Once A Day

Nick West's reviews for Bucketfull Of Brains and Rock'N'Reel

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Location: London, United Kingdom

Co-editor and publisher of Bucketfull Of Brains since 1996.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Robyn Hitchcock & The Venus 3

Ole Tarantula

Proper PRPCD 028

It’s always grand to get a new Robyn record but Ole Tarantula is a particular treat. Last year’s shows with the Minus 3 who have now turned into the Venus 3 had set us up very nicely, and over the last year they went on playing consistently. When not Robyn’s band there was the Minus 5, there was work with John Wesley Harding, and probably other stuff too. And they did have a bit of previous with the live REM. So while the recordings with Gillian Welch and David Rawlings that made up Spooked were certainly interesting this is, in Robyn terms, the real deal.

Along with Messrs Buck, McCaughey, and Reiflin we find two other Soft Boys, Morris and Kim, in attendance, plus Colin Izod on horns, and a brief appearance from Ian McLagan. And they’ve come up with what seems to be the absolute perfect Robyn Hitchcock album. It’s got everything; the typical humour, surrealism, sci-fi craziness, and shaggy-dog stories. The obliquely odd references to film and rock’n’roll, but here with some added poignancy. There’s as ever psych, folk, garage, a bit of 70’s funk, all blended together to create a marvellous chocolate box of delights.

‘Adventure Rocketship’ makes a grand beginning, accelerating towards the stars in a slightly ‘Telstar’-ish fashion, and is followed by ‘Underground Sun’, written for a dead friend but celebratory rather than maudlin. Almost-Memphis horns open ‘The Museum Of Sex’, in the course of which Robyn actually declaims, “music is the antidote to the world of pain and sorrow”. In case this worries, within a few songs he’s back to “fuck me baby, I’m a trolley bus”.

‘Belltown Ramble’ is a jaunty wander round Seattle that has great percussion, perhaps kettle drums, unsurprisingly it goes a bit loopy, and possibly has a cameo role for Ken Stringfellow. ‘A Man’s Gotta Know His Limitations Briggs’ is where Dirty Harry meets Bob Dylan and ‘The Authority Box’ has a strange kind of Roger Waters’ brutality to it in parts. But last is best, being the lovely ‘N.Y.Doll’.

‘N.Y.Doll’ is a memorial to Arthur Kane. It plays on his final job as a librarian at the Mormon Church’s genealogy centre in LA and there’s a beautiful guitar trail running through it, shadowing the vocals while McLagan’s organ gradually manifests itself. A worthy tribute, with the necessary gravity being balanced by a smart, but finally stark, lyric: “sincerely I remain, Arthur Kane”. You can get the album for this alone, but you must stay and be warmed by the rest.

The Museum Of Robyn Hitchcock

Tom Stevens


Sightings of Tom Stevens on any horizon have been rare these last ten years. The splendid Another Room surfaced in the mid-90s and was followed shortly by the retrospective collection Points Revisited, but then, apart from postings on the Paisley Pop list and an intermittent advert running in No Depression, it was silence.

That silence was broken in 2004 when the classic line-up of the Long Ryders toured Europe and kicked ass. But for whatever reason that stayed a one-off, and Tom returned to his family in Indiana. Something however had stirred and at the end of last year he released, through iTunes, his first album for the new millennium.

It’s called Home because that’s where it was made and that’s where it comes from. It’s self-recorded and almost absolutely solo; daughter Sarah plays violin and sings on a couple of tracks and ‘Uncle John’ Potthast adds banjo and Fender Bender on another but the rest is Tom. And he’s come up with a stunner, a stone classic. With its mix of LA folk-pop, psychedelia, and a little bit of country, you could call it a paisley potpourri.

‘Ghost Train’ starts things off mightily with a drench of reverb and echoing guitars shimmering boldly with a phantom jangle beneath. Then comes the chunkily Pettyish ‘Belladonna’ followed on by the country-hued Dillard & Clark-esque ‘In The Basement’, on which Potthast guests.

Some darker tones surface in ‘Death Wish’ and ‘Flame Turns To Blue’, being songs about passing and loss, though they can’t help but retain the vivacity of the rest of the album. Next up is ‘Away From The Great Cold City’, by some stretch the longest song here; at times reminiscent of Beatle George by way of the Chamber Strings, across its length it demonstrates a marvellous palette of arresting guitar play.

The triumphant title track, the keening ‘Flying Out Of London In The Rain’, and ‘Weekendland’ finish up the collection. ‘Weekendland’ is like the Beatles playing country with Costello singing, while ‘Flying Out Of London In The Rain’ is a road song with a certain kinship, through subject, to ‘Eight Miles High’. About the bitter-sweet jadedness that tends to surface on the flight home it’s plaintive and true; lines like “stuff my soul in the overhead” and its lovely female vocals mean it’s probably the standout of the many good things here.

For this is an assured and mature collection of performances of fine songs. It retains freshness over many hearings combining the thrill of recognition with a hardly-diminishing sense of surprise and wonder. Tom has allowed himself free rein, but seemingly as a consequence of his own enthusiasm and excitement about the music he’s making. And the result is a real pleasure.

(Tom's Website)