Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Rough Guides

    

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The albums covered here are:-

The Rough Guide To The Music Of Cuba
The Rough Guide To Lucky Dube
The Rough Guide To The Music Of South Africa
and The Rough Guide To West African Music

Scroll down to read the reviews.

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THE ROUGH GUIDE TO THE MUSIC OF CUBA

  

Cuba is an island full of music. I am lucky enough to have visited the island and enjoyed sitting in tiny bars in Havana listening to music such as appears on this album played live by ordinary, amateur musicians. It is incredibly atmospheric. Cuban music is not all The Buena Vista Social Club, although that album is certainly reflective of some Cuban music. There are serious salsa influences, and jazz ones too as well as Cuban folk music. All those styles are represented on this truly excellent compilation.

Some of my favourites are the infectious salsa of En Casa Del Trompo No Bailes by Orquesta Riverside; the gloriously Cuban Santa Barbara by Celina Gonzalez; more intoxicating salsa from Descarga En Faux by Ritmo Y Candela; the fetching voice of ageing vocalist Ñico Saquito on A Orillas Del Cauto; the effervescence of Los Van Van on Amiga Mia and the magnificent, rhythmic  Cuban jazz of Bellita Y Jazztumbata on Oyelo Sonar.

Cuba also has had a long standing "big band" tradition, and this is reflected in Mario Bauza's Mambo RinconSierra Maestra's addictive Dundunbanza and Chico O'Farrill'Descarga No. 2 are both impressive examples of upbeat Cuban music. In fact, the whole album is full of such material, to be honest. It is most enjoyable.

This is another highly recommended album from Rough Guides showcasing music from a country that just lives and breathes music in its very DNA.



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THE ROUGH GUIDE TO LUCKY DUBE

1. Reggae Man
2. Slave
3. Together As One
4. Truth In This World
5. Prisoner
6. War And Crime
7. House Of Exile
8. Crazy World
9. It's Not Easy
10. Keep On Knocking
11. Victims
12. Feel Irie
13. We Love It
14. Crime And Corruption
15. The Way It Is     

Lucky Dube was the "king of South African reggae". He unfortunately lost his life a few years ago, which was a tragedy because he was a true reggae great.
                                
His music combines traditional reggae sounds with the lilting, melodic music of the South African townships to great effect. What a beautiful, uplifting combination. His voice is intoxicating, full of personality. He uses female backing vocalists a lot too, the closest Jamaican artist to compare him to would be Peter Tosh. Lyrically, he is politically observant, passionate and sensitive.

Personal highlights are SlavePrisonerTruth In The WorldFeel IrieWe Love It and the moving House Of Exile, about Nelson Mandela.

I remember playing that while on holiday in South Africa, looking out at nothing but the countryside and the hills. An experience I will never forget.



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THE ROUGH GUIDE TO THE MUSIC OF SOUTH AFRICA

  

South African "township jive" is some of the most vibrant, uplifting music you will ever hear. Plenty of it is included on this incredibly enjoyable compilation. If you want evidence of the captivating nature of this music, check out the irresistible Groovin' Jive No. 1 by Noise Khanyile and the Jo'Burg City Stars. It is literally impossible to keep your feet still as that infectious drum kicks in, backed by that trademark lilting guitar sound and those rubbery, mellifluous bass runs popularised on some of Paul Simon's Graceland album.

Other highlights are the growling voice of Mahlathini (& The Mahotella Queens), the wonderful, upbeat and sheer liveliness of Yvonne Chaka Chaka's celebratory Motherland and Udlame by The Soul Brothers. The well-known vocal talents Ladysmith Black Mambazo are present on here as well with Kangivumanga.

As well as township jive, South Africa has a distinct style in is jazz - as the township melodies and joie de vivre mix intoxicatingly with traditional jazz styles. Examples on here are My Kind Of Jazz by Teboko and Jive Township by The African Jazz Pioneers. More experimental, jazz-wise, is the extremely impressive improvisations of Celebration by Bheki Mseleku.

There is also South African reggae in the presence of the much-missed "Father of South African reggae"Lucky Dube, whose wonderful, evocative voice and a reggae style that merges township guitars with classic reggae skanking. The song included here is the mighty House Of Exile, about Nelson Mandela. Overall, this is a highly recommended album reflecting some of the vivacious, ebullient and varied music of South Africa.



