‘Larks Tongues in Aspic?….

Don’t mind if I do, thanks…’

A famous philosopher once said ‘life is like a box of chocolates’. Ergo, so must be music, (for many) an integral part of life…. on first impressions it can seem soft, hard, sweet, tart, chewy, or can melt like just like liquid in your ears. It also contains a (dangerously?) high proportion of nuts. However, it also leaves an impression, an aftertaste, that with the best also leads to craving more… Looking back on the selection of treats on offer in 2011, here are some of my personal highlights – my artists of the year, who induced in me those ‘I like it I like it I like it !’ goosebumps with their art… and, left me wanting, yes, more…

Amy LaVere, double bass wielding belle whose Southern gothic Lynchian meditations were iced with some outstanding surf noir guitarwork

Fatoumata Diawara, music as beautiful, addictive, hypnotic and mysterious as any I have heard

Gillian Welch, as unique and timeless as ever

Wilco, storming back on their new label with what may well prove to be their definitive album

Mountain Man, sounding as old as the hills themselves, this female trio sent many a chill through my psyche with their otherworldy harmonies

Tom Waits, still ornery as hell and as slippery and gifted as ‘ol Springheel Jack himself, ornate crazy blues with fellow old jackal Keith Richards along for the ride

Jonathan Wilson, long hair/Topanga Canyon/Bob Harris/Jackson Browne/David Crosby are just some of the touchstones in his work, but the end result is uniquely his

Josh T Pearson, a truly stunning solo album ten years on from Lift To Experience

Other highlights and Honorable Mentions go to Edwyn Collins, continuing to astound in his recovery, with an amazing work rate not just as a writer/performer whose work is getting even better with each release, but also now as label boss (and often production chair)of the very wonderful AED Records, and indeed the AED singles and albums, particularly Linden & Rotifer, to Thomas Dolby (I rediscovered the chillingly beauteous ‘Airwaves’), Richmond Fontaine’s ‘High Country’, The Civil Wars, The Click Five live at Mith Samlanh , Colorama, and for rebooting my powerpop years the Japanese reissues on 1977 Records of my old band’s Radio City single and album-that-never-was, Sigur Ros with the atmospheric end of era ‘Inni’, the righteous racket that was the Jim Jones Revue, Rolling Stones live stuff from the early 70’s (Brussels Affair) and the ‘Some Girls’ reissue, Kurt Vile & co-conspirators the War on Drugs…

… and of course, there’s more, much more, where those came from…

You may already be a winner!

Lets talk about music. So, let us imagine we are somewhere both accommodating and appropriate, holding this discussion. Hey, how about The Garage in Phnom Penh? Yes? Good. Let’s buy Jeff a (virtual) G&T then get down to it…but before I reveal my personal favourite album of 2010, shall we recap on the year?

‘Goin’ Back’ may well have been my musical theme for 2010, as much of the time I spent re-exploring the music that inspired me in my youth. It also marked my own return to the live arena after 5 wilderness years, my first ever solo performances and, like the Ghost of Christmas Past, the (limited edition 7-inch in coloured vinyl on 1977 records!) re-issue of the first Radio City record I made to satisfy the demands of mainly Japanese collectors. Now (with the emphasis firmly on the pantomime aspects of the following statement), I am truly a ‘cult’…

Jerry Goffin and Carole King’s ‘Goin’ Back’ is normally cast as a wistful, dreamy reverie of a song that evokes a resigned sense of nostalgia through its chords and lyrics. It was rendered virtually immaculate in 1960’s in the hands of The Byrds, softly pillowed in whispered harmonies and gently chiming 12-string guitars. The version I went back to this year however was the strident piano driven statement of intent emanating from the first solo album recorded by Nils Lofgren in the early 1970’s. He takes the song by the scruff of the neck and possesses the lyric in a way that totally reflects the attitude that oozes from the rest of the tracks and from the cover picture of a leather jacketed swaggering Lofgren… ‘But thinking young and growing older is no sin, and I can play the game of life to win…’ yes, we need the past to make sense of the present and prepare us for that unknown future…
This was one of my favourite ‘getting ready to go out for the unknown future of the weekend’ songs back in those heady days, and this song and its parent album were again established as firm favourites on the Jamesian playlist for 2010.

