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Alice XY – Me and the Devil (2018)

This is how to do a cover version.

  1. Take a 1937 blues classic from the legendary Robert Johnson.

  2. Meditate on how Gil Scott Heron tackled it.

  3. Radically strip back the music to the essentials required to make your point – simple bass, gorgeous keyboard washes and pulsing drums.

  4. Add soaring, yet melancholic, vocals over the top and definitely don’t change the genders of the subjects.

  5. Mix down, add video and release.

A new talent has arisen, Alice XY hits the mark with her debut solo release.

Did I mention that she’s my daughter?

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Booker T. and the M.G.’s – Time Is Tight (1969)

April 6, 2018 Leave a comment

Quite simply one of the best records ever made. The tension builds so slowly, the restraint is compelling, the command is complete!

I actually first heard this song as a cover version by The Clash on the superlative 10″ LP “Black Market Clash”,  almost 40 years ago (gulp!). In those days it was so difficult and expensive to find and hear the original versions of songs!

Featuring a staggering bassline; some of the most restrained percussion of all time; a classic, insistent, guitar riff from Steve Cropper, and; Booker T.’s perfectly timed keyboard strikes and washes, this is instrumental music of the highest precision!

Perfect popular music!

The single version then a great live cut!

 

Nina Simone – Plain Gold Ring (1958)

May 25, 2017 Leave a comment

I’ve had a pretty tough week at work and, getting in the car tonight to drive home after the train journey from London, I had the latest free CD from Mojo magazine on the “stereo”.

This was the first track I came to and the quality of the song is just stunning. I think I’ve heard it before (maybe the Nick Cave version?) but it had never resonated as it did tonight. Three listens on the 15 minute drive home; two more after I’d “fired up” the home computer and its place in the pantheon of thebestmusicofalltime was assured (I’m an impulsive kind of guy!)

Taken from Nina Simone’s debut LP, Little Girl Blue, this is faultless stuff. An exquisite vocal (naturally), a stately bass line and shards of piano over the top combine to produce a minimalist classic. Sometimes, there is so little there to keep the music together, you worry that it will fall apart. And then, at the moment of greatest concern, Nina’s voice holds it together and propels the song forward anew ….!

This is perfect, peerless stuff. Unsurpassable.

 

Gwen Guthrie – Ain’t Nothin’ Goin’ On But The Rent (1986)

May 29, 2016 Leave a comment

As a professional economist, I have always been a huge admirer of Gary Becker who won a Nobel Prize for his pioneering work on the economics of discrimination and the economics of the family. The application of the neo-classical utility maximising framework to inform our understanding of the inter-relationships between decisions regarding marriage and partnerships, fertility and labour supply opened the eyes of many people to the potential explanatory power of economics.

Now, of course, we all know that real human beings are not fully informed, rational beings, carefully weighing up the short, medium and long term consequences of their choices on their own utility (“desiccated calculating machines” as Nye Bevan might have described them).  Nonetheless, Becker’s insights have added rigour to the way in which we try and understand the choices that people make.

In my own life, the decision of my (now) wife and I to finally get married after 31 years of (trial) cohabitation was significantly driven by the need to make sure that she fully inherited my pension …. (who said romance is dead?)

 This same, hard, cold, logic also underpins the lyric of this soul/funk/house classic from 1986. Using a ruthless logic that would have had Gary Becker “welling up”, Gwen Guthrie sets out the case for his Treatise on the Family in just 6 minutes ….  A few snippets:

No romance without finance

Boy, nothin’ in life is free
That’s why I’m askin’ you what can you do for me
I’ve got responsibilities
So I’m lookin’ for a man whose got money in his hands

‘Cause nothin’ from nothin’ leaves nothin’
You got to have somethin’ if you wanna be with me
Oh, life is too serious, love’s too mysterious
A fly girl like me needs security

‘Cause ain’t nothin’ goin’ on but the rent
You got to have a J-O-B if you wanna be with me

Boy, you’re silky ways are sweet
But you’re only wastin’ time if your pockets are empty
I’ve got lots of love to give
But I will have to avoid you if you’re unemployed

The 12″ club mix for your delectation ….

Doug Hream Blunt – Ride The Tiger (1980s)

January 9, 2016 Leave a comment

Over the festive period, I try and catch up on all the music I might have missed over the previous 12 months. This involves forensic scrutiny of all the “best of” lists from magazines, websites, newspapers, etc. Spotify is then used to sort out the wheat from the chaff before I engage on a major CD purchasing spree – I still have to own a physical object to get full satisfaction; just knowing I could always stream a song from the cloud is never enough ….

Amongst this year’s uncovered gems is the superb “My Name is Doug Hream Blunt” CD released in 2015 on the ever wonderful Luaka Bop Records. The CD reproduces Blunt’s “Gentle Persuasion” LP/EP that was released sometime in the mid 1980s – I’ve struggled to pin down the exact date!

I could have chosen almost any of the tracks but “Ride The Tiger” is my favourite today and, therefore, is elevated immediately to the pantheon of the bestmusicofalltime. The full LP version doesn’t seem to be around on Youtube but this live version does nicely!

Charles Bradley – Golden Rule (2011)

February 7, 2015 Leave a comment

Like many an aficionado of 1960s deep soul, (and one of many who have worshipped at the shrine of Dave Godin), the first time I heard Charles Bradley I thought, “how on earth have I missed this guy”?

The sound, the delivery, the sentiment, seem to stem directly from the motherlode from which Otis Redding’s genius stands as only the most populist tip of an immense iceberg of heartache and pain.

But it turns out that Charles Bradley has been recording new material in the 21st century that is not only equal to, but often surpasses, the tracks we all love from the 1960s.

His debut album “No Time for Dreaming” is a flawless soul collection. So many highpoints, but Golden Rule is (just, and tonight) my favourite.

And it gets better, not only has Charles Bradley released records utterly essential for anyone with an interest in modern music (and life itself) but his history has been captured on a wonderful documentary Soul of America that charts his remarkable rise from James Brown impersonator to the greatest singer in the world today.

A perfect live version then the LP version and then live in Paris! Stunning.

 

Nina Simone – Wild is the Wind (1964)

January 13, 2015 Leave a comment

This song has a remarkable history!

Written by Dimitri Tiomkin and Ned Washington, the track was originally recorded by Johnny Mathis (of all people!) for the 1957 film Wild Is the Wind. His is a sugary, anodyne reading that I advise all to steer clear of.

I first became familiar with this song through David Bowie’s wonderful version that he recorded for his classic Station to Station LP of 1976. I was also aware of Nina Simone’s first version that was recorded for her At Town Hall LP in 1959. However, it is her, later, studio version of 1964 which is the definitive reading.

A vocal of unparalleled depth and power with understated bass and drums and simply mesmerising piano adds up to a perfect record!

Whoever sings this has the advantage of some of the best lyrics of all time:

Love me, love me, love me, say you do
Let me fly away with you
For my love is like the wind
And wild is the wind

Give me more than one caress
Satisfy this hungriness
Let the wind blow through your heart
For wild is the wind

You touch me
I hear the sound of mandolins
You kiss me
With your kiss my life begins
You’re spring to me
All things to me

Don’t you know you’re life itself
Like a leaf clings to a tree
Oh my darling, cling to me
For we’re creatures of the wind
And wild is the wind
So wild is the wind

The 1964 LP version and then Nina’s earlier recording (for comparative purposes!) from 1959.

 

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