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Only Tigers Can Survive

  • 7
The Enduring Artistry Of
Iain Matthews
August 1, 2014

"I have been in love with painting ever since I became conscious of it at the age of six. I drew some pictures I thought fairly good when I was 50, but really, nothing I did before the age of 70 was of value at all." - Hokusai

Artistically restless and stubbornly persistent, Iain Matthews (formerly Ian Matthews, and even earlier Ian McDonald) is an unwavering survivor. His diverse musical career has endured for nearly 50 years now, yet why is it that most are virtually unaware that Matthews continues to produce stellar material well into the new millennium? The casual music listeners among you may be marginally cognizant of Matthews' name as having once been the leader of Matthews Southern Comfort, a group who enjoyed brief commercial success here in the States and in England with their 1970 cover of Joni Mitchell's, 'Woodstock.' The more serious listener meanwhile will no doubt be aware that Matthews had previously been an integral part of the early Fairport Convention line-up and group sound, just prior to his setting out on a solo career. After getting off to a shaky start with his first LP, 'Southern Comfort,' he chose to return to an ensemble setting forming the aforementioned Matthews Southern Comfort for a lovely pair of recordings, only to abruptly walk away from the band at the very height of their popularity. The following year brought his brilliant sophomore effort, 'If You Saw Thro' My Eyes,' an LP that easily on par with anything that Fairport Convention had produced musically. That should really come as no surprise however considering that Richard Thompson, Sandy Denny, Andy Roberts (guitar hot shot), Tim Renwick (Al Stewart), and Pat Donaldson (Fotheringay) all liberally contributed to the proceedings. Then came 'Tigers Will Survive' a mere twelve months later. While 'Tigers...' was not quite as memorable as its predecessor, it was a pleasing effort nevertheless that yielded a minor hit with his remake of the Crystal's, 'Da Do Ron Ron.' Another U-turn followed in 1972, demonstrating once again just how perpetually unsettled Matthews has proven to be. The singer established another group effort, forming the lesser known, Plainsong with compatriot, Andy Roberts in tow. After releasing only one LP, Matthews then turned back to his solo career, this time in earnest. As a few more of you might then also remember, this about face resulted in the excellent, 'Valley Hi' in 1973 with ex-Monkee, Michael Nesmith in the producer's seat, and 'Some Days You Eat The Bear, And Some Days The Bear Eats You' one year later. But for the vast majority of people, the musical history of Iain Matthews seems to end right there in 1974, none the wiser that Matthews soldiered on in what he's come to call his "borderline career."
*For the record, we could also mention his very early stint with Pyramid, but its inclusion is not really essential since they only released one single.

I find this to be somewhat astonishing when you consider that the mercurial Matthews has actually maintained a very active presence within the music community, releasing nearly three dozen additional recordings in the four decades that followed 'Some Days...' That Matthews is associated primarily with only the first ten years of his music making while the public at large remains nearly oblivious to his latter day work then becomes an unforgivable oversight. Of course one could almost be pardoned for having overlooked his erratic output from the late 70s through the 1980s. That period in time was something of a sink hole for nearly every musician of Matthews' generation and prior. After punk rock rendered their kind as prehistoric, the next wave of neu-Romantics then ruled the day with their hairdos, synthesizers, and their steely sonic landscape, forcing the Cro-Magnons to adapt alternative and often unsuitable approaches to making their music, an option that often didn't result in memorable outcomes. Even top-tier talents like Joni Mitchell succumbed to recording missteps like the Thomas Dolby produced, 'Dog Eat Dog,' and a misguided duet with Billy Idol on 1988's, 'Chalk Mark In A Rainstorm.' Needless to say, Iain Matthews wasn't exempt from donning clown costumes either. It was the only way for he and others to remain viable. Matthews choices appeared simple - M.O.R., dance friendly blue-eyed soul, alá Boz Scaggs' 'Silk Degrees,' or techno-pop. Not surprisingly, he tried all three with decidedly mixed results. The late 70s brought soft rock and white soul, while the 80s saw the heavy reliance on ARP synthesizers and drum machines, none of which truly fit him well. The songs were still there, in fact his writing remained as impeccable as ever, it was just that the format in which they were framed was not an especially complimentary showcase for his material. Nevertheless, the musician recorded an amazingly prolific 10 LPs during that difficult period, not one of which seemed to make any appreciable impact upon the public. Dejected, Matthews threw up his hands in disgust at the end of that run, and walked away from the art of making music to instead perform A&R duties for the new age label, Windham Hill. Of  that startling decision, Matthews says it was actually quite easy - "I was struggling for nearly 15 years, living hand to mouth with nothing to show for my efforts but a string of out-of-print LPs" - but then again, Matthews is a survivor.

