Gotye – Making Mirrors

Gotye - Making MirrorsRapidly gaining notice outside of his native Australia, Gotye is yet another one of these artists who plays and sings nearly everything himself, and produces his own material as well. Originally starting out with a heavy reliance on sampling, Gotye has managed to emerge as an musician with originality and a style not unlike something I’ve been missing for a while: it certainly doesn’t hurt that, when the man lets rip vocally, he sounds like Peter Gabriel at the height of his powers, or late-Police-era/Dream Of The Blue Turtles-era Sting. Put that voice together with a quirky approach to instrumentation and you’ve got a pretty potent brew that’s hit the top of the charts in Australia and New Zealand, and might well do some damage elsewhere in the world.

The single that brought Gotye to everyone’s notice (mine included) was “Somebody That I Used To Know”, a song that’s uncompromisingly Gabriel-esque in its execution (and the striking-but-not-flashy video’s not a million miles away from the groundbreaking stuff that a younger Pete used to do, either). Featuring a guest vocal from New Zealand jazz singer Kimbra, it’s a handy jumping-on point for those unfamiliar with Gotye. The rest of the album isn’t necessarily just like it, but with songs that walk deftly between such well-defined genres as techno and reggae, we shouldn’t be expecting any two Gotye songs to be alike: this guy clearly loves to kick down the barriers that common sense and received wisdom tell us should exist between these styles of music, and the result is startlingly original cutting-edge rock.

Much of the album is sunnier than the somewhat angsty “Somebody That I Used To Know”, but it’s no less listenable. “State Of The Art” is as close as Making Mirrors gets to revisiting “Somebody”‘s dark feel, relying on samples, spoken word, and instrumentation that doesn’t normally get paired together. It’s a stranger specimen than “Somebody”, but it’s still listenable and re-listenable. The echoing “Smoke And Mirrors” and the low-key, atmospheric “Giving Me A Chance” Gotye has some fairly daring ideas on what kind of percussion and 4 out of 4instrumentation to use – it’s innovative and unconventional, but not alienating. Which really sums up the album as a whole.

Go ahead and give Gotye a listen. I think this one’s going to wind up being on a lot of people’s “new discoveries” lists for 2012, and I for one plan to also put him on the “track down his older stuff and watch closely for what he does in the future” list.

Order this CD

  1. Making Mirrors (1:01)
  2. Easy Way Out (1:57)
  3. Somebody That I Used To Know featuring Kimbra (4:04)
  4. Smoke And Mirrors (5:13)
  5. I Feel Better (3:18)
  6. In Your Light (4:39)
  7. State Of The Art (5:15)
  8. Don’t Worry, We’ll Be Watching You (3:18)
  9. Giving Me A Chance (2:56)
  10. Save Me (3:53)
  11. Bronte (3:18)

Released by: Eleven
Release date: 2011
Total running time: 38:52

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Peter Gabriel – New Blood

Peter Gabriel - New BloodPicking up conceptually where the too-tame orchrstral cover album Scratch My Back left off, Peter Gabriel’s follow-up is another orchestral cover album, this time drawing from Gabriel’s own back catalog. I was so unimpressed with Scratch My Back that I elected not to review it here (in a nutshell: Gabriel’s cover of Paul Simon’s “Boy In Then Bubble” was the only track I bother to revisit since the first listen), so the thought of Gabriel giving his own material the same treatment didn’t excite me: would he pick the right songs? Would he saddle them with uninspired, Scratch My Back-style arrangements?

And yet some of Gabriel’s music just oozes widescreen majesty. Surely translation into a symphonic idiom could only expand on that… right?

Well… yes and no. Gabriel is working with the same arranger with whom he collaborated on Scratch My Back here, so it’s hit or miss. “Rhythm Of The Heat” is pretty typical of the album as a whole”: for the most part it’s a competent enough translation of the original version of the song, but adds nothing new except a swap-out of rock instruments for orchestral instruments. It’s unadventurous. That description applies to many of the album’s covers. Very few songs break the mold and make me go “wow” – “Intruder” is a good example of this, taking the (already disturbing) original song and reshaping it into an unnerving piece of horror movie music – but most fall into the spineless category. Worse yet, Gabriel’s voice isn’t capable of the acrobatics he could pull off in his younger years, stripping even more of the “oomph” from the songs as he tones the vocals down along with the instruments.

