Blog Tour: Reconciliation for the Dead by Paul E Hardisty

From the PR: “Fresh from events in Yemen and Cyprus, vigilante justice-seeker Claymore Straker returns to South Africa, seeking absolution for the sins of his past. Over four days, he testifies to Desmond Tutu’s newly established Truth and Reconciliation Commission, recounting the shattering events that led to his dishonourable discharge and exile, fifteen years earlier.

It was 1980. The height of the Cold War. Clay is a young paratrooper in the South African Army, fighting in Angola against the Communist insurgency that threatens to topple the White Apartheid regime. On a patrol deep inside Angola, Clay, and his best friend, Eben Barstow, find themselves enmeshed in a tangled conspiracy that threatens everything they have been taught to believe about war, and the sacrifices that they, and their brothers in arms, are expected to make.

Witness and unwitting accomplice to an act of shocking brutality, Clay changes allegiance and finds himself labelled a deserter and accused of high treason, setting him on a journey into the dark, twisted heart of institutionalised hatred, from which no one will emerge unscathed.”

Here we are with the third volume in Hardisty’s Straker series and let’s get this out of the way now; they just keep getting better – Reconciliation for the Dead is a massive leap forward and the best of the three and I do hope there’s more to come. Don’t misunderstand; I thoroughly enjoyed both The Abrupt Physics of Dying and The Evolution of Fear but Reconciliation for the Dead is something else both as part of the Clay Straker family and as a novel.

At this point in time we’re a little ahead of the book’s publication date so I’ll be wary of giving away too much in terms of plot or spoiler. Instead I’ll say that Reconciliation for the Dead is a real genre-defier; at times action thriller, at times political intrigue, at others social commentary and at times literary fiction but BRILLIANT throughout. Hugely gripping, deeply moving, highly intelligent, and – as is a real hallmark of Hardisty’s work – a story with heart and conscience.

As detailed in the PR, this novel sees Clay return to his native South Africa to testify in front of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission – not so much for personal absolution but to lay out the truth on behalf of those unable to tell their stories. This isn’t one for the faint of heart; there are some intense scenes involved, bold and powerful revelations  from which Hardisty does not flinch. It’s practically impossible to run through just which atrocities we’re talking about here but we’re looking at the real nadir of human behaviour that’s let loose at times of war.  That so much of it is based on real events makes it all the more affecting.

The action scenes – into which you’re thrust pretty much from the get-go – are hugely immediate and crack along at a dizzying pace while retaining an intelligence that’s not all that common in the genre. For those who have read the previous novels Clay and Crowbar are both familiar characters – the events of Reconciliation for the Dead allow a far greater an understanding, filling in the gaps of a troubled and tortured history merely hinted at before.

This is a novel of actions and their consequences, of the past and its long shadow, the importance and cost of conscience and of the weight of regret. It makes for a gripping and compelling read. Hardisty’s writing, already accomplished – in my review of his first book I wondered if he hadn’t secretly been penning thrillers for years under an assumed name – is at it’s finest here; insightful, nuanced and intelligent and courageous; asking us all to examine our humanity and the cost of our actions.

Reconciliation for the Dead is as intense, thought provoking and hugely rewarding a read as it gets. Easily one of the best books of 2017. My thanks, as always, to Karen at Orenda for my copy of this book and do check out the other stops on the blogtour.

 

Fell On Black Days

Shocking news. Absolutely shocking news still coming in but; Chris Cornell, leading figure of the Seattle music scene, ‘grunge’ legend: July 20, 1964 – May 18, 2017.

Bruce Springsteen – LA Sports Arena, California 1988

Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in!

How? Well with a facebook post announcing that as it’s Mother’s Day in the US, Springsteen’s live archive series was available for half price – I’m still not sure I see the connection with the two but what the hell, I’d toyed with the idea of downloading one for a while and while the £ to $ ratio is a bit up and down depending on Maggie May or Putin’s Cock Holder, it still meant the idea of downloading a full concert for less than £4 was too good an opportunity to miss.