The 1990s proved to be more forgiving for the songwriter. A gradual return to a more rootsier form of music in the marketplace opened the door for Matthews, the musician, to re-enter a more stylistically flattering playing field. It sparked a productive and rewarding succession of recordings that began in 1992 with 'Pure And Crooked,' and continued through 'A Tiniest Wham' which closed out the century. With acoustic guitars once again in vogue, Matthews' songs came alive as they had previously in former lifetimes, to deliver inspired, tastefully mature, and haunting reflections from a steadfast and eloquent musician who was now well into 3+ decades of making music.

One interesting facet of Matthews recording career up until this point had been his discerning ear for the songs of others. Throughout his first 20 years, the singer mixed his own material with well placed covers by the likes of Neil Young, Randy Newman, Jules Shears, Richard Farina, Al Anderson, Jesse Winchester, and the aforementioned, Joni Mitchell, as well as lesser known talents such as Paul Siebel, Duncan Browne, Allan 'Jake' Jacobs, and Pete Dello. One revealing aspect of Matthews brief hiatus however showed that the songwriter had gained new confidence and momentum as his own supplier in the interim. He increasingly began penning more and more of his own songs that easily stood shoulder to shoulder with those from whom he admired. Each new release became a musical statement of Matthews' belief in both himself and his talents. But the singer's impulsive side came to the fore as well in the new millennium, finding him collaborating with others as a way to maintain the momentum, and to explore new territories and genres. He worked with the talented guitarist and renowned songwriter, Elliot Murphy on two outings, reformed both Plainsong and Matthews Southern Comfort for new records, and hooked up with the Searing Quartet upon his move to Amsterdam in 2002. Under the direction of pianist, Egbert DeríxMatthews immersed himself in acoustic jazz for several recording dates with the pianist, in addition to forming No Grey Faith for a tribute to Sandy Denny, and assembling the trio, More Than A Song with bassist, Ad Vanderveen and guitarist/vocalist, Eliza Gilkyson, who collectively released two recordings.

Matthews' pleasant and silky tenor has always provided an anchor for his work, but his penchant for folk rock tinged with touches of country has also remained relatively consistent throughout the singer's extensive songbook. Lately however, the songwriter seems to be enjoying his collaboration with Egbert Deríx, declaring that his latest release, 'The Art Of Obscurity' will be the last of his solo efforts. Obviously, the title of his solo swan song is a self-deprecating reference to his disillusioning inability to connect with the record buying public. As difficult and as frustrating as that can be for any talented artist to accomplish, sadly there is more than a grain of truth behind Matthews' assessment of his own achievements, although not for lack of talent, nor trying. Even during those dark days of yore when preferred record production trends and public taste worked against him, Matthews always displayed the grace, resolve, and prowess of a jungle tiger. And like that tireless feline with its nine lives, Matthews has repeatedly shown that tigers can survive despite the odds against them. God bless you, Iain.

Sex, Romance and Passion. Anger, Lies And Deceit

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The Anatomy Of Lovers...
Intertwined and Apart
Vignettes Of Love and Lust From Kip Hanrahan
July 25, 2014

The Composer's Storyboard

Impressionistic vignettes. That is the music of Kip Hanrahan. Once referred to as the "Jean-Luc Godard of contemporary music," Hanrahan's recordings themselves play like miniature films in music. Invariably they carry a discernible theme or storyline, one that nearly always involves the carnal pleasures. But even if the narratives aren't always linear in design, they (with the help of the music) at the very least convey some sort of overarching attitude. Or perhaps it's more so a mood that's implied; a flavor, a feel, a tone. In doing so, Hanrahan's songs then resemble suggestive, voyeuristic glimpses into the complex anatomy of lovers; interior dialogues of men and women intertwined in a delicate dance of 'sex, romance and passion, anger, lies and deceit,' not to mention the occasional regret that can arise in any libidinous dalliance. Take for instance his sweeping three volume masterpiece, 'A Thousand Nights and a Night,' a musical interpretation of 'Arabian Nights' (a.k.a. 'A Thousand and One Nights'), the epic tome of Islamic folk tales passed down through the ages. The richly textured chronicle of love stories, tragedies, comedies, poems, ancient history, burlesques and the erotic is a timeless and fascinating one. In Hanrahan's presentation however, he deftly positions the principle characters of Shahryār, the Persian king, and his bride, Shaharazade in a modern musical context. But of course, rather than incorporate the associated tales of adventure that also make up 'Arabian Nights,' fables such as 'Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves' or 'The Seven Voyages of Sinbad,' Hanrahan's suite dwells exclusively on the corporeal aspects of the story - infidelity, jealousy, rage and bitterness, peppered with several extractions from Shaharazade's thousand and one tales - her clever, open-ended and never-ending stories designed to forever entertain and distract the king, thus allowing her to stay her pending execution; a fate decreed by the king for her own extramarital indiscretions. 

