Nothing But Time (2020)

In the first week of February this year my nephew & I drove to the Sheffield City Hall to see Britain’s best comedian Stewart Lee. Both Mike & myself have always enjoyed shooting the breeze about potential world-ending catastrophes, swine flu, climate change, the zombie apocalypse & in the spirit of the upcoming evening we lightly riffed on the infectious bother the Chinese, in particular the Wuhan clan, were suffering. That night, apart from a family wedding with a severely restricted list of guests, has proved to be my final social gathering of 2020. Five weeks on (two weeks too late), the double whammy of age & “underlying health conditions” indicating that it was probably “so long, it was nice knowing you” if Corona called, meant that social isolation it was then & mostly still is. Just me, that pile of books I’ve been meaning to start, intimations of my own mortality & worry about family & friends. A blizzard of depressing, ominous, confusing, changing speculation on the information superhighway hardly helped, relief from introspection & flatlining was called for & admiring my huge stash of toilet paper didn’t do it because that was imaginary. It has always been music that soothed…still is.

I’ve done a lot of listening in 2020, appreciating an opportunity to savour & appreciate the complete works of John Cale, to be stirred by the old-time Sixties idealism of Paul Kantner & Grace Slick & to investigate the dusty, neglected Reggae albums at the back of the stack. Van Morrison & John Martyn have been the ideal companions at the end of another day of not much at all. It’s not all comfortable immersion in my record collection. My end-of-year highlights usually includes at least one new release by an artist of my own generation who has been making music for longer than I & they probably care to remember. Not this time.

Pinegrove "taking some time off" as frontman responds to sexual coercion  accusation | NME

In January Pinegrove released their fourth studio album “Marigold”. A group that had immediately appealed, I bought their record “Cardinal” (2016) within 30 minutes of hearing them & looked forward to their progress. An accusation of sexual coercion against frontman Evan Stephens Hall, then a clumsy apology/statement on social media, followed by the self-release of the “Skylight” record & a year’s hiatus stalled their momentum. Inevitably these events informed listening to the new collection. Hall’s meticulous, contemplative & articulate lyrics are one of the reasons Pinegrove are so distinctive. Such a public airing of his situation was not something the songwriter would take lightly. It’s not all introspection on “Marigold”, Hall & the group are developing their palate & it’s their strongest album yet. The title track, a reflective six minute long instrumental, ties a soothing, ultimately optimistic record together. They are still a band to be reckoned with.

Elsewhere 2 | Pinegrove

Unable to tour in support of “Marigold” Pinegrove retreated to their Bandcamp enclave & released “Elsewhere 2” a short “pay what you can” live set expertly mixed by guitarist Sam Skinner. From what I’ve seen & heard it is on stage that the group really flourishes. The 2016 session they recorded for Audiotree, with sterling support from the sound engineer, is the best showcase of their early work. Playing live the band’s melodic Country-Folk tendencies have more Indie drive bringing late-period Teenage Fanclub to mind. I’m not tech-savvy enough to separate just the one track from “Elsewhere 2” so you’re just a click away from the full 30 minutes. It’s a great mix of new & old material , the rapport between the band & their audience is apparent & it’s this music that has given me the most pleasure in 2020. To close here’s a song from “Marigold”. “I wake up & feel totally the same. I woke up the same as yesterday with no news of any kind”, “Endless” still hits the spot as a song for these times. “When this is over hold me forever”. Damn right!

Daniel Romano's Outfit Merseyside Tickets, Future Yard, 75 Argyle Street,  14th Jun 2021 | Ents24

Bandcamp was also the place to be to try to keep up with Daniel Romano. As a devoted fan, even with time on my hands, it has been a stretch to get a handle on all of his new music this year. I reckon there have been 8 maybe 9 new albums in 2020, solo works, with his band Outfit & collaborations. It’s a list starting with “Visions of a Higher Dream” & perhaps ending with “How Ill Thy World is Ordered”. Daniel’s name got around playing artful old-time Country songs, a classic structure that Buck Owens, George Jones & Gram Parsons could have recorded. His move away from this, a progression that acknowledged his Punk roots while embracing Folk, mid-60s Dylan & psychedelic Rock, was a journey that I was glad to share. Each album has contained songs that linger & grow in stature. From this year’s torrent perhaps “(What Could Have Been) Infidels”, a re-imagining of Bob Dylan’s 1983 record inspired by his iconic TV performance with the Plugz, is a little esoteric while “Content to Point the Way” is a return to that Country thing he does so well. Pick a record, any of them & you’ll find a uniquely talented singer-songwriter with the ability to lasso & shape the many ideas he has about his music.

