Have I ever mentioned I adore Amelia Fletcher? If you're answering with a resounding "yes, at least 15 times... I get it already," then all I can do is thank you for being a regular and ask for your patience because the new mini album with Rob Pursey, her partner at home as well as on stage, is quite a statement, and you of the great ear would want to know all about that, right?
With the release of first single "Intravenous," we have had more than a month to take in the back-to-basics sound of the Cantenary Wires, and it has been quite a grower for me. So, while waiting for the eight tracks that comprise 'Red Red Skies,' I scoured the four corners of the Web for every tidbit on this new project. I learned after Tender Trap had been put to bed the couple got away from the scene and took the family to the far reaches of the countryside. Just for kicks, they began writing songs on a kid's acoustic guitar. In May 2014, when they were invited to take part in a concert celebrating the exhibit "Between Hello and Goodbye: The Secret World of Sarah Records" at Arnolfini Art Gallery in Bristol, the duo performed some of the new material for an unsuspecting and appreciative audience. There was quite a buzz, and the Cantenary Wires was born.
Tackling serious subjects is nothing new for these two. Remember the B-side "Hearts and Crosses" when they were in Heavenly? The thing is, you barely noticed these were sad songs because they were buried in the catchiest pop hooks you ever heard. This time around the melancholy has never been more palpable. When there are just two of you, there is nowhere to hide. This is especially true on "When You Walk Away." It's as if Fletcher is garnering all the strength she has to even get the words out. When she refers to all of the books, CDs and art given by her lover as "lying in a... pile," well, it's about the loneliest pause put on wax. This is, without a doubt, the most moving song I have heard this year, and let me tell you, there are a couple of other candidates on 'Red Red Skies' vying for that title.
Fans of their earlier work are going to be surprised, but pleasantly so, by the Catenary Wires. Amelia and Rob are indie pop's answer to Johnny and June, right down to the autoharp in a couple of places. Amelia has always been at the forefront, but Pursey isn't the guy in the back on bass this time around, and his vocal contributions are essential to making these songs work, much like when Calvin Johnson popped up on Heavenly songs in days of yore.
Earlier this week, to whet the appetite while waiting for that June 2 release date for 'Red Red Skies,' we were treated to a video for the satirical "Throw Another Love Song On The Fire." Enjoy that below while you decide the best way to preorder. Here in America, you can get the CD from Matinée Recordings. Also, the clear 10" vinyl is in limited supply from Darla Records. For those of you in Europe, it's best to go with Elfant Records.
This singer-songwriter extraordinaire, much like his pal Marshall Crenshaw, had a moment when he held the attention of critics and listeners, but the praise faded away even as he continued to craft consistently wonderful albums. The following is a statement steeped in generalities, but Freedy Johnston's fans seem to fall into two camps: The early adopter thinks 'Can You Fly,' the album from which today's selection is taken, is his best work. It's an indie, produced in part by the great Graham Maby, and the album has this larger than life back story of Johnston believing in the project so much that he was willing to sell the family farm to finance the thing. Quite a story and album. The success of 'Can You Fly' is what really created the second camp. The followup, 'This Perfect World,' came out on a major, was produced by a big name (Butch Vig) and, as such, brought in a bigger audience, even though the work, although still good, wasn't quite up to the standard of 'Can You Fly,' disappointing the first camp as the new listeners rejoiced, perhaps not realizing they had missed the real masterpiece. (Wow, is that last sentence a wreck or what?) Even though I really like both albums, I suppose it's clear in which camp I reside.
There would be other great moments for Johnston. In fact, I thought his comeback album from 2010, 'Rain on the City,' was probably his best album since 'This Perfect World,' and it was nice to see that Bar/None was the label that put it out after all those years. Of course, by then I'm guessing the only ones who heard it were die-hards from that first camp. Johnston's work in the '90s was so good that I came up with seven candidates for this countdown. This was a tough choice, and I went off the board a bit with what those in the business would call a deep cut. "Responsible" is a slow burner with some fantastic pedal steel. Like many of Johnston's songs, the story told is not a happy one, but it's still beautiful.
