Wednesday, January 3, 2024
Sunday, July 17, 2022
Sunday, March 20, 2022
An utterly unique and ineffably elegant one-off -- a baroque-folk yacht-jazz masterstroke -- from an enigmatic American ex-pat adept on the Ode label, advertised as 'an emotional journey into regions of a heart filled with joy and lament, darkness and exultation'.
Backed by local jazz notables (Brian Smith, Nigel Gavin, and Pam Grey) and mixed and engineered by studio savants (Victor Grbic and David Hurley), The Language of the Heart is heartbreakingly lyrical, constructively melancholy, and meticulously arranged for maximum suavity.
Ramsey Najm was a documentary filmmaker and singer-songwriter from the States, a Palestinian-American who came to Aotearoa/NZ in the 1980s as a self-described '"cultural refugee" from the vast wasteland which is America today'.
While still based in the US, performer Najm opened for florid folkies Compton & Batteau, the furry and fabulous Flying Burrito Brothers, pacifist power-poppers The Hello People, and honorary Herb Joe Walsh.
There's not a lot to reference beyond the album's included press release and a few mentions from the early 1980s, when he filmed a pioneering documentary on breakdancing: Breaking: Street Dancing (1982). This doco showed on New York's Channel 13 in June that year, also at El Museo Del Barrio in Spanish Harlem, and won a merit award at 1982 Athens International Film/Video Festival in Athens, Ohio:
'Breaking, Mr. Najm (pronounced nah-zhum) explains, ''is a way that gangs of kids, mainly in the Bronx, but some in Manhattan, can still compete with each other for territory and for machismo. But, instead of doing it violently, a la West Side Story, they do it through dance.'' In the duel by dance, each chosen stalwart tries to out-step, out-shake and out-move the opponent.' (New York Times, June 20, 1982, Section A, Page 2)
In a March 1982 issue of The [Film & Video Monthly] Independent, the New York-based independent producer Najm placed a classified seeking 'intelligent, meaningful, contemporary stories of any length for fall shooting. Prefer existentially-inclined material illustrating angst & conflict in modern world.'
Najm's vocal, instrumental and scripted delivery are all -- always -- humbly, gutsily sincere: on 'Rodeo' reminding me of a breathier, smirkless Townes Van Zandt; and soaring wordlessly in the raranga of sax and keys at the end of 'Nadia'. 'In the Golden Orchard' could be an arena ballad if it weren't so introverted (see also the Pink Floyd-ish fretless bass duet on 'Imprisoned on the Outside'). The minimalist roundabout pianoscape of 'Always a Circle to Mend' is just lightly adorned at the end with sympathetic synth and thrifty kick-drum punctuation; while album closer 'Set My Body Free' pairs Najm's ardently transcendental vocal and his own gentle acoustic guitar with a six-minute soft crescendoing of thick sawtooth billows, seabird-feedback lead guitar, shuffle-chug snare and a wide-stereofield multi-Najm chorale. [Listeners please note: my copy has gentle surface noise throughout.]
In these unsettled days, like many I suppose, I'm spending a fair amount of my after-hours in circuitous soul-searching. The unashamed candour of Najm's reflections on this record gently mesh with his considered instrumentation into deep'n'heavy comfort: like a weighted blanket under an emotional support labrador. A review in the NZ Herald from 22 May 1987 finds likewise:
'There is a small, rewarding corner where jazz and folk intersect... that's where you will find guitarist/vocalist Najm. [His] easy-to-enjoy vocals, his understated poetic lyrics and the gentle arrangements offer a lot of comfortable pleasures. More soon we hope.'
This is Ramsey Najm's only known recording: an immaculate passed-over opus from a singular, sensitive, self-searcher and his complementarily cultivated ensemble, wrapped up in enchantingly imaginative production. And I'm hopelessly in love with it.
Sunday, January 16, 2022
Saturday, August 28, 2021
A second tasteful selection of upbeat soothers -- from love bug Anna Leah’s hooky-af self-penned slow jam to the sound of a seaside afternoon cafe quintet; plus a New Age James K Baxter bossanova, teenage rock’n’rollers now relaxed and all grown up, and ex-‘Nature’-ists salacious snakebit soul. Forgotten and underrecorded folks like Fire Exit and Jade — here rescued from RNZ’s Radio Trax promo LPs — cheek to cheek with peeps on sweet boutiques like Tartar and Charisma, and those on heavy-hitting acronyms EMI, CBS & RCA.
Sleek, streamlined and satiny, this collection uncovers and uplifts uncoloured funk, throbbing grunty grooves, and effervescent weltschmerz from these tanned and glassy bands, featherlight singer-songsters, shimmering studio whizzes, session legends, rising stars and also-rans.
Tuesday, May 5, 2020
These tracks from '72 - '83 serve up a soft and sunny coupling of singer/songwriter & soul sensitivities, mixed with disco & funk lubricity and produced in second string Steely Dan sophistication. Sometimes there's sax or brass, maybe a string section, almost always an electric piano. Tune in to tight & dirty grooves, seriously cheesy sleaze, elegant arrangements, pastoral post-disco chill-outs, bouncy soul serenades and country funk ballads.
Dismissed at the time by supercilious hipsters (and now championed by the same), these smooth'n'lite sounds soothe and swaddle and deserve a second and third listen in these nervous times. Suck up the sensual sentimentality, luxuriate in the pricey production, and bob your noggin to the rhythms of Whispering Waves.
I Want The Sand In My Shoes, I Want The Wind In My Hair
Monday, December 30, 2019
Volume Two of this series collects a complex, chirpy swathe of minimal wave, electrogoth, Peter Gabriel-/Kate Bush-inspired sophisticated pop, R&B and B-Boy music, a melodramatic Bowie clone, and sweet throwaway love-pop -- all awash in the timeful silicon sounds of Rolands, Korgs, Moogs and Yamahas.
Deep In My Mind I Rehearse The Scene