Tuesday 31 December 2019

My Top 19 Albums of 2019 (Part 4)

This is it, then. A pretty shitty year, all told, both on the world stage and closer to home. Still, we must press on and concentrate on the things that do still bring us joy. For me, that's my boy, a constant source of fun, pride and love. And music... always there, always something to cling onto in the wreckage. Here's the best of this year's offerings, in my humble opinion, with no obvious surprise at the top...

4. Craig Finn - I Need A New War

The Hold Steady released their first album in five years, Thrashing Thru The Passion, and a fine record it was too. However, their frontman appears to have transcended the trappings of his own band, and his solo albums continue to rise into another league altogether. I Need Another War was another great example of why Craig Finn is probably the best short story writer in contemporary rock. The Raymond Carver comparison still holds true.

Top Track: Blankets

The detective was expensive
But he thought it was something he could solve
Found her serving breakfast
In a cafe in the Skyway in St. Paul
When we got to the Twin Cities
I said man I know some songs about this place
When they swept up all the empties the parties always seemed like such a waste

3. Jenny Lewis - On The Line

Having said all that about Craig Finn, here's someone who can actually challenge him to that short story crown... and in this case, I guess she takes the prize. Another artist who has transcended her former band (the excellent Rilo Kiley) and continues to develop in new and exciting directions. She's more musical than Craig - shades of Tom Petty, Aimee Mann and even the Shangri-Las on this record - which is why she places one step higher. But it was a close call.

I had tickets to see Jenny Lewis this summer - my only gig of the year. Then I ended up having to move house and missed the gig. Dag-nabbit.

Top Track: On The Line

It used to be Bobby forever
We were together, day and night
He left me for a super-fan
Called Caroline, oh

Before you let her under your sweater tonight
Listen to my heart beating
On the line

2. Lukas Nelson - Turn Off The News And Build A Garden

Song of the year right here. The rest of the album was pretty bloody amazing too, showing a diversity of styles most country / Americana artists would struggle to display. All those years gigging with Neil Young, and his dad, have obviously paid off for Willie's boy. There's even a bit of Jeff Lynne in this record. Stylish and poppy - a difficult trick to pull off these days.

Top Track (song of the year!): Turn Off The News And Build A Garden

I believe that every heart is kind
Some are just a little underused
Hatred is a symptom of the times
Lost in these uneducated blues

I just want to love you while I can
All these other thoughts have me confused
I don't need to try and understand
Maybe I'll get up, turn off the news

Turn off the news and build a garden
Just my neighbourhood and me
We might feel a bit less hardened
We might feel a bit more free

Turn off the news and raise your kids
Give them something to believe in
Teach them how to be good people
Give them hope that they can see
Hope that they can see
Turn off the news and build a garden with me

1. Bruce Springsteen - Western Stars

My Top Three Bruce Springsteen Albums are, in ever-changing order: Born To Run, Nebraska and Tunnel of Love. Who's have thought that thirty-plus years after the most recent of those, he'd have delivered a challenger for the coveted Number Four position? But if you're gonna go draw new water from the well, choosing a well in Jimmy Webb's backyard is a masterstroke...

Top Track: Are you kidding me? I could sit here all night trying to work that one out. Here's this week's favourite...

Happy New Year, everyone. I'd like to hope 2020 will be better than 2019, but I've reached the age where I realise that's pretty unlikely. Still, humanity may yet prove me wrong.

Thank you to the good people who read this blog, who keep me company in the darkness. Your visits are always much appreciated. Be well.

Monday 30 December 2019

My Top 19 Albums of 2019 (Part 3)

"Sir Ian Duncan Smith."

The final kick in the teeth from a year which made us all reconsider the phrase "you can't polish a turd".

It's nearly over... the year, and this countdown.

Thank god for that...

Let's focus on the positive. Another four great albums...

8. Leonard Cohen - Thanks For The Dance

Despite the bad sex award, Lenny's posthumous swan song is touching, playful and wise.

