Thursday, July 28, 2016


Like all that vintage-styled soul music you've been hearing lately? All you folks digging Charles Bradley and Sharon Jones and Leon Bridges and so many more great acts out there might want to remember where it all came from. It's called soul because it came from gospel music, as opposed to r'n'b. In the mid-50s gospel groups and singers were becoming pretty big stars in the U.S., but there was an even bigger prize out there, the pop charts. It was frowned upon to sing secular music, but eventually many of the stars, most notably Sam Cooke, crossed over. Once the barrier was broken, the genre of soul was born, and even the great Aretha Franklin, daughter of the famous Rev. C.L. Franklin, crossed over.

But there were hold-outs, incredible singers who refused to stop singing songs of praise. And while the soul stars eclipsed them in fame (and riches), there was still a pretty solid touring and record sales industry through into the 70's. Many of those famous names at one point ended up on the famous Detroit label HOB. Formed out of a beauty parlour (House of Beauty), owner Carmen Murphy was such a fan of the music, she paid for recordings, and soon attracted the biggest names of the genre: Clara Ward, Claude Jeter, Albertina Walker, The Swan Silvertones, The Mighty Clouds of Joy, The Five Blind Boys of Alabama, and even the mighty Rev. Franklin himself.

Gospel's day as a leading music faded, and the HOB catalog was sold several times. Now it rests with the Sonorous Records label, which is doing a good job of keeping the legacy going, at least in the Christian music world. This set is a sort of primer for the HOB artists, a 24-track, two-disc set. It's obvious this isn't a major label; there are no liner notes, not even composer credits. And HOB didn't ever have the prime cuts of these artists. The musicians supporting the acts are often third-tier journeymen or perhaps rookies, the best players having gone to the pop world. There are frustrating early fade-outs on a couple of cuts, and despite the "deluxe edition" title, the discs are only just above 30 minutes.

What is here is, quite simply, an incredible group of singers. The times were changing, but these performers were still masters. When they sang their songs of praise, they really did lift their voices loud and clear. The Harmonizing Four are a joy, close-knit and dynamic. Shirley Caesar shines on three cuts, recorded at the start of her career, which is still going strong. The more vintage acts such as Jeter and Ward show just how powerful that church music was, while Albertina Walker and Rev. James Cleveland prove what has been said for decades, the best voices come from the church.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016


I'd always heard it was pretty crazy, and Neil Young's film Human Highway certainly lives up to that billing. But given his very spotty film making career and life-long history of odd ideas at times, the 80-minute movie was actually watchable, even in its weirdness. Perhaps that's because he did attract some professionals to the project, even though they were some of Hollywood's misfits: Dean Stockwell helped Young direct, and it's certainly better than the usual Bernard Shakey work (Young's preferred name for his movie work). Stockwell also joined the cast, along with Dennis Hopper, Sally Kirkland, Russ Tamblyn, and most interestingly, everyone in Devo.

Young is also the star, and does a pretty good job as the funny character Lionel, a simple, goofy mechanic at a 1950s-styled gas station and diner. Although we never get the actual year in which this fantasy is set, it's filled with Young's favourite things, including old cars, wooden Indians, a juke box and early rock 'n' roll. Yet it's also the last day on Earth, as a nuclear war is about to start. The Devo guys all work at the local nuclear plant, and glow red with radiation, dropping barrels of waste all over the area, basically predating Homer Simpson and the gang by several years.

Young took four years to make the film, blowing a ton of his money doing so, and it spans some pretty important times for him. The collaboration with Devo led to the whole Rust Never Sleeps concept, and you can see the first version of the song here, sung by the group's mascot Booji Boy with Young on nutso guitar. Devo also provides the film's theme song, Worried Man Blues, while Young finished up the project by adding lots of the music that filled his Trans album, and the vocodor vocals certainly fit in here.

The plot breaks down about two-thirds of the way through, as Young goes into a very long dream sequence, which features the big jam with Devo. That is pretty cool though, so by that point I was happy to give up on any kind of logical script. The bombs fall, they all die and sing and dance their way to heaven. I've seen worse endings in Mel Brooks films.

