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July 10, 2021

I love seeing my David Bowie art on the cover of the latest copy of Reserved Magazine: Beautifully…

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Henry Bruce-Jones Fact Residency: Seoul Community Radio

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Sharon O’Connell Anthony Joseph – The Rich Are Only Defeated When Running For Their Lives

Anthony Joseph

Should there be any doubt about the primacy of language in Anthony Joseph’s worldview, there’s cast-iron proof of it in the epic Language (Poem For Anthony McNeill), from his fourth solo album. In what’s essentially a secular riff on the beginning of John’s Gospel, he declares, “It is language which calls all things to creation and language is the origin of the world/The word was a great mass of a black star exploding…”

Joseph’s words, meanwhile, don’t so much explode on The Rich Are Only Defeated… as illuminate, recollect, bear witness, question and – crucially – enthral; his poems are energetic yet nuanced flows of richly imaginative language in masterful control, not flashy displays. A Trinidadian who moved to London in 1989, Joseph has made the written and spoken word his life’s work on multiple fronts. He’s released three studio albums with The Spasm Band (whose players included Shabaka Hutchings and Keziah Jones), the first being 2007’s Leggo De Lion. It set Joseph’s recitations of lyrics from his novel The African Origins Of UFOs against a backdrop of jazz, Afrobeat and stripped-down, heavily percussive funk. He’s also recorded three solo albums, published numerous works of poetry and prose and currently teaches creative and life writing at De Montfort University. If one UK figure is currently the ne plus ultra of experimental writing and spoken-word performance rooted in Caribbean identity, it’s surely Joseph.

His new record takes its title from The Black Jacobins, a book by Trinidadian historian CLR James published in 1938. It tells the story of Toussaint L’Ouverture, who led enslaved black labourers to victory in the Haitian Revolution. But it’s in no way a concept album – in the mix are personal reminiscences, homages to Joseph’s Caribbean literary progenitors (Sam Selvon, Anthony McNeill, Kamau Brathwaite) and particular narratives that carry universal truths. Nor is it strictly solo: Joseph is backed by a cast of musicians that includes woodwind players Denys Baptiste, Hutchings, Colin Webster and Jason Yarde (who also produces) and French pianist/organist Florian Pellissier. Joseph told Uncut he was initially aiming for more of a “spiritual jazz vibration” than on his two previous LPs but that Covid and the murder of George Floyd saw the sound become infused with “a more righteous rage”.

That rage, though set on a languid simmer, is evident on Calling England Home, where Joseph relates personal immigrant experiences that echo those of so many before him: “I worked in the basement/But I soon learned to tie my apron in a way that retained some dignity/And in my first summer above the corner shop I listened to rare groove on pirate radio/I was flung so far from any notion of nation/How long do you have to live in a place before you can call it ‘Home’?” And righteous anger certainly ripples through Swing Praxis, a taut, metatextual jam that has Joseph calling on his people to harden their resolve in the struggle for equality and justice (“Either we vote or protest or tremble or march or fight”) and extolling the power of swing “as method, as action, as rubric, as heritage, as a black and combative orchestra with terrible bees and whistles and teeth”. All this to a thrilling mix of cool and hot jazz, where the urgent honking of multiple saxophones, in both celebration and protest, whips up a raucous finale.

Joseph may be part of a broad fellowship that includes Gil Scott-Heron, whose vocal tone and socio-political focus he recalls, but his speech rhythms and vernacular mark him out. He’s cited the hymns of his grandparents’ Baptist church, calypso and the magical nature of the Trinidad carnival as influences and describes himself as “essentially a Caribbean surrealist poet”. This is most striking in Maka Dimweh, which tells of a Guyanese soldier dispatched to clean up after the Jim Jones horror show: Joseph taps Trinidadian English Creole, his flow like a riptide before it gives way to a woodwind squall, with some tense guitar work. The dazzling Language (Poem For Anthony McNeill) follows, waves of tumultuous improv heaving and crashing around Joseph’s marvelling, as he considers a firefly’s tail and various kinds of soil, that “we have names for everything now”.

If naming is a kind of creation, then The Rich Are Only Defeated… conjures a singular universe. Its idiosyncratic educational power is just one of its attributes; overwhelmingly, it’s the sound of Joseph reveling in the power of language and the possibilities of poetry and music in concert.

The post Anthony Joseph – The Rich Are Only Defeated When Running For Their Lives appeared first on UNCUT.

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John Robinson The Yardbirds – Yardbirds

The Yardbirds

It was occasionally said in the distant past that getting on in your career wasn’t so much a question of what you knew as who you knew. It’s a small injustice of the 1960s that The Yardbirds, though having known a thing or two, are indeed still more famed for their storied personnel – their band at separate times included Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page – than for their own recorded output.

Despite the band’s graduates having sold millions of classic rock albums with music rooted in the British blues boom, the body of work on which these careers were built was only intermittently classic. During their brief career (1963-1968), the Yardbirds were predominantly known as a reliable live turn, early manager Giorgio Gomelsky privileging their bookings over their time in the studio. With its re-compilations of singles and US variants, their catalogue, following the not-misleadingly titled Five Live Yardbirds is like their era: headspinning and confusing, and not always in a good way.

The tension between studio and live was something the band brought to their first studio album. Yardbirds singles had shown a willingness to experiment (the Paul Samwell-Smith-produced For Your Love from 1965 was musically interesting to the point of alienating Eric Clapton; Heart Full Of Soul a cool raga rocker). Now, under the guidance of Samwell-Smith, the band turned an inclination towards monastic group vocals into a trademark (Over Under Sideways Down), and this sense of import into heavy and meaningful tracks such as Turn Into Earth and Ever Since The World Began. It’s a feel which is interestingly at odds with the hard-raving live group who also present Hot House Of Omagararshid and Jeff’s Boogie.

If you’ve seen the bit in Antonioni’s Blow-Up, recorded in the later, fleeting Beck/Page incarnation of the Yardbirds, where they play Stroll On at the Ricky Tick, you’ll have an idea of the band’s live potential. Much of that brooding menace is present here, Beck’s guitar as unstable as the group’s lineup: a lightning flash of tone, feedback and the mood in the room. On The Nazz Are Blue, a fairly trad blues on which Beck also sings, he’s poised for an epic solo but, when the time comes for him to take off, he alights on a single note that he leaves feeding back, like a daring remark no-one’s sure how to respond to.

Released within sight of Revolver and Pet Sounds, Aftermath and Small Faces, Yardbirds is good but not quite as good. Stellar guitarists notwithstanding, there’s always a sense, with their schoolboy cartoons (by bassist Chris Dreja) and jokey sleevenotes (from drummer Jim McCarty) that The Yardbirds were playing quite their own, vaguely amateurish and eccentric game. Clearly the group were picking up composition and production on the hoof, so what’s captured here is more the thrill of the getting there, during five days of urgent creativity.

Adapting to modern perspectives, this is an album no longer being marketed as a pre-Zeppelin accessory (in which role it has historically come up short, the call and response of opener Lost Women notwithstanding), and more on its own terms. Here, amid the nice bits of vinyl, alternate tracks, a single of the Beck/Page era Happenings Ten Years Time Ago, and the stereo mix, there’s a book where Thurston Moore and Wayne Kramer from the MC5 each make claims for the album as a weirdo lodestone. No-one quite says it but there’s a sense of Velvet Underground-like transgression here at times, as if the noise will shortly bust through the fourth wall of the songs.

The reason Yardbirds is universally known as Roger The Engineer is because of that noise. Engineer Roger Cameron suggested that the band’s sound might benefit from extensive use of plate reverb, and it’s a heavy echo that gives the album much of its continuity and power. Variable as the album can be in tone – roaming from light-hearted boogie into suicidal suburbia and closing with proto-metal – there is something of short-story suspense about it. Beck’s contributions are often the wolf howling outside the door, leaving you to speculate what they might unleash were they to be let in.

It would take Jimmy Page to fully realise the potential in the Yardbirds template. Then, with the jokes removed, the songs more substantial and the tone more consistently glowering, there would be something to reckon with. As it is, Roger… is whimsical, divergent, independent-thinking and fun. Exactly the sort of club you’d want to join, in fact.

The post The Yardbirds – Yardbirds appeared first on UNCUT.

