Ranking Bob Dylan’s 39 studio albums- #34- Bob Dylan’s 20th studio album release- Saved [1980} 2 1/2 stars. Bob Dylan’s nearly sixty year career has at times been highly controversial- his going electric in the mid-60s and turning his back on the folk movement immediately comes to mind. But the most controversial- to this day […]RANKING BOB DYLAN’S 39 STUDIO ALBUMS- #34: SAVED [1980} — slicethelife
A review of the cult classic by Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band recorded in 1967 – Safe As Milk.Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band – Safe As Milk (1967) — The Ultimate Music Library
A review of the first half of The Beatles career retrospective from the years 1962-1966.The Beatles – 1962-1966 (1973) — The Ultimate Music Library
A review of the solo album by legendary artist Tim Buckley – Goodbye And Hello.Tim Buckley – Goodbye And Hello (1967) — The Ultimate Music Library
A review of the underrated album by The Beatles – Help!
Publishing schedules are beginning to look much more tempting now that the worst of the pandemic-related slippage has worked its way through, at least let’s hope so. I like to kick off proceedings with a title that made my heart sing when I spotted it and this time it’s Sarah Moss’ Summerwater. From Names for […]
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.
copyright Francis Barker 2020
Part of our trip around Northern Ireland’s gorgeous County Antrim coast involved a stop at the world famous Giant’s Causeway.
I have to say that it was indeed everything I was expecting, from the cool, wet weather to the very touristy atmosphere.
That said, the place is simply stunning. Nothing can prepare you for walking over those truncated basalt columns, watching your step, while eyeing in disbelief that such a place actually exists, spreading out ahead of you towards the sea.
Made a World Heritage Site in 1986, the Giant’s Causeway lies right at the northern end of Northern Ireland.
The official story is that it’s between 50 and 60 million years old. In a nutshell, it’s the result of strong volcanic activity causing lava flows which formed a plateau, cooling relatively quickly, resulting in the distinctive hexagonal columns.
A similar process or effect occurs when mud dries in extreme heat, though you don’t get the height of the columns of course.
So much for the ‘official’ story. Any self respecting local here would tell you that’s all hogwash.
A Battle of Giants
What really happened, perhaps not that many generations ago, is that Finn MacCool, an Irish giant, was confronted by a Scottish giant challenger, called Benandonner. Finn, who couldn’t wait to tackle this upstart, built the causeway to get across the North Channel to Scotland.
There are basically two versions of the story. In one, Finn beats Benandonner conclusively. In the other Finn runs away from Benandonner after realising that he’s even bigger than himself.
So, using some feminine guile, Finn’s wife, called Oonagh, makes out her husband to be a baby, even going to the extent of placing him in a cradle.
Benandonner is fooled by this, thinking that if the baby is this big, then how big is the father? In shock, Benandonner trudges back across the causeway, taking it down on the way so Finn cannot follow him.
Science versus ‘Myth’
Strangely enough, in the corresponding part of Scotland around Fingal’s Cave on the isle of Staffa, there are some very similar columns of basalt.
Now, the scientific community would have us believe that this is merely part of the same lava flow from many millions of years ago. Of course it is.
But I know which explanation I prefer.
copyright Leofwine Tanner 2019
We recently visited Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland, and one of the venues on our list was The Game of Thrones Exhibition.
It appears relatively new and situated outside the city centre, about a 15 minute bus ride. The Titanic exhibition centre is also close by.
Not the Biggest Fan
So what did we think? Well, I did watch the show, although I’m not the biggest fan. It would be pointless for me to enter a quiz about it, for example.
The GOT exhibition centre is about another ten minute walk from the Titanic exhibition. From the outside it has the appearance of a large warehouse in an industrial quarter.
Nearby are some of the scene constructions from the show, though these are partly hidden from view behind a fence which you can’t get through.
Not Very Busy
On the day we went, it wasn’t very busy. It was wet and the school holidays are still a little way off. We were greeted by friendly, enthusiastic young people, most of whom we were told, were either extras in the filming or had been involved in some other way.