Which means that after something of a Bruce diet I found myself scrolling through the available shows and settling upon one from 1988 – from the Los Angeles Sports Arena, April 23rd to be precise. A 31 song setlist for less for around 10p a song.

Why this one, and not – say – the earlier peak-period concerts from, say ’75 or ’78? I reckon Hammersmith Odeon, London ’75 and the live concerts captured on The Promise: The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story, not to mention Live/1975–85 do a pretty good job of covering that era while anything post re-union I fancy hearing is also well documented with the Live In New York City and Hyde Park releases. The thing about all of those post-Tunnel Of Love releases, though, is that not a single tune from that album is represented. Given that I believe these represent some of his best, most insightful songs of his career, getting a high-quality concert from that era seemed like a no-brainer for me.

So.. with that in mind; is it any good? First thing – the sound quality is spot on and I only plumped up for the basic MP3s. And, having spent a couple of days with it now I can tell you that yes, it bloody well is good. I wouldn’t call it an essential live album but it’s a fascinating and at times brilliant concert and I would call it essential listening for a Bruce fan.

I say fascinating because the Tunnel of Love Express Tour found Bruce in a transitional phase. He was seemingly tired of the E Street and Bruuuuuce of old and was trying – perhaps in an interest to keep himself interested as much as give the audience something different – to mix things up. The venues were smaller than the megadomes of Bossmania and songs that had been setlist staples were culled in place of obscure b-sides (opener ‘Tunnel of Love’ was followed not by a crowd-shaker like ‘Badlands’ but by the weaker* ‘Be True’) and covers, band members were shuffled into different places – Max Weinberg was moved from centre to the side and Patti Scialfa was bought to a more prominent position, becoming more of a foil than Clarence Clemons. The positioning and role of Patti Scialfa caused much conversation at the time for obvious reasons.

Oh and, in a further effort to distance the work and tour from his former music, Bruce added a horn section – The Horns of Love. Those horns aren’t something I enjoy listening to, I’ll be honest. They trample all over ‘Adam Raised A Cain’ and their toots and parps over ‘Dancing in the Dark’ and ‘Glory Days’ don’t do anything for me. I reckon it would be a while before Bruce really figured out how to add the extended horn section into his live set-up**.

The shows on this tour were also stripped of on-stage spontaneity and the setlists were much more rigid. There’s also some strange moments – very rehearsed and repeated nightly – that make for odd listening. Whereas Live 1975/1985 featured the “Bruce’s Vietnam Dodge” story or tales about his relationship with his father, LA Sports Arena, California 1988 features a surreal 8-minute long ‘caper’ with Bruce and Clarence sitting on a park bench talking about ‘adult’ subjects such as marriage and kids in the build up to a horn-addled  All That Heaven Will Allow’. In fact the video below shows just that scene as well as the fact that it’s the same routine every night***.

But but but. Do not get me wrong. This is still a great live show. It’s fucking Springsteen after all and even with the sense of drama and fascinating confusion that shadow it this set is bloody good. Just check out the track listing:

Set One
“Tunnel of Love”
“Be True”
“Adam Raised a Cain”
“Two Faces”
“All That Heaven Will Allow”
“Seeds”
“Roulette”
“Cover Me”
“Brilliant Disguise”
“Spare Parts”
“War ”
“Born in the U.S.A.”

Set Two
“Tougher Than the Rest”
“Ain’t Got You”
“She’s the One”
“You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)”
“I’m a Coward”
“I’m on Fire”
“One Step Up”
“Part Man, Part Monkey”
“Backstreets
“Dancing in the Dark”
“Light of Day”

First Encore
“Happy Birthday to Roy Orbison”
“Born to Run”
“Hungry Heart”
“Glory Days”
“Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)”

Second Encore
“Have Love, Will Travel”
“Tenth Avenue Freeze Out”
“Sweet Soul Music”
“Raise Your Hand”

