Tuesday, June 30, 2015


The most famous legs in r'n'b were walking the comeback trail back in 1984.  Turner hadn't made an album in five years, and had never really been a solo star.  Having escaped the abusive marriage with Ike Turner, she went back to basics, hitting the road and getting a new image for the MTV era.  A cover of Al Green's Let's Stay Together did well in the U.K. in 1983, and a management/production team put together a plan of attack that brought her more fame and acclaim than ever before. 

The comeback album featured the huge, #1 hit What's Love Got To Do With It, the decent follow-up Better Be Good To Me, and the kinda okay title cut, written by Mark Knopfler.  Turner could make anything sound good, but thirty years later, it's surprising how, umm, '80's this sounds, with overwrought synths, shrill production and odd song choices.  A slowed-down version of Help?  Bowie's 1984 at least had the right year for the project, but it's one of his worst clunkers.  The album proper is saved by the hits, but the other tracks drag it down.

Thankfully, it's made much better in this 30th anniversary edition.  When you put all the b-sides, remixes and live tracks back-to-back on Disc Two, it's far better than the original Private Dancer album.  Cuts such as I Wrote A Letter, Rock 'n' Roll Widow and Keep Your Hands Off My Baby should have been on the proper album.  Then you get her concert duets with Bowie (Tonight) and Bryan Adams (It's Only Love), highlighting her tremendous stage presence.  I'm not a huge fan of the Mad Max theme We Don't Need Another Hero, but it's here too.  Good job, deluxe set-makers.

Sunday, June 28, 2015


There is probably a team of lawyers working overtime for Monsanto and Starbucks, pouring over the lyrics here, asking "Can he say that?" As usual, Young pulls no punches here, delivering several songs directly attacking the corporate giants. And as usual, with his diatribe-based albums, it's a chore getting through the lyrics. He's not even trying to make them rhyme, and considers his message more important than our enjoyment. I'm certainly not going to argue with his views, or his willingness to use his star status for causes, but there's not a drop of subtlety and not much skill in this words.

As for the music, that's a different story. This is the most inspired I've heard Young in years, thanks to the new band on board. Promise of the Real feature two of Willie Nelson's kids, so they had an in with the boss already. And it didn't hurt that they took their name from a line in Young's song Walk On, "sooner or later it all gets real". While they may pray at Young's alter, the young folks add a spark, and a few chords not usually in Neil's charts. There's a conga player in the group, lots of interesting harmonies, and even new lead guitar playing.

Young and the Real mix it up nicely, between full-on rockers, mid-tempo grooves and a couple of nicer, dreamy numbers. But you really do have to tune out the singing, especially when he turns on the audience. People Want To Hear About Love is a shot at music fans who don't want to hear about corporations and dying fish and pesticides, just love songs. You know what Neil? I'd be fine hearing a protest song where the words weren't tossed off in five minutes.

Friday, June 26, 2015


The Tull classic has held up remarkably well, and hopefully this latest reissue will win some younger fans new to the fluted fabulousness of Ian Anderson. After all, it's on vinyl, so that should attract the kids. And us old guys too, who lost their original somewhere...can't quite remember...anyway, always loved it.

This version features the new mix prepared for the 2012 deluxe set, which didn't change any of instruments or levels, or add anything, just made it a little clearer. It's a grand, heavy, 180 gram pressing, and those famous notes sound warm and bright again, an old friend to these ears.

The packaging was different though. I was hoping for an exact replica of the original, famous newspaper cover, which was a fold-out. Instead, it's the next best thing at least. It's been included as a glossy booklet, quite big for an album really. It also includes the book notes from the 2012 box, which are first-rate, with nicely bitchy quotes from Anderson, full of lots of great details. As much as I loved the old fold-out paper, the inclusion of the extra info and photos more than makes up for the change. All kidding aside, it is one of the albums that belongs in your vinyl collection. And it also comes with a download card, giving you your digital option as well.

Thursday, June 25, 2015


Out of B.C. chugs Mark Crissinger, although he did twenty years in Toronto, schooled at the Elmo, the Horseshoe, Grossman's, etc., a member of various bands and outfits. After some rock and roots outings, he's settled back in the blues, a re-birth in a way. There's no falling back on covers on this one, it features a full twelve original cuts, Crissinger obviously ready to express himself this way.