In fact, it turns out that a significant percentage of the Belfast population have had some involvement in the making of the biggest TV show ever.
Boon for the Local Economy
Many millions of pounds have been generated for the local economy and one of the largest and continuing benefits is tourism.
Once we had got our tickets – £17 pounds each, I might add – we were shown a short film, like a precis for the whole 8 series. We were the only people watching it.
Large – and Dark
Then we were ushered through and entered the exhibition itself. Inside it’s large and dark, so dark that taking pictures (allowed) is not easy, as they don’t like flash photography.
What we saw were basically numerous sets of costumes of the individual characters of the show, from the white walkers to Daenerys.
There were also large dragon skulls, which made the best use of the darkness within the huge hall; there were reconstructions of scenes from the Stark crypt and also interactive areas where you could, for instance, have your picture taken on the Iron Throne – at extra cost, of course.
What I enjoyed best, however, was the map. I’ve always been fascinated by maps and spent a significant proportion of my youth making up fantasy islands or lands – maybe I should have had a pitch at writing a story about them!
We got around the whole exhibition in around half an hour, though a real enthusiast, which I’m not, might take 45 minutes. At the end there was the usual gift shop with the inflated prices which we quickly bypassed.
So, overall, what did I think? It was OK, but I think we both left feeling a little underwhelmed.
Don’t get me wrong, Belfast and Northern Ireland in general deserves all the benefits this show has brought, the employment, the massively increased tourism, but I had the feeling that the exhibition had been put together quickly and it showed.
That said, how elaborate should it be? It could be argued that the large dark space of the centre/warehouse was the perfect setting, complementing the dark mood of the show.
Ultimately though, having been around it now, I don’t think it’s worth what we paid. Ten pounds would have been more reasonable, I think.
If you are a real fan, however, then I’m sure you’ll enjoy it – whatever the cost.
copyright Leofwine Tanner 2019
A few days ago I received my long awaited DNA results from 23andme.com.
The process was relatively easy; they kept me up to date with how it was going with regular emails. In total it took around five weeks from ordering the kit to receiving the results.
So it was with a little excitement, and a some trepidation, when my finger finally clicked the email link which took me to the website login.
It has long been contended within my family that there might be some more, shall we say, far flung genes within our pool. What might they be?
All of the family I’ve known have been British, mostly, though not exclusively, English. My Geordie (Newcastle area born) Grandmother, for instance, had a Scottish maiden name, which nevertheless did not prevent her from occasionally casting one or two harsh words aimed at her genetic cousins just a short distance north of the border. Borders are always areas of contention.
My mother’s side of the family were largely dark haired, often with dark eyes too. I myself have dark brown hair with hazel-green eyes, which appear to come from my father.
On top of this there was some speculation that there might be Irish, or perhaps Romany blood. I don’t know where such speculation might have started though.
To put it another way though, I would not have been surprised to find some such significant traces in our family history.
Imagine my surprise then when I read down the composition of my ancestry according to the research based on my sample of saliva. Here it is in basic terms:
97.9% Northwest European.
59.8% British and Irish – the strongest hits being Greater London and Glasgow, with lesser ones in the north midlands, north west and north eastern England, perhaps Cornwall. In Ireland it was found that Limerick, Dublin, Roscommon and County Wexford also represent some significance.
The above is to be found mostly within the last 1-3 generations, down to my great grandparents.
12.1% French and German. No actual place name hits could be found here, though looking at some of those within 23andme.com (my ‘relatives’ or possible distant cousins) with small percentages of similar DNA, Germany seems to come up quite often, whereas France does not. This may be misleading, however.
This DNA would most likely be found in generations 4-7, from my great great grandparents backwards.
3.6% Scandinavian. No actual place name hits here either, though once more this is a large area, with the best chance of finding it within generations 4-7.
22.5% Broadly Northwestern European. This generality is explained by significant migrations over longer periods of time which might ‘smooth over’ more specific areas of placement.
