andrewcferguson

writer, performer, musician, wine drinker

Monthly Archives: January 2015

The Way They Do Things In West Memphis: Lucinda Williams Album Review

So there you are, having a drink in a bar in West Memphis, kind of wishing you’d stuck to the tourist trail rather than going off-piste in search of the ‘real’ experience. The band setting up in the corner look like they might have just finished beating someone up round the back, never mind the punters, one of whom seems to have moved his bar stool uncomfortably close behind you. Key scenes from Deliverance start to project themselves at the back of your imagination.

 
Eventually the drummer strikes up, big, tattooed forearms bearing down on the skins like they owe him money. It’s a low down, dirty beat, heavy as the hot afternoon, and when the guitars and bass come in, you’re still not sure if it’s going to be blues, country, rock, or a mélange of all three. You try to work out a way of asking your new friend on the bar stool behind you that, without using the word mélange.

 
Just then the barmaid, who’s done everything to make you feel welcome bar spit in your drink, comes out front, slings on an acoustic and exchanges a few muttered words with the guitarist. Then she fronts up to the mike and stares you dead in the eye, as if to say, ‘What?’

 
Except if it’s Lucinda Williams it would come out as, ‘Whuuut?’

 
That’s exactly what Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone is like. Musically, it draws from that primordial swamp of country, blues, soul, and all the other truly North American DNA that rock staggered out of, muddy and baying, all those years ago. Except it stays down with one foot firmly in the swamp: though it only occasionally uses lap steel guitar, there’s a country structure to many of the songs; on others, a shimmering Hammond organ reminds you of the gospel influence.

 
And then there’s Williams’s voice, a remarkable thing that’s three parts Eartha Kitt, two parts Stevie Nicks, if the latter had spent the last thirty years drinking bourbon and smoking Virginia Gold Cut; half ways between a growl and a yowl, like a partially tamed mountain lion that’s been given a guitar.

 
If this all sounds a bit too, er, rootsy for you, I should say that there’s an intelligence behind the lyrics that takes the material way beyond your average Louisiana bar band. Indeed, the double album kicks off with a poem by Williams’s father set to music, Compassion: ‘Have compassion for everyone you meet/ even if they don’t want it/ what seems conceit/ always a sign…’

 
Elsewhere, Williams preaches eloquently against the enemy of righteousness, good, kindness and love (‘Protection’) fearmongers and foolishness (‘Foolishness’) and, it seems, Old Nick himself (‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’); evoking that gospel (or maybe that should be Southern Baptist) root.

 
Elsewhere, my favourite so far (as you might have gathered from the opening sequence) is ‘West Memphis:’ ‘I was framed and sentenced/to a life in prison/for a crime I didn’t commit/wasn’t nobody listened/or rose to my defense/somebody planted the evidence/and he’s been lying ever since/but that’s the way we do things/in West Memphis.’

 
The other thing that sets this album apart is the musicianship. The drums – and this is a compliment from a guitar player who normally pays little attention to what the bozo at the back’s doing, past keeping the beat – lay down a heavy groove that drives the songs; the guitars themselves sound great, and there’s some scorching work on them from Tony Joe White and Bill Frisell. As well as good stuff on the organ from Ian McLagan, there’s judicious use of backing vocals to sweeten Williams’s lead.

 
This is a superb double album, which will merit listening to again and again to get the full effect. One thing, though: if you find yourself telling your nearest and dearest that this is how you roll, and if they don’t like it they can get the hell out of the way, you’ve probably had it on repeat one time too many.

 
Unless you’re actually from West Memphis, of course. In which case that’s absolutely fine.

 

lucinda williams

A Note To My Followers

Dear Followers,

First of all, a belated Happy New Year! Let’s hope 2015 is a kinder twelve months to the planet than the previous one: without wanting to sound like a beauty contest consultant, world peace would be nice, plus maybe a cure for Ebola. Frankly, I’d settle for an aggregate reduction in people being beastly to each other generally.

