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(As noted in my first Essentials entry, this is an occasional series in which I spotlight albums that, in my estimation, everyone should experience at least once.)

Immense. That’s the first word that comes to mind when I think of “Rockferry,” the title track of – and lead single from – Duffy’s stellar 2008 debut album. Co-written with former Suede guitarist Bernard Butler, the song is laden with echoes of the ages. Way back at the end of 2008, in a Facebook post (now available here), I noted that it “has an utterly timeless feel, conjuring the likes of Procol Harum, Lulu and Petula Clark.” I should have added Dusty Springfield, too.

Although the single didn’t do well in the charts, peaking at No. 45 in the U.K., it’s the song that drew me to the album. In those days, I sat in a cubicle composing TV descriptions that the whole world – or, at least, TV Guide subscribers – read. An episode of the Brit TV show Later…With Jools Holland that she appeared on was slated to air in the U.S. in the spring of ‘08, and the single moniker led me to verify that, indeed, she was a she and, too, a single-name singer. I also learned that her full name is Aimée Duffy, and that she hails from Wales (which seems to produce more musicians per capita than just about any other country). Anyway, I remember plugging in my headphones to my work computer, pulling up YouTube, and watching the video for “Rockferry” – and being transfixed. It’s a magical song.

I ordered the CD that night, and played it to death over the next few months. And when she released a “deluxe edition” that included six additional songs later that year, I purchased that, too.

Another highlight: “Mercy,” the second single, which broke big. It topped the charts in 13 countries and made her a household name in the United Kingdom.

“Warwick Avenue,” another wondrous track, was the third single. It reached No. 3 on the U.K. charts.

“Syrup & Honey” is another tasty number. Here’s a clip of the songstress singing it in the studio…

My favorites, however, are the title song, which kicks off the 10-track set, and the closing number, the yearning “Distant Dreamer.”

The deluxe version is well worth seeking out, I should mention. It includes the hit single “Rain on Your Parade,” which was in contention to become the theme song for the Jame Bond flick Quantum of Solace. (It lost out to “Another Way to Die” by Jack White and Alicia Keys.)

Other “deluxe” gems include “Oh Boy”…

…and “Enough Love,” which – like “Rockferry” – echoes long-ago days while sounding utterly modern. (At least, it does to my ears.)

There’s much to be said of the trajectory of Duffy’s career in the years since, but that’s grist for another post. The reality is that, even if she never records again, she’s gifted the world with a “bag of songs” that resonates still, a decade later.

Here’s her seven-song set from Glastonbury ’08…

… and here’s the track list of Rockferry, the album, in its deluxe form:

I’ve been grooving to tunes this week by way of a new set of headphones – the Tribit XFree Tune Bluetooth Headphones, which go for all of $50 on Amazon. They’re a tad heavier than the lightweight Bose AO2 I’ve used for much of the past decade, but – sound-wise – are as good. If you’re looking for a set yourself, check them out. (CNet thinks highly of them, too.)

And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5…

1) Diane Birch – “In It for the Race.” The latest offering from the Church of Birch pastor is a tasty confection that, like all she does, doubles as a communion for the soul. Lyrically speaking, it’s about a Lothario who’s “in it for the chase.” Musically speaking, it conjures Diane’s debut, the classic Bible Belt, while retaining some of the figurative wisps of smoke that emanate from the grooves of Nous, her moody 2016 E.P.

 

2) Chloé Caroline – “Gypsy Daughter.” Although released in May ’18, this tasty tune is new to me. It’s accented by a Stevie Nicks vibe, and is quite addictive.

3) Bob Seger – “East Side Story.” Years long ago, I created a CDR of all the early Seger sides, from ’66 to ’70, none of which were in print at the time. I gathered them by hook and crook, and – by and large – the sound quality sucked. It didn’t matter. Alone, each track was good-to-great. Grouped together? They showed Seger as one of the great regional artists of the ‘60s. A few, including the Them-like “East Side Story,” surfaced on the Cameo-Parkway box set of 2005, but the rest seem destined to be lost to time. Which is why Friday’s release of Heavy Music: The Complete Cameo Recordings 1966-67 is so exciting. Backed by his first band, the Last Heard, the set collects Bob’s initial burst of singles. Let’s hope it’s the first of several such collections… 

4) The Stone Foundation – “Standing on the Top.” I’ve been grooving to the Foundation’s stellar Everybody, Anyone album this week. It gets stronger with each new play, and is a definite contender for my fabled Album of the Year honors.

5) Paul Weller – “The Soul Searchers.” The teaser tracks thus far released from Paul Weller’s forthcoming True Meanings album (street date: Sept. 14th) are a tantalizing lot, and no more so than this one.

Echoes from another era reverberate through much of Everybody, Anyone, the latest offering from the Midlands-based Stone Foundation. The 11 songs conjure, at times, Traffic, Earth, Wind & Fire, Steely Dan, War and similar groove-heavy acts of yore, as well as the Chi-Lites, Marvin Gaye and Van Morrison, yet the influences never overwhelm the music, which sounds fresh and immediate.

Neil Jones (guitar/vocals) and Neil Sheasby (bass/backing vocals) cowrote the songs, with an assist from Paul Weller on “Next Time Around.” Weller also plays on several tracks. (Which makes sense, given that the set was recorded at his Black Barn Studio.) There are additional guests, too, including Weller’s former Style Council mates Mick Talbot and Steve White. Singer-songwriter Kathryn Williams provides a sweet counterbalance to Jones’ grainy timber on “Don’t Walk Away”; and Hamish Stuart, formerly of Average White Band and Paul McCartney’s Flowers in the Dirt-era band, lends his distinct vocals to “Only You Can.” 

Yet the guest spots matter not. The “stars” here are Jones’ expressive voice, the band, and – most importantly – the songs themselves. They feature taut rhythms and lyrics that strive for something more than the rudimentary reflections that make up much of today’s mainstream music. They’re metaphysical musings of the highest order.

Here’s one highlight: the aforementioned “Don’t Walk Away.”

And another: “Give the Man a Hand.”

And another: “Next Time Around.” 

And, finally: “Heavenly Father.”

In short, I’ll be playing Everybody, Anyone again and again for quite some time.

The set is available to stream and buy at all the usual outlets, as well as from the band’s website. (The package I picked up from them comes with a cool making-of documentary, as well as autographed LP and CD.)

The track list: