Asides

Mr Black and Blues’ album “Blow These Tracks” Source:

Mr Black and Blues’ album “Blow These Tracks”

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Source: http://www.pbsfm.org.au/node/23638

 

From humble beginnings, Michael Pollitt returns as Mr Black and Blues for a second album “Blow These Tracks” recorded live on the Blues Train. This album is unique and special, produced with special guest Chris Wilson, an Australian legend. “Blow These Tracks” is hearty and it’s meaty and as a live recording, it’s so grounded and earthy. In a world first, this album was recorded on one of Australia’s live music institutions, Queenscliff’s Legendary Blues Train (a working steam train!), home to Australia’s finest Blues musicians for over 20 years. This album comes after a 10 years abroad and has so far sold out all of its shows in Australia.

“Blow These Tracks” offers a nice fusion between Rock and Roll and Blues with possibly a twang of Country. With the constant drum beat, not unlike that of a train, this album really shows off the electric guitar talent that Mr Black and Blues has. Each song is (unsurprisingly) just made that much better by Wilson’s crazy harmonica. The compilation between the two is energetic and spirit-lifting just because the passion for music that both musicians have just oozes from each song. Mr Black and Blues is influenced by a number of greats, Max Crawdaddy, Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles, with a cover of “Gimme Some Lovin’” being performed in the latter half of the CD. In my opinion, nothing beats the original Ray Charles, no matter how hard you try, but they show a good effort in just using guitar, drums and harmonica. This rendition is more rock than anything, with a set beat and dominant, husky vocals and harmonica/guitar solos. In this respect, they take the song and make it their own, but I’m just not sure I would have tried to cover a legend.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m being picky, this album is fantastic. It’s wholesome and really shows off their talent. In fact, there are elements of this album that do a great job in paying homage to classic sounds, for example “Muddy Waters” begins as a fantastic rock song, with a strong electric guitar, then the harmonica somehow reminds us that the album is being recorded on a steam train. It’s interesting and oddly curious how such a sound can be reminiscent of a place. Wonderful. The long winded harmonica from Wilson just takes me to a place where the yellow grass is long and sways lethargically in a warm breeze into an oncoming dusk. Have a listen to “Broken Heart Blues” and tell me you don’t see yourself in a hammock there.

Although each song has the same sound (instrumentally and vocally), they do well to vary the atmosphere with tempo and pace. Some are energetic like the constant chug of a train, while some are slow and lazy. This just shows great talent and range from the musicians and somehow I just feel that in their audience conversation between song, Mr Black and Blues should have a thick southern accent. In this respect, this album just makes me proud to be Australian because he is an Aussie himself!

For more information, check out http://www.mrblackandblues.com/

 

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Just Messin – album review

Cross Eyed Cats

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Coming in at number 7 in the Australian Blues Top 25 Radio Chart is the Cross Eyed Cats’ new album “Just Messin’”. This album is great, it’s gritty, earthy and above all else, it’s real. Their sound is classic Chicago blues, their beats are toe-tappin and their tunes are like period pieces from the 1950’s-1960’s. When I listened to their album, I half expected the Blues Brothers to pop out and do some funky boogie. They’ve got a bit of Mark Knopfler and a bit of Hendrix guiding the fingers of the lead guitarist to add a bit of rock, like in the song “Leave My Little Girl Alone”. The interspersed harmonica makes their whole sound so very blues and most of their songs are completely lifted by the harmonica, they just know how to use the instrument in moderation and because of their restraint, the times when the harmonica comes in are just bliss, as it is with any classic slow blues beat and then there’s a surprise guitar riff. Sublime, in my opinion. For example “Help Me”  really sounds like it should be on the soundtrack to American Pickers or something, something Southern.

The best part is that when I first picked up their tunes I straightaway thought they were a genuine blues band from the period, but alas, the Cross Eyed Cats formed in 2002 in Fremantle in Western Australia. While their career as a band has been on and off, they’ve released the album Just Messin’ for our enjoyment, just because they’re a bloody good blues band. They sound authentically blues and this is so refreshing in light of the current music industry, especially coming from a small time Australian band. They’ve got depth and this album shows that they’re on the prowl again for a bit of fun. The Cross Eyed Cats are polished and familiar, which makes their music easy listening and comfortable. There is really nothing I would add to the album, their four members cover all the necessary bases; Bass, drums, harmonica, guitar and vocals. They’re not pretentious, they’re just a great, real, gritty sound.

