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November 13, 2020

Derek Walmsley presents Adventures In Sound And Music : Room40 special

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Jim Wirth Trees – Trees

Trad-arr opportunists with freeform tendencies, Trees’ in-concert freakouts often left their cut-crystal-voiced singer Celia Humphris at a loose end. “I used to ‘wiggle’, or dance on the spot, during the long breaks,” she remembers in the sleevenotes to this 4CD anthology of the band’s brief career. “But when we played at Wellington College Boys’ School, one of the masters asked me to stop wiggling as it was ‘upsetting’ the boys. That was when I started to lie down on stage instead.” It was a novel way of shifting the focus to her bandmates, but one fraught with pitfalls: one live extemporisation on the traditional “Streets Of Derry” proved so enthralling that Humphris actually fell asleep.

Enthusiastic – often to a fault – Trees blundered excitably into the new Anglo-weirdy terrain cleared by Fairport Convention’s Liege & Lief, an album that fused a profound knowledge of traditional English folk song with an appreciation for the newly electrified roots sounds of The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield and The Band. Trees, by contrast, were all instinct; they had a cursory flick through the Child Ballads, turned everything up to 11 and exploded into the moment.

Founded after guitarists David Costa and Barry Clarke met in 1969, Trees accumulated members quickly; bassist and songwriter Bias Boshell was Clarke’s housemate; drummer Unwin Brown was a Bedales school chum of Boshell’s; Humphris was the sister of one of Costa’s workmates. A drama student who had studied opera, she didn’t know much about folk music, but with a piercing voice that could pass as Sandy Denny-ish, she made the grade anyway. By the end of that summer, Trees had a two-album contract with CBS.

Evidently recorded before most of it was written, their debut album The Garden Of Jane Delawney feels like a musical blind date, Trees getting to know each other in real time, and not always getting on. Humphris’ consumptive keen and Clarke’s strident guitar trip over each other as they battle for centre stage on opener “Nothing Special”, while Costa and Clarke deliver competing guitar solos on the trad-arr “Lady Margaret” with Brown absent-mindedly auditioning for Traffic somewhere in the background.

The lyrics to the séance-like title track came to Boshell during his school days, its ‘nothing is real’ sentiment (“The ground you walk upon might as well not be there”) and Genesis-like evocation of toxic Victoriana earning cover versions from Françoise Hardy and ’80s goth softies All About Eve. However, the tinkling harpsichords and sparing accompaniment are atypical of a band that – at this stage – didn’t really do restraint. Their kiss-off “Snail’s Lament” rustles up a collegiate getting-it-together-in-the-country vibe (“Everybody’s got to build a house,” sings Humphris, finding the bottom end of her register) but still fades out with every member trying to snatch the last word.

The Garden Of Jane Delawney was released in April 1970, but Trees were back in the studio to record the follow-up within five months, the intervening time seemingly spent listening to Steeleye Span’s debut album Hark! The Village Wait (released that June) and – at least occasionally – to each other. Having jostled for position a little inelegantly over the course of the first record, Trees benefited from a Bedford-van boot camp, gigging giving them a better command of group dynamics. All Phil Manzanera acid flash on the first album, Clarke’s contributions take on a more measured, Quicksilver Messenger Service tone, his guitar flickering around the edges of songs rather than screaming into centre stage. Humphris also finds a new range, and if she cannot do traditional warhorses like “Polly On The Shore” and “Geordie” with the same conviction as a Shirley Collins or an Anne Briggs, she no longer sounds like she is just impersonating a folk singer.

Her two-layered vocal helps make “Murdoch” by far the best of Trees’ self-written songs. Boshell reckons his tale of a mysterious awful up in the mountains came to him in a dream. With a subtle, insistent guitar and keyboard refrain, it’s certainly a piece that burrows into the subconscious, Trees discovering the passage behind the cupboard that leads from After Bathing At Baxter’s-era Jefferson Airplane into Stevie Nicks-age Fleetwood Mac.

However, if their compositions are tighter (opener “Soldiers Three” is a stylish fake medieval round), Trees still yearned to stretch out; their take on Cyril Tawney’s “Sally Free And Easy” bursts its banks to become a 10-minute guitar sprawl, but it’s a mark of their new-found unity that Costa and Clarke queue up in an orderly fashion to decorate “Streets Of Derry”, another spectacular journey from rustic inner space to the wild West Coast.

Thanks in part to its creepy Hipgnosis sleeve, genre perverts tend to rate On The Shore as Trees’ defining statement, but it doesn’t always wear its sophistication lightly; Tolpuddle Martyrs tribute “While The Iron Is Hot” sounds a bit Les Misérables in hindsight, while the inelegantly countrified “Little Sadie” still draws winces from band members five decades on.

