly only with his trusty guitar and croaking voice.
(This Old Guitar) Homepage

20. Laura Gibson – Beasts of Seasons
Pitchfork nailed it when their reviewer called the singer-songwriter  Gibson’s music as “far better suited to a fireplace and a cup of warm apple cider than to your local Starbucks”. Beasts of Seasons is bleak and beautiful.
(Funeral Song) MySpace

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Albums of the Year: 2006

December 9th, 2009 4 comments

And here are my top 10 albums of 2006. I’m sad to omit albums by Jenny Lewis & the Watson Twins, Mindy Smith, Josh Ritter, Donavon Frankenreiter, Ben Kweller, Roddy Frame, Dévics, Belle & Sebastian, Josh Rouse, Phoenix, Harris Tweed, Counting Crows, Regina Spektor, I’m From Barcelona, Snow Patrol… As always, I emphasise that these are my personal favourites, albums I still dig out; it certainly is not a list of the year’s “best” albums, never mind the critics’ favourites.

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Crowded House – Farewell To The World

This is a strange choice for the top album of 2006, because it was recorded ten years earlier, at Crowded House’s final concert in Sydney in 1996. I may be drawing the wrath of all serious Crowded House fans when I declare that the version of almost every song here is superior to the studio recording. One highlight, of course, is Don’t Dream It’s Over, the sheer brilliance of which is not diminished by its ubiquity. It is the final song of the set, and Neil Finn graciously allows the crowd to sing the final line. On the DVD, there is a touching shot of a tearful drummer Paul Hester, all the more poignant now, since his suicide in 2005. The live versions of When You Come, Distant Sun, World Where You Live, Something So Strong, Private Universe and even Better be Home Soon in particular eclipse their original recordings.
Crowded House – Better Be Home Soon.mp3
Crowded House – Don’t Dream It’s Over.mp3

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Alexi Murdoch – Time Without Consequence

In the review of 2003, I included Murdoch’s debut EP, Four Songs. It took the London-born singer a while to finish his full debut. It was worth the wait. Murdoch is often compared to Nick Drake — the default measure to which all acoustic musicians with a soft voice are liable to be held. The comparison does stick on at least one point: the music of both Drake and Murdoch sounds much simpler than it really is. Love You More, for example, mesmerises on strength of minimalist lyrics and the absence of a chorus that might relieve the ardency of Murdoch’s declaration. Murdoch’s gentle intensity is quite compelling throughout. Musical scouts for TV series certainly seem to think so: Murdoch’s music has featured in several hit shows, including Grey’s Anatomy, House, Ugly Betty, The O.C. and Dirty Sexy Money (and that’s just the shows that featured the majestic Orange Sky). The song Home was used to great effect in the second season of Prison Break, when Mahone persuades Haywire to commit suicide.
Alexi Murdoch – Home.mp3

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The Weepies – Say I Am You

Do not be misled by the frankly unappealing name which Deb Talan and Steve Tannen adopted, for The Weepies’ folk-pop is not mawkish. And don’t be deceived by the cute cover, for The Weepies are not unrelentingly cute. Of course, Gotta Have You is cute, in the best possible way, as is Take It From Me. But there are poignant moments, such as World Spins Madly On, Riga Girls, Love Doesn’t Last Too Long, and Suicide Blonde (all Tannen songs). Talan is the counterweight to Tannen’s melancholy, especially with the lovely Not Your Year, which argues the case for optimism in adversity.
The Weepies – Take It From Me.mp3

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James Hunter – People Are Gonna Talk

James Hunter, a white soulboy from Colchester, England, sounds a lot like Sam Cooke. On People Are Gonna Talk, that provides us with the benefit of imaging what Cooke might have sounded like had he dabbled in ska occasionally. That’s the sound here: ’60s soul with a generous hint of ’60s reggae. Hunter made his influences apparent from the start: in the 1980s he fronted a group called Howlin’ Wilf and the Vee-Jays, at which point fellow soul afficionado Van Morrison discovered Hunter (apparently at the prompting of his local newsagent), and even appeared on his debut album, 1996’s Believe What I Say. A decade and another album later, People Are Gonna Talk was a breakthrough for Hunter, who earned a Grammy nomination — in the Blues category, just where an album entirely lacking in Blues belongs. The sound of People Are Gonna Talk may be solidly ’60s, but it is not in any way a derivative pastiche, never mind a tribute. Hunter lives in the genre, and doesn’t need to try hard to persuade us of his authenticity. It’s not even “blue eyed soul”; Hunter is a true soul singer. Cooke, Wilson and Redding would have approved.
James Hunter – I’ll Walk Away.mp3

