Friday, 26 April 2013

Chop's CD Roulette - "Unchained" by Johnny Cash

Here's the first of an occasional post relating to the random selection of music from my CD collection. Read the introduction for full details but long story short, by picking a letter from A to K and a number from 1 to 68 you'll select a CD that I'll then play and blog about.

@maffrj selected B37 which corresponded to Unchained by Johnny Cash (1996)

Unchained is the second in the American Recordings series with producer Rick Rubin that revitalised his career and brought his work to a new audience (including me). I owned a Cash compilation but it was this series of albums that caught my attention and encouraged me to explore his catalogue in greater depth.

First track is Rowboat a cover of the Beck song originally on the intriguingly named Stereopathetic Soulmanure. I realise now that as much as I love this version I never got around to digging out Beck's version. Johnny's vocal is deep and rich and it's a great opener. Upbeat and catchy but with a nice country twang from the band that I believe was largely made up of Tom Petty's Heartbreakers.

More of the same follows with Sea of Heartbreak. There's a second voice in this that could be Tom Petty (it is, I just read the cover). It's another smashing tune with great lyrics that befit a song written by Hal David & Paul Hampton. More goodness from the sleeve notes, Lindsey Buckingham and Mick Fleetwood add acoustic guitar and percussion respectively.

OK, this is where things start to get interesting. Rusty Cage is a cover of a Soundgarden tune which has producer Rick Rubin's imprint all over it. It's a brilliant choice of tune with a deep chugging riff that hints at it's grunge origin whilst retaining the country feel. A dark country blues song.

The One Rose (That's Left in My Heart) is a bit of a come down after Rusty Cage. A Jimmie Rogers tune that's a bit too sentimental for my taste. It's quickly followed by Country Boy, a Cash original from the late fifties, which adds some pace and is a great little song.

Memories Are Made Of This is familiar, probably because of the hit Dean Martin had with it. This is a different arrangement that shakes the song free of any kitsch associations and really brings it to life. It's a little twee in places but Cash's voice is wonderful. At this point in his career he could probably sing the phone directory and make it sound meaningful.

Spiritual was written by Josh Haden for his band Spain, neither of whom I know anything about. It's a lovely track that resonates with Cash's tenor. Some lovely 12-string* guitar twanging brings out the melody. Flea of The Red Hot Chilli Peppers makes an appearance on Bass, though not sure I could tell if I'd not read the sleeve. Cash's religious faith adds gravitas to the words, I've no religious conviction but the raw emotion is plain to hear. It's the perfect lead in to The Kneeling Drunkard's Plea a Carter Family song that was recorded by The Louvin Brothers for their Satan is Real album.

Seems only fair that with them providing the music Cash also cover a Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers tune. Southern Accents is a goody too. Tom resists the urge to provide backing vocals on this and lets Johnny explore the full depth of his range. Which is pretty bloody deep.

Back to back Cash originals next. Mean Eyed Cat is a fast one that it's hard not to love. Meet Me in Heaven is a more sombre affair that I think was a new composition for this album. Cash already writing lyrics in 1996 that ponder death and what may be beyond it.

I Never Picked Cotton is one of favourite tunes on the album. Written by Bobby George and Charles Williams made famous by Roy Clark, there are hints of Cash's own family history. I'm not great at listening to lyrics but Cash is a brilliant story teller and the story unfolds perfectly. You can't help but be drawn in by the words.

The title track now, Unchained was written by singer-songwriter Jude Johnstone but hadn't been previously recorded. Jude did eventually get to recorded it herself on her debut LP in 2002.

I've Been Everywhere is a full on country ho-down as Cash reels off the names of places where he's been. It's a cracking list of American towns with a really tongue twisting lyric. The perfect up moment to end a fabulous record. I've played this a lot over the years and know it pretty well but it's nice to sit down and really listen, I probably don't do that enough. A fine start to this project and a highly recommended album.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Chop's CD Roulette - Introduction

One of my New Year Resolutions was to Blog a little less. It's not that I don't enjoy it but sometimes my demanding*1 one post a week regime means my posts aren't always*2 as well written as I'd like. I've hit that point in the year where I've not got any top fives ready to go and time is at a premium so I've had an idea for a new regular interactive post that might help fill the gaps. [*1 not demanding, *2 ever]

We decorated our front room over the Easter Holidays and that meant I had to empty my CD rack to move the shelves while we painted, then refill them afterwards. As I was tramping up and down the stairs, and repopulating my collection (in alphabetical order of course) I began to realise how much music I own that I've not played for ages. I figured I could get Chop's Top Five readers to pick a CD using the reference system below. I'll then play that CD and blog about it. What could be simpler?

Here's a picture of my CD shelving.

A is the top row.

K is the bottom row.

There are approximately 68 slots from left to right so number 1 is the left side and 68 the right side.