I’m not going to tweet or Facebook this post, partly as an experiment to see what difference that makes, but partly because I want to make this a post just for you, my select band of followers, to use as you wish. You’re a small but select bunch of, as I write, 27: you include, of course, Daughter and Heiress, the voice of youth; and my friend and  Edinburgh writer/performer/generally talented type cygnoir. The rest of you, I don’t think, I know personally, but I wanted to thank you for hooking into my world. Blogger followers seem, in general, a bit more faithful than the here today and gone tomorrow world of Twitter: and, frankly, I’d far rather read something longer than 140 characters most of the time.

So here’s what I’m going to do. Firstly, I’m going to follow any of you I’m not actually following already; and then, over the next week or so, I’m going to make a point of reading your blogs, and making some – hopefully not too inane – comment.

You might want to comment on this post. That way, you’re making yourself visible to a whole 26 other faithful souls who follow me, not to mention my thousands of non-following fans in Brazil.

In the meantime, have a good year. I plan to have lots of new things happening for you soon.

2015: the Surrealist Year Ahead

January
As the macadamia air rage case accused, conglomerate heiress Cho Hyun-ah comes to trial, there are surprising outbreaks of sympathy from budget airline travellers, following Cho’s heavy-handed prosecution by the South Korean authorities. Things start quietly with passive-aggressive piss-weak coffee ‘spillages’ on Easyjet, but a Ryanair flight is forced to divert and land at Paris Charles de Gaulle after a flight’s complete crisp quota is used in a flash mob ‘Pringle shower.’
With no one passenger claiming responsibility, the airline is forced to allow the entire plane load off at an airport which is actually in the city it’s meant to be in for once.

 
February

 
Incensed by stand up comedians’ jokes about always having a sale, furniture retailer DFS hosts a’full price weekend.’ Backed by a campaign featuring Shane Whatsit from Series 4 of Celebrity X Jungle Wipeoff, the event is a surprising success, with queues for sofas that really do cost £700 forming from the early hours.

 
‘It just shows her at number 22 what a cheapskate she really is, buying that leather look five piece for £199.99 the other week,’ says Dolanda Chewit, 34, of Skinflats.

 
March

 
As the immigration debate heats up, a group calling themselves ‘Angle-land for the Anglo-Saxons’ romp home to a surprise by-election win on Hastings Borough Council. The victory speech, by Councillor Harold Godwinson, is taken off air after complaints about the bad language. In a carefully worded press statement, the party apologises for any offence but insists it is ‘time we stopped them bloody Normans coming over here with their posh words and taking all our jobs.’

 
In a seemingly unrelated development the newly-formed Viking Party, led by a Harald Hardrada, campaigns for an independence referendum for the Danelaw.

 
April

 
Buoyed up by the success of Stephen Hawking film The Theory of Everything, geek chic reaches new levels altogether. Joey Essex is spotted wearing black-framed glasses and carrying a Charlie Stross novel, which he claims to have read; thinking woman’s crumpet and fellow sf author Hannu Rajaniemi takes over from Dara O’Briain as host on the hastily renamed School of Really, Really Hard Sums.

 
In a definitely related development, sales on Amazon of second-hand copies of Jim Jardine’s seminal textbook, Physics is Fun (Heinemann) skyrocket, although the real value is reserved for any that don’t have the handwritten sub-title added by previous students, ‘is it fuck.’

 
May

 
On the Planet Zenussi, the elections to the Chamber of the Ultimate Overlords of the Lizard People are thrown into confusion, when the three main candidates rip off lizard masks to reveal themselves as none other than David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband. Enraged, the Lizard People launch a retaliatory strike on Earth.

 
Unfortunately a glitch in their version of Google Maps indicates that the Houses of Parliament are located in Aberfeldy. Armed only with stout walking sticks and umbrellas and led by their community council office bearers, the locals drive off the entire Imperial Zenussian Assault Force, before going back to whatever the hell they do in Aberfeldy when not under intergalactic attack by saurian life forms.

 
June

 
The legendarily tough world of the South East Yorkshire Cricket League is rocked by the arrival of a new recruit to the ranks of Uppenceworth. Flanked only by a single thick-set bodyguard, the newcomer is at first reticent about his name, before revealing that he is in fact Kim Yong-un, disillusioned with the American imperialist sport basketball, and keen to learn the most quintessentially English game of all.