Contemporaries, meanwhile, seldom discussed whether On The Shore was a better record than The Garden Of Jane Delawney, CBS unable to drum up much interest in either. Never given another opportunity to record their own songs, Trees soldiered on and off until finally expiring in 1973. Costa stayed in the business as an art director while Boshell found success with the Kiki Dee Band, writing their 1974 hit “I’ve Got The Music In Me” before joining latter-day lineups of the Moody Blues and Barclay James Harvest. Humphris, for her part, was a big hit on the underground, voicing pre-recorded announcements on the Northern Line.

However, if the individual Trees had more tangible successes later in life, their juvenilia is compelling still. Like the equally ill-starred Mighty Baby, Trees absent-mindedly fashioned a fusion of folk-rock and San Francisco psychedelia. Unsure of whether to be Fairport Convention or the Grateful Dead, they contrived to be both at once: earthy, adventurous, loud. Their more excessive moments may have tested Humphris’ patience, but this is music that makes sense in large, languid doses. Lie back. Think of England. Enjoy.

Extras: 7/10. A hitherto unheard demo of “Streets Of Derry” (with a rather abrupt ending) represents a nice bonus, along with live recordings from Costa and Boshell’s 2018 return to the stage as the On The Shore Band. Other ‘rarities’ are more familiar, though the otherwise unreleased “Forest Fire” – seemingly salvaged from a home recording of a 1970 BBC session – and the more whimsical 1969 demo “Little Black Cloud” are significant additions to Trees’ small canon. Another lost song, “Black Widow”, stems from a brief reunion in the 2000s.

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Alex Ross For David Elliott

David Elliott, the longtime mainstay of WHRB, the Harvard radio station, died yesterday at the age of seventy-eight, after a two-year struggle with ALS. For decades, David had been a pillar of the Boston classical-music scene, conducting countless interviews on his Monday-night program. His devotion to WHRB as an institution was absolute and selfless. At several crucial moments, he saved the station at a time when the Harvard administration was not particularly concerned about its fate. Under his guidance, WHRB became a place of musical discovery for generation after generation of undergraduates. So it was for me. My career and life would have been completely different without David’s intervention.
I came to Harvard in the fall of 1986 and tried out for WHRB the following spring, with the encouragement of my freshman roommate, Jon Lehrich — who, as it happens, has succeeded David as the chair of the station’s board of trustees. David immediately noticed me as someone who was unusually interested in new music, music history, and recordings, and encouraged me at every turn. In 1988, he had the idea of adding record reviews to the WHRB Program Guide. I now realize that he was opening a path for me even without my knowing it. On a more personal level, I was then a troubled and self-destructive kid, as the photograph above hints, and David was one of two adults on the campus — the other was Robert Kiely — who gave me wise and gentle guidance. I owe him an incalculable debt, and mourn his loss alongside countless others.

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Mourning [A] BLKstar’s LaToya Kent shares new tracks

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Pitchfork The Great Year-End Songs Debate

Our editors take sides and debate which songs by Waxahatchee, Phoebe Bridgers, Destroyer, and more deserve inclusion in our year-end list, on our podcast The Pitchfork Review.

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Mick Rock at Home Ep. 37 – Johnny Rotten “100 Club” (1976) premiers at 2pm EST today! All photos…

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Mick Rock at Home Ep. 37 – Johnny Rotten “100 Club” (1976) premiers at 2pm EST today! All photos…

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Sam Richards Send us your questions for Tom Morello

One of the weirder scenes from the messy aftermath of the US election was the sight of confused Trump supporters in Philadelphia, dancing to Rage Against The Machine’s anti-police-brutality anthem “Killing In The Name”.

On Twitter, RATM shredder-in-chief Tom Morello – who once taped a large ‘Fuck Trump’ sign to the back of his guitar – responded with heroic understatement: “Not exactly what we had in mind”…

“Killing In The Name” was most people’s introduction to Morello’s unique guitar style – a searing combination of funk and hard rock flash, delivered with ferocious intent. It was the stunning opening salvo in a long career of blistering guitar work allied to potent political messaging, although Morello has also long since proved himself to be a versatile musician and sympathetic collaborator.

As well as the thundering testimonies of Rage Against The Machine, Audioslave and Prophets Of Rage, he’s released four albums of protest folk as The Nightwatchman; and after impressing in several guest appearances with Bruce Springsteen, he was recruited to the E Street Band, touring with them for several years and playing on Wrecking Ball and High Hopes.