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Bob Evans – Suburban Songbook

Kevin Mitchell left Aussie indie rockers Jebediah, changed his name to Bob Evans and became a country rocker. Recorded in Nashville and produced by Brad Jones (who has also produced Josh Rouse, Jill Sobule and Yo La Tengo), Suburban Songbook’s cheerful sound deflects the melancholy of many of Evans’ lyrics. Which is just as well, because Evans is an uneven lyricist, writing a brilliant line one minute, and a trite song the next. Suburban Songbook won the Australian equivalent of the Grammys (the ARIA Music Award), but, alas, that hasn’t helped break him big internationally.
Bob Evans – Sadness & Whiskey.mp3

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Joshua Radin – We Were Here

Alexi Murdoch gets the Drake comparisons, and Joshua Radin even more so, even though a nod to Elliot Smith seems more pertinent. On his full debut, Radin whispers more than he sings. Apparently the hushed voice, which works so well with his affecting lyrics and gentle melodies, was imposed by the circumstance of Radin recording his songs in a New York apartment. A considerate man, he obviously didn’t want to annoy the neighours. And like Murdoch, Radin has had several of his songs featured on the TV series circuit. Indeed, that’s how he made his breakthrough. The story goes that Radin gave a copy of his song Winter (which appeared on the enjoyable First Between 3rd And 4th EP, released in 2004) to Zach Braff of the show Scrubs, who included it on the show. Radin re-recorded Winter for the full debut.
Joshua Radin – Someone Else’s Life.mp3

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Eels – With Strings (Live At Town Hall)

As my list of omissions in the instalment for 2005 shows, one of my favourite albums of that year was Blinking Lights and Other Revelations, a double album that almost justified its length. With Strings incorporates much of Blinking Lights. As the title promises, on this live set E’s vocals are backed with strings. Setting rock to clsassical arrangement is an overused gimmick, and can create utter disasters (Meat Loaf’s philharmonic re-recording of Bat Out Of Hell!), though this is a rather unexpected combination. Happily, strings aren’t intrusive; the idea here clearly was not to go symphonic but to introduce something different into the live versions while maintaining the integrity of the studio versions. It works well, though not necessarily so well that these new versions eclipse the originals. The strings do add to the creepiness of Novocaine For The Soul, however, and emphasise the lonely sadness in It’s A Motherfucker.
Eels – It’s A Motherfucker.mp3

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Farryl Purkiss – Farryl Purkiss

I’ve bigged up the South African singer-songwriter before, most recently HERE. Purkiss’ mellow, melodic sound, filled with memorable hooks, invites misleading comparisons with Jack Johnson, with whom he has collaborated. This is an introspective album, telling of relationships (with a woman, himself, the world) breaking down and then healing, of despair, and of having hope. South African artists rarely break big internationally. Purkiss deserves to reach a wide audience far beyond South Africa. Maybe he’ll get some attention after one of the songs from this set, Sticks And Stones, featured in an episode of Private Practice (a rather horrible TV show, populated by constantly smirking, deeply disagreeable characters).

I’ve mentioned the inclusion of artist’s music on TV shows a few times, so obviously I welcome it when artists I like are featured on soundtracks, or even commercials. Music blogs are one means by which the music researchers for TV shows and trendy soundtracks dig up artists who aren’t very well known. The licensing fees the artists receive for being featured on TV serials and commercials helps keep their heads above water, and having their music score a scene in a TV show or movie gives them the publicity they need to attract audiences to their concerts (who then, hopefully, buy CDs and merchandise at the gigs). It’s a new business model which allows performers maintain greater artistic control than they’d enjoy in the service of Corporate Music. So, researcher for Grey’s Anatomy, check out this song:
Farryl Purkiss – Escalator.mp3

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Catherine Feeny – Hurricane Glass

This was a folk-pop album I discovered quite by chance, on strength of its appealing cover, I think. Born in Philadelphia, Feeny lived in rural England when she recorded Hurricane Glass, an intimate album with intelligent lyrics telling of struggles with regret, disillusionment, insecurity, and melancholy. Frequently these struggles are mitigated by a sense of hope. Mr Blue, with its cute flugelhorn interlude, is probably the album’s best known song. It has featured on a few soundtracks, notably in Running With Scissors (the song featured in the Songbirds mix I posted last year).

