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.

Bettye LaVette is worth your time

10:38am 28 Apr 2015


A decade ago or so - maybe a dozen years now - Rodger Fox brought Bettye LaVette to New Zealand, one of his package-tour shows. He'd bring out seasoned veterans, sometimes you knew them, sometimes you didn't - but they had pedigree, back-catalogue, and more often than not they were terrific on the night.

Fox deserves more credit than he's given actually - he has introduced some amazing talent to New Zealand and, most often, it's in the spirit of collaboration - meaning he's also introducing these international players to some talented New Zealand players, up and comers and lifers. Rodger Fox celebrated one of many milestones in his career by bringing Michael Brecker to New Zealand. This musician had played on so many of my favourite records - albums by Todd Rundgren and Billy Cobham, Paul Simon and Frank Zappa, George Benson and Jaco Pastorius among many others. What a thrill it was to  see him.Bettye

But my favourite introduction via the Rodger Fox Big Band was definitely Bettye LaVette. I reviewed the show, I knew of LaVette, but didn't know a whole lot about her. I knew she'd been recording and touring forever - her first album was cut when she was a teenager. But she'd never (really) made it big.

I went to the show having done the requisite research, but I left the show a fan - took home with me from the merch-stand this pretty kick-ass live album. It still gets a whirl now and then. Mostly as tour-souvenir, reminder of the show I saw.

A couple of years on LaVette was receiving huge kudos. The "comeback" in full swing. And over the last decade she's released a handful of albums, one with Drive-By Truckers as her backing band, a tribute to the British blues boom, each record with its own flavour, covers albums all of them. But she always has her way with a tune. Sympathetic backing, empathic producers, her latest album is Worthy. And though I've enjoyed the records she's made since I first heard her in that live setting it's Worthy that stands tallest, proudest.  It's her best. It is her at her very best. The song selections, the interpretations, the choices by producer Joe Henry and the subtle musical accompaniment.
LaVette's second shot at fame has really stuck. And with each new album I'm reminded of that lucky time when I saw her, and got to see the good without any of the hype.

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Egos on a selfie stick: Top 10 most egotistical musicians

08:08am 24 Apr 2015


The topic for today comes from Dave (not Doug) he called for Egos on a Selfie Stick, requesting "the Top Ten most egotistical musicians that ever deigned to grace a stage with their unparalleled presence" and he asked for supporting quotes. I asked for subjects this time last week, it's been a week of pre-chosen blog topics. We finish, in a way, back where we started, for this topic has to mention Kanye West. Right?Mozart

You'll find plenty of lists around - a quick Google brings 10 Hideously Egotistical Rock Star  Moments and Top 10 Most Arrogant Frontmen.

We all know that the likes of Billy Corgan, Kanye, Liam and/or Noel Gallagher and Gene Simmons should appear on the list.

So I'm going to make a list of ten musicians that I've actually seen live - which probably means all of the people I just named will still make that list. Let's see.

1. Gene Simmons. Nothing that arrogant about Gene when I saw KISS. Christ they were awful. He one-noted a, erm, "bass solo" and did his cough-up-stage-blood trick. His other gimmick, being lifted in the air, his demon-character attempting to come to life, didn't work. Fans rushed to defend the fact that the wires were tangled and it wasn't his fault. But he looked like the sad old uncle at a 21st trying to look cool for the kids. I've also endured one of Gene's books - Kiss And Make Up (actually kinda funny, he's comically full of himself).

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'Money for Nothing'

09:57am 23 Apr 2015


The topic today comes from &drew. I'm asked, because I, er, asked for it, to look at "artists that maintained long careers without managing to create worthwhile content".

How do we discuss this then? Eric Clapton springs to mind as someone who hasn't put out anything really worthwhile since 1970 yet he's regularly (still) in the Top 10 lists of "best guitarists". He's loaded. And, until recently, he could - and would - tour whenever he wanted. He's done the Cream reunion, he has revisited (most of) his classic Layla album, there have been albums of blues covers, including two dedicated to Robert Johnson, and yet none of it really sticks. I say that as someone who owned everything Clapton released. I was a fan. 