Maybe these ancestors tended to live in or around seaports (where there’s more influx of people – my speculation), anywhere from Germany to Iceland, from Norway to France. This is a significant percentage, almost a quarter of my DNA, so it would be nice to narrow this down, if possible.
1.6% Southern European. Another generality.
0.5% Broadly European.
All the other tested populations came up with zero percentages.
I knew of the Scottish connection, though not of Glasgow, I assumed it was more to do with Edinburgh, the Lothians or the Borders. I had speculated about the Irish. It would be great to follow up both of these with more investigation.
The London connection is a great surprise, however. I know of only one family member, a great grandmother on my father’s side, who was born anywhere near London, South Weald in Essex. I don’t think this would be enough to score the highest hit. So there might be one or two things to investigate here – maybe the London connection is indeed stronger than I think.
And as for the French, German, Scandinavian, and southern European links I simply have no idea, so that’s exciting in itself. It’s at times like this I wish I’d asked my parents or grandparents more questions about family related matters.
However, one of the great things you can do with 23andme is link up with others of similar DNA strands and share information, if both parties are willing to do so. You can display as much or as little information as you wish. This can and does often lead to revelation, I am told.
Is It Worth It?
So is it worth around the ninety pounds I paid in all? If you are seriously interested in family history, then yes, definitely.
And don’t think these results are the end – this is only the beginning. They are continually updated; if you’re prepared to participate with other members, plus also to join up for further research, such as in health, then this process should keep you intrigued and consumed for many years to come.
In the future, I hope to visit some of the places my DNA has been linked to, to visit Scotland and Ireland again, to go to parts of France, Germany and Scandinavia I’ve never seen.
copyright Leofwine Tanner 2019
The continuing story of what I consider to be one of the greatest albums ever, Steely Dan’s ‘Aja’ (MCA) from 1977. If you haven’t seen part 1, check in my blog first.
If side 1 was a tour de force, then side 2 continues slightly differently, with four songs which are in their own way, equally impressive.
‘Peg’ gets going with a much lighter disco feel, compared to side one. It’s fairly typical of the time but done in Steely Dan’s own inimitable way, with attention to detail. It turns out the guitar solo which made it onto the album took some time to finalise, with numerous guitarists auditioning for the ‘role’. Listening to it, I think they made the right choice. This is probably the most ‘commercial’ track on the album.
With Track 2, ‘Home At Last’, we’re suddenly, though not surprisingly, in the realms of Homer (the ancient Greek writer, not the cartoon character) and Ulysses (Odysseus), with references to danger on the rocks and being tied to a mast over a bluesy jive that gets your foot a-tapping nicely. Once again the instrumentation, particularly the use of brass, I feel, is second to none. Very much of its time, almost ‘Starsky and Hutch’ in feel.
‘I Got The News’, the second to last track is an ‘angular’ sounding disco number, with those enigmatic, yet fitting lyrics full of innuendo and direct references which are so much a feature of the Dan’s music. There’s a great guitar break too, which belies the track’s disco setting, a feature first perfected I think on their previous album, ‘The Royal Scam’. It’s like they’re letting you know how sophisticated they are – and why not?
And so to the last, and certainly not least track on this classic album. ‘Josie’ is one of Steely Dan’s most celebrated songs, a fine R&B number, about a girl the guys simply can’t do without, it would seem, a bit of a hell raiser by the sound of it, who evidently could’ve been present when Nero set fire to Rome in AD 64. This has all the feel of LA and sophistication, the place Becker and Fagen made their home for some time.
Once again though, it’s the jazz inspired elements, like the rather haunting, minimalistic guitar riff/section sandwiching the main part of the track, which sets it apart from what anyone else was doing before or since.
‘Aja’ will always be a classic. Was it the peak of their success? Most definitely, which doesn’t mean you shouldn’t listen to ‘Gaucho’, or ‘Two Against Nature’, nor indeed the older back catalogue. It’s just that if I was to recommend one album of this band, it would have to be ‘Aja’. It gets an A+++.
copyright Leofwine Tanner 2019