On the song Unsteady Grounds, Feeny takes issue with the people who swallowed the barefaced lies propagated by Bush and Blair before the invasion of Iraq. Feeny does well to cast the net of blame for the unprovoked invasion of Iraq wider than the warmongers. Bush and Blair are representatives of a profession whose practitioners we are conditioned not to trust. The large and articulate opposition to the proposed war set out a compelling case that Bush and Blair were predicating their invasion on an audacious lie. Yet people believed them. More astonishingly, so many people swallowed their even more audacious lie: that they were “misinformed” by “faulty” “intelligence” (and then some). So many people believed patent bullshit that Bush and Cheney —and indeed Tony Blair — were re-elected.
Catherine Feeny – Touch Back Down.mp3

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Foo Fighters – Skin And Bones

Watching the DVD of this live set, I am always struck by the irony that former Nirvana drummer Grohl is the Foo Fighters’ frontman and the Foo’s drummer, Taylor Hawkins, is a spitting image of Kurt Cobain. Did Grohl plan it that way? Here Grohl and pals strip the old alt.rock songs down to something approaching acoustic (hence the album’s title, which is also a fairly rare Foo Fighters song). For the most part, it works well. Most of these songs have substance even when they are not amplified by loud guitars. On the closing track, a superb version of Everlong, the band shows that they can make a hell of a noise even acoustic style.
Foo Fighters – Everlong.mp3

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Foo Fighters – Everlong.mp3

South African pop for election day

April 22nd, 2009 8 comments

Today South Africans go to the polls to elect their new parliament, which in turn will elect the president. It’s a foregone conclusion that the African National Congress will win a majority; the only question is whether they will repeat their two-thirds plus majority of 1999 and 2004. Of interest will be also how the smaller parties, especially the ANC-breakaway Congress of the People will fare, and whether the ANC will lose, as expected, the regional government of the Western Cape (the province that includes Cape Town).

But I did the political thing on Monday. To mark the South African elections, let’s have some randomly chosen South African pop music. I covered the SA jazz angle a couple of months ago with this mix (did anyone like it?).

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Farryl Purkiss – Better Days.mp3
farryl_purkissAn appropriate title for today, even if the certain election of the misogynist homophobe Jacob Zuma is not a cause for extravagant optimism (though he can’t be much worse than Aids denialist, Mugabe-supporting Thabo Mbeki) . I’ve pushed the fare of Durban’s Farryl Purkiss in the past. This track, from his wonderful eponymously-titled 2006 album, is absolutely beautiful, in the singer-songwriter vein. He cites as an influence Elliott Smith, and at times sounds a lot like him, as well as the likes of Iron & Wine, Joe Purdy, Sufjan Stevens and Calexico. I have a hunch that Purkiss might have listened also to ’70s folkie Shawn Phillips (who, incidentally, now lives in South Africa) and the majestic Patty Griffin. I wrote about a Purkiss gig I saw in July 2007 (here), where I took the photo on the right; oddly, I have missed all his subsequent gigs in my area. Purkiss on MySpace.

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Josie Field – Every Now And Then.mp3
josie_fieldThe same year, the lovely Josie Field had a radio hit (singles aren’t widely sold in SA, so charts are based on radio airplay) with this excellent song. I’m waiting for Natalie Imbruglia or somebody like that to cover it. Her debut album apparently sold 7,000 copies, which in her genre in South Africa is a very respectable number. With figures like that, I don’t know why anyone with Field’s obvious talent would bother to release albums in South Africa. (Homepage)
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Bright Blue – Weeping.mp3
bright-blueA real South African classic from 1986 which I think had some influence on the anti-apartheid struggle by way of conscientising young white South Africans. The song is about apartheid-era president PW Botha’s antics and features the strains of the then-banned struggle hymn Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrica. Strangely the state-owned radio stations played Weeping prodigiously. Songs had been banned for much less (a year previously, all Stevie Wonder music was banned from the airwaves after the singer dedicated his Grammy to Nelson Mandela).

