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 album would you write a book about?

11:45pm 30 Jul 2015

SIMON SWEETMAN

Okay, it's a hypothetical - what album would you/could you write a book about? - but it comes from a specific place, a real thing; it comes from the announcement that the latest open call for submissions in the 33 1/3 series has been closed off.

Click that link and you can see the albums that have been pitched - and the number of times a particular album has been submitted. There's a lot of love for Tori Amos' Boys For Pele and Weezer's Pinkerton and Guns n' Roses' Appetite for Destruction. Hundreds of albums were proposed. I might actually know someone who pushed for Sun Kil Moon's Benji to be written about - and good on him. He's the right man for the job, I'm sure. And it's the right album to be written about (for the 33 1/3 series) even though it's a new album; nearly brand new (in the scheme of things).

The album I'd love to write about has still not been put forward. music books

I would love, perfect world, to write a book for the 33 1/3 series.

I've read most of the existing books in that series - including, most recently, this best of/how to/collection of music writing.

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Eric Clapton's Backless

01:08pm 30 Jul 2015

SIMON SWEETMAN

Recently I had a go at Eric Clapton, specifically the last 30 years of his career - and, really, that was about a horrible compilation that didn't so much sell him short as expose the weaknesses of an artist no longer trying. That blog post was as much about me getting over my Eric Clapton fandom too.

But of course I still like his early years, the pre-solo material. And, as I reminded myself - just last night - I really like this album he did called Backless. A strange album in his catalogue, it arrived just after the massive payday around those annoying perennials like Lay Down Sally and Wonderful Tonight and Cocaine. 

Backless doesn't have any hits, really. Promises was included on The Cream of Clapton compilation - probably as a polite way of including a selection (any) from the album.

I've always liked Backless. It's Clapton in super laidback mode, but the playing is tasteful and though, these days, I'd rather listen to The Band, and Little Feat and J.J. Cale (the heroes he was always aping on his very best solo material) and though the moments where he aims for the blues are actually the worst bits on Backless it still just has some charm. It feels somehow noticeably different within his catalogue, even though it's instantly recognisable.

In his memoir Mo' Meta Blues (a must-read) Questlove talks about falling in love with the anomalies, deliberately fishing out, finding the albums that slip through the cracks, spending time listening to the albums that tank or are critically derided, not to be a contrarian but simply to try to see (and hear) what others have missed. His example (a good one) is Stevie Wonder's Journey Through The Secret Life of Plants.

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Some new greasy kids stuff

06:53am 29 Jul 2015

SIMON SWEETMAN

I'm still a believer that any music (within reason) can be right for your kids.

It doesn't have to be the baby-CDs and toddler-songs from the local library. My boy digs Part-Time Lover for example, a song which, lyrically, he doesn't even begin to understand - nor care about; a song that hooks him with the groove and feel. (A song his dad likes too, so that of course doesn't hurt).

He talks about how he has met Anika Moa and Neneh Cherry (you might have read that story here). But he also listens to some rubbish. And good on him for that. It's always great when he's happy even if the soundtrack isn't - sometimes - to my taste.

But, in the last three years or so I have listened to a lot of children's music - songs created for kids; music made by early childhood educators, or by pop stars who have kids. Dan Zanes and Ziggy Marley are two examples of musicians I never cared all that much for - when they were making music "for adults". But their songs for kids work; they've become super skilled in this area, using their obvious talents as - if you like - "serious" musicians.

And of course Anika Moa's Songs for Bubbas has (rightly) been a huge success. Parents want something they can feel connected to - something that is tuneful, that resembles the music they might know and love, something in the same shape. Well, it's helpful if this can happen anyway, as you're going to be hearing anything "favourite" a lot.Levity Beet

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Saint John Divine Live with Strings Attached

09:52am 28 Jul 2015

SIMON SWEETMAN

For all that talk across the last however-long of The Death of the Album it was (obviously) greatly exaggerated.

For every person content with streaming services and playlists or "whatever they play on the radio" there are still people listening to full albums. Some are even paying for them. Presumably...

Last month Don McGlashan's live show was a wonderful example of what can be done if you believe in your work. His new album was played in its entirety to open the show - and it really was, for me, the highlight of the gig. I liked hearing all the Mutton Birds and Front Lawn and other solo songs, sure. But the material on his latest album sounded so good performed as a whole - better, even, than on the record. The arrangements and treatments so warm and sympathetic. Here was a quality batch of songs being carefully, gently coaxed and controlled and offered up with love. Saint John Divine 
He knew he'd written a great album - and had that confidence going into the shows. More people should believe so strongly in their work.

Which is why I'm really happy about the news that SJD will perform Saint John Divine in its entirety with a string section.

Again, here's a really strong, cohesive album. A project that hangs together, the songs supporting one another, logically sequenced. I love the album and SJD's recent live show was terrific so now the chance to hear that entire record - and in the Paramount movie theatre (a great place for music gigs, the same venue that worked so well for McGlashan) - well it's going to be a must-see event I reckon.

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The Record That Saved Your Life

09:30am 27 Jul 2015

SIMON SWEETMAN

As happens, from time to time, I have a flick through the back pages and re-read, end up finding something I'm kinda pleased with, or, more likely, brutally embarrassed by. But that's the deal with writing daily - as I've said often enough blogging, or even the online reviews and columns I do outside and away from this blog, is a form of diary-writing. I was always a diarist through school, kept a daily diary for the five years of high school and into my first couple of years of university. Then it fell away. Clearly I've drifted right back into it...in just a slightly different way.

The other day I re-read something I wrote not all that long ago - a piece about The Islander by Dave Dobbyn. I like the story it tells - because it's honest. It looks back to when I was a giant f**k-up, living a lie, pretending to be one thing and doing another.

And in the middle of that Dave Dobbyn's album came along - The Islander - I was already a fan (solo stuff, Th' Dudes, DD Smash, all of it - I even bought The Exponents album he'd played guitar on, collected the solo Grant McLennan albums he served on as producer, anything, everything connected to him) but this one rekindled the appreciation, reconnecting me with the back catalogue too. The Islander

So what about that phrase - this record saved my life?

I don't think I've ever really thought about that - or needed to, or probably wanted to. But if I had to name one I can now see, in the context of the overly dramatic, narcissistic world I lived in then (and can't always escape now) The Islander by Dave Dobbyn would be it.

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