All posts by adrian

My Record Collection 94

E L O (part 2)  well, after the incredible success of Out of the Blue and a huge World Tour Jeff and the band, who bore very little resemblance to the first incarnation took almost 2 years to release a new album Discovery.  In some ways this was at least a good as the last one and was an even bigger seller.  But Jeff was being influenced more and more by Disco, which was the big thing in the late Seventies (maybe it was an in joke Disco Very?).  Still a wonderful record with songs such as ‘Shine a Little love’, ‘Last train To London’, ‘Midnight Blue’ and of course the fabulous ‘Diary of Horace Wimp’.  It seemed that they could do no wrong at all.  And yet the next album was a bit of a flop, simply titled ‘Time’, it was a real disappointment.  Maybe Jeff was chasing the latest sounds, synths and all, and neglecting the actual key to all good music – the songs.  Only one standout track ‘Hold on Tight’ and the rest of the record just sounds bland and frankly a bit boring.  Oh Well.  I sort of gave up on them around this time – though having bought the box set I have since listened to the final two albums.  Secret Messages came out in 1983, and in many ways it is a return to form.  The songs are much better, even if the production is a bit soft and moving to middle of the road.  But the songs themselves ae quite good – the rocker ‘Four Little Diamonds’, ‘Letter From Spain’ and ‘Rock and Roll is King’ are especially good – but the record feels a touch tired, a bit less exciting.  Or maybe it is just us, the audience – after 10 albums we begin to flag, to be ELO’ed out.  And it is almost impossible for any artist or band to keep going for more than 10 years at the top of their game.  Almost all the greats have either had poor periods or simply taken far longer between albums.  Anyway – one more album came out; A Question of Balance (1985).  And by now the pretence that this was a band effort was completely abandoned.  In fact no orchestra at all, but not such a bad record really.   And that was it…the band broke up – or not quite – they left Jeff and continued, mostly as a live band ELO II.   Jeff went off to become a top producer in America.

Inadvertently I bought a greatest hits album called Gold Collection, not realizing it was actually not by the original band but by Bev Bevan and a few others – and it is really excellent, in fact almost identical to the original studio versions, even though this was a live album.  Some of the tracks were new from ELO 11 too, but a strong reliance on the early ELO records. – best for me was ‘Four Little Diamonds’.  Of course, the voice is not the same, but all in all not a bad effort at all.  I did actually see the original ELO live once at Wembley Arena, and though excellent they played exactly the same as the records, in fact they could have been miming and you would never have known – not the most exciting live show.

I already had a Greatest Hits collection on CD called All over The World.  Excellent of course, and sometimes that is all you really need. Jeff has revived the ELO name recently, but so far I haven’t bought the three new albums…

 

 

E L O (part 2)  well, after the incredible success of Out of the Blue and a huge World Tour Jeff and the band, who bore very little resemblance to the first incarnation took almost 2 years to release a new album Discovery.  In some ways this was at least a good as the last one and was an even bigger seller.  But Jeff was being influenced more and more by Disco, which was the big thing in the late Seventies (maybe it was an in joke Disco Very?).  Still a wonderful record with songs such as ‘Shine a Little love’, ‘Last train To London’, ‘Midnight Blue’ and of course the fabulous ‘Diary of Horace Wimp’.  It seemed that they could do no wrong at all.  And yet the next album was a bit of a flop, simply titled ‘Time’, it was a real disappointment.  Maybe Jeff was chasing the latest sounds, synths and all, and neglecting the actual key to all good music – the songs.  Only one standout track ‘Hold on Tight’ and the rest of the record just sounds bland and frankly a bit boring.  Oh Well.  I sort of gave up on them around this time – though having bought the box set I have since listened to the final two albums.  Secret Messages came out in 1983, and in many ways it is a return to form.  The songs are much better, even if the production is a bit soft and moving to middle of the road.  But the songs themselves ae quite good – the rocker ‘Four Little Diamonds’, ‘Letter From Spain’ and ‘Rock and Roll is King’ are especially good – but the record feels a touch tired, a bit less exciting.  Or maybe it is just us, the audience – after 10 albums we begin to flag, to be ELO’ed out.  And it is almost impossible for any artist or band to keep going for more than 10 years at the top of their game.  Almost all the greats have either had poor periods or simply taken far longer between albums.  Anyway – one more album came out; A Question of Balance (1985).  And by now the pretence that this was a band effort was completely abandoned.  In fact no orchestra at all, but not such a bad record really.   And that was it…the band broke up – or not quite – they left Jeff and continued, mostly as a live band ELO II.   Jeff went off to become a top producer in America.

Inadvertently I bought a greatest hits album called Gold Collection, not realizing it was actually not by the original band but by Bev Bevan and a few others – and it is really excellent, in fact almost identical to the original studio versions, even though this was a live album.  Some of the tracks were new from ELO 11 too, but a strong reliance on the early ELO records. – best for me was ‘Four Little Diamonds’.  Of course, the voice is not the same, but all in all not a bad effort at all.  I did actually see the original ELO live once at Wembley Arena, and though excellent they played exactly the same as the records, in fact they could have been miming and you would never have known – not the most exciting live show.

I already had a Greatest Hits collection on CD called All over The World.  Excellent of course, and sometimes that is all you really need. Jeff has revived the ELO name recently, but so far I haven’t bought the three new albums…

 

 

 

My Record Collection 93

E L O (Electric Light Orchestra)– well…anther biggie, in fact at the height of their popularity they were Massive – and still are.  Roy Wood, Jeff Lynne and drummer Bev Bevan had all been in Roy Woods band The Move who had been quite successful in the British charts in the Sixties.  But the band was falling apart and this trio decided to create a new group which would attemot to amalgamate Classical and Rock music,  This was being done by several bands and most successfully by Barclay James Harvest, almost my favourite band ever.  Their first album, released in 1971 was self-titled but due to a mix-up it became known in America as No Answer. To say that the album was more experimental than accomplished is pretty accurate.  There are a few tracks (mostly by Jeff Lynne) which are better, especially Mr. Radio.  However the preponderence of cello heavy tracks by Roy often seem unfinished and just too chaotic to really enjoy, although opener 10538 Overture is passable.

