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Two artistes that deserve more attention

L’Impératrice was here in Pondy two weeks ago and so was Isaac Delusion earlier in 2013, and both of them work under the same label Crackirecords (http://crackirecords.com). Listen to the songs below and you’ll agree, they certainly deserve more attention. Sadly I missed both the concerts.

Isaac’s song has a lovely video.

L’Impératrice’s song doesn’t come with a video.

Other songs can be listened to here on Soundcloud.

https://soundcloud.com/crackirecords

 

A rare gem from the past

Remember the name Gino Soccio from the Disco Era of the late 70′s and the early 80′s? Madras B, the short wave radio station in Chennai also used to play his music. Gino Soccio’s general repertoire  was pure disco music but for one exceptional song.  I was blown away wondering how a disco producer could come up with such a song. This one is from the album “Closer” and it is the title track. Pure Ambient stuff much before “Ambient” came into vogue. Even the place where I listened to this song is fresh in my mind, a shop in Velachery, Chennai where the guy was playing the record via an Akai-Bush system, again somewhere in the late 80′s.

The synth sounds are from the “Oberheim polyphonic”. The YouTube video below shows someone actually playing the LP via a Hi-Fi system.

 

Tamil Music from outside India that deserves mention

My head will burst if I don’t make this post.

I took a bus from Chennai to Pondycherry the day before yesterday. It was a privately owned air-conditioned bus and as part of entertainment, the Tamil film “Kutti Puli” was played. My first reaction was “Oh no, not this one!” and I put up with the torture for sometime till the movie shows the disgusting scene of the protagonist throwing up (I repeat, “throwing up”)on two men. For me that was “enough is enough” and I moved to the rear seats of the sparsely occupied bus. Here the sound was barely audible and the T.V screen far away. The partially (almost 50%) damaged TV screen also aided as a deterrent to watching the movie. After the bus was stopped for a while (for tea break and refreshments) I got back to my old seat and tried watching the film with all the patience I could muster but it was unbearable. I even tried stuffing my handkerchief into my ears and closed my eyes to doze off. It was then and all of a sudden that the rocking riff and beats of “Akkamaga” started playing and I couldn’t believe my ears and eyes. One more movie has used the song and ripped the makers and singers of this song of any credits. The song has been modified with some added percussion and synth sounds and eventually been wrecked in the process with an unbearable video too. The song has also been trimmed as there are moderately adult-oriented lyrics (pales in comparison to our double-meaning lyrics) in the latter part of the song.

So what is “Akkamaga” and who are these guys behind this song? So let me rewind a bit, back to 1996.

The date, Feb, 9, 1996, is unforgettable because it was the first time I left India. I was headed for Singapore. The company that employed me, took me and my friend on a circuitous trip (to save costs of course) to Singapore from Chennai (then Madras).  On the now defunct East West Airlines we were first flown to Bombay. At Bombay we were taken by shuttle to the International Airport. From there we boarded a Cathay Pacific flight to Bangkok and then from Bangkok we were flown to Singapore. Being my first trip outside India I was excited but the journey from Madras to Singapore which would have taken just three hours,  took 14 hours to finally reach its destination. Like actor Sivakumar (Surya’s father) once said, it was amazing to hear announcements being made in Tamil as the plane descended into Singapore’s Changi airport.

For a Chennaite, Singapore is a home away from home. At the guest house where we were put up in Spottiswoode Park, located opposite the Singapore General Hospital was Nila’s Pub and Bar. The restaurant was on the ground floor and the pub on the first. I hardly went upstairs but the live band playing Tamil songs couldn’t stop me one day, but that’s another story.

At the restaurant they would play music via a hi-fi system. What a feeling it was to walk into the restaurant in another country for the first time and listening to Tamil songs being played.  Illayaraja’s songs were the common fare. But there was this one song that captured my attention. It was repeatedly played and it was the one called “Akkamaga”. From the way it sounded it was obvious that it wasn’t from India. On enquiry, a Singaporean Tamilian would tell me that it was the Malaysian band ”The Keys” and that it was the raging “Pub Hit” among local Tamils, at that time. I wasn’t surprised.