If you’re detecting a recurring theme here, aside from “this could have been so much better,” you’re not imagining things. Peter Gabriel is a maker of mind-expanding, widescreen music. It’s not for nothing that he’s scored movies before (Birdy, The Last Temptation Of Christ), and it’s not for nothing that he was selected to assemble the world-music-rock-opera for London’s Millennium Dome (OVO). And yet New Blood seems to sap the blood from the same songs that made me a Peter Gabriel fan in the first place.

Maybe what this album needed was some TLC from someone who actually does soundtracks, rather than the same numbingly dull approach as Scratch My Back. Bear McCreary of Battlestar Galactica soundtrack fame, who is credited by a lot of that show’s fans for exposing them to new and different styles of music, would have knocked this out of the park and (excuse the pun) straight into orbit, fusing orchestral and ethnic music with ease.

2 out of 4I hope Peter Gabriel resumes his more traditional style of music for whatever he releases next. The songs selected for New Blood were enthralling in their original versions because they were so unconventional. New Blood squandered the opportunity to expand on those songs by make them not just convention, but watered-down shadows of their former selves.

Order this CD

    Disc One – Vocals

  1. The Rhythm Of The Heat (5:41)
  2. Downside Up (3:52)
  3. San Jacinto (6:58)
  4. Intruder (5:07)
  5. Wallflower (6:25)
  6. In Your Eyes (7:13)
  7. Mercy Street (5:59)
  8. Red Rain (5:15)
  9. Darkness (6:10)
  10. Don’t Give Up (6:40)
  11. Digging In The Dirt (4:57)
  12. The Nest That Sailed The Sky (3:54)
  13. A Quiet Moment (4:48)
  14. Solsbury Hill (4:35)
    Disc Two – Instrumentals

  1. The Rhythm Of The Heat (instrumental) (5:41)
  2. Downside Up (instrumental) (3:52)
  3. San Jacinto (instrumental) (7:12)
  4. Intruder (instrumental) (5:06)
  5. Wallflower (instrumental) (6:24)
  6. In Your Eyes (instrumental) (7:13)
  7. Mercy Street (instrumental) (6:00)
  8. Red Rain (instrumental) (5:15)
  9. Darkness (instrumental) (6:10)
  10. Don’t Give Up (instrumental) (6:40)
  11. Digging In The Dirt (instrumental) (4:58)
  12. The Nest That Sailed The Sky (instrumental) (3:54)
  13. The Blood Of Eden (instrumental) (6:05)

Released by: RealWorld
Release date: 2011
Disc one total running time: 77:34
Disc two total running time: 74:30

Kelly Groucutt – Kelly

Kelly Groucutt - KellyReleased on vinyl in 1982, and then reprinted on CD circa 2001 as a fan club exclusive and again as a general release in 2009, Kelly is the sole solo outing for the late Kelly Groucutt, whose musical claim to fame was as the bassist and soaring backup vocalist for ELO and, later, ELO Part II / The Orchestra. Groucutt had the help of most of his bandmates in recording his album, with the most conspicuous holdout being Jeff Lynne himself; perhaps not surprisingly, the entire album is very much in the style of ELO’s halcyon days (namely the mid/late 1970s). Groucutt was already an integral part of the ELO sound from that period, and Kelly can almost be seen – or heard – as an audition for the opportunity to take an even wider role creatively within the group.

As always, Groucutt’s vocal range is beyond merely impressive, and his singing voice doesn’t thin out when he edges toward baritone or falsetto. Having seen him play live with ELO Part II, I can vouch for the fact that the man could, quite simply, belt out a tune – and with his vocal abilities, he could belt out nearly any tune you can think of. But Kelly also shows off his songwriting abilities, and it’s quite evident that Groucutt was paying very very close attention to how songs were put together in ELO’s signature style; much of this album could fit in seamlessly on nearly any ELO album between Face The Music and Time (the ELO album whose release immediately preceded Kelly).

Songs like “Am I A Dreamer” (presented here in both demo and finished recordings) and “Sea Of Dreams” seem like they could’ve been strong candidates to become classic ELO songs. Groucutt also clearly shared Lynne’s love of classic ’50s rock – his background vocal arrangements are very reminiscent of Lynne’s work, but they also have just a hint of doo-wop to them. “Midnight Train” and “Black Hearted Woman” show ’70s roots, but the former especially highlights the unique rapport between Groucutt and ELO violinist Mik Kaminski, who provides hoedown-worthy fiddle work as well as coaxing “train whistle” effects out of his violin. The two would later form OrKestra, which would later be absorbed by ELO Part II.