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THE ROUGH GUIDE TO WEST AFRICAN MUSIC

  

West African music is deliciously melodic and catchy, full of lilting guitars, rhythmic drums, often nasal high-pitched vocals all underpinned by a throbbing but deeply tuneful bass guitar. Saxophones and trumpets often interject the sound most effectively. The music also has an influence from Islamic Sufi-style music too, particularly in the acoustic based music of Mali. Music from Senegal and The Gambia tends to be more drum and guitar-driven, less stark, and fr more "danceable". Then there is Nigeria, with its infectious "high-life" guitar and saxophone music. The latter really gets treated as a genre in itself, however, and does not feature on this album. The thumb piano is often used to great effect too, particularly in Malian music, along with that special acoustic guitar sound (the kora) they have. Then, of course, there are the roots of the blues, which are deeply embedded in traditional West African music.

Foliba by Mali's Super Rail Band is a great way to kick off the compilation, although it is far more Senegalese or even Nigeria sounding than Malian, with its use of saxophones, pounding drums and throbbing bass lines. Toumani Diabate'Djelika is far more instantly recognisable as Malian, with a wonderful kora sound, together with a marvellously evocative thumb piano. It really is a most seductive sound. Roucky by Ali Farka Touré is a gruffly sung, slow song over a bluesy acoustic guitar sound. If you want the roots of the blues, they can be found in material like this. It is as bluesy as you will find.

Toro by Moussa Poussy is a more contemporary number with modern synthesised drum backing but it still has a traditional vocal and some fetching backing vocals. It reminds a lot of Salif Keita'Soro album. M'Bote by Sona Diabate is a folky, female voice very ethnic and traditionally folky sounding number. It has some sumptuous guitar joining it at the end. Djama Kaissoumou by Oumou Sangaré is a gently insistent, rhythmic Sufi-influenced haunting number. It has a delicious bass line throughout. I Ka Di Nye by Bajorou is another acoustic, folky song, this time with a plaintive male vocal. 205 by E.T. Mensah is completely different from anything else on the album so far, however, being a jaunty, brass-driven upbeat number that sounds almost South African in places. Another different one is the almost jazzy, laid-back blues of Utru Horas by Orchestra Baobab.

Basically, overall, this album is far more dominated by the "kora"-driven sounds of Mali than most other musical styles, the lively, danceable opener of The Super Rail Band's Foliba is not representative of what is to come. It is a very atmospheric, laid-back album of the highest musical quality.



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Sunday, 28 October 2018

The Eagles




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The albums covered here are:-

Eagles (1972)
Desperado (1973)
On The Border (1974)
and Hotel California (1976)

Scroll down to read the reviews.

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EAGLES (1972)

1. Take It Easy
2. Witchy Woman
3. Chug all Night
4. Most Of Us Are Sad
5. Nightingale
6. Train Leaves Here This Morning
7. Take The Devil
8. Earlybird
9. Tryin'
10. Peaceful Easy Feeling     

This was The Eagles' debut album, from 1972. It was a pleasant, perfectly easy on the air mix of country and rock with some folky airs floating around. High quality vocals from different members was also a notable thing about the band, who went on to be huge, million selling artists. Ironically for such a slice of Americana, it was apart from Nightingale, recorded in London.
                      
Jackson Browne's piece of upbeat, country rock perfection that is Take It Easy opens the album, with its "well I'm runnin' down the road, tryin' to loosen my load, I got seven women on my mind..." first verse, while Witchy Woman has a killer heavy rock riff and a general bluesy rock feel. It is a powerful cut. that showed the band were not all about Take It Easy style AOR. Folk/country rock was de rigeur in 1972, and this album fitted in well with the genre. Stuff like this was very much the sound of America in 1972, while the UK was in the grip of glam rock, The US music scene was nothing like that. One look at the charts all the time showed that to be the case.

Chug All Night is another pounding rocker, sounding a little like some of Elton's John's rocking material from the period (which possibly helps to explain why Elton did so well in the US). It has a mysterious, funky little bass and quiet vocal part that is sort of endearing. Most Of Us Are Sad is a tender rock ballad and Nightingale gets back to riffy, lively melodic rocking. Incidentally, the sound on this remastered version is excellent, taken from The Complete Studio Recordings box set.

