Tag Archives: Nick Drake

Song of the week: Rococo Zephyr

I’m not committing myself to doing this every week, but it might work as an occasional series. Sometimes you just get really taken by a particular song and keep listening to it, then find yourself humming or singing snatches of it around the house, or at work (which can be embarrassing).

So, to kick this off, the inaugural winner is:

Rococo Zephyr by Bill Callahan

Great song, great album cover

Great song, great album cover

You know how it is, you’re minding your own business, listening to a new album, when suddenly, out of nowhere a song just grabs you by the scruff of the neck and growls “What do you think about that then?”. OK, just me then.

Well, this happened a couple of songs in to the curiously titled ‘Sometimes I wish we were an eagle’ by Bill Callahan. I’m not sure if it was the lilting orchestral backing, the effects of that voice (a deep baritone that sounds like a weird fusion of Nick Cave and Nick Drake) or the gorgeous dreamy lyrics that had me hooked.

It was probably a combination of all the above. I just remember listening with a grin on my face that got broader as the song progressed. I loved a few of the lyrical touches: “She watched the water ripple, ripple ripple light/Light watched the water ripple ripple ripple she” and the way he delivers the lines: “I did some kind of dance/Jaunty as a bee” just had me beaming. The very fact that he describes the zephyr (slight gentle breeze) as rococo (florid and elaborate) is worthy of some kind of award in itself.

I’m not entirely sure I understand everything that’s going on in the song, but it does evoke a very idyllic pastoral scene and by means of a lovely gentle tune.

I managed to find a video of him performing it in a record store in Ohio, but I prefer the album version for the additional backing instrumentation and the haunting female echo of “rococo” . I was also a bit disappointed that he looked fairly normal (though uncannily similar to Nick Drake) – I’d been expecting him to look like Yoffy from Fingerbobs, but you can’t have everything.

A fantastic song that would be the perfect soundtrack to a riverside picnic, just in time for Summer. And a serious contender for my favourite song of the year.

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Now playing: Ongiara by Great Lake Swimmers

Current favourite albums: 1 of 3

Thanks to Spotify I’ve been listening to a lot of music recently, and have discovered some great albums and artists I hadn’t heard before. As a result, I’ve picked three albums out for special attention this month, with a longer than usual list of other notable mentions. Don’t worry, I’m going to spread them out over three articles so you won’t have a marathon to negotiate.

First up and top billing this month goes to:

Great Lake Swimmers – Ongiara

Great Lake Swimmers - Ongiara

Ongiara: even the sleeve art is beautiful

Until a week or so ago, I’d never heard of Great Lake Swimmers.

I read a review of their latest album ‘Lost Channels’ which prompted me to add them to my list of new discoveries to check out. As a result, I came across their previous release from 2007, which I fell in love with on first listen, and have been playing regularly ever since.

These days I find myself increasingly drawn to acoustic, folky music. Some might put it down to my age, but I just appreciate the simplicity of the sound and find its melodic qualities incredibly soothing and relaxing. Most of my favourite bands producing this music seems to originate from North America. And many of them are in some way quirky. Great Lake Swimmers are no exception, and as their name hints, they hail from Canada, and Ontario specifically.

From the outset they have made something of a habit of recording in eccentric places – their debut was created in a grain silo, and Ongiara, their third album was recorded in Aeolian Hall, in London, Ontario which was built in 1884 and originally a town hall, but is now a heritage site and a music and arts venue renowned for its fabulous acoustics.

If you are curious enough to give this album a listen, you’ll hear that the decision paid off: the guitar, banjo and strings all sound fantastic and the instrumentation perfectly complements the melodic vocals of lead singer, guitarist and founder Tony Dekker.

I’m not going to attempt a full review here – there are plenty online if you’re interested ranging from the ecstatic to the downright mean (Pitchfork again!). The point of these ‘now playing’ features is to highlight something I’ve really enjoyed, nudge others to seek it out for themselves and hopefully really appreciate it too.

If you’re a fan of folky, rootsy singer/songwriter type stuff such as Iron & Wine, or possibly even Nick Drake, then this will probably be your bag. I was sold by the end of the first few banjo bars of opener ‘Your Rocky Spine’ and it just got better. The second track ‘Backstage with the Modern Dancers’ is really exquisite – I can’t really describe why: it just is, and one of those songs you happen to stumble upon that you then can’t imagine being without.

My other favourites are ‘Catcher Song’, ‘Changing Colours’ and ‘There is a light’. That’s not to say that the remaining tracks aren’t really good too – it’s just that the first five really stand out. In fact, it’s the kind of album that serenades you slowly rather than grabbing you by the ears and demanding attention, but actually leaves you wanting more. More than once I’ve got to the end and started playing it again from the beginning: that’s not something I do often.

Great Lake Swimmers have sometimes been criticised for producing slight, fragile music and not really rocking out. Tony Dekker’s voice is, according to some, too quiet and not strong enough.

I think that’s just harsh and ungrateful.

You don’t always want to listen to brash, piercing vocals, thrashing guitars and a pounding beat.

It’s very pleasant sometimes, as Dekker sings on ‘There is a light’, to just “Stop, listen and feel” .

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