Earlier today I found this solo acoustic performance of "Responsible" from 2012, and I really took to it.
Yes, there is a little rule bending here. I stuck with the one song per artist rule, but Amelia Fletcher and her crew were known to tweak the lineup under a new guise from time to time. Thus, we had Marine Research (the band between Heavenly and Tender Trap) at No. 73, and today we have Heavenly (the band between Talulah Gosh and Marine Research). And in case you missed the news, Fletcher and Rob Pursey are performing as the Catenary Wires now. The debut mini-album will be out June 2. I just got a hold of a copy, and I'll have a little something on that next week... but I digress.
I have a great fondness for all of the above Fletcher-led bands, but Heavenly hold a special place in the canon. The early work still has remnants of C86-era Talulah Gosh (far from a bad thing), but just about the time Cathy Rogers joined the group on keyboard and vocals, Heavenly took a great leap artistically, and 'Le Jardin de Heavenly' is one of my favorite albums from the entire decade. Since this list is all about songs, however, I'm going with one of two non-album singles from between 'Le Jardin de Heavenly' and 'The Decline and Fall of Heavenly.' The real beauty of "Atta Girl" (Sarah 082) is it's the first time we hear the great trade-off vocals between Fletcher and Rogers. Now that's what I call heavenly. Thanks to the good folks at K Records, you can still find "Atta Girl" coupled with the "P.U.N.K. Girl" single here.
We all know that Fletcher would continue to make great albums, but you may not know Rogers would become famous for her work in front and behind the camera of reality TV's "Scrapheap Challenge" in the UK and "Junkyard Wars" on this side of the pond.
Linear Tracking Lives was established six years ago today with a short post about Those Darlins. Random, for sure, but I was off and running. Every May 15 I ask myself whether I want to continue. As long as it doesn't feel like work, I'll keep it going. I love our little community, and it's the camaraderie with you that makes it fun and completely worth the commitment. So, thank you, dear readers and fellow bloggers.
I'm not one to follow my blog stats. I think it stems from not having an audience for the first couple of years. No news is good news... that sort of thing. I did poke around today for the first time in a long while, fishing for an inspiring way to sum up these six years through music. What I learned was that in the early days my most successful posts, in terms of readership anyway, were the ones when a 12" single was highlighted. So, if the numbers don't lie, here are among the six most popular extended versions ever to appear on Linear Tracking Lives! I'm thinking every one of you will find at least one song in this lot that will make you say, "Really?" Just go with it. This is supposed to be a celebration.
Every so often an album comes along that feels like a momentous achievement. You know, not the usual formula of a standout single or two (if you're lucky) tucked within a ton of filler. I'm talking about an album where every note and syllable matters and, in the end, it all adds up to a single crowning statement. The last time I had such a feeling was upon my first listen to 'One Day I'm Going to Soar' from Dexys, and that was way back in 2012, but the drought has ended in a flood of exquisite chamber pop.
The Granite Shore are a supergroup, at least in my world, led by Occultation Records' head honcho Nick Halliwell and other members of the Distractions, as well as my hero, Phil Wilson of the June Brides, Martin Bramah of the Fall and multi-instrumentalist Probyn Gregory, best known for his work in Brian Wilson's extraordinary band. 'Once More From the Top' is a concept album about an imagined band. Side one is called "In Public," and Side two is about what happens with the group "Behind the Scenes." The two sides are anchored in the middle by "Backstage at the Ballroom," and in a particularly poignant moment, the band sings in unison, "You know all the words, at least you used to, you know how it goes, we wrote this for you." There are many moments like this one where you can picture the piece being performed on stage in a particularly theatrical way.... much like Dexys did. In fact, the album includes a 32-page two-act play, penned by Halliwell himself, about the fictional band reuniting for new music and a performance. It's a wonderful companion piece while listening and another shining example of why this project is something special.
