Tuesday, January 31, 2012


Fearless leader (more or less) of Rheostatics, or at least the company spokesperson, this is Dave Bidini's second outing with his new outfit, and shows he's moving along quite nicely.  He gave good songwriter on the first one, The Land Is Wild, coming up with solid tales of Canadiana, pornography and tragic hockey players.  This one is more of a rock band album, although fused throughout with Bidini's own literate and articulate observations.  Plus, the Smurfs show up.

Drummer and secret weapon to both Rheostatics and Ron Sexsmith, Don Kerr, handles the production again, and this time he gets to go crazy on the classic pop and rock sounds, plus join the quartet in some serious volume-dealing.  Given Bidini's breadth of vision, this means we get a bit of 60's (Hey Paul And Donna), an entire homage to the most annoying decade (The Best Thing About The 80's Was You), and some  straight-ahead Middle-Eastern power chords (I Wanna Go To Yemen).  The entire quartet, with Paul Linklater on guitar (the Paul of Paul And Donna) and Doug Friesen on bass, really get to explode and work things out over the course of the album.  That explains why, at a recent solo acoustic gig, Bidini stuck to older stuff, saying the new songs didn't lend themselves to folk music.

On my first run-through of In The Rock Hall, I got caught up trying to follow the lyrics, my usual way.  And I got mighty confused, trying to figure out what the hell he was on about at first, missing out on the excitement of the songs themselves.  I guess I was expecting a disc full of tales like The Land Is Wild, Bidini's powerful telling of the Bryan Fogarty story.  But this ain't that album, and the words are doing a different job here.  Well, several different jobs.  Eunoia  is experimental poetry, where the words can only have one vowel.  Bidini's partial to U, which means we get lines such as "hung stud lustful sluts such fun".  Actually it is a bunch of fun, even at 10 minutes, as the group rattles off a whole bunch of different parts, creating a sort of Abbey Road side 2 medley of alliteration.    Popcorn makes little conventional sense either, but is a joy as Bidini strings together pop culture cliches, including time-worn rock lyrics, quoting Stones, Elton, and The Who.  I have no idea why he or anyone else would want to go to Yemen, and I had to tell myself to stop wondering about it and just rock.

The one easily-followed narrative is the closing, and title cut, and it's special for a few reasons.  It's taken from a poem by the late Paul Quarrington, written after he did indeed visit the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame in Cleveland.  Quarrington was a dear friend of Bidini's, a fellow musician, and his literary mentor.  They met when Bidini asked him if he could borrow the title Whale Music from Quarrington's book for a Rheostatics album, and that turned into Quarrington asking the band if they'd do music for the film of his book.  When Quarrington passed away, Bidini turned the words into a performance piece, and its a musical observation that might have come from Frank Zappa's pen had he survived to see it  ("In the Rock Hall, they got your loin cloth worn by old Johnny Winter").

What I love best about this disc is the non-stop creative energy, the sheer fun of creating with music and words, the energy and intelligence.  Over his three-decade career as a musician, author, and journalist, Bidini has been restless in his pursuit of creativity, refusing to tone down his ideas in order to grab a bigger (or any) share of the marketplace.  And if it takes me two or three listens to figure it out each time, that's exactly what I'm going to do, because that's when the rewards start pouring in.  Gimme some popcorn.

Sunday, January 29, 2012


Chinese New Year indicated it was the Year of the Dragon, but apparently that was wrong.  I'm now told it's the Year of the Doors, and we have these two new products to start things off, a slightly-late celebration of the 40th anniversary of the group's last disc, L.A. Woman.  There's also the promise of more goodies to come, but given the multiple releases over the past few years, mostly live concerts, I can't imagine what could be left that's new.  Well, check that.  These are packed with new items, so perhaps there's more of interest to come.

The Doors, Inc., have done a good job of keeping each new generation familiar with the hits.  After listening to this disc, I found myself singing Break On Through in the car, and my two teenagers immediately chimed in.  Neither could remember where they had been introduced to the song, but they sure knew who Jim Morrison was.

L.A. Woman was the final work for Morrison, after the band had already quit touring due to his increased instability, from booze and riotous behaviour.  With his Miami indecency bust hanging over his head, Morrison and the group must have felt that the studio was the only safe place left in the U.S.  Morrison certainly did, as he would leave the band and the country soon after, decamping to Paris as a poet, not a singer.  After some so-so albums, this became a massive hit for the group, a return to form and biographical proof that Morrison could still do it when he needed to.

