The Shuffle the Music Thing

So I’ve seen this one floating about on a couple of blogs in my feed and thought it would prove an easy way to get back into posting after a couple of weeks out. Thought…

THE RULES
• Mention the creator of the tag and link to their blog (created by https://stuffonablogblog.wordpress.com/about/)
• Thank the person that nominated you for this tag and link to their blog as well – I saw this over on Aphoristic Album Reviews and he left it open to all so I’ll do the same
• Shuffle your entire music library (no matter how old songs the songs are) and talk about the FIRST FIFTEEN songs that come up (anything like why they are there, if they signify something, any story, why you like them etc.)
• Mention the songs as well as the artists.
• You’re supposed to tag people – but if you’re following this blog, and want to make your own list, go for it!

It’s worth pointing out that it’s impossible to “shuffle your entire music library”. This is the result of hitting shuffle on my iPod instead, an iPod which – following a recent purge – doesn’t contain anything I’ll have on cd so is fairly far from ‘entire’. However…

Man of War  – Radiohead: Kind of obvious why this one is on here – it’s from the OKNOTOK OK Computer re-release. It’s one of the three ‘new’ tracks and it’s really fucking good.

There She Goes – The La’s: Oddly I hadn’t listened to this in age. It’s one of those things you learn to play when you first pick up a guitar, was in risk of being over-played on radio but is an undeniable classic.

 

Alive (Salt Lake City, 1995) – Pearl Jam: Pearl Jam is easily the most featured artist in my iTunes if only for all the concert (official and otherwise) bootlegs on there. This one is distinctly non-official so no chance of a vid or a spotify link. Pretty good quality and features a good setlist and the début of one of my favourite PJ songs, ‘Red Mosquito’.

The Captain – Biffy Clyro: I’m quite partial to a bit of Biff, good straight-ahead rock with plenty of twists and the occasional change-up thrown in. I’m fairly sure I saw them live early into their career but that may be a false memory…. this one is from their fifth album. Need to listen to their newer stuff more I think.

Hung My Head – Johnny Cash:  What can I possibly say about Johnny Cash that hasn’t been said? Fuck all. This one is from American IV, which is where I stopped with the series – the whole posthumous scaps thing not really doing it for me. I couldn’t believe this is actually a Sting song, Johnny and his dark gravelly voice pisses all over Mr Sumner’s muzak version.

Where Do You Think You’re Going  – Dire Straits: It’s on here because Dire Straits are one of those bands that I slip on for a bit of comfort listening and always evoke memories. I also love the build up to Knopfler’s solo on this cut from their second album.

Not You Again – Dinosaur Jr: A quick little blast of a tune from 1991’s EP Whatever’s Cool With Me

Peer Gynt Suite #1, Op. 46 – Morning Mood – Edvard Grieg: There’s a fair bit of classical music on my iPod and I’m surprised that this is the only one that came up (I’m also surprised I didn’t get an ‘encore break’ or a marketing podcast). Thanks to the nature of classical music and different recordings of the same peice it’s an impossible mission searching for the same album – swiped from my Dad’s collection  – as the one on my iTunes but this is easily Grieg’s most well known piece.

Oats In The Water – Ben Howard: This is the song that got me listening to Ben Howard. I’d heard and not paid attention to the stuff from this first album but this dark, broody one with it’s rumbling finger picking and moodiness got my attention and served as a good bridge to the stuff on his, superior, second album which gets many a listen.

Gagarin – Public Service Broadcasting: Public Service Broadcasting seem to have a Marmite effect on listeners and reviewers. I heard ‘The Other Side’ on the radio and was hooked. I’ve got a thing for the space race and so enjoy the album. That being said, this one is probably one of my least favourite tracks but that’s the nature of shuffle.

Mineral – Buffalo Tom: I’ve expressed my love for Buffalo Tom plenty of times on this blog. This great tune is from their brilliant third album Let Me Come Over which has just received a 25th Anniversary style re-release which I’ve been enjoying of late.

Teenage Angst – Placebo: I was, just the other day, voicing aloud the question of ‘what happened to Placebo?’. They went from producing awesome songs like this to fetid dumps with lyrics like ‘my computer thinks I’m gay’. A real shame because with their first two albums they made a shitload of good music.

