Thursday, July 30, 2015


And so it ends, if we can believe Jimmy Page.  The well is dry now, at least when it comes to studio tracks from Led Zeppelin.  With the release of the final three remastered albums in the catalog, along with the companion bonus audio discs, Page assures us everything the group did that approached a song is now out. 

As usual, the second disc of tracks is really only for the trainspotters, at least on Presence and In Through The Out Door.  There are rough mixes for most of the songs, which means the differences between those and the released cuts are minimal to most.  Whether it means guitar parts yet to be added, or different ones included, I haven't the time or interest to play each one back-to-back to find the odd moments.  On the rare occasion there's some major difference, it's a brief thing, the kind of moment only collectors and book writers cherish.

Presence remains the most under-appreciated album in the band's career.  Designed to be a return to heavier sounds after the mixed bag of Physical Graffiti, great goings-on surrounded its production, thanks to Robert Plant's very nasty car wreck.  While it does offer that, with keyboards and acoustic guitar virtually banned.  Page did play a whack of good guitar, but sadly they all forgot they needed some good songs too.  Aside from Achilles Last Stand, one of the group's heaviest and longest cuts, favourites are rarely named from this album.

I'll argue the merits of In Through the Out Door, although it too has detractors.  It's famously a Jones-Plant album, the other two worse for wear from addictions.  Jones had this brilliant new synth, and was trying all sorts of arrangements, and it's fascinating to hear his more melodic style coming to the fore, such as the piano-heavy South Bound Saurez.  Page too was willing to try out new things.  Check out the crazy way his guitar solo jumps into opening cut In The Evening.  Yes, there were pop moments, Fool In the Rain and All My Love the obvious ones, but I'd rather inspired pretty than heavy but dull.

Then there's Coda, which is part of the reason there have been no bonus cuts among the discs of companion audio in the reissue series.  Released as the final Zep album in their contract after the death of John Bonham, it was made up of out-take songs from as far back as the first album, and three that hadn't made the cut for In Through The Out Door.  It succeeded well in that role.  Wearing and Tearing from 1978 was a return to their full-on 1969 mode.  Bonzo's Montreux, with some Page tweeked and twiddling, is one of the best drum solo tracks you'll ever hear or at least one of the most interesting.  We're Gonna Groove is a great live cut from 1970, the band in full blues power of the time.

Here's where the reissue series finally gets exciting.  The extras for Coda, a full two more discs, are more than just the early mixes.  That doesn't mean they are all new; this is the catch-all set where all the previously-released rarities show up, such as the 1968 blues Baby Come On Home, which dates back to the New Yardbirds days, the start of the band.  It had previously come out on the Boxed Set 2 collection from 1993, something lots of fans won't already own.  Sugar Mama though, is new on disc for the first time (if you don't count bootlegs).  It comes from the same era as Baby Come On Home, and has Plant in full-throated electric blues prime.  There's also an instrumental called St. Tristan's Sword from 1970, a curiosity at best.  There's long been interest in the tracks Plant and Page recorded in India during a visit in 1972, and these appear here finally.  Friends and Four Hands (Four Sticks)  were previously released by the band on the third and fourth albums, and were tried out with the Bombay Orchestra.  The sessions didn't go as hoped, and they've been shelved until now. It's kind of interesting to hear Indian musicians playing the melodies, but the arrangements aren't really dynamic, and the songs fall flat, no one able to add any life to the performances.  But now you know, it's all here, warts and all, good times, bad times, food for thought and fodder for arguments, everything you want from a band, which at its best was one of the very best.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015


Here are two very different albums in the long and much-appreciated career of The Waterboys, newly-reissued on heavyweight vinyl.  They come from opposite corners of Mike Scott's musical journey, but both feature that spiritual search he's been on, a quest even, to get to the true heart of music.  In the early version or the more mature, Scott shows he approaches that quest with joy, even though he has come close enough to the flame to know it could consume him.