If you pick a letter from A to K and a number between 1 and 68 I'll play the CD that corresponds to.

Leave a comment on the blog, or contact me via Twitter or Facebook or down the pub and I'll let you know when I've posted you're selection.

There are some spaces (in a vain attempt to allow me to add CDs in order) but if you land on one of those I'll round it up or down to the next nearest album.

The narrow rack on the right isn't included. That's where Mrs Top Fives CDs live.

I should also probably point out there are some pretty big sections devoted to Marillion, Fish (out of Marillion) and Status Quo. You might want to avoid those.

Also the rack pretty much represents my CD buying years which roughly ran from 1987-2002. There's not much new stuff (those CDs sit in an unordered mess in my bedside cabinet) nor some of my earliest loves (which are on cassette or vinyl in the loft).

I mentioned this on Twitter the other day and already have five albums lined up. To give you a bit of a sighter here are the references and what they picked.

@Sidaway1 selected A9 - "Winter Words: Hits & Rarities" by All About Eve.

@sonikkicks selected B25 - "The Black Light" by Calexico

@maffrj selected B37 - "Unchained" by Johnny Cash

@iancpeacock selected G57 - "So Far ... The Best Of Sinead O'Conner" by Sinead O'Conner

@jhoburgh selected H33 - "Presidents of the United States of America" by Presidents of the United States of America


Monday, 1 April 2013

Guest Top 5 - Things that show you are getting old! by Al Westoll

Happy Easter to those that celebrate it, and happy long weekend to those that just enjoy the additional bank holidays. Here's Al Westoll with the final part of his age related trilogy of top fives. As I mentioned Al's band The Phantoms play The Alley Cat Club in Soho on Thursday 18th April. If you fancy a fun night out I'll see you there, come say hi and I might even buy you a beer! THE GIG HAS BEEN CANCELLED BUT WILL HOPEFULLY BE REARRANGED AT SOME POINT SOON.

Top 5 Things that show you are getting old!

Here’s something to warn your younger readers about! Enjoy your youth while you can. All was fine until I hit 40 & then all this lot started happening!...

1. Bladder induced sleep interruptions (& Wind!)

I used to have a bladder like a camel! Now, no matter how much (or little!) I’ve drunk before going to bed I still need to get up at some ungodly hour of the night for a pee! What’s this all about? Annoying but manageable whilst at home, slightly more problematic when camping at Glastonbury ! Whilst on the subject of peeing! At some stage in your life (40 as it turns out) you suddenly can’t do something simple like just have a wee without farting at the same time! Although this point is quite amusing!

2. Moisturiser

As a smooth shiny faced kid it would have been unimaginable to think that in later life you would need to use moisturiser! I mean, that’s the sort of stuff your Nan used! But after many years of sunburn & exposure to the lovely Feltham atmosphere your dry cracked wizened visage simply cant cope without a daily application of E45! By the way, all those cracks on my face are laughter lines, not wrinkles!

3. Hangovers

In your youth you don’t give this a second thought. You can go out on the lash, drink as much as you like & wake up the next morning feeling fresh as a daisy. I got very used to these amazing powers of recovery and so was very surprised one morning after a heavy night in my late 30’s to wake up feeling like someone had hit me over the head with a brick & small mouse had nested in my mouth!

4. Weight & Exercise

Growing up as a kid & then a young adult I never gave any thought to the health or nutritional benefits of anything I ate. I just ate what I liked! Similarly I never bothered with exercise. Well obviously I did but it never seemed like it! Endless hours of football, first in the playground with a tennis ball & then later, a kick around with your mates or a Sunday morning league game running around on a wet, muddy council pitch was fun, not exercise. And then you hit 40. All of a sudden you start to get a little heavier, your six-pack starts to become more of a three-pack and you can now ‘pinch an inch’! So, you are forced to start eating vegetables and going to the gym. How tedious!

5. Your ‘Get Up & Go’ gets up and goes!

I can’t remember the last time I sprung out of bed and skipped to work full of the joys of spring. Nowadays it’s a real chore to drag my sorry aching body out of bed in the mornings and summon up the energy to face yet another day! How is it possible to wake up more tired & knackered than when you went to bed the night before? I thought sleep was meant to be restoratory!

Apparently the current life expectancy of a UK male is 78. Blimey! I’m not sure I can put up with another 36 years of this. What’s around the corner, Piles & Dementia! I’m now starting to think they had a good point in the movie ‘Logan’s Run’ (the bit about knocking it on the head at 30, not wooden acting or Jenny Agutter getting her kit of at every opportunity – although that bit wasn’t all bad!)

Note. I’ve not mentioned anything about hair! For me, going grey is not a sign of getting old as I started doing that when I was 18! I’m sure if Chop was writing this he’d have had to add something about hair loss though! (No idea what you're talking about Al - Ed.)