Daniel Romano's Outfit Announces US Tour - Closed Captioned

It’s another live album that is my pick of Daniel’s busy year. The aptly named “Okay Wow” came around in March, issued under the name Daniel Romano’s Outfit, recorded on their 2019 tour. With his brother Ian on drums, David Nardi (guitar), Roddy Rosetti (bass), Tony Cicero (organ) & Juliana Riolino (vocals) Daniel has assembled a blistering Rock & Roll unit. From the opening “Empty Husk” the band scorch through songs from his extensive back catalogue with a brio & energy that brings to mind fellow Canadian Neil Young’s Crazy Horse. His songs have always been dramatic & even the gentler country tracks benefit from this direct charge. “Hunger Is A Dream You Die In” from 2016’s “Mosey” makes the cut here because I think it’s the best of his many songs & I get to choose. This is 21st Century Rock not some Tom Petty/Bruce Springsteen derivative & I can’t get enough. The Outfits set in Kristiansand, Norway was filmed & is an absolute delight. You are busy people, I hope that you can spare 45 minutes to enjoy one of today’s great songwriters & a band at the top of their game.

Here at loosehandlebars three is the magic number so I only have one more choice from 2020. More than honourable mention should be made to the fastidious Prog-Pop, gentle Psych of Tame Impala’s “The Slow Rush” & to “Punisher”, a radiant collection from Phoebe Bridgers, the heartbreak offset by her light conversational style & a dry sense of humour, marking her arrival in the big time. I read that as well as kicking over the statues Black Lives Matter, a timely, important reaction to violent institutional racism, is a Marxist organisation dedicated to the overthrow of capitalism. In the words of the British collective SAULT, “You Know It Ain’t”!

Sault: Untitled (Rise) review – mystery collective make best album of 2020,  again | Music | The Guardian

The two “Untitled” albums released this year by SAULT, a unit that eschews publicity & promotion, are a wonderfully crafted blend of R&B beats, Neo-Soul, house, disco & world rhythms. I don’t know much about SAULT but I know that they know. The seamless. insistent groove of “(Black Is)” & “(Rise)” recalls club nights soundtracked by Bohannon & Roy Ayers. The last time I heard musical influences so capably configured into a whole new thing was when Massive Attack came around. The lyrics concerning the Black experience, oppression, loss, resistance, strength & hope, are in the tradition of Nina Simone, the Native Tongues & even the Last Poets. It’s been 50 years since Marvin told us “What’s Going On”, it’s shameful that this discussion has still to be had & it’s important that it is. SAULT made important music in 2020.

After 9 months of diminished social interaction I am like many of us suffering from pandemic fatigue. Those “what the fuck now?” moments don’t come around here so often, I follow the news less closely, ignore the views of amateur epidemiologists & willingly wear a mask in consideration of the health of those around me. The one statistic that I still find relevant is the daily record of deaths in the UK, a number that is still shocking, saddening & too high. This awful toll confirms that the actions of the British government, a fetid cocktail of incompetence, insensitivity, mendacity & corruption, have not matched the sacrifice & effort made by so many & that they should be held to account for for their failures. I am optimistic that community responsibility & a programme of vaccination offers hope for a healthier future however here in the not-so United Kingdom we are facing further economic uncertainty after the similar mismanagement of our separation from our trading partners in the European Union. I have considered expanding the parameters of this blog to include “Tasty Ways To Cook Your Shoes”, proof indeed that I have had too much time on my hands in 2020. I wish you all a Better, Busier New Year.