Top Track: Moving On

I loved your face, I loved your hair
Your T-shirts and your evening wear
As for the world, the job, the war
I ditched them all to love you more

7. Hayes Carll - What It Is

Best Americana album of the year?

Not quite. But we'll get to that. Meanwhile... this witty, laidback (yet quite angry in places) collection will do us fine.

Top Track: Wild Pointy Finger

I got a wild pointy finger
It points at the fever and accomplishments of man
It points at all the problems that it don't understand
It points at Parisians across the sea
It points at anybody who thinks different than me
If you're marching to your own drum or kneelin' in the news
My wild pointy finger prob'ly pointin' right at you

Best lyrical explanation this year of why the world's going to hell in a handbasket...

6. Tullycraft - The Railway Prince Hotel

Thanks go to Brian for turning me on to this lot in a big way this year. Witty, literate lyrics and poppy harmonies made this an irresistible summer listen. Plus, they steal part of Paradise By The Dashboard Light in the song below, so bonus points for that.

Top Track: (one of many) Goldie & The Gingerbreads

They shot their disapproving glances like a gatling gun
I couldn't vocalize the words that rested on my tongue
You never let yourself forget that this was passing
I'm sure you're not the only one

5. The Divine Comedy - Office Politics

Edit out three wearisome gag tracks which outstay their welcome after the first couple of listens and this is another great Divine Comedy album... though not quite as inspirational as Neil's last, Foreverland. It's a concept album set in an office... yet peek below the sitcom facade and it has quite a bit to say about Little England and the workaday world that inspired Brexit. Morrissey should give it a listen.

Top Track: When The Working Day Is Done

When the working day is through
And you're waiting in the rain
For another overdue
Overcrowded railway train
And the movie poster screams
"It's the best film ever seen!"
But it's all a different world
To which you have never been
And you're bored out of your mind
So you keep yourself amused
Reading the Financial Times
Of the fellow next to you
Then something in you snaps
And you shout with all your lungs
"We give and get nothing back!"
When the working day is done

Sunday 29 December 2019

Saturday Snapshots #116 - The Answers

What is Saturday Snapshots?

Portraits hung in empty halls
Frameless heads on nameless walls
With eyes that watch the world and can't forget
Like the strangers that you've met...

Fortunately, they need be strangers no longer, because here are this week's answers...

10. Get Snake or MacReady to scan the fetus.

You scan the fetus with an ultrasound.

MacReady and Snake Pliskin were characters played by Kurt Russell.

Apologies for the obscure b-side side, but... what a tune!

Ultrasound - Kurt Russell

9. Contemporary Leg Joint Company.


Contemporary = these days.

Nico - These Days

(I think she was going out with Jackson Browne at the time she decided to record his tune.)

8. ...a foundling offers self-help?

"The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling" is the full title of Henry Fielding's novel Tom Jones.

Self help? Help yourself!

Tom Jones - Help Yourself

7. Sweet lady's latest issue.

New Edition - Candy Girl

6. Not Gwen Stefani. You hit that on the head!

That ain't (the lead singer of) No Doubt. You hit the NAIL on the head.

Jimmy Nail - Ain't No Doubt

(She's lying.)

5. Cher greets ten p, catches a Clodoald double-decker.

"Cher greets ten p" is an anagram.

Google "Clodoald" and you'll learn he was also known as Saint Cloud.

Gretchen Peters - On A Bus To St. Cloud

4. Get to the other side of CX Avenue without Cecil or Linda.

CX Avenue would be 110th Street in Roman numerals.

Cecil & Linda were Womack & Womack. But it's not them...

Bobby Womack - Across 110th Street

3. Elvis: born in the 70s.

Elvis was the king rocker.

If you were born in the 70s, you were Generation X.

Generation X - King Rocker

2. Reins? Smoke rings.

Reins are bands on horses.

Cigarettes are smokes; rings are wedding bands.

