Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Album Reviews

I've bought a few albums lately - so here is a quick catch up review on all of them.

John Mayer - Paradise Valley

Ok this has been out a while but I listened to on Spotify and I have to be honest I wasn't initially smitten with it.  However I did pop back to it a few times and it grew on me, so when I saw that it had dropped to about £6 for the CD on Amazon and with their terrific AutoRip service (see below) I bought it and I have to say, it's been on big rotation on my car CD player.  So what is this?  John at his country rock best frankly.  Well crafted songs with great singing and some stonking strat guitar work.  If you liked 461 Ocean Boulevard era Eric Clapton try this - like I say though give it a few listens.  Who You Love and Paper Doll are my top picks off this.

Oysterband - Diamonds on the Water

Any of you old enough to remember "Day trip to Bangor"?  Yes that old oddity hit from 1979. If you do then here's a tricky one to swallow... there is a direct heritage from Oysterband to Fiddler's Dram.  A long time ago they were one and the same band (although the original name was The Oyster Ceilidh Band before becoming Oyster Band and now Oysterband.  They performed both as Fiddler's Dram and The Oyster Ceilidh Band around 78-80).  There are still two original members from the Dram/Ceilidh days in the set up.  I have to say this latest offering from (possibly) the best musical export from Kent since Peter Frampton, Bowie and The Rolling Stones is just great. British folk rock at it's very best. John Jones' vocals are the show stealer here repeatedly with great tunes, lyrics and everything else.  I do love this album and Mrs F has become a decided fan too.  The title track and absolutely sublime Lay Your Dreams Down Gently should persuade you to listen to the whole thing.  Go listen to Lay Your Dreams Down Gently now and tell me you don't consider that a master class in a quality song. (see vid at the bottom of these reviews...)

Elbow - The Take Off and Landing of Everything.

Elbow are one of those bands that became an overnight success after years of hard graft.  The Seldom Seen Kid will remain my favourite album of theirs for a long time I think.  The followup to that "Build a Rocket Boys" was a noble attempt with their now characteristic gentle melodies, incredibly clever and well written lyrics, great arrangements and overall uniquely identifiable sound.  This album continues in the same veign but to me isn't quiet as close to it's predecessor was to it's predecessor. (Does that make sense?)  Which is all odd given this is the first album they've had top the charts but for me Seldom Seen Kid blows this away and then some.  Good album all the same - well written songs, again great lyrics.  One simple snippet "I’ve broken jaws protecting laws to keep you free" - now that is a great great lyric.  New York Morning and Charge are my favourites off this.

Magnum - Escape From The Shadow Garden

A solid slab of melodic rock from the perennial old chargers that are Magnum.  These lads may never have had the stadium filling days of some of their compatriots but frankly they have always turned out good stuff - the last couple of albums were workmanlike with good stuff on them but this is just classic Magnum from the Rodney Matthews cover to the crunching guitar riffs, great drumming, swirling keyboards and Bob's voice still belting out with gusto over the top.  Some of the lyrics may not get anywhere near the table for the likes of Elbow ("You're going to live to you die" - can't argue with it but not that deep really...) but what the hell it is still a great record closer to their biggest hits like On a Storyteller's Night than of late and all the better for it.  One of their best releases for a long long time.  These boys have been banging it out since 1972!  I first saw them in 1978!  Hat's off to them as they are back out on the road again as I type this - go listen they are still worth it.

Sam Carter - Keepsakes

Not a new release at all but I recently purchased this so I'll include it.  Sam is a great troubadour - his vocal style is very English as are many of his lyrics and he weaves modern day life references into his very typically folk influenced playing well giving it a contemporary narrative.

Amazon AutoRip.

This probably isn't new to anyone but Amazon now has this great service.  Buy a CD and most of them have an AutoRip facility whereby you can then immediately download the MP3 version of the album you've just bought.  This allows you to get it on your MP3 device asap, saves the faffing about having to rip the album when it arrives and if you do lose the CD and have you MP3 device stolen/lost at the same time... you can simply download it again!  Also with the Amazon music player you have it available to you in "the cloud" (queue swirly sound effect) and can play it using Amazon's music player whenever you are connected.  Clever...  I like it.  Almost to the point where I nearly didn't buy something in a local shop... but then I did on the basis that I do still want the shop to be there.  But it is a clever (free) additional service that I think very useful.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Book Review - Rasputin's Shadow by Raymond Khoury

I've read a lot of Mr Khoury's books in the past.  My favourite of his is The Sign - which is a really good book, with some thought provoking themes.

This one follows on from the two Templar Novels and the Devil's Elixir.  However again there is a small level of linkage - firstly Sean Reilly is the main hero but his partner Tess Chaykin that has featured as a co-hero in the previous novels is not even a bit player... she is totally reduced to "the lady at home looking after the kids" - feminists might not be best pleased with this character "development" :-/

Anyway... the story has an interesting idea at its heart.  How was Rasputin so successful in his life?  How did a penniless pretty much illiterate peasant come to be the trusted confident and advisor to the Tzar and Tzarina of Russia?  History tells us that his ability to help control their sons haemophilia was the key.  This book proposes an interesting theory as to exactly how that worked.