Let The Boy Rock And Roll (Daniel Romano)

Like many of us I have time on my hands so last week I visited the Bandcamp website as they were waiving their admin fees, giving a bigger cut to the artists suffering a loss of income from the cancellation of all tours for the foreseeable future. I struck lucky on my first click. Hoping for a preview of the upcoming live album by Daniel Romano I found that he had uploaded, for the duration of his own self-isolation, “Visions of a Higher Dream” a 10 track collection of new songs. What’s more he only wanted three of his Canadian dollars for them. I paid more than that because when it comes to Daniel Romano I’m a bit of a fan-boy.

 

 

Daniel Romano's Outfit Announces US Tour - Closed CaptionedOK, Bandcamp is only letting us share/embed the whole of “Visions…”. Whether you only play the sparky opener “Where May I Take My Rest” or hang around for show-stoppers like “Lilac About Thy Crown” or “Boy In A Crow Skin Cape” I’m sure that you can hear that this is new music at a bargain price. It’s been a long often challenging trip to keep up with the prolific Romano. He established himself with a heartworn, lovingly recreated classic Country & Western sound, traditional structures, honestly & respectfully emotional, artfully packed with guile & drama, doing it better than anyone around. Before the Nudie suits & three chords & the truth Daniel’s band Attack in Black were quality indie-rockers & subsequent albums “Mosey” (2016) & “Modern Pressure” (2017) expanded his palette, experimenting with psychedelic flourishes, different musical styles, more impressionistic lyrics delivered with a touch of Dylan’s nasality. Personally I was willing to follow an artist with the ability to write great songs like “There Are Lines In My Face (That Don’t Come From Smiling)”, I don’t expect the same thing every time & now some of my favourite songs of his are on these adventurous records.

 

 

 

Daniel has previous when it comes to this surprise album thing. Always prolific, in January 2018 he placed two albums of original material, “Human Touch” & “Nerveless” on Bandcamp. They were not there for too long & I was sorry that I missed them. They’re around, both uploaded to the Y-tube & very good they are too. Again all the Romano bases are covered, plenty of atmosphere even grandeur in every song. “Nerveless” is the more immediate of the pair, opening with a flurry of uptempo crashing guitars & continuing with some fine almost-Pop songs. “Anyone’s Arms” is as simple a piece of radio-friendly Power Pop Daniel has ever recorded. I don’t need more of that but it always puts a smile on my face. It may have been my coming late to these songs that dampened my enthusiasm when, later in 2018, “Finally Free” was released. What with 3 solo efforts while also touring & recording with his group Ancient Shapes it was a little too much. I’m getting there with “Finally..” though. You have to quicken your pace to keep up with Daniel Romano but it’s always worth it.

 

 

Daniel Romano Tickets, Tour Dates & Concerts 2021 & 2020 – SongkickSo, I’m just a couple of days into a very enjoyable exploration of “Visions of a Higher Dream” when the new album proper shows up. There’s no problem with overload this time around because “Okay Wow”, a live set recorded in Scandinavia credited to Daniel Romano’s Outfit, is so different from his previous releases & boy, it rocks. The 15 tracks are a breakneck slalom, nothing over 4 minutes, through his back catalogue. Earlier songs “Hard On You” & “Time Forgot (To Change My Heart), beautifully judged Country songs in their original form, have become a Crazy Horse-like blast of guitars. There are songs from the 2 now-you-see-them albums, “Roya”, above, (go on you’ve got 2 minutes to spare), is from “Modern Pressure”. All of them are remade-remodelled & more of his old-school fans may decide that enough is enough. Me, I’ve not heard Country Rock played with such energy since Jason & the Scorchers. I can still hear the strong construction of the songs & still love the commotion & emotion of his music.

 

 

Daniel Romano's Outfit Announces US Tour - Closed CaptionedDaniel has made just the one video for the new record. “Nerveless” sounds great, the film, a couple shoplifting in the mall, has, of course nothing to do with the live performance. There has always been an artfulness to even the most traditional of his work. He’s not going to change & I’m more than comfortable with the challenges he presents with his musical evolution & the way he presents himself through his videos. A shout must be made to The Outfit, brother Ian, David Nardi, Roddy Rossetti, Tony Cicero & Julianna Riolino for their exciting contributions. “Okay Wow” is livening up my days of isolation & if I need to chill then there’s always “Visions of a Higher Dream” alongside it.