Now, I got into E L O a couple of years later as the great singles started to hit the charts.  I bought about five of their L.P.s in the Seventies.  But a couple of years ago I bought a box set of all their studio albums (it was really cheap, honestly) and have worked through them.  Their second offering was entitled ELO II (not to be confused by a few members of the band who broke away in the Eighties and called themselves by this moniker.)  So, the difficult second album – and it was complicated by the departure as they were recording of founder Roy Wood, who went off to from Wizzard.  Jeff Lynne recruited Richard Tandy to play piano and a couple of others for violin and cello and soldiered on.  To be honest the album is a bit poor.  Except for the brilliant version of Chuck Berry’s ‘Roll Over Beethoven’ the tracks are overlong and a bit boring.  Still it was becoming clear that Jeff Lynne was now the leader of the band, writing most of the material and helping with production.  It was only on their third album ‘On The Third Day’ (1973) that they started to get into their stride.   The songs were shorter, more punchy, and the production seemed better, less chunky and a new violinist and cello player added quality.  But as ever, it was the songs themselves that made the album;  ‘Ocean Breakup’, ‘Showdown’ and the out and out rocker ‘Ma Ma Belle’ all topped off with a cracking version of the classic favourite ‘In The Hall Of The Mountain King’.  In contrast Roy Wood’s Wizzard were plodding along with only a couple of hits – oh well.

’74 saw their 4th album – the superb Eldorado.  This was the first of their really great period; at last they were a really professional band.  They still had the orchestral bits were moving much more into a straight rock style.  Unbelievably the songs just got better and better and with Jeff Lynne now producing everything, writing all the songs and singing and playing guitars it was becoming almost a solo project. The album ha no poor songs at sll, and just rolls along at a pace, it feels like a concept album.  Best songs – ‘Can’t Get It Out Of My Head’, ‘Laredo Tornado’ and ‘Mister Kingdom’ – not to forget the superb title track.  The album was actually recorded with a full orchestra and is almost symphonic, especially in the three Eldorado sections.  A great step forward.

And yet, Lynne then started to move the band into a more commercial direction with their fifth album FaceThe Music.  The songs were more memorable and the record was their first to go Platinum.  There had been a couple more personnel changes and as usual this was in all but name a Jeff Lynne solo album.  The orchestra were still there but a bit muted on some songs, there were also girl singers complementing Jeff’s singing.  Best songs ‘Strange Magic’, ‘Evil Woman’ and ‘One Summer Dream’.  A gorgeous record, a huge hit and already ELO were being compared to The Beatles (which obviously Jeff loved and would later end up working with George and on two lost Lennon songs on Anthology).   They followed this with A New World Record (1976).  This was another superb album full of great songs and sumptuous melodies, released incidentally at the height of punk, which threatened to blow away all these old pop-rock dinosaurs; well, extinction came a bit quicker to punk.  Well, what can we say – another very good album, although strangely not a real favourite.  Best songs – ‘Telephone Line’, ‘Rockaria’ and ‘Livin’Thing’.  It seemed that ELO could now do nothing wrong – and still the best was yet to come.

Jeff Lynne followed this up with a huge double album which topped the charts worldwide and remains his masterpiece – ‘Out Of The Blue’.    Wow, what an album – a double and almost too long really, it is ELO’s Sargeant Pepper, without the psychedelia.   There isn’t a poor song on it.  Hard to pick best songs as they all just roll on and on, each better than the last.  Possibly ‘Turn to Stone’, ‘Wild West Hero’ and of course ‘Mr. Blue Sky’.   Superlatives fail me in this perfect mix of ‘Pop’ and ‘Rock’.  A great achievement.  And this really was the pinnacle, though Jeff did continue making great ELO and solo records – and, has recently returned to making albums as ELO, after many years a a top producer (George and Travelling Wilbury’s among others).  I haven’t really caught up with his output of late – but you never know.

 Out Of The Blue

 

 

 

 

THE BLUE DOOR

Sometimes I hesitate, unsure of myself, scared to let go at all.  But at others I am driven, swept like flimsy flotsam, deluged by the storm, dragged down and bundled unceremoniously through the blue door.

Often, thankfully, it is the briefest, the fleeting-est of visits; I am barely through the door when I find myself back out again.  Sometimes I stay there a while too long, wondering indeed just how many hours, days indeed, I might stay this time. There have even been times when I believed that behind the blue door is where I belong; where I should stay forever.

I realised as a child where the blue door led to.  My mother said I was sulking, that I just wanted my own way.  No.  it wasn’t that, it wasn’t that at all.  It wasn’t that I wanted my own way – I had no idea where my way was; if I only knew my way, what it was that I wanted.

I was fifteen when it became clearer, when I slowly understood that I wasn’t completely alone – that many of us go behind the blue door.  It was when I heard Paul singing “Eleanor Rigby puts on the face that she keeps in a jar by the door.  Who is it for?”  Well, in my case it wasn’t just for all the lonely people, it was for everyone.  In fact, I felt that I was one of the lonely people myself.  It became clear to me that I too had a mask; I was constantly wearing a mask, a mask of normality, of happy cheeky chappie, when inside I was raging against the darkness, I was crying and no-one could hear my howls of despair.

Another song that affected me was Smokey Robinson “Tears Of A Clown”.  I knew exactly what that song meant.  In fact, I learnt quite early that comedy is simply the other side, the twin mask of tragedy, and that you had very little control of which one to wear.  You joked to hide the desperation you felt inside.

Because what you must know, what you must realise is that there is really nothing behind the blue door.  Just a chill darkness and a terrible feeling of being alone, that nobody understands.  I mean, how could they? How could they ever know how cold and dead, how bleak and desolate the nothingness is.  Unless they too had been there – and as I had never met anyone there; as nobody had ever told me they too were a visitor – I thought I must be the only person going there.