It was a return to blues for the group, a return to the music they'd started with in clubs, and an opportunity to reign in the singer, and the tendency for the rest of the band to veer towards a Jazz Odyssey piece when left to their own.  That said, it's not the greatest album in the world, a good one for sure, but of all things, there are a couple of basic blues tracks that are little more than filler.  Those are offset by a trio of greats, key moments in the group's catalogue, and plainly major works.  Love Her Madly was a tight, cool single, a Robbie Krieger song that Morrison got into, while L.A. Woman and Riders On The Storm are the best of their epic work, dark but enjoyable tales.  Nobody captured the dangerous side of Los Angeles like Morrison, but somehow he kept the romance in L.A. Woman as well.  His second film noir number, Riders On The Storm, was a serial killer tale that somehow ended up on radio, its melodic nature belying the nasty character behind it.

The secondary numbers are pretty decent too, with The Changeling, Hyacinth House and The WASP (Texas Radio and the Big Beat) all with interesting lyrics.  It's those blues workouts that take the entire album down a notch.  Maybe it's just that we've heard so many blues bands covering John Lee Hooker and basic 12-bar over the years, that the songs have lost the power.

The second disc on the deluxe version is a revelation, almost all the tracks featured in alternative, early versions, complete with studio chatter.  We hear Morrison playfully singing a western number before a take of Riders On The Storm, giving proof to the claim it's inspiration was Ghost Riders In The Sky.  At one point he says there should be thunder sound effects added, which of course became a huge part of the mood of the track.  None of these alternatives were hugely different, and in fact are all pretty close to the final takes, mostly just lacking in energy as the parts were worked out.  The big news is that a previously-unknown Doors original has been discovered on the original tapes as this disc was being prepared.  That's true, and it's called She Smells So Nice, paired here in a live-in-the-studio medley with the Muddy Waters classic Rock Me.  The bad news is that it's a basic blues number, just a work-through to see if it had any potential.  It didn't, and given my lack of interest in the blues numbers that did make the album, I don't have much to praise about this find, so don't fall for any hype over it.  What you should be interested in is the whole album, from early versions to final takes, and if you only have a best-of, with The Big Three on it, Hyacinthe House and The WASP are important cuts to own as well.

Released in tandem with the album is a brand-new DVD documentary, based on the making of the L.A. Woman album.  Mr. Mojo Risin' features almost all the surviving cast, including all three doors, label boss Jac Holzman, manager Bill Siddons, producer Bruce Botnick, and poet-pal Michael McClure.  Of course, it is over-the-top in its praise, with sympathetic votes from DJ Jim Ladd, and critics David Fricke and Ben Fong-Torres of Rolling Stone obvious fans.  But the footage is classic and well-used, and there's some great bits where Botnick uses that Classic Albums trick of taking down the faders you so can hear individual parts highlighted.  Best of all are the bits where members Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger and John Densmore tell how the cuts came about, the song influences and riff ideas.  Manzarek, as usual, is awfully pompous, but he's a great participant/actor, gleefully playing his keyboard parts and filling in for Morrison on vocals.  Krieger is the humble one, and just as fun to watch perform his solos today.

It's a great one-two punch, having this DVD accompany the reissue of the album.  I heartily recommend getting both for the full experience.

Thursday, January 26, 2012


The story is probably pretty familiar to most fans, but the treatment is excellent.  This DVD is a two-part TV documentary done for the BBC last year, and with full cooperation from the band.  Well, at least Brian May and Roger Taylor;  John Deacon is still maintaining his retirement silence, but it's so well done you don't even realize he isn't doing new interviews until you're well into it.  Armed with a wealth of archival footage, much of it from the band's own vaults or rare and rediscovered tapes from the Beeb itself.

All the highlights are here, from May leading us through a tour of his old school where the band was formed, through to studio sessions showing early hits such as Killer Queen being recorded, and then of course the big breakthrough, Bohemian Rhapsody.  But given the landmark status of that tune, it seems to barely pause to remark on it.  And such is the trouble with only two hours to spend on a long-lived band, you can't dwell, you have to race.  When you have a story as colourful and controversial as Queen's, that's a lot to shoehorn in, and it never, ever lags.

You know where it is going after all the successes and bumps in the road, and that's to Freddie Mercury's last days, one of the first major stars to die of AIDS.  It comes as a bit of a shock now that such was the early '90's climate, he felt he had to hide his illness, and indeed, word wasn't released until mere hours before his death.  But after a band lifetime of being pilloried by the press, one quickly understands why he protected his privacy.  The real insight is his friends talking about how he drove himself to record more and more, even while he was weak and failing, giving his band mates carte blanche to do whatever with his final vocals. 