At A Glance – Message to Bears: I can’t recall how I got into Message To Bears. It’s the work of one chap from Sheffield, Jerome Alexander, who describes his music as “interweaving acoustic guitar, piano, electronics, ethereal samples, strings and hushed vocals.” It’s perfect, blissful stuff for slipping on and chilling out to.

Head First – Junip: So… Junip is the band of José González that he got back together after achieving solo success on the back of that Sony Brava TV ad (you know the one with all the bouncing balls). Junip I found via the Walter Mitty film and I think I prefer the band stuff to his solo work.

That’s All Right – Arthur Crudup: While my wife was still living in Paris she went to see an exhibition called “Rock’n’Roll 39-59” which was ‘an exhibition on the genesis and launch of rock’n’roll in the United States’. I wish I’d seen it but I do have the CD she got from it on our iTunes library which includes this, Arthur Crudup’s original song that some kid from Tupelo, Mississippi would record a few years later and make a few quid from.

 

Out of Europe: A Romanian Top Five

Here we are, over a year from that colossal outpouring of Stupid that was the Leave vote and with all the idiocy that has fallen out of the government in its tailspin and while all the polls and surveys now indicate that the general consensus amongst us Brits is “holy shit that was a big fucking mistake, STOP STOP STOP” the stupidity continues.

So as we look to be the first country since Greenland to shoot itself in the face in the name of political turpitude, I thought it was as good a time as any to shift the focus of this series to one of the EU’s most recent members, a country to whom I owe so much and have a huge amount of love for despite its contradictions, my second-home in Europe as it were; Romania.

I can’t include one of the precious few songs sung in Romanian I know for even though Zdob și Zdub sing in the language, they’re from the neighbouring Moldova. So ‘Everybody in the Casa Mare‘ will have to remain a ‘linked-to’. I’m also anxious to use this one to show that the Romanian scene is far more than the ‘traditional folk‘ music associated with the country.

This post has been a little longer in gestation than many. My wife, having left the country a fair old amount of time ago, hasn’t kept up with its music and so we reached out to a friend who runs a concert promotion company out of Bucharest and a couple on here are her recommendations. OneDay is a self-financed, independent effort aimed at promoting Romanian new music and introducing emerging international bands to the local concert scene. Pretty cool, right? She’s been involved in getting some pretty big names to the country and is always championing new Romanian music.

As such this post has been something of a voyage of discovery for me, opening my ears to a huge and varied music scene in the country – I’m next heading over in September and am hoping to hit up a few record shops as well as getting back into the mountains.

But I’ll start this list with the first bit of ‘alt/rock’ in Romanian I heard, via my wife….

Omul Cu Şobolani – Depresia toamna-iarna ’06-’07

So, I have no idea whether Omul Cu Şobolani  (I believe they were formed in București) are ‘cool’ back in Romania anymore of it’d get me ‘ugh’ looks in a record shop but this group keep it simple – one guitar, bass, drums and vocals. It was the first bit of rock I heard from the country and I still enjoy it.

Greetings Sugar – Drunken revelations (with Bogdan Serban)

This one came via the recommendations list. These guys also hail from and describe themselves as a “dark hearted band from Eastern Europe”. There’s something of The National / Interpol to the vocals on this, their second single. ‘Drunken Revelations’ is the follow up / over half to their début single – Greener – also worth checking out.

Fine, It’s Pink – Waiting for You

Fine, It’s Pink (another from the list) hail from  Iași and categorise themselves with phrases like “electronic bluesy dream pop” and  “electronica post indie”…  I love the mix of different elements in this one topped off by those vocals.

Fluturi Pe Asfalt – Nu crezi că pot?

Now we come to the discoveries… That ‘Related Videos’ feature on YouTube can also be a blessing for it’s where I found Fluturi Pe Asfalt. This four-piece from Cluj-Napoca (Romania’s second biggest city) tick off so many things I love in music: soaring guitars, mood, thumping drums, post-rock elements, a BIG sound… I’ve been rinsing their bandcamp page for listens (not everything is on YouTube and Spotify isn’t as international as it would like to think) and once I’ve finally worked out how to shift my iTunes over to the new Mac at home I’ll be hitting the purchase button.

We’ve also switched back to Romanian too. The language (I hang my head at my limitations with it) suits the genre, I think and, for those who’s Romanian is as bad as mine – “Nu crezi că pot?”means “Don’t You Think I Can?”