I am not sure why my friends did not fancy the song but I simply loved it. The lyrics were outrageously hilarious and the Singaporean/Malaysian accents adorable. New listeners may find it even a little untoward or adult but that was the beauty of it. Just like Sri Lankan Tamil, the Tamil in Malaysia and Singapore has a flavor and usage of its own. Here’s an old video on YouTube of the band performing “Akkamaga” live. The video is poor and the song has just been imposed on the video. I am sure it isn’t the live audio.

Malaysian and Singaporean Tamils call this music ”Samba Rock” a steady bass and guitar riff married to a “dappan koothu” kind of a beat. Now if you are wondering if you heard that sound in a Tamil movie you are right. Music director Bharathwaj used it in his massive hit “O podu” in the 2002 film “Gemini”. But it was the Telugu film “Devudu chesina Manushulu” that copied the song tune for tune and almost all of the music in the song “Devuda Devuda entha pani chestharu”.  And now “Kutti Puli” has this song almost in its original form with the same vocalist, lyrics and music. No credits have been given anywhere to the original makers of the song. What to say of royalties then.

Though not at big as “Akkamaga”, The Keys have two other hits in “Nila Mele” and “Fathima”. I cannot tell you how heads turned when I played “Akkamaga” at a company gathering in 2004.

One of the quintessential members of The Keys, “Darkkey” went on to make solo albums. One of his big hits was a song called “Karatana” which in my opinion can be called Tamil’s first death metal song. Though likeable on the first listen it can get boring on repeat listens. Other similar songs from Darkkey can become a painful overdose too. The video of Karatana from YouTube is posted below. The video and the audio sync is poor.


One other big “samba rock” band from Malaysia was “Kashmir Stone” who sang both English and Tamil songs though their music sounded very much like metal bands of the 80′s. Here they are from their 2000 album “Mangga Thoppu” with a song called “Oh My Love”.

Their entire album is available online for listening and download. You will not believe Tamil Rock existed like this outside of India. I particularly liked “Aruvi Kari oram”, “Muthalaga” and “Rock n Roll”. Check them out at the link below and you’ll be surprised.

Kashmir Stone’s “Mangga Thoppu”

Many other Tamil rock and pop bands exist outside India worthy of mention that I may not be aware of. Do let me know if you know of them.

 

Mellow Candle – Swaddling Songs. What we’ve missing in the name of folk rock

Swaddling Songs by Mellow Candle

Swaddling Songs by Mellow Candle

I am back with my first review in almost two years and boy am I delighted to do so. After listening to scores of new music and when I was deciding on which album to write about comes this beauty which I discovered by chance a couple of weeks ago and have been listening to it almost non-stop.

Here is another gem from the 70′s, 1972 to be exact, “Swaddling Songs” by the Irish folk and progressive rock band Mellow Candle.

The story of Mellow Candle begins way back in the early sixties when the band was formed by three teenagers, Clodagh Simonds and Alison Bools (later O’Donnell) and Maria White. Clodagh was 15 then and Maria 16. But by 1972 the line-up expanded to include William Nurry on drums, Dave Williams on guitar and Frank Boylan on bass when they released thei debut and only album “Swaddling Songs”.  The third female voice Maria White wasn’t part of the band then.

The songs and music on this album are so beautiful that they give meaning to the words “Music the life giver, healing and touching the soul”. Unlike typical folk rock albums where you are impressed with the first song only to get tired of the repetitive style later, Swaddling Songs is interesting and likeable.

After ABBA and to some extent (Clannad) this is the first time I enjoying the power of dual female vocals.

You are instantly hooked to the opening number “Heaven Heath” on Side one of the LP. The Harmonium and later Hapsichord played by Clodagh starts an irresistable tune and when the female vocals in unison is heard it’s fresh and melodic. But it is when the guitar and piano piece along with the vocals that plays in between the lines that your heart truly melts. What simple but soul stirring tunes! Difficult to believe how simple tunes can take on a high!