Young has wisely kept this tough to find since its 1982 release, when it was trashed and only made it to a handful of screens. There was a limited release on VHS, but now perhaps enough time has gone by (and other worse projects too) that fans can appreciate the best moments and performances of both Young and Devo, and even some of their wacky acting too. It's been cleaned up, and now features the re-edited director's cut, plus state-of-the-art Blu-ray and 5.1 stuff, so this is the best it can be.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016


As much as she has made her name solo, Julie Doiron can't help be drawn back to bands. Whether it be her Juno-winning turn with The Woodenstars, her early and often-reunited group Eric's Trip, joining Gord Downie's solo outings, or several one-off touring combos, when she wants to rock a little, she gets by with a little help from her friends.

This time she's an equal partner in a new Sackville, N.B. hometown collective that also includes her partner C.L. McLaughlin, veteran East Coast writer Jon McKiel, sax player Chris Meaney and drummer James Anderson.

The chugging sax gives an old-fashioned rock 'n' roll feel to some of the eight tracks here, a bit of the old garage feel. That mixes well with the decidedly unpolished atmosphere, everything in a bit of a mud bath. McLaughlin and Doiron share vocals, sometimes together, sometimes not, sometimes trading lines, but rarely singing loud enough to be fully heard. The band though can make an unholy din when required, as in Between The Lampost (You and I). The best parts are when the sax cuts through, certainly making this a distinctive outfit.

The group has been trying things out on an Eastern Canadian tour that has worked its way from Ontario back home, with dates remaining in Saint John Wednesday night at Callahan's, and then to their own hometown festival, the beloved Sappyfest from July 29 - 31. Then they wrap it all up with a show in Fredericton Aug. 1 at ReNeu Boutique, as we all celebrate New Brunswick Day.

Monday, July 25, 2016


Deliberately rough, simple, and stripped-down to the bare essentials, The Felice Brothers deliver, I dunno, what? Garage roots? Comparisons are being made to The Basement Tapes, and there's certainly good reason for that. The group keeps it unpolished but highly capable, anything from fiddle to feedback ready when called on. Harmonies and rhythms are loose but right, barn dance perfection.

The lyrics are often whimsical, based on quick rhymes that sound great but don't necessarily make a whole lot of sense. Certainly they can write full, thoughtful tunes, and there are some here with weightier thoughts, but at the same time, it's enjoyable to sit back and enjoy the playfulness of Aerosol Ball and "Plunder plunder, rain and thunder, lightning split my brain asunder." Diamond Bell is a bigger tune, a fateful folk tale with more Dylan influences, this time Desire-era. Bring it on, I say, this is prime real estate to explore.

Sunday, July 24, 2016


There's a big difference between loud and loud but melodic. The DesLauriers Band never sacrifices tunefulness despite pumping out some of the best goes-to-11 numbers in the Canadian blues-rock scene. Paul DesLauriers is a shattering lead guitar player, capable of filling almost every moment he's not singing with fiery solos, especially on showcases such as Stewtro Rock (Just Got Back) and Still Under My Skin. But never, never, is it just noise and volume; there's always a fine song going on there as well.

All three members of the Montreal group have been recognized as among the very best at their instruments in the country. Greg Morency took home the 2015 Maple Blues Award for Bass Player of the Year, DesLauriers won Guitar Player the year before, and drummer Sam Harrisson has been nominated as well. The talent is immediately evident on this set, with the rhythm section providing a huge and relentless bedrock, allowing DesLauriers to go explosive on top. Uncluttered by guest players and extra instruments (too much of that going on these days, I find), you can sit back and follow each player, and really get an appreciation for the playing here. The cut We Just Might is intense and rocking from start to finish, and I almost gave it a standing ovation in my living room the first time I heard it. My cat thinks I'm weird.

Thursday, July 21, 2016


Three years ago, an Ontario musician decided it was time to return to his roots. For Glenn McFarlane, that meant going home, literally. While he's a staple of the roots scene in Brampton, McFarlane had grown up in Charlotte County, New Brunswick, and had not lost that connection. While he had returned for family gatherings in the past, that time he decided to make his journey back a musical trip too, called the Prodigal Son(g)s Tour.

Fast-forward to this summer, and McFarlane is doing it again. He's booked a full series of shows in his home province, this time bringing even more New Brunswick-inspired music with him. McFarlane's latest album is called Music and Friends, and includes, among other offerings, some songs about the province, and even one that came out of that last tour, called The Prodigal Son(g)s Tour. IT tells the tale of the journey, from monumental rain storms which couldn't keep the music from happening, to being able to play the places that meant so much to his family. It's pretty much all right there on the cover of the album, with the New Brunswick flag hanging proudly.

