Thursday, December 30, 2010



It isn't the first time Paul's acknowledged best has been given a deluxe treatment, but it is an improvement over the last version, and makes for a dynamite way to rediscover this old favourite.  As is the trend these days, there are a couple of different ways to get this, with the most expensive going for fifty bucks, with 3 CD's, a DVD, and a nice big book.  Far more affordable and sensible is the 2 CD - 1 DVD version, going for around $20.  You miss out on an audio documentary that came with the old reissue from the 90's, and it isn't really that great.

But the 3-disc set is.  In addition to the original album, you get a second disc of period singles and b-sides (Helen Wheels, Zoo Gang), plus several cuts from the One Hand Clapping documentary, which was basically Wings live in the studio playing cuts from Band On The Run and some others.  Then, the DVD is a gas, with the original One Hand Clapping film, which is very cool.  You can tell this is one fine live unit, even if Denny Laine comes across as either a complete moron or incredibly stoned.  Also, there are several promo films from the time, including a nice animation for Band On The Run, another for Mamunia, and footage in Nigeria, plus behind-the-scenes at the famous cover shoot.

So, if you're a fan, you'll love this set.  As for the original album itself, here's why it's his best:  It's one heck of a great production, with a great mix of rockers (Jet), ballads (Bluebird), and McCartney whimsy (Picasso's Last Words).  It flows, it has the feel of a journey, from the Band On The Run at the start, to the futuresque (for then) Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five at the end.  These aren't his best lyrics, in fact they are sometimes feeble, for instance the "Jailer Man and Sailor Sam" of the title track, or the plain nonsense of Jet.  What McCartney had learned by then is that it's more important if they sound right than if they win any Nobel votes.  Leave that to Dylan, this was arena rock he was crafting.  So while "I can't tell you how I feel/my heart is like a wheel" is far from his greatest line, "Let Me Roll It" is one of his best songs.  Go ahead, listen again if you haven't in awhile, and you'll find yourself pretty happy, if you're any kind of a McCartney fan.  Me, I think Ram is a better artistic effort, but that's another argument.

Monday, December 27, 2010



The folly of The Beatles' venture into commerce is well documented, with the whole Apple concept a miserable mess, from its clothing boutique to the film department to its electronics division all a joke and big money losers.  Such was the bad state of the books that the notorious Allen Klein was brought on board against Paul's wishes, to fix things.  This helped kill the mighty band, so Apple can only be seen as a failure.

Still, there was one good apple amongst the rotten ones.  The music division did have its share of hits and artistic triumphs, and since The Beatles records and subsequent solo albums ended up on the label, it was financially solid.  Yet like the group themselves, there was much experimentation, silliness, and vanity included in the label's output.

Most of the catalogue has been untouched in the CD and download eras, until now, with a new set of discs that cover the highlights and some obscurities as well.  Along with those full albums, there's also this compilation, a best-of from the label, that pretty much covers all corners of what they did, with the exception of any Beatles tracks.  There's the truly excellent band, Badfinger, represented here with their hits Come And Get It and Day After Day, plus the group's early track as The Iveys, Maybe Tomorrow.  The other hitmaker was cute singer Mary Hopkin, with her music hall singalongs Those Were The Days and Goodbye.  There's the one that got away, James Taylor, with Carolina In My Mind, inexplicably unnoticed until two years later and Sweet Baby James, for another company. 

As for the rest, you can't accuse The Beatles of not being involved or trying.  George recorded a bunch of Krishna Temple singers, John had a reggae group doing Give Peace A Chance, Paul wrote a soundtrack song for a brass ensemble, and Ringo played with whoever asked him.  Even buddy Billy Preston, fresh off his guest appearance on Let It Be, couldn't get a hit out of his singles, nor could early 60's hitmakers Ronnie Spector and Doris Troy.

Some of these tracks are pretty good (Preston), some questionable (Spector), and some just bizarre (the previously unheard King Of Fuh...get it?).  At 21 cuts, you'll find something worthy, and at least everything's interesting, which was the whole point, wasn't it?

Sunday, December 26, 2010



Back in 2008, I was interviewing famed British filmmaker Tony Palmer on the phone, and mentioned I was going to see the premiere show of Leonard Cohen's world tour that night.  Palmer was in a hotel in Toronto, and got excited, telling me he was trying to get a hold of Cohen, to try to track down an old film they had made together.  Would I pass on a note for him, asking Cohen to get in touch?  Well, the note was duly passed on.  I don't know if they hooked up, but the lost raw film was found, apparently in a Hollywood warehouse, and Palmer re-edited his long-missing film.

