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Posts Tagged ‘Sacred Bones

Chosen One: Marissa Nadler

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Interview with Marissa Nadler.

“I like to bottle things up so that there’s a well to drink from.”

—Marissa Nadler

Words: Mark Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry

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Earlier this month marked the highly anticipated release of unparalleled U.S. singer songwriter, Marissa Nadler’s latest full-length album, entitled ‘July’. As ever, a special record, steeped in a fragile beauty, is masterfully created by the gifted artist whose deeply affecting songs elicits a spectrum of deepest, rarest emotion. An enriching experience unfolds across the interwoven tapestry of ‘July’ that conveys (yet again) the rarity of this special songwriter. Having released six full-length albums in nearly a decade — in addition to a plethora of home recordings, cover records and collaborative projects — the star of Nadler continues to soar the star-lit skies above us.

Album opener ‘Drive’ serves the perfect opening song as Nadler sings “If you haven’t made it now / You’re never going to make it / Seventeen people in the dark tonight” on the opening verse. An immediacy and directness prevails. The poetic prose combined with pristine instrumentation (majestic harmonies and gorgeous guitar lines) evokes an intimacy and honesty that never ceases to amaze me. The light of hope flickers amidst the void of darkness as the beguiling refrain of “Waiting for the light” forges a lasting imprint on one’s mind. The utterly gorgeous pedal steel line coalesces effortlessly with Nadler’s mesmerising voice towards the closing sections. As the notes slowly fade, a vivid sense of longing comes to the surface, akin to Cohen’s ‘Suzanne’ that begins a similarly evocative and life-affirming record, ‘Songs From A Room’, from another space and time.

Joining Nadler on ‘July’ is Eyvind Kang (strings), Steve Moore (synths) and Phil Wandscher (Whiskeytown, Jesse Sykes) on lead guitar. At the helm of production duties is Randall Dunn (Earth, Sunn O))), a first-time collaboration for the pair. ‘1923’ reveals the hypnotic spell unleashed by the tight-knit group as a cinematic backdrop is magnificently formed beneath Nadler’s achingly beautiful lament. Delicate strings are placed alongside Nadler’s gentle acoustic guitar notes on the song’s bewitching intro. The first words sung by Nadler — almost whisper-like — sets the scene of estranged lovers: “1923 he sent a letter and it reached me”. A longing is embedded deep within the words, “I called you from another century / To see if the world had been kind and sweet”. The love-lorn pages of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and songbook of Red House Painters could form tangible reference points on ‘1923’. A timeless sound is created that is closer to a waltz than a ballad. The chorus refrain of “Baby come back to me” is one of the many truly transcendent moments captured as a Spector-esque wall of sound seeps into the pools of your mind.

‘Firecrackers’ showcases the power and glory of Nadler’s voice. The vocal delivery is a joy to behold, particularly on the rise during the chorus refrain, “Firecrackers / Burn into heaven on the floor”. Wandscher’s pedal steel forms the ideal compliment that reminds me of the close connecting worlds of Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter and Nadler’s newfound ensemble. The spirit of americana is journeyed throughout the song’s trajectory as “We have drunk our summers away” is sung on a later verse. A love song — raw and bare — is unfolded before your very eyes: “I saw your face everywhere I looked / You sat across from me / And baby I’m a ghost when you’re away”. The acoustic guitar and voice of Nadler casts a magical spell on “We Are Coming Back”, a reminder of the endless capabilities of the singer-songwriter’s solo performance. One of my favourite lyrics appears on a later verse, “Still I live many miles away / So I can miss you a little everyday”.

The brooding tour-de-force, ‘Dead City Emily’ traverses the darkness of one’s fears, doubts and internal struggle, but it is clearly evident as Nadler sings “Oh I saw the light today / Opened up the door” that the light of hope proves victorious. A loneliness hangs in the air: “I was coming apart those days” hits you hard and deep. A lovely parallel exists between ‘Dead City Emily’ and the cinematic folk oeuvre of Nick Talbot’s Gravenhurst. Some beautiful imagery of “birds flying in the breeze”, and the “colours on the trees” that “change from red to green”. ‘Was It A Dream’ is a gorgeous folk opus that evolves into a reverb-drenched cosmic country gem. The intricate arrangements of strings and guitar creates a symphony-like, celestial sound that awakens your senses and truly heightens all that surrounds you. The beautiful rise, as Nadler sings “Hoping I wake up / Somehow next to you” beneath a crescendo of strings provides one of ‘July’s (many) defining moments and breathtaking epiphanies. Somehow, the song feels like an amalgamation of the most lucid of dreams and the insular world of Sylvia Plath’s ‘Bell Jar’.

