Blog on the Tracks

Writer/reviewer Simon Sweetman covers music for The Dominion Post and North And South. He cares far too much about music, and the list of bands he loves is far longer than the list of groups he has shown no love.

What song makes you happiest?

12:24am 29 May 2015


Can you name a song - one song - that makes you the happiest? One song that, no matter when and how you hear it, snippet or the whole thing, always gives you joy. One song you essentially never get sick of - could always hear, any day of the week, any context. Have you got a song like that?

Almost anything by Stevie Wonder or Trini Lopez or Prince or The Beastie Boys can put a smile on my dial and/or a wiggle in my stride.

And then there are so many other one-off favourites - songs like Ain't Too Proud To Beg, which, if push came to shove, might be my all-time favourite by anyone.

But a song I would say I can never get sick of - you could challenge me to play it 100 times in a row, no issue, I could loop it for days - is Saving Up by Sonny Day.

Sonny Day I first heard it back on the radio around the time of its release, I remember the video clip too. A great time for New Zealand music, the early/mid-80s; and I was just absorbing this stuff as a young kid. I loved it.

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It's jazz time again!

09:56am 28 May 2015


Despite not being on the best terms with Wellington's Jazz Police jazz is one of my great loves - as a reviewer that means, unfortunately, you sometimes have to say that something didn't live up to the hype, or didn't deliver on the night.

And local jazz fans and players don't like that - because they want their discount tickets to as many international acts as possible; if you say the guy or girl on the night didn't deliver it might mean we don't get as many shows.It's Jazz Time!

Anyway, it's very much jazz time once again - the Wellington Jazz Festival, featuring local and international guests, kicks into gear next week. Click on that link to see the highlights of a long weekend of jazz and jazz-derived music. Many of the bars in Wellington have DJs and live acts, the Lighthouse Cinema is playing jazz-themed films. And the Opera House will host a handful of international names - as well as a fascinating collision of styles/worlds when The Rodger Fox Big Band and Michael Houstoun perform together on stage (I'm really looking forward to that one).

It's almost always jazz time in my house - the bulk of my record collection is jazz or jazz-related. I got to funk and soul and hip-hop through jazz. I got to psychedelic rock's extremes and noise and improv and some minimalist/soundscape music through jazz.

When I started listening to jazz it was the traditional stuff, big band and trad-jazz and big, bold and brassy stuff. I was young - and this music was exciting. And loud. And it was fascinating to me that you could hear jazz louder and more intense than whatever heavy metal you cared to name; that it was also nimble-fingered and there were so many types of jazz within this "one" kind of music.

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Fans that heckle?

11:46pm 26 May 2015


I went to see SJD play the other night, fantastic gig. He had a terrific band - and Saint John Divine is an amazing album. There's that back-catalogue too.

Sean Donnelly continues to plug away and never repeats himself, writing songs every bit as good - and then a little bit better - than the standard names that always get lined up and paraded around as New Zealand's very best songwriters. And, live, there's this energy, the band percolates - serving the songs always. But there are moments where charming pop song and cosmic space-jam are space so closely together than no one even notices the morph until after it's happened.

Terrific stuff. But, and I mentioned this in my review of the gig, just wanted to stretch it out here as a talking-point, topic for the day, there were some almighty dickheads in that audience. Weird, because, the venue was jam-packed (I've never seen it so full) and there was a nice vibe - in certain spots.

But up the front, and I couldn't be bothered to be there for too long, didn't want the gig ruined for me, people were actually heckling the artist. Who pays the door charge to hurl abuse? Even if it's intended as "funny" - and whatever is funny about "play something we know" at a gig you've paid to attend, or worse, "play some Metallica" is beyond me. (But then, I wouldn't even want to yell "play some Metallica" at a Metallica gig because, well, you've always got to hope...)

You get the feeling these people would toss it off like a politician caught doing something they shouldn't - "banter, mere banter".You Suck

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The return of Soulfest

06:19am 26 May 2015


Despite best intentions I didn't end up attending last year's Soulfest - I know there was a bit of speculation about whether it would actually happen...but it did, and the reports were positive. It was a strong line-up and a good day out.

Soulfest is returning in 2015 - and the line-up looks very good.

After an initial announcement that included Mary J. Blige and Jill Scott, De La Soul and Talib Kweli we now have Lauryn Hill and Miguel and it's not just going to be Talib Kweli, Mos Def has been added, specifically the Mos Def/Kweli duo, Black Star will now be performing.

All of that is reason to get along - I've seen De La Soul a bunch of times, and Mos Def. But the chance to see Mary J. Blige and Jill Scott is certainly enticing. And Lauryn Hill...well, it could of course go either way, but I was such a fan of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill that I'd like to see her anyway.

The real selling point for me though is the inclusion of Kamasi Washington.

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Ghosts of Electricity

09:58am 25 May 2015


Something I'm quite proud of, over on my Off The Tracks site, is the weekly Guest Blog by Jon McLeary.

His "War Stories" - also called The Ghost of Electricity - is a weekly post, up every Monday, where JonJon McLearygets to tell a wee story about his life and work, whatever he feels like. I never make suggestions, I never challenge the content or offer any advice at all - it's his forum. He writes about his work with his band, Spines - a group more people should know about (and a good way to start would be clicking on that link to Gary Steel's excellent Audio Culture essay about the group).

But McLeary is also the author of a novel, a painter and poet and songwriter, a sculptor, he's worked painting gallery walls and movie sets and you can read about these things in his weekly Ghosts.

It's also evolving into a story of the man behind the work. The breaking down of song lyrics, demystifying recording processes, and memories of moments that have shaped the man and musician. The Nambassa Festival, opening for The Buzzcocks, the Spinal Tap-like amount of (great) drummers to have passed through the ranks and then there's stories about meeting and working with other musicians and kindred souls, about touring New Zealand on an oily-rag budget, being signed to Flying Nun, being dropped, recording albums that haven't been released - might never be released - solo projects...

The PaintingSome weeks the story isn't (really) about music at all. It's just about something that's happened in Jon's life. This usually goes on to inform his response through music - or his response to music - in some way. But not always.

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