Thursday, February 28, 2013


Chet Baker - a sadder Sinatra, a mellower Miles.  His fan club is significantly smaller, almost a cult really, beloved as a jazz man that should have been bigger, but sabotaged his career.  It's the old story from jazz, drugs making a mess of the talent.  Yet he left a lot of excellence, and was a rare threat on two instruments, his trumpet, and his voice.

Baker's best known for the definitive reading of My Funny Valentine, and it of course must kick off this examination of his songbook.  Oh, and hats off to Dusk, it's a bold choice to cover the Baker book.  After all, it's not exactly widely known.  Chet's versions anyway.  Many of the tunes he favoured were standards, including Time After Time by Sammy Cahn & Jule Styne, Embraceable You by the Gershwins, and Mercer/Arlen's Come Rain Or Come Shine.  Dusk nails it in the liner notes, saying Baker had a remarkably quiet voice, pouring all the emotion into a delicate reading rather than a crooner's use of volume.  Dusk has, technically, a better voice, and here does a fine job keeping it soft.  It's not as sad as Baker sang, but of course, you could hear the serious blues the man carried around.

The album features tremendous arrangements throughout, especially on the orchestral tracks.  Being careful not to overwhelm the vocals, there's a great live feel to the strings and horns, and a big symphonic section, complete with grand splashes of percussion.  Woodwind openings give way to washes of strings, gentle accents in place after almost every vocal line.  Harp!  Piccolo!  Thanks for the richness, folks.  It's appreciated.  And the guest who drop by are there for excellent reasons, including the legendary Sandoval, soloing on trumpet and flugelhorn on three tracks, Guido Basso flugeling on another, and Emilie-Claire Barlow dropping in for a duet on Embraceable You.  Get lost in this.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013


A former hot property, Mason took five years out of the spotlight, hiding out in his native New England.  There was a lot of acclaim for his two early 20's singer-songwriter albums, and in a quiet way, this shows why.  Mellow-voiced and thoughtful, Mason could go on the folk circuit if he wanted, but has a bit more of a modern idea for his sound.  Here he teams up with producer Dan Carey (Hot Chip, MIA), who laid down drum machine beats throughout, and some subtle sounds, plus lots of work on the vocals, echo and double-tracking for the most part.

I guess it answers the previously-unasked question, 'what would it sound like if Daniel Lanois produced Townes Van Zandt?'  It's not as absurd as it sounds.  Mason's songs, at their acoustic core, could fit well in Texas, and his no-nonsense, rich lyrics are direct and emotional.  There's a sadness for sure, helped along by his weary voice.  He sounds twice his age, and a bit worse for wear.  Add in the beats and effects, and it's all a little more dark, claustrophobic at times, lost in others.

It doesn't all work, and at times the electro-beats wear on your patience, and a little variety might have brought more light to the affair.  But when it works, which is most of the time, there are some memorable cuts.  Shadows In The Dark is a lost Dire Straits track, with Peter Gabriel's ambience.  And Restless Fugitive has a funky bass line, great echo-drenched guitar, and a hypnotic beat.  Townes Van Lanois would be proud.

Monday, February 25, 2013


Rick Rubin pointed the way.  When you have a classic performer, who still has respect, but a career that's flat-lined, don't try to make them modern.  As Rubin did with Cash, strip them back to the basics, get them to do what they do best, and people will respond.  The artist will be inspired as well.  Rubin's done that with several since, from Neil Diamond to ZZ Top, and others have employed the same strategy.  Jack White respected the legacy for Loretta Lynn and Wanda Jackson, Joe Henry worked hard for Solomon Burke.  This is now the model.

Why then, would the production team working with Petula Clark choose to try to update her sound?  What's with the treated vocals, and strange mix of new age and electro sounds?  And these new songs that were written by them, or chosen..  well.  I smell some minor talents, hitching their horses to ProTools and Petula.  Even if she's fully involved in the decisions, certainly somebody should have mentioned this won't really appeal to anyone.  There are too many inconsequential songs, most with the producer's name attached.  Then there's the blatently obvious, sombre, modern and dull retread of Downtown, her glory song, ruined in a somewhat desperate attempt to draw attention to the project.

Oddly, what works best are a couple of covers that show Clark is still a grand interpretor when handed a great song.  I say oddly, because they are two overdone numbers.  Crazy by Gnarls Barkley isn't what you'd expect from her, but playing it straight works perfectly here.  She doesn't oversing it, the instrumentation is basic, I'd play this on the radio.  And try as the producers might to wreck her take on Imagine, when they finally take the processing off her vocals, it's an honest reading, from someone who knew and respected him, a peer's version.  Now, an album of such songs, and some 60's-style production, that would work as a complete comeback disc for Petula Clark.