McFarlane's very much a people's folk singer, with the title cut pretty much explaining his philosphy ("When we're together the fun never ends/So here's a toast to music and friends"). Let's Talk About New Brunswick is about as big a shout-out to the great places of the province as has ever been written, worthy of another New Brunswick son, Stompin' Tom. There are lots of songs that work for any province too, including the self-explanatory It's a Beautiful Day for a Beer, and Middle Aged and Overweight.

Here's a list of McFarlane's NB shows for this year:

July 23 – Dooryard Arts Festival, Woodstock.
July 24 – Entertainment on the Pavilion, Hampton
July 26 – Market Square Boardwalk, Saint John
July 29 - July 31 – Tay Creek Folk Festival
August 1 - Moncton - New Brunswick Day

Tuesday, July 19, 2016


The enigmatic P.E.I. songwriter snuck this album out last year digitally at first, but now it's also available on disc, and he's on a multi-date tour to promote it. It's a surprise this one, as Tuck decided to dive full-on into country, and not your oh-so-trendy alt-country either. Instead, he took his inspiration from the most country of folks, including that Island son, Stompin' Tom Connors. The album even opens with Tuck's fine take on the Connors classic To It And At It, followed by his own tribute to the man, Stompin'

With the help of countrypolitan backing vocalists The Carmichael Singers, and lots of steel and fiddle and small town charm, Tuck goes through a broad range of off-kilter ideas, from charming to brilliant. Stop Hittin' On Louise is a message that God sees everything, from the smallest sparrow, to a guy in a strip bar who won't leave one dancer alone. Dolled Up is about being held hostage in a one-bathroom house while little sister is getting ready to go out.

Tuck then drops a bombshell, a version of Always On My Mind that would make Willie himself cry, reminding us that he knows all about the magic and beauty of melody, and how the best songs are often the classics. The album's true centre is next, another pretty one at first, but soon it shows itself as one of Tuck's very intense, dark and nasty post-relationship numbers, (Gotta Love) These Lies. He skilfully repeats the word 'lies' in almost every line, and just as skilfully lets you know the real torment here is the singers, still tangled in love, with the only hope that maybe the lies he counts will come home to roost on the other party at death's judgement. Yes, heavy stuff, akin to Elvis Costello's similar epic I Want You, but still country too, the darkest kind, and country can be really dark.

More follows, and as usual Tuck gives us a lengthy, full set, his ideas flying thick and fast. It's also the best-sounding of his records to my ears, largely recorded by Aaron Comeau (Skydiggers, Sam Cash), with a surprising warmth and intimacy, especially in the lead vocals. Check out Al Tuck on tour with these dates coming up:

Tuesday, July 19 - All Saints Anglican Church, St. Andrews NB
Wednesday, July 20 - Taco Pica, Saint John, NB
Friday, July 22 - Octopus' Garden, Alma, NB
Saturday, July 23 - Nook and Cranny, Truro, NS
Sunday, July 24 - St. John's Anglican Church, River John, NS
Mon - Tue, July 25 - 26 - White Point Beach Resort, White Point NS

Monday, July 18, 2016


Hey Bob, what gives?  You're talking about a three-year old record here.  Yes, but it's because one of my faves Canadian writers all-time, Ottawa's Lynn Miles, is landing in my hometown Wednesday for a show, part of a brief East Coast jaunt.  And her last album, which came out in December, was called Winter, and featured songs about that season and Christmas, which just feels completely out of place here in the height of summer.  I can't write about Winter when I'm sitting in front of a fan, sweatin' to the oldies.

In fact, I can't hear over the fan properly, so instead I'm going to re-run my review of Downpour, and tell you to get yourself to a nice, air-conditioned bar this week to see Lynn Miles, always a breath of fresh air and song.  She's playing:

  • Corked Wine Bar - Fredericton, Wednesday July 20
  • ROCA House - Dartmouth, N.S., Friday July 22
  • The Carleton - Halifax, Sunday, July 24

The string of excellent Lynn Miles albums continues, like a pitcher who never loses a game.  A classic, grade-A songwriter, there's an emotional punch in every song, at least one line to send you spinning.  Lead track More is loaded with killer couplets:  "I want the whole bottle/not just a shot/don't want a little/want a lot".  You just wait for the next line that floors you, and she never fails to come up with one.