  

Train Leaves Here This Morning is a beautiful country ballad with a gorgeous bass line. Take The Devil is a big, chunky, electric riff-dominated rock song with some excellent sleepy guitar in the middle. Earlybird is a guitar-picking country rocker with distinct airs in its harmonious vocals of Crosby, Stills, Nash & YoungTryin' has another fiery guitar riff and energetic guitar abounds throughout the track. On the whole, this album is more rock than country.

Peaceful Easy Feeling is pretty much what everyone recognises as classic Eagles - twangy, melodic guitar, steady country beat, perfectly pitched slightly mournful vocals and a general feeling of being in a sparsely populated Mid-Western roadhouse at the end of a hot afternoon, with just the barmaid and a few local guys for company.



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DESPERADO (1973)

1. Doolin-Dalton
2. Twenty-One
3. Out Of Control
4. Tequila Sunrise
5. Desperado
6. Certain Kind Of Fool
7. Doolin-Dalton (Instrumental)
8. Outlaw Man
9. Saturday Night
10. Bitter Creek
11. Doolin-Dalton/Desperado (Reprise)     

This, The Eagles' second outing was a mix of vibrant country rockers and finger-picking country folk numbers, with the balance in favour of the former. It really is, in places, quite a heavy rocking album, far more so than many would imagine. Like their debut album, strangely, it was recorded in the cold English winter, in 1972-1973, as opposed to California or Arizona. To add to that expected US West image, though, the group appear on the cover on a grainy photo looking like Old West outlaws.

The opener, Doolin'-Dalton (what did that mean?) was influenced by The Band, and had a real bluesy rock power, despite its country feel in the vocals and theme. Twenty-One was more of a melodic light country folk number. The rock power is back, however, on the gloriously riffy and powerful Out Of Control, a track that showed that The Eagles could really rock, despite their laid-back, easy country rock image. Tequila Sunrise is a track well-known to many, it is melodiously atmospheric, beautifully sung and played and just has that hot, dusty, travelling through South-West USA feeling about it.

 

Desperado is a beautiful, evocative piano and strings backed ballad that kicks in half way through with a huge rock backing and the vocal is just superb. The rocking Certain Kind Of Fool has a real hint of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers about it (three years before that band came into existence), with echoes of Little Feat and The Doobie Brothers too. A snatch of Doolin'-Dalton (Instrumental) leads from this track into the muscular, solid rock of Outlaw Man is almost Lynyrd Skynyrd-esque in its whiskey-swilling rocking bluesiness. The end of the track has the band really giving it some.

After all that rocking out, it is time to retire to the roadhouse or cantina for a bit of country mournfulness. Saturday Night provides just that with a lovely piece of laid-back country balladry. Bitter Creek is a delightful, tuneful CSNY/America-influenced harmonious slice of country folk.

The album ends with a reprise of Doolin'-Dalton that sounds much more folky and laid-back than the first version of the song and merges into a reprise of Desperado in its solid rock passage. Instead of being the repetition of previous tracks that it would seem to be, it actually works well. The album as a whole, is a largely upbeat, if a bit short, piece of work. The current remastering is good quality as well.



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ON THE BORDER (1974)

1. Already Gone
2. You Never Cry Like A Lover
3. Midnight Flyer
4. My Man
5. On The Border
6. James Dean
7. Ol' 55
8. Is It True
9. Good Day In Hell
10. The Best Of Your Love                                 
After two excellent and varied country rock/harder rock albums, The Eagles were back with a similar mix of styles showing that were never always simply the "easy-listening" laid-back country rockers they have often been perceived to be.

The Jackson Browne-esque Already Gone is a superb piece of of solid West Coast US rock. It is powerful, riffy, melodic and atmospheric. One of the Eagles' best tracks. You Never Cry Like A Lover goes from being hugely powerful to quiet and tender between its verses and chorus. It is both melodious and muscular. Midnight Flyer is a finger-pickin' bluegrass-ish piece of fun. It is lively, jaunty and just enjoyable. It has some excellent bass and drum interplay at the end. My Man is a country tribute to the recently-deceased Gram Parsons. It is a Parsons-esque, laid-back, slide guitar-driven song. It is quite lovely. "We who must remain, go on living just the same..." is a touching refrain.

