Friday, September 30, 2011


Now on solo disc three, we know the drill:  Blue Rodeo album, Blue Rodeo tour, another tour, and then time for solo work, with all the band members doing what they dig.  Cuddy seems to be most comfortable in the solo career, having started a third family with the Cuddy Band, and will be out on tour in the soft-seaters this fall.  And you know the drill for his solo albums; some folks use them to get their wild streaks out of their systems, but with Cuddy, it's more like his mild streak.  Sometimes I think Keelor goads him into being that rockin' kid he used to be when they were starting out.  And I think Jim lets Greg toughen up his songs in the Rodeo partnership.  Because, quite simply, solo Jim Cuddy is softer than his Blue Rodeo stuff, where he's definitely the soft guy.

Okay, I have to go back and apologize, since I'm saying soft like it's a bad thing.  What's a better word?  It's probably a very hyphenated one:  pop-folk-Canadiana-balladeer.  Anyway, you get the shorthand, Greg's the wilder of the two.  Having said that, don't think Cuddy plays it completely safe.  He does experiment, in his own setting.  This disc is actually less violin-No Depression than the last two, instead getting into some interesting melodies and vocals, finding some lovely chords and changes to wrap those gorgeous pipes around.  Ready To Fall is a piano-based, delicate mood piece with a trumpet solo.  And Don't Know That Much is completely unlike anything Blue Rodeo has ever touched, a vocal tour-de-force that's like a latter-day Brian Wilson number, all mood.  There's also an R'n'B tougher number, Water's Running High, again not something you'd expect from Cuddy, but as always, a well-placed gritty number always sounds good from him, in contrast to the balladry.

The track that has the initial chatter is Everyone Watched The Wedding, which takes its title from the recent Royal nuptials.  Thankfully, it's not as saccharine as that, and actually has a good tale in it, a guy taking stock of all the people in his life, the troubles they have, and how it all looked so perfect on TV in that fairy-tale existence.  It's a great narrative.  I have more problems with the title cut, a clunky metaphor, one of those ones that sounds better than it is:  "I got a skyscraper soul/There's mud in my veins and there's steel in my bones."  I don't even know what that means.  But thankfully, it's a rare misstep, and as usual there's lots of touching lines and a few special moments.  He'll have to drag out something rocky from the old albums to liven up the tour this fall, but he's already laid the tender trap for the fans.

Thursday, September 29, 2011


Never mind.  Forget it.  Oh well, whatever.  I feel stupid and contagious.  Punk may have been an outsider music in 1991, but the words sure spoke to a lot of under-30's, and quite a few older than that.  I remember walking into our local hip record shop and seeing the brilliant, arresting cover, and being told what was going on by the hardcore of the Moncton hardcore scene at the time.  Within a couple of years, those guys could actually get big-time record deals, members of Eric's Trip and The Monoxides.  Ya, Nevermind not only spoke to a lot of people, it shook the established rock world by the lapels and said, Entertain Us.

It's hard to separate the album from the tragedy that followed, now that we know just how torn Cobain was inside.  However, it's good to hear the music again, step back and consider if it holds up.  It does, of course, thanks to a flow of solid songs.  This was not just an album built on Smells Like Teen Spirit; following in succession are In Bloom, Come As You Are, Breed, Lithium and Polly, each different and powerful.  Cursed as it were to come out at the height of the CD era, when the art of lining up an album was lost, and all the best songs were stuck at the front, the remaining six tracks almost feel forgotten, but there's strength to them as well.  Quit hitting repeat on Teen Spirit, you geeks.

Now, the real question:  Should you upgrade?  On offer is this Deluxe Edition, which gives you two CD's, including all the studio and live b-sides (nine of them), the original pre-production demos with producer Butch Vig, almost a year before the official session (eight more cuts), the infamous Boombox rehearsals, demos recorded by the group on a blaster, including the first-ever Teen Spirit (eight cuts) and finally two BBC session tracks.  14 of the 18 cuts on disc two are previously unreleased, and you probably don't have many of the b-sides unless you're a collector, so at $19, this is not a bad deal.  What is a bad deal is the absolute lack of liner notes here, just a photo booklet.  I assume it's because they saved up the essays for the 90-page book that comes with the Super Deluxe Version.  They had to have something to offer to justify the whopping $130 price tag.  Yes, it's four discs and a DVD, but get this:  The DVD is the same concert as CD #4, Live At The Paramount, and you can buy that separately on Blu-Ray for $13.  That leaves Disc 3 as your only exclusive, and it's just a different, earlier mix of the regular album, done by Butch VIg himself instead of the official mixer, Andy Wallace.  Why?  I don't friggin' know, because that information is no doubt in the 90-page book, which didn't come in the basic Deluxe version.  It bugs me, but not enough to spend an extra $110 to find out.  I'm thinking Kurt wouldn't think this was a cool deal at all.  Times have changed in twenty years.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


Wilco has been out generating such good will and good media presence in advance of this album, I thought for sure it would see the group continue down the more mainstream path ventured on the previous release, 2009's Wilco (The Album).  Well, what a surprise to find this one starts with a lengthy, experimental cut, complete with guitar weirdness from resident experimenter, Nels Cline.  The second track, I Might, just might have been a pop cut on the last album, but here Cline is once again allowed to coax shrieking animals out of his amp.

The Whole Love is a mixed bag of songs by Jeff Tweedy, none of them ever allowed to be just normal.  Dawned On Me is a sunshine-filled number, but every time you think it's going to relax into a radio-friendly hit, something is dropped in to insure it will never, ever grace anybody's consultant-based playlist, even if it's just the slightly warbled whistling or tiny bit of feedback at the end.  Of course, Tweedy is an old hand at presenting things that are skewed.  The big surprise here is the number of ballads, real acoustic and introspective numbers that see the electric boys step back and the string section take over, plus a major role for Cline's lap steel.  Open Mind is a return to the country roots of the group, way back in the '90's, and it's almost shocking to hear Tweedy's voice in a relative normal setting, without Cline-effects or band craziness vying for equal attention.  It's basically a pretty little melody with a sadness thanks to his natural default vocal mood.  By the time his acoustic picking-Paul Simon-from-1966 number, Rising Red Lung, comes along at cut 10, you've forgotten this is the mighty, noisy Wilco.

