Thursday, February 07, 2008

What I've Been Listening To

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I thought maybe I'd try to fill some space on my blog by writing about some music I've been listening to lately. I don't feel too inspired right now to write about much else that might be going on in my personal life. Suffice it to say that I've been doing a bit of birding, some writing, and playing a spot of music here or there, along with eating a hearty pan of roasted root vegetables that I cooked up the other evening.

In that traditional folk world, the dominant genre of my attention the last few weeks, one particular album comes to mind. With some assistance (I won't name names) I was able to find a download of a long out of print album from the late '70's from Irish instrumental and singing wizards Andy Irvine and Paul Brady. The opening track is a stunner called "The Plains of Kildare", a rousing narrative about a racing pony named Stewball sung by Andy Irvine in his lively tenor voice. The instrumental arrangement, though, is the real star, constantly turning about with unexpected harmonic voicings, tempo changes, converging and diverging lines of guitar, mandolin and fiddle, and exciting stop/start rhythmic figures. The instrumental break near the end through into the final entry of the vocals is incredibly exciting. The next standout track is Paul Brady's version of "Arthur MacBride", a traditional Irish ballad that I'd previously known only from the first Planxty album. Planxty's version is livelier and more humorous, possibly more fitting with what I see to be the essential comedy of the lyric, but Brady brings his incredible voice and a ghostly, shimmering solo guitar accompaniment to his version that makes it simply a spellbinding, beautiful piece of music, complete with shivers down your spine and echoes of ancient Irish troubadours. The rest of the album is very worthwhile as well, and as luck would have it it has just been relreleased in a legal, commericial format with probably much better sound quality than the copy I have, which I may well replace with this legally-purchased version.

Of the little bit of rock and roll that I've been hearing, aside from my endless repetitions of the Beatles, I've been enjoying Joe Strummer's last album with the Mescalero's, Streetcore. It opens with a song called "Coma Girl", a rousing rock and roll number, exciting and well-crafted, that mixes driving guitars with interludes of ska beats and clever vocal harmonies. The track, and the album as a whole, lacks the anarchic noise of the Clash at their best (and worse), but that's not a criticism; this is a mature, assured album that keeps turning up surprises as I give it repeated listens. Joe Strummer was also just about the only artist out there that I would truly trust doing a cover of Bob Marley's "Redemption Song", which he does here in a simple, convincing and direct version.

That's all I'll mention for now. (The picture, by the way, is of Andy Irvine playing a bazouki).

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