Thanks Santa

"santa 2013 hdr 1a 4x6" by Stephen Hauser Photography is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The joy of giving.

I bet most of us had been hoping to get something musical from Santa this Christmas. I did and he was kind to me – he certainly must have read my letter.

First up was, ‘Irish Heartbeat’, by Van Morrison and the Chieftains – a match certainly made in Ireland if not in heaven and a project put together by Morrison and Paddy Moloney (who died in October last year). It was recorded in 1988 but never seemed easy to source on C.D. – which remains my favourite format. I have to admit that I have given up on Morrison in recent years and though he seems to have been quite prolific little has caught my interest. It would be fair to say though that he put in a great artistic shift years ago and his legacy is, to some extent, secure. I’d have to say he has been a dubious quantity on the personality front for years and that some of his recent utterances have been very hard to either stomach or understand. The artist and the art – always a dilemma.

But, ‘Heartbeat’, is a classic album and I spotted it at a bargain price and Santa obliged. Vocally he is in fine form and whilst there’s some unconvincing vocalising it doesn’t spoil things too much. You can rely on the Chieftains for some sympathetic backing and I’ve always been impressed with their own eclectic musical choices – for instance, 1996’s award-winning, ‘Santiago’, which celebrates the music of Galicia. Apart from, ‘Celtic Ray’, and, ‘Irish Heartbeat’, all the songs are traditional and I’d agree with the thought that it, ‘awakened [Morrison’s] roisterous spirit’, and it seemed an undoubted return to enthusiastic form. The prize for ‘most wide of the mark comment’ goes to Robert Christgau who thought Morrison was, ’misguided’, in an attempt to reconnect with his roots given that inspiration was in short supply. Absolute tosh – a sense of Irishness has permeated a great deal of his music and almost certainly is apparent in the best of it.

The second item in my stocking was James McMurtry’s album from 2021 – ‘The Horses and the Hounds’, his first release in years and bringing guitarist Dave Grissom, a long term musical associate, firmly back into the fold. The album was reviewed on this website in August with colleague Rick Bayles saying.

Suffice to say, this is another excellent album from James McMurtry. Proof that growing older and looking back on life can go hand in hand with looking ahead at the issues still to be tackled’.

It’s no secret that I am a great fan of McMurtry’s music and I regard, ‘Childish Things’, as one of the great Americana albums. He is one of the best lyricists in any musical genre and draws pictures of certain people in certain areas of America that are absolutely compelling. So why wouldn’t I take a punt? Well on first listening there is no single track to match, ‘Choctaw Bingo’, or, ‘We Can’t Make it Here Anymore’, so thus far I am not yet making any judgements as to where it sits in the wider catalogue of McMurtry’s work.

The third and final gift from the man in red was Charlie Crockett’s, ‘Music City’, also reviewed on this site in September of last year wherein it was described thus by colleague Helen Jones,

Sixteen tracks of smooth retro country makes this a must-listen for any fan of the vintage sound’.

So on that basis why not invest in an artist that I have followed for a while and seen live twice. I have often wondered why I like him so much, and of course, that great voice has to be a key element, ‘Born with the gift of a golden voice’, as Cohen might put it. Crockett’s writing is simple but not simplistic and he does not delve into the deepest, darkest issues in the way McMurtry does, and of course, he is a great distance away from the world of Van Morrison and The Chieftains.  

Crockett has lived, by his own account, a chequered life though I think the example of the great Emily Dickinson illustrates that imagination can trump experience in the right hands, so I don’t set too much store by that. If travel broadens the mind then there would be some pretty smart bus conductors out there. However you do know what you are going to get with Crockett and whilst it remains to be seen if he can surprise us at some stage in the future, ‘Music City’, suits just fine as a, ‘Sweet and sultry slice of Southern soul’. 

Thanks again Santa.

About Gordon Sharpe 117 Articles
Retired music fan longing to get back to the Lakes and hoping to visit Scotland before much longer - somehow South Cheshire just doesn't cut it. Still seeking the grail in terms of a convincing description of what Americana really is but really enjoying the search. And still wondering when Kenny Rogers will get his just deserts
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