Don't get comfy though.  Next comes a ditty.  Yes, I said ditty.  It's called Capitol City, and it's a little music hall melody, with a jaunty rhythm and a silly organ, and if Davy Jones had been its singer, it would have been on More Of The Monkees.  Wow, what a collection.  It's the opposite of a thematic album, rather it's a work that shows how much the band has going for it, how many great ideas are floating around when these artists get to play.  It's all over the place, in the way The White Album or Sgt. Pepper's is, and that makes it such a rewarding listen.  This is truly an experience, and has all the hallmarks of something I'll be listening to over and over again for years.  The disc of 2011, methinks.

Monday, September 26, 2011


If you've done any traveling in New Brunswick, you know what Kouchibouguac National Park looks like.  But what does it sound like?  Not the gulls and wind through the trees and happy campers preparing breakfast, not that sound.  What would it sound like as a song?

That was the challenge facing three musicians, and one filmmaker, dispatched to the park in 2010.  Across the country, similar teams were sent out to parks in each province and territory.  It's called the National Parks Project, and featured such artists as Sarah Harmer, Sam Roberts, Matt Mays, Kathleen Edwards, Old Man Luedecke and 34 others.  The National Parks Project aims to explore the ways in which the wilderness shapes our cultural imagination.  So this series of films and music was put together, and it's been airing on Discovery World channel, in a documentary narrated by Gord Downie.  While the tunes have been married to the visuals, and available on iTunes, now we get a CD collection.  (Vinyl hounds take note:  you get a bonus six tracks on a 2 LP set, as opposed to the 20 here).

This is not a particularly easy task.  If you're looking for strict inspiration from a tranquil setting, odds are you're going to get pretty calm music, and that is what has happened with much of the music here.  Despite the inclusion of lots of Canuck indie rockers, most are mellowed out and trying to tap into their folk or ambient sides.  I like the tracks with a little life to them, such as the couple here by Old Man Luedecke.  Proof, as Steve Martin once told us, “You can't play a sad song on the banjo - it always comes out so cheerful.”

Back to New Brunswick, it actually inspired the best song on the collection, a real epic, with different movements and a stand-alone sound, quite something even without its companion film.  It's called Mystic Morning, and feature the talents of Don Kerr, one-time Rheostatic and frequent collaborator of Ron Sexsmith, Casey Macija, the intriguing and high-pitched vocalist with Ohbijou, and Ohad Benchetrit, the multi-instrumentalist with Do Make Say Think, and musical pal of Broken Social Scene and Feist.  The films probably give us more of the inspiration for each song, but in this case, the trio had no interest in recording background music.

Soundtrack work is always a different beast than normal recording, as the music is supposed to add to the film, and be collaborative between the disciplines.  However, when you are putting 13 such pieces together, and presenting it as a finished collection, you can only hope and pray for some cohesiveness, or lucky break to make it all interesting.  I find too much sleepy-time music was made here, either late at night or early in the morning.  Maybe if you and I head out to a national park and listen on our iPods as the sun sets, we'll love it, but here in my living room, I nodded off.

Sunday, September 25, 2011


It's interesting that at the same time we're hearing all about the 20th anniversary of Nirvana's Nevermind, and its impact on music ever since, this item also comes out, celebrating its 10the birthday.  In its own way, O Brother is just as significant, a game-changer that reached much further than the several million copies it sold.  Like Nevermind, its reverberations are still being felt.  And like Nevermind, here's the Deluxe Edition if you want to buy it again.

The movie never set the box office on fire, but it was quite brilliant I thought, an artwork.  The process of how the music was selected and recorded is described in a fine new essay by producer T-Bone Burnett.  He talks about the magic of early American music, or as we came to call it when the soundtrack hit, Old Time.  What he doesn't talk about is how Americana exploded with the disc, and all of a sudden even young people were cool with bluegrass and fiddles and banjo and such, and how live music was changed in festivals and clubs.  If you think Old Man Luedecke would have had half the considerable audience he commands now without the disc, I beg to disagree.  My gosh, last weekend in Fredericton a local bar almost exclusively catering to University-age crowds had a bluegrass afternoon.  Every alternative band worth their salt has acoustic instruments now.  I'm going to argue that while 20 years ago, Nirvana put really loud (then quiet then loud) into the mainstream, O Brother made everyone unplug ten years later, at least partially.

Of course, the music of the soundtrack was excellent, as we all discovered such gems of the past as Big Rock Candy Mountain, and Man Of Constant Sorrow, and enjoyed the sight of George Clooney miming with the Soggy Bottom Boys to In The Jailhouse Now.  Well, it turns out T-Bone and crew did a great job the first time, and even though the set is expanded to with a second disc and 14 more cuts, there's not much you'll need in the extras.  Tracks that first got me excited, including those by Colin Linden and Van Dyke Parks, turn out to be short instrumentals.  Norman Blake does a nice Big Rock Candy Mountain, but it's still more fun to hear the old Henry McClintock version.  It's almost entirely made up of the same songs, but different versions.  So unless you've misplaced your first copy, it's still fine and dandy.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


It just so happens that I saw Steven Page perform last Saturday, at Fredericton's Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival, just the man himself on guitar, along with the fantastic Mr. Fox, Kevin, on cello.  He did a mix of songs from his first solo disc, First Page, and a selection of BNL songs he wrote and sang over the years.  Since I was MC, I was backstage watching on the monitor, and one Green Room chat begin, "Boy, they had a lot of hits."  Yes, they did.  We forget that sometimes.