Crissinger has that rare asset for a blues guy, quite a pleasing voice. So not only are you getting wall-to-wall solid grooves, there's a polish to the performance as well. The tunes range from laid-back to excited, his band able to pound when called on, and Crissinger an able guitar slinger and soloist as well. Plus, the sound on the disc is crisp and clean, with the arrangements vibrant. Writer, singer, player, bandleader, recording artist, as they say in baseball, he's a five-tool star. Great to have him on the blues side.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015


For their first studio album in four years, the Lovelies do indeed burn the plan, or at least ignore the expectations as Canada's leading folk-roots vocal trio. Instead they deliver a much more layered and pop-driven set of songs. Producer Les Cooper is back on board, but this time he's given more space to drop in some of the dreamy textures and uptempo touches that he used for others such as Jill Barber and Meaghan Smith.

The heavenly vocals of Caroline Brooks, Kerri Ough and Sue Passmore are still there, but there's a lot more polish to the sounds. Waiting For You shimmers with ringing guitar, its pop hooks as big as the harmonies. Broken Hearted's background doo-de-doo' are processed as well as pretty. Banjo and mandolin are occasionally present, but certainly not at the level of the keys or slippery bass lines.

Fear not, folk fans, it's still ear candy, and the songwriting from the trio is lyrically sharp, adventurous and compelling. And the all-important vocal arrangements remain the greatest strength of their sound, no matter what direction the group leans.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015


Just imagine if on one of these endless Fleetwood Mac reunion shows, the curtain opened to expose three guitar players, none of them Lyndsey Buckingham, and the music largely guitar blues, with some psychedelic numbers in there as well. In the rush to get their money back, the hoards might not notice the handful of fans staying behind, cheering like mad. There was a moment, back at the end of the '60's, when this version of Fleetwood Mac was the real deal.

First formed in 1967 as a blues group out of John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, Peter Green was the early leader and guitar hero. It was a rare time when blues groups could actually have pop hits, and the band scored with such numbers as Oh Well and Albatross. This got them a pretty healthy record deal for a third album in 1969 from Reprise, which is where we pick up the story with this series of vinyl releases.

These four albums are the band's third to sixth releases, dating from 1969 to 1972. The early success of the group did not bring them stability, and a series of steady and confusing personnel changes happened with each album, through until the Buckingham-Nicks era began in 1975. Green was the first one gone, leaving after 1969's Then Play On, and the group struggled to find a consistent sound amidst the bodies shifting.

Then Play On was also the first album where band pal Christine Perfect from Chicken Shack would guest, although she's not credited. A couple of albums later, the one-time British Female Vocalist of the Year would join full-time, now going by her married name of Christine McVie, wed to the bass player.

Then Play On was the group's first rock album, although the blues are still felt in a couple of instrumentals and Green's monumental Rattlesnake Shake. Slide guitar specialist Jeremy Spencer barely appears, while new guy Danny Kirwan supplied more pop/rock material. It was all over the map for styles, and interesting because of it.

With Green gone for the next album, Spencer contributed more tracks for 1970's Kiln House. However, by this time he'd become interested in recording cuts that were basically tongue-in-cheek rewrites of old rock and roll stuff. Buddy's Song is simply a bunch of Buddy Holly song titles strung together as lyrics over the music to Peggy Sue Got Married. Danny Kirwan does supply a couple of nice ones, including Earl Gray, and there are good group instrumentals, but this is a band unsure of its future.

1971 saw the release of Future Games, and a much stronger lineup with Spencer gone (famously leaving to join a cult while on tour). In his place was U.S. guitar player Bob Welch, and Christine McVie was now an official full-time member. The transition to pop-rock was complete, and for now the band was better off for it. Welch was able to jump in with solid, melodic material such as the title cut, and McVie wrote and sang a couple more, the lovely Show Me A Smile hinting at her hit-making talents to be discovered four years later.

