Mojo Review Challenge #004 – Voodoo Queens – Chocolate Revenge

MOJO4_FrankZappaWhere I dig into something I’ve not heard before, from the reviews section of old Mojo Magazines, on an irregular basis.

The Voodoo Queens were a big-ish enough deal at the time of Mojo #004 that their name adorns the cover. Along with an interview, there was a lengthy review about their one and only album – Chocolate Revenge.

There were two distinguishing things about Voodoo Queens – their riot grrrl energy and sound, as well as South Asian background of lead singer Anjali Bhatia, as well as the ethnic backgrounds of the others. Along with the emerging Cornershop, the critic world started to wonder if there was a scene coming along. Fear not, as the Strokes came along and that was that.

On the back of some fun singles (‘Supermodel Superficial’) and some making fun of Keanu Reeves, there was some anticipation for the band’s debut record. The result was a slightly over produced record that is not very riot grrrl. A lot of things that probably got A&R’d to be potential hit singles. It sounds anonymously 90s.

There are some fun moments – and they are the silly ones. ‘I’m Not Bitter – I Just Want To Kill You‘ or ‘You’re Dumped‘, are as silly as the titles suggest. Big fat guitars make them even sillier. But then there’s ‘Neptune‘, which sounds like Pavement, or ‘Face Ache‘, which is so one note that it seems almost incompetent. It’s a little all over the place.

Luckily, the album ends with a brace of great pop songs. ‘Shopping Girl Maniac‘, ‘Chocolate Eyes‘ and ‘My Favourite Hand Bag‘ show a band just having fun, but writing catchy songs. ‘My Favourite Hand Bag‘ in particular seems to merge it all together, and the best track on here.

It’s more teen garage rock than the teeth of riot grrrl and maybe their fans turned on them. Regardless, the album didn’t really do anything, none of the songs got away, and the band broke up soon after.

A shame as there is a lot of interesting things about the band and on the record. There’s definitely a fun girl power on show here that would be watered down a few years later. Some cool guitar playing all over the record. But it’s not raw or daring enough to be indie, and to weird for the pop charts.

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My Favourite Album Podcast – Hourly, Daily

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I recently sat down with my friend Jeremy for his wonderful podcast My Favourite Album. I chose to talk about ‘Hourly, Daily‘, the third record by You Am I. There’s a bit about how I discovered the record, but plenty of fun little facts about this album. I once submitted a proposal to write a 33 1/3 book about this album. Maybe I will write it one day regardless.

You can listen to it here

Or better still, read about the episode, or find it on iTunes.

Mojo Review Challenge#003 – Pentangle – Basket Of Light

MOJO3_JohnLeeHookerWhere I dig into something I’ve not heard before, from the reviews section of old Mojo Magazines, on an irregular basis.

#003 – Pentangle – Basket Of Light

My love affair with folk music lasted only a couple of years and leaned very American. The stars of the English folk scene I know but don’t really know. I smidgen of John Martyn. Nick Drake of course. The music of Pentangle and Bert Jansch has always alluded me.

I have friends (hello Tom) who love Jansch. Every so often you meet a devotee. Many of my musical favourites loved him too – especially the American folkies and guitar heroes. For me, he seems to have made 80 albums and one of those people whose catalogues were impenetrable.

Pentangle was his band and this record, Basket Of Light, is their most famous and commercially successful. It’s a record that makes a lot of lists. I liked the album cover (it reminded me of The Beach Boys‘ album Holland). This record was reviewed as part of some big catalogue move. Mojo saw it fit to give a whole double page to a bunch of Jansch related releases.

I don’t know if I’m ever going to be a big English folk guy. This apparent classic of the genre is helping any. There’s something so twee and distancing about it. I also find the subject matter on this album so distancing. It’s so impressionist it fails to really make an impression. Again this might be me unfairly comparing it to its American brother, who seemed to say everything music could say in the 60s (and that’s just Bob Dylan).

You can definitely hear some cool guitar stuff, but the baroque-y, almost choral music just puts me off. Light Flight and Springtime Promises are lovely. Jansch in particular has a lovely vocal. Lyke-Wake Dirge – utterly horrible. I’d also like to note here that I’ve never bought into that very Tolkien-esque lyric bands.

I’ll keep this on the iPod a while longer, and let it perculate. I feel like there is something I’m not hearing in that pastoral English Folk music.

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Mojo Reviews Challenge #002 – World Gone Wrong – Bob Dylan

MOJO2_KDLangWhere I dig into something I’ve not heard before, from the reviews section of old Mojo Magazines, on an irregular basis.

#002 – World Gone Wrong – Bob Dylan

In the often rattled out argument between the Beatles and the Stones, my go-to 60s legend is usually Bob Dylan. He released 400 albums in the 60s, the least of which means more to me than the entire Stones and Beatles catalogue combined.

Which is odd that I have never ever heard World Gone Wrong.

