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.

Finding a new favourite Prince album

11:03am 10 Apr 2014

SIMON SWEETMAN

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

SIMON SWEETMAN

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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Your gushings, please...

10:52am 08 Apr 2014

SIMON SWEETMAN

You'll remember, just the other week, I gave you all the opportunity to gush over just one album - in this year's version of the Right This Blog! series you were to put forth an album for review, could be old, could be new, and you're going to base your writing around that album. It doesn't, in the strictest sense, need to be 'a review' since this is a blog. So, rather, it's a piece of writing around an album. A chance to share some thoughts on a favourite piece of music.Checklist

Anyway, it's time to reveal the winners.

You'll have one week to get your work in. Aim for between 800-1200 words as a guide, that said you can write as much or little as you like (within reason). You want to try to keep the reader's/readers' attention. You want to try to have a point.

In no particular order the winning blog-writers are:

John Iscariot: Red House Painters' Down Colorful Hill

A few starters for Monday...

11:09am 07 Apr 2014

SIMON SWEETMAN

Okay, here's a few things for you to kick off your Monday; to kick off your week...

SJD has made his first album available at a 'name your price' deal on Bandcamp. Check it out - and throw in some coins. He's one of our great talents I reckon. And this early album will be interesting to anyone who has enjoyed his more recent efforts.Happy Monday

I'm giving away a double ticket to Morcheeba on Friday night in Wellington, so click this link to be in to win.

The other week I mentioned interviewing Jason Isbell - well, the interview is right here. And he's playing this weekend in Auckland. It'll be well worth seeing.

I finally got around to writing a review of Anika Moa's Songs for Bubbas - a worthwhile thing to have in the house if you have small children.

Updating The Worst

01:28am 04 Apr 2014

SIMON SWEETMAN

So there I am, just walking around the house buzzing the fly-spray out of the can in time with the percussion breaks on a Santana record - pretty standard, really. Then I start to think about where my life is going and what it even is. And as the live version of Oye Como Va finishes just as I run out of fly-spray and - fortunately - flies I think, 'well it could be worse. At least I'm not Carlos Santana'

You see the album is Lotus - one of the records I've listened to the most in my life. And one of a handful of Santana records that mean the world to me; Lotus was recorded on the back of the Welcome album and that was the first non-compilation record I heard from Santana. Man, this music set my world alight. I was taken with it. Instantly. I was 12, 13 years old. And I was discovering all of this music - grabbing with both hands whatever I could from the 1960s and 1970s (and the 1950s for that matter). It was all a revelation. Exciting, because my folks were rediscovering it, they were building a CD collection out of memories of what their record collection once was. I took whatever was left of their record collection and bought tapes, then CDs, then replacement-LPs...

Carlos Santana has had the biggest fall from grace. That's my belief. I realised this when, four years ago now, or nearly, I had to listen to his embarrassing idea of "Guitar Classics". Nobody needs to hear that.

It's the worst!

Now, sure, a lot of the Santana music isn't much chop after Welcome/Lotus - there's a few gems, but the wobbles start to kick in pretty swiftly. But in that first half decade you hear a band so vital, a guitarist so fluid, so inventive. There's power and majesty in that music. There's grace, there's enchantment. Sixteen minutes of Incident At Neshabur? F**k yes! Those live versions of Se A Cabo and Samba Pa Ti? Oh man. Forget about it! Wonderful. And the Welcome and Caravanserai records. And everything before that - Abraxas obviously... the performance at Woodstock...

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