The next year Bare Trees continued the solid results, including the first version of Welch's Sentimental Lady, which he would re-record as a big solo hit in 1977. Kirwan was quite a handful of a person, and was fired after the release of the album. Fleetwood Mac would go through more instability until the miraculous rebirth in 1975, but there are many fine numbers to enjoy on these albums, with Then Play On the best of them, Bare Trees and Future Games equal, and Kiln House a troubled but decent effort.

Monday, June 22, 2015


I've already reviewed the recent deluxe, 2-CD reissue of the Stones' glorious 1971 release, Sticky Fingers, but I'd been hearing that the Super Deluxe version was a top-notch one. These Super Deluxe boxes are tricky things. They are designed for bigger fans of the band, and music collectors, those willing to shell out $100 - $200 bucks. Sometimes, all you are really buying is nicer packaging and some minor novelty recordings, and basic fans can get all the music needed on far cheaper editions. But other times, you get what you pay for; the recent Dylan Basement Tapes big box features six CD's of music instead of the two in the regular set.

The Stones have had a so-so record with box sets. While they are always quite special in the packaging department, often they fall flat when it comes to actual content. The huge Grrr! box was big in size at about 18 inches tall, and included the first-ever Stones demos, plus a vinyl EP of a BBC session. But at $200, that was still just 4 discs of the same hits, and the pretty book was mostly photo reproductions of various promotional materials such as posters and trinkets, with no text. The Exile On Main Street box was just the 2 CD deluxe set version, the two-album vinyl set, and the DVD of Stones in Exile, which you could buy for 10 bucks separately.

So I'm happy to report that the Sticky Finger Super Deluxe is real value for the dollar, if you have enough of them. First, there's a live CD that's only available in this package, a 1971 concert from Leeds University in London. Some of it was released before, but not legally. There was a famous bootleg called Get Yer Leeds Lungs Out, named for a line spoken by Jagger at the show. Here we get the complete concert recording, and of course in much better sound. There is a DVD included as well, but don't pay much attention to that. It's only two cuts, and they are taken from this week's full release of The Marquee Club Live in 1971, which you will want to get on its own.

As for the package, this time the book not only looks great, it actually has excellent notes and photos as well. I'm not a Stones nut, but I'm pretty knowledgeable, and there are some stories here that are new to me. I didn't know Can't You Hear Me Knockin' came out of a one-take only improv. Also, the bonus track version of Brown Sugar, with Eric Clapton on guitar, happened not as an out-take but rather an after-party jam with the band pal. It looks great, the paper is the highest quality glossy art-book stuff, you get a bonus 45 of Brown Sugar/Wild Horses with a sleeve reproduction, posters and such, and of course, a working Warhol zipper. That's super, and deluxe.

Thursday, June 18, 2015


Released in connection with an exhibition at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, this set celebrates the sidemen of Music City in the '60's and '70's. The reason Dylan and Cash are in the title is that they helped usher in a new attitude about the country music capitol. Dylan started recording there in 1966, using local talent, and Cash championed Dylan and rock, especially on his Nashville-recorded TV show.

The 2-CD is deep in major recordings, some rarely thought of as Nashville productions. There's Leonard Cohen's Bird On A Wire, at a time when he lived in the city for two years. Simon and Garfunkel did The Boxer there, the famous bass harmonica part courtesy of multi-instrumentalist Charlie McCoy. Even The Beatles got involved, solo at least. Harrison flew pedal steel whiz Pete Drake in to record Behind That Locked Door, because he loved his work on Dylan albums. Ringo met Drake then, and went to Nashville to have him produce his Beaucoups of Blues album. McCartney arrived in '73 to make Sally G.

It's the long tentacles of Dylan that really changed rock music's attitudes towards country. Ian and Sylvia moved to Nashville because their friend had done so well there, and recorded his tune This Wheel's On Fire, and a couple of albums. Flatt and Scruggs did another Basement Tapes number, Down in the Flood. The Byrds always followed Dylan, and arrived in 1968 to make Sweetheart of the Rodeo, with yet another Basement Tapes tune, You Ain't Going Nowhere, plus Gram Parsons' sublime Hickory Wind. Best of all for Dylan fans is a previously-unreleased cut featured here, a version of If Not For You, featured Nashville-added pedal steel and violin.

