Monday, November 28, 2011

Elton John Live (Still) and 2 Cellos rock the house

Perhaps surprisingly last night was the first time I have seen Elton John Live. I have never been a fan of arenas, so this time when the opportunity arose to see him in the Lyric Theatre in Sydney I went along.

The advantage of the new theatres is that there are no bad seats.We could clearly hear and see everything during the nearly 3 hour show.

Elton is an enormous talent and has been doing shows for a long time. he is now 64 years old so it was understandable that he was a little slow on the one occasion he climbed on and then off the piano. Even the costumes have mellowed over the years with the band dressed simply in black and white and Elton Himself limiting himself to a purple shirt under a black long jacket with some sparkling embroidry.

The thing that has not changed over the years are the music and his talent. What took centre stage last night was the great songs, his love of performing and the audiences love of the songs and the singer.

On stage non-stop for about two and a quarter hours Elton managed to do his immense catalog justice including songs from most of his earlier albums plus a couple of tracks from his more recent collaboration with Leon Russel. His band included Davey Johnstone and Nigel Olsen from the early 70's and a pair of Croatian cellists who also played for twenty minutes as the opening act.

Looking back at all the Elton John Albums (I have 39) it took a while to settle on one to recommend. In the end I selected Honky Chateau from 1972. Not just my first Elton John Album this was in fact my first full priced album. Back in the day when albums had two sides this started off with "Honky Cat" on Side one and finished with "Hercules" on side two. other notable tracks include "Rocket Man" and "I think I'm Going To Kill Myself" (with it's tap dance solo)

Listening to the album again this morning the whole album hangs together and the overall quality is even more amazing as these Albums were being produced at almost two a year. This Album was followed by "Don't Shoot Me" and the "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" in quick time in what was a golden period for Elton's music. All of them (plus the earlier albums) deserve a listen but be sure to check out "Honky Chateau" one more time.

 If you have ever wondered what the AC/DC anthem "Highway to Hell" would sound like on two electric cellos now you can find out. The Two Croatian gentlemen picture on the cover of this album opened for Elton John with what can only be described as a stunning performance of "Smooth Criminal"

I'm pretty sure they were doing the version by Alien Ant Farm not the Michael Jackson version as their performance conveyed not just energy but real menace. The continued with cover versions of U2  and then a version of  "Smells Like Teen Spirit" before finishing up with "Highway to Hell"

So if you are looking for something a little twisted this may be something to check out.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Georgie Fame - Live Birthday Album

Georgie Fame is truly a blast from the past. His big hit "Yeh Yeh" dates from December 1964 and since the sixties he has only released a handful of singles.

However he has remained a constant on the music scene through his work with artists such as Van Morrison, Eric Clapton, Joan Armatrading, Count Basie and Muddy Waters. He was one of the first wave of UK musicians that were influenced by Black musicians from the US and has stayed true to those Jazz and Blues influences from that time.

  The Album I'm listening to is a live album recorded for his 55th birthday celebration. Recorded on a single night it is the essence of a "Live" album. The Album is not simply a greatest hits collection. (he didn't have that many hits) but is a reflection of his life in music through tributes to his influences and his interests. The whole concert is done with a big band and everything from the opening number "Yeh Yeh" is arranged for and performed with class by the band which generates the feel that only a big band can create.

Most of the songs will be unfamiliar at first but I wouldn't cut a single one. Each can be listened to on its own but the best effect comes from listening to the whole album. Taken together they give a sense of the occasion and it feels like you are there enjoying and celebrating the music. Because it really is about the music much more than it is about Georgie Fame. It is a celebration of the Jazz and Blues influences through the celebration of one of its most faithful disciples. Georgie believes in this music and I do too.

If you like your big band music to be a little more showbiz then there is always Robbie Williams. he brings his star power and personality to an excellent album that proves in the end that with big band music the singer is never greater than the song and the brass. If you watch the video then Robbie shines. If you listen to the album Robbie is good but the music shines. The Robbie Williams album will be much easier to find.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Apple wants to give me (and you) a new iPod Nano

Nearly 6 years ago now the iPod nano (1st Generation) was the new sensation from apple.

I bought one. It was my first iPod. It was small, light and with the 4GB Model held a serious number of tracks and playlists. It was perfect for snow skiing as well.

I've been in love with iPods ever since. This original tall thin white version has been handed round our family since 2005 and somehow has survived to still be in use today.