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Juluka – Impi.mp3
julukaJuluka’s frontman Johnny Clegg — the “White Zulu” — did a great deal for the struggle by integrating himself into Zulu culture, with sincerity and respect for Zulu culture. His groups, first Juluka and then Savuka, where multi-racial at a time when that was virtually unheard of. I have seen many concerts by Clegg’s groups, including a fantastic one in London’s Kentish Town & Country Club. Invariably, these were incredibly energetic. As a live performer, Clegg was not far behind Springsteen. The highlight always 1981’s Impi, which would send the crowd wild, especially when Clegg did those high-kicking, floor-board shattering Zulu wardance moves.

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Brenda Fassie – Vuli Ndlela.mp3
brenda_fassieRecently a contestant in South Africa’s Idols show was favourably compared to the late Brenda Fassie. Such compliments are not offered lightly, not by sensible people. Fassie was a superstar, throughout Africa. People have compared her to Madonna (minus Fassie’s drug abuse, violence, lapses into madness, financial difficulties, lesbian affairs, and premature death). The comparison flatters Madonna. Fassie was a superstar but yet still one with the people, of the people. She showed that talent and charisma trumps vacant beauty. Vuli Ndlela was Fassie’s huge dance hit from 1998, an infectious number that by force of sheer energy compensates for some regrettable production values.

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Freshlyground – Castles In The Sky.mp3
freshlygroundDespite rumours of an impending break-up, Freshlygrounds remain South Africa’s most popular group. The multi-ethnic group transcends boundaries of race and genre. The group’s first hit, 2002’s Castles In The Sky, is a good example of veering between genres. This remixed version received the airplay; the original is a slightly African-inflected pop song which Everything But The Girl might have sung. The superior remix adds to it a House feel which turns the song into a slow-burning dance track. (Freshlyground homepage)

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Niki Daly – Is It An Ism Or Is It Art.mp3
nikidalyIn 1984, artist and author of children’s books Niki Daly had one of the more bizarre South African hits with this song, doubtless inspired by the likes of Bowie, Roxy Music, Gary Numan and Thomas Dolby. A great slice of mid-80s new wave. Like so much of great South African songs, it made no impression on the international charts. At least one of his books, Not So Fast, Songololo, is a children’s book classic. Many of the Capetonian’s books published in the 1980s promoted interracial relations, thereby helping to instil a mindset among those who were then children (and are now young adults) that colour ought not be a social barrier. Read more on Daly’s books.

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André de Villiers – Memories.mp3
andre-de-villiers-017I have posted this before, and it proved a very popular song. When the link went dead, I received a few requests to please re-upload it. Memories, by a Cape Town-based songwriter of folk and gospel material, scored a lovely South African TV commercial for Volkswagen, perhaps my all-time favourite ad. I suppose it has special appeal for those who are experiencing the nostalgic musings that accompany middle-age. (André de Villiers’ homepage)

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Next week is the 15th anniversary of South Africa’s first democratic election (obviously, racially exclusive elections should not be called democratic). If the above proves to be of any interest at all, I will mark that day with another eight randomly chosen South African songs. And if anyone has tried unsuccessfully to download the Mandela soundclips I posted last July, I’ve reuploaded them.

Have Song, Will Sing Vol. 1

July 27th, 2008 6 comments

Last year I did a series of Songbirds which seems to have been quite popular, showcasing female artists who fall within the singer-songwriter genre which unaccountably has acquired something of a bad name among the critics. In my view, the genre has not been in a more fertile state since the 1970s. Indeed, it is probably more varied now than it was then.

