Tuesday, November 29, 2016
Despite the fact that it's a huge part of our country, most of us don't have clue about the Arctic, me included. I know it's cold and all that, but imagine if 95 per cent of Americans had never been to, say, Texas. There's lots to discover, and we're on a pretty steep learning curve.
Thankfully, we have Iqaluit-based folk-rockers The Jerry Cans to guide us along. But the award-winning group isn't going to spoon-feed us, the majority of their singing is in Inuktitut, something lead vocalist Andrew Morrison learned as an adult, by the way. There's throat singing from Nancy Mike, traditional but fit into the context of the group's lively tunes, heavily influenced by Celtic folk sounds, which it turns out have been popular in that area as well. So basically you get the band Great Big North.
I joke, but The Jerry Cans have built an exciting live reputation, largely because these are upbeat, energetic and entertaining songs, and while the words may be different to our ears, the music is that to which Canadians coast to coast (to coast) always respond with vigor. Inuktitut is a rhythmic language that's interesting to follow, and the band even provides some basic words to listen for in the liner notes to pick up a lesson or two. It's fun! But mostly, you have fiddle tunes, accordion numbers, thumping, bass-heavy rabble-rousing songs that fit in any concert hall or folk club. Fit? No, more like take over. Then there's Mike's throat singing, which is more like another instrument taking solos in the band's context. All those hot-shot producers looking for ambiance and different sounds to dazzle, well here's one of the world's all-natural and unique forms of communication, adding so much more than some concocted layer of beats.
Just when I thought I was starting to learn some words, I realized Morrison had switched to English for the first time. The song Ukiuq has been translated into Northern Lights, and included twice on the disc, but not to push their way onto radio or because of any pressure to sell out. After all, the band now owns their own label, Nunavut's very first, so they are the boss. It's to give a little more sense of what Iqaluit is like, as it includes lyrics about the area's beauty and ability to lure a certain kind of person. The Jerry Cans are making the Arctic hot.
Monday, November 28, 2016
This is what has been missing for the Prince fan since his death, especially the ones who want to get a lot of hits, more than the basics. It's a 40-track collection from his Warner Bros. years (or "Slave" time, and he once famously wrote on his forehead), from the start of his career as a wonderboy, until '93, when he went on his own, and not coincidentally, pretty much stopped having hits. Then there was that whole symbol-for-a-name thing, but that was later. This is the 1999-Purple Rain-Kiss years.
Oh, and so much more than that. Hopefully you'll stick around for a few more tracks, since he had a glorious run of singles, and shouldn't be remembered for just a handful. As this set shows, Prince had a great way to mix heavy grooves and solid rock, impossible to resist dance floor tracks, and hooks on top of all that. Pretty naughty too; he made Madonna look like a, ahem, virgin.
Amazingly, 40 tracks doesn't even cover all the singles he released although all the big hits are here. I'm a bit miffed that they chose to release the single edits for several cuts, as we miss lots of the best parts of songs. Plus, we all knew the long versions anyway, from the videos, not the radio. Nobody wants a shorter version of Little Red Corvette, that thing can play all night for my money. There will be lots of songs you'll either have forgotten, or not even noticed over the years, especially the pre-1999 (the song, not the year) material, back when he really displayed that dirty mind -- his first single was called Soft and Wet, for goodness sake. Then there are the later tracks you never hear anymore, such as 87's fabulous I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man, from the mostly-amazing Sign O' The Times album. Unfortunately it also included the annoying Sheena Easton duet U Got The Look, also included on this.
Prince made a major misstep in 1986, trying to do another movie to follow Purple Rain's massive success, the dire Under The Cherry Moon. At least the music from it was tremendous, including Kiss. But he jumped the shark with the Batman soundtrack, and the public started to smell weirdness, never a good thing. He had more moments of glory along the way, and I'll argue that his last studio album, Hit n Run Phase Two was one of his very best ever, back to glory years. There's apparently a vault of gold waiting to be shared, and we do get one previously-unreleased cut here, a very interesting 1982 song called Moonbeam Levels, which certainly doesn't sound like the 1999 album stuff made at the same time. It's more like Diamonds and Pearls, which is sequenced next to it on this set. I'm looking forward to more discoveries, but in the meantime, let's enjoy Raspberry Beret again. It's my fave.
Sunday, November 27, 2016
Pop quiz! Quick now, what kind of music does Jethro Tull play? If you said hard rock/metal, then you're a Grammy Awards voter, who infamously gave Tull that award over Metallica the first time it was a category. If you said prog, then you face the wrath of Ian Anderson, who still flinches when the P-word is thrown at him to describe early 70's albums Aqualung and Thick As A Brick. If you said folk-flavoured flute, that was the late 70's. If you said blues, then you're ... ah, old. You remember what Tull was at the start, the late 60's when blues was the thing in England, and everybody wanted to be Fleetwood Mac. When they were old, before the pop hits, and Stevie Nicks and ... oh, never mind. This is kind of a blues album.
Stand Up was the second LP for the group, from 1969, and already the group was changing from the successful debut, This Was of 1968. First off, their blues guitar player, Mick Abrahams, was gone, as Anderson wanted to broaden their sound. That first album had several instrumentals on it, and Anderson wanted to get into a broader sound, so in came the more malleable Martin Barre. While it wasn't a complete retreat from blues, it was a lot more diverse, it's most famous song the flute-jazz rave up on Bach, Bouree. Cuts such as We Used To Know were more hybrids, an electric blues track fused with Anderson's acoustic and introspective lyrics. Meanwhile Anderson and Barre actually played a double-flute part in Reasons For Waiting, a cut Cat Stevens could have performed. With its variety, and other stand-out cuts such as Fat Man and A New Day Yesterday, and a lack of the concept pieces that filled later albums, this is still the favourite Tull album for many, including Anderson himself.