 

On The Border has that characteristic Don Henley throaty vocal over another solidly grinding, mid-pace rock beat. It is almost funky r 'n' b in its feel. It has an intoxicating instrumental break two-thirds of the way through. James Dean is a corker of an Eagles rocker. Back in 1973 I remember hearing this played by Johnnie Walker on Radio 1 as a teenager. It was the very first time I had heard The Eagles. Funny how one remembers things like that.

Ol' 55 is a classic steel guitar, harmonious "freeways, cars and trucks" ballad that The Eagles did so well. It is actually a Tom Waits cover, but it suits the group perfectly. Is It True is a powerful rock song, again with some great harmonies, but also some copper-bottomed chunky guitar. Good Day In Hell is a wonderful rocker, full of riffs and searing guitars runs and a great rock vocal. The album is ended by the classic, unforgettable country ballad The Best Of Your Love. That track is pretty much perfection. These early Eagles albums are most enjoyable, only short, but varied, and the sound and playing is high quality. They were far more than just a "best of" group. Their albums were great too.



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HOTEL CALIFORNIA (1976)

1. Hotel California
2. New Kid In Town
3. Life In The Fast Lane
4. Wasted Time
5. Wasted Time (Reprise)
6. Victim Of Love
7. Pretty Maids All In A Row
8. Try And Love Again
9. The Last Resort     

This was The Eagles’ huge, multi-million selling album, the moment that they became a massive stadium-filling band. It arrived eighteen months after their previous outing, “One Of These Nights”. The departure of Bernie Leadon had taken much of the band’s initial country flavour from them and rock guitarist Joe Walsh’s arrival saw them taking a big leap from being a country rock band that tried to rock out heavily on occasions to a fully-fledged mainstream rock band. Don Henley also became the band’s main vocalist, featuring on six tracks here. In many ways, The Eagles on this, and on their final album, “The Long Run”, sound like a different band. This material is a long way from Doolin-Dalton and Desperado, it is far more big stadium or arena tour than dusty roadhouse.
                         
Everyone knows the atmospheric Hotel CaliforniaNew Kid In Town is laid-back, melodic rock balladry and the solid Life In The Fast Lane is The Eagles having learnt to rock out, stadium-style.

 

Wasted Time is very much like some of the material on Don Henley’s solo albums. Victim Of Love is a muscular but catchy mid-paced rocker. Both Pretty Maids All In A Row and Try And Love Again are big, powerful rock ballads once more. The latter has Randy Meisner on lead vocals, the former features Joe Walsh. This is classic rock as opposed to country rock. The final track, The Last Resort is a sublime slow romantic ballad, well sung by Don Henley. It is my favourite on the album.

Look, this album is undoubtedly an album that will be remembered as a classic of its genre, but whether it is an actual, bona fide classic is debatable. It is a short album of very listenable, immaculately played rock songs, but does it amount to an album of copper-bottomed classics? Probably not, in my opinion, but there you go. Nothing makes you think “wow”. On the other hand, you can’t deny it has something, particularly the opening and closing tracks. However many times you hear the title track, it always has that atmosphere to it. Overall, though, I prefer the more raw, unpolished feel of their earlier albums.



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Sunday, 21 October 2018

Big Country




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The albums covered here are:-

The Crossing (1983)
Steeltown (1984)
The Seer (1986)
Peace In Our Time (1988)
and Big Country Live At The BBC

Scroll down to read the reviews.

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THE CROSSING (1983)

1. In A Big Country
2. Inwards
3. Chance
4. 1000 Stars
5. The Storm
6. Harvest Home
7. Lost Patrol
8. Close Action
9. Fields Of Fire
10. Porrohman         

It has always puzzled me why Big Country have often got such a bad press. When discussing music, if you say you like Tom Waits, Neil Young or The Smiths, people will nod sagely in agreement with your great taste. If you say you like Big Country they either laugh or shake their heads. Quite why, I just don't know - a) this is a great debut album; b) their first four/five albums were all both competent and credible; c) they were superb live; d) their sound was unique; e) Stuart Adamson is much missed and was a much underrated songwriter and indeed singer/guitarist.
                           
As I said, this is truly one of the great debut albums. Released in 1982 it contained a sound unlike anything anyone had ever heard. Yes, the band were Scottish, but the guitar sound really did sound like bagpipes. 

  

The album's two iconic upbeat hit singles, Fields Of Fire and In A Big Country (Chance was also a hit) hit you between the eyes and ears like a chill wind from the North. The latter's Edinburgh tattoo military-style drums kick in to start the album as it means to go on. It absolutely blows away any cobwebs, announcing itself big time.

