Cult Classics Album Breakdown 10

Cooza – Our Day (2020)

Isn’t it fascinating how alternative genres of music emerge from standard genres we already know?

Cooza is a masked alt-folk musician from the west side of Liverpool’s River mersey who describes his music as freak folk. Freak folk. I love it, and I totally get it. It shouldn’t fit in. It shouldn’t really appeal, because ‘freak’ lives on the outside, right? The extremities? The borderlands of acceptability and beyond? Yes and no. I mean, who knows anymore? I feel that freak is chic in the roaring 2020’s. And Our Day is definitely chic.

In a world where artists are up against it if they want to make a living from the music industry, more and more independent projects are emerging. You see, when you write, record, master and self-produce your own music, you don’t have to deal with record executives, the unfortunate business of record labels, rip-off merchants and con-artists. You don’t have to have your image crafted to what they prefer. You don’t have to guide your art towards sales and the grip of the commercial jaw. You can do whatever you want, however you want, and use the multiple platforms afforded us in the technological age to reach an audience.

Now, I’m a record man. I like to buy a vinyl or CD copy. Cooza’s Our Day is currently still only available on streaming platforms, but I’m working on it. I’d love nothing more than this album on my vinyl shelf tucked neatly between Joni Mitchell and The Beatles. Hint Hint.

Cooza’s contemporary tones draw inspiration from the likes of Sufjan Stevens, Adrianne Lenker, Bon Iver, Big Thief, Ben Howard and Flatsound, and his poetic lyricism derives from an attraction and preoccupation with the natural world. Other slightly more melancholy soaked themes explore the complexities of love, and the struggle to comprehend post-millenial relations. It’s no coincidence that this talented young songwriter is a Joni Mitchell and later-career Kate Bush fan. The aching and mystery is all there.

The highlights include hypnotic single Wooden Frame, in which the combination of guitar loops and delicately layered vocals bleed beautifully all over the audio waves. You Look Good In It could have been written by David Crosby in 1969 – an absolutely sublime, gentle anaesthetic. I adore the background noises, and the vocals that sound like they’re coming from another room. It’s as indie as it gets.

The fascinating Love Love (Interlude) has Dr John’s Gris Gris stamped all over it, Be My Man a spacious, ethereal lament, and Gentle Into The Good Night (Interlude) such a brain-worm mind-fuck that it could rest perfectly adeptly in a Boris Karloff film.

Henrio, a Spanish master of melody and fellow Liverpool based musician, joins Cooza for Hores De Capvespre in what becomes a lyrically intense, roomy declaration, and quite frankly, I could lie back in a field, eyes closed, and listen to Cut My Hair for just about forever. The album concludes with I Can See New Zealand From Here – not just a concept that raises a smile, but a simply gorgeous, scattered refrain.

When asked about the concept behind Our Day, Cooza had this to say:

“…the whole album is a series of snapshots from a relationship told through the narrative timeframe of a day- starting with waking from a dream full of questions, and ending on going to sleep and falling into a new dream that promises more freedom. ‘Our Day’ is about how you can claim a whole day as your own, forgetting the world exists when you’re with someone you love. It’s about trying to keep the feelings of love from that day alive for however long…” (courtesy of: http://www.gigsoupmusic.com)

And so here is a melting pot of extensive and diverse influences – Cooza is clearly a muso who listens with more than just two ears. The melodies that he crafts are an intriguing mix of melancholy & sunrise & soothing & aching & longing & surprise & grief & hope & green meadows & lemon trees & soul. His voice is unique, and his guitar playing so sparse that it makes the spaces in between do all the work. It’s brilliant.

I love nothing more than to discover a local artist whose music touches me. And it’s no wonder this record has already amassed more than 200,000 Spotify streams.

Listen to the album here: https://open.spotify.com/album/5EpS9xRiHoo93AsV1Y6ShI

★★★★★★★★★☆

9/10

© Joel Saunders

Top track trio:

You Look Good In It

Wooden Frame

I Can See New Zealand From Here


Cult Classics Album Breakdown 9

Mark Knopfler – Privateering (2012)

There are some songwriters that have such a signature sound you know exactly who it is within three seconds of listening. Mark Knopfler is one such musician. It’s not even just for those clickety slick licks anymore either; it’s the full, panoramic soundscape that blends Folk with Trad with Rock with Country Blues – it totally belongs to him.

Knopfler is also a songwriting machine. His output has been consistent post-Dire Straits, and all of it a remarkable standard. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it, so they say. And in a similar vein to AC/DC (although wildly different, of course) Knopfler never strays very far from home base. And why should he? The formula is there, and the end product unquestionably polished. Privateering, his 2012 twenty-track double solo album, maintains his incredibly high standards and features some absolute Knopfler gems.

Knopfler has a knack of writing new tunes that sound like standards. The title track Privateering is one such number that could well have been written around a campfire one-hundred years ago. After The Beanstalk sounds like something Robert Johnson could have composed, and Bluebird has something eminently Peter Green about it. The beauty of it all is that Knopfler lends sounds from his peers, and like a great LP that he just can’t bring himself to return, keeps it for his own. A bit naughty, but somehow brilliant.