Truth be told, I’ve probably known about this album almost as long as any other. It was the first Dylan album to be released in a time when I was aware he was still going. I remember one especially hip girl listening to it in school (I thought she was talking about The Screaming Jets album World Gone Crazy).

I followed Dylan happily into the late 70s but I lose track after Slow Train Coming. I have various compilations that cover off the 80s and onwards. I have a couple of the records, and since the groundbreaking Time Out Of Mind I have bought every Dylan since. I also have hundreds of bootleg recordings and other things.

It’s odd that I’ve avoided this one. First, it’s old timey songs and I love old timey songs. Second, it’s reputation is still pretty good. But I was always tracking down another love bootleg from 67 and ignoring all his late 80s and early 90s.

MOJO deemed it worthy enough to give it the lead, double page album review in their second issue. Dylan, even before Time Out Of Mind, was a big deal in their world. And the album before this one – Good As I Been To You – is the same as this album – old folk songs of just Dylan and guitar. It got pretty good acclaim.

This album is good – very good. If you hate the voice then there is little for you here. But it’s just Bob and a guitar and it’s such a lovely sound. The song choice is full of gentle, dark songs. Lots of murder and crime afoot. Lots of broken hearts. It feels like those strange puzzle songs he would write (and cover) in the 60s and 70s.

The title track which opens the record deserves to be placed on those Very Best Of Bob Dylan Volume 4 or something. It’s as good and as direct as anything he’s ever done. He’s still rocking out the blues guitar on things like ‘Broke Down Engine’, but it’s the sweetness of ‘Love Henry’ or ‘Delia’ that really hit home..

It’s also a nice short 10 track record. Every Dylan album since this one is 20 minutes (and sometimes 40) too long. It’s my one big complaint about recent Dylan. Just make 40 minute records, dude. This is like another version of Nashville Skyline. A lovely collection of traditional tunes from a man who knows his traditional tunes.

It’s odd to think of Dylan if Time Out Of Mind had not happened. Would he be just making albums like this every few years? Filed under folk and sitting with Loudon Wainwright III albums or something? I don’t know if that would be such a bad thing.

Now, to get Good As I Been To You.

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Top 5 Albums of 2014 So Far

Compared to other years, I’ve not spent that much time with new bands, or maybe those bands have not hit me in any way. That said, that cynicism applies to a couple of old hands as well. The new Beck record and the new Neil Finn album are the worse in their careers. Maybe it’s a slow year.

So this list is full of old guys. Guy Garvey of Elbow, at age 40, is the youngest songwriter on this list. This happens, last year there was almost none of them.

Here’s the five faves of the year so far.

5. Elbow – The Take Off And Landing Of Everything

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Ever since this band found it’s footing with The Seldom Seen Kid, Elbow have been getting better and better. They are that odd band that gets radio play and are mainstream (in the UK anyway) yet continue to do lots of weird long songs and sound like no one else.

This batch of songs are as epic as their recent work, with the smell of New York, where Guy Garvey now lives. He knows how to paint a picture with words, and the band still knows how to make an interesting racket. It’s life affirming stuff, in a big hearted poetic way.

I really love ‘Honey Sun‘, with it’s insistent beat and the gospel-ly harmonies. It’s a hymn for NYC. ‘New York Morning‘ is also particular touching, with the line getting a lot of attention about how the city’s folks are nice to Yoko. It’s a beautiful line on so many levels. The film clip is also amazing. Surely an odd choice for a single.

4. Old 97’s – Most Messed Up

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The reason this record is only at 4 is because for whatever reason I’ve not spent enough time with it. For a blistering rock ‘n’ roll band, this is one of the Old 97’s most blistering rock ‘n’ roll records, and getting huge acclaim in the US. Amazingly, it’s studio album number 10 for these guys.

It is an ode to rock ‘n’ roll and all it’s peripherals – dancing, girls, drinking and more. Can it be summed up any better that the single is called ‘Let’s Get Drunk & Get It On‘? Without the major label budgets and the need for radio hits, the sound continues the last few albums of being raw and rare. A pop song like ‘The Ex Of All You See‘ could easily have ended up an anonymous pop song. Here, someone left the feedbacking guitars on and it sounds great.

The opening track ‘Longer Than You’ve Been Alive‘ is the most self referential the band has ever been (except maybe ‘The One‘ from Blame It On Gravity). You can feel a number of these songs becoming staples in this band’s decades long career and that’s quite an achievement.

3. Wilko Johnson & Roger Daltrey – Going Back Home

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Oh Wilko Johnson. Diagnosed with cancer and given only a few months to live, he should have been dead last October. With no treatment and a lot of unfinished business, his last year has been one of the most interesting stories in all music. One of the most inventive guitarists of all time, he teamed up with his old friend Roger Daltrey to record some songs. He didn’t even think he would live to see the album released. It debuted at number 3 in the UK charts.