Occulation is offering 'Once More From the Top' in a variety of editions. I decided to spring for the Catalogue Standard LP edition that included the band's prior releases (7", split 7" and 10" singles) along with the new album. The package comes with mp3s that are available immediately after purchase, and it was nice to listen to them as I waited a week for the album to come from the UK. Of course, when you put on the album for the first time, it's like transitioning from a transistor radio to a high-end stereo. The richness of Gregory's horns and Halliwell's keyboards and voice really come to life. Like most master storytellers, his delivery is warm and laid back. You feel like Halliwell is in the room talking to you.
The music isn't all that has me in awe. You can tell every detail of this project was a labor of love, from the grade of paper used for the sleeve to the laminated finish used on the artwork. It's tough to imagine I will see or hear a better album this year, but you should judge for yourselves. To pick a few songs for you to sample is just plain wrong. This is an album meant to be experienced from beginning to end, but how else can I persuade you? Please give these three from side one a listen.
So, my two favorite bands from Australia/New Zealand are probably the Clean and the Lucksmiths. I love them. You may be scratching your head and wondering why, if I'm so enamored, they are showing up on this countdown at the modest rankings of 61 and 52, respectively. As usual, it's a '90s issue. With the Clean, I gravitate to the '80s material. When it comes to the Lucksmiths, my favorite albums, like 'Warmer Corners' and 'First Frost,' are from the '00s. That said, these fellas had some great songs in this decade, and there was a bit of trouble choosing. If you've ever endured a long-distance relationship, then you might understand why "Guess How Much I Love You" nearly won the day. In the end, I went with "Untidy Towns" as much for the vocals as the jangle. At this point, the band had been around for about five years, and Marty Donald's turns of the pen were pure magic. "T-Shirt Weather" was just around the corner, and the Lucksmiths were finally about to take off. I'm not normally one to direct potential listeners to a compilation, but if you're a newbie, do yourself a favor and get 'Cartography for Beginners.'
I don't think I have ever done a repost before, but I'm going to make an exception for this one from last Mother's Day.
Recently, my mother did a spring cleaning of her home. While clearing the clutter, she asked me if there was anything I might want. There was one thing, and you're looking at it. This is my mother's ticket stub. She saw the Beatles in Tokyo on July 2, 1966. I knew she had it tucked away somewhere, but I had never actually seen the ticket until she gave it to me. Having it in my hand after so many years was a real Wonka-like moment.
My musical journey began at the age of 9 when I saw an episode of the band's cartoon on television one Sunday afternoon. The song highlighted that day was "Strawberry Fields Forever." I'll never forget it. When the show concluded I sprinted upstairs and asked my mother if she had ever heard of the Beatles. She laughed... then took me to her records. That was it. She still had much of the discography, and the albums she didn't have I quickly found via bicycle at the local library. After a quick conversion to cassette (a completist even then), I was in heaven. For a couple of years there, as my peers played in the sunshine, I spent my free time at the family stereo listening to the Fab Four.
In my life (see how I did that?), I had asked Mom about the concert from time to time, but I was usually met with, "Oh, Brian, that was a long time ago. I don't really remember." It was almost 50 years ago. I understand that, but this was the Beatles! So, yesterday, I gave her a ring (she lives 2,000 miles away) to get details about the experience. To my delight, she gave me 30 entertaining minutes. Looks like I'm receiving the present this Mother's Day.
She set the stage with some backstory on the move from the United States to Japan. "My father was transferred to Tokyo for Caterpillar. We were among the first Cat families [My mother is one of four children.] to go there, and our housing wasn't built yet. So, we lived in the Tokyo Hilton for 15 months. We lived in three rooms. Two were connected, and there was a kitchenette."
Living in a hotel always sounded like a dream... especially for a kid that was barely a teen. "Oh, it was [a dream]. Cat gave us an allowance to eat, and we could go down to the restaurant whenever we wanted. I used to get steak sandwiches for lunch all the time. It was great! We used to go down to the club and watch performers rehearse. I remember seeing a production of 'West Side Story,' and Peter Allen used to play there. I don't know if you know him. He was married to Liza Minnelli." It was an exciting time in Tokyo. The Olympics were coming. "We had to move out of the hotel and live in the mountains for a month." Every room was booked long before they moved there. "I never really thought about it before, but that's probably why our housing wasn't finished. The construction companies were probably working on Olympic venues."
