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>10 – 6: God and Mammon

7 March, 2010 Leave a comment

>10:  Try a Little Tenderness – Otis Redding

As we get into the top ten, soul music (and primarily Southern soul) is making up more and more of my favourites. After explaining why there is so much home-grown stuff amongst my favourites in the last post, why then does all this music recorded by black people thousands of miles away from Liverpool mean so much to me? Quite simply, this is music that transcends all barriers – racial, cultural, geographical – by talking directly to us through our emotions. They called it ‘soul’ music for a reason. And few people do soul better than Otis. Starting slowly, but building to a powerful crescendo, this is Southern soul in a nutshell.

I recall seeing a rather strange play on TV back in the ’80s. Called ‘Road’, it was set in some sort of dystopian ‘alternative’ present day, in a deserted council estate left unpopulated and decaying.  The one thing I remember about the play was one particular, striking scene, where the cast members congregated in one of the deserted houses. One of the cast (dressed, along with his colleagues, in Reservoir Dogs-esque black suits, white shirts and black ties) produces a ghetto blaster that he places on a nearby table. The cast stand around in a circle, heads bowed, as ‘Try a Little Tenderness’ plays on the ghetto blaster. The cast then are, individually and collectively, transported to ecstasy by the song.  Even in that environment, about as far away from Tennessee as you can get, the song worked perfectly.

9:  Belle – Al Green

Another of Southern soul’s giants, this captures Al entering his religious phase.  The song is addressed to his girl – Belle – who is being gently let down as Al devotes his life to his God (“It’s you I want, but it’s Him that I need”).  Belle is, of course, a metaphor for the wider secular pleasures that Al was turning his back on – not with regret, but with joy and anticipation.  As the song fades, Al can no longer find the words to express his feelings, using instead a series of screams and yelps to declare his love for his God.  The tune and the arrangement are, of course, smooth as silk and Al sings as if nothing ever meant as much to him as this.  In truth, nothing probably ever did.

8:  Waterloo Sunset – The Kinks

First – a confession.  I don’t really like The Kinks very much.  I always found them a bit too fey, too frilly-shirted and rooted too deeply in a type of Englishness that I don’t really recognise and have trouble empathising with.  All that notwithstanding, Waterloo Sunset is one of the greatest songs ever written by an Englishman.  I love the melody, the sentiment and the imagery as Terry meets Julie one evening just south of the river, happy and in love despite the ‘millions of people swarming like flies’ around them.  Even the detached air of the song’s narrator, looking out at all this from his window gives a cinematic feel to the song that works perfectly.

7:  Shot by Both Sides – Magazine

Why are you so edgy, kid?

Ok, time to get a little bit darker, after all this tenderness and love.  This was Magazine’s opening blast, based upon a Pete Shelley guitar riff, that started to nudge punk into other, more complex areas.  It did that without losing the edgy, exhilarating rush of punk – but it added depth to the mix – lyrically, musically and atmospherically.  Magazine continued to add texture and atmosphere to their material over the course of four superb albums, and introduced the great, sadly lamented, John McGeoch to the world.  However this initial statement of intent encapsulated all that was great about this band in four minutes flat.  And oh, it was so good to see them back on stage last year.

6:  Man of the World – Fleetwood Mac

That’s Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac, the early blues-based version of the band, not the AOR cocaine-fuelled behemoth of the ’70s.  Based in the blues, but ultimately transcending the form with material like Albatross, The Green Manalishi and Black Magic Woman – and especially with this lament, a truly beautiful song.  Written by a man who – in theory – had everything; good looks, wealth, a sublime musical talent – but who was deeply troubled.  (“I guess I’ve got everything I need – I wouldn’t ask for more.  And there’s no-one I’d rather be…but I just wish that I’d never been born”).

Ultimately of course, Peter Green did turn his back on everything, surrendering to his demons.  Happily he is now back, still fragile but making music again.  I hope he’s now at peace with his demons.

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>Day 140: Boiled bread?

3 August, 2009 Leave a comment

>Today’s soundtrack: Al Green – Anthology

My baking moved into the realm of the adventurous today as I took on the challenge of cooking that perfect accompaniment to cream cheese – the bagel!

