All Flowers In Time

Sounddate: Tuesday, 26th January 2015

I heard All Flowers In Time for the first time yesterday on the RadMac afternoon show on BBC 6 Music. Curiously, it has never been released although, as you can see, it has escaped from the recording studio and is available on SoundCloud, YouTube and elsewhere.

All Flowers In Time Bend Towards the Sun, to give it it’s full title, was written by Jeff Buckley (around 1995 as far as I can tell). The version presented here is a demo recording; Jeff’s untimely death in a drowning accident in May 1997 meant that a finished version was never made.

The demo is a composition for two guitars and two voices. If it had been given a sparse arrangement it would be a simple folk song but, here, strummed acoustic and electric guitars provide a lush carpet of camomile and clover for us to walk upon. Liz Fraser’s dancing voice paints exotic flowers onto the bushes, and Jeff Buckley duets with her as she skips between the orchard trees. The two guitars pirouette around each other, butterflies in slow motion, while the voices mingle in exquisite harmony. For a rough cut this is an amazingly beautiful production.

Reliable information is hard to come by but it seems that Liz Fraser has always wanted the ‘unfinished’ All Flowers to remain unheard and Jeff Buckley’s mother, who manages his back catalogue, is of the opinion that Jeff and Elizabeth’s recording is “too personal” to be released. In spite of this there have been many calls from fans of both Buckley and Fraser to make it officially available.

As far as I can make out streaming and downloading this song is morally questionable and quite possibly unlawful. Yes, a polished version might have more light and shade but it’s hard to imagine another take with as much joy and spontaneity as this one. It shines like the sculpted face of Venus with laughter lines etched in. It deserves to be heard.

Crotchety Man has been naughty. He has downloaded All Flowers In Time but, if it is ever released, he hereby promises to pay for it.

Jazz cover

Acoustic Environment

Are you tired of electric guitars? Fed up with the sound of oscillators, filters and shapers? Do you yearn for the sweeter tones of traditional musical instruments? Then Acoustic Environment by Mark Hillis is the album for you.

Acoustic Environment

Mark is a guitarist and photographer from San Diego, California. During his college years he teamed up with vocalist Jerry Harrison to record a progressive hard rock CD called Harlequin, which was released in 1990 and still seems to be available as a download. Although he makes no apology for that earlier effort, Mark’s later work is very different.

Acoustic Environment is an album of acoustic guitar pieces played by Mark himself with a few guest musicians adding violin, trumpet, Chapman Stick, bass and percussion. If you’re familiar with John Williams, the classical guitarist, and Sky (the classical/rock crossover band of which John was a founder member) you’ll get the idea.

Mark Hillis has composed a set of classically-inspired pieces and had them performed by musicians with a foot in both classical and pop/rock camps. The result is a collection of instrumentals, some reminiscent of Spanish dances, some like jaunty sea shanties, some with a folky feel and all with a satisfyingly full modern production making use of electronic devices only to compliment the conventional instruments.

The album opens with ‘Climbing the Walls’, which features the dulcet tones of Tiffany Modell’s violin floating lightly over guitar chords that ring harmoniously for most of the track but introduce a grating dissonance once in a while. It reminds me of an artist applying the finishing brush strokes to a masterpiece when someone jogs his arm. The painting is eventually completed but the process was unnecessarily difficult and frustrating.

Tiffany’s violin features strongly on ‘Synthesis’, too, but this time everything falls into place beautifully. Tom Griesgraber’s Chapman Stick and Mark’s guitar play together like children in the park, the violin sings as they scamper by and Jeff Hurt’s trumpet murmurs pleasurably as parents look on.

The simplest track on the album is ‘Solitude’ which, as the name suggests, is a contemplative guitar solo. The remaining pieces augment the guitar work with a little bass, percussion and synthesiser sounds, a modern reworking of classical, folk and Spanish themes – not exactly John Williams but very pleasing none the less.

There’s a playful feel to many of the tracks on Acoustic Environment, none more so than the last one, which is called ‘Squirrely’. Mark mentions it specifically in the sleeve notes where he has a note to his parents: “I know you wanted to hear some vocals from me, so ‘Squirrely’ is for you”. He is referring to his brief giggle that ends the album.

Like Sky’s recordings Acoustic Environment should appeal to a very broad range of tastes; unlike Sky, though, Mark Hillis and his collaborators are virtually unknown. Crotchety Man believes the Hillis crowd deserves better recognition and this is reflected in the ‘hidden gems’ tag on this post. Give it a whirl. If you don’t like it perhaps your mother, uncle or cousin will.

A Whisper …

Tuesday morning. Barney is almost here.

Whisper - storm UK

This year the UK’s Meteorological Office is naming the storms that hit us. Abigail, the first storm of the season, brought floods last week; Barney is now following in her wake. The forecasters have promised us strong winds and more heavy rain; there is likely to be some disruption to transport. But Barney isn’t as angry as Abigail and here in the East Midlands we will probably escape the worst of it.

Abigail, though, was noisy; she kept me awake at night. Blustery wind howled between the houses, whined through the trees and rattled the climbing rose against the window. What she was ranting about I do not know. One moment Abigail would rail loudly against some unfathomable injustice, another she would be quiet as if her anger was spent and she had forgiven us for whatever transgressions we had perpetrated.

It wasn’t the noise that kept me awake, it was the unbearable tension of the silence between the outbursts – the feeling that, any second now, Abigail’s temper would flare up again and she would burst into another tantrum. Restless hours went by as episodes of peace and turmoil alternated throughout the night. Abigail was a troubled soul and there was nothing I could do to help her.