This has been reissued before in 2010 with bonus cuts, a live disc and surround sound DVD even, but what's happened now is that it's joined the hugely popular current reissue series Tull has done since, featuring a six-inch tall hardcover package, huge liner notes, and the marvelous remastering job done by whiz Steven Wilson. The bonus stuff is very different as well; the live show from the first version was Carnegie Hall, but now we get one from Stockholm, as well as some excellent film from that stuff also on the DVD. There's also a previously-unreleased, and very different version of Bouree. In other words, if you own the first reissue, you pretty much have to keep that, and get the new one. Oh well, the more the merrier, and these boxes have been pretty decently priced, so fans will no doubt be happy with the upgrades. Oh, and it's a pop-up book too! Well, just one of the band, but still, that's fun for the kids.
The first place I heard of Gillian Welch, or at least saw her name, wasn't on her own release, but rather on Emmylou Harris's landmark Wrecking Ball. the song Orphan Girl. The old-time sound of that track fit in some nowhere place, ancient yet alive, the way music should be, of the moment but of none as well. On this new set, we get to hear what Harris first heard, passed to her on a home-recorded cassette. Eight months later, it was the lead track on Welch's debut, Revival.
Usually on these anniversary deluxe sets, we get the original album, perhaps with a minor sonic upgrade, and then if we're lucky, another disc of out-takes, b-sides and live tracks, or maybe just a live concert from the time. I love this way: Welch and co. assume, quite correctly, that anyone interested would already own the original, so why make us buy twice? I don't expect major corporate labels to follow suit on eliminating that tried-and-true profit-maker, but cheers to Welch for being generous. Instead, we get a two-CD set of completely new tracks from the Revival sessions, and a promise of more to come, as this is called Boots 1. In total, there are 21 tracks, including eight songs that have never appeared elsewhere.
Welch's name and fame were quick to spread just before Revival came out. Performers were clamouring for her demos, and hotshot producer T Bone Burnett was on board. 455 Rocket became a hit for Kathy Mattea, and the outtake unused for Revival is heard here. It's pretty shocking just how good the songs that weren't used are, not even picked up for her second album. Wichita is another, an uptempo acoustic number with Welch (and of course, partner David Rawlings) picking some fun bluegrass. Some songs were saved, such as Red Clay Halo, which made it on Time (The Revelator), and here we get the version squeezed off the first album for the crime of having too many good songs.
There are some significant differences among the alternate and demo versions from what came out on Revival, including the more rocking take on Pass You By, and certainly no-one's going to say it's too similar. It's a whole new way to hear the songs. Certainly the dreamy version of Paper Wings will be more than enough, with very prominent pedal steel, Welch repurposed as Patsy Cline. She even does a Johnny Cash-inspired cut, Dry Town, another vault gem. This is right up there with the best reissues I know.
Saturday, November 26, 2016
There are two ways to look at this. While it hints at a sense of desperation, trying to sell the old hits in a different way, you can also argue the band are giving fans exactly what they want. Here's the classic set list, the one that still sees fans by the thousands (mostly in far-flung spots in Europe or Australia, etc.) greet them wildly, like 1985 never ended. Acoustic is, as usual, a dubious way to describe what's happening. Let's say they've toned down the synth approach, replaced electric guitar with acoustic, and the booming drum sound is now a lighter, woodier one.
Still, the music is big and grandiose, There's nothing intimate about anthems such as Alive And Kicking and Waterfront. These are songs that all lead to the big, raise your lighter in the air moment (I guess it's cell phones now), and the stripped-down versions still deliver that oomph. Don't You (Forget About Me) still has its slow-burn, big finish format. Promised You A Miracle features a guest vocal from KT Tunstall, another bigger-in-Europe star, and North Americans would probably be pretty shocked to find out just how huge the band still is on their home side of the ocean. They have no problem playing major tours, especially now that they can do one leg in band format, another in acoustic, then switch them around on the next tour. Oh, and the current tour? It's a whole month in Germany, playing with an orchestra. Same songs, different presentation.
Friday, November 25, 2016
Kulnys' messages go down with a spoonful of sugar, thanks to her gorgeous voice with a big range and a great delivery, lots of character. Her music is easy-going acoustic, with plenty of help from pedal steel, keys, and uptempo rhythm sections. Plus, she mixes up the material, so for every message song, we got one from the personal side, such as the sexy I'm On Fire, and another that's positive and life-affirming. And this isn't bang-you-over-the-head socialism, it's thoughtful and inspirational, such as Roaring For A Revolution, about awaking the lion within us all, when the chips get down: "Rustling in the night/something alive and with a will to fight."
Kulnys plays album launch shows at the Queens Place Emera Centre in Liverpool tonight, Nov. 25, and then Saturday, Nov. 26 at Saint John's Anglican Church in Lunenburg, Saturday, Dec. 3 at the Music Room in Halifax, and then she's doing a Rise up residency at The Company House in Halifax, playing each Wednesday in December.
Thursday, November 24, 2016
Here's a wealth of Crowded House material that is going to keep fans busy until well past Christmas at least, and probably much longer as they take in all the new musical information included here. This is one of the most impressive reissue campaigns ever seen, and I'm not being hyperbolic. Every one of the band's studio collections has been reissued with an additional disc of mostly unreleased material, and in each case, that second disc is much longer than the original album it matches.
Then there's the look of them. Instead of throwing the sets out in regular jewel cases, each has been packaged in an enlarged box, with a hard cover, and a bigger picture than ever of the unique artwork created by band bassist Nick Seymour. The visual side of Crowded House was always a delight for fans, a bonus that reflected the group's sense of humour and whimsy. Also included is a full-sized book that features a new essay, info on all the bonus tracks, and lots and lots of pictures of original singles, posters and such, again a visual treat.