 

Sheep Season” follows and the tune of the opening line with the piano (played thrice in the song) literally stops my heart with its beauty and melancholy. I wish the opening tune had been played infinite times but that would have killed the beauty of it as well. There’s more lovely piano and guitar music on this number than vocals. Lovely number. A little flute is also used on the song.

 

The third song is “Silver Song“, a beautiful ballad and probably the most beautiful song on the album. British band “All about Eve” covered this song in one of their albums.

The rest of the songs can be located on YouTube. I haven’t provided links for them but the reviews follow.

4.  The poet and the witch – Starts and ends with the sounds of seagulls in the background. A faster and louder song in the true tradition of folk rock. I though the singing was excellent with good and difficult arrangements. A small song. Not as melodic as the previous ones though.

5.  Messenger Birds – Only one female vocal this time. Back to melody again and you’ll be impressed with the beautiful singing.

6.  Dan the wing – Faster song in typical folk rock style. Lovely singing by the vocalists.

Side 2

7.  Reverend Sisters – What a way to begin side 2! An incredible song with just piano and vocals and with a piano solo in the middle. A song that evokes strange and mysterious moods. Sounding like chants the vocals are arresting. Beautiful song.

8.  Break your token – Another faster number in typical folk rock style. Not a boring song.

9.  Buy or Beware – Another good song, good for Side 2. Male vocal can he heard for the first time. The lead guitar sounds very similar to the one used by Fleetwood Mac on their “Future Games” album.

10. Vile Excess – May sound like the continuation of the previous song or a bit repetitive but not a bad song because the band plays more music on this one.

11.  Lonely man – Wow! A terrific last-but-one song for the album. A splendid and grand vocal opening for a song with lead guitar, rock piano and drums. Loved the bass on this song too.

12.  Boulders on my grave – Never expected a fast number for a concluding song. Vocals sans lyrics are more frequently used.

It’s a tragedy that due to the poor response for the album and dismal sales the band had to break up soon after. It is really sad they weren’t together to make more of their music. Years and decades later the true value of this album has been realised and it has been raised to “cult” status. There was even one comment on YouTube mentioning that an LP sold for $5000 on ebay and I am not surprised. What intrigues me is this. How come an album as this was so poorly received when it was released. The 70′s were the Golden Period of rock and rock styles. Maybe “Swaddling Songs” wasn’t promoted enough because even one casual listen is enough to be moved by the melodies and music of this beautiful album.

In 1996 the album “Virgin Prophet” was released which contained unreleased earlier material from the seventies. “Virgin Prophet” and a guitar based version of ”Heaven Heath” are available on YouTube.

The lead female vocalists Clodah and Alison continue with their singing careers as solo artistes and with collaborations with other artistes and bands. Afer the re-emergence of “Swaddling Songs” they seem to be busier than before.

Clodah’s work as Fovea Hex can be accessed at this website – http://www.janetrecords.com/ 

There is a bio of the band with pictures of the members at http://www.janetrecords.com/mc/

Alison O’Donnel’s website is at http://www.alisonodonnell.com/

Drummer William Murray who played on this album passed away in 1998.

 

Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year 2013

Here’s wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year 2013. I will be back very soon with my first review in almost two years.

What a hiatus!

It is sad to see no action on this site for so long. Over a year! But that will change soon. So much good music out there still waiting to be explored, waiting to be heard.

Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year

I’ll be back soon with more reviews.

Budgie, one of the little-known pioneers of hard rock

Budgie's Never Turn Back On A Friend

 Never turn your back on a friend by Budgie

My first encounter with Budgie was in the late 80′s while at college. My classmate knowing I was a hard core fan of the band Rush plays me a cassette full of assorted songs asking me to identify Rush. I jumped to the challenge. After a couple of songs the distinctive vocals of Geddy Lee confirmed to me it was Rush. But to my amazement I was wrong! Rush’s song was further down the list and instead I was staring at the cover of the cassette reading a song by the band Budgie. In fact on that cassette Budgie’s song sounded better than Rush’s.