Friday, February 22, 2013


The Pogues changed Irish music across the globe.  While there was always an element of rowdiness, Tommy Makem and The Clancy Brothers were safe enough for the Ed Sullivan Show, and fit in well with the folk world.  The Pogues turned it into punk.  Now, for many people, Irish music means The Dropkick Murphys in the U.S., The Mahones in Canada, music played raw and rough and liquor-soaked.  And fast.

Even in France, they love The Pogues, and that's where this 30th anniversary concert was recorded.  All hands were on deck for the September 2012 shows, including the wayward Shane MacGowan, convinced to show for this big event.  MacGowan sounds in, well, I won't say fine form, how about just..form.  His ravaged voice is as much the sound of the band as the fantastic, energetic playing.  Sounding, somehow, a little more gruff than usual, he eventually loosens up the vocal chords to a fine growl, and all is right.  But my son, new to the band, came into the room and said, "I can't understand a word he's singing!"  And then between songs, he said "I can't understand a word he's saying!"  Neither can I sometimes.

Of course, I could understand Dirty Old Town, the Ewan MacColl tune that first won the band fame.  It got them a great reception in Paris too, and brought the best line from the stage too:  "Oh, you like that one here?  Of course you do, it was written by a communist."  The 90-minute set here includes a full 30-minute encore, were the band gives it all, and shows why we love them.  Rainy Night In Soho is a grand MacGowan modern ballad, for the Irish in New York.  Ella Finer stands in for the late, lamented Kirty MacColl on Fairytale of New York, so much more than a Christmas song.  And to wrap it all up, the only Mexican-Irish party tune ever written, and the only one you'll ever need, the raucous Fiesta.  Happy 30th, you unique and crazy bunch.  Shane, really, don't ever change.  Come back anytime.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


Kevin Breit is one of the most revered guitar players working today, on call to such folks as Norah Jones, k.d. lang, Holly Cole, and half of Canada.  He's also one of the most experimental fellows around, happy to record and perform in any roots genre, from jazz to blues to folk, and he always has about five different collaborations and groups going at once.  I knew all this.  But this one, well, it threw me for a loop, and in the best possible way.

Here he's teamed up with, yes, a mandolin orchestra, featuring 13 string pluckers on mandolins, mandocellos and mandolas.  No guitars, no drums, just a double bass, and vocals.  So.. how is it?  How about eclectic, eccentric, brilliant.  With a ocean of mando-things behind him, Breit croons through a variety of folk, blues, tall tales, emotional loveliness, unlike anything you can imagine, really.  Hearing the orchestra strum in triple-time, with harmonies being played by each section, sweet lead lines picked out, is a thrill on each song.  Great waves of strings come cascading in, then back off, all underpinned by the rich bass.  And there's more power in the combination of all here, along with Breit's rough-and-ready voice, then any power trio can put out

Then, there are the songs themselves, grand stories concocted by Breit, never straightforward, sometimes downright mysterious.  King Kong Strut is some sort of crazy klezmer shaggy dog tale, this album's The Weight, full of odd characters, and a great, singalong powerhouse.  Big Bill Broonzy has the titular folk-blues hero in the tale, but it's more than a bio, there's a mysterious love story here, too.  Meanwhile, the meticulously-arranged breaks see nasty mandolin licks for solos, with the other players filling in with climbing, off-kilter chords rising and falling, somewhere between folk and classical.  The title track is about a particularly nasty family, and possibly the first all-mandolin murder ballad.  I think, I'm not sure that anyone dies here, but it's folk-noir.

Seriously, they really should just forget the voting, and start throwing awards and accolades at this disc.  The songs alone are worth that, never mind the fact that its ALL MANDOLINS.  The only person that comes to mind for this level of inventiveness is Ry Cooder, and I  mean that as the highest praise.  I couldn't love this more.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


Well, it says here on the bio that he's Jim Cuddy's son, but from the opening notes, you can throw your preconceptions away.  This is no junior singer-songwriter trying to find his way around the acoustic guitar with heartfelt tunes.  He's on the piano for one thing, and no, he's no Elton balladeer either.  Instead, it sounds like he's from some other generation entirely, some made-up one that has touches of country in the 50's, New Orleans in the 20's, and Cab Calloway in the 40's.  Jazzy-bluesy numbers are swapped with rollicking proto-rockabilly, everything swinging.