The New York born and bred writer and producer does on occasion stray beyond the somatic however, as well as beyond the related conditions of the heart, whether they be uplifting, or rife with sorrow. Other notions in his work have included God and religion, war and peace, Israel and Palestine, commerce and greed, as well as justice and injustice as it applies to the working man. But primarily, the subject at hand is usually that of lust.* The selections in the mix that I've assembled below are far more democratic in their overview however, striving to reflect a balanced cross-section of his suggestive work.

Built on late night, after hours jazz, elliptical poetry and sultry, poly-rhythmic Latin percussion, those atmospheric vignettes that Hanrahan creates warrant any number of descriptive phrases - warm and intimate, evocative and sexy, voluptuous and sensual, powerful and revealing, elegant but earthy, fiery and turbulent, enchanting and seductive, acidic and contemptuous. But they're also about motion --- rhythm in motion, poetry in motion and sexuality in motion; the to and fro of the lovers waltz with its myriad of physical, emotional and spiritual negotiations.

And then there are the percussionists, the wonderful drummers who supply the intricate undercurrent that flows through these pieces like a wellspring. The pulse that they collectively create is simply jaw-dropping, not to mention absolutely sublime.
*One exception here is the track, 'Wardrobe Master Of Paradise' which is taken from 'Conjure: Music For The Texts Of Ishmael Reed,' and features the vocals of Taj Mahal. Conjure is a Hanrahan side project.

The Impressive Cast Of Players

(although not necessarily all heard on the tracks below) 





















While many of these names may be unrecognizable to you, the drummers listed within, rank as among the finest of Afro-Cuban percussionists working today, drawn largely from the decades old and still thriving New York music community of Cuban, Puerto Rican, and Latin American rhythm keepers. One must take into consideration that although these players are more than capable of creating the hot, fiery propulsion normally associated with percussion based music, under Hanrahan's guidance they instead create a lush and complex canopy of tropical undergrowth that serve to supply a steamy, erotic rhythmic mantle for Hanrahan's carnal vignettes to play themselves out.

Treacherous Beauty

  • 5
The Sinuous Music Of Joe Henry
Friday, June 20, 2014

Critically acclaimed and unpredictable, Joe Henry's evocative music has proven difficult to pigeonhole. Although rooted in 'alt-country,' his extremely intelligent songwriting took a sharp turn midway through his career to veer into a heady amalgamation of folk, country, rock, funk, and soul, with a heavy infusion of jazz. In doing so, he frequently succeeded in finding the undiscovered space that hangs between them all, but it's specifically what he mines within that very gray area that makes his material so powerful and compelling.

After three albums that served as the necessary stepping stones to finding a voice for himself (with help from Anton Fier, T-Bone Burnett, and Mick Taylor), Henry's fourth and fifth ('Short Man's Room,' and 'Kindness Of The World'), landed him squarely in the alt-country bag that was at its peak during the 90's. Though many others participated in that crowded arena, Henry wisely tapped the best of those practitioners to become his backup band, the glorious, Jayhawks. Henry's lazy, nicotine stained drawl of a vocal style blended perfectly with the principles of his studio compatriots, creating a rich tapestry of sound, and recordings that stood head and shoulders above his peers. But it was the brilliance of his songwriting that truly set him apart from the pack. Then came the surprising sea change that moved him into new, and uncharted territories. First came 'Trampoline,' a tectonic shift that brought an edgier, atmospheric sound to his repertoire, largely fueled by his recruitment of Helmet's, Page Hamilton to add a sonic richness. But additionally, his always literate lyrics reached a level of maturation with fascinating character sketches that read more like concise, short stories than conventional song forms. 'Fuse' followed and expanded the palette of colors he was now incorporating, which two years later resulted in his undisputed masterpiece, the exquisite, 'Scar.' With this recording, Henry's stylistic sea change was complete.

In an especially eloquent review for the All Music Guide, reviewer, Thom Jurek had this to say about the release, "For the last five years, Joe Henry has gradually taken his songwriting into hidden areas, exploring the different textures of shadow, with occasional forays into the twilight of the human heart. Longing has been painted upon the smoky backdrop of every song he's written. His protagonists have been mixtures of Oliver Gant from Thomas Wolfe -  the man whose passion was just beyond his reach, never quenching his thirst - to working cats that Raymond Carver has illustrated well - men who've noticed the lack in their soul cavities when it comes to love, often realizing too late that it, and it alone, is the only thing humans have. And Henry, despite the increasing psychological and emotional depth of his lyrical character studies, and the increasingly angular method of his storytelling, has always been able to put these varying literary tropes into love songs that register without a lot of fuss. They tell it, though it doesn't really matter exactly what, because the person who needs to hear them does. On 'Scar,' his eighth album, Henry follows his other obsession down the rabbit hole - the myriad ways in which sound and texture can become musical instruments themselves in order to paint a song properly.  

