Aimee Mann An American singer-songwriter of this Century. Ever since Joan Armatrading and Joni I have been on the lookout for the next great female singer. I had hoped that Aimee might be that one, as it is she is pretty good but sadly not in their league. Nevertheless, for a while I really liked her and watched out for her albums. My first was her second, and breakthrough album I’m With Stupid (1995). A very interesting and recognisable voice with an edge of suspicion in there somewhere, great and cynical knowing lyrics and very good production – in short, a surprisingly good record. Best tracks ‘No Choice In The Matter’, ‘You Could Make A Killing’ and ‘Par For The Course’. This was followed in 2000 by Bachelor No. 2. Another good record, but which never really excited me at the time, don’t know why as now on re-listening I find it pretty strong. I suppose I was hoping that she might have moved on in the 5 year hiatus, but the sound and production are almost exactly the same. Best songs ‘Ghost World’, ‘Calling It Quits’ and ‘Save Me’….but really for whatever reason the album still fails to excite me. Next was Lost In Space (2002) – and really I sort of lost faith in her by this one. Again, nothing wrong, but somehow going nowhere. Maybe it was just me…I don’t know. Best songs ‘Humpty Dumpty’ and the title track. I also have a hits – Ultimate Collection which is pretty good, and some of her later stuff does sound good – so why am I so disillusioned with her? I just suppose there are so many good artists it is impossible to keep with everyone. Choices we all have to make.Manfred Mann – well, there was a band in the Sixties that had lots of hits, we all loved them and discovered that Manfred was the keyboard player; the singer was either John Paul Jones or Mike D’Abo. They especially had a hit with a song Dylan home-taped with the band (later to appear on The Basement Tapes) The Mighty Quinn. Anyway, I have a Greatest Hits of theirs and great it is, full of good old sixties nonsense, but no Quinn – oh well, still some great tracks – ‘5-4-3-2-1’, ‘Pretty Flamingo’ and ‘Oh No, Not My Baby’. So, Manfred created a new band in the Seventies Manfred Mann’s Earth Band – I have three albums, and really I should have got more – but you know how it is…..first up is Angel Station (1979) and brilliant it is too, every track a winner and a great rock-pop feel to it, excellent guitar and organs and singing. Interesting songs, which I have no idea exactly what they mean – but sometimes you don’t need to. Best tracks – ‘Don’t kill it, Carol’, the Dylan classic ‘You Angel You’, ‘Belle Of The Earth’ and the Title track. A brilliant album which has a common musical theme dispute the variety of the songs. My next of theirs is Somewhere in Afrika (1983). Wow, what a great album, and a great anti-apartheid statement too. Written before the release of Nelson Mandela and the great sweeping away of white supremacy the record is poignant and powerful and full of both hope and despair. Of course, no-one then was to anticipate the failures of The ANC and that the lives of many many blacks would still be full of poverty and discrimination – though, this was more often along tribal lines from fellow blacks than whites, who quietly got on with making themselves richer and richer. But the album is simply fantastic. Starting with ‘Tribal Statistics’, where the blacks were counted and defined by race and tribe rather than as humans. This is followed by an old al Stewart song updated ‘Eyes of Nostradamus’ and the unifying ‘Brothers and Sisters of Africa’; some great African singing and rhythms and the best of all is a version of Bob Marley’s ‘Redemption Song’ – co-incidentally Bob is next on my list. This album always leaves me with a lump in my throat – somehow it reaches the parts that most others fail to. Last is a mostly instrumental album – Plains Music (1991). A very infectious record, full of nice rhythms and moods. Best track is Medicine Song. The whole album is really one piece of music I feel and a delight to listen to occasionally. I do have another un-listened to (as yet) album and ask myself why I haven’t got more of them.