For bonus cuts, there's precious little filler, no extended versions or remixes, none needed, and very little live material, only cuts that were out there but very hard to collect now, on fan club issues or long-out-of-print CD singles. There are still many, many live shows in the vault, and the idea of a concert box set is still under serious consideration, the compilers have said. This only covers the initial releases of the band, and in the 2000s the group was reformed, after Hester's sad suicide, releasing two more albums, Time On Earth and Intriguer. Those two have been reissued in this same manor, and hopefully I'll get to those soon. Meanwhile, the band has been on hiatus since the Intriguer tour ended, except that this very evening, they take the stage once more, again at the Sydney Opera House, scene of their greatest concert triumph, for a special two nights honouring the group's 30th anniversary. I'd go, but I gotta work.
Wednesday, November 23, 2016
That means Greg Keelor shifts away from his more experimental side, and he sets the mood with opener Hard To Remember, a cheery-sounding romp with Byrds echoes, organ, a sweet lead guitar solo, and lots of mandolin. That mandolin is back in the fore on the next cut, even taking the big centerpiece solo, on one of Jim Cuddy's happy country-flavoured pieces called I Can't Hide This Anymore, where he hits those heart-tugging high notes. Keelor's Rabbit's Foot has Dylan verses but on pep pills, and a nifty chorus.
The group does lay back a bit in the second half, where we get the moody mystery of Keelor's Dust To Gold, with a western feel, or his Mascara Tears, a bittersweet electric piano, organ and pedal steel ballad. Cuddy brings it back up with a uptempo fun rocker called Superstar. It's a lark about the modern state of the musician: "Start a business, organics door-to-door/because nobody here buys records anymore." Maybe not in the numbers they once enjoyed, but that's not Blue Rodeo's fault, a group that continues to keep up the good work.
Tuesday, November 22, 2016
The fourth full-length for St. Thomas, Ont.'s Gauthier, which looks like a homespun, handmade set on the outside, but is remarkably polished and pleasing. Gauthier is a smooth-as-silk self-producer, with a dreamy, gentle sound and voice, using little or no percussion. The songs float on by, but never too sleepy, there's just enough of a rhythm to form an easy groove, and lots of warm vocal sounds to bring on smiles.
He's growing stronger still as a lyricist, and this one has a positive, thoughtful theme. While we're all passengers as life takes us along, there are plenty of opportunities to make it good, interesting, valuable. From great loves to late parents, there are songs of how we relate, and what we take from each other, what we can mean to different people. And on every song, at some point, Gauthier reaches back and hits a beautiful high note. This is great example of a sound matching a singer matching a lyric, all so soothing, right down to the few minutes of bird songs that quietly finish the vinyl version of the album. Speaking of that, you can pick up the limited edition, hand-signed and numbered clear vinyl copy at his website, www.denigauthier.com.
Monday, November 21, 2016
The main movie is a really good look at those years of intense Beatlemania, from Hamburg to their last tour in 1966. Much of this is so well-known, and the footage so familiar, Howard deserves great praise for making it seem so fresh, with lots of photos, fast cuts, and new interviews. Surprisingly, he does best with the hardest subject matter, the negative end to playing shows, the miserable last tours of 1966. Howard is able to show the frustration of the group over the awful conditions, he lets us hear some examples of bad shows they did due to weak P.A's, and being unable to duplicate the increased sophistication of records such as Paperback Writer, and the burn-out they suffered from overwork. It's well worth it.
The bonuses are plentiful, almost two hours worth, and mostly a series of mini-docs on a variety of break-out topics. There's a piece on Lennon & McCartney as songwriters, another on George's importance as a guitar player, innovator (the whole Indian music thing), and eventually a writer as well. Ringo gets his due as well. During these bits, there are more and more photos and film clips, many of which are rare, probably found buried for decades. In behind, you start to hear more gems, not just live material, but also studio chatter and out-takes, all the stuff producer Giles Martin (son of George) has control over, so his involvement in the film was crucial.
Several of the featured live cuts in the film are presented in their full-length versions, always great for collectors, especially those awesome 1963 colour clips, the incredible She Loves You that opens the film. Then, things really get interesting. There are more interview parts with some of the most interesting voices in the film, including Larry Kane, the lucky journalist who got invited to go on the North American tours, and had top access and is a great witness to everything that went down. There is a segment with three fans we see in some of the original TV footage, and find out how they came to be at shows such as Ed Sullivan or the first full concert in Washington, looking at themselves screaming back then. Ronnie Spector of The Ronettes tells the story of touring England with the group in 1963, befriending them, and then helping them escape the fan-surrounded hotel in New York and taking them to Harlem where they wouldn't be recognized. The official photographer for the Japan tour of 1966 was found, and he talks about covering the visit like a war correspondent, such was the intensity of the security.
You can buy the one-disc version, and save yourself some money, but this is The Beatles, and when there is new, revelatory footage and stories, I don't think it's the time to be cheap.
Friday, November 18, 2016
So this is the thing now, a career compilation to go along with a career autobiography. Elvis Costello did it very well, with a huge 2-disc set you could follow along as his career developed. Springsteen didn't do that great, with some not-too-exciting previously-unreleased songs from his pre-fame days, and then a quick career overview. Robertson does a much better job on his, with just the right amount of everything: A bit of pre-Band material from The Hawks days, some Dylan backing, plenty of Band, including a healthy amount of live stuff, and a decent but not overdone selection of his solo stuff. Also, he mixes it up instead of going chronologically, so you don't have the internal argument about which period was better while listening.
