I don’t remember waiting for any album as eagerly as I have been for The Black Keys’ new album, El Camino. In October, I heard a track from it, Lonely Boys, and ever since I have wanted to lay my hands on the blues duo’s seventh full-length album. Seven albums in less than nine years is a staggering achievement by any standard but not only have guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney been relentless with their releases, each of which is followed by hectic touring, but on each of their albums, they have tweaked and evolved the minimalist, near-purist blues sound that has become their hallmark. Read more

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When I sat down to write this instalment of Download Central, I realised that many of you may not be able to read this today for I have enough empirical reasons to believe that on the morning of December 25 many people have difficulty navigating lines of print and making coherent sense of them. I’ve also realised over the years that this morning we will all probably be better off listening to music rather than trying to read anything. Read more

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Last week, I finished reading Walter Isaacson’s riveting biography of Steve Jobs. As most of you know, it is a fat book with more than 650 pages, which for a newspaper hack like me, is a lot of pages to read. But Isaacson’s book is magnificent. He got unfettered access to his subject and his book is refreshingly not hagiographical. You get to know Jobs, warts and all, but you also get to see what a genius that man was and the profound manner in which he has changed the way we live and do so many things.

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I have read that when Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks came out in 1968, it created hardly a ripple. That enigmatic album, perhaps Morrison’s best work, took some time before it was critically acclaimed and then became the one album that you just had to have in your collection. Van Morrison, who has made nearly 40 albums in his 50-plus-year career, and whose music has been categorised variously as soul, R&B, Celtic, folk, country, rock and so many other labels, was 23 when Astral Weeks was released 43 years ago.   Read more

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I never really took to Neil Diamond, although his growling baritone often came out of the record player we had at home in the early 1970s. The player wasn’t mine; very few of the records were what I could call my own; and the women at home seemed to be very fond of Diamond’s songs. So, there was no escaping an occasional dose of Diamond: Song Sung Blue, Sweet Caroline, Red, Red Wine, and so on. Women seemed to love Neil Diamond, although my wife tells me her memories of the shiny sequin shirted singer relate to playing musical chairs to his songs at birthday parties. Some men liked Diamond’s songs too, as I realised much later, when a cousin of mine, well into his forties, made a solo trek to London’s Hyde Park expressly to listen to Diamond sing live. When he came back he seemed to be on cloud nine. To each his own, I guess. Read more

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