Yes; that is ‘Roulette’ sitting in there rubbing shoulders with a searing version of ‘Seeds’. Yes; that’s 8 songs from Tunnel of Love and they all hold their ground with some of the heavy weights of Bruce’s catalogue, specifically the meld of ‘Ain’t Got You’ into ‘She’s the One’. Video again taken from another night but…

There’s no ‘Thunder Road’ or ‘Badlands’ and ‘Born To Run’ is the acoustic recasting that would also feature on the Chimes of Freedom EP later that year but, with his desire to present his newer music in a more serious, less Bruuuuce light seemingly sated toward the end of the second set, Springsteen’s classics deliver in the same crowd delighting way they always did and will – ‘Backstreets’ is dedicated to the fans and they react accordingly and when ‘Rosalita’ kicks in the roof is torn off (Bruce making a point by singing “you don’t have to call me lieutenant Rosie.. But. Don’t. Call. Me. BOSS”). The songs from Tunnel of Love were already well known to the audience – the album had been out a good six months by now – and cuts such as ‘Brilliant Disguise’, ‘One Step Up’ and even ‘Two Faces’  are met by rapturous applause and, with the band now well broken in on the tunes and their roles (this was still only Scialfa and Nils Lofgren’s second tour), delivered as strong as the deeper cuts. ‘Spare Parts’, once its oh-so-80s piano intro is done, rips along like the scorcher it is on record.

Tunnel of Love was a near-perfect album that captured Bruce at his most insightful and human. The tour that followed marked not only the live casting of these songs but an artist trying to recast himself too. This tour would be the last time he would play with the E Street Band until 1999, he would shortly divorce his wife and begin a lasting relationship with Patti Scialfa, spend time attending to his personal life and his inner turmoil, taking a five year break from his career in the process. As such LA Sports Arena, California 1988 makes for a fascinating and captivating listen capturing the end of an era, the closing of the first chapter of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. I’ll be listening again for sure, £4 well spent.

*In comparison to the wealth of B-Sides he could’ve chosen but then I believe it was part of the ‘relationships’ theme of the show.

**I still don’t think they’re necessary. Live the E Street Band is one of the unstoppable, unbeatable things that doesn’t need padding out. It tears the roof off when in no-frills mode.

***Again, nothing that new, I read a piece in Rolling Stone from the Magic tour rehearsals that detailed that all of the gestures and interactions are pre-rehearsed rather than ad-libbed but then that’s not an 8 minute ‘bit’ involving a park bench.

New Songs from Old Friends

Crikey; I thought 2017 would be a slower one for new releases than last year but here we are while the year is still fairly young and the pre-orders for new albums are starting to tempt…

Leaving aside Radiohead revisiting OK Computer (because we’ll come to that soon enough) there’s shiny new albums (or white or indies-only clear) confirmed from a few old favourites  with new tracks already buzzing in the ears.

The National – The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness

It’s been four years since Trouble Will Find Me. Four. ‘The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness’ is, aside from a title like  Philip K Dick novel, more direct and immediate than anything on that album – no slowburn, just aggressive and urgent – and is the first release from Sleep Well Beast due in September.

Mogwai – Coolverine

Also dropping in September is Mogwai’s just-announced Every Country’s Sun. The untouchable Glaswegian post-rock legends are on a real flyer at the moment with a good five years of solid releases following 2011’s Hardcore Will Never Die, but You Will – soundtrack Les Revenants (2013), Rave Tapes (2014), compilation Central Belters (2015) and soundtrack, again, Atomic (2016) proving essential additions to my collection. Always good for track name’s Every Country’s Sun – along with the already shared ‘Coolverine’ features tracks called ‘Brain Sweeties’, ‘1000 Foot Face’ and ‘Don’t Believe The Fife’. Cannot wait.

The War On Drugs – Thinking of a Place

While there’s no album confirmed or named, it can only be a matter of time before the follow up to 2014’s hypnotising Lost In The Dream is announced. If this teaser is anything to go by it’s going to be great.