Fast forward to the present day and a descendant of Rasputin's faithful helper in his exploits is a fugitive exile in New York.  Through his knowledge of Rasputin's secret and his own genius he has developed an unbelievably powerful weapon.  He exposes himself in a moment of anger and then start a trail of death and destruction as the bad guys attempt to get to him and his invention and the good guys led by Sean try to stop it all when they are mostly in the dark!

Good page turning thriller and some of the underlying theories about it are interesting if a little fanciful and the link to Rasputin is entirely bogus but adds some mystery to it all.  There is a link with the previous novel that runs through the novel as a sub-plot and really only provides the reader with an incentive to clearly buy the next book in the series.  Although like the previous novel there is little linking these other than the main character - which to be honest many other series do just I do feel the stories stand on their own anyway.  A one thumb up on the FTUBRS*

* Furtheron Thumbs Up Book Review Scale - 
lowest is both thumbs down with a frown
two thumbs down, 
one thumb horizontal,
two thumbs horizontal, 
one thumb up, 
two thumbs up 
two thumbs up with a grin - I believe only yet awarded once!

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

An Atheists Unofficial Guide to AA for Oldtimers - Vince Hawkins

An Atheists Unofficial Guide to AA for Oldtimers - Vince Hawkins

First the disclaimer - this book is NOT conference approved AA literature.

I bought this book because..

a) it was recommended by someone who I have tremendous respect for - 19 years sobriety and one of those AA oldtimers I admire.  He is an atheist and makes no bones about it, sharing appropriately about his atheism in meetings - in an encouraging way for those still early on in the programme etc.
b) it is written by someone I know in AA, he has moved away from our local groups but was about when I was new in and again someone who I have big respect for.

I found this a really helpful book.  Let me put this in context - if you are entering the AA programme or have been on it a while but find all the "God" thing a worry then this is a good book to read - I'd recommend it even if you don't consider yourself an atheist but are not someone to whom regular organised religion is attractive for whatever reason.

Vince lists out modified steps - not all of them, but those where God is mentioned and he modifies these to be for a more atheist view.  He talks eloquently about his own experience and that he has learnt of others who are atheists but walking the AA path of sobriety.  Also he points out some of the limitations within the literature that surrounds the AA programme in particular the big book and the chapter "To Agnostics" which he determines makes the assertion that if you hang around long enough you'll get the God thing but he feels that isn't suitable and AA should encompass and can successfully encompass atheists too.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Rodrigo Aranjuez Concerto Live Performance (+playlist)

The brilliant Richard Durrant plays the Rodrigo Concerto - and proves he can perform wearing shoes!  He really is one of the best classical guitarists around today

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Rochester Music Cafe Band

Video from the Rochester Music Cafe event I did back in February...

Book Review - The Cuckoo's Calling - Robert Galbraith

... or should I say JK Rowling.  I believe Ms Rowling was most unhappy about her cover being blown.  In the end I only bought this as it was the Kindle deal of the day when I looked at a time of needing some new reading material so it sat on the Kindle until I decided to read it.

It is a good detective thriller.  At times early on the author seems to be over trying to sound clever I feel a bit - and it is funny that for me that came and went over the first few chapters but once settled down so I'm not having to look up too many words (that heavens for the built in Kindle dictionary) it is a good British book.

One thing of interest to me straight away is that the main hero of the book is a private dectective, ex soldier who was badly injured in Afganistan.  But my interest peaked because... his office is supposedly in Denmark Street.  Anyone who knows London and knows about music knows Denmark Street for ages associated with song writing, recording and now the mecca of music shops along it's short little length in the shadow of Centrepoint.  Also he drinks in The Tottenham - only pub on Oxford Street - which is right outside Tottenham Court Road tube station and during the two years I worked on the top floor of Centrepoint one of my main watering holes.  Funny how connections like that really draw me into the story - this has happened before...

Anyway - the plot centres on the death of supermodel which has been declared by the police etc. as a suicide.  However her brother engages our hero on the basis that he doesn't believe it was and wants a fresh set of eyes on it.  There is a lot of inter family politics and loads of interesting and outlandish characters brought in so you are kept guessing as you begin to agree she probably didn't jump to her death unaided.  In the end there is a bit of a twist at the end but some of the outcomes are a bit too predictable and the whole thing ends with a set up for future instalments... and let's face it Ms Rowling has previous in making a success out of a long running franchise ;-)

A two thumbs up on FTUBRS*

* Furtheron Thumbs Up Book Review Scale - 
lowest is both thumbs down with a frown
two thumbs down, 
one thumb horizontal,
two thumbs horizontal, 
one thumb up, 
two thumbs up 
two thumbs up with a grin!