24 July 2011

Lost Soul

In early 2004 John Russell sent me the debut album of an unknown young talent. She looked certain to have a big future. This from Real Groove, April 2004.

Amy 2003There are no flies on Frank, the debut album by 20-year-old British diva Amy Winehouse (Island). Quite simply, it’s a knockout. It lifts the bar for her precocious compatriot Joss Stone and, with its risk-taking, self-assuredness and contemporary relevance, shows exactly what was missing from Norah Jones’ timid, soporific follow-up. Born in North London in the year Frankie went to Hollywood, Winehouse seems to have been breast-fed Sarah Vaughan and Anita O’Day. Add in a nurturing of urban grit, and her voice sounds like Erykah Badu or Macy Gray after years of paying dues in jazz clubs. With slinky contemporary beats behind her songs – almost all are sassy originals – this is where hip-hop meets swing and bossa nova, where torch is spelt with an E for erotic. The lyrics are Cole Porter having Sex in the City, particularly ‘F**k Me Pumps’ (about slappers on the pull), and the first single ‘Stronger Than Me’ (about the inadequacies of a “sensitive” older lover who takes “longer than frozen turkey”). She whoops, purrs and snaps effortlessly, quotes ‘Lullaby in Birdland’ almost without thinking (this most perfect of melodies isn’t credited), hints at the classic ‘Moody’s Mood’ in one song then tackles the real thing later on. Like Lauryn Hill’s Miseducation this is an almost perfect mix of soul-jazz through a filter of hip-hop. The depths of Frank unfold like layers of a mystery parcel, and Winehouse’s journey to maturity is going to be a ride worth catching.

22 July 2011

Behind the Stage Door

New Zealand has lost so much in the way of visual and aural archives. But I’m convinced that every sub-culture has an aspirant photographer and film-maker – in love with the possibilities – who captures the action. Sometimes the results never see the light of day. Occasionally they emerge from under a bed, decades later, to be the backbone of a great documentary.

The legendary Chants R&B from Christchurch luckily had an art student friend with a movie camera. Now we can all witness the scene at Christchurch’s Stage Door in the mid-1960s. Rumble & Bang is at a film festival near you soon. It was directed by Jeff Smith, former member of the Newmatics, and Simon Ogston.

My idea of Hell

Monitor: The Word

15 July 2011

F-Stop Fitzgerald

Haley-ElvisIn the 1950s a Cleveland radio DJ called Tommy Edwards – not the singer of ‘It’s All In the Game’ – took colour photographs of stars and aspirant stars who came to his station or gigs he promoted. At a time when there was no colour TV and very little colour printing in pop mags, they were of such interest that he used to have slide shows of his snaps between sets. Arlene-Fontana

The photographs have been collected in a book, 1950s Radio in Color. Many of them can be viewed at the Collector’s Weekly site, in a piece headlined “When Rock Lost its Innocence”. Though I don’t think there’s too much innocent about this shot of Elvis, seen here before he started dying his hair black, with Bill Haley, or the teen temptress Arlene Fontana (right).

More lost photos can be found here, of the Rolling Stones’ portrait sessions for Sticky Fingers, and here, of the Beatles’ US tours in 1965-66.

Monitor: Word