Everything here was written by Cuddy, who is arriving on the recording scene fully formed.  Each number is a little gem, a cool story, whether tongue-in-cheek (My Son's A Queer), or passionate retro.  There's not a nod to anything post-1959, aside from some lyrics, with the few instruments the same ones those old jazzers or Sun Studio guys were using.  The piano leads it all, and it sounds like an old upright workhorse, something rolled onto the stage in the high school gymnasium when the dance band arrived.  Engineer Tim Vesely (Rheostatics) adds no effects, no ambiance or layers, adding to the antique flair.  Zach Sutton's drums go boom, Nichol Robertson's guitar solos sound like a 50's guitar, Devon Richardson's bass is felt more than heard.  It was recorded live, no overdubs, and you can tell, in the very best ways.  Even Cuddy's voice is out of time, and certainly sounds way older than 25.  But he's been in love with Armstrong-era jazz since his teens, has studied both classical and jazz, and has been workshopping this sound at weekly gigs in Toronto for three years.  And he's absolutely developed a style and blend like no other.

Most of all, it's fun.  This is a good-time sound, a few laughs, lots of rollicking playing, great music to groove to.  Cuddy defies the expectations of any new, young performer, and especially with that surname.  But Cuddy fans, you'll love him still, just for completely different reasons.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


They weren't the most famous (that would be the Sex Pistols), or the best (you have to give that to The Clash), but they were the first.  The Damned were the first punk band to release a single in Year Zero, 1976, with New Rose, five weeks before the Pistols debut.  They then bashed out the first punk album, Damned Damned Damned.  And they were certainly.. well, they were the first.  That's a given.

Were they any good?  Depends on your punk preferences I guess.  They were good musicians, and were brimming with ideas and songs, as was shown later with a pretty fine string of albums and live shows.  But this raw album, while perfectly proper for the time, and a very accurate document of their sound, is not exactly something you want to throw on daily.  It has its highlights, New Rose and Neat Neat Neat the best known numbers, but its pretty basic buzzsaw guitar and pounding drums.  It was quite shocking for the time, as I recall.  Now, you know they and others did better.

So, what do we have here?  It's a four-disc set celebrating the debut album, which is of historical significance, but as a listening experience appeals to only a select group.  It's propped up by a variety of your typical box set add-ons, of varying quality.  That's typical of the recent spate of boxes devoted to one disc, the latest big one Fleetwood Mac's Rumours.  What I can tell you is this is the best package I've seen, a true gem, what you hope every one of these extravaganzas will deliver.  First, the extra audio:  Disc one is just the original album, fair enough.  The second set is a very generous collection of b-sides, Peel sessions (BBC radio), and a live broadcast in fine quality from '77, after they had broken through on the charts.  The third platter is quite the find in some ways.  It's the very first gig, in 1976, by the original band, in an opening slot for the Sex Pistols.  Amazingly, it comes from a portable cassette recorder, with just an internal mic., smuggled into the show in a gym bag, where it remained, and recorded on a notoriously thin C-120 tape, and then played hundreds of times before being dubbed over and saved.  No wonder it sounds like crap!  But you can still hear everything pretty clearly, even in this less-than bootleg quality.  That's the kind of inclusion I think is brave and wonderful.

At first I thought the fourth disc would be a complete dud, the dreaded audio documentary.  It includes three different radio specials on the band, the longest being a BBC documentary to celebrate the birth and recording of the famous New Rose single.  As it turns out, it's a fascinating listen, filled with grand facts and first-hand witnesses.  I sure didn't know that the group nearly included future Pretender Chrissie Hynde, then a punk scene maker, looking to form a band.  And that the others chose a lead singer by picking two proper-looking prospects out of a Pistols audience.  The future Dave Vanian showed up for the audition, while the soon-to-be Sid Vicious did not.  Captain Sensible reminds us that being in a punk band was a great career for him, even with the spitting, as he'd previously been a toilet cleaner.

Then there's the other contents of the box.  There are two long books, one of them hard cover, with the full history to read, and a treasure-trove of vintage articles, photos and promo materials.  A large poster has a Pete Frame Family Tree of the band, detailing every connection and line-up in the group's long history.  Those trees are great, if you're not familiar.  And there's even a collection of three old-school punk buttons for the band, the kind we used to proudly stick on our jean jackets.  Punk bands have always appreciated their loyal fans, and this is a set that pays back for that loyalty.  I may not think that much of the original disc, but I sure gained a lot of respect and knowledge for the band.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


Hayden returns with his first disc in four years, and he's still doing what he's always done, and done best.  Us Alone is a quiet, intimate set of songs that sound like they were calmly, studiously laid down with great care and reflection.  But it's different than demos, low-fi, or deliberate understatement.  It's a personal method of pinpointing the exact voice, the feeling, the volume where he wants to be.  You could throw a Fleetwood Mac budget at Hayden, and I doubt he'd make a different album.