There's nothing new, aside from a remix done on a track from his first, self-titled solo album. Since he called the book Testimony, he had Bob Clearmountain spruce up that very track, and as he points out, where else are you going to find a cut that features jazz giant Gil Evans' horn arrangement, all of U2, Daniel Lanois, Ivan Neville, and Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards of Chic? Heady times. Of course, Robertson was by that time unphased by famous folks, having started out with rocker Ronnie Hawkins recording his songs while he was still a teen, touring the world with Dylan, and rubbing shoulders with pretty much everybody in pop culture. We hear a cut recorded with Hawkins, Come Love from 1961, while the Hawks were still in transition. Then there are a couple of the great R'n'B tracks after the group left Hawkins' employ, He Don't Love You, and the superb I'm Gonna Play The Honky Tonks (heard before on the Band box A Musical History), maybe the best cut out there proving Garth Hudson's claim that the very best Band music was the stuff they made while it was still Levon and the Hawks.
Robertson takes a side trip to his time as Dylan's lead guitar player on call, showcasing his studio work on the Blonde On Blonde track Obviously Five Believers. Then, it's The Band's turn, and instead of turning it into a greatest hits, he mixes up the live and studio tracks, choosing concert recordings for the best-known, including The Weight and The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down. He grabs some great but often ignored cuts, such as the Cahoots track Bessie Smith, and the studio cut Out Of The Blue from The Last Waltz set, which he sang beautifully, for all those who say he never sang on Band songs. Wrapping up with a little solo work here and there, it's a fine job at telling his career story and keeping it fresh, something that's hard to do given the fame of much of this music.
Thursday, November 17, 2016
I love the way this album sounds, which is unlike anything I can easily summon up for comparison. Echo and empty spaces are used to great effect in places, the cut I Can't Help It in particular sounding like it's come from some thick-walled old prison. Then there's the guitar work by a rotating group that features Keith Hallett, Carter Chaplin, Marc Doucet and Christien Belliveau, Producer Mike Trask sets it apart in the sound, with sizzling effects and nasty bites, an altogether fascinating sonic palette.
Volumes Of Beautiful Words has a huge guitar effect throughout, an eerie squall like the wind from an oncoming storm. Meantime, Richard is weaving in some magical words: "Neither volumes of beautiful words or an understanding of the rule of thirds can help you now," the rule of thirds being a photographer's technique to compose a shot by breaking the image into three vertical and horizontal lines.
I Wish You'd Come With Me features soulful horns, a passionate vocal, but again a wild tone and surprising but very effective guitar notes from Marc Doucet, like a blues version of Lindsey Buckingham. Black Church is a tour-de-force which follows a drunkard through the Dublin streets, while more wild, mysterious guitar follows Richard's vocal through the lengthy journey. It features a full confession when the protagonist faces the priest: "He could swear he heard a snicker from the vicar's side of the booth." Nice internal rhyme, that.
I like how the set starts with a somewhat normal cut, I Fall Apart, which features some Hendrix-inspired salvos, and ends on a relatively familiar ballad style with All The Proof I Need, but goes in so many surprising and fulfilling ways throughout. I'm going to have to champion this one.
Wednesday, November 16, 2016
1995's Wrecking Ball was a complete artistic rebirth for Harris, as she abandoned the path of popular country music, and became the first star of what became known as roots or Americana. This was accomplished with the full encouragement of producer Daniel Lanois, who brought his modern soundscapes to her music, as well as his covers of his own songs, and similar writers such as Neil Young, Gillian Welch and Steve Earle.
The last piece of the transformation came five years later. Harris was always known as a great interpreter, who rarely dared bring her own writing forward. But her new style had also brought her lots of new confidence, and the floodgates opened. She chose to make her next solo studio album, 2000's Red Dirt Girl, all her own songs (save one, by pal Patty Griffin). Lanois was unavailable to continue, but his mixer, engineer, and lieutenant Malcolm Burn did return as producer, and the album earned a Grammy award for folk recording of the year, using much the same kind of sound found on Wrecking Ball.
If she had been worried about her own writing not matching that of her famous pals and peers, she needn't have been. The shock here wasn't that she was doing it, but just how great a songwriter she was. There were a couple of co-writes, by notables such as Rodney Crowell and Guy Clark, but on her own, there were stunning, deeply powerful numbers, including The Pearl and Michelangelo, with spiritual qualities. Harris was also a fine storyteller, as the title track showed, about watching a small-town friend grow up into a harsh reality. She could even have fun, with Boy From Tupelo, a break-up song featuring sage advice from the king of rock'n'roll.
The big news with this reissue is that it's the first time the album has come out on vinyl, stretched out over a 2-LP set here. You'd think it would be a natural for the new generation of vinyl collector, but actually the style of production, that murky, mysterious New Orleans vibe Burn and Lanois had developed, doesn't lend itself that well to 33 and a third. I think it would take a significant remix for that, which would actually change the whole idea of the recording. No matter, it's always nice to have the vinyl of a great album.
Tuesday, November 15, 2016
A new bio on the 20th century's favourite harmony act. You can't say pop, or rock and roll, or country, because they got claimed by all the formats, big hits on all the charts. This doc does a great job explaining why, and what made the duo so special, from the brotherly harmonies to Bo Diddley guitar mixed in to the great songs written for them by Felice and Boudleaux Bryant and the ones they came up with as well. There are new interview bits with Don, archive ones from the late Phil, and lots of famous fans as well: Keith Richards, Graham Nash, Art Garfunkel and Dave Edmunds all have strong insights and personal connections and stories, which is a bonus, especially hearing Richards and Nash talk about meeting them in England in the 60s at the start of their careers. Their influence, especially on the Beatles, Hollies and Simon and Garfunkel, was key to all their careers.
Even better are explaining sections from guitar greats and former sidemen to the brothers, Albert Lee and Waddy Wachtel, who give us musician's secrets to the duo's excellence, plus dish a tiny bit of dirt and background tales of the famously feuding siblings. Nicely though, they also talk about the good times, when both would end up in the late-night hotel jams singing old country favourites. Because this was made by the always-excellent Reelin' In The Years company, there's a ton of great clips from early TV shows, and even an aircheck of the boys as part of the family act on radio in 1950.