Sliding between folk, country, bluegrass and a little bit of electric, the delicate backing is perfect to point your attention to her voice and lyrics.  I'll take that combo of mandolin, twangy guitar, aching vocals and lots of harmony any time.  Moving easily from style to style keeps our interest from flagging, and again, lets the stories and lyrics shine.  How To Be Alone is classic country, with verses that would do Haggard or Jones proud:  "Nobody ever calls, nobody's dropping by/they were all your friends, so they don't even try."  My Road is one of the best descriptions of the touring musician's life you'll find:  "Wallflowers and pool halls, hard truths and drunken phone calls, old regrets and platitudes, gravel driveways and hometown news."

I find Miles helps us see the balance in life, that the moments to treasure can make up for the lows and sorrows.  As she sings in Million Brilliant, "It's alright we're in it for the long haul/It's alright we can see the beautiful sadness of it all."

Sunday, July 17, 2016


Although he wasn't among the biggest stars of the Stax Records label from Memphis (Otis, Sam & Dave, Booker T, etc.), big fans of the label have always placed Bell on the same level as a performer and writer. His best-known number is considered a soul classic, You Don't Miss Your Water, and he co-wrote the Albert King blues hit Born Under A Bad Sign, included here.

But this isn't a cash-in on the old days for a faded star. Instead, Bell has simply been doing what he does in the time since, fronting his own label and not chasing the spotlight. What's different is a reunion with the rebooted Stax label, and a great new partner in writer/producer John Leventhal (Rosanne Cash, Shawn Colvin). Yes, this is a soul album, but not a 60's Stax one, it's not the horns-and-hits formula. It's more of a gentler, country-soul album, focused on his still-supple voice and keen lyric sense.

Working mostly with Leventhal, as well as Marc "Walking In Memphis" Cohn, there was a great deal of care put into the songwriting, with some classic soul metaphors and lines: "The house always wins," "things you can't remember I'm still trying to forget," Phrases like that ring true and sit wonderfully as the big moments in choruses. There's also a funky little number, one of those great story-songs about the South, Mississippi-Arkansas Bridge, about meeting a mystery woman in the blues clubs, before having to rush back across at the end of the night. This isn't a master re-discovered, it's a master still at work.

Saturday, July 16, 2016


While the band name gives away the living arrangements, there's a lot more to Jane Carmichael and Kevin Kennedy's gig than love and family songs. Well, they do those, and very well, but they aren't often biographical. Instead, Carmichael (the chief songwriter) has an ear for other people's touching tales, and then the couple adds great-sounding folk and country-edged hooks and harmonies.

Carmichael has the kind of voice that hits you just at the right moment, and is the kind of writer who knows when to place those moments in a song. Turquoise Blue, about a six-year-old boy with leukemia, has a chorus with a beautiful vocal and harmony, as she sings "Little trooper, little soldier." A Girl Said Yes, about a couple who's first date was initiated by the man writing a letter, has another killer chorus: "It's all because a boy wrote a letter/It's all because a girl said yes."

Closing cut Fire In The Flame is one from her own life, about her father's Alzheimer's, and what thoughts he may have lived with at the beginning: "Will you still love me if I don't know your name?" Bring an extra Kleenex if you're checking out any of the duo's upcoming shows, including these ones:

July 27th - Plan B, Moncton, NB
July 28th - The Company House, Halifax, NS
July 29th - Evergreen Theatre, Margaretsville, NS
July 31st - Mont-Carmel Summer Concert Series, Mont-Carmel, PEI

Friday, July 15, 2016


Lots of groups get called folk-pop these days, but this Halifax band sounds like I think that's supposed to be. There's a 60's vibe for sure here, with the right amount of jingle-jangle Byrds guitar, and plenty of haunted harmonies. The trio has captured the right simplicity of those tuneful times, when you could hear each instrument and word, but adds just enough of a today vibe to remind us of what's happened since.

As an official old person, it's incumbent upon me to point out the connections between Dark For Dark and the lineage of Halifax-scene artists such as Jale, Plumtree and Julie Doiron (honorary), with that certain lo-fi, off-mic aura on all the cuts. But there are far more differences than similarities here, with the six cuts on this E.P. (the group's second release) coming off as an a dreamy vision of what California must have been like for a few minutes in 1965.

Hats off to the cool words of writer Rebecca Zolkower, the lovely group vocals, and the nifty way they end a couple of the cuts, including Moon Full Moon, with its quick minor key change stop. It's not scary or surprising, just a reminder that things aren't as pretty as they seem.

