Three months ago I wrote here about my chronic Amazon habit, in which I recklessly buy books, DVDs and CDs I will never have time to read, watch or listen to. It has been costing me as much as drink did when I was still a practising alcoholic.
I made a firm decision in print to get the habit under control and spend no more than £75 a month. Recklessly, I said I would report here to let you know how I was getting along.
Well, the news isn’t good. Looking back over my Amazon account — and the online mail-order supplier provides a scarily precise record of just what you’ve ordered and how much you’ve spent — my total over the past three months comes to £418. 48. Divide that by three and the total is £139. 49, well over my self-imposed limit, indeed perilously close to double the amount I allowed myself, though significantly less than I had been spending.
However, quite a few of these purchases were necessary for work — play texts, theatre books, DVDs of films adapted for the stage — and quite a few more were gifts for friends and relatives. Other items included such mundane items as reading glasses, which I lose bewilderingly frequently, and which Amazon supplies far more cheaply than Boots.
Having subtracted these purchases from the total, the sum comes down to £266.19. Divide that figure by three and I find I spent an average of £88.73 a month on self-indulgent little presents for myself — well over the £75 maximum but not disastrously so. But I must not kid myself. The £75 limit was supposed to cover everything — gifts, work items, spectacles, the lot. I’ve failed.
My undoing was a jazz-funk bender, a genre that was poorly represented in my collection. Had I bought just a single compilation (and several excellent ones are available), all would have been well. But I bought more than a dozen of the blighters and have no idea why beyond a reckless frenzy to acquire. It’s not healthy, it really isn’t.
I also discovered a new set of Blue Note jazz anthologies compiled by the excellent Dean Rudland and had to get my greedy mitts on those, too. Unfortunately, they aren’t nearly as good as the series I recommended in this column several years ago. If you haven’t got them yet, seek out the double CDs Sharp Shades and Finger Snaps and Hip Hammond and Soulful Grooves, which really are the business. The quality control on the latest releases is nothing like as rigorous.
But there are some purchases I don’t regret. The greatest of these is undoubtedly Larkin’s Jazz, that superbly annotated collection of his favourite sides which I recommended last month, and which no jazz or poetry lover should be without. It’s a steal at a mere £9.99 on Proper Records.
Two further titles are also worth your investigation. Three years ago, Robert Plant released a wonderful album called Raising Sand with the bluegrass singer and player, Alison Krauss. It won a host of Grammy awards and achieved big sales with its haunting harmonies and beautifully atmospheric production. Now Plant has come up with another corker, Band of Joy, another piece of beguiling Americana, which he has co-produced with the ace guitarist Buddy Miller, with country singer Patty Griffin often joining him on vocal harmonies. There isn’t a duff track and the dreamy romantic ballad ‘Silver Rider’, with superb guitar from Miller, is nothing short of sublime.
I was always allergic to Plant’s high-pitched whelps and screams as Led Zeppelin’s frontman, and though many still adore the band, I find their strutting cock-rock stubbornly unappealing. But Plant’s voice has both roughened and mellowed with the years and though his fellow bandmates want him back for a Led Zep reunion, he seems determined to resist the commercial rewards of such a comeback and plough his own distinctive furrow. Good for him. After more than 40 years in the music business he is now producing his finest work, drenched in both musical experience and emotional wisdom.
The other release that has left me marvelling is Through Low Light and Trees, the debut album from two young women from Chichester, Katherine Blamire and Jessica Davies, who together comprise the delightfully named Smoke Fairies.
Their haunting brand of folk music, somehow combining both English and American influences, puts me in mind of both Sandy Denny and the McGarrigle Sisters, with a purity and sense of mystery that is often heart-stopping. Many of their songs feature viola, which adds a dark mysterious timbre to the music and I suspect this lovely album will give pleasure for months and years to come.