I think because the biggest hits were and still are played so often, we tend to forget there's a pretty good-sized body of work from the band, and not all of them wacky and fun.  The band could be sneakily subversive, with a backwards solo stuck on, or they could rock out just a bit too much for regular radio, but somehow it got played.  There were puns, but sometimes there was an underlying sadness, and often it was Page with the sensitive stuff.  In a fair world, they wouldn't be thought of only as a comedy-pop band, but rather as a bunch of occasionally jokey big thinkers with killer hooks, a Canuck Crowded House.

So for every If I Had $1,000,000 we all know, there are ones like Too Little Too Late we forget, but that's track that always impresses me when I hear it again.  Same goes for Call And Answer, and It's All Been Done, but I'll happily pass on hearing One Week again for oh, a decade of so.  I notice that song is Ed Robertson's, whereas the others are Page numbers.  Just sayin'.

I have a problem with this best-of, because it pales next to the last one they issued, called Disc One:  All Their Greatest Hits 1991 - 2001.  Unfortunately, the past ten years haven't offered many true hits to add to the canon, and to put a few recent ones on this new collection, some major tracks were left off from the past.  Sacrificed are Be My Yoko Ono, Jane, Enid and their famous cover of Bruce Cockburn's Lovers In A Dangerous Time.  There's no Shoebox or What A Good Boy, either.  What we get are five you couldn't name if I offered you $1,000,000 in Kraft Dinner.  The big grab here is the theme song for the TV show The Big Bang Theory, which has never been on an album before.  Itsounds better in the 30-second burst you get from the screen, although it's not much longer than that.

One benefit to the inclusion of the later tracks is we do get to give another chance to last year's non-Page disc "All In Good Time", with the track You Run Away, where Ed proves in fact he can both write and sing the sensitive, non-goofy pop song.  Is there life left in BNL?  Or are they going to be Canada's R.E.M., hanging on too long? Tough call at this point.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


What is David Myles thinking, releasing two albums in six months? It seems like yesterday I was writing about his Live at the Carleton album, and now we have Into The Sun, a brand new studio disc. I don't know the motive, but I actually like the thinking. All usual music business marketing practises are out the window now anyway, so why not go back to 1960's release schedules? It certainly didn't hurt those artists to put out two or even three albums a year. It's actually been a year and a half since his last studio album, Turn Time Off, but even that is a very fast turnaround these days, with three years being the norm for many artists.
I think what happened was that Myles got excited about an idea and a project. He's long been a fan of certain kinds of world music, rhythmic stuff from Brazil and Africa. Of course, given his age, that means Paul Simon was an early influence, and he also tells me he's been addicted to Harry Nillson of late, he of "put the lime in the coconut" fame. This is all a natural mix, since Myles is also a singer-songwriter first and foremost. As you'll hear on Into The Sun, the rhythms don't overwhelm the songs, and there are some numbers where they barely show. But the basic idea here was to incorporate some of these influences, and see where that leads.

This summer we got the first taste, with a sun-soaked single, Simple Pleasure. Both versions of that fun number are included here, the regular and the Classified mix. From there, you don't know quite where this album is going to go, but all the directions have good end results. Don't Look Back is Myles' version of an African number, and certainly you won't hear that same kind of song on anyone else's album. It features layered vocals and harmonies over a repetitive guitar line, and eventually a clip-clop percussion. There's that light, high electric guitar solo like the ones on Graceland, but that's about all you can fine to compare the two. It's one of the best vocal tracks, and lyrics Myles has done in his career.

The track Nina is one of the Brazilian-flavoured numbers, with a hypnotic Southern samba groove, and a 60's chintzy organ, plus more layered Myles voices on the ba-ba-ba's. He also gets to show off those high school trumpet skills. There aren't many words to this song, but who needs it, when the groove is so cool. This one is great lounge music.

Smart boy that he is, Myles never lets the experiment get out of control or too far away from his signiture style. The nice-guy singer-songwriter stuff is still here, and I have to say his voice has never sounded better, in studio or live. He's spoken about some training he took with New Brunswick opera singer Wendy Nielsen, a regular at The Met and stages around the world, and it sounds like this has paid off. Myles appeared Saturday night at the Harvest Jazz And Blues Festival in Fredericton, and he easily commanded the soft-soft theatre The Playhouse, a large house that needs a strong voice to fill up the space.

The disc is available on-line and in-store October 4th.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


Clapton and Marsalis find the meeting place of blues and jazz, back in the 1910's and 20's.  This is the cultural stew and birthplace of 20th century rhythm music, down in New Orleans, when it all was really one thing, the only difference whether it was in the church or out of it.  So Clapton joined the Marsalis Lincoln Center combo, to play some classics live.

If this feels like the inevitable PBS fundraising show, you've got it.  It's going to be a great TV show for sure, as the band is hot and so is the jazz.  These guys are experts at what they do, recreating the classic sounds and solos of pre-modern jazz, Clapton's no slouch when it comes to the rich catalogs of everyone from Howlin' Wolf to W.C. Handy sampled here.  The team is based on the lineup of the King Oliver band, which means there's a banjo, clarinet, trumpets and trombone, a sound I always enjoy.  They even do a Dixieland number, the classic Just A Closer Walk With Thee. 

So it's great fun, and for some, it's even a learning experience, if you didn't know about the blues and jazz intersection, and aren't familiar with that music.  But it's a one-off just the same, and really not something you'll go back to for repeated listening.  That's even with the inevitable inclusion of Layla, here rearranged and slowed down into something quite different.  It's interesting, but not successful, not like the Unplugged version of the song Clapton hit with once before.  Yes, it would have been incredibly cool for the song to be a hit for a third time in a completely different arrangement, but unfortunately, like the whole show, one listen is enough.