Mostly, these days, I avoid the blue door, and yet even on the sunniest days, the happiest of occasions, the blue door beckons.  It is always there, just in the corner of the room – and sometimes at the height of everyone else’s gaiety I slip quietly away and through that deepest of blue doors.  And no-one ever notices.   I hover above the crowd and look down in amazement at all these fools believing that this is a fun occasion, that life is great; if only they knew.

Over the years I have learnt to resist the blue door – though I must admit I do slip through the portal some days.  And it doesn’t even have to be anything really which tips me over the edge, which brings the blue door into my field of possibilities.  Oh, there were times – dreadful times – wives leaving, children leaving me too – you know those moments of ultimate betrayal, the worst of rejections when you feel that the company of others is the last thing you want, when you hate the whole human race.  When all you want is solitude.  And sometimes all you really want is O-bloody-blivion, the sweet sweet oblivion that lies beyond the blue door.

I have found distraction and comfort in books and music mostly, especially those sad songs of Leonard Cohen, the ‘Blood On The Tracks’ of Dylan, the soaring poetry of Joni.  At those times I slowly come back through the blue door to something approaching normality.  And occasionally you read a book, an author like Jean Rhys with her sad stories of lost women, that makes you realise that actually normality is both sides of the blue door; that indeed you are not alone; that this is just part of the Human Condition.

Maybe we all slip sometimes through the blue door.  Most of us hide it well.  Because there is still shame in admitting one’s vulnerability; ‘Man-up’ they say, ‘Look on the bright side’.  But what if the light on the bright side is so blinding that all you want is to seek the strange comfort of darkness again.

It is almost impossible to understand another person, let alone yourself; we are such complex creatures.  Though at times I suspect we are all made of much the same stuff, mostly wired in a similar way.  Some say that going through the blue door is simply a chemical imbalance, a hormonal disturbance in the brain.  I find that hard to believe. I have struggled to understand why I go there; and it is like peeling onions, there are layers and layers of hurt, you keep scrabbling layers away and all the time you can’t stop blubbing, crying like a child.

But I almost feel that the blue door is an essential part of me; without it I would be half a person, incomplete somehow.  There is maybe an empathy I find there too, an understanding of this condition which helps reconcile my feelings of unworthiness and failure.  Maybe those who never have ventured through the blue door are missing something in their lives.  Another song, by Steve Earle, comes to mind ‘My Old Friend The Blues’.  I know what he means; sometimes there is comfort to be found behind the blue door; even the isolation, the dislocation from reality (though what indeed is reality) can be reassuring.

And mostly I can control my visits to the blue door; I have strategies for coping; there are ways back.  Though sometimes I fear that one day if things go badly, which a part of me always suspects, I may end up taking refuge there.  For in a way the blue door is an escape from life, and secretly I suspect we are all seeking some form of refuge, our own shelter from the storm.

And there are whole days sometimes, when, like a junkie between fixes, I can manage to seem normal.  I walk and talk and even laugh and joke with people – to all outward appearances a normal person – when I know that really there is a great big fat blue door looming between us.

But please do not make the mistake of pitying me.  Your turn will come; one day you too may find yourself alone and cold and seeking warmth and shelter.  And believe me my friends it only takes the slightest of nudges to pass through; indeed, sometimes it feels that the door is perpetually open, yawning wide and grinning, and dragging you inexorably through to the other side.  And whether you hear an almighty slam or just the slightest of clicks – the door is still closed.  The walls are black and seamless, the lighting is dimmed and – twist and turn as you will – you will struggle to find the handle on the other side.  You just have to sit it out and wait for that little crack of light that enables you to slip back to this world again.

Actually, it might well be that the blue door is what makes us human.  Animals do not seem to be affected in the same way, though they can comfort us when we have wandered there – sometimes they drag us back with their unjudgmental love.  For without the darkness, the blank emptiness how can we ever know we are truly happy, how can we appreciate the colour and the light.  And I see that what I have been trying to find all my life, through reading and listening to songs, is that connecting spark, the link to other people, the shared emotions, the knowledge that despite slipping occasionally there is always a way back.  And I now realise that of course I am not alone, we all sometimes go through that door; maybe we should celebrate the fact rather than hiding it in our shame.

Well, I must also apologise for lifting the veil, for letting you see even a small glimpse of the truth.  For one of the abiding sins of this venal world is honesty.  Like the ‘Satanic Verses’ themselves, even acknowledging the blue door’s existence may bring a fatwah down on your head.  We must all remain complicit in the illusion that we are happy all the time in this best of all possible worlds.

blue door images | Door, blue, wood, vintage Texture - JPG ...

My Record Collection 92

Easy All Stars – The Dub Side Of the Moon – Ha. Well this was bought for me by my oldest daughter in an attempt to convert me to ‘Dance Music’. She does this quite regularly and mostly I like the stuff she chooses for me; I in my turn try to interest her in earlier singer-songwriter stuff to much less success.  Anyway, this is quite a fun record, a re-recording of reggae versions of the famous Pink Floyd album.  Pleasant enough.  She also bought me Sergeant Peppers Dub Band – also by Easy All Stars,  Not so successful this time, or maybe one album was enough.

