Irish singer-songwriter Declan O’Rourke’s Mag Pai Zai is an album I kept meaning to review but never seem to remember until I stumble upon it again. The problem is the standout tracks are so brilliantly amazing they cast a very dark shadow over the weaker tracks. Subsequently, the album is not very memorable as a whole. But those standout tracks are truly stellar: the mellow acoustic folk opener “Time Machine,” the gentle, tinkling tune “Dancing Song,” the string-accented rumination on “Galileo” and especially the astounding, mesmeric acapella ballad “Marrying The Sea.”
Saturday is apparently “Small Business Saturday” as well as “Indies First Day,” in which authors and book lovers are being encouraged to support their local independent bookshops. Therefore, I encourage all local bookworms to visit Charleston, WV’s only independent bookstore, Taylor Books, on that day or any day. You can also order books and ebooks/epubs from Taylors online, but it’s worth the trip for the bookshop’s atmosphere.
Now that Trans Allegheny closed, Taylor Books is my favorite bookstore on this side of the Atlantic and has thankfully survived the invasion and demise of chain bookstores in the area. Oh and if you don’t like books (how strange and sad), Taylors also has the best coffee in Charleston – I especially like the Nicaraguan Vienna dark roast blend. If you don’t like books or coffee, I really don’t know how you live.
If you do like books and are looking for recommendations for Indies First Day, my personal favorite books of all time are: Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy (I recently bought this lovely edition from Taylor Books myself to add to my somewhat obsessive Return of the Native collection), The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut and pretty much everything else written by Kurt Vonnegut or Edith Wharton. More modern favorites have been Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, The Book Thief and anything by Kate Morton, Maggie O’Farrell and Victoria Hislop.
I also highly recommend the more modern classic The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, which is now being adapted for a movie. You can read my rave review of it here. I first heard about the Guernsey book from a former manager of Taylors and it was a longtime staff pick on the shelves there. I’ve since given copies of the book to several friends, all of whom loved it as much as I did.
Other favorite bookstores of mine on both sides of the Atlantic: Empire Books in Huntington, WV; Two Sisters bookery, Old Books on Front Street and Pomegranate Books in Wilmington, NC; and The Winding Stair, Hodges Figgis and Chapters in Dublin, Ireland.
It would be very nice if independent bookstores get the kind of support from Indies First Saturday that Record Store Day brings to indie music shops.
Elton John released The Diving Board, his first solo album in seven years, back in September but I only recently bothered to listen to it and now I’m kicking myself for taking so long to hear this beautiful, masterful record. Elton is one of those artists I often take for granted, mostly because his public persona has overshadowed his music in the past decade. I almost always like his music – particularly his ’70s and ’90s releases – but for whatever reason never of him as a favorite artist. But that may change with this album. Produced by T Bone Burnett, The Diving Board finds Elton John making a welcome return to his musical roots with a basic piano-bass-drums set-up and features some of his finest piano playing in the past four decades.
While Elton John’s musical compositions and vocals are impressive and breathe life into this new song cycle, the album’s true backbone is Bernie Taupin’s substantial, poetic lyrics. As Brendan said when we first listened to the album, it’s a sadly rare album these days with lyrics that actually mean something.
Elton’s piano wizardry is especially spectacular in the fantastic, uptempo, piano pounding standout “Mexican Vacation (Kids in the Candlelight)” and the latter half of melancholy ballad “My Quicksand.”
The world weary first single, “Home Again,” is another major highlight and the reason I became interested in the album. You can watch the video for the track below.
Other tracks of note are the album’s jazzy title track and the festivally militant instrumental “Dream #3.”
But there’s really not a weak moment on the album and it’s positively addictive, we in the Muruch household love it more with each listen. The Diving Board already sounds like a classic and is a worthy release for the man behind “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” “Levon” and “Tiny Dancer.”
As I wrote when Richie Havens died earlier this year, the legendary folk singer – best known for opening the original Woodstock festival – had one of the most distinctive and lovely voices in all of music history. Before his death, Havens completed recording two final studio albums: Mixed Bag for Kids and …His Last Songs.
Richie’s warm rasp and unique phrasing give new life to the cover of “I Can See Clearly Now” which opens …His Last Songs. You can stream the song below.
The album’s centerpiece is a lovely acoustic rendering of “What a Wonderful World,” which also appears on Mixed Bag for Kids.
Aside from those two songs, I was shockingly disappointed with this album. Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” is a favorite of mine and Havens’ rendition, while not bad, lacks the buoyant charm of the original. The repetitive “It’s Better Together” and the somewhat cheesy cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s “59th Street Bridge Song” also weigh down what should have been a worthy final collection of such a substantial artist.
