706 Union Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee- the home of Sun Studio- considered by many to be the birthplace of Rock “N” Roll. Sam Phillips-[pictured above} founded Sun Studio and Sun Records in the early 1950’s. At first he recorded the blues artists such as B.B. King and Howlin’ Wolf got their start at Sun- but then […]
We have all been spending more time at home and may continue to do so, so it’s a good time to learn something new — like playing guitar.
This is an all solid wood parlour guitar, spruce top, trembesi back and sides, so it’s a bit more expensive. Mercurys, like all the Faith models, come in a variety of versions. The cheapest is the ‘naked‘ version, with solid mahogany back and sides and matt finish solid spruce top.
Mercurys are easy to hold and play, perfect for kids, or for anyone to learn the guitar. It’s also great for doodling on the settee, all thanks to its smaller size, scale and 12th fret neck join.
Ideal for women especially, in my opinion, because historically this is pretty much exactly like the kind of guitar ladies used to play in their parlours!
Each album was career defining for the bands. Is one better than the other? No. It is just personal choice. These two albums are among the biggest sellers of the 1970s and are near the top of the greatest albums of all-time. I’m just telling you this in case you were in a coma back […]
Any album which followed Joni Mitchell’s groundbreaking 1971 album ‘Blue’, still considered to be her best by many, would have difficulty in competing with such brilliant, heartfelt songs and musicianship.
Predictably, Mitchell’s 1972 release of ‘For The Roses’ (Asylum), did indeed seem to underwhelm by comparison. Even the title of the album does not exactly inspire one as much as the emphatic ‘Blue’, unless you happened to be a gardener or a seeker of some bucolic escape. Nevertheless, I have to say I find this album something of a sleeper.
I, like many, first became aware of Joni Mitchell with songs like ‘Big Yellow Taxi’, songs which made you stop, listen and take notice. Then along came ‘Blue’ and the plaudits, rightly, went bananas. Then, at least to me at the time, a youngster barely in his teens, there seemed to be a bit of a lull. Suddenly it was 1974 and the wondrous ‘Court and Spark’ was released, another groundbreaking collections of songs. Somewhere in the middle of all that came ‘For The Roses’. It has only been over the last fifteen years or so that I have come to appreciate how good this album is.
And it turns out the album’s name and character did indeed indicate the singer songwriter’s partial retreat from the hurly burly of superstar life. So here are songs perhaps less intense than ‘Blue’, but reflective of a different inner life, the beginning of her more observational, anecdotal story telling songs which have become so much a trademark of her later career.
The opening track ‘Banquet’ sets the tone firmly, yet gently, indicating her retreat from all the pandemonium, stepping down towards the shoreline and taking a wider philosophical look at life and all its absurdities. Here too I can sense the true beginning of her more jazz-folk inspired trajectory, followed up in the next acoustic guitar driven track, ‘Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire’.
If the first two tracks evoke a certain subjective melancholy, track three, the more upbeat ‘Barangril’, really brings out Mitchell’s great gift of taking an everyday snippet of daily life and turning it into a timeless masterpiece of modern Americana.
‘Lesson in Survival’ returns to the reflective melancholy, but beautifully so. Few songwriters, one would imagine, have ever been so well read. The wish for escape is overpowering. ‘Let the Wind Carry Me’ continues with the theme, but gives us more than a glimpse of parental influences, how they seem to us as we age when we realise Mum and Dad were not perfect either. I love the little jazzy flourishes with the voices and wind instruments in this song, something she would continue to perfect in later albums. In this song they evoke the whistles of steamers.
Wild Canadian Expanse
It has been said before (probably by me previously too) that Russian composers like Rachmaninov can’t help but sound like the vastness of the Russian Steppes. I think the same goes for more contemporary Canadian composers too, particularly Joni Mitchell and Neil Young. In ‘Let the Wind Carry Me’ I can hear the vast open plains of central Canada where she was brought up and also the equally wide Pacific Ocean off California.