Now that time has past, the band and associates are willing to talk freely (mostly) about Mercury, and all their vices and moods.  We're the winners for that.  There's a lesson to the press and fans there.  You don't have to pry and push and stalk.  Treat people well and eventually they will open up.  You just might have to wait awhile.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


It's been a bit for Difranco, three years, and a tumultuous time for a topical songwriter to sit for long.  Human rights, as always, are front and centre, as well as personal politics, with the artist always willing to bare her own life for the sake of the discussion.  Musically, this is one of her most adventurous productions, using a whole host of guests, including various New Orleans folks, plus out-there instrumentalists.  Various grooves are used, with Difranco's often wordy verses stuffed into the melodies.  Sonically, at least, it's a success, but sometimes the verbosity overwhelms.

The title track is of course the famous Pete Seeger union tune, here updated with lots of new verses where Difranco recasts it as a direct question to men about feminism.  It has the author's blessing, as Seeger does the banjo part here, and once again as a musical number is a winner.  When the New Orleans horns blow in halfway through, there's real power, and it's a mighty production.  But since she's probably preaching to the converted for the most part, there's really not much power in the words, as the audience is nodding heads in agreement.

Elsewhere, Difranco gets funky and jazzy, and has better luck with the words, getting into a more lyrical seam than just sending out statements.  It's quite enjoyable when she cuts out half the words, as on the cut Albacore, when her voice is allowed to shine, and even warm up to the notes a bit.  This gentle love song has much more power than the political numbers, and the essays she composes.  I'll give her one thing though, when she gets a good line out, it can cut right through.  If Yr Not features the killer "If you're not getting happier as you get older, than you're fucking up".  I took a gulp at that one.  It's another with the killer production found all through this, with great New Orleans horns, pounding drums and solid rhythm Tom Waits would love.  Great sound, but the words are hit-and-miss.

Sunday, January 22, 2012


One of the great surprises when I wrote the book The Top 100 Canadian Albums in 2007 was the appearance of the band Simply Saucers, and their album Cyborgs Revisited.  The 70's group from Hamilton hadn't even released that work during their initial existance;  instead, it was a cult phenomenon, a product of super fans and super sleuthing, tapes rediscovered and a whole new generation of alternative fans discovering the work, and declaring it a major find, filling in the blank spots between Velvets, art rock, proto-punk and prog.  All of a sudden the group had a following, a documentary crew on their trail, reunion shows, new music and more notoriety than they'd ever enjoyed before, with major praise coming from leading mags all over the globe.

This left leader Edgar Breau in a dilemma.  A reluctant participant in the music world since the '70's split of the group, when he did play and record, it was acoustic music, far more folk than any of the above genres.  He'd also abandoned even that for long periods, working with wood rather than playing with it.  But he gamely put the band back together, and that inevitably sparked the other side of his muse as well.

That takes us to this long-in-the-making project, as Breau takes another trip in the less noisy and spacey world.  While there are lots of acoustic sounds about, you could never pigeonhole Patches Of Blue into one easy slot in the iTunes store.  There's blues, ballads, folk, a little funky-dance stuff, you name it, he'll try it.  Breau is a chameleon, who goes where the lyrics take him, and if he writes a line like "She says my sweet darling, I wanna have your baby,", well he's going to turn that puppy onto a disco beat.  Of course, that all fits into the outsider vibe the album carries.  Breau's whimsical side sees him la-la-la his way through a dandelion kingdom riding on a donkey, child-like and innocent, except for that well-traveled raspiness in his vocals.  Girl On A Carousel sees him step back to latin-tinged 60's breeziness, something from a Parisienne new wave film perhaps, Lee Hazlewood taking Astrud Gilberto out for a date.  Open Road is a soulful, bouncy, full band production, one of several that features gorgeous, full vocals from accomplished session singer Colina Phillips, really a co-singer here and on others.  The contrasting vocal quality is one of the joys of the album, Dylan vs. Baez if you will.

The back-and-forth is another strength for the disc, with sparse acoustic numbers following big bright ones.  It's on these quieter ones where Breau's lyrical skills become more apparent, with familiar blues themes of lovers and trains and travel getting new twists, with words such as esplanade and expeditiously flowing at you, in a British, poetic ambiance.  And then, there's "It'll give you satisfaction when your baby shakes some action."

This type of unique bard-like character usually does pop up from England, be it Andy Partridge or Robyn Hitchcock, people with a flair for language and a broad range of musical interests.  Breau might be able to make some Dickensonian comparisons to his east end Hamilton roots, but I think its more the case of the strangest career in Canadian music continuing to give us great surprises.