‘I’ve Got Your Name’ is a stunning piano-based, soulful ballad. An ethereal dimension is tapped into here — bringing to mind the likes of Kate Bush and Joni Mitchell — as a road trip (from New York to home of Massachusetts) becomes the focal point. The second verse could easily be a lost verse to Mitchell’s ‘River’: “Riding back to Massachusetts / Couldn’t even see / From snow the road was studded with Christmas trees”. An illuminating spell is cast upon the refrain of “I saw fire then” as the flow of words turn to embers of a burning flame. ‘Desire’ is a glorious tower of songwriting and reveals (perhaps) the most compelling songs of ‘July’. It is how Nadler is capable of translating music and words into such affecting, vast seas of emotion. Desire is painted so strikingly clear on the song’s sprawling canvas of sound, particularly on the chorus as Nadler sings, “I could fall for you / You had eyes for me”. The songbook of Leonard Cohen comes to mind as Nadler’s sheer poetry evokes a heart that is laid bare: “You’ve got no lines on your face / Mine are mapping out the spots where we lay”.

Similar to ‘I’ve Got Your Name’, a heavenly piano-led ballad brings ‘July’ to a fitting close. ‘Nothing In My Heart’ brings to mind luminaries such as Sharon Van Etten and Nina Simone. As the lyrics of ‘Drive’ return to my mind, “Still remember all the words to every song you ever heard”, I feel those very words reflect the empowering feeling in which the cherished songbook of Marissa Nadler ceaselessly awakens.

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Interview with Marissa Nadler.

Congratulations, Marissa, on your truly stunning new record, ‘July’. Words fail to begin to describe the sheer beauty and profound impact this record has had on me these past few weeks. You must feel deeply proud of your latest album, it really feels a culmination. Before the recording sessions ever took place, can you recount for me the space and time these songs were written, Marissa? 

MN: Thank you for your kindness. I feel really good about the album…I mean as much as there are always little bits of things here and there that you could record over and over and over again. Nevertheless, once you release something like an album into the world, you just have to let it fly away. Part of the art making process is learning how to let go.

I wrote the songs last year in a very concentrated period of time. I didn’t write for a long time and then I sat down and wrote about 20 songs (9 of which got cut) for the album in a few months. I like to bottle things up so that there’s a well to drink from.

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I would love to gain an insight into your song-writing process. As with all your formidable records, your beautiful prose and poetic words evokes a lifetime of emotions and memories, both old and new. For example, I would love to discover the significance of the album-title of ‘July’? 

MN: Well, the album details the events of my life from one July to the next. Randall actually was the one who named it because I was struggling. I had no idea what to name it. We recorded the album in July so he suggested it and I loved the idea. I like simple, one-word titles. They are bold. Obviously, this is not a summer record. There is nothing summery about it.

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The album was recorded in Seattle’s Avast Studio, working for the first time with producer Randall Dunn (Earth, SunnO))). Also, there is a wonderful cast of gifted musicians present on these sessions, forming the ideal sonic backdrop to your deeply affecting songs. I would love for you to please reminisce on the recording sessions for ‘July’? What were your main concerns and aims from the outset and what were the typical day-to-day routines like? I can imagine it must have been a special experience.

MN: You know, I had written all of the vocal layers beforehand as parts of the actual songs. So, the first few days in the studio I was alone with Randall at the board, tracking the guitar and vocals. Then we brought everyone else in!
Honestly, I really loved working at Avast! And I am looking forward to going back there for my next project.

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The album opener ‘Drive’ is a masterpiece. It’s a fitting opening to a truly captivating journey you take the listener on. The gorgeous layers of ethereal harmonies and tapestry of acoustic guitar notes conjures up the timeless sound of Jackson C. Frank, Sibylle Baier and so on. Your mesmerising vocals are wonderfully melted beneath the mix of divine cinematic sounds and textures. Can you talk me through the construction of this song please? There are certain lyrics here that resonate powerfully for the album as a whole, I feel. “Waiting for the light” — a sense of searching is interwoven throughout the record’s divine fabric — could serve the prologue to ‘July’. 