There is, however, one huge problem with the re-release of Kelly that’s distressing: the sound quality. I’m assuming that the original vinyl release of Kelly didn’t sound like this does: the CD winds up sounding like it was mastered from a very well-worn cassette tape. Disappointingly, most of the songs sound tinny and hollow, with almost no bass frequencies… which is almost a slap in the face to the memory of someone who was, in fact, a bass player. Actually, I have a confession to make: back in the heady days of Napster, before this album was re-released, I downloaded several individual tracks from someone’s vinyl-to-CD-R copy of Kelly because I’d heard of the album but had never actually heard any of the songs… and to be brutally honest, the commercially-released CD sounds like it was mastered from those very badly-recorded, lo-fi MP3 tracks.

I give high marks for the music: Kelly Groucutt was willing, ready, and capable of taking a more direct creative role in the future of ELO, but – again, to be brutally honest – by this time Jeff Lynne had almost certainly realized that his future fortunes rested with holding the publishing rights to ELO’s output, and therefore wasn’t about to let go of the “central / sole songwriter” role. Which is unfortunate, because his sideman was clearly ready to help out. (I have to say that this also makes me reconsider Lynne’s more recent complaints, in some of the remastered ELO catalog’s liner notes, about bearing the heavy creative burden of the group alone; having heard Kelly, I call BS. More creative energy was there if he had only permitted it. I’m not going to say that a Lynne/Groucutt songwriting partnership would’ve 3 out of 4been another Lennon/McCartney, but it might have kept ELO on track or extended the group’s life span.)

Now I’d just like to see someone honor Mr. Groucutt’s memory by carrying out a proper remastering of his one solo album. These are great songs – I’d just like to hear them in a sound quality that befits the quality of the songwriting and performance on display here. (Feel free to do the same with OrKestra’s unreleased-on-CD album too, while you’re at it.)

Order this CD

  1. Am I A Dreamer (3:45)
  2. Oh Little Darling (3:29)
  3. Dear Mama (4:33)
  4. You Don’t Need To Hold Me Tight (3:56)
  5. Black Hearted Woman (3:27)
  6. Midnight Train (3:52)
  7. Don’t Wanna Hear That Song Again (3:12)
  8. Anything Goes With Me (3:33)
  9. Can’t Stand The Morning (3:11)
  10. Old Rock & Roller (3:48)
  11. You’ve Been Telling Lies (3:10)
  12. Sea Of Dreams (4:47)
  13. I’ll Cry For You Tonight (4:06)
  14. Am I A Dreamer (3:42)

Released by: Renaissance
Release date: 1982 / reissued in 2009
Total running time: 52:31

Daniel Gannaway – Joined Like Notes

Daniel Gannaway - Joined Like NotesAnother EP-sized collection of tunes from indie singer/songwriter Daniel Gannaway, Joined Like Notes brings us a few numbers that either came after his last releases, Summer Storm and Heading For Country, or didn’t quite meet those two collections’ stylistic parameters. With no such limits placed on it (i.e. a “country” feel or every song involving ukelele), Joined Like Notes is a bit more free-form.

Songs such as “Mail Order Catalogue” and “A Babe In My Mama’s Arms” hearken back to his earlier works – sparse and yet atmospheric and moody – while “Hurricane Proof (Katrina)” and “Save Trestles (Sediment Flow)” take the opportunity to get topical. “Save Trestles” graced the artist’s MySpace page for quite a while before finally getting this release, and it’s aways been a catchy, toe-tapping number; getting the opportunity to hear it more clearly reveals it to be this CD’s standout. “A Slip In The Grey” and the title track are also stripped-down marvels of mood, with the former sporting some really interesting vocal work in the chorus. “Joined Like Notes” is more uplifting and mesmerizing in its own way.

4 out of 4Despite a thematic or stylistic angle to the songs on Joined Like Notes, it’s a nice breath of fresh air and a relaxing listen – even with the slightly soft-pedaled protest songs in (though they join a long tradition of folk protest songs in that regard). Highly recommended.