Meastoso – was the name that Woolly Wolstenholme used when he returned to making music after many years away. He was a founder member of Barclay James Harvest (see B), probably my second favourite group of all time, but he left around 1980 citing musical differences. And in some ways he was right; the band had started with orchestral and electric instruments, the orchestra was soon replaced by Mellotron which Woolly played along with keyboards. However, slowly the group was moving into more synthesiser-based music (to a diminishing audience I must admit) and so Woolly left. He released 2 solo albums which sold poorly (see W) and then retired to his farm. Much later when BJH finally split he was encouraged to play again with John Lees (see L). He then started writing again, or maybe he had lots of pieces already and he released them under the name Maestoso (the name of his first album). Much more like the first few BJH albums these are quite joyful and varied albums, tinged with a touch of humour. The first was 2004’s One Drop In A Dry World. Some lovely lyrical tracks here – best are ‘Blood and Bones’ and ‘it’s U’. But not a bad record. Amazingly, the same year he released Fiddling Meanly, a live album of early BJH songs and a few from his first 3 records. Okay, but nit brilliant. Better was Grim (2005) – the title being a dig at Southerners who think the North of England is a poor place to live. I think on this record he excelled himself; much more like an early BJH album. Some great orchestral arrangements (no doubt synthesised) and some lovely singing. Fave songs ‘Love Is’ and ‘Hebden Bridge’. It may just be possible that these were originally old songs which were rejected for BJH albums, who knows. Lastly, he released in 2007 Caterwauling, sadly he took his own life in 2010. A slightly disappointing album, maybe running out of ideas, who knows. Best song ‘Shoes’ and ‘Matilda Yarrow. He was a complex character and suffered terrible bouts of depression all his life, which probably contributed to his leaving the band in the 80’s. He had often re-joined John Lees (see L) for concert appearances during this late flourishing period. In many ways he was the heart of BJH, always bringing them down from their excesses, but in a similar way to George in The Beatles, he was early on excluded in the choice of songs by the two stronger writers and possibly personalities in John Lees and Les Holroyd, often relegated to just one or maybe two songs per album. A great loss.
The Magic Numbers – This was another of those highly recommended new bands where I bought the album and was not really impressed. This was their 2005 self-titled debut, and the songs are okay, the vocals and harmonies are very good; in fact, there is nothing to not like, but equally nothing to rave about either. The album starts and you think…okay, not bad – but then the record ends and you cannot recall a single song. Oh well.
Magnetic Fields This is the name of a band, founded by and basically only an American called Stephen Merritt. Only the one album i (this is a 2004 album, but they had made records since the early 90s and beyond). Actually this is a delightful record – the novelty being that every track begins with the letter i; all are sung by Stephen and are quite varied in style and production. No songs really stand out though.
The Mamas and The Papas – While in Britain The Beatles were wowing us all with their ever changing style, over in California a whole other revolution was happening, led by The Byrds (see B) and Papa John Phillips and Mama Cass Elliot. A gentle harmonious sound melding old-fashioned melodies with modern beats and original songs; a delightful blend. Here, we only heard the singles ‘California Dreaming’ and ‘Monday Monday’. I have The Best Of…and sometimes that is all you need. All their hit singles are here and a few other tracks which showcase Mama Cass’s lovely voice. Fave track is ‘Creque Alley’.
Mandalaband – This was a strange one. I have always been a big fan of Barclay James Harvest (see B), and the band apparently played on a few tracks of this strange little album, a real prog-rock medieval tale set to music. Actually a pretty unremarkable record.
Kirsty MacColl – a singer songwriter from the late 80s and 90s who sadly died far too early. She was actually the estranged daughter of folksinger Euan MacColl but she ploughed her own and very different furrow. Her songs were full of humour and joy and great lyrics, even if her first fame came from singing Billy Bragg’s A New England (see B). Some of her songs were covered by Tracey Ulmann in the mid 80s, but her first and breakthrough album proper was 1989s Kite. I loved and still do, this album – possibly her best in originality. Every song has a certain English charm and her husband Steve Lillywhite produced it and it was a moderate hit. Favourite songs are ‘Innocence’, ‘Don’t Come The Cowboy With me, Sonny Jum’, ‘What Do pretty Girls Do?’ and Ray Davies song written for the Kinks ‘Days’ which she sung beautifully. She followed this two years later with Electric Landlady. And although another good album I never liked it that much. Hard to say why as the songs are good, and a big hit ‘Walking Down Madison’. I also like ‘My Affair’. Titanic Days followed in 1993, and WOW – what a lovely record, a bit gentler, a bit subtler maybe but with some great songs; ‘Soho Square’ (we’ve all been there), ‘Angel’ and best of all ‘Bad’. Her voice is so clear and crisp and she enunciates every word clearly – but there is a softness now to her voice, a bit less strident and the humour seeps through rather than hitting you hard. A great effort. Sadly her last album was in 2000. She had taken a few years out to raise her 2 sons. She was tragically killed in a speedboat accident off the coast of Mexico shortly after the album’s release. It was called Tropical