Pinholes – Poza

These guys describe themselves as “alternative rock band with influences that vary from post/art-rock to shoegaze and post-punk.” Again – I’m really getting into this and there’s something about the dark, brooding tone to this, the thumping drums  that I love and, again, tick so many boxes for me. Oh, Poza = Picture.

 

Out of Europe: 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.

Quick List: Top Five ‘River Songs’

I was up in Cambridge the other day and aside from the usual insistence my mental jukebox has of lining up Pink Floyd songs, the chalked up directions to the Cam got me thinking about ‘river songs’ – songs either about or with rivers in their title.

Once I’d started thinking though it was quite the flood. However, here’s a quick Top Five:

Nick Drake – River Man

Pixies – River Euphrates

Bob Dylan – Red River Shore

I think that period from Oh Mercy to Time Out of Mind was one of Dylan’s finest so Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Seties Vol.8 is a real treasure trove and this is a real gem upon it.

REM – Find The River

Bruce Springsteen – The River

Was there ever any question this would be here?

Of course there could also be CCR’s ‘Green River’ (‘Proud Mary’ being overdone), Ocean Colour Scene’s ‘Riverboat Song’, ‘Dam That River’ by Alice In Chains, ‘Five Feet High and Rising’…..

 

 

Least To Most: Bruce – “halfway to heaven and just a mile outta hell”

Ok, so I’ve just looked at my (much revised, scrawled over and rewritten) list and realised we’re at the half way point in my rambling about Bruce’s albums in Least to Most Favourite order. We’re ten down with ten to go and that feels like a good point to take a breather* and talk about some Springsteen songs (a couple of favourites amongst them) that wouldn’t otherwise get a mention and take a look at those releases that don’t qualify for the list.

Compilations 

Bruce was twenty three years into his recording career before he decided it was time for a compilation. 1995’s Greatest Hits oddly didn’t get the best reviews – many felt that by omitting anything prior to Born To Run, Bruce was cutting out an important part of his history (“no Rosalita?!” was a common cry in reviews I’ve found in archives**) and others suggested that these songs simply didn’t belong together and performed better in their original album sequencing… though isn’t that the case with all such compilations? Seems like a trite comment to make.

Personally, this was my introduction to Bruce Springsteen so I’m a little biased. I was a little put-off by the sounds of ‘Born In The USA’ and it’s kin (this was 1995, after all, and such sounds weren’t ageing well) but there was no denying the draw of songs like ‘The River’ and ‘Atlantic City’ which were the big hook for me.

I’ll also make a fight for the new songs included here that many a critic argued were weak. I think ‘Blood Brothers’ remains an essential Bruce Springsteen song and both ‘Streets of Philidelphia’ and ‘Secret Garden’ are strong tracks and that’s without the dusted-off and revisited ‘Murder Incorporated’ (which saw Steven Van Zandt return to the fold for the video and would become a real blazer on the Reunion Tour) and ‘This Hard Land’ – both Born In The USA cuts that didn’t make selection, the latter of which was Max Weinberg’s favourite tune. For a one-stop sampler of Bruce Springsteen V1***, Greatest Hits is still a damn good start for any Bruce newbie.

Strangely enough, just two studio albums later and with the successful launch of Bruce Springsteen V2 cemented, it was time for another compilation.

This time more space was allotted to it and the selection was allowed to span out across two discs so that The Essential Bruce Springsteen kicked off with ‘Blinded By The Light’ and wrapped it up with cuts from Live In NYC and The Rising making sure to include ‘Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)’, all the hits, some fan favourites like ‘Jungleland’ and ‘Nebraska’. Of course, the fans would already have all of these so a limited run with a third disc of rarities was offered and some of those are none-too shabby either. I particularly enjoy Springsteen’s live take on ‘Trapped’:

Odder still, in 2015 the track listing was revised. Out went ‘Jungleland’ and ‘Tunnel of Love’ and in came ‘Tenth Avenue Freeze Out’ and ‘One Step Up’ and a handful of other tracks were shuffled / cut in order to make space for a couple of bolted-on post-The Rising tunes. Bonkers, if you ask me; cutting ‘The Darkness On The Edge of Town’  to make space for something from High Hopes?! Why bother?

On the ‘Why Bother’ list is the 2009 Greatest Hits which was billed to Bruce and The E Street Band (is that only their second billing? Though they didn’t get the US cover) which strips it all back to one disc and adds a couple of newer tracks – presumably released to catch the newer casuals after Superbowl and festival appearances.