This Is The Sea appeared in 1985, during the time Scott was working with Karl "World Party" Wallinger in the group.  The album is the culmination of the first phase of the band, when Scott was striving for The Big Music, his combination of anthemic and spiritual, not unlike U2 and Springsteen, in theory.  Here you'll find the group's best-known song, The Whole of the Moon, so good it was a hit twice, even bigger in England when it was reissued from a best-of in 1990.  It's about exceptional people who have achieved artistic greatness, including C.S. Lewis.  Don't Bang The Drum is a writing collaboration with Wallinger, Scott's lyrics a call to environmental activism.  The title cut is one that connects us to nature, and suggests we were once wiser people in pre-technological times.

It's odd to revisit this album and here the synthesizers and pop touches, especially all the work Wallinger did, considering the acoustic music that Scott would turn to next.  At times there are clashes between the modern and the Irish touches, and it is not a seamless collection.  It served the purpose for all though, reaching the U.K. Top 40, and letting Scott go off with fiddler Steve Wickham, who joined the group at the end of the sessions.  They headed to Ireland and began the very long process of making Fisherman's Blues.  Wallinger split to form World Party and be the hit-maker for the time being.

Fisherman's Blues was the big album from this period, but its follow-up, Room To Roam from 1990 is another exploration of mostly Irish and Scots music.  By now, the accomplished accordion player Sharon Shannon had joined as well, and given the success and attention the band achieved, it's not a stretch to say Irish music received a big boost at this time.

The album is a mixed bag, with some shorter numbers, transitional passages and an unfocused feel.  There are great fiddle tunes, some spoken word samples, and even a didjeridu number.  Despite the quality, you got the feeling Scott was no longer fully committed to folk, and that turned out to be true.  By the time the album came out, Wickham had bolted thanks to Scott's intention to return to his earlier rock leanings.  As that progressed, Shannon left too, and soon, The Waterboys were done, for a time.

Eventually Scott re-embraced the folk sound, and welcomed Wickham back too.  In this Celtic-strong area, Fisherman's Blues remains a favourite album for many, and these reissues help explain how they got there, and where that led to as well.

Monday, July 27, 2015


A trip to the Country Music Hall of Fame inspired this latest set from Mandell.  She saw all the exhibits from the old timers such as Hank, George and Tammy, and realized what an influence they had been on her music.  Not that this is a pure country album.  It's more the tradition and feel.  As she sings on the opening cut, "I'm old-fashioned, I like to write out a letter of thanks."  This is the letter.

Some cuts could have been from the country charts of the '50's and '60's.  Cold Snap is cute and easy-going, lyrically witty like something Roger Miller might dream up.  This, and most of the songs have the vintage piano sound Floyd Cramer provided for much of the Nashville output of the day.  The sweet-singing Mandell has the voice for the stuff as well, a clean and lovely '50's tone, with clarity and intimacy. 

Town Called Heartache shows how the old country values and styles are deceptive, and it doesn't take much to make them sophisticated and modern.  The classic melody is supplemented with just a couple of clever chords, and all of a sudden it moves to a breezy, near-Parisienne number.  It's a totally charming set.

Saturday, July 25, 2015


Another one from the ongoing Stones From The Vault series, which is an absolute joy. All these live shows from back in the day are just what long-time fans want, and they go a long way to explaining to youngsters what the hubbub was about in the first place.

This one is well-known, and has been sampled in many documentaries before, I'm actually surprised it hasn't been fully released until now. Back in 1969, free shows and festivals were all the rage, and the Stones had great luck with this one in their home town. Not so much the other one they tried that year, over at Altamont in California, but that's another story. This was planned as a peace and love vibe, a welcome to the group's new guitar player Mick Taylor, his first-ever show, all for free at London's Hyde Park.