One of the most successful rock-to-Nashville visits features Neil Young, in town to appear on the Cash TV show. Offered some studio time, he hooked up with local players and was so taken with them, he made much of Harvest album in town, including his enduring Heart of Gold. He also took session stars Ben Keith, Kenny Buttrey, and Tim Drummond with him to form the Stray Gators. Those players, as well as McCoy, Drake, Charlie Daniels, Pig Robbins, Fred Carter Jr. David Briggs, Norbert Putnam and several others are the Nashville equivalent of L.A.'s Wrecking Crew or Motown's Funk Brothers, and just as important to country and rock. And this is a grade A collection, well worthy of being a museum piece.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015


The SteelDrivers are one of the top bluegrass outfits around, thanks to an unbeatable combination of expert playing, superb vocals and catchy songwriting. I'm sure they know lots of the old stuff, but this is a group looking to forge their own way as writers, and add their own twist. The difference they bring is a soulful edge, bringing the Bill Monroe sound down south to Alabama, recording the album in the legendary studio town that has given birth to so many great albums.

Not many bands can survive the loss of two main members, but The SteelDrivers have been able to attract the tremendous singer and writer Gary Nichols, who hits plenty of beautiful and aching high notes. Fiddler Tammy Rogers is right there adding the strong harmony, as well as contributing four of the songs.

Somehow the group has kept the spirit of the original quintet even with two new members, and come up with true gems in Nichols and mandolin player Brent Truitt. In a group full of virtuosos, none of them show off, it's all about that perfect blend. A bonus in adding Nichols is that he brought along his lifelong pal, Jason Isbell. The former Drive-By Trucker is another Muscle Shoals regular, and he produced two of the album cuts here, and added slide guitar. It's all proof-positive that bluegrass is far from old-timey these days, full of some of the best performing and songwriting of the roots scene.

Monday, June 15, 2015


Jewell sings about small towns, both good and bad. On the positive side, in her number My Hometown (not Springsteen's), she tells us, "If sweetness has a sound, it would sound like my home town/The summer sprinklers turning on, the endless ice cream sound." But up next comes Needle & Thread, a place with four blocks of rust piles, one horse short of a one-horse town. This time, it's a sport where "the little boys learn to cuss before they can talk."

Recently Jewell has moved back to her own home town of Boise, Idaho, which has no doubt fed these examinations of place and connection, as well as a little more Western (or Mid-Western) in her twang. Pages certainly has a Western sound to it, and Green Hills is a tearful campfire number.

It's all pure Americana, the kind that examines little moments and everyday people and places. Jewell is a jewel of a writer, with little pictures and film moments in every song, never overblown and always thoughtful.

Friday, June 12, 2015


Ryan Adams' loyal fan base really came through when the singer released a limited-edition 6-LP box set in April. Featuring 42 songs recorded during a run last November at Carnegie Hal, the collection sold out not one but two pressings. Now it's being widely issued next week, plus for the more frail consumer, there's this handy 10-song CD, as a strong sampler of the set.

I haven't heard the big box, but this live album sure hits all the right buttons. It's totally solo, just Adams on guitar or piano, up there alone, kind of goofy and charming, and with those killer heartbreak tunes. For years now Adams has surrounded himself with various bands, but as this concert shows, he's at his best stripped bare, where all that aching and fragility is on display. Not that he can't do rock numbers, but at that game he's merely highly talented. As you'll hear on this disc, it's a fully captivating set.

The disc also sounds wonderfully intimate. Maybe it's the acoustics at Carnegie Hall, and maybe it's the care that went into the recording, probably some of both. It makes this even more of a treat. The songs chosen for this edited version are heavy on his first two, most popular albums, Heartbreaker and Gold. Then you get three from the current, self-titled album, and two new ones. Instead of being the grump he has been in the past, instead he pours his heart into the old ones. Why the crowd doesn't go crazy when he does New York, New York shows how cool the locals can be, but by the time he hits Come Pick Me Up, every soul has been won over. Six albums at over a hundred bucks might be too much for some, but this will do nicely for any one, the big fan or the more casual.

