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Quick and dirty music roundup.

Albums I've been listening to:
Sigur Rós, Takk.... Everyone and their dog put this in their end-of-year list for 2005, just as I was getting into that meandering, ethereal sound a bit. This one's good, but it's not that good, and certainly not the big progression from their previous records that people have said it was.
Bettye Lavette, I Have My Own Hell to Raise. Similar formula and approach to the comeback album Solomon Burke did for ANTI in 2003, Don't Give Up On Me. May actually be better. I love that croak she's got in her voice.
Vashti Bunyan, Lookaftering and Just Another Diamond Day (the latter on vinyl from Magic Buzz record store in Groningen). Two albums in 35 years, blah blah blah, lives up to the hype. Wouldn't want to have only records that sound like this in my record collection but Lookaftering in particular is an album to grow into slowly.
Shirley Collins and the Albion Country Band, No Roses also on vinyl. A bit intimidating to get into. I'm not sure if I quite "get" the appeal of Shirley Collins's voice. She's highly thought of as a folk singer and has been for almost 50 years, so the fault is likely to be entirely at my end. It's not like I got Sandy Denny immediately either. There's some lovely shambolic backing from what wasn't really a band at the time, just a bunch of musicians hired as needed. Compared to that other seminal folk-rock album, Fairport Convention's Liege and Lief from the year before, this record has more of a punk feel underpinning Collins's traditional vocal style.
Planet Orange, Drip Drop Dripping. Good, as expected.
Ritchie Blackmore, Getaway. Double CD of session recordings from Blackmore, recorded between 1963 and 1982. About half of it is Joe Meek-produced singles of varying levels of cheesyness. Judging from it, Meek's reputation as an innovative producer is overrated and it's actually a relief to get to Disc II and its Derek Lawrence-produced sessions which put Blackmore at the center of attention more and have a more hard-edged sound. Blackmore himself is on cracking form in every last track on the 2 CDs, even those where he is coupled with such inept singers as Gunilla Thorne. The best bits for me as a Deep Purple fan though are the last dozen or so tracks in which he works alongside Ian Paice and Jon Lord, resulting in an instantly-recognisable, Purple-esque ensemble sound. When those three were in one room, the results just had to sound good.
Deep Purple, various live tracks found on iTunes. It looks like Purple's Australian fan-market record company has made a deal with iTunes allowing some of their output to be released on iTunes, albeit at a somewhat inflated price. So we get the Orchestral gig at the Rotterdam Ahoy from 2000, and an Australian gig from 2001. Cherrypicking from those albums, I got the two tracks from Rotterdam featuring special guest Ronnie James Dio singing his own material backed by Lord, Paice, Morse and Glover, and two Deep Purple nuggets from the 2001 concert, "No One Came" and "Mary Long". Unfortunately, the Dio tracks aren't nearly as impressive as I remember them being when I actually was in the audience at that very concert. The Australian performances aren't among the band's strongest either. Jon Lord in particular sounds as if he was counting down the nights to his retirement (which would take place soon after the Australian concerts). I hear that the current Deep Purple tour has them on much better form again, which sort of makes me wish I'd got tickets for their January gig.
OST, Walk the Line: For an actor, Joaquin Phoenix is a very good singer, getting vocal performances in that are very close to Johnny Cash's original feel without copying him exactly. The same can be said for Reese Witherspoon as June Carter, and the backing band is very strong. Listening to the whole album from beginning to end is a bit much, though, because it's all well-worn Cash material without major changes to the arrangements.
New London Consort and Philip Pickett, Songs of Angels. I haven't given this one a full hearing yet, but one thing stands out already: Compared to the only other Phill Pickett recording I have, Bones of All Men with Richard Thompson (review), the sound palette on this one is radically different. It's not so much that the rock rhythm section and acoustic guitar are missing; it's that on Bones all instruments including the renaissance ones were recorded as if they were rock instruments: up close and in your face. On Angels, everything has more of a concert hall sound, more distant and harder to distinguish, but also more alive and cohesive. There are some extended pieces on this record and I look forward to listening to it properly (I got this off iTunes so it went directly into the random playlist.)

And with that, I think I'm caught up... It does get easier if I don't bother with the Amazon links; it's not as if these were used much anyway. My favorite records for 2005 were Aerial by Kate Bush, Here Come the Choppers by Loudon "Dad-of-Rufus" Wainwright III and Front Parlour Ballads by Richard Thompson, by the way. Aerial grew on me more quickly than I expected, so consider my review of it superceded.

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