Morello’s latest solo EP Comandante returns to a more familiar mode, paying tribute to Eddie Van Halen and Jimi Hendrix and duelling with Slash. But a touching new photo memoir, Whatever It Takes, reveals the full range of his passions.

So what do you want to ask a lifelong guitar rebel? Send your questions to audiencewith@uncut.co.uk by Tuesday (November 17), and Tom will answer the best ones in a future issue of Uncut.

The post Send us your questions for Tom Morello appeared first on UNCUT.

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Nigel Williamson Lambchop – Trip

On first acquaintance it would be easy to imagine that Trip was Kurt Wagner’s lockdown project. The glitchy beats, pulsing electronics and digitally processed vocals heard on 2016’s FLOTUS and last year’s This (Is What I Wanted To Tell You) have largely been muted. Yet neither does Trip really return to the Glen Campbell-meets-Curtis Mayfield country-soul of early Lambchop triumphs such as Nixon, Uncut’s album of the year exactly 20 years ago.

All of the songs are covers and we get just six tracks. The feel is loose and amiable, with an immediacy that has not always been Lambchop’s forte. Just the sort of thing you might record at home in Nashville to keep up the spirits while a global pandemic makes the world outside seem an inhospitable and unwelcoming place.

Yet although Trip was conceived by Wagner as an alternative to taking Lambchop on the road, it transpires that the album predates coronavirus. Contemplating a tour in the fall of last year and concluding that it was economically unviable, Wagner instead invited the band to Nashville to make a record that would provide them with an income to compensate.

They arrived in early December 2019 and each band member brought with them one song to cover. Over six days they set about recording a track per day with everyone taking it in turns to direct the band, although Wagner’s rich baritone remains the lead voice throughout.

Lambchop have often recorded covers before, of course. Yet Wagner’s own elliptical, singular songwriting has always been at the core of Lambchop’s creative aesthetic, so Trip stands apart from anything they’ve recorded before. The methods adopted also suggest an attempt at a more democratic impulse, and the band here is a typically fluid incarnation.

Long-serving allies Tony Crow on piano and bassist Matt Swanson are augmented by more recent arrivals Matthew McCaughan (Bon Iver/Hiss Golden Messenger) and touring drummer Andy Stack (Wye Oak) plus homecoming pedal-steel maestro Paul Niehaus, who last played on 2006’s Damaged before defecting to Calexico and whose welcome return provides some of the finest moments.

The album opens with Wilco’s “Reservations”, chosen by McCaughan, which of all the covers most faithfully echoes the original. The simple piano splashes and Wagner’s aching vocal closely follow the take that closed Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, although the song here is effectively done and dusted in three-and-a-half minutes, after which the track builds into a blizzard of swirling electronic ambience that lasts for another 10 minutes of eerie beauty.

George Jones’s “Where Grass Won’t Grow” was chosen by Niehaus as a song with “the right amount of pity, hard luck and redemption for a proper Lambchop cover”. Wagner sings it like Scott Walker crooning “No Regrets”, while the combination of Niehaus’s sublime pedal steel, Crow’s lambent piano and the laid-back groove evoke the spirit of David Crosby’s If I Could Only Remember My Name.

Mark Swanson brought in “Shirley”, a genuine obscurity rescued from a 1975 single that was the only release in the brief lifetime of Cleveland psych-garage pioneers Mirrors. With a riff that sounds not unlike Cat Stevens’ “Matthew And Son”, it’s as upbeat as Lambchop get, albeit with a deep and sombre vocal from Wagner, before it fades into a dreamy, Calexico-style coda, courtesy of Niehaus’s swooning pedal-steel licks.

Niehaus shines again on Stack’s choice of Stevie Wonder’s “Golden Lady”, the tender melancholy of which is perhaps the closest Trip gets to the sound of early country-soul Lambchop. Crow suggested Holland-Dozier-Holland’s “Love Is Here (And Now You’re Gone)”, although his inspiration was not the Supremes hit but the version by the 12-year-old Michael Jackson, recast here complete with brassy clavinet arpeggios while Kurt’s deadpan vocal fearlessly deconstructs both the King of Pop and Diana Ross.

Only on the sixth and final day of recording did Wagner allow himself a song of his own choosing, pulling out of his bag the previously unrecorded “Weather Song”, written by Yo La Tengo bassist James McNew, an old friend whose “It’s Not Alright” was included on What Another Man Spills. Over a chiming baroque arrangement, its elegiac melody inspires Wagner’s most heartfelt vocal on the album.

There’s no brave new frontier here – and perhaps in these strange times many of us don’t really want to be challenged. Rather, these simple pleasures, full of reassurance and a satisfying indulgence, will keep us warm while we adjust to the ‘new normal’ – whatever that may eventually turn out to be.

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