Saturday, September 19, 2020


Looking for some of the wit and wisdom of "Here Comes the Knight" Sir George Van the Man Morrison? Sorry to disappoint, he is strictly off my menu for the foreseeable, courtesy the simplistic guff of his recent return to form. By form, I mean of being the contrariest celtic r-soul in rock. Dissatisfied with providing the surliest birthday thank you message in history, following the splendid accolades corralled together and gifted him by the always great Hot Press of Dublin, he has followed this up with an EP of puerile, ill-researched and poorly conceived assaults on those who restrict his freedoms. That is, his freedoms to contract and transmit C19. It's common knowledge, and I am not going to grace him with any links to his music; he'd get 'em taken down anyway, but I can't resist not offering some of the social media ripostes directed his way. So we got Inarticulate Speech of the Fart, we got Moondunce, we got A Sense of Blunder. For sure he is no teacher, has only madness in his method and is is no longer any guru of mine.

But this is a music blog. Not for us to question the man behind the muse. Maybe, maybe not, but it certainly leaves a sizeable hole in my collection to excise him and his influence from history. So it got me thinking. Is there anyone else who can tap that same philosophers stone? Well, praise be, happen there can.

Light Shine/Jesse Colin Young

Jesse Colin Young, erstwhile Youngblood, was cutting a very similar cloth back in the early 70s, this, the title track from the LP of the same name, of a very similar vibe to the Caledonian Soul Orchestrations around about the same time, with heartfelt vocals, sublime brass and as uplifting as anything from the cheerful chappy of Cyprus Avenue. OK, it couldn't last for the whole of the record, fading into the second side, but I still exhort you to search it out.

Call Mother a Lonely Field/Jackie Leven

Of course this man is an obvious and worthy contender, with a body of work nearly as broad, until cruelly cut down getting on for a decade ago. Much less lauded, much less well known, but a much more reliable source of brilliance, at least in my opinion. A much more affable and approachable man, likewise, and one whose live performances certainly trumped the hit and miss of Van with his personality free zones.

Ride On/Mary Coughlan

Proving this is no purely masculine domain, here is the might of Mary Coughlan, who has ignored every classifying as she travails the domains of blues, folk, rock, jazz. Or music, as we call it. This is an early example, a transformation of the otherwise gentle lament penned by Christy Moore. From the Republic of Ireland rather than the North, her history suggests she could chew up Morrison for breakfast and probably would.

Nothing But the Same Old Story/Paul Brady

Let's stick with the Irish, not least one who has famously had spats with Morrison over the years, with likely little love lost. Paul Brady began a folkie, reaching acclaim with the second iteration of Planxty, ahead of relaunching himself as a songwriter and performer of anthemic and emotional music. Similarly sometimes judged a curmudgeon, age has seemingly had a mellowing effect, as this interview discusses. 

Over the Fields/Blue Rose Code

Finally, a much younger man, the wonderful Ross Wilson, from Scotland. Performing as Blue Rose Code he has just put out his 4th full length recording. Widely seen as owing many an influence to Morrison, there is also a distinct hint of John Martyn, but with hefty additional hits of hebridean melody. The featured song is the opener from his penultimate record and is gloriously fleshed out as compared with his live shows, often just he and a single accompanist, sometimes two. Huge in Scotland, recognition elsewhere awaits.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Lesson: Lesson In Love

Paul Carrack: Lesson In Love 


Of course, the musically knowledgeable readers of Star Maker Machine know who Paul Carrack is. But, on the off chance that you’ve stumbled across this blog and don’t think you know who Paul Carrack is, I bet that you do. 

That great song by Ace, “How Long”? Sung by Carrack. “Tempted,” one of Squeeze’s most well-known songs? Carrack on lead vocals. Remember Mike + the Mechanics? Their songs “Silent Running (On Dangerous Ground)” and “The Living Years,” among others? Paul Carrack is the singer. Did you like Roger Waters’ albums Radio Kaos and The Wall—Live in Berlin? Carrack sang lead on some of the tracks. And he’s released a bunch of solo albums. 

