Posts Tagged Roy Orbison

California Sun – Morrissey

CALIFORNIA SON, Morrissey’s twelfth studio album, is a collection of covers including a few familiar old classics and some maybe lesser known American protest and social

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justice songs from the 60s and 70s.  Morrissey and his band never shy away from imaginative musical arrangements, often seeking out unusual instruments, and there are influences here from New Orleans, the old time crooners and a touch of Broadway.  No doubt this is a nod 

 

to his recent sell out residency at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre in New York City (NYC).  

The album opens with Morning Starship, the 1973 song by Jobriath.  Morrissey has talked about covering this song for many years, and his version does not disappoint.  He strips back the glam rock just enough to emphasise his wide range of vocals.  It is an uplifting track and was well received when he sang it live on Broadway.

Next up is his version of Joni Mitchell’s Don’t interrupt the Sorrow, a song about Women standing up to male dominance from her 1975 The Hissing of Summer Lawns album.  Originally a folky song with lots of hand drums it is given the full Morrissey crooner treatment. Now in his 60th yeapeats on several tracks throughout this album, not least on the very good Wedding Bell Blues on which Green Day’s Billy Joe Armstrong adds backing vocals.

Morrissey is never one to shy away from a song with a powerful message, and chose to include the 1964 Bob Dylan song Only A Pawn in their Game, written following the assassination of civil rights activist Medgar Evers.  The message in this song is that the killer was as much a victim or “pawn” of the elites in power as was his victim.  The song was sung at the rally where Martin Luther King gave his“I have a dream” speech.  It’s an interesting choice, as is his excellent cover of Days of Decision.  This is taken from the 1965 Phil Ochs album Ain’t Marching Anymore, with its lyrics: “you can do what’s right or you can do what you are told.”  Maybe in these choices Morrissey is encouraging the listener to look at the lessons of history and to question things a little more?

Buffy Sainte Marie’s Suffer the Little Children is given the full Broadway treatment with big instrumentals and hand clapping.  Buffy, in an interview, said she loved it.

There are very good versions of Carly Simon’s When you close your eyes and Dione Warwick’s Loneliness Remembers what Happiness Forgets.  Gary Puckett’s Lady Willpower is also very well done.  Tim Hardin’s eulogy to his friend Lenny Bruce, Lenny’sTune is perfect for the melancholic signature sound of Morrissey, and whilst this version is not as haunting as the Nico cover it does justice to the original.

Roy Orbison’s It’s Over stays true to the original and is one of the best tracks on the album.  He closes with Melanie Safka’s 1971 Some Say (I got Devil).  The vocals here are excellent and the addition of instrumentals on what was originally an acoustic guitar ballad gives the song new depth.

There really is not a bad track here but the real gift of this album is that it brings to a new generation a selection of protest songs about freedom, social justice and liberty that have a message relevant to today.  It encourages you to seek out the original recordings and the stories behind them.  Morrissey is not afraid to try new genres, or of working with material that others might now find too controversial.  It is why his music endures despite the controversy, the bad press, the lack of radio coverage and the constant personal attacks.  He has already recorded an album of new material for release later in the year.  Retirement does not appear to be on the horizon just yet.

Reviewed by Jacqui Cosgree

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Harry Hamilton and his Swing Band – The American Songbook

Harry Hamilton and his Swing Band – The American Songbook

I CAN’T SING, dance or play any type of musical instrument. Indeed, when I try to sing most people think that I’m mucking about and don’t believe me when I say that I’m actually trying to hit a note! If I tried to dance I’d end up in my local Accident and Emergency – assuming it hasn’t already been closed by government cuts. And when it comes to playing anything all I can do is make a bit of a racket with a couple of spoons or a comb and some tissue paper.

However, I’m not too sure if spoons, a comb and tissue paper actually qualify as musical instruments. Indeed, if my life depended on singing, dancing or playing anything I’d have been dead and buried many years ago!

Despite all of this, I really love music. Living without a TV wouldn’t really be a problem for me, but I just couldn’t imagine living without music. I think that, to some degree, all of us associate particular songs with memories of family and friends. Maybe that’s one reason why music stirs the sole and certain songs really do get under the skin.

I’m also a bit of a geek when it comes to learning about different genres of music. I love to discover how one form of music is linked to another – particularly how and when they developed. The same goes for individual songs. I always want to know who wrote what, when it was written and what the inspiration was.

With all this in mind I was really looking forward to seeing the excellent Harry Hamilton and his Swing Band (a brilliant eight-piece band known as the Birdland Big Band) performing a show called The American Songbook. The show was being held in the equally excellent Courtyard Theatre in Newtownabbey, Co. Antrim.