Now Apple have announced there is a potential manufacturing defect with the battery that requires the recall of this model. So I've packed up and sent in the old workhorse (all pre-paid by apple) and am expecting a brand new iPod nano in the post.

 Even smaller than the original with at least 8GB of storage all at no charge. Certainly the best tech deal I've been offered today.

So if you have a 1st generation nano check out this link from apple to see if you qualify for a free replacement.

P.S.  I was out at a local mall when I mentioned this to my wife on the day I read about it on-line. Her suggestion was that we call in at the apple store to inquire further. I know it is mean of me, but I did enjoy the look of confusion on the face of the staff when we asked the question. Just another "Big Bang Theory" moment at the apple genius bar :)

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Leah Flanagan - Ukulele Diva

Over the past few years there have been two music quiz shows on Australian TV. They have their differences. Spicks and Specks on ABC has more comedy and Rockwiz on SBS perhaps is a little more earnest about its music credentials.

Both have been great sources for new music for me. Being over a certain age I don't listen to a lot of radio that showcases new talent and I don't frequent music festivals. Last night on "Rockwiz" (the bit I saw before falling asleep) I was introduced to Leah Flanagan, singer/songwriter of immense talent.

She performed an original song September Song (Video) and accompanied herself on electric ukelele. By itself this performance triggered the usual single minded web search to find out more about her and locate her music on the web.

On her website I found this quote:-

"Leah Flanagan is a flash from the past, in the style of Maria Muldaur and Bonnie Raitt, as she dances and sings her way into your heart as she heads for what I believe will be a promising future. Who could not be charmed by a beautiful woman, strumming a lovely ukulele and singing her own thoughtful yet care free songs. I am a Leah Flanagan fan and encourage you to be one as well. "


When talking about care free songs with a lazy tropical feel there is no greater authority and I have to agree 100 percent with Jimmy's assessment. (except I didn't see much of the dancing bit)

I found reference to two albums that had been released:-

"Leah Flanagan Band" - Leah's debut album. Available on as an import and available on her website as a download.

The sample tracks I listened to were of varied styles but all had the quality I had heard in the performance last night. For me the stand out track was Tipsy Tango. But then I've always been a fan of that style from Argentina

I resisted the temptation to order this CD. More so I have something still on my wish list for next week.

The second and more recent album is "Nirvana Nights" and this contained the track "September Song" which had originally captured my interest.

This Album is available on as an import but is also currently available on iTunes as a download. Being a naturally impatient person I opted for the download. I would normally have checked the local stores for a copy but at 7:00 on a Sunday morning this was just too long a wait.

Download complete I took to listening to the Album start to finish. None of the tracks disappointed. Leah's voice and songwriting carried them all through their various styles.

Stand outs are :-

Track 1 - First Class Lovers
Track 5 - September Song
Track 9 - Nirvana Nights

If I track down the debut album during the week I will add that to my collection, otherwise next week I will need to make a decision about where to order it from. 

Friday, November 18, 2011

Megan Washington

Last night at the "Spics & Spectacular" at the Horden Pavilion in Sydney was great fun but more about that in a later post.

One of the highlights mentioned from the seven years of the show was the performance of Megan Washington performing in the game segment Substitute. For those who have not seen it or for those who just want to see it again here is the link:-

Megan Washington on Spicks & Specks

Following that episode of the show her EP shot immediately to No.1 on the Australian iTunes download chart. I rushed out and purchased the actual CD "How To Tame Lions" rather than the download but the music is just as beautiful.

Totally in keeping with her somewhat alternative image it was some time before a full album was release. Fortunately the Australian release of "I Believe You Liar" contained a bonus disc with tracks for the various EPs that had previously been released for a total of 21 tracks plus a video.

To describe Megan's voice as Amazing is not an exaggeration. For such a soft voice it has qualities and what seems like even different dimensions that other voices don't have. Then there are the songs themselves. Introspective lyrics and varied instrumentation that could distract from the voice somehow enhance it.

I'm still drawn to two tracks from the "How to Tame Lions" EP as my favorites:-  Teenage Fury and Cement. But all of the other tracks have been given a share of her talent.

So have a listen yourself....

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

RIP the war on customers

Fair warning that this post is a bit of a rant against the restrictions that make legal downloading music not just painful but sometimes impossible. I promise that next post will be about the actual music.