Thursday, July 14, 2016


This ranks very high on the WTF scale, but Dexys frontman Kevin Rowland has been setting the bar there for decades. His definition of Irish and country soul is pretty broad, and I'd probably give it a different name, more like old Irish standards and a bunch of unrelated covers. How else can you explain an album that includes anything from the traditional weeper I'll Take You Home Again, Kathleen, recorded by everyone from Elvis to Merv Griffin, and the equally sappy How Do I Live, the mega-hit by LeAnn Rimes?

In case you think Rowland has pumped these numbers up with his Celtic soul horns of old, or even the loyal Big Jim Sullivan's trombone, nope. The songs are taken at normal pace, with lots of violin and other strings. The only soft song that gets a bit of a beat added is Joni Mitchell's Both Sides Now (!), with prominent drums and a slight disco production. Hey, that's one of the more normal moments in a set that includes The Platters' Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, the mildly funky Grazing In The Grass, and The Bee Gees' To Love Somebody, mixed in with Irish numbers such as Carrickfergus and Curragh of Kildare.

Honestly, I'm baffled. It's such a mixed bag of weirdness, I don't know quite who to recommend this to, except that I actually like it, with all his quirks and corniness. I think Kevin Rowland thinks he's much, much better than he really is, but his force of personality and determination can make more than a few people see past his weaknesses and oddities. His voice, which should be the most potent weapon for such a collection, is not great. It's different, but he oversings when he thinks he's emoting, and it's not particularly pleasant. But it's different, and that's his greatest appeal. Yeah, this is different alright.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016


This is the third box set covering Marvin Gaye's entire album output for Motown, from 1961 until he left the company 20 years later, just before his death. After a whirlwind 60's period that saw him release two or three albums a year, solo or duet sets, there were just seven albums in the last ten years that time, as more care was put into the recordings, although personal turmoil also added months and in some cases years to the delays. It was a period that started with one of the greatest artistic statements ever recorded, and ended with one of the greatest, most public meltdowns.

The end of the 60's saw Gaye battling, both personally and professionally. The death of his duet partner, Tammi Terrell, had affected him, and his turbulent relationship with his wife, Anna Gordy (Berry's older sister, and 17 years senior to Gaye), had helped thrown him into depression. He'd always been troubled by the pop fame he'd achieved, considering himself more of a jazz musician, and wanting to make more serious music. Conversations and letters with his brother Frankie, a Viet Nam soldier, led him to consider more serious lyrical themes. And Four Tops member Obie Benson brought him a song that his band had rejected, the similarly-serious What's Going On. Gaye vowed to change his music, and in the process, changed Motown as well.

Gaye produced his own sessions for the first time, and broke the usual Motown rules. Only some of the so-named Funk Brothers were used in the laid-back jam sessions for the songs, while other players were invited in, who fit Gaye's plans (and lifestyle). He even credited all the musicians on his liner notes, a Motown first. Hearing the title cut, Berry Gordy hated it, and refused to release it as a single. Gaye reacted by refusing to do anything else, and eventually staff members snuck the song out without the boss knowing. The rest was literally history, as What's Going On became the label's fastest-selling single, a huge smash that also saw the album of the same name become a massive Top 10 hit. Along with Stevie Wonder, Gaye turned Motown into an albums company, making scads more money for Gordy than ever before. The album also included two more hits, Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler) and Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology), was named album of the year by Rolling Stone, and usually features in the top ten of any serious all-time albums poll.

The next year saw Gaye move into the growing blacksploitation soundtrack world that had inspired Isaac Hayes' smash Shaft and several others. Gaye provided the music for Trouble Man, a forgettable cinematic venture but a successful work for the composer. There were very few vocal cuts on the disc, and some of those just wordless harmonies. Mostly, it was a funky-bluesy score that followed the screen exploits of the Mr. T character. Gaye was also dabbling with synthesizer and early disco, and while the Trouble Man vocal theme became a Top Ten hit, fans were still waiting for a true followup album to What's Going On.

That came in 1973 with Let's Get It On, some of which had been started during the What's Going On period. But these were the thematic opposites of that socially-minded material, instead a collection that looked at the confusion of sex and spirituality that haunted Gaye. Most people didn't hear the complication though, and simply got that it was pretty sexy music, which once again rocketed to the top.

