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.

Go Womad!

06:28am 23 Oct 2014

SIMON SWEETMAN

I've never been to Womad but 2015's just-announced lineup certainly makes me want to change that - Sinead O'Connor (a must-see, she's in a better place, it would seem than when I wrote about her here, she's been one of my favourite voices for so long now) and the fabulous album from Toumani Diabate and Sidiki Diabate makes me know that performance will be incredible.

Rufus Wainwright is sure to dazzle, Youssou N'Dour is someone I've always wanted to see, I've only just got around to writing about Lake Street Drive's album, their best, and there are plenty more things to see of course - but for me it all comes down to Richard Thompson. His Acoustic Classics album is just the latest example of his rare talent, of the fact that he might actually - somehow - be getting better with each and every release. And yet as I said here, a couple of years back he's been on a golden run for the last decade or more. Well, fans would say he's never put a foot wrong. And that's true - his is a long-game career, happily playing from the sideline, that you just can't fault. His voice and songs might not be to your taste but he's one of the masters - his playing is perfect. And with such a huge body of work to draw from, a seemingly endless bag of songs - originals and interesting interpretations as he remakes songs from so many eras - he's capable of dazzling the audience with so many options at his fingertips.

I've always wanted to see Richard Thompson live - going right back to when I first heard his name, first heard his recordings. WOMAD 2015

So that's dream-come-true stuff right there. Then there's the fact that there will be any number of great surprise aspects to the Womad bill - those acts you don't know about but they knock you down when you see them, make you wonder how it is that you've never heard that wonderful music before. I know, just looking at the list, that there'll be one or two performances like that as part of next year's shows. You just get that feeling reading about some of the players.

Okay, there's several New Zealand acts I have no interest in seeing - and if I'm honest the local contingent seems particularly piecemeal, lazy, disappointing - only one or two names there I'd recommend - but the rest of the lineup is so strong that's a small point to quibble over.

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The new Neil Young memoir

06:05am 22 Oct 2014

SIMON SWEETMAN

I've finished reading Neil Young's new memoir and if you thought Waging Heavy Peace was meandering and a bit silly, often very indulgent and poorly edited (the correct way to feel about that shaggy dog) then you're in for a special treat with Special Deluxe.

Here Young tells the story of his life, and some of the songs he's written and records he's made, through a set of stories centred around the cars he's owned. There are water-colour paintings of each car - painting is a recent hobby of Young's.

He's been gaining plenty of press for his book - there's another album due soon (he's now regularly releasing two a year), there's a stand-off with David Crosby and he's filed for divorce from his wife of 36 years. There's a new relationship with actress (and fellow activist) Darryl Hannah. Though Young won't confirm that relationship - he simply speaks about Hannah as if she's a friend, someone connected to some of the causes he believes in.

Neil Young knows how to keep moving on. Long may he run.

Special Deluxe is that special kind of terrible - the kind of car-crash writing that has (barely) fleshed out a handful of Young's album. You know you shouldn't bite, but there's just something there, some kind of roughhewn - rustic - charm. Something refreshing in the lack-of-awareness/ultimate self-awareness. Something not quite profound but oddly beautiful about the way the man just keeps doing what he - and only he - wants.

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Underwhelming sequel albums

06:07am 21 Oct 2014

SIMON SWEETMAN

Over the weekend I watched The Trip To Italy (a sequel to The Trip). As a Friday-night-on-the-couch movie it had its moments but it was a largely inferior (often desperate) sequel. It even decided, in the most ham-fisted way, to reference its sequel status in the opening minutes - the characters discussing sequels never quite living up to the original, mention of Godfather II was even dismissed as being the obvious answer when looking for an exception to the rule.

That same conversation around sequels and their inferior status popped up in the opening pages of a book I've just started about the Beastie Boys album Paul Boutique. The author has previously written about the album so talks about how sequels are often written off as underwhelming, under-delivering, and then hopes he's managed something worthwhile, something different. The writer also praised the idea of sequels for being a nostalgia-nod, a way of continuing the story, of acknowledging that the original concept can be carried on - and (apparently) should. Never mind the execution, the fact that there is an answer to the question what if this doesn't have to end can be good enough.

This got me to thinking about sequel-albums - almost always disappointing, more so than with movies. Almost always a cash-grab, a realisation that linking back to the classic work will make more money than a fresh idea and a new title...Marshall Mathers LP 2

I loathed Eminem's Marshall Mathers 2 - I might have been in the minority, but I just couldn't see it sitting alongside the original in any way, and was so clearly named and framed as a sequel because - critically - his stock was sinking. It had a desperation to its self-referencing shtick, it sounded cold and ugly.

But as far as sequel albums go I can acknowledge that he did it better than most. It just wasn't to my taste. I've obviously moved on from any interest in Eminem.

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Illmatic XX

06:10am 20 Oct 2014

SIMON SWEETMAN

I was pretty excited about the news that Nas' Illmatic 20th Anniversary Tour is coming to New Zealand in January 2015. That's the first great gig of next year announced right there. Nas

I know this because I've seen Nas perform live twice - and he was a show-stealer both times. He was here with Damian Marley in a show that made my top 10 gigs of 2011 - they'd released a duo album and that was a decent enough record.

Marley was great on stage as he and Nas worked through material from that recording. Marley was also very good when left on the stage to perform some of his own songs but the highlights for me were when Nas was on the stage spitting through the cuts from his solo albums.

I'd already seen him once - as opening act (and show-stealer) when Kanye West dropped the ball big time.

Now there are plenty of shining moments on Nastradamus and Stillmatic, on God's Son and Hip Hop Is Dead. I'm a fan of 2008's Untitled record and I really did dig the Distant Relatives album (the one with Marley) but Nas' classic is his debut, Illmatic.Illmatic

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Happy Jakob Day!

01:32pm 16 Oct 2014

SIMON SWEETMAN

Today sees the release of the brand new album by Jakob, the band's first in eight years. Some of you correctly guessed that I was gushing about Jakob when I talked, earlier in the year, about Hearing The Very Best. I've had an advance copy of the album for quite a few months - I've listened to it more than I would normally (get to) listen to an album before reviewing. Sines

Also recently I spoke with the band's guitarist Jeff Boyle and if you haven't yet read the interview it's worth checking out, it takes in the huge story around the making of this album, a lot of false-starts.

Sines, the new Jakob album arrives some eight years after Solace. That's a great album - but Sines is a step up. Each time Jakob releases an album they reinvent the Jakob sound, they stay faithful - truthful - to the Jakob sound but they update it, refine it - re-define it. They improve and move forward. You would think this is what any band does - or hopes to do. But that's not often the case.

You can line up the Jakob albums and listen to them in a row and it's easy to work out the order that they arrived in, you can hear the improvements, refinements, the movement, maturity. You can feel it.

Sines is the band's very best album - and it is, I believe, the very best record they could make.

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