MN: Thank you. I think that ‘Drive’ is lyrically very autobiographical. It’s all in the lyrics, in terms of what the song is about. There’s a sadness and frustration I express during the song, but also hopefulness.

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‘Dead City Emily’ is a joy to behold. You sing “Colours on the trees / Change from red to green / It’s a dead city Emily” on the opening verse that always hits me deeply. It’s the immaculate instrumentation and production of the song, and how it evolves into full-bloom towards the closing sections. Did ‘Dead City Emily’ originate as a solo acoustic demo, Marissa? Again, the theme of light and hope/survival comes to the fore as the lyric of “I saw the light today” diffuse into the mix. This is (yet another) pinnacle of the album. 

MN: All of the songs originated as solo acoustic demos…though there really isn’t much else on that track. I mean there is Steve Moore on synth and me on 12 string…maybe some bass from Jonas.

This song is about the contrast between depression and hopefulness as told to a friend.

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I love the placing of the sparse piano ballads, ‘I’ve Got Your Name’ and closer ‘Nothing In My Heart’ in part B of ‘July’. A hidden dimension is tapped into here, giving the album a heightened sense of other-worldly oblivion. I would love for you to talk me through both these songs. The immense power these songs conjure up is nothing short of staggering, where the cosmic spirit of Judee Sill beautifully drifts in the air’s atmosphere.

MN: I really enjoyed writing both of the songs, especially stacking my vocals and creating those weird harmonies. ‘I’ve Got Your Name’ is definitely about someone who did me wrong. Oh dear.

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You have a rich body of work already behind you, ranging from 4-track recordings and covers albums to immense full-length releases and a plethora of collaborations. Now with ‘July’ added as the latest chapter to your cherished songbook, I would love to gain an insight into the narrative that connects these works that ties the delicately beautiful works of yours together? I’m always amazed just how prolific you are: music ceaselessly flows from your heart and mind. A new release of yours is always a unique work of divine art.

MN: I have been pretty busy in the last decade or so. I enjoy singing and writing songs and sometimes I just don’t come up for air. It’s what I do. There’s really no narrative thread other than the fact that I’m writing about my own life and the people in it, like most songwriters do.

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You will soon embark on a U.S. and European tour. How much of an inspiration does traveling and seeing different cities and countries have on the inception of a new song? You must be looking forward to these upcoming shows. Will you be joined by your trusted ensemble or will they be solo shows?

MN: I have a new band with Janel Leppin on cello/synth/vox and Nina Violet on viola/lapsteel/vox. I’m excited but also a bit nervous. I just hope that my energy stays steady and I can stay healthy on the road. To be honest, I write most of my songs when I’m at home. When I’m traveling there isn’t enough time to really take in a city. One of these days, I hope to actually go on a vacation and really see some sights.

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Lastly, I would love to know what records you’ve been listening to most these past few months?

MN: Locrian, The Dirty Three, Catherine Ribeiro and The Alpes…

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‘July’ is available now on Sacred Bones Records (USA) and Bella Union (EU).

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http://marissanadler.com
http://bellaunion.com
http://sacredbonesrecords.com

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Written by admin

February 26, 2014 at 10:54 am

Time Has Told Me: F.J. McMahon

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Interview with F.J. McMahon.

“I was born like a star
Whose light had gone out long ago
The longer I live
The farther I find I’ve got to go”

—‘Spirit Of The Golden Juice’, F.J. McMahon

Words: Mark Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry

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Last Autumn, the unique song-writing voice of F.J. McMahon came into my path — unexpectedly and unannounced — thanks to Philadelphia-based harpist Mary Lattimore’s mixtape, entitled Keeper Of Beauty. The lush baritone and warm acoustic guitar of McMahon’s ‘Early Blue’ evokes the sound of age-old traditions — folk and americana — yet steeped in a bold, adventurous spirit that undeniably belongs to the here-and-now. Lattimore’s side-notes describes ‘Early Blue’ as “a winter song to listen to in the car”. The debut album, ‘Spirit Of The Golden Juice’, originally released on Tiger Eye in 1969 — the only document of this gifted singer songwriter — encompasses songs of such emotional depth and striking immediacy that some four decades later, McMahon’s songbook ceaselessly generates new meaning and endless artistic detail.

