Saturday, 31 December 2011

50 Words For Snow

In reviewing the music that I've been listening to over the last year earlier this month, I mentioned that I hadn't got round to listening to the latest offering from Kate Bush - 50 Words For Snow. Well, I now have.

Compared to her earlier material, which I've only recently really started listening to, the new collection is quite different. In terms of song length, whereas previously these have been between 3:30 and 6:00, the songs on the new album range from just under 7:00 to 13:30. Musically the sound on '50 Words...' is much mellower, and more minimalist in style. Kate's voice has also mellowed with time, and has lost the sharp edge of some of her earlier recordings.

I found it to be a beautiful, meditative, ethereal collection of songs, all loosely around a winter theme (a concept album?). Stand-out songs for me so far are 'Misty', which seems to be an erotic fantasy about a snowman (?), and the album closer, 'Among Angels', which is simply stunning.

Even if you find Kate's music challenging, I would recommend giving this offering a listen. I don't think you'll regret it.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

A Night Like No Other

This is something I wrote a number of years ago now, when our boys were very small. I hope it still speaks.

A Night like no other - A Meditation on the Eve of Christmas

The gifts are all wrapped - well, most of them
      prepared for the assault of tiny fingers (and not so tiny);
the shops are closed - well, most of them
      preparing for the onslaught of the sales;
the children are asleep - well, most of them
      awaiting what the morning will bring,
    and leaving the parents wondering when that morning will begin.

Our attempts to placate the insistent and the persistent,
     our expressions of affection and gratitude,
     our tokens of love,
  are presented and await the desired response.
It is Christmas Eve - the night before the morning after
      and the air is thickening with anticipation;
it is a night like no other.

What's he bringing you?
You'd better be good, or he won't come!
I hope we've not forgotten anyone!

In a draughty shed,
   a young girl tries to feed and comfort her Son,
     only a few hours old.
Behind her, her fiancé tries to find enough clean straw
   to line the feeding trough that will double as a cot
     for tonight at least.
Outside the early morning sounds of the city clamour to be heard
      soon the light will be here, the day will have come.

No, the Light has already come.
The One Who caused the light,
    Who brings the light,
    Who is The Light,
is there in the stable
     in the arms of a teenage mother.

The Day has already come;
that for which so many had hoped,
    and dreamed,
    and longed,
    and prayed has arrived.

The Gift that all need,
    but so few want,
is there, gift-wrapped in swaddling cloths,
    but still waiting for a tree.

The pleading of the insistent and persistent has been heard by the Father
     their needs have been met;
the greatest expression of affection and token of love is there,
awaiting eager hands to grasp it and claim it and own it,
for their name is there, written in the palms of His hands.

And the Father is waiting to see the look on our faces.

Copyright  © John L Simms 1994

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Music of 2011

The music press at this time of year produce their 'Best of...' lists for the past 12 months, so I thought I'd look back over 2011 and pick through what I've been listening to.

So what's been exciting and entertaining me musically this year? Well, it's been an interesting and slightly eclectic year, one in which I've got hold of a large amount of music, new and old. But here's my pick of this year's releases.

My love of Scandinavian Progressive music has developed over the year, chiefly driven by the many projects of the prolific Roine Stolt, but elsewhere too. Highlights for me have been 'The Black Forest' by Agents of Mercy, 'Mammoth' by Beardfish, and 'In a Perfect World' by Karmakanic, but for me the outstanding  album in this area was 'Rites at Dawn' by Wobbler, a wonderful evocation of the early 1970s with great musicianship reminiscent in places of Yes in their heyday.

2011 was the year I discovered Bandcamp, and was introduced to some great mood music by the likes of Umber, Janes Scenic Drive, The Echelon Effect and Lowercase Noises. Perhaps the most prolific was that of Earlyguard who produced on a monthly basis wonderful minimalist ambient soundscapes with the ability to transport you to quiet and mysterious places.

Although I have a tendency towards Progressive music, I am also partial to a bit of blues too. This year gave us a new release from blues hobo Seasick Steve with the aptly-titled 'You Can't Teach an Old Dog New Tricks', and fresh material from one of the hardest working guitarists in rock Joe Bonamassa, who produced his own 'Dust Bowl', and a second album with Black Country Communion. Both were strong examples of hard-driving blues rock that brought a great deal of joy.

From the Progressive Metal stable came new recordings from Symphony X, with 'Iconoclast' - a dystopian vision of a machine-dominated future, and from Dream Theater, their first recording without the considerable talents of Mike Portnoy on drums following his departure from the band at the end of 2010. His shoes were tough ones to fill, but Mike Mangini rose to the challenge and the band produced a great recording somewhat reminiscent for me of 'Scenes from a Memory'.

On the quieter side of the Progressive spectrum I have enjoyed the work of Lunatic Soul, a side project of the man behind Riverside, Mariusz Duda, who released their third collection, 'Impressions' towards the end of the year; Anathema's reworking of some of their earlier material in a much mellower style in 'Falling Deeper'; and the latest offering from Blackfield, 'Welcome to My DNA'. Blackfield are one of the many musical outings of Steven Wilson, the leading light behind Porcupine Tree, who as well as this release from Blackfield also completed his second solo album, 'Grace for Drowning'.

Veterans of the progressive music world Yes produced their first collection of new material in 10 years this year: my thoughts on 'Fly From Here' can be found here, and there was also 'The King of Limbs' from Radiohead, reminiscent for me of 'Kid A' in many places; and 'Beyond the Shrouded Horizon' from former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett. But there were new discoveries too in the guise of Matt Stevens, a talented and versatile guitarist who as well as producing his third solo album, 'Relic' this year, also managed to release 'If it carries on like this we are moving to Morecambe' with his band The Fierce and the Dead; and from a band by the name of 'Majestic' who produced and album of epic prog called 'Labyrinth', available FREE here.

Albums I never got around to this year, that have featured in some of the seasonal listings, included 'Heritage' by Opeth, 'A Grounding in Numbers ' by Van der Graaf Generator, and '50 words for Snow' by Kate Bush. Maybe next year... Anything else I may have missed?