The other day we started a new feature here on the Gonzo Daily. It is called 'Song by Song', and it does exactly what it says on the tin. Basically I go through an album song by song, and then pass my notes on to the artist who made the album in the first place, and see what they have to say. And we start off this exciting new series with the irrepressable Martin Stephenson and his smashing new album California Star:
And now - Part Three:
7. Something Special
JD: A delicate country tinged pop/soul song with deceptively heavy drums. It is the weird offspring of Nashville and Motown, and the breakdown at the end when Martin sings over bass and keyboards is particularly poignant. However, if you scratch beneath the elegant surface, and brush away the delicate interplay between the guitars and especially the lush steel guitar, you find the same three chords that Martin first learned back in the days of his punky roots. That’s what I like about thgis album; no matter how sophisticated the arrangements and soulful the vocals, underneath is still the cheeky lad with his first three chords. And I love the false ending with the steel guitar. Class.
MS: I heard Otis Reading or Jimmy Ruffin in my head when I got this song, of course when it came out through me it was a little more Julian Clary than I’d have liked, so in my head it was a whole lot better, but its a nice band arrangement, the song is about coming out of depression, the first day when you feel hope again, and you are happy to embrace the day, to meet folk agin, “something special, through my window’”
My songs are always loaded with many levels, but the music is there for the folks who just like the music, as music is fun
8. Silver Bird
JD: Opening with picked guitar and high churchy keyboards and strings, Martin goes off into a spiritual reverie over a tune that never does quite what you expect it to. Is he singing to a woman? Is he singing to God? Or is he just singing to a silver bird? Maybe it is all three. One never finds out. The guitar solo in the middle is absolutely exquisite, and is quite possibly the best piece of musicianship on the whole album. I wish I could play like that.
MS: Silver bird is flight into light, universal love, I had Tim Buckley singing to me, it is an old energy, they say in meditation or creativity, whoever you call to join you living or dead, is with you in an instant, Tim was simply there without me calling, as he had been there before in spirit, it is an honour to channel the spirit of Tim Buckley, to try and have a wee fly up to where he soared effortlessly, still we can enjoy being taken to these places by the likes of Hendrix & Tim, their gift to us through recorded music, Tim Buckley in my humble opinion, is one of the most beautiful singers the world has ever known, and this song a gift to him, from the spirit world, through the here and in the midst of creativity, the spirit world.
9. Long Way to Go
JD: And then he goes into a piece of skeletal, mostly acoustic rock and roll straight out of the Jonathan Richman songbook. It even starts off with a quip about ice cream. It really doesn’t get better than this. There is something particularly joyous about this track, which once again has the interesting textures that one has come to expect from this album. When the harmonica solo starts half way through it is completely unexpected, but makes perfect sense. I particularly like the little slide guitar twiddly bits all the way through the second half. Fantastic.
MS: This is a very powerful and poetic spiritual message, dare I say (alarm call) it is about the limitations of human definition. It also describes the true meaning of an orphan, as does ‘Power that is greater’ an orphan is an entity that seeks divorcement from his or her birthright, (the higher consciousness planes of unconditional love and oneness) to settle for a path of resistance accompanied by the ‘dark companions’ on the illusory road much travelled, the dark companions are pain, fear, suffering, death, misery, end, loss you name it
The music is bullshit and an R&B jam really, more of a Lou Reid ‘Geordie Boulevard’ than Modern Lovers I love the music don’t get me wrong, but it could be two Cello’s and a saw!
Saying that, the main guitar I used was a Squier ‘Classic Vibe’ (£239 off the peg @ Guitar Guitar) but sporting some Seymour Duncan Nashville specials with Alnico magnets’ awesome pickups played through an equally awesome Lab Series L1, in my opinion the best tranny amp on the globe, ask BB King, he will vouch for em!
10. Sweet Cherwine
JD: And now another twist. A delightful acoustic song in which Martin sounds more like Hank Williams than Hank Williams, accompanied only by his own guitar and a fiddle player who sounds so Cajun that I can almost smell the Gumbo Filé powder. I was in a little restaurant outside Port Arthur on the Texas/Louisiana border last time I heard a fiddle like this, and my only complaint is that the song is over too soon.
MS: Aye well spotted with the Cajun vibe, thats Scottish fiddler Kenny Brady, Kenny was with The Fall for 5 years, you wouldn’t guess though, he is first class and has a voice like Roy Orbison, you might hear him subtly dotted here and there with ethereal backing vocals (San Sebastian/California Star) The song is about young love, sneaking out and courting, staying up late, the best summer of your life kinda thing, I suppose the melody is a little like ‘Setting the woods on fire’ just a subliminal thing, although I listened to a lot of Hank about 25 years ago, and of course he never leaves you if you are lucky
11. I’m in love for the first time
JD: A stylistic mishmash which verges towards reggae but doesn’t actually get there, although whoever did the mixing had great fun with some wittily dubby effects. The thing that is most impressive about this song, is that it is – once again – three chords. The same three chord sequence that launched a thousand punk bands. It is the same three chord sequence that fuels Louie Louie (which is still the greatest song ever written), and by playing about with rhythms, instrumentation and funny sound effects, martin manages to make something completely unique, and very beautiful.
MS: This song was written by my partner Helen McCookerybook in the early 80’s, its such a perfect ‘Lovers Rock’ song, I had to have a pop of it, again I can hear a Jamaican guy in my head, I did all the dub mixing and recorded the bass and drums in a big art house in Ardross, highlands, the former home of one of Scotland’s best and most active artists John McGioch
Helen McCookerybook to me is a totally original writer, one of my favourite song writers ever, its an honour to be her man
Check out the artist page for Martin Stephenson
Check out the artist page for Martin and Helen
Check out the artist page for The Daintees
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