Jacob Golden – The Invisible Record
Back in 2007 Jacob Golden released one of the albums of the year. Revenge Songs was a raw and at times bitter set of break-up songs. It seemed to mark the emergence of a powerful new force in the tradition of Jeff Buckley, Elliott Smith, or Conor Oberst. Some things, though, are slower to emerge than others. Making Kate Bush and Damien Rice seem prolific, only now, more than eight years later and with a nod to the delay in the title, has the follow up album landed. Was it worth the wait? You bet. This is another great collection of songs. There’s plenty of musical adornment, but at the core everything is built around the guitar and Jacob Golden’s beautiful voice. The result is an intricate set of songs, with strong melodies, and erudite lyrics. There are some lovely turns of phrase, “Mother on the fire escape again, Nat King Cole on an old Walkman”. But perhaps the most striking track is ‘Bluebird’. This is a song that first saw the light of day at least seven years ago. Sung in the first person, it tells the story of an artist discovering music at a time of adversity, signing a record deal, losing pretty much everything, and then finding some redemption. It’s about the most autobiographical song you’re likely to hear this year. And surely one of the best, not least because of its references to Jarvis Cocker, P.J. Harvey, and The Flaming Lips to mention just a few. Jacob Golden has been away for far too long. The Invisible Record marks not just a return, but a more than welcome one. Let’s hope the next record is called The Surprisingly Quick Follow Up.
Neil Young & Bluenote Café – Bluenote Café
The latest release from the Neil Young Archives is a real treasure. Compiled from the tours with the Bluenotes bands between November 1987 and August 1988, we’re treated to two-and-a-half hours of music and 21 songs. They include no fewer than 6 previously unreleased tracks, 1 obscure b-side (‘I’m Goin”), 2 that appeared on albums only years later (‘Fool For Your Love’ and ‘Ordinary People’), 2 others that can be found only on the long-forgotten Lucky Thirteen compilation (‘Don’t Take Your Love Away From Me’ and ‘Ain’t It The Truth’), 1 work-in-progress version of a soon-to-be classic (‘Crime In The City’), and a couple of old, but greatly reworked stalwarts (‘On The Way Home’ and ‘Tonight’s The Night’). Oh and 7 tracks from This Note’s For You, including an unrecognisable version of the title track, at least if you’ve haven’t heard it since the early days of MTV or if you never made it through to the end of Lucky Thirteen. Together, the tracks are a sort of mash up of the set as it developed over those relatively short tours. This is the blues and R’n’B period. It’s all big riffs and a horn section. And when it works, it’s completely revelatory. ‘Welcome To The Big Room’ and ‘Don’t Take Your Love Away from Me’ get things off to a powerful start. ‘Ordinary People’ sounds more authentic in its original form. ‘Crime In The City’ is even snarkier here than on Freedom. And ‘On The Way Home’ is more reminiscent of the Buffalo Springfield Richie Furay version than any of the folky Neil Young releases since. But when it doesn’t work, it really doesn’t work. This isn’t because of the style, it’s because some of the familiar songs just don’t have the legs and never did (‘Married Man’) and because a couple of the unreleased tracks are equally unremarkable (‘Hello Lonely Woman’, ‘Soul Of A Woman’). Bluenote Café isn’t a release for fans of ’70s-era Neil Young. In fact, he played only a couple of other songs from that era on the whole of the ’87-’88 tours. Instead, this is a release that shows how even if the 1980s weren’t perhaps Neil Young’s best years in the studio, there was still plenty of greatness happening live. So, let’s hope that the next release is a selection from the Life tour with Crazy Horse. Now that was a real blast.
Björk – Vulnicura Strings (The Acoustic Version: Strings, Voice and Viola Organista Only)
If you liked Vulnicura, Björk’s fine album from earlier in the year, then you’re in luck. The Icelandic songstress has just released a version that removes everything from the original songs except for the vocals and strings. The result, if possible, is an even more stark and heart-wrenching account of the pain of broken love. The strings were already the most startling element on Vulnicura, creating an initial sense of anxiety on tracks like ‘Stonemilker’ only to degenerate to the point of repeated stabbing on ‘Notget’. With all other instrumentation removed, the album is perhaps a little less dynamic overall, but it’s no less intense. Typically, though, Björk can’t simply release a stripped back album and be done with it. One song, ‘History of Touches’, is gone, which makes sense when you go back and listen to the original. More perplexingly, the order of the songs is shuffled around, thus stripping the story of its narrative coherence too. And then there’s the inclusion of the viola organista. This is a sort of pedal-operated violin first sketched out by Leonardo da Vinci, but only built some 500-odd years later. Only Björk would feel the need to include the sound of a completely new instrument on the bare bones version of an album. The beauty of Vulnicura was that it appeared out of nowhere. Unaccompanied by a fully immersive, multi-media experience, it was already stripped back both musically and emotionally. Vulnicura Strings accentuates all that was best about the original. And doesn’t detract too much from it either.