So far I have described music I have purchased as physical CD's. This is the bulk of my collection and the way I usually prefer to operate. I end up with the music on my computer at home. From there I can play it anywhere in my house or download it to an iPod or other music player. This also lets me select what format and quality to use for the music storage and I have the CD for backup if necessary.

There is of course now the option of downloading music directly.

To be clear I'm only talking about legal purchasing and downloading of music. I don't condone or encourage illegal file-sharing or downloading from any dodgy sites. I'm not OK with downloading without paying. In fact in my collection I have albums which I have paid for up to 5 times:-
  • Actual Vinynal  album purchased twice because the original was lost, scratched, borrowed forever etc.
  • Then purchased the CD
  • Then purchased the High Definition DVD version
  • Then purchased a high definition download (more of this later)
So no Rock Star's children or record company lawyers are going without anything because of me.

However if anybody did illegally download any digital content (music. movies etc.) I can totally understand why, and the industries concerned are only making this a more attractive option.

On of the sites I had previously used for purchasing music was for a while this was a great site. For a small monthly subscription I could download a set number of tracks from their catalog of independent labels. There was nothing top 40 or even remotely current but that suited my purpose fine. There was music from all around the world, re-recordings of ancient hit by the original artists and more. All with no DRM restrictions and at a price per track that made experimenting on something new a risk worth taking. There was an excellent referral system to highlight other artists recommended or purchased by other users and it was a great way to find new and interesting music.

Then things started to change. Prices increased and then doubled again. All as a result of a deal with one of the majors to publish their back catalog (not current hits just old albums) This change of tack may have been justified for and may still even have interested me. Except that as a non US member of the site I was barred from downloading any of this new (old) material. So my monthly fee had nearly tripled and I was not getting anything for that fee increase. Emails were exchanged but it was clear that was happy to loose my business.

Now they don't accept customers from outside the US but they were at the time prepared to let me continue paying the higher fee for less product indefinitely.

I'm not happy with for their decision but my real issue is with the industry that continues to try an enforce restrictive copyright rules that were developed in the steam age in today's digital society. it is worth repeating once more. I want to pay for the music. The record companies won't let me.

The power of the industry extends to the political realm where they constantly lobby for ever more restrictive laws. Free trade agreements are unfortunately Orwellian in that they contain thousands of pages of exceptions make more things exempt from free trade than are actually free. These same agreements then mandate the enforcement of the restrictive rules on content licensing that frustrate legitimate customers.

If anybody thinks these rules are in the best interests of artists, customers or ultimately of the publishers they should look again at the take of King Canute.

It is not just one small site that is affected by these restrictions. I'm constantly bombarded by Emails from telling me I've earned a bonus mp3 download, only to be block at the final stage when I attempt to download the file. For some reason Amazon can tell the restrictions apply when I try to order the song but not when they send me the offer. Numerous Emails over several years to their customer service have proved they also don't care about infuriating paying customers.

Blogs and mews sites with embedded video often refuse to play.

There is a site I have been using and recommending for purchasing high-definition (better than CD quality) digital downloads

They have a great product which I'm happy to pay for. Again the non-US restrictions apply. As far as I'm aware there is no other site where I can legally buy these high definition downloads.

Complaining to the websites is not a productive use of anybody's time. Complaining to the record companies is even worse. The only possibility for change is to lobby the lawmakers, which I encourage you to do, Often.

Some people will instead seek out alternative websites for downloads..

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Song of Santa Monica - In Russian

For me, Santa Monica in California will always be associated with Russian Bluegrass Music. Not an association that everybody makes I'm sure but it was on my only visit to the famous pier on 1992 that I first heard and then purchased this colourfull addition to my collection.

Combining Russian Folk with Bluegrass is an interesting idea that must have seemed strange in the pre-Gorbachev soviet union when the group started. According to the liner notes (about the limit of the research I do) Kukuruza had to exist as an oddity or almost a carnival act, adding humor to their routines rather than play as a straight homage to the music of the U.S. Hence the costumes on the cover.

That image plus the cover of Johnny B. Good (on banjo with a Russian Accent) would normally be enough for me to buy the CD anyway, but as it was being played in the store at the time I was taken by the way the group had managed to fit the two musical traditions together. Track 1 - Poruska-Paranya was enough to get the CD a trip home with me.