Monday, September 19, 2011


I'm sure Mick and John and even Stevie wish Buckingham would pass more songs their way.  But this time, I doubt there's much they'd want, even if it meant another Mac reunion and tour.  This stuff ain't the pop hits he can drop with ease.  Instead, Buckingham seems to have completely given up on the verse-chorus-solo work, and gone with his kind of guitar noodling.  The whole album has the feeling of "what the hell, hardly anybody will buy this anyway, I'm going to do what I really want".

What we get is Lindsey the Mad Professor, or at least wacky.  It's the guy who brought us Tusk all those years ago, his first bold statement that not everything has to be three minutes of lush glory.  He does that repetitive guitar noodling on almost every track here, with the same tone and advanced speed each time.  I find it very annoying, and while it's his distinctive and signature style, I'd rather it be retired, instead of promoted.

Rock Away Blind could have been a single, if it was built into something more than a repetitive guitar number (again, that annoying plucky guitar, you hear as much pick on the strings as you do the note).  I would love to hear a band kick in behind it, God, anything else than those notes, over and over again.  He does a nice version of The Rolling Stones' She Smiled Sweetly, and that could have been a ballad hit, again, if it was fleshed out.  Only one track here features other musicians and instruments, and Buckingham somehow makes it sound like they are playing child's toys.  Hey, I'm all for experiments and creative freedom for artists, but it the artist in question is regressing, then you gotta call him on it.

Sunday, September 18, 2011


These two CD's are part of the most recent wave of Hendrix releases from the seemingly endless supply of live concerts, outtakes, and film and TV footage.  Remarkably, the quality remains high, certainly interesting enough for confirmed fans.  It's a testament to the man's talent that he made so much music in his four years at the top.

Some might already be familiar with the Hendrix In The West set.  This live album first came out after his death, put together by his manager, and was relatively well-liked at the time.  As usual with posthumous Hendrix packages, things have been changed and tampered with.  But in this case, it's not a question of leaving well enough alone.  Hendrix In The West was a sloppy and somewhat controversial package in the first place, with a lawsuit forcing it off the shelves, and it hasn't been out since 1974.  Some tracks have shown up in other reissues, so substitutes are now featured, and of course, it's been lengthened from single album length to over an hour for CD, with an extra three cuts.  This has been a devotee favourite over the years, but its importance has lessoned of late, since there are plenty of other live versions of Johnny Be Goode around now, for instance.

Where the title In The West came from is anybody's guess now, as the recordings are taken from the Isle of Weight, as well as several California shows, from October of 1968 to August of 1970.  The original program only featured cuts by the Experience trio, and that remains the plan here, none of the expanded Band Of Gypsies, or other guests.  So it's Hendrix, Mitch Mitchell, and either Noel Redding (early) or Billy Cox (later) on bass.  It remains a hodgepodge of tracks though, without a real concert flow.  The truncated God Save The Queen/Sgt. Pepper's opening is unsatisfying, and we're immediately thrown out of that show, and dropped back two years for a version of Little Wing.  Quite a good one, actually, but the choppy and rushed Fire that follows blows the mood again.  It's one of a trio of new-to-this-set live cuts, which only serve to increase the grab-bag feel of the collection.  Even though original album produced Eddie Kramer is on board again, continuing his partnership role with estate minder Janie Hendrix, this one remains flawed, as it was at its birth.  But the version of Red House here is so stunning, its worth it for that track alone.

Far more successful is Winterland, available as either a four disc set or this single sampler.  The box is for the collectors, as there is much repetition of tracks over the 6 different shows recorded over three nights in San Francisco back in October of 1968.  It's still the original Experience, a week away from the release of Axis: Bold As Love.  He's one of the biggest stars on the scene by now, in the still-hippest rock city, at the hottest venue.  Although the tracks on the single disc come from all three nights, this time it feels like a full concert experience, clocking in at 75 minutes.  Highlights here include an 11-minute take on Like A Rolling Stone, again proving Hendrix could do Dylan better than Dylan, another gorgeous Little Wing, and a new-to-the-kids version of Voodoo Child.  With Fire, Foxey Lady, Purple Haze and Hey Joe, it's still heavy on the early days and debut Are You Experienced album, but there's a (strong) argument to be made that this could be the best time to experience Hendrix.

Thursday, September 15, 2011


I remember watching the last Grammy Awards, and thinking it was, for once, a pretty good show, what with Mick Jagger doing a great Solomon Burke tribute, and Arcade Fire winning and all.  One thing was driving me nuts though.  It was Lady Antebellum (awful name) winning several times, and THAT song getting played over and over.  I even made up a real-life response:  "It's a quarter after one, I'm a little drunk and I hate this song."

That's what I think of the trio's style:  catchy but ultimately lacking in substance.  Everything seems overly dramatic, and that continues on the new one.  There's lots of boy-girl duets again, these poor hurt creatures dumped a million times over, usually to the accompaniment of a string section.  Then there's the 70's pop duets, softer ones a la James Taylor and Carly Simon, the more electric in the grand Lindsey and Stevie tradition.  Country being the new pop, you know.  But even the rockiest songs aren't allowed to stray off country radio, but all that means is the token gesture of a pedal steel lick by the second verse.

I'm writing as I'm listening, and meanwhile, back at the CD, our poor singers have been ditched yet again!  "I guess I wanted you more", they harmonize.  And I hope those string players have a piece of the action, because they're getting more airtime than the guitarist.  And holy crap, that's a harp!  Jonathan Yudkin, stand up and take a bow, you're the first session harpist on a pop album since Elton John was in the Top 40.  Don't worry about Yudkin though, he's got lots of other work here, with his credits including cello, fiddle (a damn fine solo!), acoustic guitar, bouzouki (!), and mandolin.  He's one talented boy.  And I just noted the band's drummer is Chad Cromwell, who is Neil Young's drummer as well when he isn't using Crazy Horse.  Geez, Chad drummed on Rockin' In The Free World.  Well, a paycheque's a paycheque.  Speaking of that, it took seven people to write Wanted You More, including all three group members.  That royalty cheque is going to be split a lot of ways.  Lucky it's going to sell five million copies.