Palmer was given complete access to Cohen's 1972 tour of Europe, on stage, backstage, Cohen taking a swim in the nude, Cohen dropping acid, making out with a fan, crying after an intense show, and even home movies of Cohen not more than 2 or 3.  Palmer calls it "an impression" of the tour, and what an impression it makes.  This is warts and all, a tour at times on the ropes, dealing with crappy sound gear, a near-riot in Israel, and a highly emotional singer who is contemplating quitting touring and music all together.  It's probably pretty close to what every big-name rock tour was like in those days, a barely-contained chaos. 

Amidst this swirling existence, came the beautiful music each night, which thankfully Palmer kept at the heart of the film.  From powerful segments to full performances, the intensity of the performances matches the friction of the rest of the film.  The beauty of So Long, Marianne, Suzanne, Sisters Of Mercy and Famous Blue Raincoat is riveting.  An almost-acoustic tour, Cohen is aiding here by two other guitar players, a stand-up bass, two singers (including a young Jennifer Warnes) and famed producer Bob Johnston (Dylan, Cohen) on organ.  We're treated to an early, quite different version of Chelsea Hotel as well.

There are plenty of cinema verite moments, including nervous women propositioning Cohen, on-stage breakdowns, a stoned and distraught singer trying to cancel the rest of a concert, and plenty of journalist interviews.  In one, Cohen sums up his singing style better than anyone has as yet:  a combination of Montreal chansonnier, a European vocalist, and a synagogue cantor.  This is an essential document for understanding the life and success of Leonard Cohen, and helps explain why a solitary monk's life on Mount Baldy would be so appealing a couple of decades later.

Thursday, December 23, 2010



Hey, here's a last-minute Christmas suggestion, and it's a really good East Coast CD, for the young or not-so-young rock fan on your list. The band is Slowcoaster, from Cape Breton, but please: no typecasting. They aren't Celtic, they are rock, and the new album is called The Darkest Of Discos. Slowcoaster is a big fan favourite in the college rock and live music circuit, known for an enticing blend of jam band, reggae, grooves, danceable tunes, all solidly structured and surprising. You never know what kind of rhythm you're going to get, except that all of them make you head to the floor to join in the energy.

Slowcoaster is blessed with an excellent singer in Steven MacDougall, and what's special about that is it makes the band stand out in their particular genre. Most jam bands don't really put the emphasis on the vocals, and there are lots that consider that secondary to the playing. But in Slowcoaster, MacDougall's lyrics and delivery are key, because there are some fine and different themes brought to table. On The Darkest Of Discos, we go into the modern rock club scene with some little dramas and metaphors for life. There are lots of fun plays-on-words, and I like MacDougall's take on life, he's questioning all the weirdness and emotional drama that goes on between people.
And on top of it all, there's that Slowcoaster trio, just guitar, bass and drums, but they make it count, a full wall of sound that just pulses. They'll slip into a reggae groove in the middle of a dance beat, and then jump back just as fast. In short, the disc is just as fun as the group's live show.

Thursday, December 16, 2010


Gee, too bad Concrete Blonde didn't put this album out this year, what with all its vampire references. In these Tru Blood and Twilight times, Bloodletting would have fit in just fine, and singer Johnette Napolitano certainly could have been cast. But back in 1990, she was just another Anne Rice fan in a struggling L.A. band. That is, until the non-representative and extremely catchy Joey became a Top 20 hit, propelling the band to gold status.

Joey has always stood out on the disc, a spooky and dark collection. That's thanks to the melody, and excellent vocal performance of Napolitano, a strong and deep-lunged singer who never gets the props she deserves. The number was actually as serious as the rest of the album, a love song from a woman to her alcoholic partner. Match that with Tomorrow, Wendy, about a woman dying of AIDS (strong stuff for 1990), and the vampire theme, and you get that this batch of songs had a lot more going on than most Top 40 albums.

Perhaps Concrete Blonde just never found a sound that connected. It's well-played stuff, well-written, but here they were with a near-punk attitude just pre-Nirvana, but too studio polished for that crowd. An acquired taste perhaps, yet this album still stands out. The reissue includes six b-sides, all previously released but hard-to-find, including three live cuts and a pretty smooth version of Hendrix's Little Wing.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010



The first song here tells the tale. Frederick Squire's new disc, called March 12, starts off with a little old-fashioned tape feedback, the kind you got from open reel tape recorders. Then later in the tune, everything speeds up, the tape is playing at the wrong speed... and ha, how cool, Fred's producer or engineer or somebody has figured out how to replicate those old problems of the studio. Except it's not a replication, it's the real deal, the real reel-to-reel. And there's no hotshot producers or engineers around, Fred did it all himself, on vintage gear.