The vibe did change dramatically as their recently-removed guitar player and former leader Brian Jones was found drowned in his pool two days before. The band had tired of Brian's issues and were no longer friends, but Jagger managed to muster enough emotion to plan a bit of a tribute to him at the start of the show, a reading of some Shelley poetry and the release of a bunch of butterflies. The crowd, somewhere between a quarter and a half a million, didn't really have a clue what was going on with the poem, and the butterflies were cold and sleepy, and many were crushed to death instead of flying to the heavens to meet Brian.

That, and Jagger's ridiculous man-dress are what most people think about that day, and really, the music was secondary to the happening. It's hard to judge how the Stones played that day, as what we have left is this documentary done by Granada TV way back in the day. It features lots of interesting footage, including interview bits with Jagger, as we see him home before the show, in the limo to the event with partner Marianne Faithful and her son, and learn that he's actually nervous about the day. There's good footage of the crowd, and the Hell's Angels acting as security. The British batch were much more in control than their American counterparts at Altamont, again another story.

But the problem with the documentary style is that the songs are not complete, the chronology is all over the place, and several numbers from the set list are not included. It seems the unedited footage has not survived, which is not a surprise, TV stations often didn't keep the raw footage in those days, or it gets misplaced in the years after. If it is out there, I'd like to see the true full performances, at least for history's sake. But as a fan, I'm thrilled to pick up this version of the day, spruced up for Blu-ray,

Friday, July 24, 2015


The Slocan Ramblers have the great, old sound of original bluegrass.  They sound like they could be straight out of the '40's.  Except, if they had been around in the '40's, these boys play so fast folks would have thought their talent came from the devil.  Heck, I'm starting to think that why myself, there's some nimble fingers flying in impossible ways here.

The Ramblers have two styles: old, and not-so-old.  But even the modern touches they add, mostly less-common chords and more current techniques, retain the antique feel.  Recorded with the players live in the studio, standing around the microphones, it's not far from the techniques available 60 years back.  Anybody attempting Woody Guthrie's Pastures of Plenty back then wouldn't have used the circular pattern mandolin player Adrian Gross picks, but singer and banjo player Frank Evans sure sounds like one of Woody's traveling companions.  When they move into a medley of Evans' tune Honey Babe halfway through, it's not just seamless, it could have been part of the original.

Toronto may not seem the most likely place to harbor such talented bluegrass players, but that's the reality.  The interplay between guitar (Darryl Poulsen), mandolin and banjo is not only packed with show-off moments, it's made up of sophisticated arrangements.  Along with bass player Alastair Whitehead, the quartet keeps the songs changing constantly, always coming up with a new break, start or ending.  About half the tracks are instrumental, all the better to hear those great moments.  This is as grand a bluegrass album as you'll hear anywhere.

Thursday, July 23, 2015


Here's a surprise: Israel has a blues scene. And here's the king of it. Lazer Lloyd is known as the country's best guitar player, and plays a pretty deadly brand of blues rock. There, you learn something new every day.

The last couple of years, Lloyd has been bringing his blues back to the U.S. and Canada, no surprise since he actually grew up in New York and Connecticut. A chance meeting led him to playing in Israel, where he's remained for the past couple of decades. His influences haven't changed much though, as this is largely the U.S. blues sound. He has some mellow and acoustic chops, but it's the loud and heavy stuff where he really stands out.

Recorded with his band in Tel Aviv, the album opens with Burning Thunder, a cross between Z.Z. Top and religious-era Dylan. Rockin' In The Holy Land is a pretty good theme song, and just what you'd expect, a celebration of the electric blues Lloyd and crew love. Then there's Out Of Time, as heavy as you can get in the blues without crossing into metal territory, Muddy Waters on electric steroids.

There are some non-North American references. Moroccan Woman sees him singing the praises of someone with an unusual area code, and a lot of the lyrics are decidedly Old Testament: "Purify me, Lord. Rejuvenate me, Lord." It's fascinating, it fits really well with the old blues themes and fears, all those old sinners.

This isn't a situation where Lloyd is the best Israeli blues man, a novelty. He's simply a darn fine blues player from anywhere, with a unique spin on the hard stuff.