It flies past, and sadly, it's just an hour long, meaning important moments are skipped over, entire segments of their career missing, and nothing but a mention of their 80s reunion and subsequent tours and albums. To make up for that, there are some bonus extended interviews with several of the stars, including some really good stories, so they are worth a watch. But even better is a second disc, another example of Reelin' digging deep and finding gems. It's a concert from 1968, originally broadcast on Australian TV, from a spot in Sydney called Chequers Nightclub. As explained in the documentary, the mighty had fallen by this time, one of the many American acts in decline after the British Invasion. They were still making great music, as their recent single, Bowling Green, played here shows, but they were by then a club act. A great one mind you, but it really is odd to see Don being a comedian before and sometimes during songs, with Phil as the straight man, sort of like the Smothers Brothers, only with weaker material but a lot better music. To hear the closing encore of the show, the beautiful 1940s number Kentucky, is all the proof you'll ever need they were the very best harmony singers.
Monday, November 14, 2016
Oh what to do when you can do too much? That's always the issue facing Montreal's Dawn Tyler Watson. Fluent in jazz, soul, gospel and all variants of blues (acoustic, electric, rhythm and..., etc.), she moves from project to project, gig to gig, basically just killing them all. This time out, it's a new one for sure, one that incorporates several of her styles, with a big, gutsy backing.
For Jawbreaker, she's enlisted Ben Racine and his band, fellow respected Montrealers. The sextet is known for its heavy 50s/60s R'n'B stylings, and here they let Watson go all out on some of that gospel-flavoured, high-energy material. Shine On has all the power of a revival meeting, with Watson joined by vocalist Patrick Lehman, playing off each other at full throttle. Racine himself joins in for a duet next, this time on the far more soulful and smooth Just A Little Bit More, doing a little Dinah Washington/Brook Benton action.
The Racine group sits out for Tootsie Roll Blues, an acoustic number with upright bass from Morgan Moore, which brings in an equal portion of jazz. In the ultimate Montreal tribute, Watson, and Racine band groove through Smoked Meat, an organ-and-horn workout, on rye with a pickle on the side. That, my friends, is funky.
Sunday, November 13, 2016
Roberts and Co. back off the synth of 2014's Lo-Fantasy a bit and get back to more urgent rock and roll sounds on this latest set, the group's sixth full-length. There's occasionally some bubbliness to tracks such as Lake Effect, but the set is dominating more by ringing rock, a wall of guitars, drums, keys all mashed up and coming fast and tough. On top of it all is Roberts' winning voice, meaning business yet still highly melodic.
There's still just enough of a synth bed to give the album a glossy sheen as well, every once in while reaching the surface to add an 80s air. But the Roberts Band is always more about the songs than style, and while they move back and forth a bit from album to album, you can always count on high-quality, driving numbers with just a big of mystery, such as closer Spring Fever or first single If You Want It.
The group kicks off an East Coast tour over the next week, before heading off to U.S. dates. On Tuesday, Nov. 16 they are at Casino New Brunswick in Moncton, on Wednesday it's the Convention Centre in St. John's, Thursday the Halifax Forum, and Friday Murphy's Community Centre in Charlottetown. Adam Baldwin will be opening all those shows.
Saturday, November 12, 2016
Kim Wilson's sounding even more like those deep-voiced 60's Stax singers such as William Bell, or even King. A little B.B. in there as well. His always nasty harmonica playing leads the way, there's a good amount of added horns, and the rest is tight, in the pocket playing, focused on the groove. There's not much guitar heroics, this is clearly Wilson's band, and the songs are the key. For that, it has a confident, and professional feel, in the very best sense of that word.
Friday, November 11, 2016
Such a night, as Dr. John sang. The influence of this all-star concert is certainly just as strong today as it was 40 years ago, and I'm always happy to meet another 20-something who knows the film and has a good appreciation of some classic artists because of it. For many, it's been their introduction to Muddy Waters, Van Morrison, and the good Doctor, plus the wonderful Band music. They ask about why Joni Mitchell sang harmonies from backstage for Helpless, and if Neil Young really did have a blob of cocaine in his nose that was doctored out in the film. And they can't figure out why Neil Diamond was there either. There's even this phenomena of tribute shows to the concert, anywhere with a decent local roots music community.
The Last Waltz has been reissued a few times, both on video and audio, most significantly in 2002, when a boxed set made available a raft of performances edited out of the familiar movie and soundtrack album, full songs on stage, as well as some rehearsals and demos for Robbie Roberton's studio tracks for the movie. Some were interesting, such as Neil Young doing Four Strong Winds, some superfluous, like the dull closing jams from the show, and some exciting, such as the full, unedited set by Bob Dylan, with Hazel restored to its place as the second song.
There's nothing else in the bag apparently, so to mark the 40th, they've come up with two marketing strategies. For the first time, you can buy the movie and the music in one package, as four CDs and one Blu-Ray. If you don't have the full set of songs, or the movie, I'd recommend it, as it is a film you'll watch a few times over your time on this planet. The other package, which is the way I got it, is a treat for vinyl collectors. For the first time, all the music now appears on LP, six of them in fact, twice the original length. I found the sound absolutely wonderful on this new pressing, so much so that I went back to find my original 3-LP set, and wouldn't you know, it's disappeared. Anyway, I sure can't remember it being this rich and clear. Man, that Dylan set rocks, too. Pretty great show all around, but really, Neil Diamond?