Thursday, June 11, 2015


How come when I hear Rick's music, I always think, "Oh, that's some fine stuff...".  Oh, right.  Anyway, it's an apt way to describe his soulful and easy-going roots and blues, built on relaxed grooves and thoughtful writing.  The title cut puts us in that place where we're taking in the sights but thinking hard about who and what we'll find when we arrive, taking the long scenic route for a little more thinking time.

Fines and the crack group are pretty adaptable throughout.  This One Day has a New Orleans feel, while Ridin' The Rails gets funky and Little Feat-friendly with lots of his slide guitar lines.  Why Do We Treat Love Like That? moves into the roots category, a strong duet with Grainne Ryan, complete with some Spaghetti Western guitar.  With that one a success, Fines stays on the singer-songwriter side for the emotional When The Rain Ends, another thinking and driving song, searching for that love, and another class job with the lyrics and the slide.  He's just enough in the John Hiatt school to please Hiatt fans but not enough to say he's copying anything.  These are fresh and personal lyrics.

Long Gone is a good kicker, the drums, sax and piano all getting a chance to pound, a high-energy change of pace midway.  Things get spooky on Hounds Howling Up On The Hill, a musical equivalent of a Poe story.  Then it's back to the smoother blues, Make The Change bringing back the groove, while The Sun Is Bright proves a fun closer with its casual reggae feel.  But I'll go back to the lyrics one last time, on the penultimate number, The Winds Of Time.  "The air is rich with the scent of last year's leaves where they fell," he tells us, evoking the end of winter, "and the snow still remains on the north side of the trees."  There's a Canadian songwriter at work, let me tell ya.  That's some fine stuff.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015


Listen to the instrumental break in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor. That odd guitar scraping, could it be? Yes, there it is, the fabled first time Jimmy Page played his electric with a bow! Actually, it's not all that excited, but that's pretty much what this album has always been, a kind of muddled in-between collection of cuts as The Yardbirds were changing and dissolving, forcing Page towards new efforts in Led Zeppelin.

Here's a vinyl reissue of the last Yardbirds album, a very nicely presented product in splattered-colour vinyl, and a heavyweight pressing. Little Games saw the band down to a four-piece after Jeff Beck got the boot for being mysteriously ill too often on tour. Despite the entire rock world knowing that psychedelic, progressive albums were the thing for 1967, The Yardbirds were being forced to keep trying for hit singles, with Mickie Most (Herman's Hermits) brought in as producer. So the album was recorded in mere hours over three days, compared to the months the group's contemporaries were spending in the studio.

Even then, the singles stiffed, probably because they were lightweight. Listen to the words on Little Games, they don't match the psychedelic blues the group was trying to do, lead by Page's guitar tricks. There are valiant efforts here, on the non-single tracks, mostly hinting at where the members would head after dissolution. There are some folk moments, Keith Relf singing Only The Black Rose, before he would move on to Renaissance with drummer Jim McCarty. And of course Page was borrowing blues and folk for his new sounds, Drinking Muddy Water the kind of song that Zeppelin would be all about in a couple of years.

It's actually a sad end to The Yardbirds, a band that never truly jelled despite its famous members. There are good songs here, but a couple of clunkers too, and the band deserved to be left along for some time to create something great. With its many Zeppelin hints (John Paul Jones even plays as a session musician), it's a needed link in the chain.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015


For years, the critical thinking has been that the Stones' best album is Exile On Main Street.  Jagger for one never understood this, given that record's lack of big hits.  You know what?  I think he might be right.  Listening again to Sticky Fingers, I'll argue its merits as overall best (but with a nod to Let It Bleed and at least a wink to Beggars Banquet.)  Hits are hits for good reason usually; they are great songs.  You gonna complain about Brown Sugar?  Wild Horses?  And Bitch has sure earned its kudos over the years in concert.

As good as those numbers are, there isn't a dud in the remaining seven tracks, which include some of the all-time favourite Stones' album tracks.  There's Dead Flowers, still getting reworked by alt-country bands today.  The nasty Can't You Hear Me Knocking has those sharp guitar notes emphasizing the title phrase.  The harrowing tale in Sister Morphine took us into the drug hell that was consuming many around and in the band.  I Got The Blues was actually more of a soul song, with its Southern horns and Solomon Burke phrases.  Right down to closer Moonlight Mile, it's a gripping listen, from fun hits to dark majesty.