Oddly, Gaye returned to the older Motown philosophy for his next project, another duets album, his fifth, and first and only with the queen, Diana Ross. The two biggest stars of Motown at that point, Diana & Marvin should have been a sure-fire blockbuster but instead was only a modest million-seller, largely due to the lack of big hits. You're a Special Part of Me managed to get to #12, but the main focus seemed to be an unsubtle grab of two recent Stylistics hits, You Are Everything and Stop, Look, Listen, which were released in England as singles, where the originals had failed to chart. It's one of Gaye's weakest efforts.

A big gap followed as Gaye's personal life and drug intake stunted his creativity. Although he was doing few concerts by then, a live album filled the void (not included in this box) before 1976's I Want You finally appeared. Gaye had allowed producer Leon Ware to mold most of the music, which was again spicy but without the spirituality, and a lot more-laid back in the grooves. It had a little bit of disco in it, and some moans that sounded pretty real. It was sleek, but not ground-breaking.

The next work remains one of the most stunning albums ever released by a major artist, and still not widely known. Here, My Dear was a double-album from 1978 that was actually part of his divorce settlement with Anna Gordy, as she was to receive royalties from it. Troubled by the arrangement, Gaye used it as platform to record his thoughts on his ex-wife, their marriage, the breakdown, his new wife, and other highly personal topics, largely unfiltered. Just the song titles alone let you know what's in there: When Did You Stop Loving Me, When Did I Stop Loving You, You Can Leave, But It's Going To Cost You, I Met A Little Girl, Anger. It's crazy, but crazy-brilliant, as the music includes some of his best grooves, the production is stunning, and the words captivating. Even Anna Gordy later said she had come to appreciate it. It can be spiteful, childish and arrogant, but these were people breathing rarefied air in their wealth, and while we are only getting Gaye's side of the story, the artistic and psychological experience is one I recommend examining.

The last disc for Motown was the failed In Our Lifetime from 1981. By now Gaye was in steep decline, his second marriage collapsing, drugs in control, and IRS problems hounding him. It started life as a disco album, but along the way he shelved that and rewrote the cuts into more introspective works. He was battling Motown over the growing costs, and eventually the tapes were taken, overdubs added and the album quickly put out. Gaye was incensed, and finally got out of his contract. Surprisingly, he still had one last gasp in him, and hiding from the tax people over in Europe, he made Sexual Healing the next year, before his tragic demise. It's too bad that non-Motown album isn't here to wrap up the box and give it a better ending than the tepid in Our Lifetime, but still, some of the greatest music of the 70's is found here.

Monday, July 11, 2016


Well, how dare they! No sooner had the young hotshots in 10SaaGS returned home to P.E.I. after conquering the continent on a European tour, then they were off again for big-time gigs at venerable Mariposa, and an upcoming series at the Vancouver Folk Music Festival. Fear not though, they'll be back in just a few days to play their brand-new album for Maritimers, with a string of dates through the rest of the summer.

Summer might seem like an odd time to release an album called Auprès du Poéle ("around the woodstove"), but it's certainly hot music of course, the trio continuing the impressive work from their first two albums. The title refers to recording the album in Joliette, Quebec in the late months of year, with Leonard Podolak of the beloved folk group The Duhks producing. It's a great cultural grab-bag of styles, reflecting the many influences the band calls on, including Acadian, Quebecois, Anglo and Celtic. There are instrumentals for their flying fingers; fiddle tunes and medleys. Some of the vocal numbers are trad-sounding, others more modern, with rich harmonies.

Lament For Buckles, is a sad send-off for a pet bunny, part-Appalachian, and part modern Canadian, before exploding into a second half of rich percussion interplay for Ron's Broken Chair. The title cut is a sure-fire way (pun implied) to beat the winter blues, definitely some East Coast understanding in those words. And it's a monumental folk moment when Podolak brings in his bandmates for a big jam to end the album, as the two groups combine for Dukh Dukh Goat. If you wanted to play one song to explain traditional music in Canada, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better one.

Sunday, July 10, 2016


Marvin Gaye's entire Motown album collection has been reissued in a series of multiple-disc box sets, on both vinyl and CD. The first of three, covering the early to mid-60's, arrived last year, and now the second and third are here. Because of the scope, let's just look at number two this time, shall we?

This eight-disc set covers the years 1966 - 1970, a turbulent time for Gaye that saw him rise to great fame, but also struggle to find his true identity. The Motown machine gave him a tremendous platform, but also restricted him to work in the system. Clearly by 1969, he was straining to explode on his own, and it was hurting his recordings. Albums were still not the Motown focus, yet Gaye wanted to make great ones like the rest of the important artists of the time.