Band of Horses - Cigarettes, Wedding Bands

1. There's a ding dong when skins split... but Travis is outside to take you home.

Banana skins. Banana split. Rama lama ding dong.

Travis Bickle was a Taxi Driver played by...

They would not listen, they're not listening still
Perhaps they never will

But if they change their mind, Saturday Snapshots will be back next week...

Saturday 28 December 2019

Saturday Snapshots #116

This is Jim Rockford. At the tone, leave your name and message. I’ll get back to you. I'm too busy playing Saturday Snapshots right now...

(Any excuse to play one of the greatest TV tunes every written.)

Yo know the drill by now. Identify ten tunes and their tunesmiths from the clues below, please...

10. Get Snake or MacReady to scan the fetus.

9. Contemporary Leg Joint Company.

8. ...a foundling offers self-help?

7. Sweet lady's latest issue.

6. Not Gwen Stefani. You hit that on the head!

5. Cher greets ten p, catches a Clodoald double-decker.

4. Get to the other side of CX Avenue without Cecil or Linda.

3. Elvis: born in the 70s.

2. Reins? Smoke rings.

1. There's a ding dong when skins split... but Travis is outside to take you home.

You can Garner the answers tomorrow morning...

Friday 27 December 2019

My Top 19 Albums of 2019 (Part 2)

Here's a few more to keep us going...

12. Todd Snider - Cash Cabin Sessions Volume 3
Retreating to Johnny's old Cabin is a classic back-to-basics move for the king of witty, cynical Americana.

Top Track - Talkin' Reality Television Blues

Well, come gather 'round and I'll sing you a song
About a crazy old world that was coming along
'Til one day some fool made the decision
To turn on the television...

...then a show called "The Apprentice" came on and pretty soon
An old man with a comb-over had sold us the moon
And we stayed tuned in, now here we are
Reality killed by a reality star

11. The Lemonheads - Varshons II

The laziest man in rock (TM) finds his way into a recording studio for the first time in ten years and churns out another effortless & eclectic set of covers that prove he's still got it... he just doesn't use it that often.

Top Track: Magnet

Apparently the vinyl comes with a banana-scented scratch n sniff sleeve...

10. Midland - Let It Roll

Peerless* bar band country rock, the kind of record they don't make anymore.

(*Among the current country rock crowd.)

Top Track is Mr. Lonely, but I featured that very recently, so here's Every Song's A Drinkin' Song.

You don't have to wait on Hank if you want to raise your glass

You don't have to wait on Cash if you're just here to get trashed

You don't have to wait on Nelson if you're trying to raise some hell, son

You don't have to wait on Cline if you just want some more wine

9. Mattiel - Satis Factory

Gotta hand this one to Rigid Digit; I wouldn't have discovered it without him raving about it.

Dusty Springfield, Debbie Harry, Amy Winehouse, Aretha Franklin, Patti Smith, Chrissie Hynde, Diana Ross, Nico, Courtney Barnett... you can hear them all in this record, yet every track is distinctly Mattiel. Quite an accomplishment.

And it's the expectation, making or breaking, giving me a heart attack
And in twenty years time will it all be mine
Or will I wish that I could take it all back?

(This tune even steals a bit of a Wrecking Ball era Springsteen.)

Thursday 26 December 2019

My Top 19 Albums of 2019 (Part 1)

As a fervent believer that you shouldn't play Christmas songs after December 25th, I wanted to get something new up on the blog today, but as I've not quite completed my compilation of the year's best albums... here's the first half*, which I managed to complete last week.

For someone who professes to not know much about new music and is always whinging on about how the charts mean nothing to me after the 20th Century... I don't half find a load of records to listen to. I'm kind of glad that chart music largely leaves me cold these days, because if it didn't I'd never find the time to keep up with all that AND all the nonsense below.

As in previous years, I've limited my Best Of list to the big number on the calendar, hence 19 albums in 2019. But I could easily have done 30, like Brian. (Always ahead of the crowd.)

I won't bore you with the runners-up. Regular readers will have heard me going on about most of them already, and as usual there will be a few stragglers that stretch out into the new year.