Random Notes (May 2017)

The days fly by & this month the UK has endured an election campaign instigated, ostensibly, by a government wanting to mask its bluff & bluster in negotiations with our former EU partners, more likely hoping to exploit the disarray of any opposition in England & Wales. The Tory party will remain in power (I’ve been wrong before) but the flakiness of their “strong & stable” mantra in the face of a half-baked “Dementia Tax” on the sick & the dead & a Labour manifesto which, at least & at last, promoted an alternative to austerity will prevent the landslide victory anticipated & hoped for by the government & most of our media puppets (“Crush the Saboteurs!” Oh fuck off!)

 

Image result for manchester tony wilson we do things

 

This week’s horrific massacre in Manchester, a great city which has shown the empathy & community that is the best of Britain, will inevitably highlight the issue of national security. Already Mr Corbyn is being attacked for pointing out that the disastrous intervention in Libya contributed to chaos, anger, frustration & the rise of a new focus for militant Islam. The murder of innocent people enjoying a concert by their favourite Pop star is inexcusable & heartbreaking but atrocities are occurring across the Middle East in the name of the West’s War On Terror, in the cause of strength & stability. Robert Fisk is a journalist who I trust & respect…

“As long as we bomb the Middle East instead of seeking justice there, we too will be attacked. But what we must concentrate upon, according to the monstrous Trump, is terror, terror, terror, terror, terror. And fear. And security. Which we will not have while we are promoting death in the Muslim world and selling weapons to its dictators. Believe in “terror” and Isis wins. Believe in justice and Isis is defeated.”

OK, here’s some music…

 

 

Almost the best of the month, stick around that comes later, any new song by Bunny Wailer raises my spirits. As the last of the Wailing Wailers Jah Bunny is the keeper of the flame & he represents the great & influential group with integrity & style. “Baddest” is a Rub-a-Dub rework of Peter Tosh’ anthem, first recorded in 1967, “I’m the Toughest” in alliance with Dancehall queen Ruffi-Ann. Like everything Bunny releases on his Solomonic label it has a freshness & a vitality. He is a musical great who knows the spirit of Reggae &, at coming up 70 this year, is still able to capture it. “Baddest” may not be up there with the best music he has made but it could be the Feelgood Hit of the Summer. ♫Any Dub that you can play I & I can play it better♫ Yes Sir!

 

 

Image result for daniel romano modern pressureA new Daniel Romano record is always a big deal round our yard & even though “Modern Pressure” has not been here for long toes are tapping & choruses becoming familiar. Mr Romano is prolific, an album a year in the last 3 & a couple more from Altered Shapes, his Punk offshoot band. He’s become a bit of a shape-shifter too, the traditional Country, three chords & the truth about heartbreak, of his early records has all but disappeared. The lovely “Roya” would easily fit on those records while an expanded musical palette, Dylanesque organ swirls, treated guitars, everything louder makes “Modern Pressure” a Country Rock album. “The Pride of Queens” sounds like an epic to me, the closing, urgent “What’s To Become of the Meaning of Love” instantly appeals & the poppy “When I Learned Your Name” sounds like Nick Lowe/Brinsley Schwarz & that’s a good thing.

 

Like the best records last year’s “Mosey” took its own good time to reveal all its delights. At first it seemed to be quite a switch by Romano but it has become the album of choice for journeys of any distance, a collection of good songs which come together as an atmospheric whole. “Mosey” will still get played round here. Daniel Romano is a very talented songwriter & musician, his restless streak is matched by his inventiveness. Wherever he wants to take his music my interest is piqued enough to want to follow. I have high hopes that “Modern Pressure” will become a new favourite.

 

 

I’ve had my fancy-schmancy Internet powered TV for some time now. It’s an idiot box of electrickeries most of which I neither grasp nor have need of. The 7 (that’s 7!) channels of 24/7 sport are enough to sustain a sense of wonder about the Modern World. So it was more luck than judgement that the appropriate buttons were pressed to record the full series (8 episodes) of the 2005 BBC production of “Bleak House”. Fortuitous perhaps but it provided a televisual experience to rival this year’s superb “Taboo”, another of the Beeb’s finest.