Motown had decided that Gaye did well with a female duet partner, originally Mary Wells in 1964, but after she left the ship, that role went first to Kim Weston, and then to Tammi Terrell. During this time, there was one album with Weston, and then three with Terrell. The formula (and it was indeed a formula for the company) was to issue an album based around a hit single, using whatever songs it could muster up. The album with Weston, 1966's Take Two, was built around the big hit It Takes Two from the year before. The album came together in the usual way, with a show tune ('Til There Was You, also covered by The Beatles), Motown tracks used for others (The Four Tops hit Baby I Need Your Loving), and attempts at follow-up hits (What Good Am I Without You, which failed). But the pair were well-matched, Weston brought lots of grit and energy, and it is a pretty good selection. Like Wells before her though, Weston got mad about her contract and split the label, ending the team.

Far more successful was Gaye's partnership with Tammi Terrell. Starting in 1967, the pair put out a string of hit singles, largely written by the team of Ashford and Simpson. The first of their three albums, United, includes Ain't No Mountain High Enough and Your Precious Love, as well as a third hit, If I Could Build My Whole World Around You, written by producers Harvey Fuqua and Johnny Bristol. It was an inspired set from start to finish, with a fun cover of Something Stupid, and a rare gem of an album track in Sad Wedding. The hits kept coming the next year, and another album called You're All I Need appeared, of course featuring the huge You're All I Need To Get By. It also included another Top 10 cut written by Ashford and Simpson, Ain't Nothing Like The Real Thing. But then tragedy struck, with Terrell collapsing on stage with Gaye, eventually dying from a brain tumour. A third album, Easy, came together with leftovers, Gaye turning old Terrell tracks into duets, and Terrell labouring to piece together her vocals while trying to battle her illness. It's the weakest of the three albums, but still includes some good tracks, including The Onion Song, and the cool California Soul, a 5th Dimension cut.

That should be enough for anybody's four years, but Gaye was doing just as much as a solo artist at the same time. 1966's Moods of Marvin Gaye was a mixed bag of styles but with an excellent result. It included his most recent smash hits Ain't That Peculiar, I'll Be Doggone, Little Darling (I Need You) and One More Heartache, and also some leftovers from attempts at a standards and jazz-vocal album. He was still thinking he'd like that to be his future career, not this soul-pop stuff, so here we get One For My Baby (And One More For The Road), a fine version, and even Willie Nelson's Night Life.

1968's In The Groove really knocks it out of the park though. First, there's I Heard It Through The Grapevine, but the rest of the album lives up to it. Gaye was actually somewhat adrift as a solo artist at the time, with the emphasis having been on the duet work, and producer Norman Whitfield was getting him to use his falsetto more, including a "woo" that later was stolen by Michael Jackson. There are several great tracks here, including You, Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever, and Chained.

1969 brought the M.P.G. album, and the following year saw That's The Way Love Is, and while they both have the hit singles, they each suffer from that Motown, singles-first plan. Gaye was obviously a massive talent, yet there was no vision here for the records, like all the other great acts of the day. Instead, we get covers such as Yesterday, Gaye messing with the melody, or Groovin' by The Rascals, which was just a copy of the Motown style in the first place. It's funny how of the eight albums here, these are the weakest of the group. But that frustration Gaye felt would be channeled into What's Going On in 1971, where the next box set begins. See you then.

Saturday, July 9, 2016


A snug set of eleven of the group's best and brightest, just right in fact, not too few, not too many. At 47 minutes, you walk away thinking they were a pretty good Canadian band, with several fine pop hits, including some I always forget about until I hear them again, and really enjoy with fresh ears.

I'm surprised, for instance, that the solid mid-tempo cut Believe doesn't show up more often on my radio, but that's the problem with classic rock radio formats and restrictive Can-con playlists, they only allow a couple of cuts from bands. So for the Pikes, you'll be lucky to hear She Ain't Pretty and Teenland. That means the darker Things I Do For Money, the smart Girl With A Problem, and pleasing Kiss Me You Fool get forgotten.

Armed with two first-class songwriters in Jay Semko and Bryan Potvin, the Pikes kept things fresh on stage, in their singles and through their albums, alternating styles and vocals. They still sound fresh thanks to that, and are definitely one of the Canadian groups that deserves more notice. Seriously, how many Saskatchewan bands can you name? The band is back for year 32, with a series of dates this summer.