Well, he might hire Neil Young, but only to play organ.  Not that he can't, and does do almost everything here himself, whatever fits the mood.  And if you're going to write a song like Instructions, which is basically a series of instructions on what to do with his remains when he dies, you pretty much want to be making that alone.  And you'd expect it to be mournful, a hypnotic repetitive piano piece that channels the great outdoors:  "Here's how I want this to go down/Please don't leave me in the ground."  There is a rare vocal accompaniment on Blurry Nights, as his label mate, and tour guest Lou Canon provides the counterpoint, but she's already in his inner circle, having had her debut disc produced by Hayden.  Otherwise, he keeps that tight control, playing virtually everything, plus acting as producer, mixer and engineer.

I wouldn't say any of the tracks are stripped down or bare, but there isn't any clutter here, he hasn't piled on the instruments or vocals.  Like the mood, and the volume, again it's a case of just right.  There are drums in places, enough to give opener Motel a beat instead of being a ballad.  Synths show up, as brief moments of colour, not obtrusive, just a sweetening.  Hayden's weary vocals remind me of Ray Davies, as they are both telling a story rather than singing a song.  Blurry nights by the way, is one of the best one-night-stand lyrics ever, in case you think this is all down and mellow stuff.  Heck, Rainy Saturday positively rocks.. a little.  With its old-school synth and little guitar lick, and an actual upbeat chorus, he shows there's some fun in his heart, too.  And what a big heart.

Monday, February 11, 2013


Imagine, if you will, that music history, music fate even, was a bit different.  Picture The Who, only instead of Keith Moon and John Entwistle having passed prematurely, it was Roger and Pete no longer with us.  And the other two, bass and drums, were still out touring with the name, bringing Quadrophenia to a theatre near you this winter.  Or, let's say the rest of the Stones had packed it in, and instead, the 50th anniversary band was lead by Charlie and Bill, and a bunch of recent, young, faceless recruits.  Think it would be still be exciting?

So with that in mind, lets look at another great beat group from the London 60's scene, The Yardbirds.  They are most famous for the trio of guitar gods that went through their ranks; Clapton, Beck and Page.  By 1968, the band was dead, last man standing Page deciding The New Yardbirds was a dumb name, opting for Led Zeppelin instead.  That left the Yardbirds franchise unused, and decades later, the drummer and the bass player took up the mantle again.  Shades of Bill and Charlie, Keith and John!  It's McCarty and Dreja, hardly famous names to the average rock fan.  Of course, the average rock fan only knows The Yardbirds as the former home of those guitar heroes, and probably couldn't name a single Yardbirds song.

That seems to be just fine to Dreja and McCarty.  They aren't trying to play the O2 Arena with this version of the band, and are very happy to be playing to a few hundred, the ones who do know the old songs, and appreciate some good blues in a live setting.  This double-DVD set is certainly not a flashy, multi-camera live show.  It's shot at outdoors festival stages, clubs and the like, with disc two a short tour documentary, where mostly Dreja and McCarty talk about how much better it is touring these days, what with hotel rooms and nights off and such, compared to the 12-hour daily slogs the band used to do, never taking a break.  Meantime, they're still driving in a passenger van.

The big question is whether this version of the band can entertain old fans and those attracted to the famous name.  All eyes would, naturally, be on whoever gets the guitar post.  And really, hats off to kid Ben King, still in his early 20's on these tracks, and handling himself very well.  He rips off some fiery solos, replicates the best-known licks of his pedigreed predecessors, and just about everything you could ask for, save, you know, Jeff Beck.  Whew!  Hey, this might be alright, huh?

Well, sorry.  Where the band falls down is replacing that other key member, lead singer Keith Relf.  He died from electrocution in 1976, and is sorely missed here.  Andy Mitchell is another youngster the founding members have chosen, but unlike their inspired choice in King, Mitchell doesn't fit the bill.  He has little charisma, and not much personality in his vocals, either.  And since the bulk of the set is made up of old Yardbirds numbers, such as Heartful Of Soul, Shapes Of Things, For Your Love and The Nazz Are Blue, you really miss the power Relf brought to them.

