Nathan Ford is a Wellington-based music writer who has written for Shindig! and Real Groove print magazines and various websites. In 2009 he founded The Active Listener, an online magazine with an emphasis on psychedelia – new and old. As well as contributing reviews to the Active Listener, he acts as editor/herder to a growing team of writers from the U.K, U.S.A and Canada, and manages Active Listener Records, a digital label that highlights the music of artists featured on the Active Listener. Here are five albums he’s loving right now…
1 – Electric Citizen, Sateen: This is the debut album from a Cincinnati based band that blur the lines between early seventies hard rock, New Wave of British Heavy Metal and psychedelic rock. It all sounds very, very English (I’m sure that there’s mellotron in there somewhere), but has some great galloping basslines that early Maiden fans will appreciate, a few riffs that are dead ringers for Tony Iommi circa 1980, and in Laura Dolan, an amazing vocalist who sounds like Joan Jett when she’s belting it out, and Stevie Nicks when she’s being moodier and more mysterious. Top songs too, and a great vintage vibe. Anyone enjoying recent Swedish revival bands like Witchcraft and Graveyard should check this out.
2 – Ravi Shankar, Improvisations: Not a new album, but a new one to me, this 1961 session is an early east/west collaboration that dates from well before the days of Shankar’s Beatles association, and features Shankar and tabla player Kanai Dutta, with a small jazz combo which features among others Bud Shank and Gary Peacock. Despite its title, the first two tracks are Shankar compositions rather than true improvisations, with his melodies used as launching pads for some inspired soloing, with the call and response between Shank’s flute and Shankar’s sitar providing some particularly nice moments. The second side is an improvised suite with its roots in Indian classical music, but is among the most accessible I’ve heard without resorting to tacky westernised melodies. A pretty good place to dip your toe in to the intimidating waters of Indian classical music, even though purists will probably say it’s tainted by the American jazz players. Screw them, it’s great.
3 – Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Live From KCRW: Dragged out to celebrate getting tickets to one of his December shows, this show from 2013 is probably a pretty good indicator of the sort of show we’re going to get then, with a stripped back, quiet intensity that puts the lyrics right up front and centre. This is pretty great stuff, and although the material from Push The Sky Away may not differ substantially from the original studio versions, there’s a smouldering intensity here that seems to be a symptom of putting Nick in front of a rapt audience, and gives the majority of these versions the edge for me. A class act.
4 – Patrick Sky, Patrick Sky: This 1965 debut from a part native American folk singer-songwriter (and flatmate of Buffy Saint Marie, who had a hit with his Many a Mile) is unusually gritty and plaintive for its time, with no traces of the tepid folk-pop of Peter, Paul and Mary et al. Sky’s world-weary narratives have a kinship with those of Jackson C. Frank, while there are other songs that bring to mind the brooding intensity of Dylan’s lengthy early sixties epics (Percy’s Song, Hard Rain). This was a bargain bin find which I imagine there aren’t a lot of copies of in New Zealand, but there’s a full stream of the album available on Youtube, and vinyl copies of this are plentiful and cheap on eBay.
5 – Jobriath, As The River Flows: Jobriath’s two early seventies albums stiffed, despite being quality pieces of glam rock that most Bowie fans would love. It’s only through the continued patronage of super-fan Morrissey that we’ve reached the point where there’s enough interest to warrant this new archival collection, culled from two demo sessions cut before work on the debut began. It’s a set of inspired performances with Jobriath giving it his all, and the songs pound for pound being better than the material that later saw official release. One session features, thrillingly, Jobriath alone at the piano, while the other features a small, fiery combo. The results are less glam, with antecedents in the Velvet Underground, and particularly, Elton John’s Madman Across The Water.