I’ve thought of doing a similar series on male singer-songwriters (which I might call “Singers with names like schoolteachers”, borrowing a great dig from the Welsh music writer Simon Price). In the meantime, here is a collection of some of the male singer-songwriters I hold in high esteem. What they have in common is that they write the songs they sing, and are broadly, if not invariably, acoustic performers. But the mix transcends such narrow characterisations. Their sensibilities range from folk (such as Mason Jennings) to pop (Bob Evans, Benji Cossa) to indie (Jens Lekman, Josh Ritter) to soul (Amos Lee) to country (Joe Purdy) to rock (Charlie Sexton, Scott Matthews). Most are American, but other nations are also represented, such as Australia (Evans), England (David Ford), Sweden (Lekman) and South Africa (the excellent Farryl Purkiss).

Some are well-known (such as Damien Jurado or, again, Ritter and Lekman), others are without a record contract. Josh Woodward, whose previous album I enjoyed very much, has made his new, very good double set titled The Simple Life available for free download on his website. If you like the sample track on this mix, download it and share it widely. TV viewers will recognise the Steve Poltz song from the Jeep ad, while Landon Pigg’s voice is used to advertise diamonds (albeit with a different, very beautiful, song).

My shortlist is not exhausted. If this mix proves popular, I intend to compile a volume of Songbirds and then a co-ed one. Let me know what you think.

As always, the mix should fit on a standard CD-R.

1. Steve Poltz – You Remind Me (from Chinese Vacation, 2003)
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Bob Evans – Friend (from Suburban Songbook, 2006)
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Farryl Purkiss – Ducking And Diving (from Farryl Purkiss, 2006)
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Mason Jennings – Which Way Your Heart Will Go (from Boneclouds, 2006)
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Landon Pigg – Can’t Let Go (from Coffee Shop EP, 2008)
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Joshua Radin – The Fear You Won’t Fall (from Unclear Sky EP, 2008)
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Jay Brannan – Can’t Have It All (from Chinese Vacation, 2003)
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David Ford – Cheer Up (You Miserable Fuck) (from I Sincerely Apologise For All The Trouble I’ve Caused, 2005)
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Josh Ritter – Wait For Love (You Know You Will) (from The Historical Conquests Of, 2007)
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Damien Jurado – Simple Hello (from On My Way To Absence, 2005)
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Charlie Sexton – Cruel And Gentle Things (from Cruel And Gentle Things, 2005)
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Griffin House – Just A Dream (from Lost And Found, 2004)
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Josh Woodward – History Repeats (from The Simple Life, 2008)
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Jens Lekman – I Saw Her in the Anti War Demonstration (from Oh You’re So Silent Jens, 2005)
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Kevin Devine – Probably (from … travelling the EU EP, 2003)
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Joe Purdy – Why You (from Only Four Seasons, 2006)
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Amos Lee – Long Line Of Pain (live) (from Supply And Demand, 2006)
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Elvis Perkins – Ash Wednesday (from Ash Wednesday, 2007)
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Scott Matthews – Passing Stranger (from Passing Stranger, 2007)
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Benji Cossa – The Show Is Over Everywhere (from Between The Blue And The Green, 2007)

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An Aussie and a Seffrican walk on a stage…

July 14th, 2007 3 comments

..and create some magic. Last night I saw the great Farryl Purkiss in concert in Cape Town, supported by Australian pop-folk merchant Bob Evans (and South African indie-folk singer Simon van Gend, who was quite excellent in his Clem Snide/Joe Purdy channelling ways). The photos are from that gig.

I’ve bigged up Farryl Purkiss before. His self-titled sophomore album was one of my picks of 2006 (and the lovely “Better Days” one of my songs of the year). He performed accompanied only by his guitar and a minimalist drummer. Having toured extensively internationally, he is making an impression with his mellow acoustic sounds. He should become huge enough to remain cool, like his heroes Purdy, Mason Jennings, Sufjan Stevens and Calexico.
Farryl Purkiss – Better Days.mp3
Farryl Purkiss – Escalator.mp3

Before last night, all I knew of Bob Evans — whose real name is Kevin Mitchell and comes from Perth — was what he streams on his MySpace page. On strength of last night’s performance, I bought the CD/DVD set Suburban Songbook. I’ve played it on rotation since then. The album, which won the Aussie version of the Grammies this year, was produced in Nashville by Brad Jones, who lists production credits for Josh Rouse — one hears that influence in Evans — and Yo La Tengo on his resumé. Clearly influenced by a host of ’60s artists (he even rocks a harmonica like Dylan), Bob Evans is a bit of an acoustic guitar-playing version of Ben Kweller, with a dash of country (he mentions Johnny Cash among his influences). Which is very much a good thing. This is upbeat folk-pop for a Saturday morning, to sing along to happily as one brews a good cup of coffee to go with the croissant.
Bob Evans – Sadness & Whiskey.mp3
Bob Evans – Rocks In My Head.mp3