It's too bad, because when they are playing, this is a pretty exciting blues band.  It may be that the second class audio mix is unduly hurting the singer, and I'd still go see them at a festival, as word has it they put on a fine set.  One of the new songs McCarty wrote, Crying Out For Love, is pretty good too, a fine return to 60's-sounding Brit R'n'B.  But Mitchell makes them seem more like a bar band than a mainstage act, especially one that's in the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame.

Sunday, February 10, 2013


This is a deluxe version of the huge hit Babel album, now featuring a live component of the big tour they made to accompany the release.  Back in August, I had friends who made the trek to Portland, Maine, to see the nearest show to these parts.  At the time, the album had yet to be released, but they came back ecstatic with the new songs, and the whole tour idea.

The Gentlemen of the Road idea was to hold a one-day festival featuring bands Mumford would enjoy seeing, hanging out with, and jamming with, such as Dawes.  Nothing much more really, except good, all-day vibes.  Now we get this sampler of the tour, along with the original Babel disc.  It now includes an extra audio disc, Live At Red Rocks, and a separate DVD, which is again the Red Rocks concert, but as part of a documentary about the tour.  That one includes some brief interview clips about the tour concept, some scenic footage of Red Rocks, some crowd interviews, and best of all, a good five-minute montage of tour bands and uber-fans, plus scenics of none other than Portland, Maine.  Couldn't see my friends though.

Funny, I get a weird vibe from seeing the group play, they are awfully earnest an a little too into it.  Up close with the camera, it's all a tad too hippie at times, 'look at us, we're groovin' with these acoustic instruments, man.'  Given that they are pretty much still doing the same sound as their first album, I'm still trying to decide if they are here for a good time but not a long time.  Now, I can enjoy the CD of the concert much more, because the group's epic sound does come across well, and I'm not looking at them being so into themselves.  Still, I'm having a hard time remembering which songs were on the first album, and which are on the second, and sometimes I can't tell them apart at all, not a good sign.  But I think it's always a fun thing for fans to have a tour edition/souvenir, so I'm not going to quibble too much. 

Now, my bonus extra, a Review of the Day deluxe edition, here's my original review of the Babel album from last fall:

Mumford & Sons made a big splash with their debut, Sigh No More, crafting a unique sound that combined folk instruments with big, epic chords and a rock beat.  All you really need to know is that big sound is back with Babel.  Acoustic guitars are strummed with ferocity.  The banjo is plucked close to the point of breaking strings, in machine gun fashion.  Drums and bass pound and thud, to create that huge presence.  Singer Marcus Mumford bellows above it all.  Those are the louder ones, anyway.  First single I Will Wait is a perfect example, a fine song but one that has already become so well known in a few weeks that I keep forgetting if it's on the new album or the first one.  It is awfully similar to other ones on that disc.

It's actually the middle part of the new album that reveals the most about the band, and Mumford's songwriting.  There are a group of ballads in a row that let us here more than just the banjo and acoustics at full volume.  There are nice harmonies and a subtle mix of other instruments.  Strings and horns get added in, and the lyrics are bigger stories, with a touch of the mystic.  Yet even these get a little overwrought in the closing minute, as the group falls for the trap that making the song louder in some way makes it more important.  Don't get me wrong, they do it well, and it makes for some exciting listening, but we've now had two albums with the same style being repeated.

It still has some pretty stunning songs though.  Both Hopeless Wanderer and Broken Crown are full of drama and tension, with the intensity building throughout.  Yet the banjo and the vocal also add in a certain bit of joy, so that the end result is exhilaration.  It's no wonder the band is such a popular live act right now.

You have two choices for Babel, the basic edition, or the deluxe which adds three tracks.  Hmm, there's a five buck difference for that privilege, at least at, which seems steep, $12.99 or $17.99.  The big draw of the extra three is the group's cover of The Boxer, which they do with Paul Simon, although you'd never know the author is there unless you read the credits.  Actually, I like the cut For Those Below better, because it's one of the rare, non-bombastic tracks they do.

Friday, February 8, 2013


I guess compared to now, the 80's were a pretty good time.  Everybody's so friggin' tense now, you know?  Jobs are scarce, money's tight, nobody trusts our institutions.  So when the band Junior High comes along, celebrating what it was like when they were growing up in the 80's (kids), I guess I understand.  They are nostalgic for a more relaxed time, and want to find it in the music they loved then.