 
Quickly nicknamed ‘Yoong Oon’ by his team mates, the First Secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea turns out to bowl a beguiling mix of leg breaks and googlies, and makes a reliable pair of hands at first slip. He excels, however, as a dashing middle order batsman, and Uppenceworth’s star is soon in the ascendant in the Second Division.

 
However, a hotly disputed lbw decision during a match with local rivals Nobbut Ornery leads to repercussions far beyond the usual on-pitch fisticuffs. In the pub after the game, Yong-un’s captain manages to persuade him to call off the nuclear strike on the umpire’s house at the last minute.

 
However, dark forces seem to be at work when the village of Nobbut Ornery literally disappears off Google Maps, to be replaced by a symbol which resembles a cricket box; whilst all reports of the match in question suddenly 모두사라. I mean, 지옥빌어 먹을!

 
July

 
T in the Park, the annual Scottish drinking festival, is deluged with complaints about the music coming from various locations around the new venue.

 
‘I ken there’s always been bands playin’ somewhere in the background, but there seems tae be a lot mair of them this year,’ storms Shug McLush, 24, of Queenzieburn. ‘I mean, live and let live, but I’ve got a sledge full of lager tae get through here. I need focus.’

 
An ashen faced festival spokesperson admits he had no idea of the scale of the problem. ‘It’s all very well having background sounds for when you’re rolling around the grass grabbing at legs, but I’ve told Slipknot they’ll have to do an acoustic set if they’re distracting people from their drinking.’

 
Tinie Tempah really is tinie.

 
August

 
The world of sport is rocked as the World Anti-Doping Agency adds common place stimulants such as coffee, chocolate and bridies to the list of banned substances. Former England cricketer Freddie Flintoff is outraged. ‘They’ll be banning lager next,’ he fumes.

 
Seeing an opportunity for controversy-fuelled viewing figures, Channel 6 + 99 host a soi-disant ‘experimental Olympics,’ where alleged scientists monitor the effects of common illegal substances on sporting performance. The 100 metres world unassisted record is broken several times over by runners on various cold remedies; the boxing doesn’t go so well when the first two contestants are mistakenly given cannabis resin instead of cocaine.

 
After a few failed attempts to hit each other and much giggling, one tells the other ‘I love you, man,’ and the two sit in the middle of the ring, asking the increasingly restive audience if they have any toast.

 
September

 
Technological advances continue to drive consumer demand. Amongst them is the Belty, a belt device which monitors the wearer’s waistline and advises when it’s time to lose weight; the Tagg Pet Tracker, which allows pet owners – or significant others – to track the whereabouts of their pet/partner; the Shine Activity Tracker Device, which allows the wearer (or significant other) to track activities such as walking, running, swimming or, indeed, other physical activity via a smartphone; and the Wine Alarm, which sets off a loud beeping sound if blood alcohol levels in the wearer rise above a preset level.

 
Ok, so I made the last one up. But they could probably do it.

 
October

 
Following the slump in sales of celebrity biographies, The Guild of Ghost Writers publishes a collection of near career death experiences by its members.

 
‘I had the contract to write Beyonce’s next misery memoir;’ one recalls. ‘I was heading towards a white light of inner peace and a pretty tidy advance cheque. Then the market crashed, and the next thing I knew I was back on Planet Earth, trying to work on my own novel. I mean, I had to just make stuff up. A plot and characters and everything. It was horrible.’

 
November

 
Swedish ‘alternative and experimental music fusion group,’ Goat, are forced to suspend their Twitter feed after cyber assaults by some particularly unpleasant trolls. Only by eating extraordinary amounts of calories and renaming themselves Billy Goat Gruff are they able to drive the trolls away … oh come on, look it up!

 
December

 
The sky is full of strange portents. Herds of Gloucester Old Spot are seen wheeling in formation above Wiltshire. A plague of giant wasps descends on Cowdenbeath. The face of Simon Cowell appears on pizzas all over southern Italy.
Jesus of Nazareth and the Prophet Muhammad descend arm in arm from the clouds, to try to convince jihadist nutters Al-Quaeda they’re getting it wrong.

 
Then 2016 dawns, and things get a whole lot weirder.