2010 was also the year of returning to some other old friends from the 70’s and 80’s – Dwight Twilley, The Raspberries (‘Starting Over’ – what a song – what an album!), the Shoes, the Db’s, the Plimsouls, Marshall Crenshaw, Let’s Active, the Flaming Groovies, the Rain Parade, John Hiatt, the Only Ones, early Cheap Trick, the Stiff and Chiswick records crew, the Postcard and Post-Postcard bands …. andmoreagain and again. I kept up my love affair with the 1960’s, the greats and the garage bands, spent far too much time with the complete Pete Townsend demos and with outtakes from the Beatles and Stones, obsessed (as usual) over the Kinks had a huge crush on the Bonzos/Viv Stanshall (shared by Otis!) and continued to love those contemporary artists whose musical hearts are very firmly in the classic tradition – the wonderful Black Keys, White Stripes and Billy Childish/Holly Golightly spring to mind here.

I continue to mourn the loss but celebrate the work of Alex Chilton. A complex kid indeed, but a true musician, and a HUGE personal inspiration. Although the direct line in my own work is closest to the first two Big Star albums, I’ve recently been listening to live tapes drawn from throughout his life, and there is no doubt that the image he had of being an ornery cuss at times overshadows just how good the man was…

So, so sad at the passing of Mark Linkous also… to be selfish I shall really miss the spooky scratchy whisperings of Sparklehorse. Listening to them reminded me of hiding from your friends in the damp dark woods when you were young… being so aware of your own body, breath and heartbeat, then realising there were other things there also, rustling and moving next to you, a natural world co-existing with you… I wish you peace now, Mark, and thank you for the memories in sound you have left behind…

I also confess that for many years I never really ‘got’ Captain Beefheart, but over the last few years had developed a real fondness for a great deal of his music, so his recent death was another reason to feel sad, as we will never see the like again… another original gone…

Enough of the maudlin for now, what has been the new music that moved me in 2010?

Well, I loved The Decemberists ‘Hazards of Love’, Midlake’s ‘Courage of Others’, John Grant’s ‘Queen of Denmark’ and Karen Elson’s ‘Ghost Who Walks’. Honourable mentions go out to Josh Rouse for ‘El Turista’ (even though he is currently walking a path parlously close to Paul Simon!), The Villagers ‘Becoming a Jackal’, The National ‘High Violet’ and Alejandro Escovedo’s ‘Street Songs of Love’.

Of course there were hundreds of others too, the ever-changing daily obsessions, but however (cue fanfare!), the time has now come to reveal the winner of the coveted(?) accolade, James’ Album of the Year, 2010. Bear with me whilst I do so in true ‘getting- up-slightly-tipsy-at-an-awards-ceremony-fashion’…

‘Ladies and gentlemen, this award goes to an artist who has weathered not only the changing face of a music industry he entered over thirty years ago as a shorts-clad sandal-shod, bright eyed and bushy-tailed hat wearing naive, but one who has also fought back in recent years from a near fatal and debilitating illness to confound us all with an album that stands as a career high. Of course, he has done this with a little help from his friends, some very much in the public eye themselves (hey Alex, Roddy! Hiya Paul! Alright Johnny?), others much less so, such as wife and manager, Grace… this is no maudlin, weepy, ‘oh me, oh my’ album either, but a pounding, vibrant re-affirmation of life in the face of adversity that is not afraid to face its demons armed with a killer guitar riff and a northern soul bass line. Ladies and gentlemen, raise a glass of Orange Juice as I give you my Album of the Year, 2010, and most of all I ask you to appreciate its creator, no Poor Old Soul but the Blue Boy himself…
‘Losing Sleep’, by Edwyn Collins!’

And that, dear reader, is all there is to say. If you haven’t heard it, please do seek it out and listen. It’s every bit as good as I say it is, indeed more so.

I’m off now, but I’ll be back later.

See you then….