Thursday, January 19, 2012


It was a full-blown party at Dolan's Pub in Fredericton, NB Wednesday night, to celebrate and send-off local blues favourite Ross Neilsen.  He's heading to Memphis at the end of January to compete in the International Blues Challenge.  That's the biggest blues gathering and competition in the world.

Neilsen was chosen to represent the Maritimes, by winning at the Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival last September.  It's his second time at the event, having previously gone with his band, The Sufferin' Bastards.  This time, he's competing as a solo artist.  He follows in the footsteps of Theresa Malenfant, Garrett Mason, Keith Hallett, and Matt Andersen, who actually won the competition, the first Canadian to do so.

Dolan's officially holds 240 people, and those tickets sold out well before.  Judging from the calls, people coming to the door, and Kijiji pleas, it could have been double or triple the crowd.  Each year, Harvest holds a fundraiser to pay for the trip.  Neilsen upped the ante by announcing that special guests would also perform.  He came through on that promise in a big way.  After an opening solo set, he brought on long-time drummer Karl Gans, and brand-new bass player Will Pacey.  Pacey looks like he may be filling the slot permanantly, after the recent dissolution of the Sufferin' Bastards line-up.

The fireworks really started when the next two guests jumped on stage.  Neilsen's old friends Thom Swift and Matt Andersen grabbed their guitars and let loose on a long set.  it was a three-guitar attack, with each trading solos, and Neilsen and Andersen handling vocals.  Swift was happy to handle slide duties.  The crowd loved seeing the three amigos, a rare night they were all back in their old stomping grounds.  The respect and friendship they share was obvious.  Andersen especially seemed to enjoy the night, getting to wail on electric, head back and long hair flowing.  That's when you know he's letting loose.  Of course, he'd just returned from Toronto, where he'd walked away with three Maple Blues Awards.  With all three together, it was an exceptional celebration of New Brunswick-born music.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


Norah Jones and pals return with their second collection of country-twang, filled with mostly with choice covers from the likes of Dolly, Kris, Lefty and Cash.  And of course, there's a Willie Nelson cut, hence the name.  The group shares the vocals, although Jones does get the main nod, sharing the lead job with songwriter Richard Julian.  These New York-based cats don't have too many country bones in their bodies, and it shows, as they sound way too cool. But it's the 2012, and the battle over whether it's okay for city folk to cover this stuff was won a long time ago.  There's no risk-taking here, no Gram Parsons vs. the Nashville Establishment.

While the gang here may have had lots of fun playing this semi-incognito in NYC bars, there are many other alternative folk out there doing it these days with much more heart and authenticity, and without their tongues in their cheeks.  If you want to hear it with heart, check out any Neko Case album, for instance.  But here Jones especially is putting on the twangy voice, rather than owning it.  While her harmonies are right on the Hank Williams classic Lovesick Blues, you can hear her trying to get the southern accent too.

Fist City is a better attempt, as the group puts some rockabilly guts into the Loretta Lynn hit, and Jones gets into the words rather than the role.  Julian's version of the lesser-known Willie song Permanently Lonely is touching and a bit sad, with a fine vocal in the Lyle Lovett style.  Overall, Julian is the more enjoyable singer in the project, also handling the Cash number Wide Open Road, with aplomb, and Jim Campilongo adds some killer guitar.  I'm much happier when Jones takes the harmony singer/piano player role.  Her true stand-out is For The Good Times, where she does a great piano part and her only winning vocal. 

Too much of the disc sounds like the group is treating the songs as novelty numbers.  I'm sure they respect the songs, and I'm sure they have lots of fun playing it, it just comes out as a holiday project rather than a serious treatment.

Monday, January 16, 2012

A Moving Tribute To Gene MacLellan

A packed Zion Presbyterian Church in downtown Charlottetown played host to a remarkable tribute concert Saturday night, to PEI's beloved songwriter Gene MacLellan.  In the first-ever large-scale concert in his honour, MacLellan's music was performed and saluted by a cast of some of the very best Island musicians, plus special guests.  The show, called Just Bidin' My Time, was produced by Music PEI, and recorded for broadcast by CBC Radio and TV.

Among the guests and dignitaries were MacLellan's family, including his three children, and all seven grandchildren (plus one on the way).  His daughter Rachel and her two kids came the furthest, flying in from Kingston, Ontario for the event.  "It was time," said his former wife, Judith MacLellan.  "It was a little bittersweet, because this was the church where Gene's funeral was held, and many of the family hadn't been here since.  But I looked over and the grandkids were smiling and laughing, and that made it all special."