For more information, please visit https://www.facebook.com/crosseyedcats/info

Medea

Showing from October the 11th until the 25th of November at the Belvoir is a modern adaptation of the ancient Greek play by Euripides; Medea. With fantastic acting, this performance captivated audiences on a rollercoaster of tension, humour and family angst. The story of Medea sees her unstable marriage with husband Jason (of the story Jason and the Argonauts) and to spite him and watch him suffer, she resorts to killing his mistress and his children. This legend of a mother’s angst and her actions when she is at wit’s end are interestingly not the focus of this performance. Medea instead focuses on the children, before they are victims of the family politics and the playwright’s ability of capture the antics of little boys is possibly unrivalled. Their boisterous attitudes and childlike insight are not only a product of the skilful script, but also the extreme maturity of the actors. Absolute commendation to the actors. Blazey’s performance of Medea herself is superb, she commands the attention of the room in a matter of minutes, by stringing out the tension through well-placed silences and posture, it’s so very powerful. The lighting, use of darkness, glow in the dark stars and the set design were very well thought out and believable; these characters may have even been lifted straight out of our own lives. On a niggling reservation, I felt that I needed more of a back story, more of an understanding of why Medea resorted to such a ‘brain-snap’ to kill her children. Without prior knowledge of the Greek play I feel as though sympathy for Medea was difficult to generate as we didn’t comprehend why she hated her husband so much. That said however, they play was focused on the children and the children were convincing and their deaths very powerful.

Madama Butterfly

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Puccini’s Madama Butterfly is now playing at the Sydney Opera House and to miss this would be more than an irreversible regret. The costuming was detailed in silk creating a sense of sensuous voluptuousness. Visually, this opera was spectacular, easily the most stunning show I have ever had the privilege to watch. Subtle breezes over the stage sent white curtains billowing, the water moat around the raised stage was used to float tea-light candles. Somehow, the opera crew created a sacred and stunning space, something so breath-taking that ladies in the row in front of me were actually in tears at the performance.

But it’s not just the staging that can evoke the use of a tissue, it’s the whole atmosphere. When the lights are dimmed, they reveal the pinpricks of a starry night, and a perfect moon overlooking one of the most romantic and tragic love stories of all time. The entire show was like witnessing a picturesque Japanese post card and the lighting was totally flawless. I was seated where surtitles could not be seen, but this was not an issue. At one point, a letter of bad news is read out. Butterfly’s face lights up with energy, passion and excitement and the stage is awash in pink. Later, the same letter reads a great tragedy for Butterfly- her beloved American soldier has since married in the US. Her face darkens, as the lighting changes dramatically to deep blues and greens and I felt a heart-breaking pain; I had invested so much emotional energy in Madama Butterfly.

Puccini’s opera is recognisable, hum-able and so very poignant. Commendation to the actor who played Madama Butterfly’s son- he was so perfect and gut wrenching in his silent performance of love for his mother. As we watch Butterfly await the return of Pinkerton that will never happen, we watch her suspense, her loving devotion and adoration. She smiles, but there are tears in her eyes. Her dedication to the dream that is Pinkerton is manic, borderline lunacy and we feel so much sympathy for this Japanese woman wronged by a marriage of convenience. We had invested so much in Butterfly’s story that when Pinkerton came to bow onstage in the finale, the audience in fact boo-ed him off, (all in jest of course). The show has a sad nostalgia, a tragic loss of a romantic ideal, a sensual and perfect night of Opera. I cannot regard this performance more highly.

Performance dates: 20th September until the 1st of November.

Image source: http://www.sydneyoperahouse.com/whatson/madama_butterfly_2012.aspx

Eugene Atget; Old Paris

Eugene Atget; Old Paris

 

The National Gallery of New South Wales holds Eugene Atget; Old Paris. This photographic exhibition has been showing since the 24th of August and comes to a close on the 4th of November and missing such a treatise would indeed be a shame. The display itself is a well organised and curated showcase of old Parisian images from renowned photographer Eugene Atget. The display provides booklets and placards with fantastic background knowledge which I must admit, enhances the experience a great deal. . The deserted nature of many of the lane-ways and gardens is more eerie than picturesque. It seems lonely, he is able to capture an emotion.