What could be so difficult? You’ve got a breadmaker and an oven – roll your dough into doughnut shapes and Bob’s your uncle, surely? Well no, it’s not that simple. Firstly I had to leave the safety zone of the recipe book supplied with the breadmaker and go ‘off-piste’ with the recipe. Secondly, however, one of the critical elements of bagel cooking is that the raw bagels have to be ‘boiled’ before they are baked in the oven.

How can this possibly work?

So making the dough was as straightforward as ever – unusually there is no fat (in the form of butter or oil) in the bagel recipe – just yeast, flour, salt, sugar and water, but the breadmaker took it in its stride and delivered a firm dough that I divided into eight balls. Making the hole in the bagel essentially involves sticking your finger through the middle of the ball and twirling the thing round your finger until the hole is an inch or two in diameter – that worked ok, as well.

Leaving the bagels to rise in the airing cupboard for 15 minutes, I turned the oven on and boiled up a big pan of water. This was going to be interesting! The recipe called for the bagels to be boiled in batches – sixty seconds each, turning the bagels half way through the cooking time. I fully expected the things to dissolve when I put them in the pan, but no – they held their shape, actually puffed up a bit, and suffered the mid-cook flip without mishap.

What came out of the pan were eight slightly sticky, but essentially firm, misshapen rings of dough that I then brushed with egg and stuck in the oven for fifteen minutes.

And what came out of the oven were – recognisably – bagels! Bagels that the supermarkets would have to sell off cheap as mis-shapes, but nevertheless bagels. After a short time cooling, they were sliced, toasted and covered in Philly.

And damn fine they were too! More to the point, they were definitely bagels – in taste, texture and (just about) shape – but far, far tastier than your average shop-bought bagel.

Yummy! Mark that one down as another success!

On a roll, we had home made pizzas for tea as well – a double whammy of success today on the baking front. Not sure its doing the waistline much good though…

In between all this baking activity, my eMusic credits had clicked up another batch of downloads, so I took the opportunity to get hold of some of the stuff introduced to me by Latitude last month. Albums by the Duckworth-Lewis Method, Broken Records, The Broken Family Band and The Phenomenal Handclap Band now await listening and appraisal.

And the football season beckons, with Everton playing Coventry in a friendly (and drawing 2-2). Tellingly, Joleon Lescott was ‘injured’ and didn’t play – this, coupled with rumours about Philippe Senderos joining from Arsenal, suggests that Joleon is off to City – sadly, but hopefully for shedloads of money. And in my alternative universe, Everton finished a disappointing eighth in the league – some great results offset by sloppy defeats to weaker teams and some appalling away form. Grudgingly, the board have given me a contract for the next two seasons on the back of this. So far in the close season, I’ve offloaded that troublemaker Cahill to Chelsea for silly money, and accepted an equally silly bid from Barcelona for Tim Howard, leaving me without a goalkeeper of any quality at the moment. Carlo Cudicini is, I think, coming in as backup, but priority is a decent keeper as soon as possible!

If you recall, I mentioned reading ‘Man on Wire’ a while back – the documentary was on TV last night so we watched that, fascinating stuff and really interesting to see some of the characters referred to in the book itself. Definitely worth watching.

I saw Al Green in Manchester last year and very good he was too, although I would have preferred more of his own material rather than the crowdpleasing Motown covers he thought he had to perform. One of the great soul voices, the good Reverend combines pure soul with gospel to great effect. The Anthology is a four-disc compilation that combines the obvious stuff with a range of live tracks, some interview snippets and other curiosities. Not the best starting point for Al – the two ‘Greatest Hits’ collections are far better in this regard – but still some interesting stuff in there for those overfamiliar with the regular stuff.

I may have given you this track before, but if so, I don’t care. My favourite Al Green song, and one of my favourite songs ever, Belle describes his struggle to combine his love for a woman (Belle) with his God (“It’s you I want, but it’s him that I need”). Not sure why he can’t have both, but there you go. In any event, a more beautiful melody and vocal performance you’ll be hard pushed to find.

>Day 25: When is a Bank Holiday not a Bank Holiday?