The former Dire Straits and Notting Hillbillies frontman also has a knack of rousing gentle folk-rock soundscapes and moody portraits painted by acoustic guitars, penny whistles, delicate electric guitar blues licks, melancholy fiddle and captivating accordion. Red Bud Tree is delightful, as is the outstanding, penetrating Go, Love. There is a tenderness in Miss You Blues that emits a deep-rooted satisfaction of his lot from Knopfler. It’s just about as listenable as a record could be.

The record is ably supported by some stellar session musicians, most notably former Dire Straits keys player and master arranger, Guy Fletcher. Fiddle and cittern player, John McCusker, is another notable name, along with bassist Glenn Worf, Michael McGoldrick on whistles and pipes, and Paul Franklin on pedal steel. The blend is primarily Folky, but this is a band that does much, much more. Seattle is a highlight, with its majestic chord changes and clement longing. The golden nugget on the album for me, however, is Kingdom Of Gold. At all times rousing, it is lyrically stunning and builds like a fine sunrise, culminating with an enchanting backing choir and something profoundly medieval. Knopfler at his very best.

There are a few throwaways in amongst the twenty. Corned Beef City and Gator Blood didn’t do much for me but carry my legs to the kettle for a brief break, but even those intervals are timed well (ha!). Today Is Ok is more of a filler too, though not without its quirks. All in all, a few weaker moments on a twenty-track album is to be expected. They are very much carried by the deep and meaningful quality radiating from the rest.

There is a misery and melancholy that somehow surrounds Knopfler these days, though it only seems to aid the music. I wouldn’t be rushing out for a pint with the man, but I’d certainly be rushing to the record shop every time there’s a new album announcement.

He’d probably have lemonade anyway.

★★★★★★★★☆☆

8/10

© Mark Knopfler News 2020

Top track trio:

Go, Love

Seattle

Kingdom Of Gold


Cult Classics Album Breakdown 7

David Crosby – Here If You Listen (2018)

As brutal as this opening statement may seem, David Crosby shouldn’t even be alive, let alone making records.

The man has peaked on the hedonistic charts, done jail time for drug offences, driven himself to the edge of death and sanity as a bad junkie….all whilst watching his contemporaries drop all around him for nigh-on 60 years. At just six months from the unlikeliest of 80th birthdays, Crosby has serious cardiac issues, diabetes, has battled Hepatitis C, and is also the recipient of a liver transplant. He is literally a walking miracle.

Wow, heavy.

And yet, in the face of extreme (and often self-inflicted) adversity, the man has made four of the finest records of his career, deep into his seventies. At the age of 73 the resurgence began with 2014’s Croz, closely followed by Lighthouse in 2016 and Sky Trails in 2017. At the grand old rock’n’roll age of 77, in a continuing flourish of creativity, Here If You Listen arrived in 2018 – three in three, so to speak – a feat rarely accomplished these days unless you are Van Morrison or Neil Young (without quality control). And David Crosby’s output has been staggeringly good. Remarkable really.

I’m always fascinated by the old guard and what they have left in the tank. By what they have left to say. Crosby’s voice is still strong, his guitar playing still sophisticated, and his extraterrestrial ear for a weird melody still very much alive. He’s an intriguing artist, to say the least. He never takes a song where it really aught to go, which is the key ingredient that preserves his powers on Here If You Listen. And it’s very much a collaborative record. Seven of the eleven tracks on the record were written by the ‘Lighthouse Band’ – producer Michael League, along with Becca Stevens, Michelle Willis, and of course, Croz. Woodstock is a phenomenal cover of the Joni Mitchell classic, Your Own Ride was written by the four plus Snarky Puppy keys player, Bill Laurance, and I Am No Artist is a Jane Tyson Clement & Becca Stevens composition.

The harmonies on this record are lush, the arrangements shimmering, and the lyrics worthy of Crosby’s CSN work. It’s also interesting that Crosby takes side steps on lead vocals too; he’s not renowned for his modesty, but he clearly values these young musicians that have helped breathe new life into his career.

1974 has clearly been revived from Crosby’s early solo career meddling. In fact, it wouldn’t have been out of place on his seminal 1971 solo debut album, If Only I Could Remember My Name. Complete departure is provided by Janet – a song that could easily be found on an Alicia Keys record, and Buddha On A Hill is just sublime. Up there as one of the best records Crosby has been involved in for years.

There’s little else more satisfying than one of the old guard popping up with a classic late career album. Bowie did it before he departed, so did Leonard Cohen (on several occasions), Macca has recently released the brilliant McCartney III aged 78, and Dylan surprised us all with his rousing Rough & Rowdy Ways earlier this year, into his own 79th year. Crosby isn’t just a part of this late-career stampede. The sheer surge in which his recording career has revived would suggest he’s leading it.

Here If You Listen is certainly a profound statement. We listened David. Boy, did we listen. And we still know you’re here.

If it’s his last, it’s a fine way to wrap things up. If it’s not, then it’s a surefire way of saying I ain’t done yet.

© Anna Webber

Top track trio:

1974

Buddha On A Hill

Woodstock