That's right.  I'm more interested in the liner notes than I am in the music.  Oh, the CD's over.  See ya.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


Here at the start of another Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival, I'm searching for something new to say. It's not an anniversary year, there's no big changes, thankfully no natural disasters to deal with as they have in the past. They've already got over the now-annual cancellation of Gregg Allman, so whaddya say? We all know its many successes, and everybody's ready to have fun.

Well, sometimes you have to put things in perspective. Step back and look again. Going each year, doing the stories over and over again, I forget what it used to be like. 10 years ago, for instance, this was a very successful festival for sure. But it wasn't as big, it didn't attract as many major acts, or have as many venues or free stages and it wasn't as long, either. The thing has doubled in size.

There's another difference that is really important. Back then, it was one of the festival's goals to expose local Maritime talent. Put these higher quality local acts on stage as often as possible, let them open up for the bigger acts, 3rd on the bill, and hopefully something would grow. They started a Rising Star contest for new groups to come out, with the winner getting to play on one of the big shows. So, what's that led to?

Now, it's obvious. The first winner of the Galaxie Rising Star competition was Flat Top, featuring Matt Andersen. I was there, a judge for the show, and people really liked the band, and that big guy destroying the guitar. Matt went solo and ..well... here we are. Matt doesn't open up shows any more. Matt headlines shows, his own, Thursday night at the Mojo tent. I mean, headlines, top act. Thirty bucks a ticket. If you had told me that 10 years ago, I would have told why that would never, ever happen. He's not the only one. David Myles is co-headling Saturday night at The Playhouse with Steven Page. Look at almost every show, and there are locals up there, and nobody is complaining, everybody's happy about it.

It's not just in Fredericton where this is happening for Andersen. Next week sees the release of his latest album, called Coal Mining Blues. This is Andersen at a different level, folks. After years of constant touring and exposure, Matt has built up a national fanbase. He's the talk of festivals across the country. Calgary, Winnipeg, all the right ones. Now, he has the disc to match that buzz. His Christmas album this past year was a great lead-up. It was a very strong seller nationally, in some surprising places, such as Ottawa. All the planets are aligned, and Andersen has delivered with this new album.

Recorded this past spring in Woodstock New York, Coal Mining Blues was produced by Colin Linden, Bruce Cockburn's producer, and a member of Blackie and the Rodeo Kings. It was done at Levon Helm's studio, a nice twist of fate, as Helm is now playing the festival too. Helm's daughter Amy actually sings on some cuts here, a great foil to Matt's rich belting. In a world of auto-tuned vocals and sampled beats, here is the real thing: dymanic, passionate singing and playing, by a man who lives and loves the music. His fingers fly, he never wants to stop picking. Tremendous, live-in-the-studio solos liven some songs, beautiful, soulful, eyes-full-of-tears singing charms others. Working with an expert in Linden, great performances came out, and the right instruments were used for the right colours. Plus, as always, Linden was able to capture the real sound of real acoustic instruments. It's a treat to hear what can happen when a talented guy like Andersen meets up with someone who can get the best from him.

All this would be good, and good enough, but Andersen has also written the best songs of his career. The title track was inspired by his recent move to Cape Breton, and is pretty much a classic already, a touching portrait of the coal miners of the region. Better still, there are no songs here that are filler, or feature sub-par lyrics, or are just shells of words, an excuse to jam. It's top drawer stuff from start to finish.

I've been hearing from people across the country about this album for months now. Industry people say it's going to sell. Colin Linden said flat out the guy is an amazing talent. Reviewers keep singling him out at their local festivals. So, the next time you go see a local band, and think, hey I like this, it's pretty good, trust your instincts. Don't think, oh, they're just local people, they can't be as good as the real stars.

Maybe in ten years they'll be the headliners.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


Long-time readers of this space (okay, there are none, but you get the point) will know of my abiding passion for the wit and wisdom of Mr. Lowe.  I loved him back in the day, leading the New Wave, fronting Rockpile, producing the first-ever punk album (from The Damned), all of Costello's early efforts, writing What's So Funny 'Bout Peace, Love and Understanding, and bashing it all out without spilling a drop.  That was then.

This is now, and Lowe, for the past decade, has reinvented himself as the sophisticated crooner, but a new and very individual style.  Lowe hasn't gone the obvious route of remaking The Great American Retread Songbook (I'm looking at you, Rod Stewart), nor has he simply gone to Motown Retirement Home for Old Songs and Old Singers (time for your pills, Michael McDonald).  Instead, he's back in the 50's and 60's, but coming up with his own songs for the most part, based on original sounds of that time.  Lowe has essentially moved himself back to that era, and claimed the music as his own, whether its rockabilly, lounge, soul, countrypolitan, sort of a Madmen mix tape.

Lowe's had a successful trio of these discs, and why change now?  But he does tinker a little bit, for fun and to not stagnate.  This time, on about half the cuts you could call this Nick Lowe and his Happy Organ.  It's an almost-cheesy, rinky-dink sound, kind of like skating rink music, but it works great.  Combined with some ballads, and Nick's knack for writing lyrics which hold your attention, you quickly become glued to the disc.  I hang on every syllable, waiting for the next gem to drop.

I love it when he comes up with new takes on classic themes, such as Stoplight Roses, where our straying hero won't be able to get back in his love's good graces with just a gesture of cheap flowers bought at the traffic stop.  I Read A Lot is the response of the brokenhearted, all he does to replace his lost love.  Til' The Real Thing Comes Along is the desperate plan offered by the man suffering from unrequited love, saying he'll stay until the real man of her dreams arrives.  Aching stuff.