 

Eels – A band built around singer Mark Everett, known as E.  Almost every song is about hardship, misery, depression and real or imagined wrongs in the world of E.  I must say I quite sympathise, and miserable bugger that I am I love this depressed stuff.  The singing and music is absolutely first class too, the sings are all excellent and his sad sad voice almost deadpan and barely sung hits the button every time.  I first got into the band (or the man) when I bought a CD single (as I have with so many others).  It was from an album Beautiful Freak (1996). This was officially the debut of the Eels and really has never been bettered.  It is strange how certain songs have such relevance; one of my favourites is ‘Susan’s House’ – and at the time I was dating a woman called Susan and used to love playing on repeat this song on the long bus journey to her house.  Other great songs are ‘Novocaine for the Soul’ and ‘My Beloved Monster’.  But this is one of those lovely records that when you revisit it feels like an old cardigan you love and slip on to keep warm on a wintry day.  I have only bought Eels records sporadically since then (there have been quite a lot of them).  Next up is Daisies Of The Galaxy (2000).   Again, some great songs but without quite the shock value of his debut but good even so.. Favourites – ‘Birds’ and ‘Jeanies Diary’.   Not a bad listen at all. Souljacker followed in 2002.  This seems a more hard-rock album, moving away from the slightly pop feel of his earlier records.  The vocals seem as though they are sung through a grungy layer of smog.  This may well be my least favourite Eels album, no tracks really stand out except maybe the opener ‘Dog Faced Boy’.  But the Cd did come with a four-track live extra CD which is pretty damn good.  I was sort of thinking of giving up on the band but the reviews for a new album were so good that I bought ‘Blinking Lights and Other Revelations – a double album released in 2005.  And it is much better, more like his first two records – more poppy, more quirky, but being a double it suffers – as they almost all do from getting a bit boring.  Best songs ‘Trouble with Dreams’, ‘Railroad Man’ and ‘Hey man, Now You’re Really Living’.  And strangely for an album of 30 plus songs not much else sticks in the brain.  There are a lot more quiet piano tinkling songs, much less anger and more reflections on life – this almost would befit an old man’s record and yet Everett could not have been much past 40 when he recorded these songs. So, more or less a miss of an album.  So I more or less gave up on the Eels.   Maybe I will but them again sometime – but not for a while I expect.   I did pick up a live album Eels With Strings At The Town Hall  which is excellent, almost acoustic versions and includes a great version of Dylan’s ‘Girl From the North Country’.  And so far that is it from a great little band.

Beautiful Freak

 

 

 

My Record Collection 91

Steve Earle – more or less solo

Steve was becoming a junkie however and even went to jail for a while on drug related offences.  For four years he recorded nothing and the Dukes broke up.   But he was always an irrepressible character, and he was writing songs in jail.  He disbanded the Dukes and released a solo album in 1995 Trian a Comin.   This was a slightly subdued Steve Earle, less raucous, gentler and absolutely flawless; as if his time in jail had melllowed him somehow, made him reconsider his life and his music.  He was still writing brilliant songs, of course, but these seemed more mature, more comsidered and I loved the record straight away.  And for the first time he included a handful of covers ‘I’m looking through you’ by The Beatles and ‘Tecumseh Valley’ by Townes Van Zeldt.  But Steve’sown songs are brilliant too – the best of which is ‘Goodbye’, possibly the saddest song in his repertoire.

The following year he released ‘I Feel Alright’, another great record, although maybe a slight return to his earlier sound.  Best songs and favourites are ‘Poor Boy’ and ‘Valentines Day’ and the rocking ‘Hard-Core Troubadour’.  It almost seemed that the old Steve was back, though he didn’t have the old Dukes with him, just the best session players he could find.

El Corazon (The Heart in Spanish) followed.  Another tiumph, another great batch of songs – a bit more bluegrass this time and a few collaborations, duets with Emmy Lou Harris and a couple with whole groups that Steve was obviously a big fan of.  Best songs ‘Telephone Road’, ‘You Know The Rest’ and ‘Poison Lovers’.  The whole record seems to have a jauntiness, as if – which I am sure is true – Steve was having a great time.  A couple of the songs still have a Political Edge – but American politics are harder to penetrate than ours; at least to me.  I am still amazed at how – and of course Steve isn’t the only one – such great songwriters can seemingly just churn out album after album of great songs.

The following year Steve hooked up with Del McCoury and the Mountain Band for a whole album of bluegrass music.  This was an indulgence and I am afraid this is my least favourite record.  The Mountain, only really one redeeming song ;The Pilgrim’.

Steve returned to form with his next Transcendental Blues.    Another pretty good collection really, though not so many truly outstanding tracks.  It is a fact that after a certain number of albums which all have a similar sound you get a bit less excited with each new release and start hankering after the early songs; it is the same at live concerts, you just want to hear the old songs again.  But re-listening ‘The Boy Who Never Cried’ and ‘Galway Girl’ stand out.  There was also a 4 track bonus disc with this release which is pretty good too.

Then a 1995 live album came out – Together At The Bluebird Café.  This was a rare collaboration, a concert with Steve, Guy Clark and Townes Van Zeldt – each singing their own songs in turn.  Simply accompanied by guitar these performances are incredible.  Not a poor song amongst them; Steve’s are a bit softer sung acoustic, Guy is a fine songwriter too – I especially love ‘Randall Knife’ and ‘Immigrant Eyes’.  And best of all is Townes – incredibly sad songs and hard-up monologues; best are ‘Katy Belle’, ‘Lefty and Poncho’ and the haunting ‘Tecumseh Valley.  Townes died a few months after this concert, and Steve later devoted a whole album to his songs, which I haven’t got yet (also more recently – an album of Guy’s songs too).  There was a special closeness in these three renegade superb singer songwriters.  A beautiful album.

Jerusalem came out in 2002 – and this was a more political, certainly a controversial Steve Earle.  ‘John Walker’s Blues’’ is written from the perspective of an American born Muslim, written at the height of 9/11 and Iraq.  ‘Ashes to Ashes’ is another angry song.  But I like ‘What’s A Simple Man To Do’ and ‘Go Amanda’.  Amother very good record.

Then a live double album came out ‘Just An American Boy’ with quite a lot of spoken commentary between the songs explaining Steve; political situation.  A good album overall.

