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All Wrapped Up

Here's another of the compilation cassettes I bought this summer, having taken home a Denon twin-deck hi-fi cassette player from the local charity shop. All Wrapped Up is a 1983 compilation of singles by The Undertones, with Side One filled with A-sides, and B-sides on Side Two. A cassette must be the least desirable medium for such an arrangement, with a long rewind required if one just wants to hear the hits repeatedly. The Undertones were unapologetically provincial and anti-fashionable, with their songs sharply-written slices of life that pointedly avoided any mention of politics, or of the then-continuing violence in their native Derry. My favourite tracks are the obvious choices: 'Teenage Kicks', 'Jimmy Jimmy', 'Here Comes the Summer', 'My Perfect Cousin' & 'Wednesday Week'. Their later singles showed increased sophistication but lack the some of the straightforward charm of their earlier work. The B-sides, not unexpectedly, are mo
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Strange Weather

Songs like ' Suddenly ', from her 2013 album One Breath had piqued my interest about Anna Calvi. When I heard the title track from her covers EP 'Strange Weather' the following year, the desire to acquire kicked in, and I ordered a vinyl copy of it (I can't recall why I didn't save myself a few pounds and get it on CD). I didn't regret my purchase: it's an intriguing selection of songs confidently interpreted. I wasn't familiar with FKA Twigs' 'Papi Pacify' before hearing Calvi's version. The original's electronic instrumentation is replaced here by piano, guitar, bass, drums & strings (the last arranged by Nico Muhly), building in an unsettling crescendo from a spare & soft beginning. Another then-recent song follows, in the shape of Connan Mockasin's vaguely creepy 'I'm the Man that will Find You'. A couple of older compositions start and end side B: Suicide's 'Ghost Rider' and David Bowie

The Wolf That House Built

Little Axe is a stage name used by guitarist Skip McDonald (itself an alias for the man born Bernard Alexander). It's also the name of one of his collaborations with producer Adrian Sherwood, aided by long-term musical associates Doug Wimbish on bass and Keith LeBlanc on drums, and also by percussionist Talvin Singh. Whereas Sherwood is best-known for his Jamaican-inspired dub, this record is built on the foundations of McDonald's formative blues influences. The clever title alludes to Howlin' Wolf, whose voice is sampled on some of its tracks. While there's virtually nothing of house music per se in its musical ingredients, it does involve programming & sampling used in ways which arguably owe something to it. The feel of the album is generally dark & weighty, with its mesmerising grooves the main attraction. McDonald's bluesy guitar work blends with as tight a rhythm section as one could wish for, with Singh's tabla a fascinating addition to it. The wh

Whale City

"Warmduscher" is, I gather, a mild German insult meaning "hot-showerer": that is, a person unwilling to undergo the bracing rigours of a cold shower, or otherwise rough it; a bit of a wimp. In this case it refers to a London-based band fronted by U.S. ex-pat Craig Louis Higgins Jr., aka Clams Baker. Their second album Whale City was one of my favourite records in 2018. I have it on CD. Whale City - as a locale - is (I gather) a re-imagining of the decrepit and dangerous NYC of the '70s. The album has a loose concept, outlined in a few spoken-word interludes, of following one man's unscrupulous rise through the ranks of that city's underworld. The musical action begins with the second track ' Standing on the Corner ', whose unsavoury urban storylines play out over an invitingly insistent bassline.  The short & sharp 'Big Wilma' has more of a post-punk aura, while '1000 Whispers' feels like it's being transmitted from some

In Heat

Having acquired the soubriquet "the walrus of love", Barry White thereafter became something of a figure of fun, something that misled me (and presumably others) into disregarding his music. Only within the last few years have I begun to pay it more attention. After picking up a copy of his '74 album Can't Get Enough last summer, which I loved, I sought out some of the music by his proteg├ęs Love Unlimited. From a Discogs seller I ordered well-used copies of Under the Influence of... ('73) and In Heat ('74) for only £6.25. The only unappealing thing about In Heat is its awful title. The songs and the singing are strong; the arrangements rich & warmly enveloping. As one would expect from White, the thematic focus is fixed on amatory matters. The opening number 'Move Me No Mountain' (the only one on the record not written by White) offers a refreshing rebuttal to the kind of lyrical hyperbole in songs like 'Ain't No Mountain High Enough&#

Blacklisted

I can't pinpoint my initial encounter with Neko Case's voice with any precision. It would have been between '02 and '05. Perhaps I'd heard her on The New Pornographers' song 'Mass Romantic'. Or maybe one of the tracks from Blacklisted ('02) was included on a promotional CD affixed to a music magazine. In any event, Blacklisted was certainly the first of her albums I bought. And it's turned out to be the only record of hers I've held on to. I eagerly ordered Fox Confessor Brings the Flood ('06) when it was first released, but never did warm to it. Much more recently I purchased Hell-on ('18) which hit me only just a little wide of the mark. Even this record, much as I love the tone & timbre of Case's voice, is one I revisit quite seldom - annually or so - but each new listen has been a fresh pleasure, so its place on the shelf is secure. The tunes are lovely. Case's lyrics are often interestingly oblique. Her singing is

The Tears of a Clown

Among the several strands of '60s revivalism in the '80s there was a re-exploration (and re-exploitation) of the classics in the Tamla Motown songbook. A new generation grew to appreciate the musicianship of "The Funk Brothers" and the vocal talents (and songwriting skills) of the likes of Smokey Robinson. Not that his music had exactly faded into oblivion: songs like 'The Tears of a Clown' (a UK No. 1 upon its re-issue in 1970) were oft-replayed oldies that had formed part of the background radiation as I was growing up. In recent years I've acquired a few of Robinson's singles: a '67 copy of 'I Second that Emotion' (a song I'd first come to know via art-pop outfit Japan's cover version); 'The Tears of a Clown' (from the hit '70 re-release); and his '81 hit 'Being With You' (previously mentioned in passing here ). While the former two numbers were by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles; the latter was a strict