The last two instalments of ASAM have featured artists who are (to the best of my knowledge) independent, and relatively unheard of at the time of writing. There is, as I mentioned previously, also the tiniest element of pimping my friends’ music, given that I know four of them. I thought I’d deviate from this by featuring some artists who are a little better-known (mainly outside the UK), but who may not have been picked up by your own musical radar. This is categorically not intended as a smug and dismissive, hipster-style “oh, you wouldn’t have heard of them” sort of post, I should add: these are just some favourites of mine that I’ve discovered serendipitously, and who I thought you might also enjoy. Certainly, I’d be interested to hear what you think of them.
Does anybody still use Last.fm? (I’m on there as SupremeCrow, if anyone does…) When I was first introduced to a website that claimed it could analyse your musical tastes and recommend new bands, I was sceptical. So I let it “scrobble” my music and felt like I’d been set a challenge: can I break it? Well, last.fm and I had our passive-aggressive little cold war for a while (it took me a long time to make it accept that actually, I don’t like The Beatles), and then one day it surprised me with L’Autre Bout Du Monde, the title track from Mlle Loizeau’s debut album.
I remained sceptical, but I had to admit I liked it. I investigated further – I had to ensure she was going to be more than just a one-hit wonder with me – and heard the delightfully quirky, odd-metered Je Suis Jalouse. I was beginning to cave, and eventually I ordered the album. It took a couple of plays before I really began to appreciate it, but it turned out to be a real winner. Okay, last.fm. You won. And I’m kind of glad you did, so thank you.
A little while later, I managed to pick up her second album, Pays Sauvage whilst in France. (I could claim a few hipster-points by saying that this was a few months before it was released back in the UK) Arguably, Pays Sauvage was even better than L’Autre Bout… and so I dragged a few friends along to see her live in London, for what turned out to be a truly memorable gig. And now I hear news of the release of her third album. I’m rather excited about this. In the meantime, have a rather stirring live version of one of my favourites from her second album:
Moving on from France to Belgium. Back when I was about 15 (and I worry myself each time I remember how long ago that would have been), I heard a song on the radio and instantly fell in love with it. The song was called Mad About You, by a band called Hooverphonic. I was, at the time, a bit wary of electronic music, but there was something about the singer’s voice that drew me into it. The song was a wonderfully sultry arrangement of moody strings, with this strong yet vulnerable, plaintive-sounding voice soaring over the top. I stumbled across the album, The Magnificent Tree, in a record shop a few weeks later, and for whatever reason, didn’t buy it.
In hindsight, I’m glad I didn’t. I suspect, being a bit more closed-minded about music at that age, I might have hated the other tracks and the album would have spent the ensuing years gathering dust. I am, however, very glad that I stumbled across them again a few years later. And just like the first time, I fell in love with that voice.
That voice belonged to one Geike Arnaert, who recorded several more albums with Hooverphonic, then left the band at the end of 2008. The band went on the hunt for a replacement singer, while Geike began a solo career. Things went very quiet on both fronts for a few years – at least, not being able to read Flemish and follow the Belgian music press, I was left without news – but in 2011, Geike released her solo debut, For the Beauty of Confusion. I honestly didn’t know what to expect, as she was never prominent on the writing credits of Hooverphonic’s albums, so I was pleasantly surprised by this album. It’s atmospheric, a little experimental and yet strangely easy to get into. My better half said she found the songs a bit “samey” after a while but I’m still defending this album to the last. And it has one hell of an opening track:
Joanne Shaw Taylor
I thought it was about time I included one of the stars of the modern British blues scene. There are quite a few such stars who have become gradually more prominent of late, so I whittled the choice down to my two current favourites: Ian Siegal and Joanne Shaw Taylor. As the latter has recently released a new album in the US, which is already receiving flattering reviews, I thought it would be timely to feature Ms Shaw Taylor.
It’s hard to say this without sounding sexist or patronising, so with apologies in advance: popular music, blues included, is a very male-dominated medium, which makes Joanne Shaw Taylor even more impressive. If she had been born with a Y-chromosome and developed the same style of guitar playing, (s)he would have been a well-respected musician. That she plays the guitar as she does and is female is – let’s be honest – a bit of a novelty which has probably given her an advantage.
She’s not alone, mind: obviously Bonnie Raitt can claim to have been there and done that years before, but JST also has contemporary competition. Head further east, to Finland, and Erja Lyytinen is making a name for herself as an excellent slide guitar player. Head south from there to Serbia and catch Ana Popovic’s smooth, soulful blues playing. Even back home in the UK, it could be argued that Chantel McGregor shows better technical prowess.
So why Joanne? Well, it depends what you look for in the blues. I can see that Lyytinen or Popovic appeal to a smoother, easier-going kind of blues. McGregor may appeal to the more technically-minded guitarist. But what I want is to be moved by the blues, to hear the player using the instrument as a way to vent. A cathartic little journey that sends a shiver down your spine. Which is what JST’s playing does for me, far more than the aforementioned. In fact, I’d rate her above a lot of the more numerous male guitarists I’ve seen.
White Sugar, her debut, is probably the best place to start. Not that Diamonds in the Dirt should be ignored, by any stretch of the imagination. At the time of writing, Almost Always Never has been released in the States and is receiving positive reviews. I’m looking forward to it coming out on this side of the pond.
Joanne Shaw Taylor – Blackest Day