The Revolution Starts Here came out in 2004.  Another pretty political recod – ‘Rich Man’s War’ and ‘Condo’ and ‘F the CC’ are all good – but Steve wasn’t really progressing by this time.  He seemed content to simply bring out another record every two or three years.  Mind you, this is pretty well the state of Music for the last 20 years; nobody, it appears, is changing anything they do, just playing to maybe an ever-diminishing gallery.  Oh Well

Washington Square Serenade followed two years later.  Quite a nice record; the usual stuff really; pleasant country rock songs immaculately constructed and played, and Steve’s voice complimented on most songs by girl harmonies.  Best songs ‘City of Immigrants’ and ‘Steve’s Hammer’.  I feel that Steve was inching towards a more mature essence with this record.

And I feel he has found it with I’ll never Get Out Of Here Alive, his album from 2008.  Here the songs seem to have moved away from country music to a more folk and blues style; slower songs, less rowdy choruses and overall a gentler sound.  I quite like it, but I am not sure where he is going next…. Anyway, either I got a bit tired of Steve or there was just too much other music to buy, but I sort of slowed down and have stopped buying his records – though I will again one day. Overall a wonderful songwriter, a socialist and a great artist – just one of so many.

 

 

 

 

 

My Record Collection 90

Steve Earle and The Dukes

Steve emerged out of East Texas in the mid-eighties; there was something of a revival in country-rock music at the time with Guy Clarke (see C) and Lyle Lovett breaking through occasionally to the non-country music charts.  Steve’s first album Guitar Town (1986) was a brilliant debut, all self-written songs which sound so good you cannot quite believe they weren’t standards already.  The twangy guitar and great backing band complement Steve’s all-American but slightly weary voice – there is that yearning in the voice which draws you in.  But it is really the incredible songwriting which is the key to Earle.  Almost every song on the record is excellent; if I have to pick favourites – ‘Fearless Heart’, ‘My Old Friend The Blues’, ‘Little Rock’n’Roller’ (a phone call to a son he rarely sees from a father on the road and maybe on the run too) and the classic ‘Someday’ (a yearning to leave small-town hick America and get a life at last) The record was an almost instant hit in America and Canada – barely heard of in the UK.  I caught up with Steve when I bought a CD single off album number 4, then I worked my way back.

The following year he brought out Exit 0.   Another rollicking country rock jaunt, not quite such great songs as the debut but pretty good anyway.  Best songs – ‘No. 29’, ‘San Antonio Girl’ and ‘I Aint Ever Satisfied’.  A slightly bigger hit this time; Steve and the band were touring America and building a following for this new exciting rock music with a country twist.  Great stuff.

Copperhead Road carried on in the same, if slightly rockier, way the following year. You do have to wonder just where all these great songs come from – is it just the excitement of youth and success, long hours on the tour bus, the sheer joy of discovering chords and words that go together.  Who knows, but Steve kept pouring out superb songs.  The sound was evolving a bit too, almost a folksy feel to some songs with violin and female backing too; Steve called it a mix of Bluegrass and Rock and even had the Pogues on one track. .   Best songs ‘Copperhead Road’, ‘Devil’s Right Hand’ and ‘Nothing But A Child’

Then in 1990 Steve released what, up till then, was his best album The Hard Way.  It is jam-packed with great songs and much longer than his earlier records too, some songs even 6 minutes long.  The soundscape is broader too; in some ways it is a classic rock album just sung with a country voice.  This was the first Steve Earle album I bought; I had the CD single ‘Justice in Ontario’ and loved it so I bought the album.  And still love it.  Best songs – again hard to choose but – ‘Have Mercy’. ‘Regular Guy’ and of course ‘Billy Austin’ (the song from a killer facing execution detailing the bleakness of his life) stand out slightly from a great record.

Then – we heard nothing for four years.  Steve had a serious drug addiction and even spent time in prison during this time.  He more or less disbanded his band ‘The Dukes’.  His record company put out a live album “Shut Up And Die Like An Aviator” in ’91.   Actually quite a cool live album, and a bonus track ‘Wild Horses’ – the Stones song at the end sung fantastically by Steve. In ’92 Live At the BBC came out.  A great concert again.  I also have The Collection which came out in 2002 but contains songs just from this early period up to 1990.   An excellent compilation – all the hits, plus a couple of live tracks, even two by Springsteen (see S).

Steve was becoming a junkie however and even went to jail for a while on drug related offences.  For four years he recorded nothing and the Dukes broke up.   But he was always an irrepressible character, and he was writing songs in jail.  He disbanded the Dukes and released a solo album in 1995 Trian a Comin

My Record Collection 89

The Eagles.  Wow, another huge band with massive record sales.  I simply adored them right from the start and had all their albums.  I recently bought a CD box set of their studio albums.  They played almost the first real Americana, or modern country music,  Gram Parsons (see P) had taken The Byrds (see B) in this direction but for whatever reason it took a few more years before this sound really took off.

First Album released in 1972, simply self-titled is faultless, as they all are really; I can’t think many bad Eagles tracks. The band were unknown but producer Glynn Johns turned in a great record from just four original members; Glenn Frey (see F), Don Henley (see H), Randy Meisner and Bernie Leadon.  All were great musicians and songwriters and each could sing really well – though they did seem to sound almost exactly the same.  Almost immediately came the “Eagles” sound – a laid back easy country rock groove with delicate harmonies.  Best songs “Train Leaves Here This Morning”, “Take It Easy” and “Witchy Woman”.  A brilliant start – though they didn’t really achieve fame until album number two,

Desperado This was the ‘Concept’ album, the life and death of an outlaw.  Another great batch of songs and only 35 minutes long; immediately you want to replay the record.  Great songs – ‘Doolin Daltons’, ‘Tequila Sunrise’, ’Bitter creek’ and ‘Desperado’.  The album cements the outlaw myth brilliantly and is filled with sadness but some great faster songs too.   The band were now writing songs together, especially Henley and Frey – but also two non-band; J.D. Souther and Jackson Browne (see B) who never joined but wrote with the band occasionally.  This is probably my favourtie album – it is all of a piece which I like.  But they were changing.