Still, they are good musicians, and know to make it modern, too.  Yes, there are tons of synth lines, but there's lots of everything thrown in as well.  It's pop, dance, fun, and Prince, too.  Electro-dance-funk or something.  And while these boys are remixers and DJ's, they know how important the real stuff is too, so we get that cool mix of high-tech, old instruments and actual performance, which seems to be where the best are at these days.  Hearing the groovy guitar that begins D.O.P.E., a line that James Brown would approve, which then gets an old clavinet-type line added on, it's enough to make old Talking Heads fans perk up, or at least Tom Tom Club ones.

Coming from California, there's lots of sunshine making its way into the songs, bright and cheery numbers such as So Many Changes, with its big chorus, high vocals over faux-pedal steel.  The Prince party continues in the break-down, and those old 80's instrumentals like Axel F from Beverly Hills Cop come to mind.  The best thing here is that there is no irony involved.  The Junior High guys aren't trying to be cool, and bring back what was once considered ripe cheese.  They just want to have fun!  Gee, what decade did I hear that motto in before?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013


Sexsmith had an unexpected, and much-deserved hit album last time out, with his Bob Rock-produced Long Player Late Bloomer.  Although no Aerosmith album, it was more commercially made and a bigger sound than previous ones, and it did the trick, creating a bigger buzz, selling more, and even landing two songs in the U.K. top ten.  Sexsmith is now pretty much a star in England now, and will launch this record in March in London at the Royal Albert Hall.

Given those stats, you'd expect almost any artist to continue in the same vein, but Sexsmith follows his muse.  He also works an album ahead, usually writing and stockpiling the songs for the next one about the time a new one comes out.  In an interview touring the Long Player album, he told me he'd already been working on this one, with his old pal Mitchell Froom, producer of four previous albums, including his first three proper ones.  Now Froom's highly regarded, but not for Top 40 hits, more for top quality.  And when the reason for the choice was because Froom had been getting into orchestrations of late, and Sexsmith had been writing what he described as his most personal set of songs, well, it's not the kind of choice to make accountants applaud.


Personal and orchestrated don't necessarily mean the songs can't be upbeat, and that's the case over much of this album.  There are some of Sexsmith's most fun songs here, even if he might be looking closer at himself.  Me, Myself and Wine might be about sitting alone on a late Sunday night, getting quietly blasted because you're alone, but he makes it sound great:  "Don't cry for me Argentina/Everything's gonna be fine."  Nowhere Is might be about being in a bad place, but it's from the point of view of somebody doing well now, looking back, and has a lively flow.  Sneak Out The Back Door talks about being anxious in life, whether overall or at public events, but it's full of great streams of words, and again, an upbeat look to a seemingly sad topic:  "Will you give my regards to the people in charge, while I sneak out the back door."

As for the orchestration, again, that's deceptive on paper.  Froom also arranged all the songs, with great instincts and care.  Me, Myself and Wine is accompanied by Dixieland brass, but never at top volume.  Most of the songs feature acoustic and voice up front, and the strings, woodwinds and such are rich but not overbearing or lush.  This is subtle and enjoyable, a few players, not orchestra dumped on top.  Heck, it's a pop album, and all the usual 70's influences are there for Sexsmith, the radio songs, the singer-songwriter, the beautiful McCartney time of Another Day, shades of Harry Nillson, and songs that are unabashedly tender.  It's also one of his very strongest lyrical albums, highlighted by the poignant and wise Life After A Broken Heart, again showing how positive he really is, despite the sad reputation some like to saddle him with.  I'm very glad Sexsmith got such a boost last time out, but this is the Sexsmith I like the most, heart-smart.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013


A bit of a shake-up for the venerable British songwriter and guitar hero.  Although he's been squatting in L.A. for several years, here he goes deeper inland, teaming up with veteran producer/artist Buddy Miller (Robert Plant/Emmylou Harris), and for much of the album fronts a roots power trio with Michael Jerome on drums and Taras Prodaniuk on bass.  The title Electric isn't quite accurate, as there are some acoustic numbers here as well, but it's been a bit since he's been this electric, with some (for him) raucous solos and deep-groove tracks. 

That's grand, a new sound for him, then.  There are a few add-ons, such as Stuart Duncan's fiddle, some acoustic bass from Dennis Crouch, and a little mandolin.  There are also the best harmony vocals on a Thompson disc since he split with Linda, from Siobhan Maher Kennedy, and on one track, Alison Krauss.  Gone are the saxes and slight jazz side that's been in play the last little bit.  These are get-to-business rockers.  Straight And Narrow even has a Tex-Mex organ on it, courtesy Thompson himself, as well as one of his best, off-kilter guitar solos.