Almost two decades later I am looking at Roder Dean’s artwork and I realise he also did work on several of Budgie’s albums. Our of sheer curiosity I check one of their hits, “Breadfan” and I dumbfounded with that similarity of the Geddy Lee like vocals and the sound. I dive into Budgie’s music and all I can get are gems. I am not surprised that so many heavy metal bands were covering their songs. Metallica, Van Halen, Iron Maiden, all heavy metal giants covering their songs, amazing!

Both Budgie and Rush were three member bands. In both the bands the lead vocals were offered by the bassist. In their early days members of Budgie even looked like the members of Rush. Both Geddy Lee (bassist/lead vocalist) of Rush and Burke Shelley (bassist/lead vocal) wore large rimmed glasses. However unlike Geddy Lee, Burke’s voice would eventually change over the years into a more coarser sound.

Budgie was one of the earliest of the heavy metal bands inspiring dozens of others including Metallica and The Melvins.

Released in 1973, Never turn your back on a friend was their third album. Roger Dean’s artwork on the cover of the album is impressive. Apart from Burke the other members of the band on this album are Ray Phillips on drums and Tony Bourge on lead guitar.

Now for a review of the songs.

1. Breadfan- The riff at the beginning is sure to impress you. No wonder bands such as Metallica covered it. Just  do a search on YouTube  for “Breadfan” and there are more Metallica videos covering this song than Budgie. Burke’s voice sounds more childish than Geddy Lee.  The singing style also strongly reminded me of the ubiquitous “Venkateswara Suprabatham”, a classical piece by India’s very own M.S Subbulakshmi. You could easily fool someone this was an early Rush song.

2. Baby, please don’t go- A cover of Big Joe Williams’ original song. What incredible bass playing and lead guitar work with Ray providing all the terrific drum support he can. Again very much Geddy Lee like vocals.

3. You know I’ll always love you – Lovely acoustic number with beautiful lyrics, sung so well. A small song compared to the rest but offering a nice break in between the heavier numbers.

4. You’re the biggest thing since powdered milk – The  second longest song after Parents.  Starts with a brisk solo from till 1:43 min. The line “Oh it helps/hurts me when I cry….” is really moving. At 5.20 just after the lovely solo with thundering bass comes a riff like Deep Purple‘s Pictures of Home but lovely in Budgie’s own original style; incredible bass and guitar work.

5. In the grip of a tyrefitter’s hand – Great bass playing. You are reminded of a a Tony Iommi’s solo at 3 min, and at 5 min. The song has some great riffs, bass lines and again, you could easily fool someone this was Rush.

6. Riding my nightmare- Another lovely acoustic number to soothe the brain after the heavy dose of exciting stuff you heard before, sung well.

7. Parents- There are no shortage of anthems when it comes to Budgie and here’s the anthem of this album and an incredible anthem to conclude. The incredible lines, sweet and innocent lyrics and one of the best I’ve heard about school and kids since “Need no education” from Pink Floyd and “School” from Supertramp. 

The lines of the song -

When I was a little boy,
They would say to me,
Don’t go in the world and play,
It’s bad company.
All the had was child and faith,
Let them grow and let them wait,
Just to find what it was to be free.

But now I’m over twenty one
Growing up I’ve had my fun
And I know it’s got to be.
Baby lying in a womb,
Are you free or in a tomb?
Let me in,I feel I want to cry.
Oh the road is there,
Oh that road is there,
Come on back,back!

Wash Your hands and up to bed,
Mind your manners or your dead,
Mind the cars cos you’ve got school on monday.
Put my trus in god
Who is he I know not what
Something mummy said to me one sunday.
Maybe love is life but life is not
something I need plenty of.

Oh I wished I’d never lived a day,
now there’s no one near me now,
tell me what to do and how.
Take me,let me sing my cares away!
Oh that road is there,
Oh that road is there,
Come on back,back!

Wash your hands and up to bed,
Mind your manners or your dead,
mind the cars cos you’ve got school on monday.