And their next record On The Border was a bit harder, a bit rockier, a bit less ‘country’.  It sold much better, but in a way as they spread their canvas maybe they lost a little something.   Not that this is by amy means a poor album; some great songs – ‘Already Gone’, ‘You never Cry Like A Lover’ and the big hit ‘The Best Of My Love’.  The band were now almost invincible with Number 1 singles and they chased fame down the road.

The following year they were even more successful with One Of These Nights. And although this album had four brilliant songs – the title track, ‘Lyin Eyes’, ‘Take It To The Limit’ and ‘After The Thrill is Gone’ – I don’t really love the record.  A bit too stylish, a bit too slick, too disco, too commercial.  And the band were indulging in industrial consumption of cocaine and disagreements led to the departure after this album of Bernie Leadon, who was the country influence and a major songwriter.

The band drafted in Joe Walsh, who already had a solo career and a couple of big hits of his own. And yet the result was probably their best and certainly their biggest hit album.  Hotel California was a triumph.  The whole record sparkles with brilliancy; the songs are cynical and a touch world weary and yet they are great sing-alongs.  The title track sums up the whole feeling in 1976 of things going bad, poltically and in music.  Punk and Disco between them were threatening to make old-fashioned ‘Rock’ bands redundant – and yet The Eagles rose above it and created a masterpiece.  Almost all the songs are superb but I particularly like ‘New Kid In Town’, ‘Wasted Time’ and ‘The Last Resort’  which is almost a companion piece to the title track.  And yet the band were in serious trouble and Randy Meisner, bass player and founder member departed after this record.  This just left Frey and Henley as original members.

It was three years before the next record emerged The Long Run.   This was intended as a double but emerged as a single record.  I wonder given the few poor fillers how bad the rejected songs must have been.  The title track is good and ‘Sad Café’ is another dystopian ode to America and the Sixties; and ‘King Of Hollywood’ is good, incidentally telling us what we already knew, which is why the recent Harvey Weinstein revelations should have come as no surprise.  Incidentally Dory Previn around the same time wrote about the same stuff.  But although eagerly anticipated the album disappointed and apart from the occasional money-making World Tours every decade or so they called it a day.  Frey and Henley released pretty decent solo albums but on their own they weren’t half as good as together.

And then a surprise – a new album Long Road Out Of Eden in 2007.  A double album of mostly softer gentler songs, but although it is beautiful it seems a bit lost really.  Maybe they made the record just to prove they still could – but it seemed they had nothing new to say really – and time had moved on, as it always does, and one questioned their relevance.  Despite that it was number 1 in America and the UK and made them lots of money.  But as a double it was certainly too long; two single reocrds a couple of years apart would have been a better idea.  And as I am listening again I do quite like it – best songs; ‘Busy being Fabulous’, ‘What Do I Do With My Heart’, and the title track.

Of course I also have the obligatory Complete Greatest Hits (2003) A pretty good collection though a bit too heavy on Hotel California and The Long Run.  There is also a track ‘Please Come Home For Christmas’, which was a single and three live tracks; the excellent ‘Seven Bridges Road’, and ;Get Over It’ and ‘Love Will Keep Us Alive’ (pretty bland).  Also one new song ‘Hole In The World’ (average).  So that’s it.

On the Border

VENGEANCE – A short story

Vengeance?  No – I don’t feel vengeful, or even that angry.  Except with myself, though that is more irritation than real anger.  Mostly I just feel sad.  Incredibly sad, and, I suppose sorry for myself.  And, if I am honest, more than a touch of incredulity.  How did we get here?  Why didn’t I see it coming?  But then – I was never really that clever.

When did it start?  Ah, only she knows that.  And him of course – we mustn’t forget him.

All I knew was when she told me.  And I was shocked.  I mean, absolutely.  I had no idea.  Talk about a bolt out of the blue. It was the last thing I expected.  I said earlier that I wasn’t really that clever.  Oh, I excelled at school, but I sort of bumbled along in real life; as if all that academic learning meant nothing in the world of emotions – anger and love and jealousy and hatred.  And when I met her – Joy – it was as if that name encapsulated everything I was feeling.  It was beyond happiness, it was better than anything I could have imagined, and most of all it seemed so right.

But now it is wrong.  All wrong.  In fact, everything is wrong. Her telling me she is having an affair is wrong.  In fact, the word affair itself is wrong.  It is far worse than that.  She told me she is in love with him.  And she didn’t even soften the blow by saying she still loved me.  In fact, she told me directly that she didn’t love me anymore.  She hadn’t loved me for a long time, since the baby was born in fact.  Two years.  Our little girl is two years old.  So – if she didn’t love me how come she had still made love with me.  But no – those thoughts came later – much later.

The strongest emotion I recall was simply disbelief.  You know that feeling you have on waking when you aren’t sure if you are still asleep and everything is whirling around in your head as you try to shake the dream away.  That was how I felt.

I was disoriented, my stomach churned over and over, I desperately wanted to vomit, I felt a terrible rush of imminent diarrhoea, I was dizzy and I just wanted to escape.  I ran out of the house and away, just running, running, running – until I ran out of roads to run down, and out of breath.  I slumped against a wall and tried to recall what she had said.

That was my immediate reaction.  And now, two weeks later, it is just sadness.  I have moved into the small bedroom – the one I had painstakingly decorated as a nursery for our little girl, her cot now in Joy’s, our old, bedroom.  I have taken to laying awake all evening, all night sometimes, listening to Leonard Cohen “One of us cannot be wrong” and Dylan “It’s all over now, baby blue.”  Wallowing in self-pity, replaying the words she said and the words I should have said – but couldn’t find at the time.

And, of course it didn’t end there.  It never does I suppose.  I offered forgiveness, I said that if she would stop seeing him then we could start over.  I would never mention it again.  You know – all that sloppy bollocks.

I was quite pathetic.  I still am.  She is leaving with him at the end of the week.  I gave her the choice you see, I said she had to choose.  And she has.