The Stones camp seems to be learning something about these deluxe sets too.  They are still obviously cash-grabs, with the $200 Super Deluxe box, but this time there's really good content to go with it.  On the 2-CD deluxe edition, you get a great second disc of alternates and live cuts.  Right off the bat, you know it's good, as a very different version of Brown Sugar opens with a slide guitar line.  This is the fabled take with Eric Clapton on it, and it's grand.  However, it's not quite as good as the released version, so it's no surprise it was shelved, even with its star attraction.  It's also the kind of bonus cut we always hope for from the Stones' vault, but never seem to get.

Wild Horses follows, this time as an acoustic track.  It's sounds pretty much like the same take, only before the lead guitar was added, nothing too major, but a good look at how this developed from a campfire-style number to the better-known final take.  Can't You Hear Me Knocking is presented in a very different way, mostly because they hadn't figured the song out yet, even the lyrics still a sketch for Jagger.  The accents aren't there yet, and this shows us how a bare idea was developed by this crack band during the sessions.  The version of Bitch is longer by a full two minutes, and I'll argue it never drags.  Dead Flowers is included at an earlier, faster pace, sounding more like The Grateful Dead doing the song, with Jagger trying out his faux-rural accent, with a little more inflection than the final take.

Then we get five cuts, a half-hour taking from shows at London's Roundhouse at the end of the 1971 tour.  Instead of repeating the album tracks, the five are from earlier albums:  Live With Me, Stray Cat Blues, Love In Vain, Midnight Rambler and Honky Tonk Women.  Super-confident at this point, it's hard to argue against this era as the best for live Stones, with Richards and Mick Taylor locked in, and the horn section of Jim Price and Bobby Keys a brilliant addition (note Jagger's sarcastic introduction, "on saxophone and tequila, Bobby Keys!")  The only sour note is the typically-awful Richards backing vocals on Honky Tonk Women.  I know deluxe sets often disappoint, but this one should give you lots to enjoy.

Monday, June 8, 2015


Hugely overshadowed in 1970's tumultuous pop world by the break-up of The Beatles was the break-up of that other B-band, The Bee Gees.  While they weren't ranked as high as their Liverpool rivals, the Gibbs were doing pretty darn well, thanks very much.  They'd had a huge hit with I Started A Joke in 1969, a number #1 in England with I've Gotta Get A Message To You, and even the confusing double album Odessa had done well enough to warrant moving ahead.  But by January of 1970, Barry, Maurice and Robin had all started solo careers.

Actually, Robin was first out, back in March of '69.  He was simply chaffing to do more on his own.  As a songwriter, he had developed his own style which was certainly unique and at odds with the overall group and management hopes for hit singles.  Despite his brother's hopes it would just be a temporary solo flight, Robin hit the Top Ten all across Europe with his first solo single, Saved By The Bell, and immediately set to work on his own album, and a lot of other projects too.  There were orchestral sessions, including one with a choir, music to accompany the Apollo moon landing.  He was writing a book of short stories, Dickensian he said.  One would be a movie.  There were demos and songs, piles of them.  Three singles came out, a full album (Robin's Reign), a planned but never completed second album, and just as quickly as he'd left, he was back.  After his brothers released failed singles in the Spring of '70, they all decided it was indeed better together.  They were gone so quickly most people didn't know they'd left, and quickly they were back at the top with Lonely Days and How Can You Mend A Broken Heart.  The end.

Except, there was all this music made by Robin, much of it never seeing the light of day.  The biggest fans knew about it, and the songs circulated in the don't ask-don't tell world of the biggest collectors.  Not even Robin Gibb had copies of it all, with tapes lost and forgotten over the years.  It took the intervention of passionate people and ten years of searching to put it all together in this new three-disc set, with two-thirds of it unreleased until now.  Robin helped at the start, but died in 2012.  So it was the fans that came through, with rare acetates and tapes, probably the only existing copies of hours and hours of work Gibb did that solo year.