Oh, it's great to hear those solos, too.  Thompson's aren't like anyone else, as he retains his own heritage, British folk, crossed with Duane Eddy for his own kid of twangy guitar.  And so many here!  We're blessed.  Plus, the ballads that are included are some of his finest, now or ever.  Another Small Thing In Her Favour is a touching send-off to a partner leaving, as he counts her blessings instead of succumbing to anger.  The Snow Goose is fantastically beautiful, with a tremendous, soul-shaking vocal.  The whole album is a balance between angry rockers and touching acoustic folk, and surely ranks up there with his very best in a very long and strong career.

Monday, February 4, 2013


A great big box celebrating a great big success.  Rumours remains one of the best-selling albums of all time, world-wide, and has managed to hold onto its strong reputation as well.  That's a rare thing for those 70's mega-sellers, many of which (Frampton Comes Alive, Grease, etc.) don't hold much more than nostalgia these days.  Rumours however continues to find new fans, and old ones don't find many faults.  It is an album you can keep playing.

There's a little bit of burn-out to Don't Stop, for anyone who lived through the Clinton administration, but other than that, hits You Make Lovin' Fun, Dreams, and Go Your Own Way still sound fresh, and show exactly why F. Mac were so potent a combo.  Those three songs are all quite different, each one written and sung by a different member.  Christine McVie had the fun pop sound, Stevie Nicks the mystical, and Lindsay Buckingham covered the rock.  Add to those ranks McVie's grand ballad Songbird, which is up there with Hallelujah for most covered inspirational track of the last 30 years, the 70's Yesterday.

Rumours has been reissued before, but this is the biggest package yet.  Following the trend of big boxes for cash-holding collectors, this set contains four CD's, one DVD, and the album in vinyl as well.  Given that there's a good chance you have the CD, and quite possible still have the vinyl too, a big box is going to have to include quite a few bonuses to separate you from your $80.  It's a good effort, not first class but pretty close.  Here are the highlights, and some quibbles.

Well, the album of course is the number one highlight, but we know about that.  Having it on vinyl again is a treat, although it's a not 180-gram pressing, if you're partial to those.  The original production holds up just fine, it was always an excellent recording, so no need for a remix.  Next comes a live disc, about an hour long, recorded over several dates on the first Rumours tour.  Given the number of musicians they'll take on the road with them as they tour this summer, it surprises me what a tight band the five-piece was on their own.  Buckingham handles all the guitar, and teaming up with McVie's keyboards, all the melodic sounds, from this very tuneful group.  Fleetwood is a grand showman on drums.  If anything is slightly off from the records, it's the vocals, as the harmonies don't quite match the layers and brightness of the studio.  Highlights here include extended versions with some Buckingham solos, and a new version of Rhiannon from the Fleetwood Mac album, lyrics completely rewritten after the first verse.

Discs 3 and 4 are out-takes, early and alternate versions of the tracks, some of which did show up on the earlier two-disc reissue of this album.  Now we get a much bigger story, as we follow the arc of the recording.  It's surprising how much of the album was written as the session progressed.  Dreams was composed by Nicks in the studio, as she waited for the other musicians to work on a cut.  Buckingham arrived with the music complete for his stuff, but not the words.  Go Your Own Way has just one verse, and half the chorus, but he's already making it rock, knows how he wants to sing it, just not the rest of the words he'll eventually find.  Most interesting is the story behind The Chain, the only song credited to all five band members.  Now we find out way, as we hear it evolve from two separate sources, one a jam session on a Christine McVie tune called Keep Me There, the other a Nicks demo with partial lyrics.  Then they mixed the two together for the final song.  Another highlight is Never Going Back Again sung as a duet with Nicks and Buckingham, instead the final, Lindsay-only take on the record.  Nicks' two out-takes from the album, Silver Springs, and Planets Of The Universe are well-known to some fans, but others will find them revelations.  Normally, two discs of demos and such is a bit much, but I never lost my interest, largely because there are such big differences in the early versions.

My two complaints are with the DVD, and the booklet.  A supposed rare documentary from that time, called Rosebud, turns out to be a pretty standard half-hour feature on the group made at the time of Rumours, with interview clips and live footage.  The concert footage is pretty good, but the interview clips really don't say much, especially given the tension behind the scenes at the time, with the couples breaking up in the group.  And at that small length, surely something else could have been found to make the DVD more interesting.  The booklet includes the standard essay on the band, with the often-told story presented yet again, nothing new at all.  At least Buckingham and Nicks add a little more info in the notes on each of the original songs, but I've told you more about the demos than you'll find in the booklet.  Come on, people pay good money for these things so they can spend a few hours on it, a little more info and insights, or at least some trivia and facts would be welcome.  I'm all for big boxes, but please, if you expect the consumers to pay rather than download, don't cut costs on these.  But for the most part, it's a good one, you won't go wrong if you're a fan, and it should give you $80 of enjoyment.