Thursday, November 10, 2016
At first I thought, "What, another live Stones set? Why in the world do we need this?" That 50th anniversary show from Hyde Park wasn't exactly inspiring, and they are even older now. Well, I should know by now that the Stones don't give up, and just when you (or me) are ready to write them off, they come back with a surprise punch.
This set (one DVD, two CDs) comes from the free show in Cuba on March 25, 2016. The crowd was of course massive, but also impossible to count, so estimates ranged from 200,000 to over a million. For that rock-starved country, it must have been a mind-blowing event, what with all the lights and screen shows and giant stage. But for the rest of us, the revelation comes in how basic the Stones have made their show. It's become focused on the principals, Jagger in control, Wood and Richards flashing guitars like switchblades, and Watts pounding the engine. That diamond shape of the four is supplemented by a leaner backing group, all to the side and often in the dark, with really only bass player Darryl Jones and keyboard players Chuck Leavell and Matt Clifford always in play. Two horns and two singers add parts when needed, but this means hard work for the four seniors. Somehow, it still seems effortless, and indeed if you watch this back-to-back with, say, the 1981 shows, they are just as strong, and I'd take this show for its vigor.
The band are clearly loving this show, with smiles and laughs coming constantly. They keep looking into the crowd, reacting to the antics there, giving back the energy from the unjaded audience. The bulk of these people had never been to a rock show, and didn't even know The Rolling Stones music. Well, it's only rock and roll, but they liked it. Umm, they didn't play that one, but the rest was pretty much the usual hits. And they all sounded great.
The writers weren't holding back on their A-list material or ideas at all. Sexsmith comes through with some of his killer images and lines. Miracle Home offers up "We turned a house of cards into a miracle home," while "Some Part Of Me" includes "I'm tired of eyes that give it all away/Kill the surprise of living each day." Opening track The Face Of Emily is a classic bit of Sexsmith writing, the lines on a stranger's face meaning another sad story as a woman grows older, unknown to most. Heck, he even says it in the words, "It's a lonely world." But several songs here are about the celebration of love and family, including Miracle Home, New Love and Then There Were Three. More proof he's not the gloomy Gus he gets labelled far too often.
Swinghammer responded to the project by placing the songs in a 60s pop world, with lots of Bacharach and bits of Jobim. There are lots of electric keyboards and moody horns and woodwinds, clarinet and fluegelhorn parts, plus vibes and marimba to add ringing percussion. It's far away from the rock combo; instead it's the pop orchestra. Cullen's voice is a wonder, never showy or dominate but simply lovely, the sound of love and joy and warmth. This week especially, what the world needs now...
Wednesday, November 9, 2016
The Trews are back on the road, starting a country-wide tour today in Victoria, B.C. No surprise there, of course, the band has lived on the road for the past 15 years. But it does mark the start of a new phase of sorts, with drummer Gavin Maguire joining permanently to replace original member Sean Dalton. That's all been wrapped up nicely with this new best-of set. Never a group to deny their fans, it features a whopping 20 cuts over 76 minutes, including four new ones.
The expected favourites are here, including Not Ready To Go and Tired Of Waiting, which date back to the group's debut House of Ill Fame from 2003, the big hit Hold Me In Your Arms from 2008's No Time For Later, Poor Ol' Broken Me, Power Of Positive Drinking and Hope and Ruin. Nicely, we can now get the charity single Highway Of Heroes on a full album, as it was previously only released as a digital and CD single, going gold in the process, with proceeds going to the Hero Fund..
The new songs, including the single Beautiful and Tragic, zip along with the same intensity the group has always presented, no shortage of energy and some honest-to-goodness rock excitement. Part two for The Trews looks to be well underway, with no worries for the future.
Tuesday, November 8, 2016
Lead singer and accordion pusher/puller Kristen Hatt Lewis has been around the Nova Scotia music scene since her group Wooderson was going. Along the way she's made a name as a go-to singer for folks such as The Heavy Blinkers, Matt Mays and Gabe Minnikin, and switched instruments from guitar to mandolin to cello to the quirky accordion for this new project. It also features her husband Matthew Lewis on guitar, and as a special guest on this debut set, Phil Sedore adding clarinet and pedal steel.
Accordion and clarinet are main ingredients for polka and klezmer and such, but this is instead rustic and charming folk, with limited instruments. It resembles the mood and simplicity of fellow local Old Man Luedecke at his most stripped down, when he's just doing banjo tunes with upbeat lyrics. The accordion has the same kind of awkward, slightly-behind the beat feel as a cautiously played living room pump organ, picking out favourite hymns. The acoustic guitar helps out, like the cousin sitting in the corner who knows the chords but doesn't want to get all showy. And the clarinet, that's Uncle Jerry giving things a little more colour but keeping it sounding old and rural.
Meanwhile, Lewis herself is singing her honest lyrics in an equally unaffected way, with effects or echo on her voice, so it all really does have that living room feel. There's just enough modern dialog to place it today, or else it would pass for 1930s music, especially if it was on a scratchy 78. But it actually just sounds real.
The Lewinskies are launching the debut CD Good For All at Halifax's Carleton Music Bar & Grill on Wednesday, Nov. 16 at 8 PM.
Monday, November 7, 2016
They have been that, and much worse over three-plus decades, with behavior that would make Trump blush. Somehow (well, through complicated legal negotiations), the original members were still on board for the final jaunt: Singer Vince Neil, drummer Tommy Lee, bassist Nikki Sixx, and that guitar player nobody talks about who looks like death. This is the last-ever show, long planned for Los Angeles, the band's home, in a metal frenzy-filled Staples Center on Dec. 31.
This won't be any surprise to Mötley Crüe fans, but as we see on the DVD, it's a night awash in pyro, fireworks, leather, tattoos, biker chic and profanity. And that's just in the audience. Vince Neil is a man unable to say one full sentence without inserting "fuck" into it. "Happy fuckin' New Year, motherfuckers!" he said, the traditional salute borrowed from the late Guy Lombardo I believe. There are also two leather and cutoffs-clad backing singer/dancers who throw their hair around in a fitting homage to 1980s videos.