I usually adore anything by Richie Havens and I hate to give this album a less than raving review, but there’s just something that seems rushed and incomplete here. I’m reminded of Jeff Buckey’s Sketches (For My Sweetheart the Drunk) and Jimi Hendrix’ Valleys Of Neptune – as much as we crave new music by beloved, departed legends, sometimes I feel it’s better to not to posthumously release a work-in-progress.
Still, if nothing else, I highly recommend buying the individual mp3s of “I Can See Clearly Now” and “What a Wonderful World”. And check out Havens’ older releases and writing, his was an extraordinary talent.
Sarah Brightman’s eleventh studio album, Dreamchaser, features a small selection of Brightman originals along with covers of songs originally recorded by Paul McCartney, Cocteau Twins, Elbow, Sigur Rós and Sia among many others. The space-themed album was recorded and released as Brightman began cosmonaut training for a rocket journey to the International Space Station, where she plans to be the first professional musician to sing from space.
I’m a fan of mixing classical and contemporary pieces, and Brightman does so wonderfully in this collection. Highlights include a cover of Sigur Rós’ “Glósóli” followed by an except from Gorecki’s “Symphony No. 3.”
Brightman breathes new life into Sia’s “Breathe Me” and I love her take on Rimsky-Korsakov’s “A Song of India.” Concluding with Mike Oldfield’s “Closer,” however, is better in concept than in execution.
Seesaw is the follow-up to Beth Hart and Joe Bonamassa’s 2011 album, Don’t Explain, and features a diverse selection of covers originally recorded by artists such as Tina Turner, Al Green, Billie Holiday and Nina Simone. Ultimately, it’s a hit and miss collection, but the hits will knock you out.
Seesaw includes a superb version of Tina Turner’s “Nutbush City Limits” and powerful performances of Al Green’s “Rhymes” and Buddy Miles’ “Miss Lady.”
I much prefer when the duo lets loose on the bluesier tracks. The decision to use nature sounds in the “Strange Fruit” cover feels like a misstep to me, and something more than a strong voice is needed when tackling a song made famous by Billie Holiday and Nina Simone. .
Boardwalk’s “I’m to Blame” will be featured on tomorrow night’s episode of NBC’s Parenthood. Boardwalk are Mike Edge and Amber Quintero and their song was first posted here in Muruch’s Surfacing series back in June. You can stream and watch the video below. Boardwalk’s self-titled, full-length debut is now available in CD, vinyl and mp3 formats…
Several piano pieces by Miriam Gómez-Morán are available for free download here (mp3 download page). I especially enjoyed the Scriabin Sonata Op. 53 (No. 5), about which Scriabin wrote: “It is a big poem for piano and I deem it the best composition I have ever written. I do not know by what miracle I accomplished it.”
Variations of Chopin is a compilation featuring modern interpretations of works by my favorite classical composer, Fryderyk Chopin. Released by the small Scottish (by way of Poland) indie label Too Many Fireworks, Variations of Chopin puts an ambient and electro-pop spin on Chopin’s classical melodies.
The album is bookended by interpretations of “Prelude Op. 28 No. 7 in A Major.” Neil Milton’s straightforward but nonetheless pretty piano take is a very brief 48-second opener. Thankfully, Clem Leek’s magnificent, mindblowingly lovely finale of the same piece has an almost three minute life. But we’ll get to that later.
It’s during Black Antlers’ somewhat eerie rendering of “Nocturne Op. 27 No. 2 in D Flat Major” that you slowly become aware that this is not your standard classical album. Though the work’s central melody is tightly woven into the cover, there are just enough electronic embellishments to give it some extra oomph.
Miaoux Miaoux then completely abandons the classical realm for a full-on electro-pop cover of “Nocturne Op. 55 No. 1 in F Minor.” You would never guess all those beats and blips were born from a Chopin arrangement.
deSelby gives a beautiful, somewhat Baroque acoustic guitar cover of “Nocturne Op. 9 No. 2 in E Flat Major.” Even if you don’t know the original Chopin composition, you may recognize the melody from the end of Muse’s “United States of Eurasia/Collateral Damage.“
Some of the other covers are a tad too experimental for my taste, though I still admire the concept.
And then we have that spectacular finale. Clem Leek’s rendition pf “Prelude Op. 28 No. 7 in A Major” swirls with ghostly vinyl scratches, distant sparse piano, harmonica and creaky violins. It’s absolutely fantastic.
Yes, you read correctly: Throwing Muses have reunited and recorded a new album! Throwing Muses will release Purgatory/Paradise, their first album in a decade, in digital format on November 12th and in physical format on December 3rd. The physical set will include a deluxe 64-page art book along with the 32-track CD. If you’re too young to know who Throwing Muses are, they were one of the best and most influential female rock bands in the late 1980s/early ’90s. They were originally led by singer-songwriter stepsisters Kristin Hersh and Tanya Donelly. Hersh is the band’s solo frontwoman now. You can stream the track “Sleepwalking” and watch the freshly released video for “sunray venus” below.