My playlist got a little weird last week. It all began with a version of Paint it Black, the Stones’ song from 1966. The version, a cover, was stunning: slower and with none of the original lyrics. There was an Afro-beat and a funky feel to it, replete with congas and stuff. It was rather good. Instead of the original lyrics, the band covering it occasionally chanted “Paint it black”, pronouncing black as ‘Blaak’. I got curious and found out that the cover version was by a band, or rather, a collective, called Africa who put out just one album in 1968 called Music From Lil Brown. I later found that that Music from Lil Brown was an African-American response to Music From Big Pink, the debut album from The Band, which, of course, is the Canadian-American band that got fame because it was Bob Dylan’s back-up band but which on its own was easily one of the best rock bands that I’ve heard. Read more

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You don’t realise how talented a guitarist and bluesman the young Texan, Gary Clark Jr., is till you are into the second song on his first major label album, Blak and Blue. That’s when you see the way he can wield the axe. That’s also when you begin realising why many people compare him to Jimi Hendrix. Clark can make his guitar scream and shriek and do things that take you back to the golden era of blues based guitar rock. He’s also the one of the few contemporary African American blues guitarists to have created a ripple. Most of those in the new wave of great blues guitarists have been white—at least my favourites are (Joe Bonamassa, Derek Trucks, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Jack White, Dan Auerbach and so on). Read more

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Every other day, I have to lie on my back with a hot compress under my neck in a darkened physiotherapist’s room, a place I am forced to visit three or four times a week because of a combination of factors: 1) rapidly advancing age; 2) a vain attempt to compensate for 1) by loading more plates on the bars at the gym; and, 3) an old niggling problem with the neck, which has something to do with decades of sitting in front of a computer. The lying down period is followed by pulls and pressures, not always gentle, applied to my neck, back and arms by a well-trained therapist. Read more

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The box set comprising the entire second season of Treme had been lying on my bedside table for months without being watched. One reason for that was, of course, time. Watching a box set can become an addiction and even if you start by watching the first couple of episodes, before you realise it, you’ve spent the entire night, eyes glued to the television screen, watching the entire truckload of episodes and, in effect, killed any prospect of functioning normally at work the following morning. Read more

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As a compulsive hoarder of music, I have a confession to make. I often acquire albums and songs that I don’t get down to listening to. Not even once. Not even cursorily. Yes, it’s true and it does make me feel a bit silly. I mean I don’t display my music on racks and shelves as some hoarders of books do, ostensibly to impress visitors although they may not have read even a page of most of them. I can’t really do that, unless I offer people my iPods, hard drives and pen drives or a peek into the virtual cloud—places where most of the music I hoard are stored—but the fact is I do have countless albums and songs that I’ve never heard. I’ve downloaded them with all good intentions of listening to them but never got around to doing so. Read more

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My latest obsession is with a brand new, one album old band that I must confess I could have missed totally because of the genre that it has been classified in by many smart-alecky critics. I’m not a huge fan of electro-pop and definitely not a lover of gratuitous use of synthesizers and that other abomination, the drum machine, which belts out meticulous artificially put together beats, with little or no human touch. I mean how can you substitute the thwack of wooden sticks on skin or hand-wielded strikes on cymbals with something that a machine vomits out with irritating precision? Read more

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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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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’m in a once-familiar city that has changed in weird ways. The weather alternates between muggy and hot or wet and rainy. I know few people in town now and everything seems new, strange and even a bit complicated. The fact that I’ve had to make the trip in not very happy circumstances doesn’t make things any better. So, lying down in bed in the dark one night, I reached into the innards of an old iPod for something familiar.
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Just when I thought this year was going to end dull with nothing very new in music coming my way, I was jolted by a bunch of new sounds. Here are three musicians who’re doing overtime on my playlist this December.
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