Order this CD

  1. A Babe In My Mama’s Arms (3:08)
  2. Hurricane Proof (Katrina) (4:09)
  3. Save Trestles (Sediment Flow) (3:09)
  4. Mail Order Catalogue (3:57)
  5. A Sip In The Grey (4:08)
  6. Joined Like Notes (4:09)

Released by: Daniel Gannaway
Release date: 2008
Total running time: 22:40

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Peter Gabriel – Big Blue Ball

Culled from the open recording days held at Peter Gabriel’s RealWorld Studios in the early to mid 1990s, Big Blue Ball isn’t really necessarily a Peter Gabriel album. Considering how frustrated some of his fans are with the lengthy wait between albums (and I’ll admit that I probably belong in that impatient category), Big Blue Ball may, as such, come off as a disappointment to some listeners. Gabriel doesn’t even perform on every track, even as an instrumentalist – in fact, over 50% of the album is Gabriel-free. So what’s in it for you, the listener? Why bother with Big Blue Ball?

Because even if he doesn’t play on a given track, there’s sort of an unspoken, unwritten stamp of approval that goes with the fact that Gabriel let these folks into the studio, period. Now, I will admit to a certain bias here: the material on which Gabriel does play/sing is the best stuff on Big Blue Ball by a long shot. But this doesn’t make the seven out of eleven songs where he doesn’t appear instant skip material. Gabriel’s penchant for encouraging ethnic fusion artists and trying to break various styles of world music out into wide exposure means that there’s actually more cohesion among the tracks than you might think.

And some of the artists heard here are legends in their own parts of the world. One can hear, in the hypnotically relaxing “Altus Silva”, the genesis of a sound that some of its musicians would later make their own under the name of Afro-Celt Sound System. I was pleasantly surprised to see former World Party one-man-band Karl Wallinger all over this album. Long, long ago, I remember reading in Rolling Stone that Tim Finn – circa his “ALT” collaboration with Liam O’Maonlai and Andy White – had participated in some sessions with Gabriel, and when Tim’s name didn’t surface anywhere on Up, I guessed that whatever he had worked on had been buried. But one of those recordings is the first track on here, and it’s a winner. Other standouts – with out without Gabriel – include, at long last, a definitive (and somewhat tweaked) release of the single “Burn You Up, Burn You Down” (which dates back to Up‘s release and really should have not only been on that album, but should’ve also been its lead single), as well as a song called “Exit Through You” whose percussion toward the end completely fascinates me. “Forest” and “Habibe” are engrossing world music tracks. In fact, the only track I consistently skip is “Jijy” – there’s nothing wrong with the song, but I have to be in a certain mood for rap, let alone rap in another language. But it’s still pretty catchy.

3 out of 4So while some fans expecting a full-on Gabriel album might be disappointed, there’s plenty of music to enjoy on Big Blue Ball. I get cranky about the huge gaps between albums in Gabriel’s repertoire, but this whole thing – with or without his direct influence – feels authentically Peter Gabriel enough that I’m happy with this until the next one comes along (and if that’s not enough, he also has a couple of songs on the Wall-E soundtrack album that aren’t on Big Blue Ball.) It’s a solid collection that’ll tide fans of Gabriel and world music in general over for a while – if you give it time to grow on you.

Order this CD

  1. Whole Thing (5:29)
    featuring Francis Bebey, Alex Faku, Tim Finn, Peter Gabriel, Karl Walllinger, Andy White
  2. Habibe (7:14)
    featuring Natacha Atlas, Hossam Ramzy, Neil Sparkes
  3. Shadow (4:29)
    featuring Juan Cañizares, Papa Wemba
  4. Altus Silva (6:09)
    featuring Joseph Arthur, Ronan Browne, Deep Forest, James McNally, Iarla O’Lionáird, Vernon Reid
  5. Exit Through You (5:54)
    featuring Joseph Arthur, Peter Gabriel, Karl Wallinger
  6. Everything Comes From You (4:44)
    featuring Richard Evans, Joji Hirota, Sevara Nazarkhan, Sinead O’Connor, Guo Yue
  7. Burn You Up, Burn You Down (4:32)
    featuring Billy Cobham, Peter Gabriel, The Holmes Brothers, Wendy Melvoin, Arona N’Diaye, Jah Wobble
  8. Forest (6:18)
    featuring Levon Minassian, Arona N Diaye, Vernon Reid, Hukwe Zawose
  9. Rivers (5:46)
    featuring Vernon Reid, Marta Sebestyen, Karl Wallinger
  10. Jijy (4:01)
    Arona N’Diaye, Rossy, Jah Wobble
  11. Big Blue Ball (4:52)
    Peter Gabriel, Manu Katché, Karl Wallinger