Without the shadow of the Who, Daltrey cuts loose. Under the watchful eye and the state of the art Who studio, Johnson’s work has never sounded better. Cutting through 11 R&B, rock and old Dr Feelgood classics, this is just a whole lot of fun. The guitar work is flawless. It’s typical of Johnson’s positive outlook that this album is so warm and inviting. He’s not sad to be dying. He’s going to shake his hips until the end.

Highlights abound. Most of these songs are new to me, many coming from Johnson’s long and scattered solo career. So something like ‘Ice On the Motorway‘ is a new delight. But their version of Dylan‘s ‘Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window‘ and the Dr Feelgood classic ‘All Through The City‘ out spark bands half (or even a third) their age.

Fuck, there’s even music videos.

2. The New Mendicants – Into the Lime

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The second of three unlikely team-up records. Is it a thing? Joe Pernice of the Scud Mountain Boys was one of the great Americana songwriters in the 90s. Norman Blake of Teenage Fanclub led the Scottish wing of Brit-Pop. Both men in their late 40s found themselves in Canada. So, why the hell not, they made a low key record together.

And my word is it low key. Some of the tracks are so spare there is but one acoustic guitar and a bongo. But both men wrote great melodies, and those really shine. Without full bands to back them up, there is something alarmingly honest and intimate. It’s a quiet, minor work in the careers of both men, but I’ve not been able to stop listening to it. Odd that the less there is, the more there is for me to dig into. There are some rockers – ‘Shouting Match‘ and ‘Lifelike Hair‘ – which are more short garageband sloggers than well crafted rock epics.

Pernice actually pips Blake with a slightly stronger set of songs. His voice is more suited to the empty space. The best track for my money is ‘High On the Skyline‘ – the best example of the two men working together, but opener ‘Sarasota‘ is not far behind.

1. Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott – What Have We Become?

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A more unlikely return to the pop charts than Wilko Johnson. Our third duo team up record. But Paul Heaton of The Beautiful South reunited with his old singing partner Jacqui Abbott and made an album full of piss and vinegar. No stranger to pushing buttons and speaking his mind, his matched it with the sweetness of Abbott’s voice. And he’s brought a rocking band and his best melodies in decades.

Music (and art) helps us make sense of the wider world. When the world seems to be falling apart, Heaton’s album helps us make sense of it. Every single track here has four or five lines that I can no longer live without. It starts with ‘Moulding Of A Fool‘, and how we pump out more and more stupid people, and it ends with ‘When I Get Back To Blighty‘ with it’s coda of ‘Phil Collins must die’ over and over.

There’s a lot to say here. Like the how the American Baseball Cap is maybe as dangerous as a Burqa. Or the big answer to the question ‘What Have We Become‘ being opinionless, sad and overweight. It’s a world full of hollow politicians, cheating husbands, fame whores, pathetic tortured artists and more. This is workingman’s music at its best, and a welcome comeback. That Heaton is now interviews on BBC One and playing Glastonbury, playing sold out shows etc…is so weird. But maybe people are listening. I hope so.

On top of all that, the songs are a lot of fun. Here’s my favourite, ‘Moulding Of A Fool’ and the single ‘DIY’ – both infectious fun with a lot of bite.

Mojo Reviews Challenge #001 – The Best Of 2-Tone

Where I dig into something I’ve not heard before, from the reviews section of old Mojo Magazines, on an irregular basis.

MOJO1_DylanLennon#001 – The Best Of 2-Tone

When Mojo started in 1993, the review section was very different to what it is today. They only really reviewed 10-20 albums, and the lead reviews would cover several records as one story.

With that, the choices are pretty limited in these early issues. The ‘new’ albums are full of established classics – In Utero, Come On Feel The Lemonheads, Thirteen, Together Alone, New Miserable Experience….

So we go to the reissues. The lead review both have to do with Reggae, and it’s tight trousered younger brother, Ska. A 4 disc Jamaican overview called Tougher Than Tough, and a 4 disc box set on of the 2-Tone label called The Compact 2-Tone Story. There’s a one disc version – The Best Of 2-Tone. That’s our pick.

According to the review, the 4-disc 2 Tone set is too much, but the 1-disc is not enough. But I know so little about 2 Tone, I figured the 1 disc is the way to go. Nothing but the towering anthems.

There’s svereal big ones here. The Specials loom large – the set opens with their immortal ‘Ghost Town‘ and ‘Nelson Mandela‘. In fact, the Specials make up half the collection. There’s some ‘name’ appearances by Madness and Elvis Costello who all recorded for the label at some point, but broke out of that scene very quickly. Which sadly leaves little room for The Beat, The Selector and others.

What is clear on the first couple of listens is that this collection is a whole lot of fun. It sounds great in the car, and I’m in West London in the late 70s. Theres only ‘The Boiler‘ that brings the mood down, but the rest are all big sing-along anthems, the masterpieces of the genre that won over a generation. Fun music, and important too.

Great to have this stuff on the iPod finally. Pretty embarrassing that I didn’t have ‘Nelson Mandela‘ on there before. This world – that can fill a whole record store like Honest John’s, has always been a bit of a blind spot for me. Let’s see where this leads.

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