Three At A Time
The last time Download Central turned up in Brunch, I wrote about Walter Trout, the top-notch blues guitarist, who besides having a stellar solo career, has played with blues greats such as John Mayall, Canned Heat and John Lee Hooker. I’d mentioned that Trout has many fans in India, including the (now-incarcerated) Sanjay Dutt, and has even played at gigs here. Then, quite abruptly, Download Central went on a break. At six months, it was a rather long break. But, as you can see, it is back with another bluesman, no less.
Actually, it’s two blues people who’re married to each other. Singer Susan Tedeschi and guitarist Derek Trucks’s Tedeschi Trucks Band is all of three years old, although the backstory of each of these two musicians extends much beyond that. Tedeschi has had a glorious solo career as not just a blues singer, but a guitarist as well. And Trucks, well, is a guitar legend. A child prodigy who first toured with The Allman Brothers Band when he was 13, Trucks’ brand of blues blends jazz, soul, rock and even a hint of qawwali. Tedeschi Trucks Band have a new studio album (their second) out. It’s called Made Up Mind and the 11 songs on it showcase the couple’s virtuosity perfectly: Tedeschi’s sassy howl that somehow manages to be both aggressive as well as incredibly gentle and textured; and Trucks’ brilliant guitar solos, inflected as they are with his trademark sound – Trucks often plays his guitar with a slide, a device he opted for when he began playing at nine and his fingers were too small for the fretwork he needed to do. All 11 songs are worth putting on repeat but, for me, two of them, Do I Look Worried, and Misunderstood, really stand out.
If I’d buy an album for just one song on it, I’d certainly spring for John Grant’s Pale Green Ghosts. Not for its title track but for the third song on the album, GMF. I’m not going to expand that abbreviation, beyond the first letter, which stands for Greatest. The rest you can figure out or, better still listen to the album. Grant, who was a part of Czars, a former Denver-based band, went solo a few years back and Pale Green Ghosts is his second solo album. It’s an album about a bitter break-up. It’s also an album recorded presumably soon after Grant publicly announced that he had been diagnosed with HIV. It’s an album full of bitterness, depression and anger with many songs directed quite viciously at the man who left him. Yet, it’s an album that is extraordinarily uplifting to listen to. A contradiction? Perhaps. But Grant’s lyrics have lots and lots of wit and wry humour peeking out every now and then; plus there is his resplendent baritone. His vocals are of the kind that you can listen to endlessly. All this is layered with delectable electronic music in foot-tapping beats that you’d least expect in an album that deals with things such as a bad break-up and HIV. The electro is courtesy Grant’s collaborator, Birgir Thórarinsson, an electronic musician from Iceland, which is now the former Denverite’s new home. As a bonus, Pale Green Ghosts has at least four songs that also feature Sinéad O’Connor.
I know I just wrote that I wouldn’t expand MF for you (I’m sure you’ve figured out by now what those letters stand for), but before you line up Pale Green Ghosts for an evening of family listening, you should know that John Grant loves to swear a bit. Well, quite a bit, but in such a deliciously nice way. Another thing. If you get hooked by Pale Green Ghosts as I was, you can try his earlier album, Queen of Denmark (2010). And just as Pale Green Ghosts has GMF, there’s one song that can justify buying the entire album. It’s called JC Hates Faggots.
I had no idea what to expect when I bought Julianna Barwick’s Nepenthe, the second solo album from the one-time Louisiana based singer (now she lives in Brooklyn, which appears to be like a magnet for musicians). I’d learnt that Pitchfork, the picky-choosy Internet music website, had labelled Nepenthe as one of this year’s best music and that Barwick made music that was classified as ambient and avant-garde. One listen to Nepenthe and I knew I hadn’t erred in buying it. Barwick has a grounding in singing a capella and in her music her voice is the main element – she uses loop machines to layer recordings of her own voice and on Nepenthe, her songs, many of which have no real lyrics to speak of, are accompanied by a string ensemble and a choir of young girls. The result is an album that is supremely sublime and calming.
The more I heard Nepenthe, I was reminded of Iceland’s Sigur Rós to whose ethereal sound Barwick’s music seemed similar. Then, I read that on her tour following Nepenthe’s launch, Barwick is going to join Sigur Rós in concerts this month. It’s such a small world! I could talk about Kveikur, the brilliant new Sigur Rós album, which came out this summer but that would hardly be fair in a column titled Three At A Time.