Pearl Jam – Again Today

So I’m not even familiar with Brandi Carlile but her 2007 album The Story has been covered by a variety of artists fora sort of 10 year celebration called Cover Stories with all proceeds going to War Child UK. Pearl Jam have contribute their take on ‘Again Today’. The original is a much quieter thing whereas Seattle’s finest hit it at full speed.  While it’s a cover it’s good to hear something new from Pearl Jam as the ticking clock continues to put distance between now and their last album and they’re definitely one of those bands with a knack for a good cover (almost a post in itself).

For those about to blog…

So… fellow music blogger Jason Ritchie who runs the The Rockin Chair Blog has a series where he salutes other music bloggers by giving them a quick Q&A. I was more than happy to take part when he asked me and you can read my answers here should you so wish.

The Rockin’ Chair is a place for Jason “to highlight new and old music” with an emphasis on the rock and well worth a follow.

 

Tony Hill pens the excellent ‘Mumbling About’ blog that combines music and books and he has a wide taste in both. Well worth a visit. What inspired you to start writing/blogging about music and books? I’ve been blogging in one way or another for about ten years now. I gave up on the personal stuff […]

via For Those About To Blog…We Salute You: TONY HILL — The Rockin’ Chair

Quick List: A French Top Five

So as the news arrives that France has decided not to vote in a fascist president* (even if 11 million of them did vote for one –  what the fuck mes amies?) I thought that I’d revisit the Top Five / Out of Europe format with a quick list of those songs – a sort of “this is what we’re saying goodbye to” from those countries that will remain part of the EU long after our pathetically ego-driven and pig-ignorant leader has ripped us from it.

Already covered: Sweden

France is, of course, our closest neighbour. Living down in Kent I’ve always been aware of that proximity and, when I worked down by the coast I’d see it on a daily basis, the rising of the North’s cliffs and coast on the horizon, often pulling up for lunch, looking at it across the Channel and wondering about the culture that dwelt over such a small stretch of water and just how close, within reach exploring it was. It was my first taste of wanderlust.

As it would happen, I ended up spending a large amount of time in France and Paris a few years later as my wife was still living there for the first year or so of our relationship. As such, while you end up with mixed feelings about any country / place you spend a lot of time in, I hold many a fond memory for the place and most of these songs are tied up in that.

So…. in no particular order and trying to cover as good a spread of genres as possible….

Noir Désir – Lost

Yeah…. so; this kind of enters into the whole separation of art from artist and whether you a) can and b) is the art more important than the artist. Given that everything Noir Désir recorded preceded Bertrand Cantat’s violent and fatal assault of his girlfriend** it should be the case that one of France’s biggest rock band’s work remains free to stand alone but it’s a heavy shadow that’s been cast over it. Still, as I’ve said before – I wasn’t aware of this when I got into the band and I still enjoy the music as it reminds of me of my time there, having discovered them while sat in traffic in Paris and listening to the radio. This one comes from their final album des Visages des Figures, a more brooding affair than previous efforts but a successful one.

MC Solaar  – Nouveau western

A genius recasting of Serge Gainsbourg et Brigitte Bardot’s 1968 classic French song ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ – that song itself reportedly based on a poem Bonnie Parker had written moments before she and Clyde Barrow were gunned down. MC Solaar – or Claude M’Barali to give him his full name – was one of the first to get rap through to the mainstream in France. ‘Nouvaeu Western’ tackles racism and colonialism, is catchy as hell and features an absolutely brilliant video.

M83 – Kim & Jessie | Air – All I Need

If we’re talking French electronic music (and not discussing Jean-Michel Jarre) there’s got be three bands that will come up: Daft Punk, Air and M83. I like a bit of Daft Punk but couldn’t really say I listen to any of it enough to warrant a place for it here. M83’s ‘Kim & Jessie’ had me hooked from the opening with those monumental electric drum hits. There’s something so surging, nostalgic and warm about this song that’s irrefutably good. Air’s ‘All I Need’ from their first album Moon Safari (nearly 20 years old ffs) has a similar effect on me, just bliss.