I was looking forward to the gig for two main reasons. Firstly, Harry Hamilton has successfully carved out a name for himself as the lead singer of Flash Harry. My wife and I have seen them several times and they’re probably one of the best Queen tribute bands you’re ever likely to see. However, I’ve always wanted to see and hear how he’d perform – not as Freddie Mercury but as himself.

Secondly, whilst I’m not fantastically into every artist who comes under the umbrella of the ‘American Songbook’, I recognise the importance of this musical genre. The advertising material accompanying the gig put this into perspective noting:

“Join Harry Hamilton and his swing band as they take you on a musical journey through a century of American music. This innovative collection of popular music showcases the many “Great” Songs from the soundtrack of the 20th Century. From the classics of the Great American masters like Gershwin or Cole Porter, via the ’50’s most popular hits, to Motown and the newest chapter with songs from recent hit-makes, including Michael Bublé, Ray Charles and Billy Joel.”

The gig was in two parts (and started bang on time – surely a first for Ulster!) with the first half being slightly more formal than the second. This was subtly reflected in the way Harry Hamilton presented himself. In the first half he wore a dark suit, tuxedo shirt with wing tip collar and dickie bow and in the second half he’d changed into double denim.

I loved the way he set the scene for the whole gig by explaining that ‘The American Songbook’ (sometimes called the ‘Great American Songbook’) generally refers to a collection of the most important and influential American popular songs of the 20th century. They can be found in theatre and film and were written from the 1920s through the 1950s.

Harry Hamilton also gave a brief insight into his childhood. He noted that his father was in a Showband and that he grew up in a house full of music, all of which made a great impression. Given this background it’s probably no surprise that he also turned towards music in such a way.

This laid back approach to explaining his musical influences – and the information that he provided about each song – meant that he had the packed audience hanging on to his every word. I particularly liked the way he used humour to introduce some of the songs. I’ve found some music ‘experts’ come across as bores who look down on those who aren’t as informed about a particular song or artist as they are.

But what about the songs themselves?

To be honest, Harry Hamilton sang that many both my wife and I lost count of what we’d heard! The whole gig simply consisted of hit after hit after hit. And all were pulled off to a tee. However, we were able to agree on some of the highlights of the evening. These included Frank Sinatra’s classic Fly Me To The Moon, American Trilogy made famous by Elvis Presley (and a song that always makes us both cry – and many others judging by the sniffing and wiping of eyes from other members of the audience!)

Other highlights included Georgia On My Mind made famous by Ray Charles, I’m A Believer which was written and originally recorded by Neil Diamond but effectively ‘owned’ by the Monkees. Also in there were Superstition and Sir Duke written and performed by Stevie Wonder – the latter as a tribute to the legendary composer, pianist and bandleader, Duke Ellington.

We also loved his take on one of Don McLean’s most famous songs, American Pie. Recorded in1971, it commemorates the deaths of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J. P. Richardson (aka ‘The Big Bopper’) in a plane crash in early 1953. Harry Hamilton’s vocal range was also given a great workout when he sang Roy Orbison’s operatic ballad, In Dreams. He explained the complexity of the Big O’s song which – according to Wikipedia – “has a unique structure in seven musical movements in which Orbison sings through two octaves, beyond the range of most rock and roll singers.”

One real stand out moment of the evening came towards the end of the first half of the gig. Here Harry Hamilton’s father joined him in a duet. As noted earlier, his father had been in a Showband and still had a great voice plus a mischevious twinkle in his eye – something that has been passed onto his son. Together they performed a brilliant version of Mac the Knife (which started life as Die Moritat von Mackie Messer, composed by Kurt Weill) made famous by Bobby Darin.

As well as talking about – and performing – the American Songbook, Harry Hamilton enjoyed some great banter with both the audience and his band. The three piece brass section – as well as being excellent musicians – seemed to be having a whale of a time. They seemed to spend half their time laughing and joking. At times they were in absolute stiches – so much so that I wondered how they would be able to stop laughing in time to play their instruments or provide backing vocals.

If you’d like a couple of hours of top notch entertainment and would like to learn a lot about music at the same time, check out Harry Hamilton and his Swing Band. They’re still on tour throughout Ulster. Catch him if you can.

O CHECK OUT this promotional video for Harry Hamilton and his Swing Band – The American Songbook https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BjpTU-s4ZSE

O CHECK OUT Flash Harry’s Facebook page which also provides some information on Harry Hamilton’s American Songbook show

Reviewed by John Field

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