Disc one presents the original Robin's Reign album, plus the mono singles that came out as well.  It follows the work Robin had begun on the Odessa album, very much his own writing style.  He'd take historical moments, with a fondness for British life in the late 19th and early 20th century.  There were farmers and wars, family histories, and small tragedies.  The music was from another time as well, baroque tunes, lots of orchestra, piano, and harpsichord and harmonium.  Producing himself, his main collaborators were several talented arrangers and conductors, working to orchestrate his dreams.  Robin's Reign is an odd piece to this day, quite lovely but with its own language.  The single August October makes little sense:  "In August, October, the grass grew/The sky was blue and I want you."  Farmer Ferdinand Hudson is about a farmer who has lost it all in horrible storm, and we meet him on his dying day.  Sad stuff, and in no way typical of the pop world then or now.

The beauty of this collection is how far we can now go into Gibb's work that year.  We find out Farmer Ferdinand Hudson was simply one part of the huge, 12-minute cut Hudson's Fallen Wind, released now for the first time.  It's an ambitious, delightful work, obscure and still sad, a new type of composition from a highly creative mind.  Perhaps he felt the pressure once again to conform to the pop world, which is too bad, it's much better than other songs on Robin's Reign.  Things really take off on disc two though.  This collects a group of songs referred to as the Sing Slowly Sisters sessions, after the first track, and possible name for a second album.  The style he'd been working on had really coalesced with these tracks.  The orchestra was bigger, it was largely just strings and keys on the tracks, but the songs were more focused, the lyrics and ideas concise, the topics broader.  These did sound more like the hits he possibly wanted, yet he also wasn't compromising.  They were a bit more upbeat, more varied in mood, and you weren't left scratching your head over anything.  Except, why he didn't do anything with them.  With the group back together, all solo work was put on the back-burner, and Gibb was fine to let them sit there, the creation more important than the desire for them to be released.

Disc three gathers a few more odd tracks from this time, some BBC Radio appearances and a large number of demos recorded in his home studio, spare solo versions, some that never got past that initial stage.  With so much hype given to other '70's stars releasing barely-different mixes as bonus tracks on new deluxe editions (I'm looking at you, Jimmy Page), this is far more of a goldmine, real unheard, brilliant music finally available, and far more worthy of your attention and dollars.

Saturday, June 6, 2015


Lennox has made the transition from pop star to diva smoothly, and last year made the Nostalgia album, classic Great American Songbook covers. This is an intimate concert of the songs, with the cameras up nice and close, and all the bells and whistles put on for the DVD. Given the 40's vibe, Lennox even goes through some costume changes, including a strutting around the stage decked out with a huge headpiece made of peacock feathers. Look, I know those things were once all the rage, but it looks kind of creepy; there should be disclaimer that no actual peacocks were hurt during the making of the film.

They certainly went all out for it, with a big orchestra and back-up singers, and the audio production lovely. The strings sound especially wonderful on September In The Rain and You Belong To Me. Unlike the many wanna-be's, Lennox does have the commanding voice to pull off this material, and a unique one. Certainly she sounds like no other, and there are a few wow moments where she will give you goosebumps.

Many of the songs are classic African-American blues and jazz numbers, from Billie Holiday (Strange Fruit, God Bless The Child, Summertime). Ray Charles (Georgia On My Mind) and Duke Ellington (Mood Indigo). She doesn't always seem suited to these, given the subject matter, and her upbeat personality. But she's confident, and you know she's doing it because they are both great and important songs, and she does them justice.

For the old fans, Lennox goes back to the pop days for the encore, four hits including Sweet Dreams and and Here Comes The Rain Again. But for these, the band leaves the stage, Lennox going solo at the piano. She owns the crowd and has reclaimed this material for her own, and this new phase of her career.

Thursday, June 4, 2015


Best known as lead singer of the long-running Canadian reggae band The Sattalites, Hambleton's roots go even further back.  He's been a fixture of the Toronto community since the Yorkville era, part of the group A Passing Fancy.  He's also a true musical traveler, starting in folk, mixing in some jazz, becoming a horn player, blasting some New Wave, sliding into reggae, writing pop material, and wrapping it all up with exotic touches of world music from all over.