 

Image result for phil davis smallweedI love Charles Dickens, what’s not to…, his satire, his social conscience his unmatched balance of sentiment & melodrama & his finely drawn parade of eccentric characters. It was all there on the screen. “Bleak House” was written as a serial & the series was originally shown in 15 30-minute parts, a pot-boiler yes but certainly not a soap opera. Writer Andrew Davies is the doyen of literary adaptors, it was beautifully filmed & the extensive cast is a delight. It’s a list, Anna Maxwell Martin (Esther), Gillian Anderson (Lady Dedlock) & young Carey Mulligan (Ada) led the way in Dickens’ only book with a female protagonist. Charles Dance was a dastardly Tulkinghorn, the contributions of Burn Gorman (Guppy of Kenge & Carboys), Phil Davies (Smallweed, “shake me up Judy”), Alun Armstrong (Inspector Bucket) & Johnny Vegas (Krook) were all perfectly pitched. I’m going to include Michael Smiley (Squod) here because I have recently enjoyed Ben Wheatley’s “Kill List” & “Free Fire” & he shines in both of them. Actor of the month.

 

I’m not the biggest fan of period drama but I do enjoy the grimy streets of London Town seen in “Bleak House” & “Taboo”. I appreciated too Whit Stillman’s film “Love & Friendship” (Kate Beckinsale “always watchable”). Either these things are getting more modern or I’m becoming more old-fashioned. Oh Christ, it’s the latter isn’t it ?

More Broken Hearts And Prairie Soul (Daniel Romano)

OK. let’s get current. Today, May 27th, is the release date for “Mosey”, the 5th solo LP by Daniel Romano. Despite the antiquity (timelessness ?) of many of the tunes I feature here, I do listen to new music & not just as confirmation that the old music is better. The Underworld LP “Barbara Barbara We Face A Shining Future” will sit nicely on the shelf next to their 2 classic records of the mid-90s. Louie Vega’s Soulful House productions for Caron Wheeler & Cassio Ware are from the top rank. I would listen to that radio station playing Prince Rama’s contagious single “Bahia” on double heavy rotation. The only 2 tracks I had heard from “Mosey” got me handing over the hard-earned in the week before release. If there were other songs as good as “(Gone Is) All But A Quarry Of Stone” it was best that I had them around.

 

 

The last 3 LPs by Daniel Romano (I don’t know 2010’s “Workin’ For The Music Man”) have established his reputation as a consummate Country & Western stylist. His harder than a heartbreak lyrics, matched to recreations from Buck Owens’ Bakersfield honky tonk & the more countrypolitan Nashville of George Jones, are assured & affecting enough to ameliorate suspicions of mere revivalism. Elements of homage & pastiche, the sequinned country threads, are balanced by a respect for & an understanding of the structure & the sentiment of how these songs went.”Hard On You”, “There Are Lines On My Face” & others are retro-modern, distinct enough to have made an impression at any time since Hank done it his way. Romano called this music Mosey, a place he was “the King of…”. This new collection indicates that Mosey is a little further from Nashville than we thought.

 

The opener, “Valerie Leon”, is an uptempo theme to an imaginary Western, more Elmer Bernstein than Morricone, expansive orchestration, a touch of Tex-Mex but not the full mariachi. “I Had To Hide Your Poem In A Song” is a dramatic Blues. Romano is augmenting his Country music with other American roots influences, the result is looser, dramatic & surprising. The songs are still a catalogue of torment & tribulation, no longer limited by the strictures of his chosen genre they are heavy on atmosphere. The choruses are less obvious but still, when they come, captivating. Daniel Romano is a fine songwriter. I’m going to, like everyone else, check for Lee Hazlewood here. Romano’s baritone, Western fatalism with a dry humour & new palette does bring the master to mind. That’s some good company to keep.