MacLellan died in 1995, and his family had long felt a major tribute would be appropriate.  Thanks to much hard work by Music PEI, and friends and admirers of MacLellan, the show became the finale of the year-long celebrations in Charlottetown as one of the Cultural Capitols of Canada.  Also, it was the first event of the annual Music PEI awards week, which will be in full swing on Wednesday.

Taking the stage first was Ron Hynes, the only non-Islander of the night's performers.  Hynes was a friend of MacLellan's, and has long championed his work.  His appearance was a minor miracle of planning and modern medicine, as the beloved Newfoundland songwriter had just returned from a tour of Australia, and had succumbed to a travel bug that left him hoarse and feverish.  The first attempt at MacLellan's Bidin' My Time showed how stressed his voice was, but as this was a show for broadcast, multiple takes for technical reasons were the order of the night.  Reaching deep, Hynes found the strength (and improved range) to nail the song second time through.

TV shows are much different from concerts, with technical perfection the goal, so the audience quickly became used to hearing songs twice, and even started to prefer the re-takes. Of course, part of this was due to the quality of the performers, and MacLellan's material.

Hynes got to make the biggest introduction of the night, reminding the crowd that "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree," and bringing on Catherine MacLellan.  The daughter of Gene has now developed into a national star, including being named Female Artists of the Year at the Canadian Folk Music Awards in 2010.  Comfortable as always in front of an audience (something her father struggled with), she thanked the crowd and Music PEI, and reiterated how much the evening meant to her family.  Then, with the understatement of the night, announced she would play one of her "father's bigger hits," which turned out to be Snowbird.  The iconic East Coast song, as recorded by Anne Murray, became an international hit, and had the world knocking on MacLellan's door, eager for more.  What Anne Of Green Gables has done for PEI's tourism, MacLellan and Snowbird did for the Island's music scene, inspiring generations of musicians there and in Atlantic Canada.

Several of those musicians then took the stage with their own versions of MacLellan favourites, backed by an ace house band. Friend Lennie Gallant, who recalled the time MacLellan made a very rare guest appearance at a concert with him in the '90's, and said "how magical it was", contributed a touching version fo The Call, plus a beautiful duet with Meaghan Blanchard on The Shilo Song.  John Connolly, who also served as musical director of the night, gave a stirring version of Thorn In My Shoe, a country hit in 1970 for MacLellan.  Dennis Ellsworth and Haunted Hearts got the crowd going with the rowdier, country side of Gene's work, and Scott Parsons, who as a kid was befriended and mentored by MacLellan, played what may be the last song MacLellan wrote, Puerta Vallerta.

The biggest number came last.  The whole ensemble crowded the church stage, and led a sing-along and clap-along version of MacLellan's staple, Put Your Hand In The Hand, which was a world-wide hit for the group Ocean in 1970, reaching #2 on the Billboard charts.  Earlier in the evening, MacLellan's manager at the time, Jack McAndrew, told the audience the songwriter had at first demanded the record be pulled from the charts as it became a hit, because the group had changed some of the lyrics.  "He cared about the words," said McAndrew, who at one point was overcome with emotion for his friend, 40 years on.  It's a rare speech that rates a standing ovation at a music event.

The live show had been sold out for weeks, but the rest of the country will soon get a chance to take in the performances.  CBC Radio and CBC.CA will start sharing it in the next few weeks, and the entire TV broadcast will be shown this summer.

Monday, January 9, 2012


Lord knows Sinatra's been collected dozens of times over, but this hits package actually delivers as a comprehensive, and high-quality listen from start to finish.  First off, you usually don't get both the Capitol era (50's) and Reprise days (60's) together on one disc, so the compilers (Sinatra's children) had access to a lot more than usual.  Not everything though; the 30's and 40's aren't here, his days with the Dorsey band and his bobby soxer heyday as the world's first modern pop star.  This doesn't bother me, for as great as some of that material is, it's so different an era, it needs to be heard on its own.  Also, the lushness of the orchestrations renders it more of a curiosity than an enjoyable experience.  This is  the moody, adult Sinatra, the stuff of late night, and timeless so far.

This two-disc struck me as odd on first glance, since only the first disc was studio hits, and the second a live concert.  However, the show turned out to be quite good, and a great era, 1957, in Seattle.  Here we have Sinatra at his greatest period, riding the top of the charts with hit singles and smash albums, his period of concept discs on Capitol, Wee Small Hours and Songs For Swingin' Lovers.   Hearing his voice then, his total command, makes me wish I had been there in the heyday.  There's a little too much joking, even mid-song, but it was probably great fun for the audience.  The only disappointment is that the recording fades out just as he returns for the encore.