9 April, 2009 Leave a comment

>Today’s soundtrack: Tom Waits – Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers and Bastards

When you’re not working! Very strange feeling going into a holiday weekend, as the ‘benefit’ of a couple of extra days off doesn’t really apply at the moment. Still, be nice to have Mrs W around the house for a few days (so long as she doesn’t get under my feet!) and Son No. 1 is coming up to stay for a few days at the end of the holiday as well, which will be good.

Big Shop for the bank holiday this morning, out early to avoid the rush. Got everything we needed for the weekend, and the promised fish pie will be duly delivered on Good Friday (got to have fish on Good Friday!) and recipe will follow – if it’s any good…. Mexican and crappy film tonight though I think. I suspect a lasagne will also be prepared over the holiday as well.

Grasped the nettle today, and parcelled up our stocks of cat food and cat litter for delivery to the cat shelter that we got Katy Teabag from. It’s a shame to be removing all trace of her from the house, but the food can be put to good use by the sanctuary, looking after all the other cats who have been rescued in the same way as Katy. The sanctuary is called Paws Inn and their website can be found here. Teresa, the lady who runs the sanctuary from her own home, is totally reliant on donations to support her work – otherwise everything is funded from her on (limited) resources. You will note that there is a Paypal page on the website (here) where donations can be made, if you are of a mind – having seen what good and selfless work Teresa does for her animals, it is money well spent, I promise you.

Although not particularly of a religious bent, I was moved to contribute to a thread on the Word website today, looking for our favourite religious songs (given that Easter is upon us). So I added one of my favourite songs of all time (secular or religious) to the thread – Belle, by Al Green. This was recorded not long after Al ‘got’ religion and was trying to put aside Earthly temptations – in this case, the ‘Belle’ of the title….”It’s you that I want, but it’s Him that I need…”.

Anyway, it’s beautiful stuff, whoever or whatever your God.

The Word is, without doubt, my monthly reading material of choice and a magazine that comes with many ‘added extras’ – a vibrant and vocal community contributing to its website and a weekly podcast adding to, and building upon, the magazine itself. It helps that I fall slap bang into the middle of the Word demographic – ie borderline obsessive music fan fast approaching middle age but refusing to go there gently, with an unhealthy knowledge of the minutiae of rock music from the late ’50s onwards. Anyway, I commend the magazine, the podcast and the website to you all. Hours of harmless fun debating the merit of Beatles album remasters and such – all to be found here.

For the second day in a row, I received a ‘thanks, but no thanks’ letter from a job application. Not too disappointed, as it would have involved quite a hike from home, but it’s a bit disconcerting that – despite a good CV and what I thought was a compelling case – I don’t even merit shortlisting for interview. However, as one door closes, another door potentially opens – an agency called today with another potential job closer to home and in line with my experience and skills. Again, early days, but good that people are still thinking of me and that there are at least one or two opportunities out there.

Despite the huge temptation, I am going to make no comment on Big Red’s defeat at the hands of Chelsea last night. Naturally I didn’t watch the game – I know for a fact that if I had the result would have been completely different – and only became aware of the result this morning, when I was party to a bit of premature gloating from the ManYoo camp going backwards and forwards by email. I use the word ‘premature’ advisedly – at present the tie is only at half time so there is plenty of time yet for the pact with the Devil to reassert itself.

Of more interest at the moment is ManYoo’s apparent desire to self-destruct – their ongoing difficulties in the Champions League and the Premiership do give me the faintest hope that their focus will be elsewhere going into the semi-final next weekend. Pushing our chances of getting the FA Cup final from ‘none’ to ‘slim’ in the process! Semi final ticket is now happily sorted so there will be at least one Grand Day Out at Wembley this year, which I am determined to make the most of – whatever the result!

Tom Waits on the soundtrack today – the ‘Orphans’ collection is a bit of a sweep-up of various bits and pieces from his long and varied career, loosely themed across three CDs. Currently listening to the ‘Brawlers’ CD which shows off Waits’ more muscular style. My preference is for Tom Waits the barroom balladeer, alone at the piano save for a pack of Camels and a quart of bourbon, lamenting the loss of a good woman and his lot in life.

Here he is on the Whistle Test back in 1977, singing ‘Tom Traubert’s Blues’.