Another year, another birthday. Norman B looks back at the music that changed his life. He tells of buying his first album at Woolworths, not knowing anything about the music. He was captivated by the brooding Greek-god like visage on the cover. It was the Memphis Flash, Elvis Presley. From there Norman discovered the Blues and Elmore James which led to the new R & B sounds coming out of the USA, including early Tamla Motown and Marvin Gaye. It was no coincidence that fledgling London bands were also being inspired by the same music. The Rolling Stones being no exception, fronted at that time by Blues aficionado and masterful musician, Brian Jones. Van Morrison with his R & B and Irish Show-band roots were all but absent when he released his landmark album, Astral Weeks, a momentous life-changing release, says Norman B. Reggae has been another important part of Mr. B’s life and he cites Cornell Campbell and Gregory Isaacs as fine examples. The consistently adventurous music of David Bowie is included in the story as are the The Smiths, The Only Ones are acknowledged for their timeless ode to addiction and Killing Joke with their formidable melding of rock, dub and even metal in their debut release. A.R. Kane, remain still relatively unknown but their music caused Norman B to reevaluate his thinking in some areas. Finally, Canadian musician and poet Barzin is singled out because his beguiling lyrics and enchanting arrangements signify another change in life and a new way forward.
The second half of The Birthday Special is a non-stop mix of mostly recent music that has been on repeat play at Life Elsewhere Tower. These are cuts with a distinctive poignant tone, probably because birthday’s have become a time for reflection. And, as the old adage goes, “It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to”. We begin with the alluring and intriguing music of Samana, the nomadic duo Rebecca and Frankie came to our attention a few years back. Their album, Requiem is certainly worth searching out, for this mix we have selected a bonus cut, The Black Forest. Sorcha Richardson’s sublime Petrol Station recorded a few years back when she was living in Brooklyn, most recently she has moved back home to Dublin and released a superb album, Smiling Like An Idiot with the single Shark Eyes proving why Sorcha’s talent should not be overlooked. From Missoula, Montana, Noelle Huser fronts Bluest with her haunting, plaintive voice, on Talk Soon, she shares engaging lines like, “Remember when you tripped me, it was an accident my tooth bite through my cheek, and now I have scar, it’s the favorite part of my smile” There is a lot going on here on the Bluest album, Cold Sweat, available from the very fine Anything Bagel label. Ollie Cook hails from Wolverhampton, a place widely known for its soccer team, Wolverhampton Wanderers. (great name). But we urge you to check out Ollie’s long-player, The Boy With Pearls For Eyes to help put Wolverhampton on the musical map. Listen to Bell Tower Blues and let me have your feedback, I think this is quality work. Ollie Cook says, “This is my second full-length project. My most honest to date. My most cared for.” I love the double-tracking on his voice, the organ, the over-dubbed guitars – the whole production. On the first listen to the album, Problems Of Other Minds by Elizabeth Crompton I knew I had come across a remarkable collection of songs. Each cut here is beautifully realized, the poignant heart-wrenching lyrics take me to places I know only too well. As with every desperate love song I have treasured throughout the years, Elizabeth seared straight into my emotions. Listening to Problems Of Other Minds I refuse to hold back the tears while indulging in the deliciously heavy ambiance, the somber piano, her haunting voice, and the alarming, yet graceful production. Selecting, I Keep Getting Better for this show was in part because of Elizabeth Crompton’s words, “It’s definitely the most personal thing I’ve written. I want people to take from it what they take from it. But I will say that I’ve had my ups and downs, I’ve experienced some things that left me feeling broken and bruised, and this record was definitely a form of catharsis.” Interestingly the album was produced by her husband, Tim Crompton. Exceptional! It may not surprise you to learn that Andrea Ward is a multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, dancer, choreographer, and filmmaker. The lovely song, Visiting Rooms comes from her album, Ribbons Of Water. Splendid production and a special mention for the percussion by PJ Donahue. Also, take a moment to look at Andrea Ward’s site.
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Artwork by Norman B “Self portrait #3″ 2023 28″ x 28” digital print on card. Courtesy of Norman B’s collection