Some time back in the early 1990s I picked up a cassette tape of Souled American’s ‘Fe’ album because I liked the cover. The hint of American Gothic in photo and the typeface said it was my kind of music. Published by Rough Trade (RT131) for the trainspotters. It was a fantastic early exposure to the alternative americana universe that started seeping across these shores in mid 1990s. It coinicided with my purchasing of Uncle Tupelo and early Whiskeytown records. Yet Souled American were investigating timbres from that ‘weird old america’ of Harry Smith and Doc Boggs before any of them. They went on to release a smattering of increasingly experimental albums through the 1990s. I have 1992’s ‘Sonny’ and as of tomorrow when I return to Anarchy Records will have ‘Flubber’. It is one of the strangest musical timelines ever and only McSeeeney’s obscure emporium and a handful of online critics even acknowledge their existence. The music continues to eerily fascinate. Like a backwoods proto-punk gothic back porch melodrama hoovering up old Merle Travis and Louvin Brothers tunes then slowing them down to a crawl pace Codeine and Cowboy Junkies. Listening to ‘Sonny’s’ funereal drum-less soundscapes the whole gamut of americana-noire lights up….from Will Oldham through Drunk and 16 Horsepower to Smog, health Lambchop and on…it all starts here…essential water from the well…
Not sure where I picked this little gem up. My life has touched on that of Eric Goulden at various points but we never actually met. Last night he played a blisteringly good set at The Poppy and Pint in West Bridgford, ampoule Nottingham and this songwriter’s song was a highlight on what was an almost faultless night of Wreckless Eric at his best. He previewed at least three songs from the new album amERICa which were as good as anything in his impressive back catalogue. The single was self-released on Eric’s Empire Records through which he released two(recently reissued albums on Fire Records) the Len Bright Combo Presents and Combo Time. A little later he recorded and released a friend of mine Kevin Evan’s debut (and only) 12″ on Ambassador Records ( a record that somebody borrowed and never returned sadly) and his band Ritzun Ratzun Rotzer from Leeds.
Then in late 1990s I would happily frequent the second-hand bookshops on Charing Cross Road and I found out that Eric was serving behind counter in a shop a friend Jan Buchanan worked in. I am sure he served me at least a couple of times but I never mentioned the music. It now called Any Amount of Books but I think was called something else then….my memory not great. I remember the period because my friend found out a drawing by a Japanese artist she owned worth a fortune when I told her I’d seen similar on the Antiques Roadshow. Apparently she bought a house in France with proceeds…..we had both worked at Zwemmers in early 1980s. It was a gift from original owners allegedly.
Finally fast-forward the time tape machine to 2003. I am on second ever date with a lady who became my wife. We are at Alan Tyler’s weekly Americana event ‘Come Down and Meet the Folks’ at the ‘Fiddler'(???) in College Street Camden Town watching ..yes…Eric Goulden aka Wreckless. We were both drunk so memory hazy but I think Amy Rigby was either on bill or with Eric…so we both been in relationship ever since…
I recently picked up the Len Bright Combo reissues and Le Beat Group Electrique album from Fire Records and look forward to the new album on scratchy black vinyl 🙂
I hope Mr Goulden gets the attention he deserves…recent features in MOJO and Record Collector show his amp is rising 🙂 He is a national treasure , a Hull Art School domestic Daniel Johnston with words and pictures (actually he a much better songwriter than said cult artist) and has at least a dozen first class songs to his name..maybe more. That he was eclipsed in early days was more because of temperament. He a natural artist/garage band soul without the naked ambition of a certain other Stiff Tour bespectacled songwriter.
Last night Eric talked affectionately of listening to the first ever rendition of ‘Sweet gene Vincent’ by Ian Dury at his flat……
The autobiography by EG below is probably far more entertaining that EC’s recent tome and a hell of a lot funnier ( I looking out for a copy).
Keep laughing Eric and hats off to Amy….for inspiring this late flowering of an artist….or ‘miserable old c***t’ as he called himself on stage last night……
Yesterday by chance I picked up another three of Elvis Costello’s 7 inch singles from late 70s to early 80s…..which seems to coincide with his most prolific and possibly best period as a songwriter. Yes he has delved into everything from classical to funk since like a slightly less annoying Morrisey but seems not to have suffered from the latter’s fading talents and self-obsessed verbal wankery…mostly. I cannot imagine Declan Patrick MacManus producing something as shit as Steven Patrick Morrisey’s latest ‘fiction’ if that what it is..most commentators have described it as unadalterated rubbish. No Declan is too smart, ed too wordy for that and whilst the new tome isn’t Shakespeare or even a mad poet’s take on Shakespeare (Hughes) it does look interesting. Maybe not as interesting as warts and all former band-mate Bruce Thomas’s brilliant ‘The Big Wheel’which probably tells you all you need to know about sharing a bus with a pain in the arse lead singer..but it comes with literary affections – pace Dylan’s Chronicles use of Conrad like flashbacks- and a decent cover which usually enough to allow me to purchase in two years time when the hardback inevitably remaindered.
