Blog on the Tracks

Writer/reviewer Simon Sweetman covers music for The Dominion Post and North And South. He cares far too much about music, and the list of bands he loves is far longer than the list of groups he has shown no love.

The Best Album of 2014

10:21am 15 Apr 2014


Right, so it was right around this time last year that I declared Jaga Jazzist's Live With Britten Sinfonia the best album of 2013; so sure was I that there'd not be an album as bold, uplifting, emotional, riveting. And though, it was far early to tell - and of course there were many albums that meant as much or more - that record still figured super high on my end of year list. And still stands out on its own - there wasn't another record like it; there wasn't anything even close to sounding like it, to taking its place. 

I'm calling the best album of 2014 - the one that will most likely mean the most to me - a week earlier this year. It's Dan Weiss' Fourteen.

My introduction to Dan Weiss was via his YouTube clips where he shows that influence/inspiration can come from anywhere, translating the rhythms of an auctioneer to drum kit.Dan Weiss

Since then I've heard Weiss play in a variety of contexts - but this new album, his fifth as a leader (he's in demand as a session player and sit-in guy) is his masterpiece.

It's impossible to think of it as a jazz album, but impossible to imagine this album happening without jazz, so many of the players involved schooled in improvisation, trained in jazz.

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The 2014 Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame: Nearvana

10:26am 14 Apr 2014


I can't get excited about The Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame - it's a business and though there are acts I like to see included (last year's Randy Newman induction was quite a lump-in-throat moment, his wonderful speech, the performance, even Don Henley's induction speech - and I f**king hate Don Henley!) it's not really anything I care to catch up with, if I see it I see it. If I don't - as is most often the case - that's also fine.

But this year the big talk was around Nirvana being inducted - well, alright, there was also KISS and Peter Gabriel, Cat Stevens and Linda Ronstadt - and The E Street Band was inducted (by its boss, the, er, Boss). Cat Stevens probably had the line of the night, "they inducted someone who doesn't drink, doesn't smoke, doesn't throw televisions out of his hotel rooms and only sleeps with his wife. It was a brave decision and a very rock'n'roll one". Nearvana

But the majority of the talk seems to be around Nirvana - or what's left of Nirvana - reforming. The  induction timed so closely with the 20th anniversary of Kurt Cobain's death. A speech from the woman who killed him, Courtney Love. And a series of guest vocalists, all female, a nice touch most people seem to think, something different.

There was Joan Jett and Kim Gordon and Annie Clark/St. Vincent and Lorde - but did you know her real name is actually Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O'Connor? I think that's mostly been kept under wraps until just now...

Whatever you think of Lorde's music - and I'm certainly not a fan, not at this stage - she's had an incredible year. Snapped a photo with David Bowie, when Bruce Springsteen comes to town he covers her song, won some Grammy awards, had a couple of million-sellers, developed an arthritic Wednesday Addams dance move and pretty much kept Metro magazine afloat. Not bad for 17 or 39, depending who you believe. And now she's up on stage with the remnants of the last rock'n'roll band that might have actually meant something, pretty good going for a high school poetess with a drum machine (being programmed for her).
What else should he write?
So Lorde performed All Apologies with the Nirvana rhythm section - and did not ruin it. In fact it's the best she's sounded, it wasn't great - wasn't a knockout - but it was okay. And I it made the world of difference to hear her with a real band. And it's win-win too because anything that keeps Dave Grohl away from making more music as Foo Fighters is doing the world (of music) a favour.

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Friday Flashback: My first gig...

08:30am 11 Apr 2014


As a music blog that's creaking along towards being seven years old I'm sure we've covered first gigs - probably more than once. But this has been on my mind a bit lately, not just in writing about B.B. King this week and in remembering that awful Ray Charles audience. I go to more gigs than you do - most likely. And certainly I don't always go to shows that I want to attend. But I still like to get along to the gigs I love - or hope that I will love.

I'm restricted, cash-wise and with family commitments, so travel is mostly out of the equation. I miss more great shows than I get to see - this year I've missed Dolly Parton and Erykah Badu and in a perfect world I would have been at those shows. But I wasn't. I'm not sure it's any consolation to be seeing Morcheeba. But, as I say, it's a job. Or part of a job.