There seems to be more emphasis on Lowe's voice in the production, or the songs feature the performance more than in the past.  Either way, I found myself noticing that he's actually a fine singer, with a relaxed mellowness.  There is one moment though, in his cover of Costello's Poisoned Rose, where he hits and holds a big, solid tone, and the transition from sloppy rocker to sensitive song master is now complete.

Monday, September 12, 2011


Um, this is BTO, right? In all but name, yes. Randy Bachman is the Canadian king of rock, and dysfunctional band families. Like he can't use The Guess Who name without the right former colleagues involved, the BTO brand doesn't belong to him, even with co-lead singer C.F. (Fred) Turner in the reformed group. That just leaves the other Bachman brothers, who aren't here, but I don't even wanna know what that's about. Geez, it's worse than the Wilson-Love feuds of The Beach Boys cousins, or the Fighting Fogerty's of CCR.

At least it doesn't have any effect on the music. All you needed for a BTO reunion in any fans ears and eyes was these two, and after a pretty good new studio album, we get this inevitable tour momento. Thank you's go out to the people who decided to throw in the 2 CD's of the concert along with the DVD, it costs so little, and means so much to us folk who really don't find a lot exciting about most concert videos. However, you do have to watch it once to see how Bachman and Turner look these days. They are old, hefty rockers, but of course, they never were in the best of shape back in the 70's either. I like the idea they aren't out jogging 10 km a day to be as thin and youthful as Mick Jagger. There's lots of old rock stars now, and I think I like seeing the ones who look like me rather than the dyed hair and botoxed faces bunch. Also, you have to see Paul Shaffer come on for the cameo during the encores, as a loyal Canadian music fan.

The nice thing about being Canadian is that we can wink while we enjoy BTO. We know it's not the most complicated, or certainly the most hip music ever created. But it's fun, and harmless. There's always been a cartoonish element to the group, heard here in the lyrics to Lookin' Out For #1, or the entire performance and concept of Not Fragile. At times, it borders on a Spinal Tap moment. Yet, they can hit on a clever line just as often, such as this little bit of breaking down the fourth wall between performer and audience in Roll On Down The Highway: "I'd like to have a jet, but it's not in the song".

Bachman and Turner throw in some new ones among the 20 tunes, but if Randy hadn't told us which ones, we would have just assumed they were non-hit album tracks, since nobody actually owned all the albums, did they? I guess that means the new stuff is pretty good at grabbing the old spirit, although it also means it doesn't stand out. It would have been a fluke if this (or another other high-profile 70's reunion) would have generated a bone fide new hit. Still, these two guys (and their new friends in the new band) are certainly enjoying themselves, and we might as well, too.

All the expected hits are here, including Hey You, You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet and of course, Takin' Care of Business. There's a nod to Randy's other band, with a short but sweet version of American Woman, and Shaffer gets to have fun with them on the ancient Shakin' All Over, the very first Guess Who hit from 1965. Turner and Bachman sound exactly the same as they did back in the day, so in the end, a find job all around.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


They are all the rage, and if you haven't been to a house concert, please consider it.  More and more musicians are doing them, as an option to fill in dates during tours, or profitable add-on dates in their local areas.  Fans like 'em because of the relaxed atmosphere, the up-close and personal feel, and the better set-up than most clubs.

Christina Martin's new album lets you hear what a house concert is like, with the casual and funny chat, the stripped-down acoustic sound, and the audience comments.  With only a little judicious editing, this set features no overdubs, no retakes, and it's just like it happened that night, including the singalongs and remarks from the few dozen friends and neighbours.  The hour-long disc features tracks from Martin's first three albums, either her alone with her acoustic or joined by husband/producer/multi-instrumentalist/harmony singer Dale Murray.

There's a twist though, it's not somebody else's party, this was actually done at Martin and Murray's house in rural Nova Scotia, where they have a home studio.  It wasn't really cheating, because it was the same atmosphere, and was all set for making a disc.  The project was done with an organization called PledgeMusic, which works with the artist to get funding, and sees the project divert some of the bucks to charity, in this case the Canadian Mental Health Association.  So people that pledged money got various levels of payback, including autographed discs, right up to seats at the show.

I always love seeing Martin live, but this show, despite some nerves she mentions, saw her at her best.  And although she might like playing with her full band when she can, Murray is a tremendous sideman, especially when he drops in pedal steel licks.  Knowing her discs well, I have a hard time choosing between the full versions, and the stripped-back acoustic ones.  There's an especially strong take of Take, and I always love how Martin draws from this well of emotion when performing these songs.

I could perhaps put 6 to 8 people, plus Martin and Murray, in my place for a house (well, apartment) concert.  Christina, the offer is on the table.

Saturday, September 10, 2011


 The Parlophone-Harvest Years (1968 - 1973)

A few days ago, I reviewed a ridiculously comprehensive collection of Hollies music from the 60's, all their recordings uncovered from the time with Graham Nash in the group.  One of the things I praised was this one-stop shopping idea, it's all there, it's all you need, six CD's, and at a decent low price.  What I didn't mention at the time was that it came with two other similar collections, each one five CD's.  Both are also British rock bands, from the late 60's-early 70's era, UFO and Barclay James Harvest.  I listened to UFO yesterday, and having never been a fan before, and in fact having no memory of ever hearing them, I can say without any hesitation that I will never, ever be a fan in the future.  Boring, generic rock from the early 70's, from a third-tier band.  I know of no-one in my broad circle of music-listening friends who has ever mentioned them, and I suggest this be the last conversation we ever have on this matter.