Disc one is something I could play every night.  Apart from the overblown later productions of My Way and New York, New York (huge hits after all, and certainly worthy of being included), this is a master class in song selection, arrangement, and above all, owning a song.  Nobody performed like Sinatra, as the quote goes, the best friend a song ever had.  Despite a thousand covers, no other artist comes close to matching his My Funny Valentine, melting hearts six decades later.  It Was a Very Good Year is the definition of nostalgia, before it was even a well-known word, shot through with melancholy.  My Kind Of Town simply rocks, and listen to the guts he puts into the lyrics, despite the fact it was Chicago, not New York he was praising.  I've Got You Under My Skin:  how could the toughest guy in town be such a sucker for love?  What Sinatra knew was there were none braver than fools in love, whether that was truly him or not, he gave unrequited love its biggest champion.

There are dozens more  songs by Sinatra you could own, and probably should if you are a fan at all.  However, this set is a great place to either start, or consider your ultimate Sinatra mix.

Sunday, January 8, 2012


I didn't do a Top Ten of 2011 for the year-end.  I gave up on them a few years back, as I've found that as soon as I would make them, I would start doubting my choices, and by the next day I'd come up with some I'd forgotten.  Then, inevitably, I'd hear something I hadn't heard before (you can't hear everything as a reviewer), and wish I had placed that in my list.  Also, I  was tired of being mocked and admonished for my choices, especially by certain U2 hater.  I won't tell you who, but his initials are John Poirier.

If I had made a top ten list, I can assure you this album would have been on it, and perhaps even top it.  As I've told to ad nauseum, I love my yearly pilgrimage to the Hamilton Music Awards, and as I prepared for the trip this past November, my friends in the know told me I'd love this group, who had been nominated for awards for their debut.  I made a mental note to see them play as well, as they were part of the festival programming.

Not only did the live up to the advance billing, they blew me away.  Dinner Belles are a group of seven musical pals from the area who play in other outfits, but came together for this project out of a shared love of what I'll call alt-country for lack of a better term.  It's a bit old-time, some good Gram-and-Emmy Lou, and lots of The Band and the Grateful Dead in there as well.  The big group sound is easy-going acoustics with drums, plus ample use of banjo, mandolin, pedal steel and plenty of keyboards, great piano and organ.  The focus is on the combined singing talents of Brad Germain and Terra Lightfoot.  Germain does quite a U-turn from his previous gigs in the long-running Hamilton rockers The Marble Index, and the Euro-dancey Spirits.  Lightfoot is closer to this music in her own new solo career, but also branches out on her own.  However they got here, who cares, they're doing a great job with this stuff.

While there are solo vocals around the disc, it's when the two sing together (quite often here) that the record shines the most.  Relaxed and pure, their voices intertwine so readily, you'd think they were doing this since childhood.  Although these are harmonies, it's more like co-lead vocals.  A great example, and my favourite song here, is Runnin' To Ravenna, which starts off with the two of them together, a great banjo driving the tune, and some beautiful pedal steel.  Local pal Bob Egan plays that throughout the album, guesting from his Blue Rodeo gig.  Props to all the musicians in fact, and a shout-out to Greg Brisco on organ and piano, keyboard player of the year at the Hamilton Music Awards.

When she does solo, it quickly becomes obvious Lightfoot is one of the best new voices around, lots of power in a great lower register, who also soars wonderfully to hit the higher stuff.  Homewrecking Girl is a standout here, Lightfoot shamelessly playing the title role, defiant but sad.

Having seen them live, I can tell you the band knows how to deliver the stuff too, all strong and relaxed stage performers.  Again, another great band from the criminally-ignored Hamilton music scene.

Thursday, January 5, 2012


Remember delete bins?  It used to be you could saunter into your local K-Mart or Zellars and find big bins of deep-discounted albums for next to nothing.  These were usually cut-outs, which were over-pressed records that didn't sell.  The companies would sell them in bulk to chains at a fraction of the usual cost, and then they'd get dumped into the bins to be picked through by the vultures.  I can recall picking up real gems back in the '70's, things like David Bowie's Station To Station album for $1.99.  Occasionally you would get crazy lucky, and find a bin of European cut-outs, and I grabbed a bunch of 12-inch singles that way.  You could, if you found a prime bin, walk away with an armload for twenty bucks.