Released by: RealWorld
Release date: 2008
Total running time: 59:28

Daniel Gannaway – Heading For Country

Daniel Gannaway - Heading For CountryWith his last EP, Summer Storm, Daniel Gannaway experimented with the ukelele as a dominant sound in his music; in a similar vein, his latest effort, Heading For Country, tries on some country shoes. This time the experiment isn’t so much with a specific instrument, but with some of the stylistic licks of American country music. Whatever he’s trying out sonically, it’s a credit to Gannaway’s musicianship and his ability as a songwriter that it never sounds anything less than genuine.

But with his background in folk rock, Gannaway feels like he’s edging toward home turf here, rather than stretching the envelope in an unexpected way. There might be a wistful harmonica here and there, or just a hint of a country “twang”, but it’s not much of a culture shock to those of us accustomed to his folkier style.

The highlights of the six-song EP are the two middle tracks, “Talk Yourself Up” and “Tiny Lights”. The former is a jaunty, positive little number, while the latter is a somber meditation on mortality. The first time I heard “Tiny Lights”, I earmarked it as being interesting for its melody; the next time I listened to it, I had just gone through an eight-day period which began with the birth of my son and ended with having to humanely put down a horse I’d had for nearly ten years. The lyrics jumped out at me on this second listen, and it’s a Gannaway classic right up there with “Chain”. Even if I can’t convince you that you’ll like the music, I’ll put it this way: any CD on which a song as good as “Tiny Lights” takes up 1/6 of the running time is great value for the money.

4 out of 4Not that any of the songs on here are anything to skip, mind you. Heading For Country makes it sound like Daniel Gannaway’s heading into untested territory, but for those of us who’ve been listening for a while, it’s more like a welcome homecoming. Very highly recommended.

Order this CD

  1. Move Along Now (3:39)
  2. Sorry To Say (2:31)
  3. Talk Yourself Up (2:45)
  4. Tiny Lights (3:28)
  5. Lazy Sundays (3:33)
  6. Sadly Don’t Think So (3:49)

Released by: Daniel Gannaway
Release date: 2007
Total running time: 19:45

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Daniel Gannaway – Summer Storm

Daniel Gannaway - Summer StormMany times, an album has been sparked by an artist’s discovery/rediscovery of a new or unusual instrument, and sometimes it’s worked (Todd Rundgren’s A Capella experiment of the human voice as every instrument) and just as many times it hasn’t. This is one of those times where it really works. New Zealand-based indie rocker Daniel Gannaway constructed this somewhere-between-EP-and-LP-length collection on a simple premise: every song would feature the ukelele in some fashion. (Yes, you read right, the ukelele.) Recorded in NZ and Hawaii, Summer Storm takes that premise, and the instrument itself, through several permutations, and it all manages to work, largely thanks to Gannaway’s reliable gifts in the songwriting department. Oddly enough, and this isn’t a crack about originality or the lack thereof, the ukelele’s role here reminded me of the shock value of the mandolin as a lead instrument in R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion”. It’s front and center on every song, though the tone of the songs shifts from light and breezy (“Across The Sea”, which reminded me curiously of early, pre-electric Split Enz) to more straight-ahead rock (“Talking Story”, which was the song that made me think of the “Losing My Religion” comparison in the first place), with stops at several stylistic destinations in between. Someone’s clearly having fun putting rating: 4 out of 4the ukelele through its paces, though again, the songs are the key – they’re all good enough on their own, unusual arrangements or not, to stand up. But any preconceptions you have about the ukelele in terms of strumming away at old tropical island tunes may not stand up after you hear this one – in a few places, it’s some real rock ‘n’ roll. If you’re in the mood for something different, this is some good stuff.

Order this CD

  1. Across The Sea (2:28)
  2. In Heaven (2:56)
  3. Doug’s Little Love Shack (2:35)
  4. No Mall At Sharks Cove (2:49)
  5. Talking Story (2:24)
  6. Silver Lining (3:01)
  7. A Just Senator (2:53)
  8. Summer Storm (3:19)

Released by: Daniel Gannaway
Release date: 2005
Total running time: 22:25

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