 

Last night I asked her why.  Not why she had slept with him, not why she was leaving me for him.  But why she had stopped loving me, why that had opened up a space in her heart.  You see, even now I can’t quite believe in any real wrongdoing on her part.  It must have been my fault, or at least, I must have been complicit in some way.

And she took the opportunity to wound me even more.  The truth is always hard to take, especially when it comes from the one you still love.  She said I had always intimidated her.  From the beginning really, she had always felt somehow inferior to me, to my knowledge, to my confident social skills.

“I felt stupid” Joy said “next to you.  You always knew what to say, you were witty where I was dull.  I felt everyone looked down on me, that they somehow thought I was the lucky one to have you as a husband.  Other women can be very catty and I felt they were sneering, or laughing even, behind my back.  I began to hate you, and maybe for the very same reasons I had fallen for you.”

She went on “I just needed to prove to myself that I was somebody, someone in my own right, not just your wife.  I felt I was on a treadmill, staying at home with the baby, washing, cleaning the house, cooking endless dinners.  That wasn’t how I imagined my life would end up.  And so – I began to hate you. With a vengeance.  And every time we had friends round and they laughed at your stupid jokes the dagger went in a bit deeper.  Every time you discussed Politics or Religion or Art, I despised your cleverness even more.

“I never had opinions you see” she continued. “I was just normal, a bit of a dunce at school, I never sought the limelight.  And I could never talk.  Not like you could anyway.  So, I plotted my revenge.  Well not revenge really – but in a way it was getting back at you.  At first it was just for the excitement, the thrill of doing it behind your back.  Every time we did it I felt I was getting my own back on you somehow.  And you had no idea, did you?  That was the best part.  My ideal form of vengeance.  And stupidly I thought I could get away with it.”

“But of course, the longer it went on the more I fell in love with him.” Joy shrugged. “And now it’s all gone too far, and I can’t give him up.  Besides it will have all been for nothing if I go back to you now, won’t it?”

 

What did I think when she told me all this?  I really don’t know, too early to take it all in.  And though I have no feelings now except sadness, at least I am beginning to understand what vengeance is all about.

My Record Collection 88

Dylan – Live and other stuff.   Some of these are bootlegs or released radio broadcasts where the copyright is only 30 years or maybe less.  So, not official releases but still pretty damn good.

Bob Dylan and The New Folk Revolution.  This is over half early Dylan songs – no really new stuff, and a collection of Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Dave Von Ronk songs.  Okay but hardly essential.

The Singer and The Song.  A great double album of Dylan and Johhny Cash songs, not singing together but still a good compilation.   I really don’t know how these other record companies get some of this early Dylan material, maybe it is officially licensed – but I am not sure.   Anyway, a great compilation – some early stuff from Dylan too.

Life and Live Only – I think this was an official CBS release of again early radio live performances’ not bad but nothing new or not really available elsewhere.

A Fool Such As I – well, this is again a strange one.  In the early Sixties Dylan fell out with his record company CBS and recorded an album Planet Waves (not his best by a long chalk) with Asylum records.  In retaliation CBS released a selection of poor songs which Bob had recorded but not included in Self Portrait of the previous year.  When Bob returned to CBS the following year this album, simply titled Dylan was buried and not released for many years on CD.  This album, ‘A Fool Such As I’ is basically that deleted record plus, and here lie the buried gems a whole lot of Dylan Cash duets…Whether they ever intended for an album or were just having fun in the studio (2 songs with Cash came out on Nashville Skyline anyway) is unknown but buried treasure it is.

Across The Borderline   This is a live double album of a concert with Tom Petty and the Heartnreakers (see P).  This was mid-nineties.  Bob and Petty toured extensively and several concerts were broadcast on local radio stations (presumably to encourage ticket sales).  Some of these emerged a few years later as live CDs.  See a bit later Decades – an 8-album collection of live sets (4 of which were live Petty/Dylan concerts).  This is quite a good concert with a fair sprinkling of Petty songs.  Bob’s voice is pretty shot though – but as usual I bought it.

Can’t Wait.  Another late 90’s concert – this time with his own band.   I am still not sure about this record, I like some of it – but almost every song is played as a slowish chugging bues, all long versions, quite hypnotic – but ultimately a bit more than boring.  And I much prefer the original arrangements.  Dylan admitted that he was constantly changing the arrangements of his songs trying to find a new way of playing them to keep them fresh for him as the singer.  Oh well.

Decades – an 8 volume set of live discs – 4 of which are different concerts with Tom Petty.  The first two are okay, early radio shows, interviews and songs from a young performer hoping to get noticed.  The four Tom Petty ones are okay but a bit much.    CD2 is especially good, with a very young Bob, almost embarrassed in an interview and not wanting to sing his own songs, he sounds really charming.  Disc 3 is another from The Rolling Thunder Review, not sure exactly which concert but very good as usual.  Discs 3 to 6 are all with Tom Petty and pretty repetitive realy.

Discs 7 and 8 I haven’t heard yet…

Shelter From A hard Rain. .Another broadcast from the Rolling Thunder Tour.  Pretty sure this was from TV broadcast I saw back in very late 70’s.  Anyway, brilliant as usual.  I just love this stuff and can’t wait (but I must) to start in on the mega box set of Rolling Thunder about to be delivered..

Chimes Of Freedom.   Is a four disc set of other voices singing Dylan.  Absolutely wonderful,

In fact one of my very favourite Dylan albums.  Too many great performances to single out any.  This album truly showcases just what a brilliant songwriter Dylan was.  I could listen to these CDs all day long – and I am often tempted to,

Then we come to the various Greatest Hits. I did have the original 1967 release of Bob Dylans Greatest Hits on vinyl, long since transferred into cassette.  As I now own all the early albums there is no need to rebuy it.  Much better was More Bob Dylan Greatest Hits (1971) I reviewed this earlier, it has four new songs which are among his best.  This was released at a time when he was seen as having a run of pretty poor Dylan albums really – but it made me go out and buy them, and now I love them.