Barclay James Harvest offers a little more for a conversation, and in fact, I know one person who considers them his favourite band of all time.  This shocks me, but to each his own.  Again, it's a band I've spent virtually no time with over the years, and I can't really recall ever playing their music.  Stretching from 1968 to 1973, this set presents their singles, four albums and some BBC sessions.  When we talk about prog from that time, it's usually Genesis and ELP, Gentle Giant and Yes, even early Rush gets thrown in there for their spacey, early concept discs.  But poor old Barclay gets forgotten.  The top prog website calls them "crossover prog", and they don't even make the Top 50 of the all-time prog list.  Maybe it's because they were too much like the Moody Blues, not far out enough.  They tried a bit of everything, including full orchestras, blues workouts, sci-fi, and of course, Lord Of The Rings.  One of their big songs was called Galadriel, and they also recorded a side project under the name Bombadil.  Some of the extended pieces approached Pink Floyd-level flights, others (Mocking Bird) are album-side length pieces that really don't say much, repeating a lot, but aren't offensive or anything.  Just long and kinda ..okay.

Like all the other bands, BJH was experimenting with synthesizers and mellotrons, but that never really became a standout part of their sound.  Nothing did.  They had some fans in England, at least got released over here, but never built a Canadian following, despite all the rest of those kind of bands, from King Crimson to Queen taking off at the time.  The question therefore isn't whether if five CD's is overkill on this band; instead, it's whether you can find anyone (other than my friend, I've claimed him) that rank wants even one album.  This is a steal though if you do find someone who likes them, five CDs for $39.

Friday, September 9, 2011


Whoopie, another great smart pop album, featuring the talents of Ottawa's Dave Merritt. This tight little album is just the kind of stuff I love, having discovered New Wave in my formative college days, and still holding Squeeze in the highest regard. Or if you'd like, a little less edgy version of Sloan, more sugar and less Murphy. A bowl of snap, crackle and McCartney. Shiny Happy People music. You get the picture.

Dude wins my favourite line of the week contest for "Put your wet suit on/we've got important work to do/like raising the titanic mess we've made of me and you" from Wetsuit. But, it also includes the excellent "You were Peaches, I was Herb" (look it up, kids, this is a first-class 70's reference). (Geez, I just looked it up, Wikipedia says Peaches died in 2005.) (No, not THAT Peaches, the one who worked with Feist, this is the one that worked with Herb.) Next on the disc comes the really tip-off Merritt is well-versed in Squeeze, as the 1'33" track Note To Self sounds like a classic East Side Story track, like Someone Else's Heart. It also includes the wonderful "Now's the winter of our discotheque". This stuff makes me smile, and somehow it never gets tiresome over repeated listens.

With nine tracks, only one of them hitting 4 minutes even, and the rest much shorter, the whole disc is just over 26 minutes. How I wish for more, because the guy has gathered all the great tricks I love so much. The harmonies, the melodies, the electric piano and cheesy organ, the smart themes. He takes the term "half life", and turns it into a failed love song. He writes about how he hates July 1st. I can't get enough of this.

Thursday, September 8, 2011


New country duo The Stellas met singing and playing guitars at a campfire, which has to be a classic Canadian romance. They're a cute couple, which is part of the appeal here, although they certainly have lots of talent too. MaryLynne has a lovely voice, and a retro feel, while husband Brad has perfect rockabilly hair. I kid a bit, but the visual imagery has been crafted as much as the music. Anyway, it should help them get a leg up capturing the public's attention with their debut disc.

Some of the material here has a bit of a old-time feel, not the twangy or maudlin country, but more like the smooth 50's style, a touch of Les Paul and Mary Ford, some sophistication. MaryLynne handles most of the vocals, but Brad has a pass at a couple as well, and proves a strong duet partner. They are both writers, and don't seem to rely on the usual pros for co-writes, most come from their own pens, together or on their own. These are all good points to include, because despite the gloss and nice photography, there's something going on. Most of the songs are CMT-friendly, but every once in awhile, there's a little twist in there that suggests they are willing to mess with the formula a bit, throw a little artistic curveball in there to see if folks will follow along. The Game is a fast-tempo track that usually some decidedly non-country minor chords and harmonies, and Woe Is Me has a jazzy instrumental break-down in the middle, with a touch of banjo reggae! But it's just for a moment, nobody's getting carried away on this stuff. It's also nice to hear New Orleans piano in the track, too. You feel like you're being challenged instead of being pandered to. The live version of the old Everly Brothers staple Love Hurts is strong too, with Brad doing some non-typical harmonies on the Massey Hall stage. After all, it was their talent at duets that first won them fame on a CMT reality competion.

Canada likes its mainstream country performers to be friendly, happy, hard-working and humble. I get that vibe from George Canyon, Johnny Reid, Terri Clark, and that's what The Stellas offer as well. The only thing I can't believe is that his actual last name is Stella.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


Russell's considered the real poet of U.S. singer-songwriters, capturing images and moods of today and the past decades, especially Western tales.  He's also well-connected to Canada, having co-written the great cowboy number Navajo Rug with Ian Tyson, and co-authoring a book of music quotes with Sylvia Tyson.  He is a chronicler of humanity, usually looking at the down side of the American dream, but when he's tackled a subject, the poor of spirit are given back some bit of dignity.

The veteran story teller is obsessed with the dark and sad stories of old Hollywood this time, with songs about Elizabeth Taylor, Sterling Hayden and troubled 50's child star Bobby Driscoll.  A Land Called "Way Out There" starts with the flaming car crash death of James Dean, and Roll The Credits, Johnny features an unnamed movie star talking about her past glory days.  There's some Mexican border town bleakness thrown in, and a couple more songs featuring death, which is the commonality here, and redemption the hope.  Of course, Russell's songs are always cinematic, so the movie themes are pretty much his perfect target.

But it's the title track that provides the surprising subject matter this time out.  Here we get a romanticized version of the story of young Bob Dylan, living in Minnesota in the Mesabi Iron Range, his hometown Hibbing built on feeding the steel mills of America's war effort.  We get pictures of him hearing Howlin' Wolf on the late night radio, and pounding piano in the high school gymn, hoping to escape the work his father did.  Russell says Dylan is the reason he started in music in the first place, so to have him immortalized by this master American storyteller is fitting.  Plus, there's a nifty bonus track of A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall included as well, a slow duet with Lucinda Williams.