It's hard to imagine that now. He's so boring. It's repulsive. Insulting. Infuriating. That Ain't Workin'

The same could be said for Carlos Santana. He continues to push the Santana brand despite it being 40 years since his band/brand had anything interesting to say. Yes, there was "success" with Grammy awards and sales and a serious of diminishing-returns guest-vocalist albums. But really his output is comical if you consider from 1980 onwards. Even that is being charitable. Again, I'm a huge fan of the early Santana - I continue to be. The double-live album, Lotus, is still a firm favourite. And everything up to that album works for me. But most things released after - not a chance.

Someone else might tell you though they feel the same way about Prince. Nothing worth hearing or having after 1988. It gets hard to argue against that actually. I'll buy anything Prince releases - but I've only made it to reviewing one of last year's two albums he released. It wasn't a great album, didn't need to happen, didn't have a whole lot to say. And yet it wasn't the worst thing he's released. I guess his performances sell the story though - much with The Roots and only a small handful of other performers - you go to the concert to see what the artist feels like serving up on the night. Cover, reworks, album  tracks, occasionally a "hits" show too. You get anything. And very nearly everything.

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The Traveling Wilburys - the ultimate supergroup?

06:46am 22 Apr 2015


Today the headline, the topic comes care of Rohcna - as per my request for you to hum it, and I'll play it. A chance, too, to write about The Traveling Wilburys, something that is regularly mentioned in suggestions here and on the Facebook page. And something I never seem to do - and for no real reason either, beyond never quite getting to it.

The Wilburys were a big deal to me. I remember the news item announcing them. I remember my mum and dad took us out, family outing, Friday night (late-night) shopping, to buy the cassette tape.

Not only that we took it home and sat and listened to it. The whole family. It was an event. I told some of that story, years later, as part of my Vinyl Countdown, after wearing out that tape I found a second-hand copy of the LP...

There was a reverence - it was George Harrison and he used to be a Beatle. But  it was also Bob Dylan, he had been a big deal too. And Tom Petty. There was this other guy - Jeff Lynne, didn't know as much about him, but then someone mentioned a group ELO or Electric Light Orchestra they were a bit like a Disco-Beatles in my mind. And that was okay. Then there was The Big O - Roy Orbison. Everyone knew his rock'n'roll hits from that earlier era. He was a living legend. Well, they were all living legends really...Vol. 1

I loved the music of The Traveling Wilburys. That first album, Vol. 1.

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The death of the album (has been greatly exaggerated)

11:09am 21 Apr 2015


Reader Clive Bixby suggested as per last week's post that I talk about the death of the album, saying that "streaming sites and singles and social media have  killed off the album". But I don't agree with that. And I don't believe it.Shattered Dreams

It's in my interests to not believe it - I still like to write about albums. I still want to react to the album as a whole. There are plenty of other music-blogs/sites that plug singles but it's never been something that's interested me. I like to consume albums. I receive albums to review - or hunt them out. I still buy albums. I still listen to albums.

When the iPod first caused a stir there was some excitement around playlists - and I certainly enjoyed (sometimes still enjoy) making up playlists: super-long mixtapes, essentially. But the iPod helped me to rediscover my record collection. I loaded that first iPod up with as many albums as I could - some of them I hadn't heard in years. I found my way to them (again) through the novelty of scrolling, of having - and creating - a walking soundtrack.

Streaming sites and social media do just as much to promote the album as a whole. You can find full albums on YouTube - it can sometimes be your best way to find an old, deleted album. Or to preview something brand new. Sometimes they're even artist-endorsed, the people that made the music placed it there  knowing it's a way to get an audience.

Streaming sites and social media seem to offer just as much in the way of albums as singles.

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