Archive for August, 2008

FREE! Music for grown-ups on the BBC in the next 10 days

August 28, 2008
Music for grown-ups on BBC radio/TV in the next 10 days:

Sun 31 Aug
2000 Verdi’s Requiem, Proms – BBC Radio 3
2400 Theme Time Radio Hour with Bob Dylan (Series 2) – BBC 6 Music

Mon 1 Sept
2330 Orchestra Baobob at WOMAD, World On 3 – BBC Radio 3

Thurs 4 Sept
2300 Theme Time Radio Hour with Bob Dylan (Rpt) – BBC Radio 2

Fri 5 Sept
2100 They Came From Manchester – BBC4
2230 Billy Strayhorn, Jazz On 3 – BBC Radio 3
2250 Factory: Manchester From Joy Division to Happy Mondays – BBC4

Online access: many BBC radio programmes are broadcast online, streamed. Please see the channels’ web sites for details. Archived BBC radio and TV programmes are accessible online for a short period via:

Gerry Smith

Conor Oberst in Portsmouth: a magical gig

August 27, 2008
Last night’s Conor Oberst gig in Portsmouth was a stunner. The city’s sold-out Wedgwood Rooms, a tiny venue holding about 500, standing, was treated to a committed, energetic Oberst show, with powerful support from his Mystic Valley Band.

The 1 hour 40 minute show took you on an eclectic, richly musical tour, veering from country rock to confessional singer-songwriter balladry and new wave/indie rock to the Chicago blues.

The core of the set was a trio of songs from the fine new album (also called Conor Oberst): Moab, Milk Thistle, and I Don’t Want To Die (In The Hospital).

A highlight – one among many – was a rousing blues version of Corrina Corrina, the trad ballad popularized by Bob Dylan (on The Freewheelin’…). It showed the Mystic Valley Band – three guitars, drums and keyboards/synth/flugelhorn – at their best. The impossibly young lad playing bottleneck seized his opportunity to excel.

The Mystic Valley Band were a fine complement to Oberst all night long – having clearly bonded creatively and socially during the gestation of the new album in remote rural Mexico.

Conor Oberst (the artist formerly known for Bright Eyes), an engaging, immensely likeable performer, overcame a heavy cold just to be there – he was sweating profusely, spluttering, drinking, even spitting (!) all night long. Many less committed musos would have stayed in bed in the hotel with a hot water bottle and a pile of pills. Oberst worked very hard – and enjoyed it.

The head cold – and the mainly rock-out setlist – meant that Oberst’s signature, keening, tremulous vocals, were reined in, except in the ballads. Watching him from 10 feet away reminded me just what a gifted musician, songwriter and performer he really is: few contemporary rockers can touch him.

I half believe that rock is dead, but gigs like last night’s magical Conor Oberst show prove that it has plenty of life left – it just depends who’s playing.

Catch this tour! Buy the new album!

Gerry Smith

Bach’s St John Passion: the Proms highlight

August 25, 2008
Last night’s Proms performance of Bach’s St John Passion, broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and BBC4 TV, was suitably divine.

The English Baroque Soloists and the Monteverdi Choir were exquisite. The solo voices, led by Mark Padmore (tenor) as the Evangelist, sang beautifully. Conductor John Eliot Gardiner kept it all moving along with firmness and finesse.

Quite apart from the powerful photography/direction and the use of subtitles to translate the text from the German, the digital TV technology was well employed to enrich the experience, with useful textual info on composer, work and performers.

Until last night, I’d hardly been excited by the Proms 2008 season but this Bach was spectacular. I only wish I’d been in the hall to witness it.

You can hear/watch it for another 6 days:

Gerry Smith

Mutations – the electronica primer I’ve been looking for

August 22, 2008


I’ve been developing an interest in electronic music for some time. But I searched in vain for a guidebook to the varieties, history and big names in the music.

Until last week. Then I bought a copy of Mutations: A History Of Electronic Music (edited by Peter Shapiro, Caipirinha Productions, NYC, 2000, 255pp, $29.95).

It’s a lively collection of essays on the electronica sub-genres, from Krautrock to disco, house to jungle and techno to ambient: exactly what I’d been searching for. They’re complemented by interviews with major players – Teo Macero, Robert Moog, Can, for starters. Plus loads of telling photos, artist bios, and lists of recommended listening. And it’s an achingly beautiful artefact.

I’m loving it. Highly recommended.

Gerry Smith



Dance music for grown-ups

Whenever I hear dance/electronica, I like it. Basement Jaxx, Moby and Dizzee Rascal ring my bell. I don’t know much about the genre, though, so I’m finding the current issue of Mixmag magazine very useful.

Celebrating its 25th birthday, the dance monthly profiles “the 25 biggest names in electronic music: Daft Punk, Fatboy Slim, Basement Jaxx, LCD Soundsystem, The Prodigy, Moby, Mylo, Richie Hawtin, Roisin Murphy, Dizzee Rascal, Paul van Dyk, Goldie, Sven Vath, Felix Da Housecat, Erick Morillo, Sasha, Faithless, Underworld and more”.

If, like me, you mistakenly chose to ignore an important strand of contemporary music, and now want to catch up, the current issue of Mixmag is for you – it’s a shopping list compiled by experts.

Gerry Smith

Bob Dylan Inc?

August 21, 2008
I keep hearing rumblings of discontent about what’s alleged to be the growing commercialisation of Dylan’s creativity.