Not having purchased yet I can only share the cover and a reviewer at NY Times sentiment that it smart-arse but not brilliant which sadly covers about half of the singing dictionary man in a one-liner worthy of the bard himself. Declan had a voice from his father and a way with words that few equaled in the period illustrated above…sometimes he produced too much and a fair sifting needed but anything up until he shagged an Irish bird (we all do that sometimes) and dumped his family is OK. After that it spirals like a drunken Dublin drinker around pretension and brilliance and the diamonds are harder to find in the mine. Now secure and contented as only a high earning ex-pat can be and happily married to Diana Krall which has enlarged the Jazz vocalisms somewhat we have a ‘national treasure’ to adore and be depressed by in equal measure. A Singing Corbyn…always loyal to the cause (‘Tramp the Dirt Down’ for instance) but hardly a working-class hero then or now and his racist taunts in late 70s were unforgiveable from an arrogant shit which he admits to in yesterday’s Guardian feature ( promo -tie-in whatever etc….buy from Guardian at £6 off etc). He is an astute game player and proves it by still being able to tour his Wheel of Death Songs and hold on to some reins of musical power. Whether the dark horse of fate will remember him as a game-changer or not he a part of my musical landscape and for ‘Oliver’s Army’ I will always applaud him. As for the Brodsky Quartet I have it ..never played ..I mean a quartet for fucks sake…yer Dad would just laugh…..
Records 1977-1986 *****
My collection of Elvis C 7 inches……1978-1984
‘King of America’ is a brilliant album he could have stopped there and his reputation would be intact..after that ..some good songs but no album that as coherent nor as well written.
Records 1986- present ***
Spike was hit and miss….after that some pure crap mixed with moments of brilliance..North/Brodsky Pseudo Classical/Bacharach..he milked every market but nothing as good as King of America….not total shit but kind of albums you file rather than play….
Books : Autobiography/Bios/Music Books
Autobiography – nice cover shame about the title ..Unfaithful Music alone would do but Declan cant stop himself over-egging it can he…???
Also here some of the previous biographies on the man to compare Declan’s version of events with 🙂 There even the first Academic Tome….appropriate for the wordy..
Per chance Declan has also seen fit to release a greatest hits CD..a couple of sweeteners on there for the fans with same title and sleeve art…
a tad opportunistic I would say but then I not a Man out of Time…
I finally felt inspired to write again following a quite superb performance at the Glee Club, discount Nottingham by Ron Sexsmith on Monday last. I last saw Ron and a trio at the South Bank Centre way back in 1997. This would have been after the first two albums were released ( three if count the rare first album Grand Opera Lane which I have never heard). For me it the glorious self-titled second album which brought him to my attention and I have collected and followed his work ever since. His most recent release on Cooking Vinyl ‘Carousel One’ is very good and I actually bought on vinyl which a first time I seen any of his releases in that format. I had all his records apart from ‘Retriever’up until a couple of months after writing this original blog post when it appeared for 50p in a local charity shop:-).
Those two early albums are as good a template for a budding songwriter as any. My particular faves are ‘Lebanon, generic Tennessee’, treat ‘Secret Heart’, ‘Strawberry Blonde’ and ‘Nothing Good’..the list goes on hardly a duff track on either record. I remember the performance at the Queen Elizabeth Hall as being exemplary. After that I always managed to be on holiday or to miss Ron as he played be it in Nottingham or Oxford. Finally last Monday I managed to catch up..I was not disappointed. His hour and a half set was superb despite a couple of rusty glitches for which he apologised. The sound was excellent and he delivered an impressive selection of tracks from over his career even asking for audience suggestions. Stand-out moments included a fabulous version of Lebanon Tennessee and a couple of tracks from Retriever – ‘From Now On’ and ‘Dandelion Wine’ I think both superb and I will seek out the ‘missing’ disc. Along the way he also sang ‘Gold in them hills’ off of Cobblestone Runway. ‘Cheap Hotel’ and ‘Thumbelina Farewell’ off of Blue Boy. ‘Snow Angel’, ‘Talking with the Angel’…..plus a smattering of more recent tracks..’Late Bloomer’ off disc of same name…’Getaway Car’ and ‘Saint Bernard’ and ‘Before the light is gone’ off new disc…all wonderful songs.
I have seen some wonderful solo songwriter performances over the years. Justin Townes Earle and Andrew Coombs were superb in the same venue last year but this was an extraordinary show. I cannot imagine many songwriters with such a consistent back catalogue who could draw on every one of the 14 or so albums he has recorded. I recommend the new album and if you not discovered the delights of Ron Sexsmith check out any part of that back catalogue here : http://www.discogs.com/artist/114679-Ron-Sexsmith