Featured Album | Damien O’Kane and Ron Block – Banjophonics | Pure Records | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 24.06.22
There’s an old joke about the man who leaves his banjo on the back shelf of his car, only to return an hour later to find the windscreen smashed and another banjo left there beside it. Two banjos together might be thought of as a ludicrous proposal, but in the hands of both Damien O’Kane and Ron Block, the instrument becomes alive with sparkle and spirit. Banjophonics is clearly a demonstration of musical ingenuity and dexterity, with the added ingredient of fun, all rolled into one. O’Kane’s Irish roots melt seamlessly into Block’s bluegrass chops, with brilliantly crafted arrangements throughout. The six minute opener “Taxi Driver/Close Enough” covers a lot of ground in terms of musical twists and turns. A reference to his own father, who would ‘taxi’ his six kids around from here to there, well into adulthood, “Taxi Driver” is a faithful nod to the man who Damien refers to as a ‘legend’, while the second tune in the set, “Close Enough”, shows the duo’s Jazz credentials in a more swing-oriented style of playing. Family is key to some of the tunes on Banjophonics, notably “Daisy’s Dance”, written as a symbiotic gesture to one of Damien’s kids, after Ron received a piece of art from Daisy. The younger sibling features in the title of “Happy Little Phoebe/Manny Mountain”, the set of tunes that follows, once again keeping things all in the family. “The Fiddler’s Gun” sees the arrival of Sierra Hull adding her trademark mandolin playing into an already rich and vibrant mix. Though predominantly instrumental, Banjophonics does feature a couple of songs, Ron’s own “Endless Wanderer” and Damien’s reading of Barry Kerr’s “Woman of No Place”, a song written about the legendary Irish singer Margaret Barry, the title alluding to her life as a traveller, with a guest vocal by Kate Rusby. If banjos are your thing, look no further.
Flick the Dust Off | Rab Noakes – Red Pump Special | Warner Bros K46284 | 1973
Red Pump Special captures a youthful Rab Noakes at his melodic best, with an album of memorable songs. For the most part regarded as a songwriter’s songwriter, Rab injects a sense of the everyman into his songs, whether riding on the top deck of a bus or getting out walking, for a bit of peace and quiet. With his association with such bands as Lindisfarne and Stealers Wheel, Rab has enjoyed a fruitful solo career with collaborations with both Rod Clements and Barbara Dickson, and the release of several albums between 1970’s debut Do You See the Lights? and the more recent Welcome to Anniversaryville, with several re-issues along the way. The lapels on the jacket worn for the cover shot gives away this LP’s vintage, the music however is timeless. The optimistic “Clear Day” reminds us of Rab’s penchant for writing a good pop song, while “Frisco Depot” has a more melancholy feel, ‘when you’re alone, there’s nothing that’s slower than passing time’ – wisdom at an early age. Recorded in Nashville, the album includes contributions by the Memphis Horns, including “Tomorrow is Another Day” and the bluesy “Diamond Ring”, with other contributions by Ray Jackson on harmonica, Kenny Buttrey on drums and old Stealers Wheel muckers Gerry Rafferty and Joe Egan providing backing vocals on a couple of songs.
Singled Out | Genesis – I Know What I Like In Your Wardrobe | Charisma CB 224 | 1973
I wasn’t really on board the Genesis bandwagon until well after the release of the band’s fourth album Foxtrot sometime in early 1973 and I distinctly recall eagerly waiting around for their next installment, which came in the form of Selling England By The Pound in the same year. Strange lyrics appealed to me back then as a school kid growing up in the working class environment of Doncaster; the weirder the better in fact. The Peter Gabriel-period Genesis provided all the strangeness a fifteen year-old just out of school could possibly need. Although essentially an albums band, Genesis did release a handful of singles before this, none of which charted. Reaching number 21 in the charts, this Beatles-influenced song opened the door for a series of successful singles released subsequently, albeit without Gabriel at the helm. This is precisely the moment I got off the wagon for good, with each subsequent album confirming it was the right decision.
Fifty Years Ago | Leon Russell – Carney | A&M 68911 | June 1972
By 1972, Leon Russell had made his presence felt on the rock music scene having appeared as the musical director of Joe Cocker’s legendary Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour (and album) and then with George Harrison at the Concert for Bangladesh. Carney is Russell’s third solo album and as the title suggests, there’s something of the carnival about the album, notably on the opening “Tight Rope”, a death-defying feature of any travelling circus of the time, its wurlitzer flurries adding to the atmosphere. There are one or two tender moments on the album, “Me and Baby Jane” for instance, a thoughtful meditation on lost love, immediately followed by a rain-soaked “Manhattan Island Serenade”, its minor key staccato piano and relentless thunderstorm adding to the pain. The title interlude, which comes in at well under a minute long, returns momentarily to the fairground theme, kicking off a rather disjointed, almost experimental second side, which includes the tongue-in-cheek “If the Shoe Fits”, a wry look at the rock press of the 1970s, and Don Preston’s eerie “Acid Annapolis”, which could easily have been an outtake from Trout Mask Replica, or perhaps even the White Album.