Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Anne Briggs : The Hazards of Love (50th Anniversary Edition)

Here we have a facsimile of Anne Brigg’s debut EP ‘The Hazards of Love’ (Topic).  During the 1960’s & 70’s Briggs released only a handful of material including her seminal piece “The Time Has Come”.  A number of factors play a part in Brigg’s modest catalogue, a painfully self-critical approach and eschewing any sort of commercial recognition.  Despite this she is well known for influencing folks like Bert Jansch, Richard Thompson and Sandy Denny to name a few.  Although Briggs has gone to great lengths to remain in obscurity, the power of her recordings has meant her music is anything but – as this single testifies.

Opening track “Lowlands” is a mysterious capstan/pumping and some suggest a halyards shanty dating back to 1860, traditional both on British and American shores.  The song has developed over time with the addition of a sailor appearing in a lover’s dream.  A.L. Lloyd theorizes the lyric’s origins are tied into Anglo-Scots who co-existed with British seamen and the song was passed along to shore-men in Gulf Ports.  He also asserts the “Lowlands” refrain may mirror the ballad “The Golden Vanity”.  This is how Brigg’s delivers her version (1964) as well, as a ballad rather than a shanty, with no instrumental accompaniment her beguiling voice lingers, longs and laments through the track singing straight from and hitting right into the core.

The earliest known record of the following song “My Bonny Boy” goes back to the mid-17th century. Over time it’s evolved partly through featuring in plays and Vaughan Williams’ Folk-Song Suite.  It’s a good example of how folk songs get passed down and develope, until we have what’s available today – Brigg’s captivating interpretation where you feel both the history, and the new life breathed into the song.

On side B first up is ”Polly Vaughan”, a story about a man who went hunting for birds and sees something in the bushes.  Mistaking it for a swan he finds he’s actually killed his true love, Polly Vaughan, when she was taking shelter from rain.  The man, sometimes called Johnny or Jimmy Randle, reports the accident to his Uncle who urged him not to flee.  He’s convinced he should stay and explain to the court it was an honest error.  The story continues that in the evening before Vaughan’s funeral her spirit appears to confirm Randle’s account of what had happened.  We never learn the outcome of the trial, but if Brigg’s version of the song is anything to go by, he felt as though he’d lost regardless.  It’s a powerfully mournful song, sung again acapella.

“Rosemary Lane” is another bitterly tragic story, this time about the seduction of a servant by a sailor.   “I won the good will of my master and dame, Until a young sailor came there to stay, And that was the beginning of my misery”, Briggs laments in this traditional folk ballad.  She was known in her earlier years for questioning a woman’s role in society and kicking against the status quo. So perhaps that’s why this song in particular appealed, tackling the path the servant was expected to take when she fell pregnant, “Now if it’s a boy, he’ll fight for the King, And if it’s a girl she’ll wear a gold ring; She’ll wear a gold ring and a dress all aflame, And remember my service in Rosemary Lane.”  Even in her early years Briggs challenged women’s place in the world, "The role of women was very defined and veryrestrictive, but right through my teenage years, I'd just been shedding everything as I went, you know: I can do without that, I'm not doing that, why can't I do that if blokes can do it? In fact, I'm going to do it, so try and stop me and see what happens.”So it’s no surprise this song moved her to depict it.
These four songs explore fantasy, unfaithfullness, loss and a woman's role in regards to love and relationships.  Each story tells a different side in a candid way that's both bewitching and sorrowful, it doesn't get more raw than this.  Due to the limited number of releases and small pressing originals are hard to come by and when you do find one they’re pricey.  For me there isn’t a lot to get excited about when it comes to RSD anymore, but this year ‘The Hazards of Love’ was a pretty brilliant surprise.  I managed to find this in London’s Rough Trade West only a few weeks ago, so if you get there quick they may still have some.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Protomartyr : Under Colour of Official Light

Protomartyr is Detroit four piece Joe Casey (vocals), Greg Ahee (guitar), Alex Leonard (drums) and Scott Davidson (bass). Over the course of one weekend they recorded follow up to debut 'No Passion All Technique' (Urinal Cake Records) with Bill Skibbe and Jessica Ruffins at Key Club Records Benton Harbor, MI.  Drawing inspiration from literature, people and local landmarks Casey delivers stories of listening to Alice In Chains on repeat, an infamous Roman execution spot for traitors and confrontation with an impassioned sense of ennui.  ‘Under Colour of Official Light’ (Hardly Art) fleshes out their austere approach both in the execution of recording and song writing pushing the limits of what the band have already achieved.  Opener “Maidenhead” sets a tone of seclusion with isolator-y echo heavy vocals and reverb heavy guitars that swell into tidal fuzz.  Casey muses, “Don’t feel no love for anything” and it’s this sense of malaise that the band take inspiration from and subverts into gripping rock songs.  Without trying to use any sort of hyperbole ‘Under Colour of Official Light’ is an all kill no fill record, it’s difficult to pick just a few tracks to talk about here.   Anthemic “Scum Rise” will no doubt have fists punching the air at shows with its choppy beats, siren guitar licks and forthright vocals.  “I Stare At Floors” features racing guitars juxtaposed with plaintive vocals providing a great reflection of where the mind can wonder when you’re staring at your shoes on the hard concrete.  ‘Under Colour of Official Light’ has seen the band only gather momentum since its release only a few weeks ago, it’s definitely made Protomartyr a top band this year for me, and maybe for you too.  Go here and check them out – or EVEN better, come and see them play in August on their first UK tour, one day you’ll be able to say you were there at the beginning, saw it all right from the very start….. you know… no big deal…..