Dylan – (2007) a single CD of Bob’s best.  A pretty good place to start – and goes right up to late 90’s.

Masterpieces – A 3-disc greatest came out in 1978 but concentrates on early stuff – mostly the early 60’s.  I bought this really for 2 tracks which were released in the mid-seventies as a rare single and were never on any album; Rita Mae and They Shot George Jackson Down.  But a good album anyway.

Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits – Vol 3  (1994) concentrates on Seventies and Eighties.  And it just makes you realise how good he still was.  While the early stuff will always resonate, these later songs were more varied, more complex often and probably worked on harder.  There have been very few artists whose work has been consistently good over the decades.  But Bob was always one to plough his own furrow; sometimes it might have seemed that what he turned up was less rich than at others, but he continues to defy description and to surprise us.

The Real Bob Dylan – 2012.  A triple album, more or less in date order.  No surprises but a couple of live versions.  The Bob Dylan industry is in full swing.  Every couple of years a new compilation emerges, as well as the continuing Bootleg series of rare and unreleased stuff.  There is also the seemingly fading possibility that Bob might actually release something new and original again.  We wait. But I have plenty of Dylan stuff to be going on with I am sure you will agree.

The Real Bob Dylan

The SatNav

“No change from yesterday?”

“No.  None at all”

 

The satnav shows a dark blue line; an almost straight line disappearing at the edge of the screen – and yet – constantly growing as the vehicle, a red triangle, though remaining constant, eats up what must be the road.  Edging the blue line, pale yellow roads veer off – my eye attempting but failing to read their names.  Green blocks of colour represent forests, or pale blue – lakes; rivers and streams flow past, never reaching the sea.  I suppose I should look around me, but something keeps my eyes glued to the small curved screen perched on the dashboard.

Where are we going?  I really don’t know.  And feel I cannot ask.  I am the mute passenger, strapped into my seat belt and being taken, I can only assume, to a destination I am unaware of.   I don’t mind this at all; in fact, it is relaxing – comforting – somewhat reassuring. Passivity sweeps over me and I let myself be driven.

After some minutes of staring at the screen, almost hypnotised by the red triangle eating up the ever-growing dark blue line I glance out of the window.  No hint of recognition, no familiarity at all.  And yet – the endless treadmill of the road, just like it’s dark blue representation, is reassuring.  All roads look similar, and the verges and hedges have a consoling sameness too.  Even those dark tunnels that overhanging trees make or the wide vistas, suddenly opening up like some flower as the sun warms it, hold no real surprise.  It all seems one, one winding and slowly unfolding ribbon – just like the screen, which I never tire of – the road is all.  This dark blue line on the tiny screen fills my consciousness.

“Just a few minutes more”

“But maybe if I stay something will change.”

 

But the line continues on its flat journey across the screen, an ever growing, never changing line.  Representing nothing.

 

Glancing to my left I notice we are approaching something, for the first time I am aware of change.  The satnav shows the same dark blue line but the red triangle – me, I can only assume, is almost at the edge of an expanse of pale blue.  Then my vision is distracted by thick black zig-zagging on both sides of whatever vehicle I must be travelling in.  Slowly the criss-cross patterns space out and I realise that we must be on a bridge.  I hadn’t considered that we might cross a river.  I cannot see the water, maybe it is too far below us.  What is on the other side?   I don’t have the energy or even the curiosity to try to work it out.  I am in safe hands, I know that.  No danger of dropping over the edge.  I look back at the satnav and am reassured that we are approaching what I can only suppose is the far shore.  I relax and close my eyes.  But even closed I can still see the dark blue line we are travelling on.  Maybe my eyes have been shut the whole journey.  It doesn’t really matter.  All that matters, is that we keep moving.  I am reassured by the absence of any small chequered flag hovering somewhere in the distance of the little screen.  I really don’t want this journey to end.  As long as we are travelling, I feel safe; as long as I can see the dark blue trail spooling out before me, I have nothing to fear.  I can relax.  I can even sleep knowing no dreams will come to disturb the calm image of the red triangle, which must be me and the blue ribbon I am threaded on.

 

 

“Time to go now”

“I know, I was just hoping – you know.”

“We must continue to hope.  Sometimes hope is all we have.”

 

 

I must have drifted, maybe I was sleeping.  Trouble is, I don’t really know when I am asleep or awake.  It all feels the same.  My eyes begin to focus once more.  The screen emerges out of dim greyness.  The satnav rises to meet me, the blue line is still there and so am I – the red triangle. We seem to be moving slower now.  Maybe we are hitting traffic.  Traffic?  I wonder what that looks like?  But I cannot, I dare not look away from the satnav.  If I do the blue line might stop, the red triangle which is me, might stop too.  Or even worse to imagine – not be there at all.  Then I might not exist.  I only know I am here because the sat nav shows me.  I have no sensations, no consciousness of being save as the red triangle moving more slowly now along the dark blue ribbon.  I stare hard at the screen and I am shocked to see that we, I, the red triangle – has stopped.  The blue line is not growing any more. No motion, no reassuring engines hum, no gentle rumble of tyres on tarmac.  We have stopped.  I have stopped.  I am frightened now.  Is this the end?  The end of my journey.  I felt safe while we were travelling, while the satnav was eating up the road, the blocks of green and blue, the occasional chequered railway line passing under our road.  But now all is quiet.  I feel as if my time is up.  Maybe this really is the end.  You know – my death.  We all know it is coming, we just don’t know when.  All is stillness.  I cannot see the screen anymore, where has the satnav gone?  How am I ever going to find my way back, get back home, without the satnav.  I must try harder.  I just want to see its dark blue line unfolding again, I’ve got to find it, I just need to know I am still alive.

 

“There.  His eyelid was flickering.  Nurse, come quick. I think he’s waking up.”