One Dylan Daily reader confided a few days ago: “incidentally I’m pissed off with all the latest money-grabbing (or should that be grubbing) antics of Bob Dylan Inc – absolutely no need for any of it!”

It was provoked by the fanciful price for the top spec super-duper version of the forthcoming album, Tell Tale Signs.

There have been similar stirrings in the past, of course, principally about Dylan’s involvement in TV ads.

While respecting the views of those who are uncomfortable when art mixes too readily with commerce, I take a more relaxed view of the merchants in the temple.

I don’t blame anyone, creative artist or not, for maximising the return for their labour, as long as what they do doesn’t offend my moral sense.

But record companies and concert venues testing whether the market will bear silly prices doesn’t offend me – it’s capitalism in action. I can choose to ignore them. And it hardly ranks alongside selling people into slavery or biting off the heads of babies.

It’s Sony’s commercial decision to set prices for Bob product. If they get it right, people will buy. If not, they’ll be left with eggy faces (and unsold stock).

Me? I wouldn’t touch the Tell Tale Signs Special/Limited DeLuxe Collector’s Edition @ $130 with a four metre bargepole. But, then, it’s not aimed at me – I dare say that if I was a serious collector, I’d have placed my order weeks ago.

I’ll be snapping up the standard Tell Tale Signs 2CD on release day, though!

Gerry Smith

FREE! Music for grown-ups on the BBC in the next 10 days

August 19, 2008
Music for grown-ups on BBC radio/TV in the next 10 days. It’s the thinnest week of the year, as the audiences have deserted their radios/TVs for Med beaches:

Wed 20 August
1200 Rameau, Composer Of The Week (rpt) – BBC Radio 3
(3/5, continues Thurs-Fri)
2230 Angelika Kirschlager (mezzo), Proms Artist Focus – BBC Radio 3
(3/4, continues Thurs)

Thurs 21 August
2300 Theme Time Radio Hour with Bob Dylan (Rpt) – BBC Radio 2

Fri 22 August
2230 Charlie Haden Quartet, Jazz On 3 – BBC Radio 3

Sun 24 August
2400 Theme Time Radio Hour with Bob Dylan (Series 2) – BBC 6 Music

Thurs 28 August
2300 Theme Time Radio Hour with Bob Dylan (Rpt) – BBC Radio 2

Online access: many BBC radio programmes are broadcast online, streamed. Please see the channels’ web sites for details. Archived BBC radio and TV programmes are accessible online for a short period via:

Gerry Smith

HMV’s in-store mag: strong new issue

August 18, 2008
I’m not a massive fan of HMV Choice, the music chain’s in-store mag.

It covers an attractively eclectic range of music – everything except rockpop, in fact. But its style reveals its purpose – a sales catalogue. And it covers a lot of new crossover pap you couldn’t give me for free.

That said, the latest issue HMV Choice covers new releases by an unusually high proportion of Music for Grown-Ups favourites, including Jim Moray, Wynton Marsalis, John McLaughlin, Juan Diego Florez, Rolando Villazon, Ry Cooder, Simon Keenlyside, Angelika Kirschlager, Cassandra Wilson and Eddie Cochrane.

Quite a roster!

You can pick up a free copy of HMV Choice in-store.

Gerry Smith

De La Soul lead eclectic roster at Jazz Cafe

August 15, 2008
De La Soul, with a seven night residency from Monday 25 August, lead an eclectic roster at London’s Jazz Café.

Also scheduled are:

23 Grandmaster Flash
30/31 Sly & Robbie

7/8 Robben Ford
27-29 James Taylor Quartet

27-31 Roy Ayers Ubiquity

January 2009
2-4 Roy Ayers Ubiquity
9-11 Lee “Scratch” Perry
30/31 Fred Wesley

Deeply eclectic. Deeply impressive. Lovely intimate (standing) venue for grown-up music. Highly recommended: check it out!

Gerry Smith

The greatest tenor?

August 14, 2008
After the sad demise of Pavarotti, most opera lovers would probably rank Placido Domingo as the top living tenor. Me too.

BBC Music Magazine polled a panel of 16 critics a few months ago and Domingo outranked Pavarotti (and even Caruso) to take top spot.

But I’d be just as happy to queue to see an exciting younger talent who always thrills the house on his regular visits to Covent Garden – the Argentinian Marcelo Alvarez.

The top five tenors in the BBC Music poll were:

1. Domingo
2. Caruso
3. Pavarotti
4. Wunderlich
5. Bjorling

I hardly know the recordings of Wunderlich or Bjorling, so I must investigate: joy to come!

Gerry Smith

Melody Gardot – Discoveries #1

August 14, 2008
I’m usually very wary of musicians who suddenly appear on the radar, as if from nowhere. I suspect that some corporate exec or other has decided the s/he is to be the next big thing and has invested a lot of money to ensure that it happens.

The problem with over-promoted musos is that they can’t possibly live up to the advanced billing.

Having suddenly become very aware of her, I automatically put American chanteuse Melody Gardot in this category.

But then, watching Channel 4’s Live From Abbey Road for the first time on Friday, to catch the great Herbie Hancock, I stumbled upon Melody in a live performance from Herbie’s recent album, River: The Joni Letters.

My, my – what a distinctive voice. Gardot’s beautiful tone and her innate swing enlivened Mitchell’s Edith and The Kingpin, an already great song.

I’ll be watching closely for more recordings and performances from Melody Gardot, one of my most striking recent music for grown-ups discoveries.