Thursday, March 23, 2017
Hey, it was Moe Berg's b-day earlier this week, and just in time there's a new collection celebrating his '80s and '90s outfit. And let's not forget Kris Abbott, Dave Gilby, Johnny Sinclair, Leslie Stanwick and Brad Barker, all members in the heyday. Since "I'm An Adult Now" was such an iconic number from those MuchMusic-heady days, we neglect to pour due love on all the other solid hits the group pumped out. But his set will remind you, as they fly by, 12 numbers of pop perfection.
Berg the songwriter should be more celebrated, methinks. He could take a delightful tune such as "She's So Young," with it's radio-friendly chorus, and toughen it up just enough so the last of the New Wave crowd could love it too. He could have sold "Killed By Love" to Kiss or Def Leppard. And surely, when I make my Hockey's Greatest Hits compilation, I'll put "Gretzky Rocks" right between Stompin' Tom's "The Hockey Song" and Johnny Bower's "Honky The Christmas Goose". Listen, is that the sound of millennials rushing to Wikipedia to look up Johnny Bower? While you're there, look up 1993's "Cigarette Dangles" by TPOH as well. Moe and the rest, you're always a breath of power-pop freshness on my current listening device.
Wednesday, March 22, 2017
Let's think back, way back to mid-December of 2016. It was an unusually snowy pre-Christmas then, but I remember being warmed to the heart by a new album I had just reviewed. It was by Canadian troubadour Zachary Lucky, a man with many travels and tales behind him, criss-crossing our fair land.
Well, it turns out that just a few months later, he's headed my way on the album tour, so I thought I'd plug the shows, and re-run the review, since it's good for him and easy for me, not as much writing and thinking tonight. I'm like that, lazy, but well-intentioned.
Get lucky, see Lucky:
Friday, March 24: Grimross Brewing, Fredericton
Saturday, Mar. 25: Nook and Cranny, Truro, N.S.
Tuesday. Mar. 28: The Townhouse, Antigonish, N.S.
Wed., March 29: Thunder & Lightning, Sackville, N.B
Thurs, March 30: Shakey's Pub, Florenceville, N.B
And here's the repeat review:
With his rugged voice and rural leanings, Lucky is channeling old-fashioned values and a country-folk classic style. From the kitchen, my son yelled, "Is that Lightfoot?" and that's a big influence for sure, in sound and spirit. Lucky is looking for values out there in the big world, hitting the road and trying to find the right way, to help and love, to appreciate the country and everybody living in it. After his many trips across the country, the Saskatchewan-raised singer-songwriter is coming to grips with his own traveling Jones, and turning into fodder for his tunes.
There's no question travel dominates the record, with a couple of songs filled with descriptions of the beauty of each province, "Prince Edward (Island)'s copper sand" and the like. But it's no mere "This land is your land" travelogue; Lucky's songs are all soaked in sadness, with pedal steel, fiddle and banjo setting the mood. If he rolls into Jasper after an all-night drive, despite the local beauty, he plays the legion for two or three. Freedom's just another word for loneliness at times, and that's here in spades as well. In other words, what could be gung-ho songs of "Isn't it great outside with all the trees and mountains?" are instead tales of looking everywhere to find yourself.
Tuesday, March 21, 2017
Four albums in, Toronto songwriter Palmer kicks off his latest with a couple of classy tributes, from different corners of the roots world. "That's No Way To Go" includes a heartfelt lyric about Glen Campbell's time with Alzheimer's, which includes a lush middle section in homage to his great late 60's recordings. Next up is "Tulsa Sound" which is just what it's advertised as, named after the late master, J.J. Cale.
Across its ten cuts, you hear Palmer move from strength to strength, from the easy-going blues "Our Love Bears Repeating" to the rural homage to his hometown, lovely Hartland, N.B., home of the world's longest covered bridge. Throwing a very welcome monkey wrench in the works is guitar whiz Kevin Breit, who always provides a left-field solo to spice things up. Palmer is sounding great throughout, which is excellent news, since he had to recover from quadruple-bypass surgery before recording this.
Monday, March 20, 2017
Always rough n' ready, the 97s deliver yet another strong collection, this one with an extra jolt of power twang. "All Who Wander" could have been a good haunted ballad, but it's even better with an intense chorus and nasty guitar. "Jesus Loves You" is a wonderful piece of sacrilege, with a boyfriend who's trying to compete with the saviour for affections: "He's the got whole world in his hands/I've got Lone Star in cans." In a possible first, alt-country meets Irish punk on "Irish Whiskey Pretty Girls."
The Irish is gone for "Drinking Song," but not the punk, which is ablaze throughout: "I'll kick your ass if you don't sing along." What seems to be going on is that Rhett Miller has moved his thoughtful, calmer songwriter material over to his fine solo career,and left the Old 97's to be his hell-raising alter-ego. Best of both worlds, then.
