Mixed Media Online – February

U.K. Musical Cure for the Wintertime Blues

As a followup to our December/January coverage of music from the U.K., here are some more recent CD’s, DVDs and books well worth checking out.

Perhaps the reissue of the year is Live At Leeds (Polydor) from The Who. The album-shaped box includes two CD’s of the entire famed live concert from February 14th1970, which now includes the entire performance of Tommy. There are also two CD’s of the next night’s performance at Hull. A heavyweight vinyl reproduction of the original album is also included with a 60-page hardcover book, a 7-inch single of “Summertime Blues,” a poster of Pete Townshend and all the memorabilia that was released with the original album. Manufactured in Germany and presenting arguably the greatest live album in rock history, this package is destined to be a collector’s item.

Members of the bands Snow Patrol and Keane have excellent spin-off projects out right now. Tired Pony’s The Place We Ran From (Mom and Pop) features Snow Patrol lead singer Gary Lightbody and an all-star cast that includes Richard Colburn of Belle & Sebastian, Pete Buck of R.E.M. and many others. On most cuts the sometime-country tinge and more American sound don’t overshadow Lightbody’s impassioned lead vocals, which are the heart of the album’s sound. Mt. Desolation, on its self-titled debut from Cherrytree/Interscope, features Keane’s keyboardist Tim Rice Oxley and the band’s touring fourth member Jesse Quin. There is even more of an American country/folk feel here with help from members of Mumford & Sons, Noah & the Whale, and others.

Belle and Sebastian is back with Write About Love (Matador). Unfortunately, since the band’s soundtrack for the Todd Solondz film Storytelling in 2002, the group has made three albums that simply don’t capture the naive winsome originality of its now classic first four albums. Thankfully, this latest release does bring back some of the more subtle shades of the band’s early sound. Speaking of Belle & Sebastian, former member Isobel Campbell is back with Hawk (Vanguard), her third collaboration with American Mark Lanegan. Her collaborations with Lanegan, often sounds like two separate solo albums. This release also lacks the breathy sweetness of her other works outside of Belle & Sebastian and of her work with Belle & Sebastian.

The group James, part of the pre-Coldplay, Britpop scene, took a long hiatus after their 2001 Pleased To Meet You release. After returning with Hey Ma in 2008, the band is now back with a release that includes two EP’s in one package: The Morning after and The Night Before on Mercury. Comprised of 15 total tracks, this two-CD set proves what an accomplished band James continues to be and once again leaves stateside fans wondering why it has still not broken through in the U.S.

Elvis Costello, with T-Bone Burnett back after not having produced Costello since the three albums they worked together on in the 1980s, has recently released the brilliant National, Ransom (Hear Music). The prolific singer-songwriter, who bounces from genre to genre and works with an ever-shifting cast of collaborators, remains a caustic and sharp observer of both the boardroom and the bedroom. Burnett’s uncluttered, genre-less production is the perfect musical backdrop for the compositions of one of the best songwriters in music. Few artists consistently make so many great albums, year after year.

On the British music front there are three CDs with bonus DVDs well worth searching out. Elton John’s collaboration with American Leon Russell entitled The Union (Decca/Rocket) was easily one of the best albums of the year. Although I would have liked to see Russell sing lead on more of the cuts, it’s a splendid album and is further proof that both of these music veterans are still at the top of their game. A special edition of the release includes a bonus DVD with a documentary on the making of the album directed by Cameron Crowe and a CD with two extra tracks. The Pretenders released the live album Live In London (Strobosonic/E1), which includes a DVD with a film by Pierre and Francois Lamoureux. Jethro Tull’s second album Stand Up was reissued by EMI as a three-disc set. The reissue includes the original 1969 album, BBC radio recordings, radio spots, a CD of the group’s 1970 Carnegie Hall concert and an audio DVD of the concert, along with a new interview with Ian Anderson.

Two music DVD’s feature two of the best four British bands of all time. The Rolling Stones 1969-1974 The Mick Taylor Years (Chrome Dreams) takes a much deserved look at the Stones’ career between Brian Jones and Ron Wood, when the group released perhaps its best albums, including Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers and Exile On Main Street. Also, don’t miss You Really Got Me The Story of The Kinks (Voiceprint). This 90-minute film includes a career-spanning survey of much of the group’s best music.

Three new books on U.K. music will make for great reading by the fire. The Art of British Rock (Francis Lincoln), by Mike Evans and Paul Palmer-Edwards, is a coffee-table book that presents a dazzling visual tour through the history of British rock concert posters. When That Rough God Goes Riding: Listening to Van Morrison (Public Affairs), by Greil Marcus, is a probing collection of essays on the Belfast cowboy’s unparalleled musical career. Viva Coldplay (Omnibus), by Martin Roach, is the most up-to-date biography of the acclaimed group and proves how hard the band worked to achieve its huge success.

Finally, Kate Rusby’s Sweet Bells (Pure) will sound great and warm your heart long past the Christmas season, with its music that reflects the solitude and darkness of the winter season.