The beautifully written album sleevenotes perfectly surmises the music contained on ‘Spirit Of The Golden Juice’:

“F.J. McMahon is a quiet individual in an exciting way. This is evidenced by his singing style, guitar playing and songwriting. The lyrics to his songs hit you at an abstract angle and the come off with the logic and meaning in today’s restless environment. F.J. McMahon is an artist who has something to say and says it in a simple, earthy style.”

—Tiffany Anders (taken from Tiffany Anders’ essay on the sleeve notes to ‘Spirit Of The Golden Juice’s 2009 reissue on Rev-Ola Records)

McMahon spent a year in Vietnam as a very young man and it is these harrowing experiences that found its way into the slipstream of ‘Spirit Of The Golden Juice’s deeply affecting world of song. His experiences in Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines had a profound effect on him and upon his return to the U.S. McMahon actively participated in anti-war movements. In the words of the singer-songwriter: “I went through so many experiences between Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines and not just the usual experiences you think of, but because I was military police I got to see a lot of the stuff that goes on under the rocks and behind the scenes. It was obviously such a waste of people and money and material, but these people were getting wealthy off of it! And so I was depressed, disgusted, I mean it just shattered me.”

McMahon was discharged in 1968, having fallen ill with hepatitis after a year of service. While home, McMahon actively helped his friends get out the draft. A short time later, a collection of songs would be recorded on a budget of about a dollar and 98 cents. The local Tiger Eye productions in California, offered McMahon a small recording budget whereby two takes per song were put to tape. The back-up tracks were recorded first — taking no more than half a day — after which the vocals and lead guitar were recorded in the little Accent Records offices. ‘Spirit Of The Golden Juice’ was effectively captured to tape in about a day and a half.

The spirit of Townes Van Zandt, Fred Neil and Tim Hardin can be felt throughout the nine utterly transcendent songs of ‘Spirit Of The Golden Juice’ (the album’s title was named after the brand of bourbon popular during the period). The pristine guitar parts — rhythm and lead — performed by McMahon serves the resonating pulse to these particular recordings. The singular voice of McMahon possesses vivid shades of pain, torment, restlessness, hope and survival dotted across the sprawling canvas of sound. Joining the songwriter, Jon Uzonyi plays bass and Junior Nickles plays drums. The fresh and contemporary folk sound reminds me of ‘John Wesley Harding’ era Dylan, whose songs hit you deep and hard. A magical spark floats in the air as ‘Spirit Of The Golden Juice’ captivates the heart of the devoted listener.

The album’s title-track — and album closer — is a miracle of song-writing that reveals the brutal honesty and directness of McMahon’s absorbing creations. Throughout ‘Spirit Of The Golden Juice’ some gorgeous electric guitar lead parts are effortlessly blended into the mix. A sense of nostalgia is etched across the song’s narrative: “Now I’m sitting in my one-man room / One day at a time / Think about the times past / And a good ol’ friend of mine” begins the second verse. The song encompasses the hardship, struggle and pain inflicted upon the aftermath of war, and, indeed, internal struggle. The first words sung by McMahon — beneath the exquisite tapestry of drums and interwoven guitar — are words of sheer poetry direct from the depths of an artist’s heart:

“I was born like a star
Whose light had gone out long ago
The longer I live
The farther I find I’ve got to go”

‘Early Blue’ is wrapped in a yearning feel that slowly envelops your very heart and mind. An achingly beautiful lament is created here, and like a rising sun, rays of illuminating light gradually falls through the cracks of despair. The voice sings to you like an old, dependable friend. The lyrics evoke imagery of springtime and someone lost in the surrounding world, particularly on the endearing chorus refrain of “And I run away”. The words are simple, personal, and reflective of a distant past: “Early blue / I see you / Through my window / Becoming lighter / As the sun gets brighter / And the night goes away”. I feel the spirit of ‘Sunflower’ era Beach Boys ascend into atmosphere as an ocean of sadness permeates throughout. The closing verse serves a guiding light to keep on keeping on: “But I know it’ll happen soon / Early blue come to my room next morning / And I’ll try to go to sleep.”