Monday, July 20, 2015

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: CHERYL LESCOM & the Tucson Choir Boys - 1953

This is a good one for vocal fans, both lead singers and back-ups.  Lescom has one of the richest, biggest blues voices in the country, gritty and pretty at the same time, with a tremendous growl when needed.  She has four decades of experience, the album title proudly a reference to her birth year.  During that time, she's sung with Ronnie Hawkins and Long Joh Baldry, as well as leading her own groups. 

Each song here has the great vibe of party blues, with special work on the vocal arrangements.  With Lescom strutting her stuff up front, there are great doo-wop harmonies and answering vocals from the trio of singers behind.  Even more modern numbers, such as Just Pressed Send, about the dangers of on-line dating, get some classic oo-wa-wa's.  For those of us who consider prominent backing vocals a dying art, this is a special treat.

Lescom writes most of her own stuff with "Sameday" Ray Walsh, and the pair mine all the best '50's styles, from chugging r'n'b to rockabilly to that doo-wop.  With slap bass, lots of piano and most of the guitar on acoustics, many of the songs take you to some great dance hall by the lake decades back.  But before you say old-school, the gang offers up a contemporary tear-jerker in It's Not You, It's Me, a John Hiatt moment in a solid set start to finish.

Sunday, July 19, 2015


Back in the early '90's, it looked like North Carolina might just join Athens, Georgia as a music hotspot.  Winston-Salem had given birth to a couple of important bands, Let's Active and the dB's, and thanks to Active member and producer Mitch Easter, had developed a power pop sound that attracted R.E.M. to make its first recordings in the area.  The dB's were the major hope, with a killer debut disc in Stands For Decibels, and two talented front men, Peter Holsapple and Chris Stamey.  Stamey left after the second album failed to take off, and things petered out.  But he and Holsapple continued in solo work, Holsapple a long-time touring member of R.E.M., and Stamey also becoming a producer, most notably for Ryan Adams' first band, Whiskeytown.  Both remain highly-respected and well-connected.

The dB's did a reunion album back in 2012, and it seems to have fired Stamey up.  This is his second solo disc since, and this time he's returned to the Winston-Salem sound with a vengeance.  This is clean, tight, pop, with lots of heavy guitar, harmonies and sweetness.  Stamey is a skilled writer, but starts this one off with a favour from an old friend; Ryan Adams gave him the unreleased track Universe-Sized Arms, which sounds like it fell straight out of the heyday of American alternative rock.  Stamey handles the rest of the writing just fine, every song based on great guitar, mega-melodic chord changes, and little writing quirks:  "Every morning when you wake, you're face-down in the birthday cake," he sings in Where Does The Time Go, as another year goes by for our aging hero. 

There's not a let-down on this set, as Stamey proves that great sunshine sound of the alternative '80's should have been bigger.  Stick around for the bonus cuts, including a faithful version of that old Tommy James hit, Draggin' The Line, as Stamey shows his pop roots.

Saturday, July 18, 2015


Released back in May, this fine set is now out on vinyl as well. Why don't they put them out at the same time, you ask? I'm sure in most cases companies would like that, but the vinyl boom continues, and there simply aren't enough plants today to keep up with demand. Of course, conspiracy theorists say it's a trick to get you to buy it first on CD or download, and if you really like it, then shell out for the more expensive vinyl. Another theory is that it's a way to get two reviews published of the same album. Me, I think it's all being caused by ancient aliens.

Whatever, I'll repeat what I said in May, this is a surprise and welcome continuation of the Harris/Crowell partnership that spawned a Grammy-winner, Old Yellow Moon. Usually these duet sets are one-off, but it went so well the pair want to keep going. Where Old Yellow Moon was mostly covers of their own and other material, this time the pair set out to write a few new songs. They even teamed up for four of them, something new from their 40-year friendship. The title cut is self-referencing, about the lifestyle the Red Dirt Girl and the Waycross Boy have shared over the years. Of course, the old duet partners are as strong as ever, and a great version of Lucinda Williams' I Just Want To See You So Bad highlights the set.