Hey, we used to call that low-fi, back in the day, back in the 1990's, when it was a hip thing to do, a direct reaction to higher-than-high tech studio productions, slick robotic sounds then dominating music. Low-fi went hand-in-hand with the early 90's re-imergence of punk, it's quieter, artier sibling. And we had one of the heroes of low-fi in New Brunswick, the beloved (by a few around the world) Eric's Trip in Moncton. Rick White and pals recorded their music in Rick's parent's basement on an old 1975 4-track reel-to-reel recorder. The thing was dated then.'s an antique.

And guess what? That's the same machine Frederick Squire used to record March 12. Rick loaned it to him, and he carted it off to his Sackville, N.B. home and garage, and started playing and writing. Fred is no newcomer, and has long had connections to the Eric's Trip crew. He was a member of the defunct Shotgun & Jaybird, one of the Sappyfest regulars in Sackville, has toured with Mount Eerie, and most notably worked a ton with Erics Trip member Julie Doiron, including lots of touring, and on her last album, which was produced by Rick White. And, he made an excellent disc in 2009 with Julie and Daniel Romano, all folk music covers.

After all this time playing well with others, Fred decided he should do his own thing for awhile, and get back to writing. The classic folk music of the Daniel, Fred And Julie project obviously had an impact on him, and the new material is intense, haunting, simply structured but lyrically potent. Some of the tunes even use standard and famous folk tales as a background, such as his reworking of Frankie and Albert into a cautionary tale called The Future Of Tradition, or his retelling of The Cuckoo, one of the oldest folk ballads, now set in modern times with an electrical lineman cutting down the pretty bird's tree home.

Given the studio limitations, Squire has done lots with the instruments and effects available to him. Whether piano or guitar-based, each song features some subtle layers and clever tricks. Unlike other low-fi creators, Fred doesn't bury his voice, and that's a good thing. He has a fine, low and melodic instrument, and its wisely recorded closely, and mixed up to be the dominate sound here. There's a couple of tracks here you'd think came out of a big pro mixing board, that's how good a recording he got on his voice.

Squire originally made part of this disc because he needed something to sell at his solo shows. He had been recording through February and March of 2010, finishing March 12, and he had a show that night, so he burned the tracks onto CDR's, called it that day's date, and voila, instant record. Blue Fog Recordings heard it, loved it, got some more tracks from it, and now we have this full-length release.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


Lynne returns with a couple of discs for the fans, seemingly much more at ease now that she's self-producing and releasing her own work.  Her two-decade career has seen her battle record labels and genre labels, people eager to place her in a category and aim her at a larger audience.  But Lynne is a notoriously tough cookie, and her bluesy country-soul doesn't fit formats.  It does, however, fit your ears just fine.  On her new studio disc, written and directed all by herself, she's able to relax into the smokey and bittersweet tales at which she excels.  It's mostly lightly adorned acoustic music, guitar songs you can tell were beautiful on their own, now lightly layered with the right kind of moody backgrounds.  While there's some optomism and good humour on the first cut, Rains Came, that quickly falls away with Southern songs of alibis, unreturned calls, old dogs, and booze taking over.  Old #7 would be a perfect George Jones song.

Unfortunately Lynne falls for that old standby, the Christmas record.  Apart from a couple of okay new ones she penned herself, it's all the usual numbers here, Rudolph, Silent Night, White Christmas, yadda yadda.  Even though she owns one of the great female voices of our day, there's not much life in the acoustic blues treatment given the songs.  The disc is too low key, and it sounds like she'd rather celebrate by herself, or cry into a stiff egg nog.

Monday, December 13, 2010



This concert recording is subtitled a greatest hits live, but that's a little misleading.  It's actually a 1980 concert from the ever-excellent Rockpalast TV show from Germany.  These were no-nonsense, strait-ahead concerts, the artists allowed to do what they do, with solid camerawork and lots of quality artists taking part.  Like Austin City Limits DVD's, you know you're going to get a good product, and all that's needed is a good show from the artist.