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Laura Barton Joni Mitchell – The Joni Mitchell Archive Series: The Reprise Albums (1968–1971)

Joni Mitchell

In 1979, Joni Mitchell gave an interview to Rolling Stone, in which she talked about her
album Blue, released eight years previously, and still the high-water mark of her career. “There’s hardly a dishonest note in the vocals,” she told the magazine. “At that period in my life, I had no personal defences. I felt like a cellophane wrapper on a pack of cigarettes. I felt like I had absolutely no secrets from the world and I couldn’t pretend in my life to be strong. Or to be happy. But the advantage of it in the music was that there were no defences there either.”

It is Blue that crowns The Reprise Albums – the latest release from The Joni Mitchell Archive Series – and to listen to it here, as the culmination of its three predecessors, Song To A Seagull, Clouds, Ladies Of The Canyon, is to hear afresh not just the majesty of its songs, but the sound of an artist grown unflinching in her songwriting – as if the previous three records, for all their beauty, were really just Mitchell clearing her throat.

We are quite accustomed now to the traits of confessional songwriting – the sparse setting, the unguarded lyric, but it was Blue that defined them, that introduced the idea of lyrical vulnerability as an act of daring. Across its 10 songs Mitchell tackled a number of love affairs – with Graham Nash (My Old Man), James Taylor (This Flight Tonight) and Leonard Cohen (A Case Of You) – the child she gave up for adoption (Little Green), and acknowledged her own selfishness and wilful nature that caused the demise of a relationship (River).

If Dylan’s trademark was his unknowability, Mitchell’s was arguably her decision to let everything be known – Kris Kristofferson once famously told her she ought to “save something for yourself”. But to write so openly was radical for a female artist – through these portraits of her own emotional life, its darknesses and complications, Mitchell achieved a kind of emancipation.

It is wrong to entirely disentangle Blue from its predecessors: to listen to the Reprise albums as a collection is to be reminded of the wild distillation of talent contained in four short years and four remarkable records. Certainly, with knowledge of Blue, there is something still guileless and green about Song To A Seagull – the music holds a folky formality, and Mitchell never seems to truly inhabit the lyrics, beyond, perhaps Cactus Tree, in which a woman catalogues ex-lovers, her heart “full and hollow like a cactus tree”.

Clouds is more limber, holding the supple beauty of Chelsea Morning, and Both Sides, Now – already a hit for Judy Collins, in the voice of its creator the song gains a languid, ruminative power. It’s also on Clouds that Mitchell starts to show one of her most distinctive qualities as a songwriter: a willingness to let both her music and her lyrics lie unresolved.

Ladies Of The Canyon is somewhat coloured by the influence of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, but there is a growing sophistication to her lyrics, a new breadth to her subject matter, and its final run of songs – Big Yellow Taxi, Woodstock, The Circle Game
– is irresistible.

When Mitchell set out to write Blue it was not only with a wish to write a break-up album, and to process the difficulties of her 27 years, but with a desire to disrupt the adoration of the music fans who had placed her at the heart of the Laurel Canyon scene. Many years later she would tell of the impulse to lay herself so lyrically bare: “They better find out who they’re worshipping,” she said. “Let’s see if they can take it. Let’s get real.”

That realness lay not only in the frankness of her subject matter, but also in the reaches of her voice. On Blue, Mitchell displays her distinctive octave-twirling agility, but, too, the stiller, siltier depths she would later explore on records such as Hejira and Mingus. It brings a new intensity and resonance to these songs, strung out over just piano, guitar, Appalachian dulcimer, the better to catch the colour and hue of her lyrics.

To mark 50 years since Blue’s release, the albums in the Reprise boxset have been remastered, and in the case of Song To A Seagull, remixed – according to Mitchell, “The original mix was atrocious. It sounded as if it was recorded under a jello bowl, so I fixed it.” There is limited-edition vinyl, artwork that includes a self-portrait sketched by Mitchell during the period, and an essay by Brandi Carlile, who credits Blue with not only making
her a better songwriter, but with making her a better woman. “It taught me what it means to be really tough,” she writes, “and that there was never anything ‘silly’ about the feminine.”

It is the toughness of femininity that runs through this collection: songs that are beautiful and uncompromising and groundbreaking; a dismantling of defences that would lead to the most strikingly honest work of Joni Mitchell’s career.

The post Joni Mitchell – The Joni Mitchell Archive Series: The Reprise Albums (1968–1971) appeared first on UNCUT.

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Fact Seoul Community Radio Presents: Live DJ Showcase

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