It's a grand spectacle, and just as much about defiance as it is music. These are not conformists, on stage or in the crowd, and are there to happily raise a middle finger to anyone who tries to make them clean up their act. Tommy Lee takes the mic at one point to actually make a speech to the audience in the middle of a rock show, telling them to never give up, always follow your dream, or something like that, it somehow involves him stealing a knife from his grandfather.
Then you have the drum solo, featuring Lee and his entire kit travelling upside-down along some hydraulic roller coaster. In the 17th Spinal Tap moment of the show, it breaks down partway through its trip. "What the fuck, Los Angeles?" shouts Lee, before having to climb down from his perch. Lee says they left it in the film because it was entertaining. I'll say, it's the best part of the night.
The show ends with a gigantic pentagram burning away, fireworks and flame pods exploding, Nikki Sixx being circled high above the stage on a crane (which didn't break), and Neil telling the crowd "Always remember Los Angeles, we're Mötley Fucking Crüe." You sure fucking were.
The Georgia native has the sound (acoustic based with haunting guitar licks) and the voice (nasal twang, Southern accent) down pat. He's still a little too flag-waving and Georgia-proud at times, and could be accused of having blinders on, especially given the Trump-sputtering, gun-totin' realities of U.S. life. Cobb tends to idealize his home (South Of Atlanta) as a place where time has stood still and there's always a game of checkers going on (he seriously sings this). He comes across much better when the songs aren't romanticizing the old hometown way of life that probably doesn't exist anymore. Title cut Shine On Rainy Day is a heartfelt ballad with an inherent sadness that doesn't rely on small town cliches. The darker he gets, the better he sounds as well, with Black Crow edgy and claustrophobic. But compare any of his songs to the asinine lyrics of most contemporary country, and I'll take a little Southern pride over that crap any day.
Sunday, November 6, 2016
Steve Earle was no raw rookie when his debut album, Guitar Town, came out in 1986. He'd been fighting an uphill battle in Nashville since 1974, when he showed up in town at the feat of Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt, the newest version of the classic country outsider (see Johnny Cash, Waylon and Willie, etc.) Publishing and recording deals came and went, and lots of one-nighters and (famously) failed marriages too. Finally Nashville got smart to a new breed of singer-songwriters, which also included Lyle Lovett, Rodney Crowell and Rosanne Cash, and for awhile there it looked like country music could be good again. Earle broke into the top ten with the title cut of this album.
It's considered heresy to mess with the original sound of an album too much, but if there was ever a set that deserved to be radically remixed, or (Gasp!) even re-recorded, it's this one. Not that the performance was bad; it was the blasted recording technique of the 80s. This was the first country album to be recorded on a full digital system, and it sounds it, that crisp and antiseptic 80s production. Most annoying are the drums, with a booming reverb on each strike. It might have been all the rage then, but it sure hasn't dated well.
A shame that, as this is such a solid album. Earle had spent those years paying dues well, at least in the songwriting department. Hillbilly Highway tells a story of generations of small town folks having to leave the farm, and head away for work, college, or in his case, guitar playing. Someday is another one on the same theme, written from the perspective of a kid working at a filling station on the highway, who can't wait to get away from his dead-end town and job, head down the road to whatever is waiting. Fearless Heart is about that search for great love, no matter what: "A fearless heart just comes back for more."
This deluxe edition doesn't have any demos or outtakes, but instead a period concert on the second disc. Often these are okay sets, recorded for radio or promotion reasons, but nothing special. This time, everything came together on one night in Chicago, August 15, 1986. At one point, Earle tells the crowd that he's been in a whirlwind of playing every night, but that very day he's realized that with his newfound success, all of his dreams have come true. At the end of the show, after three encores, he tells them "This has been the thrill of my life, and that's no shit." It's a thrill to hear it 30 years later too.
Friday, November 4, 2016
If you want to help Bob celebrate his Nobel Prize, this is a good place to go. It will help get clear out all the garbage that has been piled on since the announcement of the award, both on mainstream media or in the useless arguments on social media. You can hear Dylan himself, either in vintage interviews or the lengthy one conducted for this documentary, explain that no, he isn't writing protest songs; no, he isn't speaking for his generation, he isn't claiming to do any of the things people were saying he was doing then. And strangely enough, all the talking heads reporting on his Nobel win that day, most of whom weren't born anywhere close to the 60s, repeated the same old tired lines. And as for all the writers and poets who got annoyed because Dylan won and he's not "literature", the Nobel committee gave him the award for changing songwriting, not for writing poetry, again, something he never claimed to be doing.
Rant over. This is the reissue of the Martin Scorsese documentary first seen on PBS, made in conjunction with the Dylan people, which means he had full access to the archive of amazing footage that has been stored away, the Lerner and Pennebaker raw film, including the infamous 1966 tour material, being booed by British audiences, and confronted by loony fans. Dylan himself sat for 10 hours answering questions more honestly than ever before, being beside Martin Luther King for the "I have a dream" speech, stealing a friend's record collection in Minnesota for the rare folk albums, going electric, going to see Woody Guthrie, learning to write and perform, all of it.
Scorsese also had access to many of the first-hand witnesses to Dylan's rise. There are old friends from Minnesota, and many of the wonderful characters of Greenwich Village: Dave Van Ronk, Maria Muldair, Liam Clancy. There's even Suze Rotolo, famously pictured walking arm in arm with him on the cover of The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan. His next lover, Joan Baez does a great imitation of him, as she tells the story of Dylan writing a new song in front of her, admitting he doesn't know what it means, but laughing that the critics would soon be telling them what it's about.