‘Five Year Kansas Blues’ is a folk gem straight from the sacred songbook of Woody Guthrie or Johnny Cash, and would fit perfectly on Springsteen’s ‘Nebraska’. In the words of McMahon: “It’s written about a guy who is going to prison for avoiding the draft and the sentence for avoiding the draft is five years, and where you go to prison is Levinworth, Kansas in the federal prison.” The first words resonate powerfully as McMahon asks “How does it feel to feel free?” On the following cut, ‘Enough It Is Done’, a stream of irresistible blues licks penetrate the headspace where the feel and sound reminds me of the immaculate song-craft of Sixto Rodriguez.

‘Black Night Woman’ is a spellbinding love song. A late-night feel hangs in the air as McMahon sings “I remember when she looked at me / She had stars on her eyes”. The peerless musicianship and intricate arrangements of guitars, drums and voice is clear to witness here. Happiness and pain are sunk beneath the riverbed of time, as McMahon sings “I’ll continue beside her soul”. The lyric of “the uneasy feelings that call on me” on ‘The Road Back Home’s opening verse encompasses the dark subject matter of ‘Spirit Of The Golden Juice’ that reflects the songwriter’s mindset during this period of time. I feel the extraordinary body of work, created by F.J. McMahon, is an album to closely guide you along life’s pathway, reflected in song’s chorus, “I need someone to show me the road back home”. In just under thirty minutes, ‘Spirit Of The Golden Juice’ becomes a long-lost, lifelong companion.

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Interview with F.J. McMahon.

It’s a real pleasure to talk to you about your utterly captivating and shape-shifting record, ‘Spirit Of The Golden Juice’, originally released in 1969. It was only last year when I first discovered this lost folk masterpiece and I feel very fortunate to have done so, albeit a few years late. The album was written and recorded quite soon after your time in Vietnam, where you spent a year as part of service in the military police. Can you please take me back to the space and time in which ‘Spirit Of The Golden Juice’ was made? Was it a case that the songs would just flow out from you, as you reflected on life and you’re deeply affecting experiences from being based between Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines? 

FJM: It was the better part of a year before I wrote anything. After seeing the news, the demonstrations, riots and how the country had changed and attending funerals of kids killed in the war it all just kind of boiled over.

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It amazes me to learn that ‘Spirit Of The Golden Juice’ was recorded in about a day and a half. Your singular guitar playing and style combined with your poetic lyrics evokes such a vivid canvas of raw emotion. Can you please recount for me those couple of days in which the songs were recorded to tape, F.J.? I love the layering of the guitars on the tracks — the solos, the rhythm guitars — which is effortlessly placed beneath your lush baritone. You are joined by Jon Uzonyi on bass and Junior Nickles on drums. How did you first cross paths with these musicians?

FJM: The first day we (Jon, Junior and I) recorded the rhythm guitar, bass and drums. We did two takes for each song at PD Sound in LA. Second day I recorded the vocals and guitar lead at Accent in Hollywood. Scott Seeley the owner of Accent was working with Jon on his own album and Junior was just hired for the  first day. Scott Seeley played the keyboard on ‘Early Blue’.

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In terms of influences, what were the records, while growing up, that triggered your love for music? Were there particular songwriters and bands that served major inspiration for you to lead you on the song-writing path?

FJM: All early 50’s rock and pop. For guitar Duane Eddy, Ventures, all the country pickers and Hoyt Axton when he was a single folk act.

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The album’s title-track, ‘Spirit Of The Golden Juice’ is a truly breathtaking closer to this special record. I feel the combination of the deeply honest and reflective lyrics and the sublime instrumentation of guitar creates in turn, the pinnacle of the album. Is it true that “Golden Juice” refers to the brand of bourbon that you drank while overseas? It makes for a wonderful title, either way. Lyrics such as “I was born like a star / Whose light had gone out long ago” and “The longer I live / The farther I find I’ve got to go” creates a profound impact on me upon each revisit. Can you please discuss writing this song, F.J. and indeed if this was the song that provided the pathway to the rest of the album? It really is a full-blown masterpiece.