The Beatles landed at Tokyo's Haneda airport in the wee morning hours of June 30. My mother didn't meet the plane. "I was a big fan, but not in that way like you saw on TV with all of that screaming." The band played five shows in three days and, amazingly, the first show was that very night. As you can guess, it was a tough ticket. "The only way to get one was through a lottery. I think it was run by a radio station, but that's not how I got my ticket. A girl I went to school with, she was Asian, asked me if I wanted to go. I was surprised because we were friends, but we weren't really close friends, you know? Her dad got them on the black market." My mother's ticket was for the afternoon show on the band's last day, July 2, 1966.
There were protests around the city because the Beatles were playing the Budokan. It seems ridiculous, as it is now famously known for hosting rock concerts, but the Beatles were among the first to perform there, and the old guard wasn't happy about it. The Budokan was a symbol of Japan and considered sacred ground reserved for martial arts events. The kids, of course, didn't care at all. "I wasn't aware of all that going on. I was so young, and we hardly ever watched TV." Security was so tight inside it was reported there was a police officer standing at the end of each row. "Nope. I didn't notice the police at all. I was there to watch the Beatles.
"The Budokan was big, but the seats didn't angle back much as they went up like at most arenas you've been to. There were tiers, but they were on top of each other. Even the seats on the top tier seemed close to where the stage was. We were off to one side, up a little bit, but we seemed pretty close. I don't know what it was like in front of the stage, but I thought the sound was good. There was a lot of screaming. There were some times when John or Paul would talk when you couldn't hear them." Speaking of the lads, were you surprised about how they looked in person? "I thought they seemed really dressed up, but they looked exactly like I thought they would... standing just like they always did on stage when you saw them on TV."
When I lived in Japan in the early '90s, I saw Elvis Costello right after he reunited with the Attractions. It was a big theater in Osaka, and I was shocked at how the sold-out crowd showed such restraint. There was polite applause after each song, and nobody even stood up until the encore. Part of this is cultural, but it was a mature crowd too. I was happy to hear the crowd for the Beatles wasn't quite so reserved. "Surprisingly, it wasn't all just young girls. It was quite a mix of males and females, younger and older. I had a friend in school that was supposed to go with her brother, but she got appendicitis. Her dad took her ticket. [Laughs.] It was terrible. She didn't get to go. I went to other shows at the Budokan. I saw the Beach Boys there, Herman's Hermits and others, but the crowd for the Beatles was completely different. It was much louder, and everyone was on the edge of their seats all the way through to the end."
The setlist for all five Tokyo shows was exactly the same. It's a very odd and somewhat sparse mix, in my view. Not sure I would have guessed any of these songs except maybe "Nowhere Man" since 'Rubber Soul' was a somewhat recent release. I wondered if seeing the list would trigger any memories in my mother.
"Rock and Roll Music"
"She's a Woman"
"If I Needed Someone"
"Baby's in Black"
"I Feel Fine"
"I Wanna Be Your Man"
"I have seen the list, but I don't really remember the songs. Yes, this show seems short, but I don't recall feeling that way. When the concert ended we rushed out of there to catch a taxi back to the Hilton. That's where they were staying, and we wanted to catch a glimpse of them returning from the show. Too bad we had moved from the hotel to our new housing by then. I'm sure I took the train to the Budokan. It wasn't unusual for a young girl to take the train by herself back then, especially in the afternoon, but we took a taxi to the hotel. Of course, we couldn't even get close. It was crazy outside. If my older brother, your Uncle Steve, had been with us, he probably could have gotten us in. He was always close with the staff. He knew those guys, but I was just so young. I didn't really know them, but I did know hiding places and back halls that would have helped us that day, but it didn't work out."