I'm still hopeful, every single time, that the gig I am about to see is as good as my first time.

When I wrote about B.B. King this week - and I've mentioned it previously, I know - I talked about being prepared for the gig, doing your homework. It's always ridiculous to me that someone would pay $150 - and all the other costs (travel, accommodation or parking, maybe babysitting) and not have some idea of what they are about to see.

When I spoke to Don Walker earlier this week (interview to come on Off The Tracks over the weekend) he said "I should probably tell you, right away, that I don't do any Cold Chisel songs". And that's worth knowing right? And fair enough. He wrote the songs for that band but did not sing them - he writes that material for Jimmy Barnes or Ian Moss to sing. He writes his own songs, in his sideline bands and for his solo records. And those are the songs for him to sing. Fans should know that. They should arm themselves with that information ahead of the gig.

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Finding a new favourite Prince album

11:03am 10 Apr 2014


I've just finished reading this weighty Prince tome by Matt Thorne. Good timing, obviously. Tonight I'm playing a bunch of Prince records - my favourites (and yours?) at Mighty Mighty, 9pm-1am. And that was absolutely the impetus for heading back to this book. Part of my 'research', part of the prep. Prince

I say "heading back to this book" because I'd given it a quick glance around a year ago. On first attempt it seemed impenetrable; I wasn't in the right space for it. Couldn't commit to it.

Actually, by just diving in, by having that reason too - focusing on a lot of music by Prince - I found it to be an easy, engaging read. But, as the author tells you almost immediately, it is a book for the die-hards. Not really one of the casual fan; I have no idea why I was scared off the first time. I've always been one of the die-hards when it comes to Prince. Heck, I wrote defending his music across the 1990s.

What I liked about Thorne's huge book was I found myself disagreeing with the writer as often as I agreed. People always seem desperate to throw in that qualifier when talking about music writing or any opinion writing, the almost breathless, "I don't always agree..." Why would you want to? Agreeing means you already thought that way, you weren't challenged. Who wants to read a book to just nod along? A pointless exercise - better to shake your head in disbelief at times, to consider a different point of view, realise you've been looking at it a different way, maybe even the wrong way. And, importantly, to head back to your record collection - I've always believed that music-writing is doing its job if it sends you back to the music. Or on to the music - if it's new music that's being discussed.

Matt Thorne's Prince bio isn't really a biography as such; if it is it's a biography of the music, not just a discography, but a look at how this music has happened, what it means, where it arrived from, where it might end up. The biographical details around Prince's life are there - the basic ones. But the book is unashamedly a geek-guide. Thorne really knows his stuff and has extensive knowledge around the bootlegs and rarities, the side-projects, the protégés. All of this is actually pretty stunning to read, to try to take it all in, process it. (Hence my first feeling of being daunted).

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The wonderful and beautiful B.B. King

11:15am 09 Apr 2014


Yesterday the story was posted around the place (including here) that an "erratic" B.B. King was "painful to watch". 

There's even plenty of footage from the show to watch in a "highlights" clip. But if you saw B.B. King in Auckland a couple of years ago (as I did) the footage and story might seem instantly familiar.B.B.

I'm curious to know what you think about this though - it's essentially a story telling us that a living legend should be put out to pasture, a trip to the glue factory for this old warhorse...

The issue I have with this is that it's actually the audience's duty to do the homework, to have an understanding of what they're about to see, not just who they think they are seeing. You need to go to a gig prepared for the reality, not just with your hopes and dreams of seeing, in this case, the person who created two of the greatest live albums of all time; a blues guitar legend. It's not realistic to expect the B.B. King of 88 to play like, well, the B.B. King of 80, let alone the B.B. King of 75 or 60 or 50...

My grandmothers are still alive - one is slightly older than B.B. King, one is slightly younger. Neither of them ever troubled a guitar, nor performed on any stage. It's sometimes hard for me to see them at this stage of their life, I don't get the chance to see them as often as I used to, conversation is difficult. They're both in care; neither one capable of living alone, of functioning without support. It can sometimes even seem cruel to see - for just a few moments - their daily battle.

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