Chapter & Verse was released this year to coincide / accompany Bruce’s Born To Run book. It’s somewhat linear and obvious in its song selection and only really stands out in as much as being more ‘personally’ selected than the above comp and featuring a handful of pre-Columbia Recording Artist Bruce. The best of which being ‘Ballad of Jesse James’. I’ve yet to add this to the shelves as they’re not what you’d call ‘required listening’ for anything other than an intro to the origins story.

Live

In terms of live albums, while there’s certainly a couple listed on Bruce’s discography, Live 1975-85 is inarguably the best way to get a take on what makes Springsteen live so legendary. Sure, Live In NYC is a good capture of the reunited E Street Band (and the best place to hear its new songs) but it’s strange sequencing and fading out have hampered it and interrupt the flow.

Live 1975-85 contains 40 songs recorded with the band in its prime, a wealth of classics, Springsteen pre-song story telling and, in ‘Seeds’ another great original:

It’s only downfall – and one that was much picked up on by fans I’m given to understand – was that it didn’t include ‘Prove It All Night’ in the live reshaping (or at all, in fact) that had acquired a massive fandom. So here it is:

Worth mentioning that Bruce is more than savvy to the current musical buying trends and has made many a current and classic concert available for download at http://live.brucespringsteen.net/

EPs

1988’s Chimes of Freedom was released to tie-in with the Human Rights Now! tour. The live rendition of ‘Tougher Than The Rest’ is suitably girded by the E Street Band’s backing, ‘Be True’ is a decent enough tune but the flip side with Bruce’s take on Dylan’s ‘Chimes of Freedom’ and the acoustic ‘Born To Run’ and still captivating stadium-size crowds is the strongest, in my opinion:

Blood Brothers originally came with the film of the same name (in a very limited pressing) that documented the mini-reunion of the E Street Band. While the tracks included are certainly interesting there’s nothing really here other than curiosities – like the ‘alt’ version of the title song.

Which brings us to the last release of new Bruce Springsteen material – American Beauty. Now, if High Hopes was made up of songs that didn’t make the cut for The Rising or Wrecking Ball then an ep of songs that didn’t make the cut of THAT might be stretching it a bit….  Indeed it is. Nothing on here is particularly essential in its listening and there’s chunks of all that were salvaged and better used elsewhere, it’s release remains something of a mystery to me, almost an example of a big artist and major label slapping something together to cash in on Record Store Day and it pains me to say that as a fan. That being said, ‘Hey Blue Eyes’ is a very good song and I do play it a fair old bit on stream. One of Springsteen’s angry Bush-era political songs that isn’t mired by over-production – almost demonstrating in on four-track EP how clearly Brendan O’Brien is the better set of hands for Springsteen’s songs over Ron Aniello.

 

*Whether I’ll manage to finish this series by the New Year remains to be seen.

**Bruce made reference to this in the linear notes for The Essential and, if you watch the accompanying ‘Blood Brothers’ DVD, there was plenty of discussion against the inclusion of earlier tracks

***Bruce Version 1 extends from his debut up to the conclusion of The Reunion Tour. The Rising marked the emergence of Bruce Springsteen Version 2.0

2016 Between Covers

Here we are once again amongst the closing days of another year. This is certainly one year I’ll be glad to see the back off. I won’t go off-topic here or cross that line into putting too much of the personal up here but I will say 2016 was an utter bloody farce of a year.

However, as the days before the fat man with a beard drops down the chimney diminish, it’s also that time to share what I think were the best things I read during 2016.

Once again – save for a few weeks where I simply couldn’t read / take anything in – I read a lot this year – some amazing fiction new and old and plenty of fascinating non-fiction. There are some I’ve started but not finished (I do aim to finish Life and Fate in 2017) and some that still sit on the To Be Read pile.

This list, then, is my take on the best written word I consumed during 2016 and is in no particular order with the obvious exception…

Fiction

IMG_7211Jihadi: A Love Story by Yusuf Torpov

One of the first books I read this year and one that’s stayed with me throughout. Echoes of great writers can be found throughout but it’s truly marked by the unique voice of Yusuf Toropov who here has written an important novel of our time. In my review I said that  its a rare thing to find “a book that is so unarguably great that you find yourself telling everyone they should read it regardless of their usual choice of paperback writer. Jihadi; A Love Story by Yusuf Toropov is just such a book.” I stand by that.