'Scar,' his highly textured sonic meditation on love and its twisted redemptive power, features a list of highly visible musicians that help make this the album Henry's been trying to make his entire adult life. One which allows his music to finish the story his lyrics sketch out. With the help of producer Craig Street, Henry moves the bell further down the wire of soulful yet accessible pop music."

'Scar' opens with the moody reflection of 'Richard Pryor Addresses A Tearful Nation,' a mournful piece, augmented by contributor, Ornette Coleman and his appropriately seductive playing. Again, Thom Jurek waxes on the number saying, "(It) slips its smoky way into being with a whining guitar by Marc Ribot, a vibraphone by Brian Blade, and Henry declaring: 

'Sometimes I think I've almost fooled myself
Spreading out my wings above us like a tree
Laughing now out loud
Almost like I was free/I look at you as the thing I wanted most
You look at me and it's like you see a ghost
I wear the face all of this has cost
Everything you tried to keep away from me
Everything I took from you and lost.' 

"It's a blues tune, where steel guitar is trumped by Ornette's alto blowing his deepest soul-blues. Henry thins the lyric yet digs its knife in deeper, and by the tune's nadir, the protagonist has shrunk to the vanishing point, and disappears in a wisp of smoke." With further help from pianist, Brad Mehldau, Henry manages to create a triumphant sonic universe on 'Scar' for himself, and his newfound jazz friends to both explore and express themselves in with sterling results.

With one last quote, Jurek sums it up --- "The final track, the album's namesake, is an opus at 14:21. Lyrically it's as direct as anything Henry's ever written, but it's an entire film score rolled into one love song. It's poetry too genuine, so metaphorical and rich in imagery, that it would be a disservice to quote from it. It is the most beautiful of the many beautiful songs Henry has written. Texturally, everything but a clarinet line paints the landscape as an early New Orleans Sunday, and the acoustic guitars are buried in a slow, rhythmic mix. Here, Henry takes his cinematic vision and lets it illustrate brokenness and determination, celebrating them both as being as good as it gets, and that's plenty fine. The fact that after the songs fades it becomes a backdrop for Coleman to blow is just fine; he lays out the soul and blues in his horn in the void. 'Scar,' with its rich poetic tapestries and complex musical and atmospheric architectures, is Henry's highest achievement thus far. He has moved into a space that only he and Tom Waits inhabit in that they are songwriters who have created deep archetypal characters that are composites -- metaphorical, allegorical, and "real" -- of the world around them."

With the release of 'Tiny Voices,' his next recorded excursion, Henry took things even deeper into the heart of stylistic convergence. The musical architecture here turned downright Felliniesque. Aided by contributors, Don Byron, Ron Miles, Dave Palmer, and others from the neu-jazz field, they navigated through a steamy and sinuous, vine strangled jungle floor of sonic textures, far from the familiar shores of home. Dark and claustrophobic, 'Tiny Voices' picked up where 'Scar' left off, but traveled further inward, leaving the listener to scratch their head and wonder, "So just what do you call this? Jazz? Rock? Folk? Country? Pop?" What it is, plain and simple, is music. But music like no other. Different as it is however, it's not inaccessible, not in the least. It's simply highly original and compelling music that holds within it the power to renew one's faith in the future of this thing we call 'pop' music. A bold assessment, but one that I stand by.

With 'Civilians,' its follow-up,
Henry brought things back down to a manageable scale that assured those long bewildered by their inability to label him that he was at heart, simply a damn fine songwriter. A songwriter capable of penning some of the most affecting material this side of the aforementioned Waits, and a small handful of others.

Gilded Cages

  • 12
The Lush Chamber Pop Of Eric Matthews
June 06, 2014

A thinking man's musician, Eric Matthews writes what I consider 'smart' songs. The composer, arranger, conductor, and producer pens lushly orchestrated material that seems to be borne from a magical time capsule, evoking another era, yet sounding modern at the same time. And while it is pop, many of his musical references are far more obscure than they might outwardly appear. Matthews doesn't always follow the designated pathway that's associated with the AABA form that's considered standard in pop music. His songs take little sidesteps along the way, unveiling small surprises that work to never quite take you where you thought you were heading. As subtle as those detours are, it's those understated diversions, those rabbit holes that make his songs uniquely his own, highly crafted and filled with copious atmosphere. Although he's often compared with Nick Drake, the Beatles, Burt Bacharach, and the early baroque pop of the Bee Gees, placing Matthews within any one particular musical niche is actually a difficult endeavor. His songs are awash in harpsichords and pianos, flugelhorns and trumpets, violins and violas. Of course guitar, bass, and drums are also to be found, but in a beautifully poetic quote from Rolling Stone's, David Greenburger, "They're but foot soldiers amidst a platoon of stately orchestration, merely answering to that higher power."* 
*As an aside, this also illustrates why Greenburger's name is capable of a Rolling Stone byline while mine will never be.

