Best tunes of 2002: #11 Levellers “Wake the world”

<< 12    |    #10 >>

Levellers have already appeared on these pages, care of a post a year and a half ago, in support of their appearance on my Best Tunes of 1991 list at the number nine spot with “One way”. I wrote in that post how I discovered the band and fell in love with their sophomore album, “Levelling the land”, on which appears the aforementioned track. The next album, their self-titled third, was just as a great and I purchased a ticket for their local stop on the ensuing tour but for some reason, their North American leg was cancelled.

Things were not so rosy with me and the five piece from Brighton, England after that. I continued to buy their albums but found them not quite as solid and I considered packing it in after their 2000 release, “Hello pig”, which to this day, is my least favourite by the group. Nonetheless, I was still enthused enough by their back catalogue to drag Victoria to see them play an acoustic set at Lee’s Palace when they finally managed another North American tour in 2001. Of course, it was excellent and when they announced a new studio album in 2002, I couldn’t help but check it out.

“Green blade rising” didn’t return the band to its former status as biggest indie band in Britain but it was still seen as a return to form. Indeed, the album’s title was taken from an earlier song the band had written but renamed. It breathed new life into their folk and granola crunching infused pop/punk rock, raising the fist and calling to arms, and preaching to their already converted choirs.

“Wake the world” wasn’t released as a single from the album but it closed it off perfectly. It’s a quieter number. A humming bass rumble lurks throughout its three and a half minute duration, haunting and sustained piano chords keep time and move it along, and of course, Jonathan Sevink’s plaintive violin pops in to say hello and add to the mood. On top of all that, frontman Mark Chadwick is wistfully railing against indifference and ambivalence to the world’s woes while sitting safely in our own lives.

“Been sitting in silence safe inside four walls
Trying to remember the moment when we changed the rules
Do you take to your bed or do you take the cure
Been getting out of my head lately that’s for sure

So tell me when are we gonna wake the world”

Indeed, Mark, indeed.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2002 list, click here.

Ten great Ottawa Bluesfest sets: #1 Billy Bragg – Thursday, July 4th, 2012

(This year’s edition of Ottawa Bluesfest has been cancelled, for obvious reasons. In previous years, especially on my old blog, I would share photos and thoughts on some of the live music I was enjoying at the festival throughout the duration. So for the next week and a half, I thought I’d share ten great sets, out of the many I’ve witnessed over the years, one for each day on which music would have be performed. Enjoy.)

Billy Bragg live at Bluesfest, 2012

Artist: Billy Bragg
When: Thursday, July 4th, 2012
Where: Blacksheep Stage at 9:15pm
Context: Although I had been to multiple nights of the previous three festival years, 2012 was the first year I bought the full festival pass. On the opening night that year, I parked myself down at the Blacksheep stage for the duration. Though for that year, the Blacksheep stage was moved from its normal spot tucked behind the War Museum (where it was replaced with the short-lived Electro stage) and relocated to a spot not far away, actually, where the main merch tent is now placed. This stage location was one of the victims of stage reduction that took place not longer after to try to combat noise bleed between the stages (more on that in a bit).

I caught three very different but all very good acts that evening but the capper was Billy Bragg striding on to the stage shortly after 9:15pm, just him and his guitar. It was my third time seeing him live but it was the first time in over a decade and I had forgotten how integral his banter was to his live performances. His stories between the songs are almost as important to the Billy Bragg experience (and can be just as entertaining) as the songs themselves.

Tea in hand he cajoled and ranted on subjects like cynicism, government, the economy (if you know Billy, you know where he stands on these subjects) and the fact that he was being drowned at by the “disco” at the next stage where Tiesto was headlining. “You can wear mickey mouse ears all you want, it’s still disco,” he joked. “Come on, I’m fifty-f*cking-four years old!” Fifty-four he may have been, Billy Bragg rocked the set and he did it as he often does. Just him on stage. His set was mixed with songs from his Woody Guthrie repetoire (“Ingrid Bergman”), the classics (“Greetings to the new brunette”, “The milkman of human kindness” “Levi Stubbs’ tears”), and a smattering of new songs. Before one such new track, his anti-cynicism song “Tomorrow’s going to be a better day”, he forewarned of a whistling solo and cracked up when the crowd cheered him in the middle of it.

For his encore, Billy came out with a rendition of “Waiting for the great leap forwards” that had almost a completely re-written set of lyrics, adapted for current events, some of which seemed almost as if they were written that day, even on the spot. He finished his set with a singalong version of “A new England”, including an additional verse for his friend Kirsty MacColl, who famously covered the song in 1984 but died in a tragic boating accident in 2000. He provided the words to the chorus before he began but the crowd knew the words to the whole song and sang with him the whole way. Afterwards, he bowed humbly, threw his tea bag out into the crowd and that was it. Brilliant as usual.

Billy Bragg solo on guitar
Billy Bragg
Billy chatting with the crowd
Billy stopping for some tea

Setlist:
The World Turned Upside Down (Leon Rosselson cover)
To Have and to Have Not
Greetings to the New Brunette
Tomorrow’s Going to Be a Better Day
Help Save the Youth of America
Aginst th’ Law (Woody Guthrie cover)
Ingrid Bergman (Woody Guthrie cover)
All You Fascists Are Bound to Lose (Woody Guthrie cover)
Last Flight to Abu Dhabi
The Milkman of Human Kindness
Levi Stubbs’ Tears
There Is Power in a Union
Encore:
Waiting for the Great Leap Forwards
A New England

Best albums of 1989: The honourable mentions (aka #10 through #6)

Happy Monday all!