Leaving Berlin by Joseph Kanon

A spy thriller set at the very start of the Cold War, as divisions and sides are drawn in a country still beset by the scars of war and trying to rebuild itself amongst the rubble. As much as I was fascinated by the historical element the plot equally gripped my attention and has sent me off down another path of reading with a couple of Cold War thrillers already en route to my letter box. Original review.

For Two Thousand Years by Mihail Sebastian

For completely personal reasons this book would already make the top ten. It was purchased while spending ten hours waiting for a plane at Gatwick airport ahead of a family holiday where it was hungrily consumed. I’d been searching for Sebastian’s work in English and this, published this year, did not dissapoint. Beautifully written and deeplu insightful and evokative. The knowledge of the tragedies that lay in store for Mihail Sebastian only make it all the more poignant. Original review.

imageIn Her Wake by Amada Jennings

This book absolutely broke my heart. This book was so far from what I was expecting and so gripping that I honestly can’t see how it wouldn’t make this list. If everything you knew about yourself turned out to be a lie, that your whole life was built around a crime so devestating that lives have been ruined, what would you do? In Her Wake, is a real story of hope and courage. And, yes, the final revelation about Bella still guts me many months down the road.

Notes on a Cuff by Mikhail Bulgakov

Finding this book last year, and finally reading it in this, was such a joyous experience. I thought I’d read all that was available so to discover the stories in Notes on a Cuff was like stumbling upon gold dust. These stories, written in the early 1920s, show a real master finding his voice and revelling in the art and joy of writing. There are elements here that he’d perfect later in his career but it’s amazing to see just how brilliantly formed his work already was.

Purity by Jonathan Franzen

On each occasion (and it’s always an ‘occasion’) that a Franzen book is published I can’t help but think it won’t be as good as his previous novel. On each occasion I’m proven wrong. Easily his most accessible and equally amongst his finest work.

The Bickford Fuse by Andrey Kurkov

I’ve written before on just how much I love Kurkov’s work. Something of a cross between Bulgakov and a Ukranian Vonnegut, he weaves near-absurdist, satirical novels of the highest calibre. The Bickford Fuse from what I can tell, is an earlier book than any he’s yet published and was written in the final days of communism. A look at ‘Soviet Man’ told through a series of somewhat connected stories and characters that, while clearly written by the same author, is completely unique amongst his work printed thus far. Ambitious, multi-layered and hugely rewarding to read.

IMG_9197Where Roses Never Die by Gunnar Staalesen Favourite Fiction of 2016.

I read this in circumstances almost as perfect as possible yet I’m sure that had I read it in the middle of a cesspit as I sank down to the bottom I would have loved it just as much. Hugely gripping, deeply evokative and written without a spare word, Gunnar Staalesen is like the samauri of Nordic Noir – every masterful, well-practiced and skilful word strikes home hard. Staalesen is the master of his craft and it’s a big credit to the translation that there’s never any question of this when translated into English from the native Norwegian. Original review.

Non-Fiction

A book about the intelligence war was never not going to be my cup of coffee and when you factor in that it’s written by Max Hastings, The Secret War couldn’t get much better. Some real shockers in here and written in such a way as to ensure it never gets dull. It’s strange as it never caught my attention in school (more down to the education system at the time) but the Second World War has become the subject I’ve probably delved into most in terms of personal education. While I always enjoy a personal account – my interest being how normal people find themselves in extraordinary circumstance that I can’t comprehend rather than the ‘guns and glory’ stuff – the intelligence and spy / espionage war really fascinates me and this book is packed with detail.

In theory that should mean this would be the best NF book I picked up in a year but, then, this was the year that Bruce Springsteen published his autobiography.

Born To Run is the memoir every Bruce fan could have hoped for. He could’ve phoned it in. He could have gotten a ghost-writer to assisst and turn it into pristine prose. He didn’t. A deeply personal book, there’s more insight here than any such auto-bio I’ve read and all told in Bruce’s own voice. Revelations, inspiration and the salvation of music is all in here like one of his greatest songs. Original review.

 

Honourable Mentions…

The Dark Iceland series by Ragnar Jónasson is one of the most compelling and rewarding additions to the thriller genre and this year’s Black Out and Night Blind were both excellent – but impossible to choose a favourite.

I delved deeper into the Jack Reacher series this year with a good five books under my belt including the new (in paperback) Make Me which was a real strong contender and shake up of the character.