"....In a big country dreams stay with you, like a lover's voice across the mountainside..."

The album is full of Jacobean imagery (aided by the inner sleeve drawings) and the skirl of rabble rousing calls to arms. Just listen to the opening riff of Harvest Home or the energy of some of the lesser-known rockers - the pounding, early U2-esque InwardsClose Action and Lost Patrol. Or the Celtic soul on the heartbreaking lament and in concert crowd favourite, Chance -

"....He came like a hero from the factory floor
With the sun and moon as gifts
But the only son you ever saw
Were the two he left you with...."

What great lyrics they were. Full of characterisation. What a wonderful, immense song it is too. So much sombre emotion in it, so much empathy. 

1000 Stars has a killer riff and a huge rolling drum sound, while the folky guitar-driven The Storm is overflowing with Scottish historical ambience. 

Then there is the mighty closer, Porrohman which sounds great on this remaster. Some stonking guitar. Watching them perform this live was an experience. Big Country's audiences were always passionate, involved and enthusiastic. Singing along to Chance, bouncing along to Fields Of Fire. Great memories. 

A true Caledonian masterpiece. 

Incidentally, the "deluxe edition" contains several excellent tracks that did not appear on the album, notably the lively rock of Angle Park and The Crossing, the latter being particularly impressive.

Rolling Stone's Kurt Loder described the arrival of Big Country on the scene in these glowing, and very apt, terms -

"...Here's a big-noise guitar band from Britain that blows the knobs off all the synth-pop diddlers and fake-funk frauds who are cluttering up the charts these days....Big Country mops up the fops with an air-raid guitar sound that's unlike anything else around anywhere..like the young Irish band U2, with whom they share a producer in Steve Lillywhite, they have no use for synthesisers...."

I couldn't have said it better myself, hence my utilising this excellent quote. 



Harvest Home by John Linnell 1858
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STEELTOWN (1984)

1. Flame Of The West
2. East Of Eden
3. Steeltown
4. Where The Rose Is Sown
5. Come Back To Me
6. Tall Ships Go
7. Girl With Grey Eyes
8. Rain Dance
9. The Great Divide
10. Just A Shadow        

Big Country's second album from 1984 followed their impressive debut. Again this is packed full of Scottish imagery and hard as nails tales of Caledonian life. On this album, lyricist Stuart Adamson comes down from the rain-blasted Highlands to the factory floors of the industrial heartlands of Scotland. He tells slightly mythologised, romantic tales of tough steel workers, steadfast, loyal wives and heroic soldiers, all part of an industrial nation from a time rapidly going by. Scotland was full of "steeltowns", but ironically, Adamson's inspiration was Corby, in Northamptonshire, England, albeit a tough town populated by emigrant Scottish steelworkers.

Other themes on this highly politicised album, as well as the decline of traditional industries with no replacements in mind, was the mid-eighties obsession with nuclear war and armed conflict in general, and strong romantic orthodox male and female characteristics. The archetypal Big Country male character is square-jawed, flinty-eyed, hard-working but taciturn, his female partner is pretty, but stoic and stronger than you would believe.

  
                            
The sound is a little heavier, a little more introspective and a little less tub-thumping than on the previous album. There are still some great anthems on there though - the powerful and pounding SteeltownWhere The Rose Is SownThe Great Divide and the impressive, anthemic but very sad Just A Shadow.

Come Back To Me is both maudlin (about a girl waiting for the return of her soldier lover) and singalong, simultaneously. Both East Of Eden and Flame Of The West are solid, muscular rockers with great hooks. Tall Ships Go, inspired by Adamson's mariner father, is packed full of riffs and a great rock refrain, while Rain Dance also possesses an easy to grab melody. Composer Adamson and his band mates had a great knack for finding a hook in a melody that meant you could sing a snatch of the song almost as soon as you had first heard it.

Adamson was also a very underrated lyricist. Check these out from Girl With Grey Eyes -

"...Just like Josephine, it will not be tonight
Still I have the dream, still I have the sight
Will you and I always be like this, will you and I always have this
I only see those sad grey eyes, I only hear you singing
I am the ticket, you the prize, when begins the winning..."

Great stuff. Adamson wrote it for his wife, apparently. 