(I know what you’re thinking: is it really Monday?! Well, the answer to that is: “YES!!!” )

And if that wasn’t enough of a good reason to kick off a new series this morning, it’s also June 1st. That’s right. We’re five months into this train wreck of a year called 2020 and I haven’t done one of these throwback Best Albums series for a while so I thought I’d throw down for you one of the greatest years for alternative rock. That’s right: 1989.

If you’ve been around these pages before, you might remember that I typically do these Best Album throwbacks on Thursdays (for the #tbt thing, of course) and though I’ve changed up the day this time around, I’ll be keeping the rest of my usual format intact. Today’s post is just the tease, introducing the five albums that round out the latter part of my top ten, and then, over the course of the next five Mondays, I’ll lay out my five favourite albums of the year, one by one. And as I said above, it’s a great one. Many of the albums are classics, catching the bands who released them at their peaks, whether at the beginning or the end of their careers, and are considered some of the most influential albums to the alternative rock artists that followed, through the 90s and beyond.

I’ve already done my top ten favourites for both 1987 and 1988 and though I talked up both of those years at the time, 1989 was the real deal. And I’m not just saying that because I say that about all the years. I was by then firmly into high school and my teen years when the final year of the eighties came around and I was finally forming some musical tastes beyond the normal AM radio fare. And though I didn’t catch on to all of these albums at the time, I can at least say I was aware of most of them, if not right away, then at least within a year or two of their release date. Indeed, I have been listening to these ten albums for so long, they are like close friends.

Are you excited? I am. So let’s do this. And of course, as we do, I’d love to hear your thoughts, both on my picks and what your own would be for 1989…


#10 The Jesus And Mary Chain “Automatic”

With “Automatic”, the Reid brothers, Jim and William, picked up right where they left off with 1987’s “Darklands”, which, incidentally, appeared at #8 on my list for that year. The Jesus And Mary Chain were effectively just the two of them at this point, though you wouldn’t know it by listening to the tunes. They filled every ounce of soundscape using electronics, employing a drum machine and synthesizers to imitate bass guitars and to wash out the rest. And though they were criticized for this at the time, attitudes have changed over time, and the album is nowadays considered amongst The JAMC’s best work. The music is dark, raging, and roaring stuff, like a loud motorcycle racing through high and violent winds, the hair of its leather-jacketed rider, whipping about wildly, but being kept on course by the ever-present cool sunglasses. Yeah.

Gateway tune: Head on


#9 Galaxie 500 “On fire”

I didn’t listen to this album until well over a decade after its release. I finally decided to investigate Galaxie 500 a few years after frontman Dean Wareham’s second band, Luna, broke up and I had exhausted their catalogue. I started with “On fire” because it was the only one of their three of which I had previously heard, which makes sense because it is widely considered the trio’s high watermark. Together with Damon Krukowski and Naomi Yang, Wareham found his voice out of a love for lo-fi soundscapes, understated guitar brilliance, and The Velvet Underground. “On fire” is definitely rougher hewn than anything in the Luna catalogue but that doesn’t make it any less the underrated dream pop classic that it is.

Gateway tune: Tell me


#8 The Beautiful South “Welcome to The Beautiful South”

After The Housemartins called it quits in 1988, frontman Paul Heaton and drummer Dave Hemingway immediately formed The Beautiful South, the moniker a tongue-in-cheek jab at the fact that they were from Northern England. The five-piece’s debut “Welcome to The Beautiful South” expanded on the jangle pop sound of The Housemartins but happily, the biting and outspoken lyrics continued, as it did throughout their career. The controversial cover (the Canadian version of the cover pictured above omits the image of a woman with a gun in her mouth) didn’t seem to hurt album sales any and really, this album was just the beginning for a band that would go on to sell millions of units. So many great tracks on this one, including the one below.

Gateway tune: Song for whoever


#7 The Grapes of Wrath “Now and again”

The Grapes of Wrath’s fourth album, “Now and again”, was also their most commercially successful. Partially because of Canadian content (CanCon) rules imposed on Canadian radio and television stations but also because this album’s folk rock sound with impeccable harmonies had mass appeal. I definitely remember having the album’s singles recorded to cassette tape from AM radio at the time, but it was years before I would hear this album in full, long after the band had broken up and re-formed again. And though sometimes when I come to an album late, I find I can’t get into the time and place headspace of when it was released, this album is not an example of this. Timeless would be the right word here.

Gateway tune: All the things I wasn’t


#6 New Model Army “Thunder and consolation”

New Model Army’s fourth record is still their most successful to date and is likely one of my own personal faves. Justin Sullivan’s excellent, politically and socially-conscious lyrics and the group’s punk and post-punk informed sound received a bit of facelift when they were joined by violinist, Ed Alleyne-Johnson for this album. The infusion of folk and traditional music started the band to trend towards constantly tweaking their sound over the years and has likely aided in their longevity. And amazingly, they still haven’t lost any amount of edge or sense of urgency, especially here. This album is full of stomping great tracks, like the haunting one below.

Gateway tune: Green and grey


Check back next Monday for album #5 on this list. In the meantime, you can check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.