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South Africa rocks…

June 4th, 2007 No comments

In an earlier post, I flagged the genius of South Africa’s Springbok Nude Girls (or just Nude Girls, as they call themselves internationally) and Harris Tweed. The download stats suggest that the uploads were quite popular. So, here’s some more music from South Africa, with a mixed bag of genres.

In case you missed them, the SNG and Harris Tweed links:
Springbok Nude Girls – Blue Eyes.mp3
Harris Tweed – Le Musketeer est Brave.mp3

Besides Harris Tweed, Durban’s Farryl Purkiss produced the other classic South African album of 2006. His self-titled sophomore album is utterly brilliant over the first four songs, and consistently excellent for the remainder. Purkiss has toured internationally with the wonderful Missy Higgins (whose new album I love) and Donavon Frankenreiter (whose CD last year was very good, too). The comparisons to boring Jack Johnson, with whom he has collaborated, do Purkiss no justice — the guy from Durban is much better. Here’s the album’s second track:
Farryl Purkiss – Escalator.mp3


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the 1990s, a group called Henry Ate were big on the South African scene. Singer Karma-Ann Swanepoel went to find fame and fortune in LA (dropping the non-superstar surname). Sadly, Karma has not hit the big time. This incredibly beautiful song, one of my all-time favourites by any artist, is from her 1998 album One Day Soon. I have no idea what the lyrics have to do with Johann Pachelbel, or whether the melody borrows from the composer who wrote the Canon in D Minor (if you know, please leave a comment).
Karma – Pachelbel.mp3

Cassette, currently hyped big in SA, are certainly innovative, drawing their influences from all over the place. In isolation their songs are almost uniformly fine, but I find it all just a little to eclectic as a whole. This opener, with its Death Cab For Cutie vibe, is the stand-out track for me.
Cassette – A.I.mp3


Spratch
are a Cape Town emo/punk outfit that self-released their debut, On The Rise, last year. In the way of South African CD stores, only one retail chain bothered to stock the album: one copy in two Cape Town shops only. If the retail herberts have no faith in local artists, it is a reflection on them, not on the quality of the music made by these artists.
Spratch – Two Lives Lost.mp3
Go here to download two songs for free and help the band get some money

One of SA’s biggest rock acts, The Parlotones are a bit of a hit-and-miss affair. When they’re good, they are very good, but when they are bad, ugh! If you’re in England, see them live in June. Here’s one of their songs that is so good, they recoreded it twice:
The Parlotones – Beautiful.mp3


Mandoza is arguably South Africa’s biggest star, and “Nkalakatha” his biggest hit. A musician in the kwaito genre, which combines township pop with house and hip hop. This is the ultimate pump-up number:
Mandoza – Nkalakatha.mp3


And
still on a kwaito trip, Bongo Maffin made some of the most accessible and innovative music in the genre. It helped that the three members came from different ethnic backgrounds (Shona, Xhosa and Tswana), thus fusing distinct musical influences in their music. This year, Bongo Maffin are up for the BBC World Music Awards. Feel the energy on this 2000 track:
Bongo Maffin – Mari Ye Phepha.mp3

Vusi Mahlasela is one of South Africa’s finest jazz guitarist. In the South African context, that is a good genre to belong to. Internationally, it might be misleading. Even Afro-Jazz would be imprecise, though it is not inaccurate either. It’s mellow, it’s jazzy, it’s African. Try it.

Vusi Mahlasela – Silang Mabele.mp3


Between
1988 and 1992, Mango Groove were the biggest name on the South African scene. Combining pop, kwela and the pennywhistles of the mines, the multi-racial ensemble provided the soundtrack to the death of apartheid. Mango Groove deserved a much bigger international audience. Alas…
Mango Groove – Special Star.mp3