FJM: Really kind words. The golden juice is I.W. Harper bourbon which is no longer made. I wrote this song second to last as it is the realization that what gives life its meaning is both the good and bad. You can’t appreciate one without the other.

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A beautiful yearning feel permeates throughout the gorgeous ballad, ‘Early Blue’. For your songs, are the words written on a page first, and a melody sometime later? I feel the spirit of albums such as Dylan’s ‘John Wesley Harding’ and the songbook of Gene Clark and Townes Van Zandt float seamlessly amidst ‘Spirit Of The Golden Juice’. I love the flow and aesthetics to ‘Early Blue’ and particularly, the minor key bridge as you sing “And I run away”. 

FJM: As a rule I find some chords and/or riff that I’m comfortable with and then just start humming and singing what ever words find their way out.

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Looking back on ‘Spirit Of The Golden Juice’, is there a song on the record that you feel most proud of? 

FJM: I have learned to like each one. As far as proud……….‘Five Year Kansas Blues’, a lot of people paid that price for their views.

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In the liner notes, you describe how the album’s lack of much-deserved attention and recognition was like “a harpoon to the heart for a long time”. Can you please discuss the reasons why you think this was the case? I can think of several other spellbinding albums from the early 70’s folk era that suffered from a similarly lack of good fortune. Did you tour a lot during this time, F.J.? If so, I can imagine you must have played some special concerts where you felt a close connection to the audience, particularly as your universal themes and painful subject matter resonates so powerfully?

FJM: It’s just hard when you put a lot into something and it just disappears, I would slip one of my tunes in a bar or hotel gig now and again. Sometimes folks would like it, sometimes they just clinked their ice cubes and got drunker.

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Forward several decades and ‘Spirit of the Golden Juice’ gets its richly deserved re-release on the Sacred Bones record label, introducing your utterly compelling folk songs to a new generation of music fans. This must have been a special moment for you? Your work of true art receives its long-awaited acclaim and recognition. How do you see the album now, some forty years on, F.J.? For me, as a listener, I can’t believe just how fresh and engaging the songs are. The spark of creativity remains embedded deep within the album’s batch of transcendent songs.

FJM: I am constantly blown away by the how well it has been received in the past few years and very grateful. I suppose the down side is the songs seem relevant because the world is still so screwed up.

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You grew up in Santa Barbara, California and I read that you started your musical path playing trumpet in a grammar school. Can you recall the moment that triggered you to pick up a guitar and write your own songs? Also, I imagine you must have written poems quite a bit too? I find the words, alone on a page, is true art in itself when listening to your singing voice. What was it like to grow up along the coast? 

FJM: Growing up in Santa Barbara in the fifties and sixties was about as idyllic as it could get. I always wanted to be a writer but had a terrible time with alliteration. My regular stories turned out short and my short stories turned out to be songs, which I guess turned out ok in the long run. What first clicked with guitar was picking up an Elvis Presley fan mag. I thought: OK, this looks cool, beats the hell out of working at a store. What a road that started.

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‘Five Year Kansas Blues’ is a master-class in songwriting. Can you please recount for me writing this song? This song could belong on Springsteen’s ‘Nebraska’ or any one of Fred Neil or Townes Van Zandt’s albums.  

FJM: Thanks again for the kind words. The Am, C, D progression just lends itself to story background. By this time I had been helping kids avoid the draft for almost a year. Some guys couldn’t get out of it and chose to go to jail. Most people don’t have the guts to make that kind of a decision of belief. I wanted to tell their story.

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I would love to know how central music is in your life today, F.J.? I would like to think you still play the guitar and write songs. If so, is there a place I can hear these post-‘Spirit of the Golden Juice’ creations? 

FJM: Not a day goes by when I don’t listen or pick up the guitar and noodle around a bit. There are a couple of people thinking of re-releasing the original album with some added new songs or just putting out a second album. We’ll see what develops. Thank you very much for your interest. It’s well appreciated.