‘For the Roses’, the title track, is an understated guitar song of exquisite guitar work and minimal arrangement, critiquing the lifestyle she has become accustomed to and which she is now eschewing. ‘See You Sometime’ is more straightforward, reflecting on former loves, their lifestyles, in a major key, leaving open the possibility of staying friends.
‘Electricity’ is a beautiful guitar track, spanning this transition period. ‘You Turn Me On, I’m A Radio’ might also have appeared on an earlier album, but served the purpose of being a catchy hit single from this album.
‘Blonde in the Bleachers’ definitely looks forward, another anecdotal snippet finding meaning: It transforms beautifully in the middle to a more soft rock number with sophistication. ‘Woman of Heart of Mind’ really does sound to me like it was composed a year or so prior to the album’s release – it is, nevertheless, beautiful and understated.
The final track, ‘Judgement of the Moon and Stars (Ludwig’s tune)’, is probably the most sophisticated piano based track on the album, Joni leaving us typically with a philosophical view based on much reflection. The arrangement of wind and strings is also tasteful.
Overall, this is still one of my ‘go to’ albums. It helps me relax and reflect, probably the desire of the composer at this particular juncture in her life. It is generally understated and certainly not her best offering – yet it is still a great album in my view.
An Evening of Brilliant Music, Humour and Poignancy in Spalding.
On the Saturday evening of May 11, ‘folk rock’ band Fairport Convention once more graced the stage at Spalding’s Civic Centre.
Although the auditorium was not quite full, there was a good, convivial atmosphere, helped by the band members’ laid back approach, great sense of humour and also by the timeless quality of the music aided by a back catalogue of over fifty years, even though the subject matter of these songs is often anything but genteel.
Take the song ‘Matty Groves’, described by founder member Simon Nicol as having two chords and nineteen verses. The song itself is a traditional, lascivious and violent tale, originally adapted for Fairport’s landmark album, ‘Liege and Lief’ in 1969, and is delivered with a rocky, cutting edge, one of the best examples of ‘folk rock’ in my opinion.
Cutting Edge Rhythm Section
Throughout the performance, that cutting edge was amply provided by the deft skills of the highly experienced rhythm section, namely Gerry Conway on percussion and Dave Pegg, the latter’s dexterous familiarity with all of the neck of his bass guitar being a wonder to behold, as was the light hearted attitude he exuded. I have seldom seen a more lyrical example of great bass playing.
Not to be outdone, however, Gerry gave a stunning, virtuoso percussive performance which combined his conventional, rather minimal electronic set with what I understand to be a traditional Peruvian drum called a Cajon (Spanish for box) on which he actually sat all night. Simply remarkable.
And the evening was not all about the band’s older back catalogue either. For example, there were lovely performances of songs written more recently by multi-instrumentalist Chris Leslie, whose easy transition from fiddle to mandolin to guitar to tin whistle… was amazing.
Conversely, yet equally impressive, was the fiddle-dedicated Ric Sanders, whose unconventional, at times jazz influenced, reverb infused playing style, perfectly complemented the rest of the band.
What is more, there were the fantastic vocal harmonies too, adding to the overall richness and quality of the sound.
Leader of the Band
However, the undoubted leader of the band is founder member Simon Nicol, whose precise, often understated guitar playing could not be overlooked, especially by amateur guitarists like myself who appreciate exactly how well he does it.
Furthermore it was Simon who provided the most poignant parts of the evening. The band’s rendition of Sandy Denny’s ‘Fotheringay’ was a particular highlight, sung with deep feeling by Simon, the story of Mary Queen of Scots final hours in 1587.
Equally moving and with some local interest too, was Ralph McTell’s beautiful song ‘The Hiring Fair’. Simon had clearly seen the statue ‘The Hiring’ recently erected in Hall Place in the town centre, giving a precis of how hiring fairs used to work throughout the country.