Friday, March 17, 2017
The great sound of Jamaican ska was developed by studio musicians and producers, notably Clement "Coxsone" Dodd and the ace players he recorded for his sound system records used at dances in the late 50s and early 60s. Over the course of a couple of years, the beat of jazz and rhythm and blues was changed to emphasize the upbeat, everybody chopping away at that, along with a bit of swing left over from jazz, and lots of sizzling horns taking solos.
The players had all learned their chops in the jazz bands of the Island's scene in the 40s and 50s, so they were all strong players. With this new sound in place, the best of them decided to team up in 1964 to create the greatest of all bands, the legendary Skatalites. It was full of stars, including leader Tommy McCook on tenor sax, Don Drummond on trombone, Roland Alphonso on tenor, "Ska" Sterling on alto, Lloyd Knibb on drums and Jackie Mittoo on keyboards. Players shuffled in and out, vocalists such as Jackie Opel were added for the stage shows, and in the studio they would either record their own singles or back upcoming artists. Included here is the early hit Simmer Down by The Wailers, in those days a singing group featuring Bob Marley.
The stars were those soloing horn players though, and the sides they cut featured that incessant rhythm and almost constant horn lines. Songs came and went quickly in those sound system days, and they needed a novelty to get the dancer's attention. The name was a big deal, and songs were titled after everything from TV shows ("Dr. Kildare") to people in the news ("Fidel Castro", "Christine Keeler") to historical figures ("Cleopatra", "King Solomon"). There were covers too, ska takes on The Beatles even, with "I Should Have Known Better" and "This Boy".
For all their fame, it's still surprising that The Skatalites only lasted a year, broken up by infighting among all the stars, and the loss of Drummond. Mentality unstable, he flew into a rage after missing his medication, and stabbed his girlfriend to death. But the sound of ska, especially that copied by British musicians in the late 70s like The Specials and English Beat, will always be epitomized by The Skatalites. This double-CD collection originally appeared in 1997, and has now been upgraded and enhanced with an extra six cuts, and is a must for any ska/reggae fan.
Thursday, March 16, 2017
If you are a Matthew Good fan, there's a good chance you decided that because of his Beautiful Midnight album of 1999. It's the biggest seller of his career (either from the Matthew Good Band or later solo albums), a double-Juno winner, and home to hits Hello Time Bomb, Load Me Up and Strange Days. Like other veteran acts, Good's out pleasing the fans by playing the entire album on his current tour, the last dates of which are coming up on the East Coast next week.
Good's actually doing everybody one better. He's re-recorded five of the original 14 tracks on Beautiful Midnight for an EP called I Miss New Wave: Beautiful Midnight Revisited. This wasn't an exercise in promotion; there's no Hello Time Bomb 2017 here. Instead he chose songs he believed he could improve upon, and could handle a more nuanced approach. This is most obvious on Load Me Up, which has gone from a slashing, angry track to a moody, contemplative one, without a change in the words. Born To Kill keeps the same tempo but is more intimate and brighter, I'd certainly agree it's a better version. Whether you prefer the new or old versions is beside the point. What's good here is that he's doing something different instead of selling nostalgia.
The remaining dates on the tour are:
March 17 - Oshawa, ON The Music Hall
March 18 - Montreal, Corona Theatre
March 21 - Fredericton, Boyce Farmer's Market
March 22 - Charlottetown, PEI Brewing Company
March 24 - Moncton, Tide & Boar
March 25 - Halifax, The Marquee
Tuesday, March 14, 2017
Eric Clapton continues to pay tribute to his late friend and mentor J.J. Cale with the release of this 2007 concert where Cale was the special guest. It gets pretty embarrassing up there with all the guitar talent, as Derek Trucks was in the band then, doing all the slide work, and Doyle Bramhall II was also there too as co-lead vocalist, and getting his share of solos too. Even opening act Robert Cray stage-crashed for Crossroads.
This was more than just another normal tour for Clapton. All the firepower, including two keyboards, backing singers and the fabulous Steve Jordan on drums, were there for a world tour that was heavy on songs from the Layla album by Derek & the Dominoes. Each night, with Trucks handling the Duane Allman parts, several of the album cuts were performed, including Tell The Truth, Anyday, Key To The Highway, and the title cut, all included here.
There was a sit-down set in the middle, where all the guitar players would take stools and do some laid-back stuff. On this night, the only time on the tour, a fourth stool was added, and without any flourish, Cale strolled out. He looked more like your under-achieving uncle than a star among stars, but they were all looking to him, to get that unmistakable groove, what always drew Clapton to Cale's songs.
For this Blu-ray we get all five of his numbers that night, all of which he wrote: Anyway The Wind Blows, After Midnight, Who Am I Telling You?, Don't Cry Sister, and of course, Cocaine. The band was tentative on the first number, but for After Midnight, a more familiar song, it all came together. Trading vocals and singing together, it became obvious how much connection Clapton and Cale had.
So there it was that night, and now we all have it, always: Clapton singing those songs that made him rich, Cale, with the guy who made him rich singing his songs, and neither of them particularly cared about that right then. What mattered was how much they loved singing and playing them together.
P.S. There are some very good guitar solos on this disc, by the gentlemen listed above.