Of course, 'smart' songs are usually 'cool' songs as well. What I mean is that this is not the sort of music that would necessarily sound great blasting from a car radio speaker on a sunny day at the beach. Matthews' material is considerably darker and muted, better suited for 'fire and rain.' It's interior music, similar in many way to the ambiance of David Sylvian in his most accessible moments. Additionally adding to this somewhat cerebral undercurrent is Matthews' often oblique lyrical content. At first blush, his words sound grand and perhaps even deeply profound, yet when taken alone, they appear to have come from the cut-up techniques of Brion Gysin and William S. Burroughs. That is to say that while they do paint a picture however vague it might be, it's not always an image that's easily discernible or even understood. Witness the opening lines from 'Flight And Lion' to see what I mean:

 "Strangest heart incredible/
Leave me alone, not approachable/
Travel from the inside so uglyful/
Shower golden sick side incapable." 

WTF? While it's entirely possible to read something into that, you have to admit you'd only be guessing. So you see, in Matthews' world, the words themselves are meant to play like music, words designed to fit inside the shape of the melody, and then sometimes the melody might give them meaning. Yet in the end, his lyrics can still leave you scratching your head in puzzlement. My advice - just flow with them. How Matthews ultimately succeeds in elevating his songs from being so 'cool' as to actually become distant, detached, and aloof is the warmth that his arrangements, along with his production values bring to the equation. That "platoon of stately orchestration" mentioned earlier provides the whisper of emotion that is otherwise subdued within his songs, wrapping you in a comforting blanket that serves to keep any potential chill at bay.

Although Matthews has had some classical training, it was largely the influence of his parent's Miles Davis platters (those with Gil Evans, presumably), as well as their orchestral music records (comprised primarily of Russian composers) that first inspired the songwriter. But the real impetus oddly was John Williams' 'Star Wars' score which entranced the young Matthews at an early age. It was this recording that steered him towards orchestral pursuits rather than rock 'n roll. Remarkably, his debut recording and its successor were both issued by Sub-Pop, a label better known for its grunge, punk, and metal music, yet Matthews readily admits to harboring a disdain for rock music having stated, "It all simply sounds loud … I couldn’t be any less in love with the aesthetic of guitars and guitar records." Nevertheless, the songwriter/musician has found a comfortable cranny where he's able to effectively make sumptuous rock music his own way. 'Gilded Cages, Vols. 1&2' is comprised of that music, the lush chamber pop of Eric Matthews.

Lo-Fi King For A Day

  • 4
Rock 'n Roll Minimalist 
Stuart Moxham 
 May 30, 2013

Mention the name of Stuart Moxham to nearly any music fan who's of a certain age group, and they'll probably tell you that the guitarist/sometimes organist was the principle songwriter and driving force behind the Welsh post-punk trio, Young Marble Giants, a band whose almost subversively minimalistic songs nearly managed to out-punk the very genre that spawned them. That information is entirely correct. It was signed, sealed, and delivered in the form of the band's one and only full length LP, 'Colossal Youth,' a record that's been cited as 'influential' by many, including most famously the late, Kurt Cobain. On the other hand, for those of you who were not a member of that particular generation, nor made easy friends with Seattle's grunge scene of the mid-1980s through early-90s, Moxham's name is more likely to solicit shrugged shoulders, and I wouldn't be surprised. While it's safe to say that Moxham can't be considered a major player in the world of rock, the musician does remain active and continues to steadily record, albeit on the fringes of what is now referred to as the 'industry.'

Young Marble Giants: Philip Moxham, Alison Statton, and Stuart Moxham

At the height of their 'blink and you'll miss it' zenith, Moxham was quoted as saying that the music of Young Marble Giants was "a reaction to everything that is successful today." But even now some 34 years later, those words he uttered in response to the state of music as he saw it then, continue to resonate as fact well into the 21st century. Perhaps with the exception of some of the 'bedroom' recordings that have gained popularity in recent years, 'Colossal Youth' easily stands up against nearly any other no frills record that's been issued over the last decade or so, and Moxham's comment, as well as his former band's art, still holds true. Few records nowadays employ silence and minimalism as effectively as Moxham and Young Marble Giants did with 'Colossal Youth,' and that's quite a legacy for a band that were only together for a mere 24 months, 1978 to 1980. Moxham readily admits that "the Young Marble Giants stuff was very rigidly written, kind of formula, really. Very stylized, very molded, all for a distinct purpose. It's quiet, and it's minimal. My whole idea was 'this is what's happening, this is what's already out there, and this is what we already know about, and everyone is doing the same stuff. Let's just turn our backs on all that and see what else there is to do.' Being quiet was one thing, and being minimal was another, so I thought, 'let's go against all the grains and see if we can come up with something new.'" And new it was. Amidst the din of the unrestrained punk rock that surrounded them back in 1979, the Cardiff, Wales, trio of coolly, detatched vocalist Alison Statton, songwriter-guitarist-organist Moxham, and his bass-playing brother Philip eschewed noise at all costs. With just an organ, guitar, and vocals, played over beats emanating from a crude, tiny nuts 'n' bolts drum machine that had been recorded on a cassette tape, Young Marble Giants unleashed a uniquely quiet, ever-so-subtle strain of lo-fi, post-punk pop. Moxham and his band mates stripped their sound down to the very bone - removing all the meat and leaving behind no fat whatsoever. Theirs was absolutely the most skeletal that could be achieved; no overdubs and no production values whatsoever save the occasional guitar reverb. The drum machine beats I mentioned were virtually identical to those they used in their live show (apparently the solitary cassette tape was the only source for drum sounds that they ever had, or needed). The trio recorded 'Colossal Youth' over a period of five short days, and completed the mixing in a mere 20 minutes. Yet despite its austerity, the atmosphere contained in 'Colossal Youth' remains unparalleled by any other recording made prior, or since. As writer, Ken Taylor has said of the the group and their sole LP, "Young Marble Giants secretively brought more darkness and angst into the record collections of British kids than any smack-addled punk band ever could. Alison Statton's disaffected voice so strangely belies the emotions that were written into Moxham's brokenhearted tunes. The band left us with years of stereo-side analysis, mystery, and miserable beauty with just that one record."

In the wake of the Young Marble Giants break-up, Moxham lost himself in a haze of marijuana smoke and clinic depression. Idle and restless, Moxham went on to record and release several lo-fi singles that were issued under the assumed group name of The Gist, most notably, 'Love At First Sight.' The most experimental of his home recordings were assembled into an album he called, 'Embrace The Herd,' while inexplicably, the best of his more melodic singles somehow failed to make the final cut. Moxham has said, "I was really finding my way during that period as The Gist. I was struggling to find a way to work. Some things worked really well, but basically it was a bit of a dodgy period, a bit of a shaky period, I think, artistically. Then I moved out of Cardiff, and back up to London. I just decided that I could go solo and just be a minstrel with my acoustic guitar and skip right back to where I started before Young Marble Giants, just somebody who was a singer-songwriter." Well, it turned out to be roughly seven years before Moxham finally made good on that desire, reentering the studio in 1992 to record his first proper solo outing with the aid of the Original Artists, called 'Signal Path.' While the LP had echoes of his previous work with YMG, Moxham lamented that in the years that followed, "I got sucked into the way of working that everyone else does - endless overdubs, multi-tracking, mixing and remixing - all that kind of stuff. At times I think to myself, 'God, I got it right the first time around, so why am I doing this?'" While his comment suggests regret, the tunesmith doesn't go out of his way to offer any apologies for the half dozen pleasant, although somewhat standard fare alt-rock LPs that subsequently appeared over the next 20 years, each ironically filled with the very elements that the songwriter originally set out to dispel. One can only surmise that his alibi - the difference between the Moxham of today versus the Moxham of yesteryear - is that he now has a family to support, and you can't fault a man for doing whatever it takes to help put food on the table. Although he hasn't actually said as much, you do have to consider that despite creating one of the most unique rock LPs of the late 1900's, Stuart Moxham doesn't enjoy the financial comfort of an Elton John, or the enduring artistic license of a Neil Young, an indulgence that can only come from that sort of stability.

About The Music Mix

The entirety of 'Colossal Youth' is represented below in tracks 1 through 15 of the set appropriately entitled, 'Young Marble Giants Plus.' A 45rpm E.P. called, 'Final Day' was later released by their label, Rough Trade, just a few weeks after the band had broken up. For whatever reasons, these songs apparently failed to make the final cut for inclusion in 'Colossal Youth.' They're represented by tracks 16 through 19. Rough Trade then later issued an 2nd E.P. in 1981 called, 'Testcard.' This extended player consisted of 7 short instrumental songs that make up the remainder of the set. A collection of demo recordings,* a live club set, as well as several performances from John Peel's BBC Radio program were additionally issued in the years that followed, but those releases can't be considered as part of the Young Marble Giants 'official' discography, so you won't find them included here.
*Which really makes little sense, seeing as how all of Moxham's material, even in its finished form sounded like demos.

