McKellen: Playing the Part review – engaging portrait of a wizard Shakespearean actor

Joe Stephenson’s documentary charts the theatrical knight’s route from classical stage roles to starring in The Lord of the Rings In an outtake over the credits, Ian McKellen jokes that this documentary about his life, career and LGBT activism is a bit of an obituary. As it happens he’s already sorted out his funeral. “Well,” he says, with a waggle of one of those owlish eyebrows, “I had an evening to spare … the most enjoyable evening.” I can’t think of anyone I’d rather spend 90 minutes listening to than the subject of Joe Stephenson’s film. The format is simple: an audience with Sir Ian beefed up by archive footage and dramatised scenes of his childhood (beautifully acted by 15-year-old Milo Parker). McKellen occasionally slips into the part of twinkly super-cool gay uncle that he tends to play in interviews these days. But mostly he’s thoughtful and self-reflective (and not at all gossipy about his theatrical chums, disappointingly). Continue reading… [hmp_player]

Lindi Ortega: Liberty review – Faustian, haunted country

(Shadowbox Music) Last year, Lindi Ortega told me of her frustration that she was more likely to win fans playing to a punk crowd on a bill with a band such as Social Distortion than she was appearing on the same bill as the hat acts at a mainstream country festival. Perhaps that frustration accounts for her seventh album, on which she makes no attempt to whoop it up, instead presenting a song cycle that’s significantly more western – in the sense of the movies – than country. Guitars twang, mariachi brass swoops in and out, and Ortega sings a story that – as with most song cycles and concept albums – doesn’t really make a lot of sense unless someone’s explaining it to you. It all adds up to something Ennio Morricone, Lee Hazlewood and Calexico might have dreamt up in an imaginary cantina. Ortega has spoken of her love for Quentin Tarantino, and the notional plotline is Tarantinoesque – someone with darkness in their heart has bad friends, loses someone close, has a seance, makes a deal with the devil – and that’s only the first four songs. There’s more, but it all gets a bit Norse-saga-with-sagebrush. Of course, you don’t need to know (or grasp) the plot to adore the music, to bathe in the tumbling arpeggios of Lovers in Love, to thrill at the tension and darkness of The Comeback Kid. It’s a curio, but a triumphant curio. Continue reading… [hmp_player]

Wooden Shjips: V review – intense psychedelia with drifts of menace

(Thrill Jockey) This time last year, Wooden Shjips were working on a “summer record”, but external events impinged on the creative process. There was America’s climate of socio-political upheaval; then forest fires raged near where the band recorded, in singer-guitarist Ripley Johnson’s Portland home studio. “I sat watching ash fall like snow,” he remembers. “It felt apocalyptic.” Thus, V, their fifth album, which is rich in summer beauty but has an indefinable undercurrent of fear and menace. The “peace” sign on the cover reflects the band’s desire for a statement of dignified resistance and calm amid the storm. The sound unfolds slowly and gracefully, like an opening flower. There are psychedelic drones, metronomic, krautrock drums and counter-melodies on horns. The 1967 summer of love has coloured many a psychedelic sound but the most audible influences here come from the great late-80 s British bands Loop and Spacemen 3. Certainly the latter’s smouldering masterpiece, Playing With Fire, audibly impacts the gently fizzing, eight-minute Staring at the Sun, wherein Johnson describes walking past crowds of people, and dreamily thinking: “What a feeling it is to rise above.” Similar sentiments of escape fire Golden Flower, but there is no aimless meandering. Everything is underpinned by solid songwriting and pop hooks, never more so than in the twangy Already Gone, while the keyboard/bass-surging Ride On is grandly epic. Throughout, Johnson’s guitar wanders delicately across the sound with spectral beauty. It’s an album of hazy intensity, perfect for these times and this summer. Continue reading… [hmp_player]