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.

When a supergroup tackles someone else’s album

09:00am 05 Aug 2015


I've been to hundreds of gigs - thousands, actually. And though I am often bored at a show, bored by a show, I still turn up (for the most part) hoping for the best. All it takes is something like the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion show this past weekend to rejuvenate, to remind that it's been a great hobby getting along to gigs.

For the most part though I scan the pages of international magazines - and now far more likely websites - and I think about all the gigs I'm missing; the ones that never make it to New Zealand, the ones I can't afford to travel's a sickness I guess. A disease. But it's been a big part of my life for over a decade now. The best gig is always the one I'll never get to see.

So, earlier, I was checking out the many fine things that are on as part of this year's Melbourne Festival (I've never been there but the brochure looks nice) and I see this amazing gig: Patti Smith's Horses album performed by an Aussie supergroup featuring Courtney Barnett and Gareth Liddiard of The Drones.Horses Four Coarses

It's the 40th anniversary of Horses - one of the kick-ass albums - and here's a very fine way to celebrate it, to interpret it. Helps that I think The Drones are just one of the best groups ever (here's my interview with Liddiard from when the band toured New Zealand the other year, the turnout wasn't great so we might not ever see them over here again) and, okay, we are getting to see Barnett later in the year (and Auckland has already hosted her a bunch of times) but seeing those two fine lyricists (two of my favourite lyricists from recent years) at the helm of a project celebrating the best work from another of rock's great lyricists...well, Melbourne Festival is lucky. (But then, you see Laura Marling and John McLaughlin and The Fall are also on the bill there and that's just part of the music component) and it's very clear that anyone attending the Melbourne Festival is bound to see and hear and feel something fantastic.

(Yes, yes, we're getting The Fall too, as a result...Marling too...)

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Sylvie's Serge bio expanded

11:43am 04 Aug 2015


A weird debate that readers seem to lock into is books vs. e-readers. As if you can't have both.

People seem to think that reading something on a Kindle is like cheating on their book collection. I never feel that way when I select a record or CD or tape or Mp3 - because first and foremost I care about the music; the chance to hear it. The particular format - and convenience, or lack of - sure, it can all end up being part of it. And absolutely there are preferences. But worrying about how choosing one thing over another is some act of deception or treason...pfff...who has time for that?

Same deal with books vs. Kindle for me. I have both, use both, like both.

I've been won over by the Kindle ever since being a parent. Having one hand free - always - is now crucial. Dozing off and not losing my place, being able to fit the whole book in my pocket for travel - or for between acts in gigs - I make no apologies for the fact that I read in stolen moments now. In some ways I always have. Taking a Kindle on a plane is a lot easier too.e-Gainsbourg

But I still collect books, still buy books, review books, still borrow books from the library once a week or so. Books don't need to disappear - you can have both.

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Sad news about Cilla

12:00pm 03 Aug 2015


It was sad to wake up to the news that Cilla Black has died.

Sadder to read some of the comments on the original post alerting me to this news. You have to wonder what is wrong that, in this culture of outrage, the race is to be first - to post first, post meanest, aim for funny, settle for rude and ignorance be damned - people will essentially picket a post about the passing of a person they never really knew.

It matters not that you were never interested in Cilla Black as singer or TV personality, and that your ideas around her "selling out" (ie starting off as working class Liverpool lass and going on to become...well... successful) have been cobbled together from other comments and from a 30-year gestating blind rage around a musician supporting a politician you don't like.

My own thoughts about Cilla Black are that she had a starring role in a handful of very special songs. That's more than most will manage. She might not have been the writer or arranger or producer but she was the singer. In an era of singers. And great songs. And a time when the idea of the song and its worth was almost entirely around the delivery - if you nailed the take and your name was on the disc as it travelled up the charts and became a hit then it was your song. You might have been one part of the song only - not the writer - but you were the voice; the reason the song - in the form that worked - was a success.

I thought, straight away of Anyone Who Had A Heart - because that's the song that introduced me to Cilla Black. I knew the name, but didn't know much about her as a singer, didn't know her songs. Until I started hearing them - sitting down to listen to them, realising, then, I'd heard several of them before.

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What album would you write a book about?

11:45pm 30 Jul 2015


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


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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