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‘Spirit Of The Golden Juice’ is available now, via Cherry Red Records’ Rev-Ola imprint HERE and via Sacred Bones Records’ The Circadian Press imprint HERE.

http://www.cherryred.co.uk
http://www.sacredbonesrecords.com

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Written by admin

February 24, 2014 at 11:00 am

Ten Mile Stereo

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Howe Gelb ‘The Coincidentalist’ (New West)
“The Coincidentalist is someone who can read the coincidences but who doesn’t try to figure out their meaning. For if one tries to figure out the meaning it will be lost. The coincidences aren’t there to figure out but to point the way.” (Howe Gelb)
Since last year’s excellent Giant Giant Sand LP ‘Tucson’ – where Gelb draws from his beloved hometown for inspiration – legendary Giant Sand leader Howe Gelb will return this November with has latest solo work ‘The Coincidentalist’. The album is Gelb’s first release for New West Records. Over the last three decades Gelb has produced a mightily sprawling body of work – whether as Giant Sand or under his “solo” guise – and has peerlessly fused myriad genres and traditions into his own dusty, earthy trademark sound. Highlights are too numerous to list but personal favorites include Giant Sand’s ‘Center of the Universe’, ‘Glum’ and ‘Chore of Enchantment’, as well as Gelb’s ‘The Listener’ and ‘Sno Angel Like You’. ‘The Coincidentalist’ proves to be yet another career peak for Gelb, and is available on 5 November via New West Records. 

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Rachel’s ‘Systems/Layers’ (Quarterstick)
Rachel’s wonderful “System/Layers” sounds as immaculate today as it did a decade ago on its release on US independent label Quarterstick Records. Recently, Rachel’s – formed in Louisville, Kentucky in 1991 – can be heard on the soundtrack to the visually immaculate Paolo Sorrentino film “The Great Beauty”, a film set in present-day Rome. The song used by Sorrentino is ‘Water From The Same Source’, a heavenly ballad and a timeless piece of music. Rachel’s are responsible for some of the most breathtaking and ambitious music over the last couple of decades. Tragically, founding member Jason Noble passed away in 2012 but has left behind a truly remarkable musical legacy in the form of Rachel’s beloved chamber music output. Also essential is the fabulous ‘The Sea And The Bells’. For all information on Rachel’s please see here.

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Zola Jesus ‘Versions’ (Sacred Bones)
Nika Roza Danilova returned this year with ‘Versions’, her fourth Zola Jesus studio album, released at the end of August by the Brooklyn-based independent label Sacred Bones Records. The album’s genesis began when Danilova was asked to perform at New York’s Guggenheim and, on accepting the invitation, she requested her wish to work with a classical composer who could arrange her songs for a quartet. The pioneering and versatile JG Thirlwell (Foetus) who is best known in industrial music circles, was recruited for this purpose and to fulfill Danilova’s artistic vision. According to Danilova: “Versions is about the bone of the music; taking approximations from past records and turning them inside out. With all framework exposed, the songs are given a new medium in which to evolve and bloom into their own tiny worlds.”

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Lucrecia Dalt ‘Syzygy’ (Human Ear Music)
Hugely talented Colombian-born artist Lucrecia Dalt – now based in Berlin – returns this year with the mesmerizing ‘Syzygy’, the much-anticipated follow-up to her second full length ‘Commotus.’ The record took shape quite by accident. When Dalt moved to a new place located in close proximity to a metro station, she soon discovered that the magnetic field of the metro affected the sound of the bass. Whereas her previous album ‘Commotus’ was largely centered on bass-driven melodies, ‘Syzygy’ sees a shift to a more dreamy, ambient-textured palette, as Dalt could only record the songs in the dead of the night, as she recounts: “I could only record at 4:30 am when the metro wasn’t working. So I love these kinds of accidents. I’m not sure if the new record would have shaped the way it did if I wan’t under that circumstance.” ‘Syzygy’ is available now on Human Ear Music.

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Chequerboard ‘The Unfolding’ (Lazybird)
Chequerboard is the moniker for Dublin-based composer John Lambert who released ‘The Unfolding’ – Lambert’s third LP – this year on independent label Lazybird Records. It has been five years since Chequerboard’s previous album, ‘Penny Black’, and ‘The Unfolding’ sees Lambert expanding on a more complex and panoramic sound than before. Collaborations on the record feature Seti The First’s Kevin Murphy and Crash Ensemble’s Kate Ellis (both on cello) as well as guest vocals from Eileen Carpio. Much like the beautifully textured and multi-layered sonic palette of Thrill Jockey’s Mountains, Chequerboard’s music is stunningly complex, mixing soft focus ambient vignettes with highly detailed, intricate guitar patterns. An album which reveals more upon every listen, ‘The Unfolding’ is a true delight.