Dylan's people made the job easier for Scorsese, by setting the parameters for the film. It would only go up to the end of the 1966 tour, and the famous motorcycle accident which ended that early rocketing period for him. It is an amazing story, that period, not that what came after isn't, but there is a natural pause there, if not an ending. There's so much to examine, and so much incredible footage to see. At one point just past half-way of the three hour show (it's in two parts, as originally broadcast), the songs and original film fly past, Chimes of Freedom here, It's Alright Ma there. It was exploding from him.
Scorsese tries and succeeds to show the difference between the times that were a-changin', and Dylan's association with them. Yes, it was upheaval, with the civil rights movement, Kennedy's assassination, Viet Nam, and Dylan was the most powerful voice. But he was chasing art. Baez tells of her great plans for the couple, to use their fame and voices to lead the protest movement, but then finding out Dylan wanted nothing to do with it.
This reissue is called the 10th Anniversary Edition (even though it's actually 11, go figure), and does get bumped up with some extras for the two-disc version. There are extended interviews with some, including Scorsese talking about the whole project, and some longer old film scenes. Best of all, there are several original Dylan performances, from TV shows and movie out-takes. Most exciting is the full 1966 electric performances with The Hawks, including Like A Rolling Stone, the centerpiece of the documentary. People booed this? It's the best thing ever. After watching this again, I guess I have some issues with the Nobel too. It shouldn't have been for literature, it should have been for science.
Thursday, November 3, 2016
It would be easy to call Monkeyjunk one of Canada's very best blues bands, and while that isn't wrong, it's never quite felt right to me either. Instead, the group seems to be that, plus. Monkeyjunk songs, and albums, always have that moment when you hear something different. Often it happens in the chorus or bridge, when instead of the usual change comes a better chord, that takes what was already a winning song to a new place.
Weary ballad Blue Lights Go Down has one of those smart changes into the chorus, which lifts up the mood. The first time through, Tony D puts on a smart, Santana-like solo, while on the second pass, Steve Mariner plays an Eastern-flavoured harmonica to end it off in a questioning way. Up next is Pray For Rain, which starts with some ringing, sitar-like guitar, before verses that remind me of those great Clapton parts on the Layla album.
Sharp-eared fans will also notice it's the first album (in their five) to include electric bass all the way through. In some ways, it puts them further in the blues roots, allowing them the full sound to explore a cover of Albert King's The Hunter, but it also meant building bigger tracks, giving them more room to explore their ideas, like on the soulful Can't Call You Baby. File them under originality.
Wednesday, November 2, 2016
The Harpdog is an older-school kind of guy, and he hits all the right buttons here. His low growl turns into a moaning high note at the end of each verse on album opener Better Days, just like that Howlin' Wolf used to do. The sound is up close, hot, and ready for the stage, the real Chess feel, Brown's harp ripping through with lots of good distortion, while the barroom piano tinkles behind. Guests have names such as Big Jon and Little Victor and Kid.
And Charlie. Musselwhite, that is. The harmonica legend gives his nod of approval and friendship to his Canadian compadre with warm friends in the liner notes, and a duet on Moose On The Loose, a showcase harp instrumental. But Brown can stand on his own two feet (or lips), and this set of covers, classics and originals has everything from slow and sorrowful to party-hearty stuff such as his own For Better Or Worse, and the barrelhouse old-timey FIne Little Girl Rag. Already possessing the needed talent, Brown's also found the sound that blues musicians all crave.
Over 30 years in the game, dating back to 80s Canadian rockers Eye Eye, Bill Wood's been honing the craft, learning more and more about making those songs sound honest and real. His latest collection sees him firmly planted in roots writing, leaning more country for the bulk. For a Toronto guy, he's sounding very rural, kind of an urban Fred Eaglesmith.
With plenty of twang, and lots of effective guitar from Woodies stalwart Chris Bennett, the proper honky tonk atmosphere is all set for Wood's tight tales of romance, heartache, diners, and other life lessons. Best is Boots, as fine a tribute to a well-word set of footwear as ever concocted, a pair that has taken him to both Portlands, Oregon and Maine. Rocks In My Head is the most country in both music and classic lyrics, as he spends each night in the bars since she's been gone, and he's admitted he's basically gone stupid: "Oh honey you were my IQ." My Little Town is a surprise, not the story of some one-industry spot in the boonies, but rather about the demise of inner-city neighbourhoods as they see their stores and old homes bulldozed as well. Wood's combination of barroom spirit and authentic writing is uplifting.
Tuesday, November 1, 2016
David Crosby has always made less commercial solo music than his group forays with you-know-who, or even the duo albums with Graham Nash. Going back to his If I Could Only Remember My Name debut solo release from 1971, the albums have featured experiments and a noticeable intensity and seriousness. That's the certainly the case here, and as with that earlier album, Lighthouse sounds like no other, even within his own releases.
Each song is cut from the same cloth, and seemingly very simple, just Crosby and producer Michael League on acoustic guitars, and the very occasional additions on certain songs, some double bass or keyboards, all barely noticeable. The music is moody, slow, dreamy at times, and floats along. Crosby mellow voice lays on top of that, adding a hypnotic melody. There are some harmonies, on the rare choruses, but mostly it's him stacking his own voice a bit, and certainly the album isn't heavy on them, like a CSN disc.
There's a certain crankiness about the album, although the lyrics aren't obvious. The targets are misguided people, no names given, even though Crosby is never shy about publicly criticizing people (hello, Neil). Somebody Other Than You starts "I can see the way you are, by far the worst of the lot." Even love is worrisome, The Us Below being about the distance between two lovers, in the middle the "frozenness of fear", while The Things We Do For Love talks about the fear holding someone in a relationship. It's kind of like those elves in Lord Of The Rings; everything's beautiful, but it's all sad, too.