So yeah, I do know Mark – we met a few times when he used to live in Melbourne and we keep in touch occasionally. He’s a good guy! He makes it clear that I’m a friend in his review. But I was incredibly chuffed to read the nice things he’s said about my latest music. He writes beautifully and I feel like he “gets” my music in the way I would like it to be “got” (if you know what I mean!) He’s given me kind permission to quote him in full so here it is…
Marky Awards: Album no. 1
I just couldn’t wait until tomorrow to announce the number one album for 2015 (so far) in the ‘Marky Awards’. I don’t know if the suspense was killing you, but it was certainly killing me!.. Now, part of me thinks I need to justify my selection. That’s because the gong goes to an independent release by a friend from Melbourne. It’s not unheard of for me to fawn over minor releases, look at Ka and Josef Gordon as examples. Look at Shane Howard down at number 10 on this list following a crowd-funded release. Look at every other act you’ve never heard of but which has appeared on my lists since 2012. Now look at DC Cardwell as he knocks it out of the park with his fantastic sophomore album, “Pop Art”.
I was lucky enough to get my copy of this album last November before it officially went on sale at the beginning of this year and, I kid you not, it has not been out of the CD player in my car since I got it, it also gets played on Spotify at home or when I’m out and about. DC Cardwell makes no secret of his love for The Beatles and their contemporaries, but rather than engaging in inane, jangly guitar homages like many fans tend to do, or effectively re-recording the actual releases with a few minor variations (as The Rutles did so well, though with tongue firmly planted in cheek), he has found the essence of what made The Beatles’ songs so special and distilled it into a completely original album. Even the cover (not a Beatle song) is recorded such that it’s immediately familiar, yet completely new. It’s a hard gig but DC Cardwell, with help from a few family members, has pulled it off with aplomb.
Something which isn’t immediately apparent until you get to know the songs intimately is the astounding ‘honesty’ in the recordings. Whereas the Brian Wilson album (which took the number 2 slot) is well polished, it feels a little cold. It’s all very precise and clean. You know there’s a plethora of computers and electronics standing between the artist’s performance and what’s coming out of your speakers. The thing that’s missing on many of the albums released in 2015 is a soul, something that reminds you that the instruments are being played by an actual person. In The Beatles recordings the reminder might have been a squeak from a shoe or piano stool (depending on which text you read) followed by a sharp shushing by Paul McCartney, it might have been Lennon coming in too early for his vocals or Harrison too early for his guitar solo… or Ringo at all – here, it’s the occasional clunk as, presumably, DC’s guitar connects with the microphone stand in his home studio in suburban Melbourne.
So what of the songs themselves? Well, you know what you’re in for when “In The Cloud” kicks off the album. You get the immediately familiar ‘oompah, oompah, stick it up your jumpah’ beat from the “Magical Mystery Tour period” which inspired Jeff Lynne’s production style and which all came together again on “Free As A Bird” exactly 20 years ago. No sooner has the song settled into a groove then it swirls away into a crescendo of Harrison-esque lead guitar and McCartney-style ivory-tinkling. The song, which has just reminded you that the physical things we used to hold dear are now nothing more than a collection of ones and zeros stored in a gigantic supercomputer on the other side of the world, then settles back into a comfortable ‘calm after the storm’ ending after just over four minutes – the average length of most tracks on “Pop Art”. Perhaps the next track “Don’t Know Why” is a tribute to the white album. Is it “Martha My Dear” or is it “I Will” that we’re supposed to be thinking of here? Or is it neither one and we’re just supposed to be thinking of the world as it was when that album was made (if you were around then of course)? Next we have what sounds to me more like DC’s own voice and own writing coming to the fore, “The Sun, The Moon, The Stars” is possibly the most original song on the album, it’s certainly one of my favourites and in analysing it I find myself wanting to talk about some kind of fusion between The Byrds and The Velvet Underground… even though I can’t say it sounds like either of them – perhaps it’s DC’s voice that sounds a bit like Roger McGuinn’s while the guitar does a very good job of sounding like a 12-string Rickenbacker. “Have I Got News For You” feels a bit like a throw away tune, one that DC’s put together because he knew he was a song short or, more likely, the creative muse to flesh it out found a home on other tracks. It feels a bit like “Dig A Pony” from “Let It Be” but, at the same time altogether different… though similarly, slightly unfinished. Next we have “Magic For Everybody”, a fantastic cover of the Sam Philips song, re-imagined as what ELO might have done had Jeff Lynne gotten his mitts on it back in the 70s when he was recording “Evil Woman”. That takes the listener to the half-way point of DC Cardwell’s stunningly good album – I suggest you experience the rest of it for yourself! – I’d also recommend his previous album “Some Hope” which itself has some fantastic material on it (even if I do like “Pop Art” better!)… I’ll add a comment with links about how to buy it or congratulate DC Cardwell on a job well done for the album, and being the winner of the ‘Marky’ award for best album of 2015 (so far!).
Marky Awards: Song no. 1
DC Cardwell “Magic For Everybody” – I covered the ‘why’ yesterday for why DC’s “Pop Art” nailed the top spot for albums released in 2015 so far. It’s usually pretty consistent on these lists that the top 1 or 2 albums spawn the top 1 or 2 songs. It’s not a fait accompli that the number 1 album holds the number 1 song, though, in fact this is the first time it’s happened. Now for the ‘what’…
Of the 10 tracks on the standard “Pop Art” album it was a difficult ask to work out which one really stood out as a cut above the rest. As with “The Avener” (album 6, which was admittedly all covers) the stand out track on “Pop Art” was a cover, this time of “Magic For Everybody” by Sam Phillips from her 2010 album of the same name. Like every great cover, though, DC’s treatment of the song works with the source material and makes it better – there’s no point doing it if not. He’s picked up what is, to my mind, a nice but ultimately uninspiring song and made it his own – made it his own by re-imagining it as a rediscovered Electric Light Orchestra track. I mentioned in my review of the full album that this song sparks comparisons to “Evil Woman”, however on reflection I’d say it would have fitted in nicely on 1977’s “Out Of The Blue” (maybe straight after “Sweet Talkin’ Woman” and replacing “Across The Border” as track 4). I think “Magic For Everybody” just beats out “The Sun, The Moon, The Stars” as the best track on “Pop Art”, I think it’s the familiarity we all have with the in your face jauntiness that so many ELO tracks start with that grabs your attention. If you’re not familiar with ELO then you might need to choose a favourite from the other 9 tracks (but I’d suggest “The Sun, The Moon, The Stars” is a good place to start…)