I have always had a problem with the sound on this album, though - it is muffled, indistinct and decidedly lo-fi. Some critics reacted negatively towards the album, calling it muddled and overly dense, in many ways I have to agree, however, this latest "deluxe edition" has finally remastered it acceptably, although I believe there will always be limitations from the original recording sessions. Just the way it was recorded at the time. No amount of remasterings can change that.

Maybe the slightly dulled sound was intentional, like the crashes and thumps of a Glasgow sheet metal foundry. Maybe therein lies its appeal. The music somehow mirrors the intended ambience. Check out the dull thump of the title track's intro. Somehow this album has to be listened to on a cold wet, winter's day. It is certainly not a "sunny day album". 

"...Where will we find the newborn year as the winter crashes down?...". That line from Rain Dance acts as a leitmotif of the whole album. 

Love the cover image too. This was still good album, despite the murky recording. Let nobody say otherwise.



Corby steelworks. 
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THE SEER (1986)

1. Look Away
2. The Seer
3. The Teacher
4. I Walk The Hill
5. Eiledon
6. One Great Thing
7. Hold The Heart
8. Remembrance Day
9. Red Fox
10. Sailor  

This, Big Country's third album, harked back to their debut with its traditional Scottish ambience, cloaked in mythology and folklore. In some ways it is their most obviously Caledonian album with is references to Scottish history, landscape and landmarks.
                               
In its sound, the album was just as powerful and rocky as its predecessor, Steeltown, and also introduced some folky elements into the mix, particularly on The Seer, which features Kate Bush on backing vocals. Other highlights are the rousing opener, Look Away, the singalong One Great Thing, the evocative, anthemic Remembrance Day and the two closers Red Fox and Sailor, both of which start slowly and have extended rocking guitar conclusions, which never fail to inspire.

EiledonRed Fox and I Walk The Hill provide the afore-mentioned Caledonian feel and Hold The Heart has a tuneful, sad refrain.

I always find this album is very much a winter one. I always tend to play it in November (because of Remembrance Day, no doubt ). Apart from that, it just seems to have a winter feel about many of the songs and images. It must be noted, though, that the track was actually written about the late 18th century Highland Clearances, when many Scots were deported against their will to New Zealand and Canada. 

  

There was a much better, clearer sound quality after the murk of the previous album and evidence here of the band beginning to diversify a little, instrumentally. There were more acoustic guitars and a bit less “bagpipe” sound. Again, this is another album that shows just what an underrated band Big Country were.

The lyrics to this verse from The Seer give a taste of the historical, Celtic feel of much of the material on the album  -

"...Long ago I heard a tale I never will forget
The time was in the telling on the bank the scene was set
The sky was rolling blindly on, the daylight had not gone
She washed her hair among the stones and saw what was to come
All this will pass
There will be blood among the corn and heroes in the hills
But there is more to come my boy before you've had your fill
Men will come and rape the soil as though it were their own
And they will bathe their feet in oil as I have bathed my own...."

Good stuff.



Eildon Hills, Scottish Borders.
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PEACE IN OUR TIME (1988)

1. King Of Emotion
2. Broken Heart (Thirteen Valleys)
3. Thousand Yard Stare
4. From Here To Eternity
5. Everything I Need
6. Peace In Our Time
7. Time For Leaving
8. River Of Hope
9. In This Place
10. I Could Be Happy Here
11. The Travellers     

Peace In Our TimeBig Country’s fourth album, from 1988, was very unfairly given a critical panning. I have absolutely no idea why, for me, it is their best album. It has some excellent rock numbers, but, more appealing to me are some genuinely moving and sensitive songs. As opposed to releasing another similar album to their first three - skirling guitars, rousing Caledonian anthems and a rock feel, they decided to diversify slightly and go down the more folky, melodic route.
                                 
Not that there weren’t a few tub thumpers on the album, though - the album kicks off with the Honky Tonk Women Stonesy riff of the pop rock of King Of Emotion, an excellent, rousing anthem. The two next songs are both quiet, understated, melodic and thoughtful songs - the  attractive, Celtic air of Broken Heart (Thirteen Valleys) and the gentle, but also rocking and Celtic in places Thousand Yard Stare. How anyone can put these songs down is beyond me. They are fine folky rock songs, lyrically astute, evocative and well-delivered. Broken Heart has a rocky, upbeat drum-dominated chorus part anyway. It also has an excellent “pan-pipe” fade -out instrumental bit. The band are diversifying, good for them. Nevertheless, the Celtic influence is still clearly there. Also, I have to say that the sound quality on this album is the best on any of the band’s albums so far, despite contemporary criticisms of it, some from within the band itself. Have they not listened to Steeltown’s muffled-muddy sound? The instrumentation n this album is excellent, the best I have heard from the band so far, it really is. They do use a fair few other guest musicians though, to be fair. This adds to the improved, more diverse sound.

