BRENNANING: SECOND OPINION ON MUSIC I ONCE BOUGHT …

One of my reasons for starting a blog is to have somewhere to put the bits I want to keep when chucking out old files. This old column was first in a series which might be called Brennaning, because they all spring from my purchase of a Brennan JB7 MP3 deck – best investment of my career as a listener. Here it follows …
One day I will get all my music filed and then, probably, I will die. Meanwhile, somewhere between being a pioneer of Minidisk and a late convert to MP3, I built a set of shelves to store all my redundant tapes until I could load the good bits into the Brennan – an MP3 deck which is probably my last step into the future.
I thought a token couple of Rawlplugs would do fine for a few shelves full of cheap plastic, but a fearsome crash in the night left us with a collection of broken plastic cases and cassettes with unreliable labels. A sort-out was long overdue. And faced with a couple of days of driving in the last car in Yorkshire with a tape player, my wife filled a box with a random assortment of debris and got me to agree to dump anything I could not swear I would play again.
Del Shannon was first before the jury and Runaway (1961) still sounded terrific, thanks largely to that wild electric organ, played by a man called Max Crook – must check him out. But the rest of the Best of Del was a lesson in why grown-up musicians wept when teeny pop took over the world. A rubbish box on the back seat became Room 101 and Del went in it.
We moved on a few years, and across the Atlantic, for The Yardbirds, featuring early Clapton. Back in the 60s, they sounded like a revelation. But hundreds of miles of rackety white r’n’b further on, did we still need this particular yard? Having been through the enlightenment of hearing Smokestack Lightning by Howling Wolf, the boy version on this collection was the decider for a No vote.
Sweet Dreams, 20 Original Hits Of Patsy Cline, seemed like a shoo-in for the must-keep collection. The 20 were all good songs. And there is no doubt the girl could sing. But there was nothing that added to the Patsy Cline already in our heads and already on the Brennan. And after 50 years of that over-sugared Nashville Sound, there was nothing we did not wish we could hear without strings and triangles. Something to search for. Meanwhile, another for the spike. What a pity the girl did not live to meet Jack White.
Presumed Having A Good Time, by The Notting Hillbillies, was one of those albums which had always sounded pleasant enough without ever yielding a memorable moment. And it was the same this time round. Everything was okay but there was a little too much professional calculation and a little too little inspiration.
This Time, by Dwight Yoakam, was a reminder of the New Country sound of the 1990s – basically, the latest formula from Nashville at the time. At this distance in time, you could hear it being worked out on a computer. Yoakam has a voice that is perfect for the right song. But none of them were here. I still want an album of Yoakam doing classic covers, though.
Surely Sinatra’s 20 Golden Greats would book itself a permanent place? But the man has to fight an unlikeability factor dating from his days as king of the wrong kind of cool for our generation. And as with the Patsy Cline, the productions have dated faster than the songs. We felt we should have some Sinatra. And no doubt we should. But not this.
Drunk on our own ruthlessness, we tried Across The Borderline by Willie Nelson – a list of stellar collaborations designed to sub him for a restart after the American taxman took everything he had. The title track was still beautiful. The rest of it proved the First Lesson of Willie – you have to be picky. So we were – Box 101.
Joshua Judges Ruth, by Lyle Lovett, got more or less the same verdict. Lovett sometimes improvs so much he turns you Tory. Why can’t the man just finish something and then polish it until it is smooth, for heaven’s sake? She’s Leaving Me Because She Wants To, about having his heart broken by Julia Roberts, is beautiful. But we turned that into an MP3 long ago and the rest will not be missed.
Steel Wheels came out of the Rolling Stones tour of 1989. At the time, we were quite excited to get it. The Stones had been through a long fallow time and this was meant to be their comeback special. Unfortunately, it sounds like a bunch of old rockers trying to get their groove back and not quite making it. No wonder it languished unplayed for more than 20 years.
We finished the trip with a useful collection of empty cassette cases and one survivor – Talking Timbuktu, the 1999 collaboration between Ry Cooder and Ali Farka Touré. I’d lend you the tape but you haven’t got a deck any more, of course. Go to http://tinyurl.com/nkscpuu to hear Amandrai – Mali plays the Mississipi Delta to an honourable draw.
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