The 2nd set simply entitled, 'Stuart Moxham Plus,' features the first LP that was issued under Moxham's own name, the aforementioned, Signal Path from 1992. This is heard in tracks 1 through 13. These are then followed by a half-dozen selections from The Gist, the nom de plume that Moxham utilized between the years 1980 and '85, the "dodgy period" that he experienced after the dissolution of Young Marble Giants. These come from The Gist's only LP, 'Embrace The Herd.' And there you have it - the salad days of songwriter, Stuart Moxham.

I Came From A Dream

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Ra In The Temple Of The Sun
A Tribute To Sun Ra; 
Mystic, Musician, Ancient-Futurist Philosopher, Space Traveler, Centenarian
May 23, 2014
(Dedicated to Anonymous Jim for making the suggestion to commemorate Sun Ra's Earthbound legacy)

Time On Earth: May 22, 1914 - May 30, 1993

By the measurements of our Gregorian calendar, we, the inhabitants of Planet Earth have known of the existence of Sun Ra for a full century now - 100 years in our own time - but who really knows just how many other lifetimes Ra has spent in worlds unseen and unknown, worlds that may exist in another dimension, or perhaps in a distant corner of our vast and mysterious universe? 

Ra incarnated as mortal being here on Planet Earth in the calendar year of 1914 AD. However, it wasn't until nearly a quarter century later that Ra came to discover his intended purpose in this world. He experienced a vision that outlined for him the vital role he was to play while in human form - "To elevate humanity beyond their current earthbound state where the potential future of immortality awaits them." Ra's vision began in a moment of deep religious concentration while attending the Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University in Normal, Alabama, United States of America. There he suddenly became surrounded by what he described as a bright, white light. He elaborated saying, '(His) body was transformed into something else, not of human form, able to see through (him)self. (He) was then transported to a planet that (he) later identified as Saturn. There (he) was told by the Saturnians that the world in which (he) now lived would soon be thrust into utter chaos, that mankind had forgotten the path which leads beyond the stars, and that (he, Ra) was to show them the ways of the universe. (He) was to speak to the world through music, and the world would listen.'

To better enable the citizens of Planet Earth to hear that message, Sun Ra and his ever fluid Arkestra recorded and issued a staggering number of musical dispatches - over 100 full length analog and digital recordings - during his terrestrial residency here on this blue marble sphere; believed to be the largest discography in recorded history. Birds With Broken Wings offers two self-compiled collections of Ra's music - the celestial, 'Viscosity And Thermonuclear Breakdown On The Intergalactic Causeway' and the more sublunary, 'Adventure-Equations: Sun Ra On Planet Earth.'  On the other hand, this weeks mix, 'I Came From A Dream: Ra In The Temple Of The Sun' is a tone-poema collage of Ra's music set to otherworldly sounds, a homage to one of Earth's greatest bandleaders, albeit one who came from another planet - mystic, musician, ancient-futurist philosopher, space traveler and centenarian, the incredible Sun Ra.

The Women In My Life, Pt.5

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Long Hot Summer Nights  
 Wendy Waldman 
April 18, 2014

Some songs clearly reflect the musician's environment, artists like early Tom Waits for instance, or Bruce Springsteen when he was young, restless and hungry. The Beat infatuated Waits brilliantly captured the warp and woof of L.A.'s hidden underbelly with his documentation of nocturnal visits to the city's dimly lit taverns, all-night diners, and squalid SRO hotels that were home to three time losers; the marginalised who skulked in the shadows of the main drag searching for love, redemption and the elusive heart of a Saturday night. Springsteen on the other hand amplified the wild romance, hopes, and dreams of the East shore working class kids who populated the neon drenched mid-Atlantic seaside boardwalks and pinball arcades, a scene worlds away from the drudgery of their daytime factory jobs; a noisy, brightly lit milieu drenched in excitement, sexual energy and drama where just a mere 100 feet away lay another world, one where the racket and glare gave way to the soft crash of waves on a sandy beach, and a thousand stars that shined brightly overhead. Then there are others like the troubled, Nick Drake whose music didn't so much encapsulate an arena of any kind as it did to evoke a vibe, a underlying feeling that permeated the fabric of his songs. Which leads me to songstress, Wendy Waldman, the topic of this week's feature. The music that Waldman made as a young artist held the same sort of responsive sway as Drake's in that it elicited an emotional and spiritual condition, albeit a more optimistic one. It wasn't necessarily a music that reflected a specific place and time, rather, it framed of a state of being. But Waldman's songs were not nearly as overt as the others. Waits and Springsteen, however poetic they may have been, presented virtual snapshots. Drake's music on the other hand was sepia-toned ethos, dark and brooding, as unsettling and it was compelling. Similarly, Waldman's subject matter and tone also imparted a certain color and mood. It's just that in her case the atmosphere was not as obvious, perhaps more cloaked and therefore somewhat subjective. What one man hears in her music may be in some measure different for another. 