Other collaborators here include the Tex-Mex modernists Calexico, Texas Tornado and Sir Douglas Quintet keyboardist Augie Meyers, and the idiosyncratic Van Dyke Parks.  It's interesting that 26 albums into a career packed with highlights, he continues to advance, with more sounds and experiments than ever before.

Sunday, September 4, 2011


Little funny stories and slices of American suburban culture are FoW's stock-in-trade, kinda like our own Barenaked Ladies or, more closely, England's Squeeze.  And if you wanna get picky, I suppose you could say they all come from The Kinks style of songwriting.  And certainly, in Wayne's world, all music cues come straight from The Beatles, including guitar sounds, echo on the piano, basslines, you name it.  Anyway, that's a good thing, because you're mostly listening to the words, so it pays to have great sounds behind.

Adam Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood have this down pat, and all locked up in the States.  Only They Might Be Giants also manage to put humour into their songs with any decent results, but they are a lot more wacky and not really trying for a large audience.  FoW manage to have success because the songs aren't out-and-out funny, but rather clever, somewhat ironic and a bit touching.  Action Hero tells the story of a basic boring dad, an embarrassment to his kids, but in his mind he's a superhero leading this family.  Verse one tells us he's a goof, searching for his keys on the floor of a restaurant, but verse two puts us in the hospital as the doctor monitors his heart, and tells him to watch out for the stress.  The action hero is fighting a race against time.  That's all you need two verses and chorus, we get the whole story with a little laugh up front and some melancholy to follow.  We totally get and love the guy.

There's nothing quite as obvious as Stacy's Mom, and it's possible FoW won't ever go that bold again, courting the frat crowd with somewhat cheaper laughs.  Some of the writing here is actually more abstract, without the usual story and observations.  But there's still plenty of writing makes you smile and nod in respect of their talents.  A Road Song is a pure love song, from musician to spouse at home, admitting this a pure cliche, as he misses her from the tour bus:  "Even if you roll your eyes and grown, I'm still writing you a road song that you can call your own."  As always, it's the little details that make the song so fun to follow.  They're in Wisconsin, they ate at Cracker Barrel, on the bus they've watched 40 movies with Will Farrell.  That's the stuff that makes Fountains Of Wayne a success each time out.

Saturday, September 3, 2011


Okay, just two months ago I reviewed a completely different Buddy Holly tribute disc, and remarked then it was about the tenth such release over the years, and already there's a competing one out.  Really, come on.  Yes, I know it's going to benefit the surviving grandchildren of veterans of the Crimean War, in honour of the 35th anniversary of the 40th birthday of Holly.  But the guy died at 22, which means there's only so many songs to cover, and it's pretty much the same ones over and over.

The biggest news here is that Paul McCartney does NOT appear in any way, which must be a first for Holly tributes.  It's doubly odd, since the whole thing is produced by Peter Asher, of Peter and Gordon, who is Jane Asher's brother, who was McCartney's GF in the 60's.  Stunning.  However, since the universe abhors a void, Ringo was asked in to sing Think It Over.  And since Jeff Lynne's entire career has been about copying The Beatles, and his version of Words Of Love sounds exactly like theirs, Paul's presence looms large.  Oh, and he owns all these songs, too. 

It's the usual suspects, mostly rock royalty circa 1986, including Stevie Nicks, Natalie Merchant, Brian Wilson, Jackson Browne, and OMG! Linda Ronstadt makes a rare return to rock, which she gave up twenty-some years ago, once again covering a Holly song she took to the charts way back in 1976, It's So Easy.  Oops.  Actually, it's the same damn track, her original version, which just happened to be produced back then by Peter Asher.  Cute.  Of course, all these seniors still had fire in their bellies then, and it's no wonder the 1976 track is the best thing here.

There's some other  decent takes, including Lyle Lovett's Well All Right, Chris Isaak was made to sing Holly, and does a good Crying, Waiting, Hoping, and Imelda May, the fine British retro-rocker who recently teamed with Jeff Beck, continues to impress here.  But the rest of the relative newcomers are dull, and I'm talking about you, Pat Monahan of Train, Patrick Stump of Fall Out Boy, the entire squad of The Fray, and Asher's daughter's crappy outfit, Cobra Starship.  We learn from the liner notes that Asher is best friends with Eric Idle of Monty Python fame, and they cooked up a comedy bit to end the album.  We learn from it that Eric Idle is no longer funny.

It could have been worse.  All these people could have decided to record versions of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah instead.

Friday, September 2, 2011


The Siren of Sarnia (bahahhah) returns with her latest ball of bouncy pop, all cleverly constructed and bright and shiny and lovely. Gryner is the rare singer-songwriter who sounds best with big productions. The more she piles on, builds up, harmonizes and changes keys, the better the fun. Now, her songs do sound good stripped down, and I've seen her play stuff alone at the keyboard. But even a gentle piano ballad such as Home on the new disc gets better as it goes on and more subtle touches are layered, harmonies slid in, etc.

Things are really cooking when she goes turns up the pop. Heartsleeves has all the glorious happiness of a Carpenters single, and I mean that with absolutely no irony. Those 70's singles were meant to sound tremendous and make you feel like there's magic in the air. Gryner captures that tone, plus knows how to sneak in the little bit of melancholy as well. Sexsmith does this well too, when he gets into his highest gear, although Emm has 3 or 4 higher than him. Gryner also knows lots of adding sounds and textures so there's no retro feeling to her mixes, and she has lots of alt-whatever credentials, so somehow it all comes off as cool and hip as well.

And yay for some cool Canadian references, including the nifty North, which probably provides the album title's pun. Both North and Home have the she's-from-Canada, he's-from-you know where imagery, including the cute line "In my heart you're from north of the border/shining down like an aurora." Oh, I'm a sucker for that stuff. Auntie Emm, there's no place like home!