This list is only a snapshot anyway. The Top 3 are pretty much set in stone, but the rest could move up and down a bit depending my my mood. There are some fine records here though, and though they won't all be to your taste, I hope you find something among them that tickles your fancy.

19. Better Oblivion Community Centre - Better Oblivion Community Centre

Phoebe Bridgers and Conor Oberst. Not sure what brought them together, but it works.

Top Track: Dylan Thomas

"I'm taking a shower at the Bates Motel..."

18. Amanda Palmer - There Will Be No Intermission

Baring all, an artist in every sense of the word... yet one who keeps her sense of humour.

Top Track: A Mother's Confession

"But at least the baby didn't die..."

17. Lloyd Cole - Guesswork

Lloyd's been listening to John Grant. Not immediately a success, but it grows...

Top Track (this week): Night Sweats

"I'm thinking about rhyming righteous
With might just
And I might just
And I'm not fooling around"

16. Jesse Malin - Sunset Kids

A comeback, in this house anyway.

Top Track: My Little Life

"People think I'm cold
Or just antisocial
I just don't know what to say

15. Chip Taylor - Whiskey Salesman

He'd only been writing songs for 55 years before I discovered him.

Top Track: Whiskey Salesman

"It's funny how you can learn more by keeping your mouth shut
Than by talking"

14. Richard Hawley - Further

Time may change, but thankfully, Richard Hawley does not.

Top Track: Time Is

"Time is on your side right now
But time can change"

13.  Robert Forster - Inferno

Listened to on the back of the Go-Betweens documentary, Right Here, which gave me a renewed appreciation for Forster.

Top Track: No Fame

"And if I bust out and the highway is really the key
Everyone can follow, everyone can overtake me"

*Keen mathematicians among you will already have worked out that that's not quite half of 19... but it's as far as I got before the lurgy struck me down.

More soon.

Tuesday 24 December 2019

Cover Me Christmas - Do They Know...?

No Hot 100 this week, I'm afraid. Firstly, I've been busy trying to compile my Top 19 Albums of 2019; secondly because I was in bed with a stomach bug all yesterday. Feeling heaps better today, but still taking it easy.

Here's another Christmas cover for those of you who are sick of the original version featuring Bono, Sting and Sir Thumbs Aloft... or the Band Aid II version featuring Bros and Sonia... or the 2004 version featuring Chris Martin, Bono and Robbie Williams (which I don't think I've ever heard)... or the 2014 version featuring Ed Sheeran, Rita Ora and Bono (which I definitely haven't ever heard). Wonder what Bono was doing in 1989?

Whenever I think of all those famous people stuck in a recording studio with Bono's ego, I always think: "Tonight, thank God it's them instead of you."

Anyway, this version always makes me smile... and it's only one minute 26 seconds long!

Monday 23 December 2019

Cover Me Monday #5 - Merry Xmas Everybody

If you're sick of hearing how much money Noddy Holder makes every Christmas...

If you're sick of hearing him shout "IT'S CHRISTMASSSSS!" across the Co-Op or Superdrug or Asda just when you thought you were safe...

Here's an antidote... or sorts. Chances are Noddy might still make a few pennies from it though.

The Hours were a band I had a lot of time for when they were around, about ten or so years back. They were made up of two blokes, Antony Genn and Martin Slattery. Genn had previously played with Pulp, Elastica ans Joe Strummer, while Slattery was in Black Grape. They made two great albums together, then seemingly called it a day.

The also recorded this rather fine cover version, which the rest of the world seems to have forgotten about as I can't find it on youtube or anywhere else...

The Hours - Merry Christmas Everybody

Sunday 22 December 2019

Seasonal Snapshots III - The Answers


Thanks for keeping this nonsense going all this year. It's been a useful distraction from the real world for me...

25. Used by Native American cultures in sacred ceremonies: Scottish trolley for people with weak leg joints.

Mc - cart - knee.