There's nothing special here on vinyl, no 180-gram pressing, but it still feels like a better way to own this partnership of veterans who started in the vinyl era. It does come with a digital download too. The cover is a bit ugly, it was supposed to be like a memory box but it's a jumble. Part of the reason people loved vinyl and kept it alive was because of the artwork, so hey musicians and companies, it's time to get back into the graphics game, once a big part of the music industry. As has always been known, covers help sell albums. Just some thoughts here folks on the resurgence of vinyl. The music is the real key here, and it's grand. See previous review.

Friday, July 17, 2015


The internationally-respected Edmonton roots label Stony Plain has an amazing 39 years of high-end releases under its belt, and has begun doing best-of compilations of some its higher-profile artists. The label had an important association with Healey, after the famed bluesman went back to his first love, vintage jazz.

Healey broke up the blues band, went off the road, set up his own club and began playing live and making jazz albums. These were old-school, swing-jazz records, sometimes with a bigger ensemble, sometimes just a trio, with Healey playing trumpet as well as guitar.

You could hear the joy in all of them, whether studio or live recordings. Healey obviously was thrilled to be able to work in his first love. He was a huge early jazz collector, with over 30,000 78 RPM records in his collection. That joy is infectious, and the music is always terrific fun. The cuts come from four different albums, plus one previously available only on a promotional set. You get such favourites as Star Dust, stompers such as Sweet Georgia Brown, the rave-up Sing You Sinners, and exotica in The Sheik of Araby. The blues are fine, Healey was one of the best in that field, but with this music so rare nowadays, this is the way I prefer to remember him.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015


Leon Bridges is a sensation. Two years ago he was a dishwasher in Texas. Last year his demos sparked a bidding war, and he eventually signed with Columbia. His album went Top 10 on release, and his shows in Vancouver, Toronto and Los Angeles are sold out. These are his shows in October and November, already sold out.

Why? Well, it's a great story and even better, a passionate, fabulous sound. This is soul, and the classic stuff. Bridges, although young, has a taste for the vintage, in sound and clothes and gear. Inspired by the tale of his mother being baptized in a river back in 1963, he wrote the song Lisa Sawyer about it, and also a batch of material which could have come from that year. Then it was all recorded on equipment from the era, with sympathetic players.

He's a passionate singer, and although most comparisons have been to Sam Cooke and Otis Redding, he actually sounds like neither of those performers. He's much rawer than the refined pop-gospel of Cooke, and a little more city than Redding's country soul. Most of the songs have an acoustic guitar base and a gospel vibe. I hear a lot of Arthur Alexander in him, the singer best known from Beatles, Stones, and Dylan covers (Anna, You Better Move On, Sally Sue Brown). The lyrics are simple but heartfelt and to point: "I got a call from my baby, said she's fed up with me." The music is infectious, insanely so. Driving around on a Saturday morning, we just let the CD play over and over.

I can think of a small handful of debut albums over the years that had were hyped and then delivered. These were albums that, as soon as you heard them, you knew they would be instant classics you would love your whole life. For me, that small list includes the first Marshall Crenshaw album, Blue Rodeo's Outskirts, Elvis Costello's My Aim Is True, a few more. Coming Home joins that select group.

Monday, July 13, 2015


This is the second album in the on-going reunion of Parker and his most beloved sidemen. After he dumped them in 1980, all the cool kids stopped listening, so there's a lot of sentimental attachment to The Rumour name. They were a hard soul outfit, and the first few albums by the band were marked by their passion and excitement. But Parker wanted to go more singer-songwriter after his initial band work.

So it comes as a bit of a surprise that the first reunion album, and now this one, are more on the laid-back side. You'd think after they all went to the trouble of making it happen, plus have done lots of touring playing the old stuff, they'd crunch a bit more. But these are largely acoustic-based numbers, a continuation of what Parker's been doing all along.