Whisper - Tom Griesgraber

Crotchety Man’s Album of the Month for November is both a perfect accompaniment to quiet interludes and an effective antidote to the distraction of a noisy environment. It is A Whisper in the Thunder by Tom Griesgraber and, as it’s relatively unknown, I’ve awarded it the status of a Hidden Gem.

Tom Griesgraber is one of the foremost players of the Chapman Stick. The Stick comes in several different forms; the version Tom uses looks like the fretboard and head of a wide-necked 12-string electric guitar. Six of the strings are tuned in a treble register and six in a bass register. The strings are tapped onto the railboard and a large diagonal pickup converts the vibrations to an electrical signal.

The Chapman Stick is a versatile instrument. Because the strings are tapped rather than plucked it is possible to play bass, melody and chords all at the same time, like a pianist. Because the player’s fingers press directly on the strings the musician can easily bend the notes or introduce vibrato. As Emmett Chapman, its inventor, explains it’s an easy instrument to play physically, but far from easy mentally because it offers immense scope for expression.

In the hands of an expert like Tom Griesgraber the Stick sounds like a whole band and A Whisper in the Thunder illustrates this rather well. Although there are other musicians on the album they mostly contribute drums and percussion; Tom’s Stick and soothing synthesiser effects do the rest.

Whisper - glider

The result is mesmeric. We are up in a glider, its wings outstretched, almost motionless. We are floating in the silent sky; up here we cannot feel the wind. Green fields and forests sweep away below us over the hills to the horizon. Fluffy white clouds hang around us and drift by like airborne whales whose songs enter our brains without passing through our ears. Time has no meaning. All is quiet.

There are nine tracks on A Whisper in the Thunder. All are different, but all have that same sense of inner peace. Like Abigail in her quiet moments there is no thunder, only mother’s whispering as she rocks her baby to sleep.

Whisper - landscape

Wednesday night. Barney did come.

He was noisy for a while but he observed the midnight curfew, hurrying away again like Cinderella, and I slept soundly last night.

The Gnome’s Revenge

Free Admission - Gnome In Chains

Free the Gnome! Or we’ll take revenge …

In 2007 Josh Dick and Brad Scoville used computers to create a music album for their U.S. college project. They called themselves Free Admission, the album was called Revenge of the Lawn Gnome and the result is available for free streaming and download on Jamendo, Last FM, Soundcloud and the Josh Dick website.
Josh Dick
There are no ‘real’ instruments here; it’s all synthesised and computer-generated. But what you hear is traditional piano, guitar, bass, drums, strings and horns. Yes, there are electronic sounds but no more than on any pop song nowadays. The compositions don’t fit into any genre I can name. It’s a blend of classical, pop, jazz and other styles; the sort of thing a music student would have to write at college. All in all, it would make an excellent film score.

Free Admission have weak connections with Axis (free music from a band you’ve not heard of), Landscape (conventional tunes using unusual instruments) and Guillemots (film score music). Those connections alone would justify making Revenge of the Lawn Gnome my Album of the Month for July but no excuses are needed. The album is a joy to listen to; another Hidden Gem.

Here’s a track called Incognito Redux, a 2012 version of Incognito from the 2007 release.

The Queen of Elfland

Somewhere in the backwoods of Alaska there’s a singer/songwriter/guitarist who makes beautiful music and gives it away. Why? Because we already have enough ‘stuff’; what we lack is ‘human connection’. So, rather than burn CDs and ship them thousands of kilometres across the globe, he makes his songs available (for free) on his website.

His name is Kray Van Kirk and he’s running a Kickstarter project to fund a music video of one of his songs. The Queen of Elfland tells the story of Thomas the Rhymer who is taken down to Elfland to sing for its Queen. It has all the allure of an ancient myth but, in the video, Thomas and the Queen make the journey by train. Not the Hogwart’s Express, a very real, very solid Amtrak train, connecting the everyday world with a land of fantasy and legend.

Kray Van Kirk - The Queen of Elfland

The Kickstarter project has less than 72 hours to run. As I write this it has raised just under the $4000 it needs to make the basic video. It will reach that first target soon but, with a little more support, Kray and the team will be able to add special effects and do some detailed post-production. If you like his music please support this project. The world needs more musicians like Kray Van Kirk.

End To End

Some bands I like, some bands I love. If I love them I’ll buy several of their albums; if I only like them I try to find a Best Of… CD and maybe one or two download tracks. Blondie I like. At least, I like most of what they were doing in the eighties. I did buy two or three Blondie albums before I switched from vinyl to digital media but now I content myself with just one compilation CD: Greatest Hits.
Blondie - Greatest Hits - Sight + Sound
Confusingly, there were two Blondie albums called Greatest Hits, one released as a CD in 2002 and a CD + DVD set released in 2006. The 2002 album is well known; the 2006 release is much rarer and it’s this one that features in my collection. Hidden away, just before the bonus track at the end of the CD, there’s a little gem called End To End and this is my latest track of the week.

End To End is a pop/rock song with a beat that pounds like a thumping heart after a strenuous run. It seems to be about a young couple who haven’t got much longer to live. Making the most of the time they have left they do “all those romantic things”, but it’s hard to accept that their lives and their love will end.

So if, by chance,
You should agree

We’ll put an end to the end
And just go on and on.

We all yearn to defy the grim reaper, don’t we? To hold on to the things and the people we love, to live forever. And sometimes we feel, if we want it enough, it must be possible.Blondie - The Curse Of Blondie

End To End was on the Curse of Blondie album of 2003 which, like the Greatest Hits CD/DVD, doesn’t seem to be available any more. I can’t find any purely audio stream for you to listen to but here are a couple of links to videos:

I suspect the YouTube clip violates copyright and might be withdrawn at any time but it does seem to be the version on my CD. The MTV clip is a nice live version and seems to be officially sanctioned; you do have to suffer adverts, though.

Image credits: