Five of the Best: #3 Alan Timmons

Alan is a writer, a drawer of buildings and the former frontman of superstar Wicklow outfit the Hecklin’ Howlers. He’s the person I credit with my introduction to Gillian Welch (read more below), and as such, his music taste is exemplary. Here are his five favourite albums of the past ten years.

Gillian Welch – Time (The Revelator) (2001)

When I first heard it

I got Soul Journey first (probably around 2003) and then quickly collected her previous albums. They are all brilliant but this one is exceptional. I went to college with a nut who knew everything about music. I gave him Soul Journey and he gave me Time. Deal.

Why I love it

Deceptively simple, haunting and patient. David Rawlings plays guitar here (also produces I’m sure) and the acoustic instrumentation is incredible at times. There’s not many that can pull off a 14 minute final track but I Dream a Highway carries you along on a melancholic aching journey. The harmonies with Rawlings add another layer, like a ghost in the back of Welch’s mind. You won’t find anything like this anywhere. If you do, let me know please.

What it reminds me of

I love Dylan and this reminds me of early Dylan in terms of its style and aspiration. It’s probably a bit better even, more confident, assured and better produced.

Standout track

I’m going to say the title track but that’s a reluctant choice. Elvis Presley’s Blues maybe. Red Clay Halo…ah I don’t know. Too difficult to choose. There’s three for you.

Anything else?

I saw Welch and Rawlings live in Vicar Street Dublin around 2003/4. Front row. To this day I’ll say it was the best gig I was ever at. She’s covered all over the place too. You’d be surprised.

 

Bright Eyes – I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning (2005)

When I first heard it

Early 2005 sometime. I wandered into HMV, as I often did, looking for some escape from my lunch break and the job that begrudgingly afforded me the luxury. I never felt comfortable at those listening stations, trying to hold the oversized headphones on like one of the eegits from Band Aid. My embarrassment was often compounded by catching myself nodding along to whatever shit of the week was being played. If I’m being honest I was really just pretending to listen while I watched girls around the shop. Pervert, I know, what are you gonna do! And then one day I heard a story about a woman falling from an airplane and I listened intently. When the song kicked in I took off the headphones and went straight to the counter and purchased this album.

Why I love it

Maybe my favourite album. Big talk, I know and not everyone’s cup of tea but definitely mine. Two sugars and just a drop of milk. Full of stirring little tales sometimes stark with just acoustic guitar, sometimes backed by peddle steel, piano and some brass. The songwriting and lyrics are mature and considered.

What it reminds me of

Some dusty folk outpost where an older generation, unsure of themselves and the world, watch their children play with sticks and built dreams from the earth.

Standout track

Land Locked Blues. The poetic lyrics throughout. If you walk away I’ll way away, first tell me which road you will take, I don’t want to risk our paths crossing some day, so you walk that way, I’ll walk this way. Backing vocals by Emmylou Harris. Shivers.

Anything else?

If I gave this album to someone and they said they didn’t like it I’d have to tell them then that we have nothing in common.

Josh Ritter – Golden Age of Radio (2002)

When I first heard it

A friend in college (the same music nut) gave it to me at the same time as I was trying to get my hands on Damien Rice’s O. Jesus no man, he said, listen to this. And so I did. Good job too.

Why I love it

It’s everything I love about folk. I saw him live a few times around after the release of this album. When he told his stories, I believed him. I believed the smirk, the shy voice, the bad suits. This album grabbed the lapels of my student get-up and said: get that blazer jacket off you nerd, find yourself a check number and get on a train.

What it reminds me of

Hotels, buses, leaves, rivers, laughs, rambling, rolling, leaving….but most of all…trains.

Standout track

Me & Jiggs. I’ve heard him ramble on with two completely different stories about this song, one about taking a girl to a dance and another about some mongrel dog that he befriended. I believed them both.

Anything else?

I was torn between this album and Hello Startling. His first album Josh Ritter is brilliant too, raw, simple and elegant.

 

Jesse Malin – The Fine Art of Self-destruction (2002)

When I first heard it

November 2004. I listened to it on repeat for the whole month. I think I broke it up sometimes with Highway 61.

Why I love it

Because it’s just a really good debut album. And it’s all New York. I hear echoes of Springsteen, The Clash and Elvis Costello.

What it reminds me of

New York of course. But also: Crisp November Mornings…Grand Canal Dock….The Dart…A coat that wasn’t warm enough….Lonely beaches in my dreams…Last year’s girl creeping down my world…The Unbearable Lightness of Being…Desolation Row.

Standout track

Brooklyn. It had me at the two chord down-strummed intro. When the piano kicked in my eyes were closed and I was walking along the Bridge. There are two versions here, one ‘with band’ which is only slightly inferior to the other.

Anything else?

I’ve been sadly let down by subsequent albums where the songwriting has too often strayed towards cliché and easy rhymes which is just lazy writing! There have been some good songs since but no album to come close to this one. And dare I say it but sometimes I think he’s sold out to commercialism, trying to write cheesy pseudo-rock songs. Not a good endorsement of the man, I know, but this album stands alone.

Micah P. Hinson and the Gospel of Progress (2004)

When I first heard it

An island somewhere in Thailand 2006: I’m hanging out with this Norwegian guy, a journalist and would-be writer. We get a load of beer and batteries for dodgy speakers, go to the beach and he plays an unending stream of great music till the night gets so dark and drunk we can’t sea the water. If there is any comparison to be made between Thailand and Micah P. Hinson then it’s something to do with the sublime and the ridiculous.

Why I love it

The drole voice, bleak lyrics. Lazy slide guitar, dulcimer & piano. It’s atmosphere I crave, air and space.

What it reminds me of

Not Thailand. A barn in the middle of acres and acres of corn. The wind is blowing and threatening rain. The ripe heads sway and rattle endlessly for miles around like ripples in a lake.

Standout track

This is a tough one. Candidates are The Possibilities, Don’t you and the opening track Close Your Eyes. But my personal favourite is Patience. A four chord repeated verse and chorus looped over a building narrative of noise. He’s pissed and running out of patience; he’s packing up his night bag and he’ll be on his way.

Anything else?

If my taste has annoyed some people, that’s life.

Choice Cut Video: Gillian Welch – Time (The Revelator)

http://www.youtube.com/v/dey-K1OcjVQ&hl=en_GB&fs=1&

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