For this show, we're getting Armatrading at a crucial time in her career, as she was moving from her more folkie material into New Wave-edged rockers.  For this tour she put together a full band, with two guitars, keyboards, sax, and the redoubtable Richie Hayward on drums, in between the old and new versions of Little Feat.  Softer favourites such as Willow, Love And Affection and Down To Zero still make the setlist, but the new Joan is on full display when the group brings out material from the then-new Me Myself I album.

This was the stuff that helped break Armatrading into the wider North American market, and for awhile it looked like she might even become as big a concern here as she was in England.  It was her top-selling album in both both England and the U.S.  And while the bite she added to her songwriting was fresh for the times, it hasn't really aged as well as the best of her songwriting.   While I was looking forward to those jagged numbers such as When You Kisses Me, in the end it was Love And Affection that left me warm.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010



Okay, I gotta admit, I'm getting to the point where I almost loathe to see that an artist is releasing a Christmas album. If there's a horse, or donkey in this case, that's been beaten to death, it's the Christmas album. Every year, there's another and another and another, and it's been that way since the 40's. Blame White Christmas I guess, one of the biggest selling hits of all time, from good old Bing Crosby. In fact, there's some pretty serious information that it may be the biggest selling single of all time, with estimates of over 50 million copies sold. Since then, everybody has been trying to latch onto that sleigh ride, no matter what the genre of music.

I can't even tell you how many bad Christmas albums I've heard in my job as a music reviewer, but it's dwarfed only by the number of mediocre ones. The number of decent ones ain't bad, I know there are several hundred in my "I could play that again" part of the office. Good or great ones? There's a hundred. Okay, get my point here? The world has enough Christmas music already.

So, it was with a big amount of skepticism that I took the news that one of my local homies, Matt Andersen, was doing one. Here's Matt at a crucial point in his career. The New Brunswick native has been been wowing crowds around North America, with high profile gigs opening for Old Crowe Medicine show, and doing his second Vinyl Cafe tour with Stuart McLean. But here he is treading water with that old standby, the Christmas disc. I guess it can't hurt, everybody does one at some point. But it's not about to light more fires for him.

And then...I cracked it open. You know what? I feel like a kid at Christmas who's been fooled into thinking his present is going to be dull. It's like I've unwrapped a box that says socks, but inside is the brand new hot video game I wanted. I can't begin to tell you what a relief and joy it was to hear this music. Relief first, because it was clearly obvious this was indeed one of those rare, stand-out discs you have to have this season. Joy, because it has opened my ears to a whole new way to hear Matt. He's thought of as this great blues guitar player, energetic and exciting on stage. And sure, folks have also noted what a fine singer he is. But on the Spirit of Christmas disc, we hear him almost completely as a singer. Yes, there's blues, and country blues and folk blues here, but there's carols and covers and traditional numbers too. And what makes Christmas music shine for me is excellent singing. Matt not only lets loose, he gives some of the best vocal performances I've heard on some of these well-known and not-so well known songs. If you have any doubts at all, check out his version of O Holy Night. Just sayin'. It stopped me in my tracks.

Matt's brought in a smart choice of producer, songwriter Dave Gunning, who knows his way around the friendly folk sound which dominates the disc. For material, Matt's come up some high quality songs of his own, from the sentimental blues number My LIttle Country Church At Christmas Time, which of course is something he truly knows about, coming from rural NB, to the fun and rockin' Ol' Nick and Rudy, which sounds like a great Elvis song. He's also come up with some rarely heard numbers by modern bluesmen, including Chris Whitely's the Lonely Shephard to Rick Fines' Country Christmas Blues. I'm giving applause for that, too, because it keeps the disc interesting, hearing songs you're not familiar with, instead of the usual cliche numbers.

So for a music reviewer, I've already had the best present I can get at Christmas time: a new Christmas album I can love, and look forward too every year. Heck, I could play this one in June.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010



Back in the late 80's, all sorts of cultural sounds were being remodelled, updated and cross-referenced, and becoming part of the World Music scene. Turns out we had a few of them in Canada, and one ripe for the picking was the sound of Celtic music. Great Big Sea and Spirit Of The West would soon be famous for it, but predating them slightly was Rawlins Cross. Formed in St. John's, the group would soon expand to involve members from all four Atlantic Provinces. Along the way, they created a unique fusion, mixing traditional Celtic instruments and arrangements with a hard-driving rhythm section, and a powerful lead singer in low-voiced PEI native Joey Kitson. The group's signiture tune described it best: Reel 'n' Roll.