The playing and arrangements are both well done but it is the Vocals by Irina Surina that make this recording exceptional. I spoke no Russian in 1992 and have not improved since then but the depth of emotion in the songs is unmistakable. I still have no idea what the lyrics of Track 4 - Steppe are about, but to me it conveys the spirit of a people who have survived hundreds of years of hardship and oppression. Enough to make you cry into your vodka. In fact it is on the couple of tracks in English that the whole things does not work so well for me.

There are other albums by this group still available (and I have them all). Somehow I always return to this one, it has a freshness and clarity that is not fully present in the later recordings.

It is good to see that this is now available as second hand on Amazon as even the record company (Sugar Hill Records) does not list any other source.

Of the 17 tracks I list 9 as being 4 or 5 star with track 4 and 14 just shading the others.


Kukuruza at - Listen to the samples

The Santa Monica Pier

Monday, November 14, 2011

Paolo Nutini - Sunny Side Up

Justifiably described as "the best singing talent to emerge from a Scottish fish and chip shop this century" Paolo Nutini does not disappoint with his second album.

I went looking for this album after seeing Paolo perform on the Graham Norton Show but more of that later. This turned out to be one of those occasions where the track that inspired me to buy the album turned out to be completely different in some way from the rest of the album. "pencil full of lead" is the track in question and its up-beat trad-jazz feel would not be out of place on a Kenny Ball album. This is in marked contrast to the rest of the tracks (and all of the tracks on his first album) which have a much more modern soulful feel.

Yet the quality of both the songwriting and the performance shines through in all the styles he adopts and the album stands as a complete work without any weak tracks. There is a sadness that pervades a lot of the songs so this is not a dance party favorite but for any quiet introspection or Sunday Brunch background it fits perfectly.

If you like "Sunny Side Up" then check out his debut album "These Streets"

 As mentioned above I first say Paolo on an episode of the Graham Norton show. Guests on that show included Anna Paquin (from Tru-Blood) which is why I was watching the episode in the first place. (Just in case they feel left out, the other guests were Mitchel and Webb who were also entertaining.) This episode seems to get repeated quite often on cable and is well worth watching more than once.

Besides the live performance from Paolo there is the skype session with "the Streep Brothers" in Cape Town, fans (huge understatement) of Anna who perform a song they have written about her.

I've tried including youtube links below for both Paolo's performance and the Streep Brothers. Having watched it again I'll have to go a source a copy of the song  A-N-N-A....


Anna Paquin's Face Scrunching Song

Paolo Nutini on Graham Norton - song starts at 4:50

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Rumer - Seasons of my Soul - A New Classic

Now Listening to:-


Quiet and truly soulful, this album certainly suits my current mood.

Comprising ten original tracks and three memorable covers the 2010 release has found a place at the top of my playlist over the last few months. It might just be the radio and TV channels that I consume, but so far I have yet to see or hear anything about this album or the UK singer here in Australia.

I picked up this CD on a recent visit to New Zealand. Walking down the hill from the top of Queen street at No. 438 I wondered into a large shop selling all manner of retro items.

As if the name itself "Real Groovy" was not enough to entice me in, the store stocked retro and vintage clothes, books and other collectables. After browsing through the Sci-Fi and music books on display I found my way to the huge CD section and began to flip through the racks.

While picking up albums by "The Legendary Shack Shakers" and "Dimitri from Paris" I was struck by the music being played in the background. Hanging around in stores like this and listening to what the staff recommend has payed great dividends over the years.

In this case I was mesmerised by the distinctive cover versions of "The Goodbye Girl", "Alfie" and "It Might be You" (From the movie "Tootsie", I recognised this as a cover but could not immediatly place it.)  At the same time the songs were so familiar and the arrangement and voice sounded so classic and clean I was sure it must have been a new cover album by some big name star or even some lost recordings from Dusty Springfield in her reflective period.

Anyway, with assistance from the young lady with the appropriate number of facial piercings and slightly faded pink hair I looked at the album only to discover it was a new recording from an artist I had not yet heard of. I added this album to my purchases and have been enjoying it ever since.

I do love the covers. They were the first things that drew me to the album and they continue to strike a chord when I hear them. However the ten original tracks are also something special and would make this a worthwhile purchase by themselves.

So have a listen to some of the material from this new big name star. (except in Australia) and if you are even in Auckland be sure to drop in at "Real Groovy" and listen to what they are playing.



Real Groovy - Auckland NZ 

 Official Rumer Website