In 2013, Record Collector magazine stated that “if vocal talent equalled financial success, Paul Carrack would be a bigger name than legends such as Phil Collins or Elton John.” Clearly, it doesn’t, and he isn’t. 

Oh, Carrack also plays keyboards well enough to have been briefly in Squeeze, mostly to play, not sing, and also in Roxy Music (which was a surprise to me), and has backed Nick Lowe. He’s been a studio or touring musician for acts as diverse as Elton John, The Smiths and B.B. King, and has had songs recorded by artists as different as Diana Ross, The Eagles and Jools Holland. Check out his Wikipedia page for more details. 

In 1981, after his stint in Squeeze, Carrack joined up with Nick Lowe, former (and future) Rumour guitarist Martin Belmont, bassist James Eller and drummer Bobby Irwin, to form Noise to Go, which, like how Rockpile backed both Lowe and Dave Edmunds, was created to back Carrack and Lowe on solo albums. The band also played on one album by Carlene Carter, Lowe’s then-wife (and June Carter’s daughter and Johnny Cash’s stepdaughter). 

Carrack’s 1982 solo album, Suburban Voodoo, featured this group of musicians, and was produced by Lowe.  It is a very good album, was a modest chart success and got fairly good reviews at the time. Most reviews of the album fail to mention “Lesson In Love,” which is a song that I’ve enjoyed since I first heard it back in the day (and it did hit the Billboard Rock Chart). It’s got a bouncy feel, great organ playing by Carrack, and features his clearly underrated blue-eyed soul vocals. “I Need You,” a soulful ballad from the album, was a minor hit, but I like our featured song better. 

Noise to Go backed Lowe on 1982’s Nick The Knife, and after Eller departed, were renamed “Nick Lowe and His Cowboy Outfit,” releasing two albums (and also backing John Hiatt on part of Riding With The King). After that, Carrack joined up with Roger Waters, then Mike + Mechanics, worked as a session musician and as part of a number of different collaborations (not all of which led to recorded music), with musicians from many genres, including King Crimson's Tony Levin, Timothy B. Schmidt and Don Felder of the Eagles, Ringo Starr, Beth Nielsen Chapman and Eric Clapton. And he even jumped back into Squeeze briefly. 

Carrack periodically released solo albums, with occasional, limited, chart success, and the fact that in 2012 he was the subject of a BBC Four documentary called Paul Carrack: The Man with the Golden Voice, indicates that despite his relative anonymity to the general public, Carrack is respected by critics and his fellow musicians, across a wide spectrum of styles. 

So, if you knew who Paul Carrack was, maybe you learned more about him. And if you didn’t think you knew who he was, did I win my bet that you actually did?

Monday, September 14, 2020

Lessons: The Hard Way Every Time

I was well into my twenties when I learned that my grandmother and I share the same favorite musician. It makes me wonder how many forgotten childhood afternoons I spent in her house listening to Jim Croce, being unaware and unformed enough to remark on the occasions.

When it comes to learning and lessons, Jim Croce’s albums are a masterclass in life, love, and who not to mess around with. His song The Hard Way Every Time takes the subject on headfirst and reminds me of falling through a tree, painfully hitting every branch on the way down before landing softly in the grass at the end of the song. It’s hard not to hear the lyrics, and the strings that eventually accompany them, and not go through a mental slideshow of some of the hardest lessons we’ve each learned in our lives.

Covers of Croce that are worth listening to are few and far between. One reason being that his songs are written for two guitars and this doesn’t seem to deter any aspiring cover musicians from attacking it solo, at least not in the Youtube crowd. But Dale Ann Bradley does an incredible job of The Hard Way Every Time in my opinion on her album Hard Way. (The album also includes covers of Bobbie Gentry, The Grateful Dead, and Journey, among others) The bluegrass take and her country twang would have been even more at home in my grandmother’s farmhouse in the Appalachian foothills than Philly’s own Jim Croce all those years ago. It certainly takes me back.