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Bruford Levin Upper Extremities – Etude Revisited (90s – 41)

May 11, 2014

More jazz, but of a completely different hue.

By 1999 I was completely aware of the work of King Crimson, and the jazz sidelines by drummer Bill Bruford. I loved his Earthworks band, and especially his appearance on David Torn’s Cloud About Mercury album in the 80s, with stick player Tony Levin and trumpeter Mark Isham.

Upper Extremities was a partial reunion of that line-up, minus Isham but adding Chris Botti and with Bruford and Levin taking the lead. Bruford is in fine form here, with Torn adding brooding, droning guitar and Levin the intricate patter underneath even the drums. I was captivated.

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Hamish Moore and Dick Lee – Concerto for Bagpipes and Jazz Orchestra (90s – 42)

May 11, 2014

In the last post I mentioned bagpipes playing jazz. This is it. One night Robyn Johnston on the Planet played a night of instruments forgotten or generally joked about: viola, tuba, tap shoes, banjo, steel drums playing the Beatles, flower pots – you named it, she played it, and generally played in ways you would not have expected.

Thus the bagpipes. I love this track. I used to play it at 8am if I had problems waking up – the bagpipes would shock awake a tired brain. I had some strange ideas at the time but they were generally harmless. Like playing happy music when I felt sad to give me a pick-me-up. Those at high school thought this was mad – they listened to melancholic stuff, kept the mood. I only did that if I felt physically tired, not mentally upset. But I digress.

Later I would hear bagpipes in a very different jazz setting, Bell and Rasler piping it up in support of Jah Wobble and Evan Parker. I loved that music because I already had the toolkit to deal with it thanks to Moore and Lee.

This was only one of two tracks I ever heard from the pair but the droning bagpipes suddenly made sense outside of a folk or marching setting.

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Christy Moore – Me & Rose (90s – 43)

May 11, 2014

You may notice in this countdown I am freely genre-hopping. This how I consumed music in the 90. My (relative) realignment with the mainstream wouldn’t happen until arguably 2000 when I started reviewing. Before this I plucked music as I found it.

Chrity Moore was connected with those I had already been aware: he was the lead singer of Irish folk group Planxty with Paul Brady and Donal Lunny, whose own work appeared on those radio shows I heard late at night on the ABC – shows which also which also played electric banjo, multi-dubbed double bass or bagpipes playing jazz.

One night they played this 13 minute story, full of irreverence and dubious reminiscences. For a while I could recite great slabs of it. I’m not sure why I loved it, maybe because a lot of folk was either technical and fast or slow and serious.

This was neither, just entertainment, and I was entertained.

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Elliott Smith – Waltz #2 (90s – 44)

May 6, 2014

It was everywhere in ’98/’99. It was almost the official 2UNE song. This was perhaps the first communal act of song loving I was involved in. Not just liking a song someone else had recommended – this was played, talked about, requested, loved by a group of us. All my years of musical isolation, whether in the small country town or by having a show of unpopular music on radio, I had kept myself away. I played nothing to bond over. And though I was getting my Indie/Alternative chops by 1998 but I was exploring alone.

Until Waltz #2. It grabbed us all and demanded our attention. It’s a song I can name names with – all my friends who were fans. No other songs before this make up such memories. Other tracks would come, and some may pop up here. But Waltz #2 is the original and best of them.

And what grabbed us? The beat, thudding, knocking off time. The pointlessness of it all, the emotions bubbling under the surface of the monotone singing. Disco 2000 this is not. For once we didn’t tell the narrator to give it up. Some people were past telling. For a group of late teens and early twenty-somethings – these were feelings we were still trying to work out ourselves. The song was a beacon and a lodestone. It contained no answers but we could all relate to it. And we requested it on each other’s programs. And we bonded over it without ever admitting we were doing so.

Later, Smith’s Figure 8 album was one of the first I reviewed in print. Despite being a good album, it wasn’t the same. We didn’t bond over it. The moment had passed and we had moved on.

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Machine Translations – Out To Sea (90s – 45)

May 5, 2014

Somehow, at the very end of the 90s, I got in contact with Way Over There records, who sent a couple of things to me. That they had already sent the radio station some things in previous years was something I discovered later, and what I discovered later was the first two albums by J Walker, aka Machine Translations. Before I found these, what they sent me was his third album, Holiday In Spain. And on it was this glorious track.

This was before Machine Walker got big, for whatever value you give bigness to regular play on Triple J. Before Amnesia, Poor Circle, A Most Perculiar Place and the other great tunes. Holiday In Spain as an album showed an artist on the cusp between gloriously ramshackled DIY and slickly recorded quirk. Way Over There for a bit of a distro deal with BMG at this time, and maybe a little of the money flowed into production. Even if not, Walker had honed his skills perfectly. He was already known for producing other Australian acts and now he turned his skills fully onto is own songs.

Out To Sea became a regular on my radio show – often as a closer. The halting nonsense lyrics, the wide-eyed sadness in the strings, the guitar tearing at it all. This song had coda written all over it even though it wasn’t the last song on the album. Considering Australian Indie/Alternate was going stale (in some corners) around this time, this song was blessed relief.

Machine Translations would promptly sign for a bigger label, but Way Over There didn’t survive. The home of Disaster Plan, Wally Gun, Mississippi Barry and the Snuff Puppet Band ran out of money and time. It was a sad death but not the first label nor the last to go but sad nonetheless making Out To Sea the perfect coda for them, too.

Hear the song here.

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Red Russian Army Choir & Leningrad Cowboys – Sweet Home Alabama (90s – 46)

May 5, 2014

The single most exciting New Year’s Eve of my childhood years was at my Grandma’s unit. As a family we did nothing for New Year’s, but my Grandma’s unit that year – where I slept on a trundle-bed in the loungeroom – had something I didn’t have in my home town: SBS television, Australia’s ethnic TV station.

In previous years the ABC used to put on great documentaries on New Year’s Eve – I remember a corker about Mel Brooks one year – but by this time this was being replaced by Cher live.. again…

SBS, on the other hand, easily filled the gap. Firstly there was my first ever viewing of Dinner for One – an SBS tradition on NYE – and the other was the Leningrad Cowboys & Red Army Choir’s Total Balalaika Show. And it was bonkers.

I must have heard of the Leningrad Cowboys because I videotaped the show (and dubbed it onto cassette). I can’t remember my first encounter – I think they were at the 1995 edition of Womadelaide – but this concert on the TV blew away any ideas I may have had that classic pop was boring. The Cowboys – that hair – those boots – showed me pop was there to be fun. You would think this would be obvious, but I was pretty serious about music at this point.

Add to this the Red Army Choir – did they understand the lyrics they were singing? I did assignments on the fall of the Soviet Union. I read Tom Clancy. That this choir – the face of the other side – was singing these tracks with gusto would have unthinkable to me a couple of years earlier – well within my lifetime of political understanding.

Fast forward to 2000, and the night before a first kiss the girl in question and I watched the Leningrad Cowboys Do America after I found it in the video store. Perhaps the least likely romantic lead-up to a (admittedly short-lived) relationship I can think of.

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On Oldfield

April 15, 2014

After all this time, someone let Mike Oldfield write songs with actual lyrics.

On the bright side, this track is the best thing I’ve heard him do in years.

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