But what do I know? Maybe it's entirely subjective. Perhaps I'm just blowing smoke here. It might just be that I simply have nostalgic associations with Waldman's music. Maybe so. After all, I'm not a music critic, I'm just a music fan. But here's what I do know. I know that I've always liked Wendy Waldman's music despite my lack of a firm theoretical understanding of its potency. I know that she's a good songwriter too, interesting as well, and I know that Waldman is terribly underrated. She's one the few who came out of that early 70s Southern California music scene who didn't manage to succeed on quite the same level as her contemporaries, people like Linda Ronstadt, Jackson Browne, or the Eagles (yawn). And who knows why? Well, informed sources will tell you that her record label was to blame - under-promoted, focused more on their bread winners - that sort of thing. To their credit however, Warner Brothers financed five recordings for Waldman, and they assembled a loving retrospective after she'd been freed of her contract with them. Personally, I'd say it's more likely that by the time her music found its audience, trends were changing and she simply ended up getting lost in the shuffle much to every one's loss. The consensus today however is that those recordings she made in the 1970s are among her best, a ironic twist considering. I can also tell you this as well, Waldman's got a good voice too, it suits her material to a T. Plus she's accomplished. She continues to successfully record under her own name, as well as writing for others. She has her own record label, has produced albums for Suzy Boguss, Matraca Berg, and Sweethearts of the Rodeo to name a few, and her house/studio in L.A. is home to the 35 year old public radio program, 'FolkScene.' On top of that, she's still easy on the eyes. So what's not to like?

That thing about evoking a state of being that I was jabbering on about earlier? Well, I still think there's some validity to that. The songs of Waits, Springsteen and Drake from roughly that same period as Waldman's illuminated a specific world, one which not everyone shared in common. That's what made them unique. There was film noir intrigue present in Waits' material, romance and camaraderie in Springsteen's, and unspeakable loneliness in Drake's. Waldman's songs on the other hand were more universal in their content, though every bit as evocative. Hers were filled with the soft undertow that flowed through everyday events - a current that was subtle and deceptive, one that was omnipresent without being readily obvious - songs that captured the 'vibe' of the time, but not necessarily the 'particulars' of the time. When I listen to her music, I'm instantly transported to one of two specific geographic regions - the villages and mid-sized cities of New England, or the vast California wilderness - two remarkable extremes, wouldn't you say? And why is that? Well, because the tone of her songs directly reflect her experiences and influences - the coffeehouses and folk clubs of Cambridge and its surrounding environs in the 1960's when New England hosted a burgeoning folk music scene that spawned the likes of Bonnie Raitt, Tom Rush, Jim Kweskin, and Geoff and Maria Muldaur among other notables. Yet on the other hand, as a native Californian, Waldman's music also carries the rustic qualities of that state's least populated areas where the only accompaniment to the strum of a guitar, dulcimer, or mandolin is the cry of an eagle, the howl of coyotes, and the aroma of sagebrush. Those quiet, natural and comforting vibrations abound in Waldman's songs.

So here's where the subjectivity comes into play. Without her songs addressing any of these emotions directly, Waldman's material nevertheless kindles the spirit of a comforting inner peace that is largely fleeting for most of us. It evokes the warmth that one experiences only in those moments when everything in the world seems to feel just right. It's music that is alive and living. For me personally, it stirs up the optimism of younger days that were filled with hope, determination and sensation, a walking dream where anything seemed possible and all was good. It doesn't especially matter when or where those feelings swelled, only that they were the blanket that wrapped you in the moment, if you were lucky enough of course to have ever experienced that sensation. In many ways, Waldman's music has the capacity to affect me like a drug. Obviously not in a stultifying way, but rather in a mood enhancing way, sort of like the calming buzz that one feels after a bit of wine, or a few tokes of low-gauge marijuana. Details become more evident and striking. You become more conscious of the moths that are drawn to the light of the corner lamp post on a long, hot summer night, or perhaps more aware of the sound of a distance train whistle, the playful bark of a dog, or the drone of the single engine propeller plane flying overhead. The minutia that colors the canvas in tiny brush strokes, the incidentals and impressions that highlight the moment. Those are magical elements to tune in to, and they're increasingly lost in our busy adult worlds, so therefore I feel reassured when I listen to Waldman's songs. For me, they reflect that precise state of mind and serve to remind me that I'm still capable of feeling and appreciating those sorts of simple pleasures, and that in a nutshell is what I like about Wendy Waldman and her music. She's a fine songwriter whose music speaks to me on many levels, and I yearn to return the those long hot summer nights her music evokes.