Saying that, I always appreciate his solo albums, and this is still a fine set of songs. Parker's playfulness comes to the fore on Pub Crawl and I've Done Bad Things, a nudge towards old times. But it's still with a jauntiness rather than full-bore energy and the danger that once was. Parker is always a realist and probably would argue he's acting his age. But he did once write a song for this band called No Holding Back, and that's just what this feels like.

Sunday, July 12, 2015


The Old 97's front man has a nice double-career going, now on his sixth solo album, while his long-running band is enjoying it's best results ever.  Last year's Most Messed Up made it to #30, the highest-charting album in the group's 20-year career.  While the band still deals in some downer themes (Wasted, Most Messed Up), on Miller's own The Traveler, things are brighter.  He's celebrating his life here, with the kids ("My little disaster's asleep on the floor"), the love ("Kiss me on the fire escape, tell me that you think I'm swell), and even summer ("We drove a powder blue pick-up truck to the Greyhound stop/you bought a twelve dollar ticket and a two dollar bottle of pop").

The performances match the upbeat tunes, with Miller joined by the largely-acoustic sounds of the group Black Prairie.  Heavyweight pals Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey dropped by later to overdub some solos.  It's all pleasing, and feel-good, with the pay-off at the end.  The last cut, Reasons To Live, lists a bunch of small pleasures, with a buoyant string section and bright piano pushing the song along.  But then Miller drops the chorus:  "Thank God I didn't die when I wanted to/Thank God I didn't die, I wouldn't have meant you."  That's in reference to a youthful suicide attempt that almost, and should have worked.  All these years later, Miller can look back and be very happy how it all worked out.  No wonder the album sounds so optimistic.

Friday, July 10, 2015


Musical partnerships are touchy things; each person has to compliment the other in just the right way.  Even when there's magic, if one overshadows the other, the harmony wears out.  Then it's goodbye, Garfunkel.  C, S and N have all felt the sting of Y over the years. Even the Everlys couldn't take it any more by '74.

So it's a brave move when a pair of established performers decide to put it all on the line, and commit to a duet or twelve.  It could all come crashing down in a clash of egos and personalities if you choose wrong.  But when the voices and talents match up, the results are spectacular.

Both Allan Fraser and Marianne Girard have substantial folk careers already, as writers and performers.  This is the actual folk music by the way, not a pop band with a banjo, sticking a layer of woosh-woosh on top.  Both are top-quality writers, giving us insightful tales.  In Girard's My Name Is Carol, she gives a voice to a damaged soul: "You've seen me there, along the shore road, in my motor chair." Fraser is less direct with his stories, more impressionistic:  "Well, I was outside St. Louis when I heard the news, that you had inherited the St. Louis Blues, and transplanted them up to the north."

Now comes the chemistry.  They each have easy country voices that sound perfect together.  It's the best Canadian folk duo mix since Ian and Sylvia. 

Thursday, July 9, 2015


I should probably stop calling people great or fabulous vocalists. Usually what I mean is that they are inspiring and entertaining, perhaps have powerful voices or expressive ones. No, I should save the big words for singers in the same league as Barnes. The jazz-pop smoothie and one-time Nylon has all the technical gifts, as well as the ability to inhabit and breathe soul into whatever he sings. A song becomes better when he's the performer.

You usually find vocalists of this caliber doing versions of the Great American Songbook, and if they are Canadian like Barnes, putting in a Leonard Cohen song out of patriotism. You know, the classics. Instead, Barnes has created his own version of great jazz standards, and if you didn't know better or checked the credits, you'd be forgiven for thinking he was doing some '40's and '50's favourites you simply hadn't heard before. Nope, Barnes was inspired to write this full album while living in New York for a time.

In the middle of a romance, living in Harlem and soaking up Broadway, Times Square and all the great reference points for generations of songwriting heroes, Barnes came up with his own New York Stories. Piano and voice-based, he recorded them with a small jazz combo, as cool as could be. Don't Take My Baby (New York, New York) has that great nightclub swing, a cocksure Tony-Frank number. Some Other Man could be the big ballad in Act Three, when we're unsure if the romance will last or not.

