Monday, November 29, 2010

Eric Clapton Presents Clapton

I am the kind of selective Eric Clapton fan who just about only buys his blues releases and over the past 20 years I've bought Unplugged (1991), From The Cradle (1994), Me and Mr Johnson and Sessions for Robert J (2005). By and large I've skipped the pop / rock releases over the 40-year period since the breakup of Derek and the Dominoes. The only "rock star" Clapton albums I own are 461 Ocean Boulevard (1974). because it was an important record for me in my school years, and Slowhand, because of "Lay Down, Sally" and some tasty old school country rock and blues. The pop stuff from the Eighties, the Phil Collins years, so to speak, does not appeal at all.

Although I got to know Clapton's music through his version of "I Shot The Sheriff" it was his work with John Mayall and Cream that really fired me up. The solo career contemporary rock and pop experiments left me cold, as is the case with so many rockers from the Sixties and Seventies who hit their forties in the Eighties and did not quite want to let go of commercial success and yet did not really accomplish much of lasting value. For me Eric Clapton is a bluesman and the trilogy (of a kind) represented by From The Cradle, Me and Mr Johnson and Sessions for Robert J are my favourite Clapton albums because he digs deep into the blues, is honest in his approach to a music he obviously lives as much as I love it and does the blues proud without pandering.

On the front cover of Clapton (2010), the latest release, Clapton has the face of a guy in his mid-Sixties but with the hairstyle he once had in his mid-Eighties commercial heyday and this is kind of weird as the music as determinedly rootsier and simpler in concept, execution and production than the Phil Collins years. Although the band backing Clapton mostly sounds like a blues band, it is not exactly a blues album for the reason that some of the tunes are basically show tunes, albeit played with a blues sensibility. There is only one Clapton tune and lots of covers of slightly odd choices of song and I am almost reminded of the eclectic almost blues stylings of Bob Dylan's most recent work, but where Dylan's blues sound like pastiches and often are reworkings of familiar musical tropes with a combination of clich├ęd blues lyrics and Dylan's own take on tradition, Clapton plays it straight. He simply does his own versions of a selection of songs that must be personal favourites.

Clapton's voice is also not nearly as croaking as that of the latter-day Dylan and this means he brings a lot more warmth to his interpretations. Hs blues guitar is always to the point, fluent and subtle. This might be the mellow twilight album of a rock superstar (thankfully not exactly the Great American Songbook pretensions of Rod Stewart) but the bottom-line toughness of the music is undeniable and this is the kind of old fogey record I will listen to a lot, much as Unplugged really caught my attention back in 1991.

This is where he should be, with a sympathetic band, elegant arrangements and a relaxed atmosphere, and good songs. Forget the pop stuff or the introspective singer songwriter stuff. Clapton must do what he does best and what he does best is the blues, with a touch of country thrown in for effect, and for my money Eric Clapton is the ultimate white bluesman of the last fifty years.



Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Machineri Revisited

When I saw Machineri at Zula in Long Street in June 2010 I quite disliked what I heard and said so in print. Some while later the band responded via their Facebook page and ostensibly commended me on my awesome and intelligent review. As the "review" was brief and scathing I guessed that Machineri were being sarcastic.

The other day I bought my wife the latest South African edition of Cosmo, their annual "music" issue. Guess who is featured in a full page spread, with large photograph and brief text? Machineri!

I guess it helps having some heavy PR. IF you can persuade Cosmo to give you a bit of hype as hot new young guns, somebody must know somebody and be working hard on your press and publicity. The Cosmo hack tells us the band mixes up a blend of rock 'n roll, country and blues and calls it music to feed our soul. We are also urged to get to their live shows. In the photograph Sannie Fox wears a short, thin summer dress beneath some kind of jacket, with short socks and comfortable shoes, and gives a shy yet bold look. Kind of like Maria McKee back in the day.

This expensive publicity made me wonder whether I'd missed something in Zula. Had I got it all wrong?

In passing I should mention, apart from favourable comments about my Nico Burger piece, that most of the responses to my blogs, when there is any, are from people who think I'm a clueless bastard for slating their favourite artist or maybe their mate. I guess any recognition is better than none and if means that unflattering pieces draw attention, then I should be even more like a blunt object in my battering attempts against crap music.

Machineri at Zula was loud, shrill and not very entertaining. There was no sign of country or blues. I trusted my instincts and called it as I saw it.

Anyhow, Machineri succeeded in drawing me to their Facebook (maybe I should now become a friend of theirs) and MySpace pages. After listening to the studio version of Machineri music I thought it good and even proper to re-evaluate the band and perhaps change my mind altogether. Now I do get the rock 'n roll, country and blues references. Machineri in the studio has some smarts, some musical sense and is long on the subtlety their bludgeoning performance had nothing of.

Damn! I like this stuff!

On MySpace the band displays its wares: a mini album of tunes that I find I cannot buy and download. Now that I have listened to the studio version of the tunes the band might have played at Zula, I am most distressed that I cannot download the songs to listen to more often.

This music is quite good!

"The Searchers" is allegedly inspired by the John Wayne / John Ford movie of the same name and the first impression is that Sannie Fox sounds like Jefferson Airplane period Grace Slick and the second impression is that his song almost has a grand tune and that it ain't half bad. Is this the hit?

"Drop Us A Line Ladder Operator" (I am a sucker for mysterious titles like this) is driven by a glorious lead riff, propulsive bass, freak out lead guitar, popping drums and gleefully thrilled vocals about a subject that makes no sense to me.

"Stranger on the Water" sounds like slowed down early Grand Funk Railroad, with touches of Blue Cheer, fronted by a less tense Siouxsie Sioux. That's a positive.

"Cukoo Child" is scuzz rock Howlin' Wolf style backing, psych fuzz guitar and an almost sweet vocal. This is the Nuggets tribute.

"Shunting Train" mauls the Delta theme of railroads with some spooky blues. It ends rather abruptly just as I am starting to enjoy the ride.

"Machine I Am" has an Eastern music effect and sounds like budget psych-pop, Grace Slick again, and has an almost anthemic chorus. It ends on wordless wailing and a bit of raga rock styling.

Obviously I listen to this stuff with ears attuned to music from the mid and late Sixties and early Seventies. Jefferson Airplane is one of my top favourite bands of all time. I owned the first Blue Cheer album and the first couple of Grand Funk Railroad albums. The original punk rock of the Pacific Northwest area of the USA, and the bands enshrined in the Nuggets and later Pebbles compilations, especially the stupidly lysergic dumb ones, rock in an awesome way. I hear this kind of influence in Machineri, whether they know this older music or not.

Machinery is not doing anything new, except perhaps for the role of Sannie Fox's guitar in the line up (and, hey, is a woman playing a guitar in any way still a novelty as Fox says in her Cosmo quote?) but from the evidence of the recordings they are doing something fun and rocking. The production values of the demos (as I think of them) need some boosting but I guess that will come with time and budget. For now, Machineri probably deserve the attention they are getting. Machineri does not sound like most of the bands on the scene and I guess they never will. If this is blues rock for the current millennium I am all for it, as blues is my passion and basic, primitive rock 'n roll my heart's desire.

The chances of me ever hearing Machineri live again would probably be quite slim. I would however shell out for a CD or downloadable tracks when available.

Never let it be said that I have blind prejudices.