 

From Here To Eternity is also a solid piece of guitar rock, with a hook of a chorus and a killer swirling, lyrical intro, while Everything I Need is another subtle, quite folky ballad, with some crystal clear acoustic guitar. Eternity would certainly not be out of place on the much-vaunted previous album, The Seer.

Peace In Our Time is an excellent, inspirational rocker, again with an addictive, singalong, fist-pumping chorus. Like King Of Emotion, a live concert favourite. Time For Leaving was not a popular song with some critics. I have no idea why, it is a vibrant historical tale of emigrants from Scotland in search of work, with some great guitar and another fine chorus.

River Of Hope has a catchy drum sound to the whole track and a general upbeat feel, it is a powerful, pounding rocker, while the final two tracks are two of my favourites. The moving and beautiful In This Place -

All the years I lived in this place
The people I knew here
I loved every face
I loved the parties, the funerals, and fights
The supermarket needs my land
I have no rights.
..”

Those are heartfelt, socially conscious lyrics. People may try to put them down. Not me. Not for one second. Stuart Adamson should have been given far more credit. Some of his songs are genuinely moving.

I Could Be Happy Here is from a similar mould, but ends an album tied up with historical leaving of Scotland on an optimistic note, although the general feel of the album is one if sadness. I truly feel this was Big Country’s best album. Not a bagpipe guitar riff in earshot though, but in many ways it was their most Scottish album. The Caledonian/Celtic airs, ambiences and references are all still there, just as strongly as on many of the other albums, if not more. Whatever anyone says, this is a good album, in my opinion.

Finally, the Celtic-flavoured instrumental The Travellers is included at the end on some releases not on others. Among the bonus material on the “deluxe edition” is a typical old-style Big Country rocker in When A Drum Beats and another solid one in Age Of Man. Both are worth checking out.



Melrose. Scottish Borders
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BIG COUNTRY LIVE AT THE BBC

  

These BBC Sessions/concerts box sets are all excellent. I have recordings by The Jam, Paul Weller, Thin Lizzy, Siouxsie & The Banshees, Thin Lizzy and Free. The sound quality on all are, on the whole, excellent. This Big Country one is no different. It covers sessions at the BBC from 1982-84, a full concert from The Hammersmith Odeon in 1989 and some live cuts from, unusually, The Russian Embassy in London from 1989.

The BBC Sessions from 1982 just hit you straight between the eyes with an absolutely storming Harvest Home from David Jensen’s show, with those bagpipe guitars to the fore. It is full of youthful energy and vigour. Marvellous. Just listen to that guitar bit at 2m 30s. All the material on these sessions is derived the debut album, The Crossing, which for many, is still the band’s best album. It is all delivered with real vitality and confident attack. The sound of a band that really felt they had something. Nice to hear comparative “rarities” Heart And Soul and the post-punk sounding Angle Park given an airing. What an atmospheric song Close Action is too. Other highlights are the rocking Inwards with its pounding drum sound and the anthemic, evocative Porrohman. The apocalyptic warning of A Thousand Stars is a bleak reminder of the early eighties too.

The live cuts from 1983-1984 are all high quality too, from various venues. They also feature material from the first album. I would have liked some songs from Steeltown in there too, but I won’t complain too much. Crowd pleasers like the skirling Fields Of Fire and In A Big Country are exhilarating. The rarity, the chugging, bluesy "Balcony", is a welcome inclusion. Again, the sound quality on these live cuts is excellent. They miss a few guitar notes at the beginning of Reading Festival's Harvest Home, however!

The Hammersmith Odeon concert from 1989 covers material from the first four albums and shows just what a great live band Big Country were. Rabble rousing and tub thumping.

The Russian Embassy material is excellent, too. In particular a rousing King Of Emotion, and a bassy, pounding version of the folky Broken Heart (13 Valleys).



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