So, Barnes makes me rethink my qualifications for upper-league singers, but I knew that going in to this album. Now he's making me reconsider my thoughts on songwriters as well.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015


'90's band Lost and Profound were probably a little ahead of their time, despite one radio hit (Brand New Set Of Lies) and a Juno nomination. The group has been on the sidelines since 2002's album under the assumed name of redsuedered, while long-lasting couple Lisa Boudreau and Terry Tompkins have had very successful careers in other roles in the broader entertainment world. But music has beckoned again, and the Toronto duo has made 2015 the year of their return.

With a naturally plaintive voice, Boudreau revels in soft and sad. All the characters are troubled, whether in love or worse. There's also a great empathy coming across, and she treats them all with respect, and gives them intelligence. Sad things happen to smart people, and life's like that.

Meanwhile Tompkins has made the mood dreamy and hazy. And they are actually his words, drawing on the couple's lives, as well as classic storytelling. Rover has an ancient folk mood, a death ballad. Goodbye Mine even goes back to the Civil War. Alcohol is closer to home for the couple, the sadness here from self-inflicted wounds.

While it's all about melancholy, the album has a surprising positive vibe to it. Perhaps it's because the music is never mournful, and often uplifting. Also, it's merely a reflection of reality, and acknowledging it makes it easier to appreciate. This soundtrack for a sad day could actually help turn your mood around.

Monday, July 6, 2015


Such was the confusion and seat-of-pants decision-making in the Stones camp in 1971, the group actually did their tour for the Sticky Fingers album before it came out.  Zipping around the U.K. for a few shows in March of that year, the group had to get out of the country by April 1, in the famous move to France as tax exiles.  Exile On Main Street was awaiting, but this meant no tour was forthcoming for the U.S. to support Sticky Fingers.

It was decided to offer up some film for promo purposes, so at the end of the U.K. run of shows, the well-oiled group set up in the Marquee Club, their old haunt, for an invited audience of 150 or so friends and fans.  Sounds perfect.  Guess what?  It was!  Even better, the film has finally surfaced again, and been restored into this super package.  There's a DVD of the 40-minute set, plus a CD version, some different takes of a couple of the songs, and a BBC Top of the Pops appearance for Brown Sugar to top up the running time.

The footage is up-close and often stunning, a great front row view, especially of Jagger.  The camera work is first rate, and the audio sparkles.  You can't ask for better video from this time period.  As for the set list, it's just eight songs, but packs a wallop, with four from Sticky Fingers, some Stones classics and a Chuck Berry cover (Let It Rock).  These are gods of rock in their prime, offering up songs obviously destined to become classic:  Brown Sugar, in all its shaky glory, Dead Flowers with its country-shock, Bitch with its killer opening.  Midnight Rambler was already a favourite from Let It Bleed, but here takes on an epic length and intensity.  It's a blues, the whole set is pretty much a blues one, and everyone contributes peak performances, from the guitar combo of Richards and Taylor to the engine of Wyman and Watts.  With Jagger up front being a lead singer and band member instead of a stadium-filling cheerleader, this disc must be seriously considered for the Best Stones DVD ever.

Sunday, July 5, 2015


Since the early 1970's, Townshend has run a parallel solo career to his efforts with The Who, which sometimes have overshadowed the primary band's work. He seems to have even hoped to free himself of the band, especially after the death of Keith Moon. But his songwriting slipped by the '80's, and like The Who, all the best stuff happens before then for his solo work too.

There are several Townshend best-of's out there, including a couple of two-CD versions. I'm guessing new-to-Pete buyers will do fine with just this single-disc, 17-track set. It's basically a primer for a new generation of fans, so in typical fashion it includes a cut from most of his albums, whether they deserve it or not.