Brainstorm and was very Latin influenced which is okay but I think it tended to drown out some of the lyrics. Still, a nice record over all. I particularly like ‘In These Shoes’ and ‘England 2 Columbia 0’ and ‘Treachery’. Who knows what she might have achieved had she lived. As it is she may always be remembered for the brilliant duet ‘Fairytale Of New York’ with the Pogues. A couple of retrospectives after her death – The One and Only – features a few rarities and singles – ‘A New England’ and ‘Terry’ and a duet with her estranged father, but best are a couple of tracks with Billy Bragg, especially ‘Welcome To The New Brunette’. I also have What Do Pretty Girls Do – which is similar but a bit broader in timespan. Best songs – ‘There’s A Guy Works Down The Chipshop Swears He’s Elvis’ (well he’s a liar and I’m Not sure about you) and ‘Darling. Let’s Have Another Baby’. Sad that she died so young…
Madness – Well, it may have been madness to buy this – but it was a fee CD on Daily Mail once – and besides, there was no harm in the nutters…best song ‘Baggy Trousers’. Madonna – Now, I must declare an interest. I have always thought she was an overrated self-publicising singer. My daughter Laura worshipped her, and I do accept the part she played in making teenage girls more aware of their powers. However, I never liked the singles or the videos. BUT…I do have one CD – and even my daughter admits it is by far her best album – Ray of Light. I think that this is because, apart from the title track, this is a quiet gentle lyrical album – adjectives one doesn’t normally associate with Madonna. Best songs are ‘Candy Perfume Girl’ and ‘Frozen’
Little Feat – an American outfit, from the Deep South, featuring Lowell George on vocals and guitar and Bill Payne on keyboards. They played a mix of swampy Southern Rock with hints of soul and country. The key player was always Lowell George, who had a remarkable voice and style. I bought their, what turned out to be, third album in 1973 – Dixie Chicken. Much later I bought a box set of their first five albums, which coincides with George’s membership of the band. So, starting with the first eponymous album Little Feat (1971) – I am not very fond of this record, it doesn’t seem to have any real direction – the songs come and go and leave no trace behind, maybe best are ‘Truck Stop Girl’ and ‘Willin’. But, I suppose as a debut album it was okay though not great. Sailin Shoes (1972) was a bit better, a more defined sound and better production. Best songs – The title songs and a re-worked ‘Willin’. But far better was their best album – Dixie Chicken. This album has a unique feel, a wholeness, a completeness, a perfection all of its own. Hard to pick a best song because there isn’t a weak song on the album – but favourites are the title song and ‘Fat Man In A Bathtub’. A truly great and by far their best album. They followed this on ’74 with Feats Don’t Fail Me Now which may be somewhat prophetic, as this album seems to slip back into the shouty noisy first two albums. Not a terrible record really but compared to Dixie Chicken it is poor. The final album before Lowell George left and went solo (to a nondescript career and early death) was The Last Record Album. Well, slightly better I suppose, but still not great – or even moderately good really. Just how many shuffling boogies do we want?
Loggins and Messina – Kenny Loggins and Jim Messina teamed up for a handful of albums in the mid-seventies, carrying on the sound of the Eagles but with a softer, possibly more lyrical touch. The best of the 2 records I owned are now available as a single album The Best Of – Sittin In. Lovely to hear these songs again, especially from the first album, Sittin’ in; the bucolic ‘House At Pooh Corner’, ‘Same Old Wine’ and ‘Danny’s Song’ – not forgetting the joyous ‘Vahevalla’.
The Low Anthem – Just the one record form this US 90’s outfit, the gloriously named Oh My God Charlie Darwin. Some really nice stuff, almost spoiled by a handful of raucous noisy ones. Still, a half decent record. I like the title song and ‘Ohio’ – but then my concentration slipped and nothing stuck.
Graham Lyle – one half of Gallagher and Lyle (see G) the lovely Scottish duo, who I think split because it all got too much for them. They both took a long holiday and only sporadically returned to making music; Graham wrote a few decent songs for others, Tina Turner being one. I have only 2 further albums by Graham Lyle – Something Beautiful Remains (2003) – this is a sort of resume of his post Gallagher and Lyle career, a few hits by American artists, but to be honest – Graham’s versions are limp and weak, almost instantly forgettable. A pity, as he wrote some great songs for others. Much better was an earlier album, just after he split from Benny Gallagher he linked up (again) with McGuiness (formerly of McGuiness Flint (see M); of course he used to be in that band along with Benny in the early seventies. The album Acting On Impulse (1983) is much better with some great songs. I suspect these were maybe written earlier as possibly Gallagher and Lyle songs. A really nice album, most of the sogs would have been great recorded by the duo and stand up well here. Of course – the album sank without a trace. Best songs – ‘Elise’, ‘Faded Photographs’ and ‘Acting On Impulse’.
Shelby Lynne – An American singer-songwriter who has mainly performed in the country arena. Just the one album 1981’s Love Shelby, which had a good write-up at the time. Not a bad record at all, a bit poppy and a bit country. I really don’t know why I collect avidly everything by some artists and have just one album of others. Choice is always an arbitrary thing I suppose. But reviewing and re-listening I find this quite a rewarding record; best tracks – ‘Trust’, ‘Jesus On A Greyhound’ and ‘Tarpoleon Napoleon’ (if only for the great title).