Yann Tiersen – “J’y suis jamais allé”

Man I could probably fill another post with rambling about French films and their soundtracks and may well do at a later date when you know… procrastination allows.  I’d have to talk about Eric Serra’s soundtrack work and give off gas about Subway or how addictive I find from Enae Volare from Les Visiteurs and….  Let’s get this list finished first though.  Probably the most well known soundtrack and most obviously ‘French’ of the lot though is this piece from the mighty Yann Tiersen’s second album Rue des cascades as it would go on to feature in his soundtrack for Amelie five years later, catapulting it and Tiersen to a much greater audience. I still love it though, cliché as it may be.

This is, of course a quick list – ie; those that came to me first. If I sat down and gave it more thought then a) this would never get finished and posted and b) I would likely swap a few but then….

Honourable mentions:

Yael Naim – Paris

Alain Bashung – J’écume

Charlotte Gainsbourg – 5:55

Eric Serra – Guns and People

*I’m trying (clearly not completely succeeding) to avoid politics on this blog but I will say that while I celebrate any victory over far-right, holocaust-denying fascism I don’t believe Macron is a strong result either and the thing with his wife….. forget about it.

**Cantat was sentenced to 8 years in prison for Involuntary Manslaughter and was released on parole having served 4. During his time in prison his house was burnt down. After his release – much protested by the band made a brief attempt at returning but the guitarist called it quits citing  “emotional, human and musical differences” with Cantant and the band announced it was done. Cantant has continued in music though this remains a controversial discussion point in the musical press and community.

Blog Tour: Faithless by Kjell Ola Dahl

From the PR: “Oslo detectives Gunnarstranda and Frølich are back … and this time, it’s personal…

When the body of a woman turns up in a dumpster, scalded and wrapped in plastic, Inspector Frank Frølich is shocked to discover that he knows her … and their recent meetings may hold the clue to her murder. As he begins to look deeper into the tragic events surrounding her death, Frølich’s colleague Gunnarstranda finds another body, and things take a more sinister turn. With a cold case involving the murder of a young girl in northern Norway casting a shadow, and an unsettling number of coincidences clouding the plot, Frølich is forced to look into his own past to find the answers – and the killer – before he strikes again.”

Caution- a whiff of slight spoiler may be ahead…

So… today is my stop on the BlogTour for Kjell Ola Dahl’s Faithless and I’m not really sure where or how to start with a review for this one because it is so fucking good.

I suppose I could start by pointing out that I have zero prior familiarity with Kjell Ola Dahl’s work or the Oslo Detectives series into which this novel slots but it’s safe to say it’s not required. At no point while reading did I feel as though I was missing out on something vital in terms of plot or character arcs as Faithless has been so ridiculously well crafted as to work not only, I assume, as a fantastic continuation of a series but as a bloody strong stand alone novel too.

As for the plot… gripping and so brilliantly pieced together as to leave no question that this book would be put down until finish. Frølich, tired after an all-night surveillance pulls over a person of interest and discovers she’s carrying cocaine. She’s booked, reveals nothing, pays a fine and is set free. Frølich then meets her again when it turns out she’s engaged to an estranged friend with whom he’s recently reconnected. When she’s murdered just days later it’s all a little to close to home. The disarmingly calm and methodical investigations reveal a complex web that may or may not connect it to a decades-old murder and comes with plenty of surprises and twists.

The stately prose and style is that of a master (expertly translated by Don Bartlett); precise and clinical without a spare word and packing plenty of punch.

When it comes to the characters… as I said – I have no prior knowledge of this series (something I desperately need to fix) but in no way felt I was missing anything; Frølich, Gunnarstranda and all are perfectly rendered and genuine characters for whom any reader will root and find common ground.

To say Karen at Orenda has impeccable taste would be an understatement right now. A couple of years ago she introduced me to the work of Gunnar Staalesen, “one of the fathers of Nordic Noir” , and now here we are with yet another master of the genre on her list. Unbelievable amount of talent and beautiful prose. A real must read that I cannot enthuse enough about. Many thanks, again, to Karen for my copy and do check out the other blogs on the tour: