Life in the old dog

by Ken Gibb

Early last year many of us of a certain age were delighted by the sudden, unexpected reappearance of David Bowie. This year there have been, for me, a few really interesting albums by one or two bands. Old hands like one Eric Clapton made a great record as a tribute to JJ Cale. Tom Petty is on that album and also made a nice old fashioned Heartbreakers album. Royal Blood, Thievery Corporation, Ray LaMontange and the Black Keys all made great records. I like that Wilko Johnson/Roger Daltrey album too (and glad to hear the great man seems to be feeling better).

Up until a few weeks ago i would probably have put the Tom Petty album first – I love their many albums and songs characterised by economy, harmonies and brilliantly crafted complex simplicity. Nothing wasted. I once saw them play at the SECC and thought they were just marvellous.

There are also great individual songs such as the ubiquitous Happy by Pharrell Williams and the wonderful Mission Statement by Weird Al Jankovic (made all the better by just having read Graham Nash’s memoirs). There is a John Martyn tribute album which is mixed but includes an excellent version of Stormbringer by Beck.

There are many more songs I have heard for the first time this year. I thought Vintage Trouble made a great album a couple of years back but heard a new song by them recently (Strike Your Light) which suggests the next record will be just as dynamic.

However, the album that has more than any other affected me this year has to be by that curmudgeonly octogenarian Leonard Cohen. I have always liked specific songs by him and something about his demeanour and his style. But Popular Problems is simply a wonderful collection of songs – great arrangements, fantastic lyrics and remarkable singing which puts his contemporaries who are still active deep back in the shade. It is a real triumph and I defy people not to admire and be deeply impressed from the first hearing by songs like ‘Slow’, ‘Almost like the Blues’, ‘Nevermind’ and ‘My oh My’.

Scanning through this list I must seem remarkably middle aged and slipping relentlessly towards easy listening. I suppose I still have Royal Blood and Black Keys in my favour. I have also greatly enjoyed the remixes of System 7 (e.g. Rovo Phoenix Rising – which reminds me of hard core John McLaughlin in places) although they antedate 2014. But in the end a noise is either good or bad as Peel used to say. JJ Cale might be anathema to some but not to me. And as I say, I think laughing Lennie tops them all (so far).