Of course, department stores don't sell music anymore, and neither do music stores for that matter.  As for delete bins, I didn't have the first clue where I'd find one these days, until I was helped by the modern miracle that is Facebook.  A record-and-movie collecting friend from a far-off land (well, Nova Scotia), informed the world that he had, in fact, just scored a bunch of great CD's at a bin sale.  He was raving, so I could tell this was an old-school, look-what-I-got score, the kind you feel happy about for months.  The only problem was, I wasn't about to drive to Nova Scotia that day.

"Do you have a Giant Tiger?"  Hell yes, we got one of them around here.  Just down the road from my office, in fact, on my usual lunch hour walk.  I never did find out what my pal was doing in Giant Tiger in the first place, but bless his heart, that's where he found his bin, and knowing how these things usually work, if one chain store has them, there's a good bet they all do.  It wasn't too many hours before I was headed to Le Tigre Grande to try my luck.

And there it was.  Now, things have changed of course.  They are CD's, not vinyl, and surely it won't be just $1.99 for a cut-out.  No, it wasn't.  They were a dollar.  Even.  A buck.  Ridiculous.  Who said the music industry was hurting?  I mean, if Giant Tiger can sell them for a dollar, think what the music company must have charged.  That's a pretty substantial loss on planned revenue (my brother teaches Management Accounting at some university, and I stayed awake long enough to hear that one time).

Not all the hoped-for treasures that were found in Nova Scotia were in this bin, and it's possible I got there too late.  But I had no trouble grabbing seven in the ten minutes or so it took me to devour the bin.  The first thing I saw was a Ray Charles collection called How Long Blues, with tracks I didn't recognize.  For a buck?  Go for it.  It turned out to be his very earliest recordings, singles he cut while he was still working the circuit, before being grabbed by Atlantic Records and helping invent soul music.  It's solid stuff, bluesy stuff that just lacked the oomph he would get a couple of years later with better production.  Score.

Then, a soundtrack caught my eye.  Soundtracks are crapshoots for music companies, because you never know if you'll get a hit or not, and much depends on the movie.  Nobody predicted Fame, Flashdance or The Big Chill would make fortunes at the music store as well as the box office.  But for every one of those, there are twenty of these:  Arctic Tale:  Music From and Inspired By The Motion Picture.  I didn't see it, but there are polar bears on the cover.  More importantly, there was a sticker that said Brian Wilson, Aimee Mann, Grant-Lee Phillips, Pearl Jam, The Shins and Sheryl Crow.  Most of these can be found on the artist's regular discs, but one of the Aimee Mann cuts is exclusive to this, I didn't have either of the Phillips numbers, and the Crow is a good one from her first album, Keep On Growing, which I don't own, so ya, I'm in for a buck.

Sometimes you get carried away, and I carried away a couple of mistakes.  A 50's collection caught my eye, mostly because I've seen too many Mad Men episodes and those early seasons had the cool Dean Martin vibe, and Big Hits of the 50's sounded cool, but when I got it home, it was almost identical to another set I already owned from EMI.  Turns out they had just pretty much repackaged it and changed four tracks or so.  If anybody wants to groove to The Four Preps singing 26 Miles (Santa Catalina), just bring me a coffee and we'll trade.  And I'll owe you forty cents.

Delete bins can also make you sad.  I like music, and records and CD's, they have been my favourite possessions my whole life, and when I see great albums tossed in a jumbled pile of mostly junk, knowing all the hard work the artist did, only to have it reach such an ugly end, I feel for them.  I still buy it of course, but it does make me want to aim a kick at the buying public at large, who didn't shell out the fifteen bucks for it the first time it went on sale.  It looks like West Coast label Boompa Records gave up on its stock.  I pulled out two mid-2000's discs by Canuck alt-songwriter Leeroy Stagger, who I enjoy, and another from the Boompa label, the second disc by the very talented Lullaby Baxter, Garden Cities Of To-Morrow, from 2006.  This art-pop gem has long been a favourite, and I simply bought another copy to give to the first person I can think who'll love it.  Charming, heartfelt lyrics, brilliant arrangements featuring strings, vibes, flutes and things, it's the best buck you can spend.  Baxter, who has resided in Moncton the past few years, is thankfully readying new material and with any luck we'll have more soon.

It wasn't the best bargain bin I've ever flipped through, but it took me back to early thrills in my record collecting days, and best of all, it had me taking risks and getting welcome surprises.  That's the best feeling there is, especially for seven dollars.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


Last fall a charity tribute album, Listen To Me, was released to coincide with the 75th birthday of Buddy Holly.  Endorsed by the Holly folks, and benefiting music education programs, it featured established and current stars including Chris Isaak, Patrick Stump of Fall Out Boy, The Fray, Jeff Lynne, Ringo, Linda Ronstadt and Brian Wilson.  Also on Holly's birthday came this star-studded tribute concert, featuring many of the same artists, which has also been showing as a PBS special since December.  The DVD version is the same show, adding  a couple of bonus performances, video from making-of sessions, and a mini-documentary on the whole project.