After becoming national concert favourites and perennial scoopers of East Coast Music Awards, the group parted company at the end of the century. But the past two years has seen a flurry of activity, from a greatest hits package to renewed touring. Now comes this first studio album in 12 years. They really haven't had to change a thing. The mix of Celtic and rock still works well, and despite all the exposure the genre has had in the wake of its invention, Rawlins Cross still sounds fresh in a big East Coast sea of fiddles and pipes. It's a big band, a big sound, and these are smart, inventive players.

While the basic approach hasn't changed, on Heart.Head.Hands the band is still trying out new fusions of Celtic colours and other cultures. Sometimes these are rousing successes, such as the instrumental track Jigs, where the group deconstructs the jig style with varied instrumentation, fast plucking and odd chords, giving the mix a Grecian feel, plus the feeling of being inside a workshop, a music-making factory. The vocal song Demons opens with a drone, and mixes in a North Aftrican vibe, again a eerie and succesful blend. Other attempts aren't so appealing, and feel like somebody said, "Let's try reggae! What about if we go to Brazil on this one?"

Back in the regular Celtic rock, Rawlins Cross simply can't be beat in this country. The title cut drives home the album's theme of craftsmanship and strong moral fibre, and check out the rockin' electric guitar-bagpipe duel on Singles. That instrumental has the hardest edge of any track here, and shows how Rawlins Cross is still one of the great party bands.

Monday, December 6, 2010

REVIEW OF THE DAY: Kate & Anna McGarrigle - Odditties


The death of Kate McGarrigle spurred on her sister Anna to finally get around to this long-conceived archival project. It's a collection of twelve tracks cut from the early 70's to 1990 for various reasons, none of them released before. They go back to their first folkie roots, including a version of the beloved Log Driver's Waltz, different than the one which we're familiar with from the famous NFB short. The sister's love of Stephen Foster is on display, songs weighed down with the dust of the 19th century, their voices certainly suited to lyrics about Civil War sadness. The live recording of A la Claire Fontaine from 1976 is sub-bootleg quality, but its muffled and distorted sound once again gives authenticity rather than distraction, and is beautiful in its connection to both Quebec culture and the pure folk tradition. Also en francais is a Cajun hoedown called Parlez-nous a boire, a studio version of a concert favourite.

Another song with dodgy fidelty but tremendous value is called Louis The Cat, a story about a pet who changes a family's lives, only to break hearts when he becomes lost. It's from a living room recording in the early 70's, complete with car horns, creaking pedals and chirping birds. It shows, unadorned, their amazing sibling voices, with harmonies so special, and unison so perfectly matched. The McGarrigle Sisters forays into the rock world are also touched on, with As Fast As My Feet a sister-song to Love Over & Over from their pop period.

The McGarrigle Sisters simply did not release enough music, for my money. Of course, their sales were never huge, and had dwindled in the past two decades. Yet their live concerts were always a treasure trove of musicianship and beauty, and hopefully there are more finds to match this wonderful collection. A boxed set would be nice.

Sunday, December 5, 2010


Fafard's instrumental prowess is already established. His past three instrumental albums have proven him one of the country's top guitarists, with a Juno nomination and lots of acclaim in the national folk community. But the axe is only part of his show, and this time out he's made a full vocal disc, consisting mostly of classic blues and folk, done acoustic. There are a whole lot of standards here, from Spoonful to Come On In My Kitchen to John Hardy. Fafard rips through with his customery virtuoso playing, here sticking to dobro with a slide. And while he rips and zips his way through, what sets this collection apart is what's also featured.

Fafard and producer Steve Dawson (who has quickly become a big favourite of mine) don't just stick with the acoustic, they move it into a whole new sound. Joining Fafard is double-bassist Gilles Founier, and violin and viola player Richard Moody. The trio dig deep into the classic material, finding patterns and places to weave and harmonize with their sliding and plucking. The viola is especially effective, its slurred, bowed tones a wonderful new partner to the blues.

The two modern covers here don't work as well. Lyle Lovett's If I Had A Boat and Richard Thompson's 1952 Vincent Black Lightning are both excellent songs, but Fafard adds nothing to them, they were already stripped down and the original singers are much better. That's actually the major criticism here: Fafard is not really that much of a vocalist. His gruff voice doesn't have much range or power. The older songs work much better because they were originally done by similarly limited singers for the most part, and require a weary sound, which he can handle well. Given the excellence of the playing, and the mighty trio of stringed things, Cluck Old Hen is an overall winner for folk and blues fans.