There is recognition of the best two Townshend albums. His first solo from 1972, Who Came First, was not a standard release, but rather a collection of demos, and songs done up for Meher Baba charity albums. One of the great home recorders of all time, here we get versions of Let's See Action and the key Lifehouse song Pure And Easy that could have been placed on any Who album as is. Next up came an album done to help his friend Ronnie Lane, Rough Mix, which turned from a production job to a co-starring role. This is the gem of the catalogue, with Townshend contributing some of this best compositions of the time, and quite different from his usual writing.

The rest of the disc shows the falling-off, despite great effort. His only solo hit, Let My Love Open The Door is catchy but slight. Grand projects White City and Psychoderelict were attempts at new rock operas, and sadly, convoluted and just not entertaining. There are other really good albums that were barely touched. I've always found the Scoop series of discs fascinating, three double albums full of home demos, but only a single track is included.

As usual, in an effort to attract buyers from the huge fan base and collector community, new tracks have been added. The two songs are recent, and sadly, uninteresting. Guantanamo is an attempt at righteous rage, but all Townshend seems to know about Cuba is that cigars are made there. Here's my advice to prospective Townshend buyers: Get Who Came First, Rough Mix, any or all of the Scoop ones, and buyer beware after that.

Thursday, July 2, 2015


Tentrees sounds like that guy in town who likes to sing any chance he gets, always the first one with a guitar at a kitchen party.  Except when you listen, he's not playing Wagon Wheel, he's playing originals, and really great ones.  The vocals may not be polished, but he's singing the stuff that makes you think and makes you laugh.  The Yukon performer has six albums out now, and has steadily impressed, joining the ranks of top roots writers, while maintaining a relentless touring schedule.

Tentrees likes to keep things rough-hewn, with a relaxed performance, choppy guitar, creepy percussion (his phrase), and loose harmonies.  Even the normally lovely singer Catherine MacLellan plays it casual on her three guest slots, like a front-porch sing-along.  But it's a trick, you see.  All this easy-going music makes the words even more powerful.  On Somebody's Child, Tentrees has written about the conflicting emotions of watching the Boston Marathon bombing, while his wife was running the course.  Fear and anger was there, all his family moments and love flashed before his eyes, but still he had a moment to think of the bigger picture:  "This old world can be cruel and kind/Somebody's child blew up a finish line."

Dead Beat Dad is like a Roger Miller song, fun but with a huge message, about fathers relating to their kids, and simply hanging out with them.  "It's not about you, it's not about me, it's about the little man lost at sea, get over yourself."  Less Is More is an album full of heart, and homespun wisdom as well.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015


The heck with Tommy; Pete Townshend's best rock opera is Quadrophenia. The story is better, the music is better, it actually makes sense. Tommy was first, and had Pinball Wizard, one hell of a stand-alone rocker, and that has given it more status over the years, that's all.

What Quadrophenia has is a fabulous musical score, and that's what Townshend was keen on promoting with this project. Aging and knowing it, he plans on turning his major pieces (Quad, Tommy, Lifehouse) into works for orchestra, definitive editions. First, he brought in his significant other, orchestrator Rachel Fuller, to compose a new score. Then, it was recorded with the full Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, as well as a large choir. Finally, lead vocals were added.

About the score: it's really wonderful, especially the longer, instrumental pieces where you get to hear the terrific, sweeping melodies Townshend created in the first place. These truly do lend themselves to orchestral treatment, and lose none of the rock and swagger.

Now, speaking of rock and swagger, I really don't understand the full dynamic of Townshend's relationship with Roger Daltry, but nobody sings these songs like him. Here, someone suggested opera singer Alfie Boe would be a good choice, but often he's just too mannered. Using Phil Daniels, who starred as Jimmy in the film version to sing the Dad roles was just some sentimental casting, and his voice is unappealing. Billy Idol comes back as the Bell Boy, a role he's done before, which is fine. But really, if Townshend had wanted the definitive version with orchestra, there's no reason Daltry shouldn't be doing it.