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Lisa O’Neill ‘Same Cloth Or Not’
‘Same Cloth Or Not’ is Lisa O’Neill’s second album and follow-up to her 2009 debut ‘Has An Album.’ ‘Same Cloth Or Not’ confirms County Cavan-born O’Neill as one of Ireland’s finest and most unique young songwriters and was recorded with Dublin-based songwriter (and occasional Tindersticks contributor) David Kitt as producer with Karl Oldum on engineering duties. In the past O’Neill’s name has become better known with support slots with the likes of David Gray and Glen Hansard. A tour with the wonderful Scottish musician James Yorkston this November should be particularly special occasion for music audiences across the UK. O’Neill supports Glen Hansard on his solo Irish tour this October. ‘Same Cloth Or Not’ is released on 18th October.

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Joni Mitchell ‘The Studio Albums 1968 – 1979’ (Warner Music / Reprise / Asylum)
Since last year’s Joni Mitchell boxset release – comprising Mitchell’s studio albums from her most prolific and creative period of the late sixties and seventies – the astonishing music and artistry of Mitchell’s can be explored by a whole new generation of music-lovers. The set contains Mitchell’s best-loved and most revered albums including the timeless string of albums at the turn of the seventies – 1971’s ‘Blue’, ’74’s ‘Court and Spark’ and ‘The Hissing Of Summer Lawns’ from 1975. The set also features such slightly less known gems as ‘Hejira’, ‘Ladies Of The Canyon’ and ‘Mingus’, Mitchell’s beautiful Asylum Records album from 1979 dedicated to the life and memory of Charles Mingus who passed away in January of the same year.

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Peter Jefferies ‘The Last Great Challenge In A Dull World’ (De Stijl)
Originally released on tape cassette by Xpressway, a label based in Port Chalmers, New Zealand, in 1990, the mystery and allure surrounding Jefferies’ debut solo album has only grown since. Hence, this year’s reissue of the New Zealander’s ‘The Last Great Challenge In A Dull World’ via De Stijl Records (the first time that the vinyl has been repressed since the LP version of the album on Chicago’s Ajax label was out of print some twenty years ago). The collection itself is an engrossing set of songs highlighting the raw talents of Jefferies as a songwriter whose songs reveal much pain, sadness and indifference to a world which seems at complete odds to it’s author, while ultimately the album conveys a sense of fragile hope and soft light which diffuses Jefferies’ stark shadows with soft edges. A redeeming and life-affirming record.

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Kwes ‘ilp.’ (Warp)
‘ilp.’ is the debut album by Warp’s hugely talented London-based producer Kwesi Sey (who has worked with the likes of Bobby Womack and Damon Albarn in the past). The album’s ten tracks cut through every conceivable genre and style so effortlessly, fusing pop, electronic, hip hop, found sounds and ambient traditions to a mesmerizing effect (at times recalling Warp’s Bibio at his most expansive). The album’s hallmark is Sey’s vocal work, adding heart and soul to the beguiling, multilayered soundscapes beneath. Sey’s journey in music began when he was given a present of a keyboard from his grandmother (an instrument he still uses), and from the evidence of the hugely promising ‘ilp.’ expect a very bright future indeed for Kwes.

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Pharaoh Sanders ‘Elevation’ (Soul Jazz, Re-Issue 2013)
Soul Jazz Records’ Universal Sound recently re-issued Pharaoh Sanders’ classic ‘Elevation’ which was originally released on Impulse Records back in 1973. This was a golden era for Impulse when such jazz greats as Pharaoh Sanders, Alice Coltrane, Sam Rivers and Marion Brown were making records for the label. Sanders was one of the greatest saxophonists of all time, and worked with both John Coltrane in the sixties as well as Alice Coltrane in the following decade. Beginning with the album’s majestic title-track, ‘Elevation’ is a key cornerstone to the spiritual jazz genre and highlights Sanders as one of the greatest tenor saxophonists there ever was.

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