Not bloody Step Into Christmas, you will surely be glad to know.

Paul McCartney - Pipes Of Peace

24. Two articles on better breathing for fish. Not Buddy's ...the day.

The & a are two articles. I am reusing a few old clues this week, with no apologies.

Fish might breathe better if they had more gills.

Buddy Holly sand That'll Be The Day.

Thea Gilmore - That'll Be Christmas

23. T-mas left after dire traffic jam.

If Chris leaves Christmas, you're left with tmas.

Dire... erm... well, not Straits. (Yes, I know that's not how you spell "diarrhoea").

Chris Rea - Driving Home For Christmas

22. What Santa needs... a double homicide.

Double homicide: Slay & The Killers.

Santa needs a great big sleigh.

The Killers - A Great Big Sleigh

21. OHHHHHHH! Wrapping.

The Big O.

Roy Orbison - Pretty Paper

20. Predictions of misery from your flat screen TV & stereo.

LCD Sound System - Christmas Will Break Your Heart

19. Remain in that postcode for at least 24 more hours.

East 17 - Stay Another Day

This is a good song. But they look extremely silly, both in the picture above and in the video.

18. Move over... Jesus was one too.

Move over, darling.

Jesus was a carpenter.

The Carpenters - Merry Christmas, Darling

17. Common sense list for America or Jack?

Captain America... or Captain Jack? (Billy Joel, not Johnny Depp.)

That sounds sensible.

Captain Sensible - One Christmas Catalogue

16. Gargled harem hopes to last to the end of the month.

"Gargled harem" was an anagram.

Merle Haggard - If We Make It Through December

15. A short, painful New Year for Shaky... and what came before that wasn't the best either.

Suffering, shortened, becomes Suf. January, shortened, becomes Jan.

Shaking Stevens.

Sufjan Stevens - That Was The Worst Christmas Ever

14. Get... Clemons! No chimney, obviously.

Get Carter!

Clarence Clemons.

If there was no chimney, Santa would have to use the back door.

Clarence Carter - Back Door Santa

13. Da do ones kill Andy Bell.

Da do ron ron... slays Ride.

The Ronettes - Sleigh Ride

12. The story of snow in Chelmsford or Saffron Walden.

They're in Essex.

David Essex - A Winter's Tale

11. Kids hanging around a barber's shop on the zebra crossing.

Outside an American barber's shop, there used to be a candy cane pole.

Zebra crossings have white stripes. I've probably used that before. but it worked again here.

The White Stripes - Candy Cane Children

10. The opposite of a Silent Night... with added bloodshed.

The opposite of a Silent Night...? A loud one!

Loudon Wainwright III - I'll Be Killing You This Christmas

9. My average sucks... and I always get miserable around now.

"My average sucks" is an anagram.

Kacey Musgraves - Christmas Makes Me Cry

8. Dinosaur punch goes straight to your head.

A bop to the head?


T-Rex - Christmas Bop

7. Small Buddy Hollies jingle.

Buddy sang Rave On...

The Raveonettes - Christmas Song

6. Don't forget snarly rhinos!

Longtime readers will remember that I've used the "snarly rhinos" anagram before.

Harry Nilsson - Remember (Christmas)

5. "Two weeks off work." That's amazing!

A wonder is amazing.

"Two weeks off work." That's what Christmas means to me!

Stevie Wonder - What Christmas Means To Me

4. American sums found in delivery ward.

American sums are Maths.

So... Math is (in the room) when a child is born.

Johnny Mathis - When A Child Is Born

3. I'm not even going to write a clue for this one. Everything you need is in the picture.

Eels - Christmas Is Going To The Dogs

2. Home of Kemp, King and Scorsese... on the road, darling.

Martin Kemp, Martin Luther King and Martin Scorcese would live in a house...martins.

Caravans are homes that go on the road, love.

The Housemartins - Caravan of Love

1.  My way to wish you all yuletide greetings.

At last, the end is near...

Have yourselves a merry little Christmas!

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