The security was tight. In fact, outside of the concerts, the Beatles weren't really able to leave the hotel. They wanted to shop, but the shopkeepers had to be brought to the Presidential Suite to sell their wares. To pass the time, the four of them worked on a painting together. "Images of a Woman" is the only painting they ever completed as a group.
The Beatles left Japan for the Philippines and then on to America. "I didn't know they would play their last concert eight weeks later, and I don't think I really understood how big a deal it was to have seen them until much later. When we returned to the United States everyone was like 'you saw the Beatles!' Then I kind of got it, but it would have been better if I had been a little bit older, but, yep, I saw the Beatles!"
My hope is that someday my kids will ask me about the Beatles. I'll show them the ticket stub, tell them this tale, and then they'll know they have a cool Grandma. I hope all the moms out there have a wonderful Mother's Day weekend.
Here is yet another album I discovered through the many arms of Jellyfish. More than half of the songs on Brendan Benson's debut album were co-written by power-pop wizard Jason Falkner. The two of them put together a six-song demo that Virgin seemed to like, and they eagerly signed Benson. Falkner was on board as producer and all-around brother in arms for the LP, but as often happens in the majors, the big boys meddled. Benson agreed to use the label's preferred producer, Ethan Johns, for a do over. To these ears, Johns did a fine job on 'One Mississippi,' and it's without a doubt one of my favorite albums of the decade. So, I'm not complaining. Unfortunately, Virgin ended up not giving a damn about the finished product. There was no single, no promotion, and the label quickly dropped Benson. The album went out of print in a heartbeat, at least here in America, and very few of heard it in its first go around. I snagged a Dutch copy in 1997 and played it for all who would listen.
It would take about six years before we would hear from Benson again, but it was worth the wait. 'Lapalco' came out on Star Time International, a little engine that could, and this time there was airplay and well-deserved critical acclaim. The label even reissued 'One Mississippi' not long after the success of the second album, complete with the six recordings Benson and Falkner used to wow Virgin so many years earlier. I chose "Sittin' Pretty" for this countdown, but it easily could have been "I'm Blessed" or "Me Just Purely." The nearly (but not quite) lost album has so many gems.
Going with a smash tonight. So, I can't imagine there is much for me to add that you don't already know. That first single "Can't Be Sure" was certainly one of the highlights of 1989 and, after a triumphant Peel Session, many got excited at the prospect of a debut album in 1990. There would end up being three albums during the '90s before they called it quits. All of them were pleasant enough, and the 1997 single "Summertime" stands out in my mind, but I think "Here's Where the Story Ends" is head and shoulders above anything they ever did. I called this a smash a moment ago, but as I check the charts, I'm shocked to find this wasn't a hit at all in their homeland. Meanwhile, the song went to No. 1 on the Modern Rock Tracks list here in America. Harriet Wheeler and her angelic voice, backed by a judicious amount of jangle from future husband David Gavurin, certainly deserved a better fate in the UK with this timeless tune. If you haven't heard this one in a while, soak it in right now.
My interest in Blueboy stemmed from my adulation for Harvey Williams, which is ridiculous when you consider he was brought in as a second guitarist, but I always ended up liking the bands with whom he associated himself. This wasn't really his band, however. Blueboy belonged to Keith Girdler and Paul Stewart.
Choosing one song from Blueboy is about as tough as it gets for me. If this was an albums list, no problem. 'Unisex' is the band's high point, and there are certainly some great individual songs from that LP I considered, particularly the orchestral "So Catch Him" or the jangly "Cosmopolitan," but those early singles from just before to just after 'If Wishes Were Horses' are too good to pass up. The lyrics to "Clearer" have a bluntness rarely seen in a first song. "Meet Johnny Rave" (Hey, Adam, here's another Johnny song for you!) is vintage Sarah, and so is "Cloud Babies" from that first album. My list of candidates continued to grow.