I wasn't a huge fan of the CD, but the TV show is much better.  Other than Austin City Limits, PBS can be hit-or-miss with music, and I had a vision of one of those dreadful 50's shows they do featuring old doo-wop bands sporting one original member.  Thankfully, this is a much better project.  The stage and theatre is great, allowing for excellent angles of both the performers and audience.  This is especially nice when we get shots of Holly's widow, the famous Maria Elena, bopping it up at her table with Phil Everly, having a great time.  It's shot really well, the audio is bright and very well recorded and mixed, and the lively pace keeps you glued to the hour-long show.

For the most part the performances are top drawer, with Stevie Nicks still belting them out on Not Fade Away and Its So Easy, Raul Malo handling the tender True Love Ways, and Boz Scaggs adding some blues grit to Maybe Baby.  An all-star session band features Waddy Wachtel on guitar, Leland Sklar on bass and Russ Kunkel on drums, and it's all lead by famed record producer Peter Asher, who helmed the tribute album and the concert, plus appears on stage singing back-up (he was in Peter and Gordon, remember).  The biggest highlights are Graham Nash's passionate Raining In My Heart, Lyle Lovett's Well All Right, and guitar giant James Burton's playing on I'm Looking For Someone To Love.  Asher and co-host Isaak do a fine job too, not too much, not too maudlin or hokey, it's lighthearted and reverential at the same time.

There are the usual problems with such shows;  a few too many times a singer's eyes stray to the Teleprompter, sometimes the band settles for safety over risk, and there's some annoying editing of speeches to get the show down to TV length.  The taped celebrity tributes from Keith Richards, Ringo, Jackson Browne and Wilson are not necessary and mess up the concert feel.  There are a couple of lame performances too, most notably Patrick Stump's Oh, Boy which saw him way out of his league vocally, even though he did fine on Everyday.  And Asher's daughter Victoria and the other guy from her band Cobra Starship are silly trying to camp it up during Peggy Sue, but we know how she got the gig.

Paul Anka's speech is interesting, as he sounds humbled and still slightly shocked that he "traveled the world" with Holly, and sat in the studio with him while he recorded Anka's It Doesn't Matter Anymore.  He even does a fine version of it, although he does unintentionally provide the funniest moment on the disc when he tells the audience to "please acknowledge the talents of that cat right there", during a nice pedal steel solo by backing band member Doug Livingston.  That's how it's done in Vegas, baby.

It's certainly worth checking this show out on PBS, and if you want superior sound, the bonus features and a strong overall program, the DVD is a good bet too.

Monday, January 2, 2012


It's always great to hear a new voice (well, new to me), and a good way to start off a new year.  Ontario's Lynzie Kent has just released her disc, called Something Wild, and features a parcel of excellent singing on what we used to call rock songs.  Produced by Jann Arden vet and Juno winner Russell Broom, the disc has an in-your-face boldness, without any trickery, just strong tunes with good stories, and a singer who makes you want to hear them.  If anything, it's a throwback to a day when you had to put some thought into the composition if you wanted to make a decent disc, instead of the Black-Eyed Peas view of the world, keeping it simple and stupid.

I take back my original statement, I think I actually did see Kent before, because she used to sing with God Made Me Funky in 2006-7, and I think that's right about when I saw them.  But since then she's been slyly building up the fans by doing what she does best, singing, although instead of constant touring, she's been constantly updating her YouTube channel, adding cover after cover of current hits, just aided by acoustic guitar buddy Rich G.  The result has been that millions of hits later, fans know what she can do with Kings of Leon and Adele tunes, but hopefully they'll stick around for her own.

I think, in the post-Adele world, people will be looking for actual singers who put some emotion into it, and Kent's a good bet.  Not only can she soar with power in a couple of registers, she can front tracks with big drums, bells and whistles.  There's certainly a touch of 90's and some 80's too, as if to emphasize this isn't about hip-hop, dance, nu-country or singer-songwriter, it's a pop-rock album.  While most of the songs have an edge, Kent isn't above having fun too, with lead single (available as a video) Whoop Dee Doo, a Girl-Group/New Wave bouncy, winning track.  Anyway, I can't tell you how much I wish radio would go this way, Kent's way, for 2012, because this is the kind of Top 40 I wish we had more of.