And so to the encore, which had to be the anthemic ‘Meet on the Ledge’, one of the band’s best known songs. It’s exactly fifty years since the tragic road accident which took the life of drummer Martin Lamble and Jeannie Franklyn, who was Richard Thompson’s girlfriend.
In the aftermath of the tragedy the band nearly split up. Thankfully for us and to continually honour those who died, they decided to carry on, though it was clear that the anniversary of the event was leaving its mark on what was a very enjoyable evening.
Finally, there is the Cropredy Convention which takes part every year in August over three days. If you missed them this year on their spring tour, why not try to catch them at Cropredy? There are many other bands and musicians to see and a good time will be had by all, that’s for sure.
My Faith Mercury – in all its parlour beauty. Note the lovely rosewood binding.
I’ve had my Faith Mercury parlour guitar for nearly four years now. I remember that it wasn’t a very easy purchase.
So OK, let me explain. I love electric guitars too; I’d had my American Stratocaster for number of years but it simply wasn’t getting played. It wasn’t that I didn’t like it, far from it. I don’t gig so it’s far easier sitting around with an acoustic. I just wanted something smaller, lighter, easier in my lap – a ‘sofa guitar’ you might say.
Look, I’d got other acoustics (I’ll come back to them another time) but not a genuine 12 fret join-at-the-neck acoustic. They are usually called parlour guitars due to the fact that they were originally made in more genteel times for ladies to strum in their parlours. How quaint, I thought. I’ve seen plenty of women who can handle much bigger guitars than this, but again that’s another story.
You actually traded in the Strat?
So, once I’d come to terms with the knowledge that parlour guitars weren’t necessarily the exclusive property of women, I had to make a decision. Yes, I was going to trade in the Strat! What? It was hard to let it go: Heck, even the smell of it was great.
Yet, when I first took hold of that light Faith Mercury parlour it was the perfect fit for noodling, fingerstyle playing which is basically where I’m at these days. You might call it the quintessential songwriters’ guitar and I’ve been known to write a few.
The Faith Mercury is a perfect wee beastie: The simple Faith logo on the headstock, solid woods all round with a spruce top, trembesi back and sides and some beautiful rosewood binding to boot, which I really love. Mine has the glossy top, with matt finish back and sides. The solid trembesi, I am told, sits tonally somewhere between rosewood and mahogany. Sounds great.
Not boxy out of the box
However, perhaps the most surprising thing, considering it’s a parlour guitar, is that it’s not that boxy sounding; in fact there’s a fair amount of bass and thus a fuller, richer sound than I was expecting. It was in tune ‘right out of the box’ as the saying goes, and it’s so easy to play, the action just right for me. And by the way, it wasn’t actually a box but rather a very nice case emblazoned with the Faith logo.
My only ‘quibble’ is the fact that it doesn’t smell like a Martin (Martin owners will know what I mean) – but you can’t have everything, I suppose. Faith make some fantastic, great value guitars and I wouldn’t hesitate buying another. The only problem is making a choice. I’ve always fancied another Faith Mercury with the scoop and pick up. Equally I’d like a Venus, but which one?
Bog oak – is that a thing?
Then there’s the one made with that ancient bog oak, was it? Actually I think they’ve made several by now. One day I will make my mind up. I just hope I don’t have to trade in another to get one.
But get this. About a month ago my wife said, “can you teach me to play guitar?” After getting up off the floor and saying “yes, of course, Darling,” I wondered which of my several acoustics she would prefer to learn on. Absolute no brainer, the Faith Mercury won hands down. “It’s just the right shape for me,” she said, having struggled just a little with the others. Now she’s already trying to pick out the ‘Game of Thrones’ theme tune and I can’t get a look in!
It looks like parlour guitars are indeed very suitable for women and most especially the Faith Mercury. I’ll just have to remind her that it’s actually my guitar!