Yann Martell’s books are always going to suffer in comparisons to his famous book with the tiger but The High Mountains of Portugal was a good effort, if a little wayward at times, with a beautiful, heartbreaking evocation of absolute grief.

Epithany Jones by Michael Grothaus and The Exiled by Kati Hiekkapelto really should be on this list too…

Least to Most: Bruce – Devils & Dust

“Now down below and pullin’ on my shirt
I got some kids of my own
Well if I had one wish in this god forsaken world, kids
It’d be that your mistakes would be your own” Long Time Comin’

bruce_springsteen_-_devils__dustLet’s kick this one off with a small clarification – Devils & Dust (as with each that follows in this series) is a fine album. As strong a collection of songs as many could muster. From here on in (now that High Hopes is behind us) we’re really just talking personal preferences.

The outlier in Bruce’s ‘acoustic trio’, the songs on Devils & Dust aren’t  as sparsely accompanied as they are on Ghost Of Tom Joad or Nebraska, nor are they as single-minded in their focus. Recorded after touring behind The Rising, this set was produced by Brendan O’Brien and mixes themes from politics to personal.

Many of the songs here go back to the Ghost Of Tom Joad tour – some even earlier -but the opening title track was new and is as fine a song as Bruce has ever written, a strong commentary on the Iraq war: “It is basically a song about a soldier’s point of view, but it kind of opens up to a lot of other interpretations.” The album and song were nominated for a few Grammy Awards (it won Best Solo Rock Vocal) and, performing the song during the broadcast he added a cry  of “Bring ’em home” at the end before immediately turning and leaving the stage (missing his partial standing-ovation). It’s a great song.

There’s plenty of great tunes on Devils & Dust, even the older tunes revisited for the format work well and still stand (the mark of a good Springsteen song if you ask me) their ground. ‘All The Way Home‘ is particularly strong – written for and originally released by Southside Johnny in 1991 (on an album titled Better Days of all things) and is not even slightly acoustic, Bruce really steps into the lyric “I know what it’s like to have failed, baby with the whole world lookin’ on”.

One of my personal favourites on this one is ‘Long Time Comin” – a catchy, sins-of-the-father, redemption song that only suffers by it’s placing between ‘Reno’ and ‘Black Cowboys’:

Devils & Dust was the first Springsteen album to feature a Parental Advisory sticker and it wasn’t just for the ‘fuck it up this time’ in the ‘Long Time Comin’ either. It was most likely down to the album’s biggest talking point; ‘Reno’. To me, though, I find the song, like a couple of the others on here, just a bit ‘meh’. It seems like the minimal two-chord repetition and overly-heavy lyrics are too oppressive/dour and, in this instance, seem to be an awful lot of a build-up to hear Bruce sing about a man’s visit to a prostitute; “”Two hundred dollars straight in, two-fifty up the ass,” she smiled and said.”  There’s nothing wrong with daring, there’s nothing wrong with those lyrics but it seems, to me at least, that the song isn’t really much to write home about in the first place and if it weren’t for those lines nobody would’ve really written about it all.

While there’s nothing wrong with a good ‘story’ song (‘Galveston Bay’ on Ghost of Tom Joad for example), there’s a few instances on Devils & Dust, like ‘The Hitter’ or ‘Jesus Was An Only Son’ where these near short-stories are too much for their minimal backdrops to retain attention. Take a look at the lyrics and you’ll see that some of these are blocks of paragraphs rather than verses and some (‘The Hitter’) are nine plus verses without a chorus. Don’t get me wrong; the lyrics aren’t bad at all (‘The Hitter’ is especially brutal) but it weighs the album down a touch more than the music and production can lift.

To me it’s not a good thing if a song can’t speak for itself. The inlay for Devils & Dust is filled with explanatory notes around many of these wordier tunes and, from what I’ve read, Bruce spent many a minute on stage during the solo tour for this one explaining the meaning / story behind a lot of the tracks – as can also be seen on the ‘Storytellers’ episode (and while that’s kinda the point it got a little frustrating as he’d almost pause during song to explain verse-by-verse).

That being said I reiterate that it’s a good album (again I’m sure there’s many who may say it’s their favourite) and contains some great tunes so I’ll drop the much-overlooked ‘Maria’s Bed’ here:

Highlights: Devils & Dust, All The Way Home, Long Time Comin’, Maria’s Bed, All I’m Thinkin About, Leah.

Lowlights: Reno, Black Cowboys, Jesus Was An Only Son.