Black ik black and white is white,
Witch to choose and witch is right,
Guide me to a place where I was stay,
Wrap me up and keep me warm,
Hide myself far from the storm,
Sleep and love will keep my mind at rest.
Only now I realise why my parents had to try,
Love you all and keep you all my life.
Oh that road is there,
Oh the road is there,
Come on back,back!

The line – “come on back” is sung beautifully. Song comes with terrific solos from Tony and with the sounds of the wailing birds in the background towards the end of the song lends it a very unique creative touch.

All the songs from the album can be  listened to on YouTube. Enjoy this great album!

Technorati claim post

I need to claim great-anonymous-albums.com on Technorati, the blog directory and so I am doing so by including the short code they have asked me to incude on a new post.

2CGDQPH8BEW3

Indian Ocean’s Desert Rain. My first Live Album review.

 Desert Rain, the Live and Debut album from one of India's finest rock bands, Indian Ocean.

Desert Rain by Indian Ocean

This is my first live album review and it feels great that I am reviewing an album by a band from India.

Honestly the cover of the album sucks but I was in for a treat when I listened to the music. As of this writing one of the original band mates Asheem Chakravarty who used to play the Tabla, percussion and offer his vocals is no longer alive.

This is the  debut album of one of India’s premier rock bands. They were fortunate to have their DAT recorder switched on while playing live on New Year’s Day 1997 at The SAHMAT concert at Mandi House, Delhi. The recording has become a record of sorts as there was no company to promote or sell the album. A company had to be formed to do so.

One gripe is the not-so-perfect quality of the recording. Another gripe is the singing which is more of the chant and bhajan type. However the singing has improved considerably over the subsequent albums. However the originality and the beauty fo the music is undeniable.

At the time of this recording the band comprised Rahul Ram on bass and vocals, Susmet Sen on guitar, Aseem Chakravarty on Tabla, percussion and vocals and Amit Kilam on drums and percussion.

Now a review of the songs -

Boll Weevil – 5.20 – Bass starts the song with tabla and guitar joining in soon. Drums join in and the song moves on beautifully.  Susmet takes over and smoothly guides the guitar beautifully. At 2min.08sec vocals are heard and we are back with the music at 3.59 till its completion.

Desert rain – 5.36 – I wonder if it is the jew’s harp at the beginning or some other traditional Indian. Little singing and lyrics resembling more of chanting.  Susmet does his bit on the guitar. Could have been a better song if only the singing was better with more lyrics than chants.

Euphoria – 6.02 – Till 2.35 till the vocals interrupt this is a beautiful song; some drums and percussion join in with the vocals and they go on for a while till u get sick of it; at 4.13 vocals disappear and we are back to the music. Again Susmet shines on his guitar.

From the ruins – 7.59 – Begins with a sad and dark music being played by guitar joined by bass. Susmet’s guitar playing is beautiful. At 3.49 the irritating vocals commence, this time chanting Hari Om and Sanskrit slokas; more drums heard during this time and beyond. At 6;10 vocals stops and we are back to the music with some more sloka shouting towards the end.

Going to Ito – 3.33 – Smallest of the songs but beautiful with lovely bass and guitar play and very little vocal.

Melancholic Ecstacy (7.58) - True to its name the song is a gem. The longest of the album at almost 8  minutes and Susmet lets the guitar sing and it is joy to listen to such a beautiful composition. You’ll be amazed at just what the guitar, tabla and bass can do. At 4 min the pace changes and quickens. Drums joins only sporadically but from 6 min onwards it can be heard more prominently. 

Village Damsel 6.49 – Begins as a cheerful number.  At 2.00 min singing starts. I think the language is Bengali (correct me if I am wrong). At 3.25 it is back to the music and vocals and then vocals gradually giving away to the music with Rahul’s bass taking the limelight. Music reminded me of Ananda Shankar’s instrumentals too.

My only complaint with the engineering behind the album is the quality of the recording which could have been made better.  A little re-mastering would have bettered the recording in a long way.

You can listen to the album for free here at hummaa.