Saturday, December 4, 2010



So I've immersed myself in these Bee Gees DVD's the past couple of nights, while hiding out home alone, so nobody could see me.  There is perhaps no other group that can bring out such a visceral reaction, from joy to sheer hatred.  As a trial balloon, I updated my Facebook status to announce I was knee-deep in their music, and I got more comments than anything else I've ever posted, save my birthday.  There were sneers, jokes, kudos, and there was the usual great amount of venom.

Even the Bee Gees know why so many people hate them.  There's no question they became the whipping boys for committing the crime of disco.  Barry Gibb, as seen in the new documentary In Our Own Time, admitted at the group's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame that he knows the huge backlash to disco pretty much soured the last three decades of their career.  In the DVD they claim to be quite happy to have held the flag for disco, given the 30-million sales of the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack.  Yet of course, they weren't even making disco music, it was music you could dance to, the group's take on soul and r'n'b.

So, it's difficult to get a handle on my own feelings about the music.  Watching the live concert set One Night Only from 1997, I'm impressed and repulsed in equal measures.  The cheesy Vegas act makes me gag, but the songs are, to my ears, brilliant.  It's the current hipster believe that early Bee Gees is cool, and certainly such gems as Run To Me, How Can You Mend A Broken Heart, and To Love Somebody remain wonders.  But the further Saturday Night Fever moves into the past, the more I can appreciate Jive Talkin', Night Fever, and Nights On Broadway, even with Barry's falsetto and gold chains.  Heck, I can even find some newer songs I like.

The documentary includes lots of vintage clips from Australian TV shows and explains the origin of the family band.  Nothing's left out, including the first sibling fight and break-up in 1970, the failure of their early 70's albums, the accidental rebirth Jive Talkin' brought them, the drug and alcohol death of brother Andy, and the more recent death of Maurice.  Brand-new interviews with the remaining brothers are direct but like the rest of the world has discovered, this is no easy story to tell, there's no closure to the documentary, no answer to the big question:  Were the Bee Gees brilliant or brilliant at making candy floss?

The concert's okay, you really don't need to watch it more than once, if at all, but the documentary will serve you well, with lots of good archival material.  After two days and some soul-searching I can say for me, I really do love a lot of the band's music, even what's been incorrectly labeled disco all these years.  Having said that, I'm still going to be a little careful where I admit that.  We're all friends here, right?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Ryan Cook has a singular and polished sound that crosses genres, and makes him one of the more interesting singer songwriters in the East Coast community.  He comes from Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, and was raised on a large dairy farm, which certainly gives him some actual country roots, something most people who work in the current country climate don't actually have. But he really didn't want to be, or start out to be a country performer. He actually started out doing punk rock and heavy metal. Like many musicians who progress though, he soon discovered songwriting, and with it an appreciation for all sorts of sounds.

The current Ryan Cook does get put into the country side of things, although he has lots of influences going on. You can hear plenty of roots music in there, with banjo and accordian and mandolin, bluegrass sounds when the fiddle and fast picking is added in. His writing includes the classic Canadian folk tradition, the cool places and people you'll meet and see around these parts. He also can fit in a little acoustic jazz to the sound. 

Now, this is quite the flip-flop from punk and metal, and Cook says it happened when he worked in a nursing home. He used to perform for the residents, and they would ask him to play songs by artists such as Hank Williams and Tom T. Hall. He started paying attention, and found his own voice in this older-styled country. That led him to start an acoustic-based group, and put out his first album Hot Times in 2008. He got attention as a country act, and even won a Music Nova Scotia award for Bluegrass recording of the year.

Country did indeed pick him up, and he got radio play and touring dates. Arriving in Nashville in 2009, he made some strong local connections and ended up recording his new album there. It's called Peaks And Valleys, and has just been released. This isn't one of those take-the-money-and-run Nashville studio productions. Often secondary studios and over-seasoned session men make quick bucks by allowing just about anybody to book time and do quick and easy productions just to have the words Recorded In Nashville on their disc, like it somehow makes it better. In fact, most of those released are hack work. Here Ryan Cook really is surrounded by some of the best the city has to offer, including the fabulous banjo player Alison Brown, whose forays into jazz and world music have revolutionized the instrument. But the real important thing here is Cook's songs. He's a strong lyricist, and he combines that with lots of interesting music ideas, not least of which is that touch of happy jazz licks, even an old-fashioned clarinet in there. Word-wise, Cook avoids the usual cliches and writes about places and people you'll feel a connection to. There's a good one that name-checks the Gaspereau Valley region of Nova Scotia, for instance. Just another of the peaks and valleys of the area, and life, that Cook puts in his material.