Hambleton's latest sees him touch on all that again, but mostly in an ear-pleasing, mature style, focusing on his smooth voice and easy-going vibe.  There's always the hint of the exotic to his songs, taking us outside Canada either musically or via images.  The Edge of the World, with Hambleton's mellow alto sax, goes on a Caribbean vacation, with a little mystery and romance, "where the sea meets the sky, stars are falling like diamonds at the edge of the world."  Both She's Gone Away and Never Givin' Up On Love include that pleasing groove The Sattalites are loved for, and has brought Hambleton a couple of Junos along the way.

Adult can be a derogatory term in music, but in this case it means seasoned and solid.  Joining Hambleton (long an accomplished player and educator) is a top-drawer team made up of co-producer George Koller on bass (Shuffle Demons, Peter Gabriel, Loreena McKennitt, etc.), drummer Gary Craig (Blackie & the Rodeo Kings), guitar player Tim Bovaconti (Ron Sexsmith, Bachman-Cummings) and others. All the cuts are originals except for an oldies cover of Sealed With A Kiss, with another stand-out found in The Time Of Your Life, which sounds like a '70's-era Lightfoot single.  This album is a feel-good pill.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015


Are humans no better than robots when it comes to emotions?  Do we act in pre-programmed ways when it comes to love, anger, fear, etc., thanks to societal norms?  And what does that leave us that separates us from the robotic?  This is the heady topic behind Watson's fifth album, although thankfully only lyrically.  No robotic music here, as usual it's beautiful and stirring.  Hushed and lush, Watson leads things with his sweet falsetto, light keys and occasional beds of synthesizer.  There are certainly lots of hypnotic moments (as opposed to mechanical), and the pulse rarely rises above dream state, but that just makes the intense moments (the middle of Bollywood) even more powerful.

The secret weapon after Watson's many skills is Moncton-raised guitar player Joe Grass.  Handling all the acoustic, electric, atmospheric and pedal steel parts, his non-traditional approach leads to many other-worldly moments.  The whole band works wonderfully as a team on the lovely arrangements.  The Bowie echoes in Grace are reminiscent of The Man Who Sold The World era, while Hearts moves from a gentle acoustic number to a dark, rainy boogie, pedal steel and synth accenting deep drums as Watson exhorts a pair of hurt lovers to "Scream, scream louder,  so loud 'till you can't hear each other."  It's all beautiful, which is what makes us different from robots, I'm thinking.

Monday, June 1, 2015


This is the Velvet's fourth album, and last featuring Lou Reed, who quit before it was released in 1970.  While it's the home of two of the band's best-known, and two of Reed's signature tunes, Sweet Jane and Rock & Roll, it's always been the cause of debate, confusion and hostility, pitting those who revere the caustic/John Cale albums against those who appreciate the easier sounds of Reed at his most commercial.

There's no doubt Reed was tired of breaking down barriers with little to show for it.  With Cale out of the picture, and Doug Yule more of a traditional rock guy, the emphasis was now on making more radio-friendly sounds.  They wanted hits, but given that the Top Ten of the month it came out included Neil Diamond's Cracklin' Rosie, The Jackson 5ive's I'll Be There, and The Partridge Family's I Think I Love You, they were still way too far out for that to happen. 

Did that make this a failed album?  Far from it, and bright and shiny album cuts such as Cool It Down still have a tension and edge.  I Found A Reason, with beautiful doo-wop influenced harmonies and a spoken-word section, is like a candied version of the band.  And while Reed's lyrics might be more sedate than his epic tales of shooting heroine and S&M, New Age was still a nasty shot at over-the-hill actresses.  The great Rock & Roll is highly personal, about how the music saved young Lou from accountancy and boredom or some such fate.

It was a band album in name only.  Maureen Tucker doesn't even appear on it, too pregnant during the sessions to play the drums.  Sterling Morrison was in college, so he's pretty much on the sidelines.  Cale replacement Yule, ostensibly the bass player, now covered much of the guitar, drums and even lead vocals, singing four of the tracks, making this the Reed-Yule album in truth.  But it's great no matter what the comparisons, and holds up far better than almost all subsequent 70's Reed albums. 

It's also good to have a nice clean, new vinyl pressing of Loaded, with the mix favouring the vocals and warm bass.  This is one to buy if you are creating a library of the 500 great albums.