Whilst being intellectually stimulating, the photographs themselves are nostalgic and perfectly angled to recreate your vision and understanding of the world. The streets are like any other, but the way Atget has photographed them is so unique and refreshing. He frames the forms and structures of architecture, décor and Paris that connect you with the past, as well as leave the past to your imagination because often he angles them to have a lane-way veer off around a curve, so you wonder what is at the end. He captures the empty labyrinthine nature of a Paris long forgotten, a Paris before the glitz and glamour of bustling department stores. The exhibition is evocative of the parts of Paris that aren’t famous in tourism. It gave you a sense of Paris before the fame, before fanciful people. He snapshots the everyday lives of street vendors and pedlars, labourers at work. It’s uniquely humbling, strangely nostalgic and impossibly lonely.  The deserted nature of many of the lane-ways and gardens is more eerie than picturesque. It does seem lonely, and the ability to capture that emotion in a multitude of photographs, is such a gift.

The photos have a certain air, a blur of mysticism and reality; something which convinces you that you can literally step into the sepia and end up in a colour-filled 19th century Paris. He creates an air of intimacy, a bond often labelled a sacred space between the spectator and the spectacle. It was the side of Paris that people forget; the shanty towns, the homeless, those who live on the edge, the rim of the city beyond the walls. His photography gives the Nobodies a voice, makes them a Somebody. We are not overstimulated, we are enchanted.

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Source of image: http://www.leninimports.com/eugene_atget.html

PERSONAL RANT

“However, it is in my opinion that the critiques of Barthes and Baudrillard, as well meaning as they were, may have unintentionally politicised semiotics far too much, rendering it little more than a convenient tool of social critiques” – (Danesi ,2002 p33)

To an extent, I agree with Danesi, because as he states, this is in his opinion and just as Barthes and Baudrillard are entitled to their opinion, he is entitled to his. Perhaps these theorists have politicised semiotics too much, however I feel that these critiques are necessary because if they didn’t delve into semiotics on a philosophical level, someone else would have. Furthermore these theories are merely hypothetical. Take for example, Jacques Derrida, who poses his theory of the slippage between reality and fiction within a text, with reference to the true meaning of the words and the meaning produced by the responder. This theory is quite a philosophical post-structuralist discussion and yet, it highlights and also politicises texts, because who’s to say that if meaning is being lost in transmission between the words on a page, and the responder, then why isn’t meaning lost between institutions, governments and the people? I feel that these micro literary theories do apply on a larger scale and while, as Danesi claims, these may ‘politicise semiotics far too much’, I believe they are necessary in understanding our experience in the world.

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Source: http://diva.net.au/index.php/catalog/product/view/id/50153/

If we take a look at a philosophical argument between Barthes’ notion of denotation and connotation, (Cohen, 2009 p11) as well as meaning that has been lost in transmission, we can take a look at the desacralisation (Cohen, 2009 p9) of religious icons for the purposes of commercialisation. The denotation for this item within a mainstream Diva store is that the bracelet is a mere fashion statement. The connotation is the power and assertion of dominance that this secular store seems to need to exert over the Christian icon and to many Christians, this desacralisation is in fact borderline blasphemy. We need to think to ourselves, what would happen if society took the sacred icons and symbols of a different religion, such as Islam or Judaism out of context and into mainstream culture.

This is an example of crossing a cultural sphere, that of the Christian religion, into the public sphere, mainstream society, to create a counterpublic sphere (Hartley, 2006 p343) In the process of desacralisation, original meaning is lost when a sacred object is decontextualized, however, the commercialisation of this specific religious imagery seems to have no intention of carrying with it the deeper, more contextual religious connotation.

Cohen, H. et.al. 2009 ‘Photograph and Image’. In Screen Media Arts, Oxford Uni Press, Melbourne, pp3-22.

Danesi, M. 2002 ‘An Outline of Semiotic Theory’. In Understanding Media Semiotics. Arnold Publishing, London, pp28-53

Hartley, J. and Green, J. 2006, ‘The Public Sphere on the Beach’. In European Journal of Cultural Studies 9:3 , pp341-62