musings on music, travel, books, and life from Southeast Asia

Posts tagged ‘Jackie Leven’

Music on the Road: August 2019

I’m always listening to music. I need it as much as the air that I breathe and the water that I drink. It’s my life. At work, at home, and even when I travel I always have some tunes playing. I’m an album sort of guy, so I prefer listening to entire CDs or albums all the way through. Here are the musical friends that kept me company during my recent trip to Kuala Lumpur:

Steely Dan – Countdown To Ecstasy

Another from a very long line of Becker and Fagen masterpieces in the 1970s. Pick any song off this album. They are all gems! Pure songwriting genius, not to mention masterful musicians.


Maceo and All the King’s Men – Doing Their Own Thing

This, of course, is James Brown sidekick Maceo Parker blowing his horn and having a blast with a different bunch of musicians, Funky as expected, but also flourishes of jazz and some sweet soul. A real treat.


Gene Clark – Two Sides to Every Story

The ex-Byrds member released MANY fine solo albums during his short but brilliant career, and this relatively unsung effort from 1977 is among his very finest. Let the power of these songs move your soul.


Various Artists – Quiet About It: A Tribute to Jesse Winchester

Yet another singer-songwriter who should have been MUCH better known, Jesse Winchester mostly plied his craft from the 1970s through the early 2000s (after a Vietnam War-era hiatus in Canada), releasing several fine albums, the songs from which were covered by many other artists over the years. This “tribute” album, compiled when he was very ill, features a stellar cast of musicians including James Taylor, Rosanne Cash, Jimmy Buffett, Allen Toussaint, Lyle Lovett, Lucinda Williams, Elvis Costello, Vince Gill, and more. Great songs and great performances.


Puss N Boots – No Fools, No Fun

This is Nora Jones, shedding her jazzy ways, joining two other talented female musicians and rocking away full throttle, with some lovely pop and folk garnishes. Covers of songs by the Band, Wilco, Neil Young, and more cool tunes, combined with fine originals written by band member Catherine Popper. What a pleasant surprise!


Bruce Hornsby – Here Comes the Noisemakers

This 2-CD set comprises performances from tours between 1998 and 2000. If you thought Hornsby was some sort of one-hit wonder (“The Way It Is”) think again; this set showcased his piano chops, songwriting skills, deft cover choices, and a crack band. Musical brilliance.


Various Artists – Largo

A very unlikely combination of artists makes for a thoroughly wonderful album, sort of “tribute” to composer Antonin Dvorak without the bombastic classical bits. Start off with the blues legend Taj Mahal, add Levon Helm from the Band, Cyndi Lauper, Joan Osborne (who sings the stunning “”An Uncommon Love”), rock vet Willie Nile, members of the Irish legends the Chieftains, some guys from 80s hitmakers The Hooters, and a dash of  Carole King. Simply an outstanding album that defies categorization. I wish more people had heard this album.


David Crosby – Sky Trails

Another ex-Byrds member, and more famously a founder of Crosby, Still & Nash, has been a real roll with a string of very strong solo albums this decade. On this one it sounds like he’s been listening to Joni Mitchell and Steely Day. And that’s a good thing!


Pink Floyd – Animals

What more can you say? Another rock classic from the 1970s. Pigs on the Wing!


Phoebe Snow – Phoebe Snow

One of those old chestnuts that still sounds great after all these years. Her debut album from 1974 had the hit “Poetry Man” but also plenty of other cool songs with a pop, jazz and soul flavor.


Bennett Wilson Poole – Bennett Wilson Poole

I hesitate to call this is a super-group, mainly because you’ve probably never heard of the other bands these guys are from but rest assured this is a wonderful lineup of very gifted singers and musicians. It features Danny Wilson from Danny and the Champions of the World (who have recorded a number of fine albums), Tony Poole from Starry Eyed and Laughing, as well as Robin Bennett who has played with Saint Etienne and the Dreaming Spires. The result is sheer pop brilliance with a laid back ‘70s vibe. A review in Mojo Magazine raved that their music “is rooted in late-60s country psyche, their heart in the LA canyons, and their talent somewhere in Americana nirvana.” And yet they hail from the UK. You can hear the influence of bands like the Byrds and CSN. Addictive stuff!


Poco – Head Over Heels

This influential country-rock group put out a lot of fine albums over the years. Even after losing one of their original members they carried and on and recorded this wonderful album in 1975. Chock full of one great song after another. It’s my favorite Poco album of all time.


Jackie Leven – Elegy for Johnny Cash

Ah, the voice of an angel! The ex-Doll By Doll singer put out a ton of fine solo albums over the past 20 years and never got the proper acclaim he deserved. This was another keeper, full of intelligent, soulful pleasantl subtle rock tunes. Hey, even Ian Rankin was a big fan!


Tasmin Archer – Great Expectations

One of the great unheralded voices from the 1990s. Great soulful pop songs propelled by that powerful voice. Should have been a monster hit.


Various Artists – Me, Myself & Irene (music from the motion picture)

Take a silly Jim Carrey movie but pump up the volume with some ultra-cool music — mostly covers of classic Steely Dan songs — and you end up with one winner of a soundtrack. The covers of Steely Dan songs by the likes of Wilco, Ivy, Ben Folds Five, and the Brian Setzer Orchestra are nothing less than joyous, plus original material by Pete Yorn, Hootie  the Blowfish, and even the Foo Fighters are also top notch.


Bo Deans – Joe Dirt Car

A very energetic and fun double live album by one of the more underrated “alternative” bands from the late 1980s and early 1990s. Listen to the audience feedback and it’s obvious that their fans adored them.


Lyle Lovett – Step Inside This House

This 2-CD set is Lovett’s tribute to the songs from other great Texas singer-songwriters of the past 40 years He covers songs by familiar names such as Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, and Michael Martin Murphey, plus more obscure guys like Steve Fromholz, Willis Allen Ramsey, and Robert Earl Keen. Lovely, lovely stuff.


Blue Rodeo – The Things We Left Behind

Yet another double album, this one by the veteran but underrated Canadian band. They do “Americana” in the vein of the Jayhawks; catchy songs with stirring harmonies. Always a good thing.


Deacon Blue – Ooh Las Vegas

Once again, a 2-CD set, this one comprised of covers, B-sides, soundtrack songs, and other rarities that the excellent Scottish band recorded during the 1980s and 1990s. If you liked Raintown or any of their other fine albums, don’t miss this goldmine of rare tunes too. Soulful pop and songs that stick in your head.


Josh Rouse – Under Cold Blue Stars

Maybe not his very best album (I still have a soft spot for Dressed Up Like Nebraska) but still a very solid and enjoyable set of songs. Rouse is one of the better but lesser known American singer-songwriters to appear in the past 20 years and you can’t go wrong with any of early albums including this fine set of pop majesty from 2002.


Jackie Leven

When Jackie Leven sings, the world is a better place. Well, at least everything sounds much nicer. Leven is one of those singers who is capable of lifting anything they sing to a higher plateau, while moving the listener to an almost euphoric state of consciousness. For the past thirty years, Leven has labored in relative obscurity, while consistently releasing majestic albums that are full of well-crafted and poetic songs. And then there is that comforting voice, tenderly caressing each song like a surgeon’s skillful hands.


Leven has been described as everything from “a great musical maverick” and “Britain’s lost rock star” to a “Celtic troubadour” and a “politically aware Scottish folkster.” While there is indeed a subtle Celtic thread running through some of the Scotland native’s songs — particularly his early solo material — it doesn’t overwhelm his compositions, or inspire visions of lush green meadows and long-skirted maidens traipsing about with jugs of milk. Leven’s songs are both poetic and mystical, and there is no doubting their emotional impact, but he can rant and roll like a rowdy rocker at times too. Just why this man is not much better known in the music world remains one of life’s more frustrating mysteries.


Prior to embarking on a solo career Jackie Leven was the lead singer of the rock band Doll By Doll in the late 70s and early 80s. They made superlative albums such as Gypsy Blood, Remember, and Doll By Doll, but never garnered enough radio play or retail sales to achieve any level of fame. After the band broke up in 1982, Leven went through a difficult period, to put it mildly. In 1983, as he was in the process of recording his first solo album, he was the victim of a mugging and was nearly strangled to death in the process. Lingering physical injuries from that attack left him unable to sing for many months, and during the ensuing “period of psychic disorder” he lost his recording contract — as well as many friends — and starting using heroin. After a successful period of rehab, he “rejoined the world” (in his words) in 1985, helping to start the Core Trust, a program that uses a holistic approach to treat addiction. 


Between CD shops in Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur, I’ve managed to find a lot of Jackie Leven’s solo recordings (there are now about 20) over the past decade. One of the CDs I found at Rock Corner in KL recently was a double live disc called Haunted Year: Winter. Each disc highlights a separate concert, in this case Men in Prison (recorded at a men’s prison in Norway) and Munich Blues (recorded live in Germany). This album was part of a limited edition Haunted Year series he released in 2008 that, appropriately enough, includes Spring, Summer, and Autumn volumes. The sound quality on Winter is excellent and Leven’s performances are flawless. In addition to the music, what I found most intriguing was Leven’s between songs spiel. At the prison in Norway he talked about his own time in prison, as well as his heroin addiction. Compared to his loose and jokey onstage patter in Munich, he’s more reserved and sounds a bit uncomfortable speaking to the prisoners in Norway. But even in that setting, when he’s singing his songs, the honesty, compassion, and sincerity come pouring out of his soul.


Jackie Leven’s latest album, Gothic Road, was released in 2010 and continues his impressive, if neglected, musical run. You know you are in for an unusual listening experience as soon as the first song, the title track, opens with vocals from a group billed as the “Ghost Voices of the Kursk.” In fact, they are the real brothers of some of the Russian men who died in the Kursk submarine tragedy. Other than that unconventional prelude, there isn’t anything particularly strange about the album: it’s just another consistently good offering from Jackie Leven. Another song, “Cornelius Whalen”, features the legendary Ralph McTell (who wrote the much-covered “Streets of London’) on vocals. The only weak link on the album is a silly ditty called “Hotel Mini Bar.” But considering the strength of the rest of the album, we can forgive Jackie Leven for that slight indulgence. The songs on Gothic Road run the gamut from soothing to inspiring, summing up what Jackie Leven’s music is all about.


Leven is also a friend of author Ian Rankin (in fact, he has been name-dropped in a few of Rankin’s Rebus novels), and the two recorded an album together in 2005 called Jackie Leven Said. But this was no ordinary Jackie Leven album. Instead, it’s described as “a short story narrated by Ian Rankin with musical interludes and songs written and performed by Jackie Leven.” Those pieces were performed in front of an audience in Edinburgh. The two-CD set also includes three new Leven studio songs and a selection of Leven and Rankin’s favorite songs from the singer’s previous albums.

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