 

 

For the album cover & the “(Gone Is)…” video Daniel has swapped sartorial dudeism for an Adidas shell suit & a Bob Dylan circa-66 ‘fro. The LP version replaces the strings with a churchy organ swirl & remains a bleak delight (I do like a lament). There has always been an element of performance art about his work. I found similarities in the early work of Lyle Lovett & Tom Waits. The sentimentality & archness of his chosen field was overridden by the quality of the records. The incongruous videos, gorilla suits & sci-fi animation, were more than winks that there was more to Mr Romano than his country gentleman affectations.This new character ? We will see if he hangs around. For myself the proof is in the hearing & I’m liking what I hear.

 

 

“Mosey” is a big change from Romano’s previous records. There was a tip off on “If I’ve Only One Time Askin” (2015) when “The One That Got Away (Came Back Today)” ended with an odd, almost psyche, guitar coda. There are more of these on “Mosey”. He may be ready to leave the Country but I’m not sure that all his fans will accept this shift towards a harder edge. Me, I’m an open-minded guy. If there are more songs as good as “Hunger Is A Dream You Die In”, with its backwards guitar, & the rocking closer “Dead Medium” to come then I’m happy to ride shotgun on the journey.

Are You Ready For The Country ? (Daniel Romano)

I was going to do one of these things about Daniel Romano some time last year when his 2013 LP “Come Cry With Me”, a classy collection of both country & western songs was causing a stir around here. Daniel & his music was new to me & I eventually settled for a tip of my stetson to the record in a piece about the much longer established Lyle Lovett. Anyhoo, there’s a new LP, “If I’ve Only One Time Askin” coming around on New West Records at the end of this month & the first single is a song good enough for George Jones though I doubt that “The Possum” would have included the odd endpiece on his version of “The One That Got Away”.

 

 

“Come Cry…” came wrapped in a sleeve showing dude Daniel in his finest Western wear. The Nudie Cohn inspired threads reference a bunch of guys named Hank though, everybody knows, Gram & the Burritos chose this embroidered, rhinestone cowboy rig  another time we were reminded of the heart & soul in old school Country music. Romano had started in Ontario with his group Attack in Black, a punky-pop guitar deal. His solo work reaches back to the music of 1950’s Nashville, before producers like Chet Atkins & Owen Bradley moved into the middle of the road & developed the smooth countrypolitan crossover “Nashville Sound”. I was initially expecting to find a little too much artifice in the art of this homage. I was wrong, there’s a lot more to Daniel Romano than hipster hillbilly. He knows how this music goes.

 

 

free-show-poster.jpgDaniel Romano writes tragic songs of life. Man, there’s a lot of lost love, empty bottles & broken hearts here. Musically he & his band, the Trilliums, work from a tried, tested, traditional, familiar palette & that sympathetic pedal steel works a treat. Lyrically he can get tears from a rock but he’s smart not saccharine & anyway I’ve heard a lot of sad songs, I like them. Lines like “There are lines in my face that don’t come from smiling” can seem a little arch but no more than Lovett’s “I married her because she looks like you”. They are both working with a heritage & with conventions that they respect, intelligent enough to produce work that is amusing but not taking the piss, modern & beyond mere revivalism.

 

The conventional structure of the songs is familiar . If it was good enough for Hank Williams…what is impressive is the knack Romano has for injecting originality & impetus into the formula. Repeated exposure to his tunes reveals his range too. “Chicken Bill” is one of those Tex Williams style talking blues, always a good thing. There’s a touch of gospel too but without the, y’know, Jesus stuff. The two videos here are both tracks from the “Sleep Beneath the Willow” LP (2011), another assembly of anguish which also includes “Hard On You” which sounds like a hit to me. The Darwinist promo for “Time Forgot (To Change My Heart)”, the best slab of Lee Hazlewood influenced doom I’ve heard for a while, is funny & strange, I like both of those things.

 

 

This week I discovered a new clip on the Y-tube of the band playing live at the Best Kept Secret festival last month over in Hilvarenbeek, the Netherlands. “Best Man” is not on the tracklist for the new LP, maybe it will be on the already announced next one “Mosey”. Offstage Daniel drops the cowpoke-in-a-cadillac couture, the song has a loose alt-country feel & is a fine example of a tune that keeps on keeping on to the end. So, a couple of indicators to future music from Daniel Romano. On the evidence of these & of the last two LPs whatever he releases will be interesting & I will be interested.