Song of the Week – The Boxer

Paul Simon
Paul Simon

I still remember my 4th form english teacher teaching us poetry. As she fluttered about the room handing us each a piece of paper with the poem we were going to study we all rolled our eyes, preparing ourselves for some ancient ode written in language difficult to read. Instead we were handed the lyrics to Simon and Garfunkel’s The Boxer and Sounds of Silence. Mrs Smith went about gushing that Paul Simon was the most wonderful writer there ever was and even if we learnt his poetry by listening to music instead of reading the words on a page, it was still the best education we could get.

Mrs Smith was a teacher I REALLY related to.

This morning when I awoke to the news the lyric king and Sting are going to play the Bowl of Brooklands in my home town of New Plymouth next January, I was immensely excited.

Since then, my favourite track by Simon has been on repeat.

The Boxer is a timeless song. It tells a story that touches every listener, this is proven by its popularity throughout the ages. The fact it’s had almost three million views on Youtube demonstrates that it’s never been lost on the younger generations like my own.

The tune, with an intricate guitar melody, delicately picked, cuts right to the soul. It’s the sort of sound that makes you sit up and listen, even if this isn’t your typical genre of music. The vocals from Simon and Garfunkel showcase their famous harmonies. Their two tones come together in a humming sort of resonance. In each verse of the song the vocals are velvety and lullaby-like. But of course that’s not the only element we hear from the singers, the chorus erupts into life in a catchy, repetitive bout. A great build up in tempo.

Best of all is the unique sound which I can’t imagine working in any song but this – the bass harmonica. Similar sounding to a didgeridoo the harmonica makes entry to the song in the second verse, adding a funky, more upbeat undertone to the song. It brings a bit of meat to it.

But of course the star is the magical lyrics. Simon’s soft and delicate voice compliments the melancholic words perfectly. He tells a story like no other, really encapuslating a moment for every person listening to one of his songs. His words are simple, nothing complicated yet they resonate with everyone one way or another. It’s an art we don’t see often in songs today. Simon should be a role model to all.

” When I left my home and my family
I was no more than a boy
In the company of strangers
In the quiet of the railway station running scared
Laying low, seeking out the poorer quarters
Where the ragged people go
Looking for the places only they would know. “

I’m already hanging out to see Paul Simon bring this to life on stage come January. I hope I’ll bump into Mrs Smith there.

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Song of the week – Southern Sun

BoyBear

Southern Sun – Boy and Bear

A couple of weeks ago I agreed to buy tickets to a concert with a friend, I’d never heard of the band before but the Aussie group came highly recommended. Now, after some serious listening, I’m ever so grateful that I get to see this group live. The band is of course Boy and Bear, the indie folk-rock group hailing from Sydney.

Southern Sun is the song that’s really taken my fancy during my investigation, it’s a stunning track with all the trademarks of an indie hit. The intro is a tease that’s so different from what’s to come. It’s a slowed down, echoey melody with a sound similar to Fleet Foxes White Winter Hymnal. It’s attention grabbing without a doubt and for that reason it leads perfectly into the main sound of the track which has a bouncy, toe-tap-inducing quality that we’ve all come to love in this popular indie-folk sound conquering music charts today. The tune has elements of Crowded House (in fact, they actually recorded a cover of Fall at Your Feet for an album dedicated to the Finn brothers – check it out, it’s awesome) and Mumford and Sons, with a perfect combination of catchy lyrics and an effective layer of instruments.

It starts with a simple, upbeat accoustic guitar strum, but it’s not long before a grungy reptitive electric guitar hook comes across on top of the riff, adding a groovy quality. Next comes quality backing vocals which add a crowd pleasing ‘aaaaaaaah’ singalong through the chorus and pick things up a notch. Singer Dave Hosking has a fantastic sound, he dominates each verse with his distinctive, gravelly vocals and is complimented perfectly by the band behind him.

Southern Sun is a tremendous song, I’m amazed it hasn’t been picked up for airplay here in NZ. So simple yet effective. It’s the first single from their album Harlequin Dream which was released a year ago and quickly climbed into 7th place on Triple J’s Top 10 albums of 2013 poll. Rightly so, this is a fantastic band with a long way to go in their career. I can’t wait to see them play Bodega in Wellington next month.

George Ezra: An artist to watch

George Ezra plays in Auckland
George Ezra plays in Auckland

There’s a new Johnny Cash on the scene so listen up anyone who loves a big, deep, powerful voice thrust alongside a jumpy guitar riff – George Ezra is your man.