Sunday, February 3, 2013


So what's changed in blues in the last thirty years, since Vaughan burst onto the scene and blew everybody away?  Well, not much really.  As the joke goes, How many guitar players does it take to do a Stevie Ray Vaughan tribute?  All of them, apparently.  Blues is still pretty much in two camps, either the electric guitar-based band, or the acoustic delta player.  So why was Vaughan so special?  Other than being the best guitar player since Hendrix, you mean?  If that wasn't enough, his energy brought the Texas style up-to-date with the urgency of power trio rock, and his melodic sense meant it was always a musical treat, rather than just noise and volume.  It was everything, then.  Fast, loud, great songs, amazing playing, and tight, understandable tunes, showy but never just show-off.

This 30th anniversary edition comes with the lone out-take from the first album's session, Tin Pan Alley, which would be re-recorded for his next album, and has previously been released as a bonus cut on an earlier edition.  But it's disc two that you should flip for.  With all the Stevie Ray live material out there, how they held onto this great, hour-long set is beyond me.  Recorded in a Philadelphia hall on the tour for the first album, it includes the core of the debut disc, the great trio of Pride And Joy, Texas Flood and Love Struck Baby, the aforementioned Tin Pan Alley, and the clever but inconsequential Mary Had A Little Lamb, really just a cute number.  But check out the opening, back-to-back instrumentals Testify and So Excited, an original that never made it to a studio album.  Double Trouble and Vaughan simply put it all out there, blazing through the tracks, letting the audience know they were gunslingers there to blow them away.  And what else to follow but an audacious cover of the greatest guitar god, Hendrix, with a masterful Voodoo Child.

If that didn't get everyone's attention, once again the band returned to Hendrix to close things out, their own medley of Little Wing/Third Stone From The Sun.  What a way to introduce yourselves.  Of course, they were a well-oiled machine by then, having been stirring things up for three years in Texas, winning the praise of everyone from Jackson Browne to David Bowie, and pretty much just laying down their live set for the first album.  As this live disc shows, they played that good every time, and could do it all and more on stage.  Gone seven years later, there's no sign of Vaughan being eclipsed any time soon.

Saturday, February 2, 2013


Costello and his various music companies over the years have continually found different ways and formats to reissue his back catalogue, causing fans no end of pocketbook damage.  Just when you thought he'd run out of bonus tracks and rare things to slip onto deluxe versions, they come up with another trick.  This is a set of 15 tracks that have appeared in movies over his career, dating back to the late 70's.  Some are common, others pretty hard to find, and a couple could be showing up on CD for the first time, as far as I can tell.

Costello's been a favourite of film directors all through his career, probably because he's a literate rocker, and no doubt appealing to those artistic types already.  He's also been attracted to the idea over the years, and has written new material for several movies, as well as appeared in bit parts several times.  He's not proud either; he's done cameo roles as himself in everything from the Austin Powers series to The Spice Girls movie, and his acting roles usually see him as a comedic or strange character.  It's a holiday from albums and touring that he clearly enjoys, and he's brought some pretty good music to it over the years, and this celebrates it.

Many Costello-philes are collectors, and have sought out the soundtracks to these movies along the way, just to have the one new cut by their hero, so there's going to be a lot of repetition here for those folks, but still, there's a also going to be a couple even they don't have.  The rest of humanity, the normal part, will delight in finding a disc that includes such excellent numbers as My Mood Swings from The Big Lebowski, You Stole My Bell from The Family Man, or his cover of The Kinks classic Days, found in Until The End Of The World.  However, if you're any kind of Costello fan, you probably own Accidents Will Happen and Miracle Man, even if they did appear in E.T. and The Godfather Pt. III.  With several other rare movie songs from his career not included in this set, it seems odd to include them at the price of others.

My embarrassment at being one of those obsessive Costello collectors leads me now to admit I own several soundtracks simply because they included one of these songs.  But I have to have this set, because it has the track Oh Well, which I've not previously heard from Prison Song, and Sparkling Day, from One Day.  Both are good, and will no doubt serve well as bait for my fellow enthusiasts.  The rest of you should find plenty to enjoy here, an overview of a side career that has constantly yielded strong additions to the Costello canon, and now much more easily discovered here.