I finally settled on "Popkiss," in part, because this was the first song I heard from Blueboy, and those four minutes grabbed me and have yet to let me go. Perhaps you'll understand if I put it another way. More times than not, when making a mix tape with Blueboy on it, this would be the song I would choose. It was the band's second single, and musically the song was light years ahead of "Clearer." At the time, Girdler and Stewart had put up a notice at the University of Reading's student union seeking musicians. Philosophy student Gemma Townley was the only one to reply, but what a find! She could sing, as well as play the bass, piano and cello. Her talents were incorporated immediately. Stewart describes the song as "ferocious," and "Popkiss" has the feel of a live recording... unusual for a Sarah act. The band marched to a different beat for sure. I couldn't remember ever hearing a wordless chorus in a pop song.
Blueboy was opening for the Field Mice just as they were about to call it a day. Williams had been playing with those guys, and he found himself impressed with the young upstarts, calling them "a few levels above any of the other Sarah acts, and way more exotic and interesting and just better than most other independent music at that time." He was ready to join up just as the songs for this 7" were being assembled. If this song was good enough for one of my favorite indie heroes, I can certainly find room for it on this countdown.
Although it was 22 years ago, I have a vivid memory of buying the self-titled debut of Suede. Why? Two things you never forget are girls and poverty. Allow me to explain. Sometime in late 1992 I read about the band while perusing the UK music magazines at a record store. That's what you do at a shop when you have no money to actually buy anything. There were a couple of earlier singles, including this one, but the album didn't come out until the spring of 1993. I had not heard these songs, but I could tell by the article these fellas would probably be up my alley. I was a few months away from graduating college when I got my parents to buy me a train ticket home for spring break. Real food! My trip coincided with the release date of 'Suede.' Knowing that the best record store in the area where I grew up was a block away from the train station, I spent the preceding couple of weeks pinching pennies for an album I was going to purchase without hearing a single note... a huge risk in trying economic times.
My brother still lived at home, and he met me at the station. We walked to the shop. I was surprised to see a girl I knew well from high school behind the counter. We had run in the same circles and had similar musical tastes in our younger days. I couldn't wait to impress her with my purchase of a hip band like Suede... and on the very day it was released. Unfortunately, I was completely dismissed without a word about my selection. Worse, she chatted up my brother about his Fugazi find. Like I said, you never forget girls and poverty.
There were a few singles I liked in later years, but this was the only Suede album I ever got into. I do remember spending a lot of time studying the androgynous kissers on the album cover... trying to sort it all out. On this side of the pond, "Metal Mickey" did very well on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart, peaking at No. 7. Alas, as the band piled up hit after hit on home soil, there would never be another "Metal Mickey" over here. If you were into Suede for the long haul, let me know what you think I missed.
If you're a fan of the Manchester band, this choice is going to feel uninspired and downright pedestrian. In my defense, without hearing this one I'm not sure I would have become a fan until more recent times with the advent of the Vinyl Villain's singles series. Prior to "Laid," I only knew "Ya Ho" and "What For" from Sire's late-'80s 'Just Say Yes' compilations. Frankly, these songs didn't make me run out and buy James' albums. In the early '90s, the band had a couple of minor hits in America with "Sit Down" and "Born of Frustration," but I somehow missed these completely and wouldn't hear them until I began digging after hearing "Laid" in 1993.
The song had everything the kids could want, including filthy lyrics, catchy jangle and short running time. The censors were still running amok (thanks, Parents Music Resource Center!), and there was no way "she only comes when she's on top" was going to make the cut. "Comes" was replaced with "sings" for airplay and, on the video, the word "hums" was used as a subtitle when it was quite clear what he was really lip syncing. All of this served to draw attention to the original line. So, well done, one and all! "Laid" peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart and even managed a No. 61 showing on the Billboard Hot 100. This was James' only album to go gold in America.
All mp3s posted at LTL! are to highlight music you should buy... right now. Sure, give it a listen, but then run to your nearest indie record shop and pay up. Mp3s are linked for a limited time. Rants and raves to firstname.lastname@example.org.