I went to check out the young Brit at a launch gig for his new album Wanted On Voyage in Auckland yesterday and was mighty impressed. I was lucky enough to see him tear up the stage with his mix of folk, rock and blues music at Glastonbury just over a month ago, but back then I wasn’t so familiar with his songs, so second time around I was a very happy chappy. George Ezra is a rising star.

This boy is unique in every sense of the word. Ezra has a voice incredibly different to what we normally hear on the airwaves today. It’s obviously what people are craving too, as indicated by the quick rise of his first single Budapest as it’s hit New Zealand charts. His voice has many similarities to Johnny Cash when it comes to strength and depth. He croons with an intense enthusiasm which somehow makes his songs feel upbeat, quirky and moody all at the same time. Not only is Ezra a fresh new sound but he’s also pitch perfect, uses wonderful light and shade and plays the guitar like a champion.

This was showcased perfectly in yesterday’s gig when he played Did You Hear The Rain. He began unaccompanied with a strong, piercing cry which echoed throughout the venue. Immediately he had everyone’s full attention and when he knew he’d captivated the lot he furiously swung his guitar around and strummed with vibrant energy. The song had an almost ominous sounding riff which had a chilling effect, when partnered with his vocals it was superb. A very powerful song.

In this short snippet of a performance we got yesterday he played a number of tracks which have great chart potential, add into the mix his witty personality and I think he’s set for success. It’s impossible not to singalong to Budapest, it’ll be a song dominating playlists around the country in no time. (note: when he wrote it he’d never actually been to Budapest, something he tells us is very hard to explain to an excited crowd in Budapest). But it’s not the best he’s got. I loved his performance yesterday of Blame It On Me from his first EP and his solo version of new album offering Leaving It Up To You had me craving more.

George Ezra is an artist to watch. I hope Kiwi’s embrace him as they should because this singers got soul and he’s here to show it.

Check him out live here:

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-C9PG9p0uoI

 

Ben Howard a must-see act

Ben Howard plays the Auckland Town Hall
Ben Howard plays the Auckland Town Hall

Ben Howard is a music god.

On Saturday I checked out the British indie-folk singer playing the Auckland Town Hall. It truly was a night to remember.

Howard was greeted on stage with rapturous applause. And so he should – after all, the concert had to be changed to a bigger venue because ticket demand was so massive. Word must have got out about this man’s charisma as a performer. He was truly captivating and I’m already eagerly anticipating his next tour.

Howard was refreshingly raw on stage. He didn’t recite the lines you so often hear from musicians about being ‘so excited to be here’ or telling us ‘you guys are awesome’. He didn’t encourage too many crowd singalongs, instead he looked genuinely surprised and touched by how loudly and proudly the crowd sang the words to his songs, even the ones he assumed we wouldn’t!

He started the gig with a couple of new songs, Small Things and Conrad. They were each very compelling, unique new tracks we were all happy to hear, but the songs from his breakthrough album Every Kingdom were what people were waiting for. That was obvious when he launched into Black Flies and the audience came alive. The song was a real highlight. Howard built it up beautifully, layering up a soft acoustic with lyrics that growled with more intensity as his band picked up the tempo and energy throughout.

Other stand out songs were Keep Your Head Up, the Wolves and the Fear. Each of these songs were met with massive energy from the crowd as Howard truly made them take on a new life live. The songs we’ve all come to love had an extra powerful quality in this setting, it was impossible not to dance, croon along or sway your hands in the air. Howard had everyone in the crowd either wishing they were him or married to him.

Howard is a guitar genius. I already knew that going into the gig but now I’m even more convinced of it. He picks an acoustic like he’s been doing it since the day he was born. The quality it adds to his songs is magical. Even the songs with more of a rock influence still had this quality. He always shone above his band, he was the true star on the stage and everyone knew it. But in saying that, his band – which he told us was relatively new together, complimented him perfectly. A stand out being the cellist. The strings brought a romantic element to his tracks, in fact I think having more of a string section would help to compliment the softer qualities of his songs.

What a crowd! This was the best audience I’ve been a part of for a long time. Howard doesn’t have air time on Kiwi radio stations so the people there had discovered him on their own accord and you could tell. This simple factor was so clearly reflected in the way they didn’t talk through his songs and listened with real focus to each track, both old and new. Their dedication to the artist was truly reflected when they managed to get an unplanned encore from the singer. The whole town hall sang a part from the Wolves for about five minutes before the artist came back on stage seeming genuinely impressed.

We were lucky we got an encore because it was superb! The artist played Old Pine from his first EP, much to everyone’s delight. The song truly showcases his delicate picking of the acoustic guitar and his chilling voice. Add in some great lyrics, a brilliant build up of sound and this song could be nothing but a brilliant climax to finish the set. At the end of it there was only one word on everybody’s lips: wow.

What a show!