Friday, July 8, 2016


It's been too long for the follow-up to Wickens' 2010 debut, Tattoo Black, but he's certainly been developing something special. This set has all the super-loud presence of a classic power trio, the blues band out-rocking virtually everybody in the rock field these days. Crunching, thick and in-your-face, Wickens has done what the title claims; he's made a modern-sounding album but with the grit of a group grinding it out in the garage.

The Grand Naturals are two vets of the Canadian blues wars, Dennis Pinhorn on bass and Al Webster on drums. Wickens makes the guitar nasty and the vocals full of passion, leaving lots of room for the other two punch in their parts. It's not showy, it's big, it's not fast, it's purposeful. There's lots of slide and sizzle, and with titles such as Love & Lust, Run Sister, and Rock Bottom, it's all aimed at your guts. Tough enough, then.

Sunday, July 3, 2016


Some different sounds for the Avetts, with the use of their full, seven-piece band, and lots of new ideas coming out. They've worked with producer Rick Rubin before now for four albums, so it's not just that, and really he doesn't put much if anything of his own stamp on their sound. I think it's just a healthy expansion of everything, and that's good, because their particular hybrid of folk and alt-rock was kinda getting on my nerves a bit.

There's quite a big mix of styles here. The title cut has a nice country-rock flow to it, with good fiddle, the kind of song they might have made too epic in the past. I Wish I Was is a campfire cowboy number, understated (hey, that's rare for them), which makes the harmonies quite stirring, with some very enjoyable banjo-guiter interplay. Victims of Life is a Caribbean-flavoured number, a poppy 70's Paul Simon kind of thing. The opening cuts have a gospel-soul richness, but the big shocker hits at cut five, You Are Mine, where the band gets expansive, puts in some synths and sounds like somebody completely different. Thank you.

As the title suggests, there's quite a lot of sadness in the lyrics, mostly love gone wrong, the usual open book writing from the group. The biggest moment comes at the end of I Wish I Was, where we find out what happened after I and Love and You came undone. No, it's "I love you. I'm sorry." It's quite an ambitious, and successful album, I believe.

Friday, July 1, 2016


Simon's at it again, collecting sounds and ideas from a variety of sources musically and culturally, mixing them up, slowing them down and working them around to fit his own plans. Don't expect another Graceland though, or even Rhythm Of The Saints. This music is much more manipulated and re-cast, and also developed using some very different composing techniques.

This is certainly one of the oddest Simon albums. It's filled with different rhythms and unstructured melodies, almost completely abandoning normal verse and chorus structure. There doesn't seem to be any overriding lyrical theme, and in some cases, it's hard to make sense of what's up, if anything. Prepare to be confused, initially.

In the notes, Simon explains himself, how he based some songs on sessions with Flamenco musicians, others include work from an Italian EDM guy named Clap! Clap! There are even a couple of short instrumentals Simon composed for a recent play.

Eventually songs emerge from all the odd rhythms that do stand out, especially the final three on the record. The Riverbank has an infectious groove and a soulful vocal, kind of like a Daniel Lanois number. Cool Papa Bell references a famous baseball player from the old Negro Leagues, one of Simon's good lyrics that tackle aging. The Insomniac's Lullaby is the most fascinating piece here, a quite lovely guitar piece that then gets treated to a small orchestra of the bizarre microtonal instruments created by composer Harry Partch and his followers, including the zoomoozophone, cloud chamber bowls, and the chromelodeon.

Here's how this went for me: One listen, and I was totally confused and writing negative things, in preparation for the review. The second listen, after I read Simon's liner notes explaining a few of the concepts, I had a few ideas of what to listen for. Third listen, and I'm starting to like a lot of it, but it's definitely an album for study, rather than party time.


Remember when not all of Neil Young's big concert trips were wacky and incoherent? Okay, there's precious few of them actually, especially when there was a film involved. But he did manage one undeniable classic, where everything he planned came together, and everybody loved it. Of course, that would be Rust Never Sleeps, one of his very best albums, and certainly his best cinematic effort too. While most people know it by the album, or the concert version Live Rust, it's worthy on film as well, and Young's latest reissue is the long-awaited Blu-Ray version.

Sourced from the original film, this is easily the best version of the movie, although it does have lots of technical flaws. Young doesn't call his film company Shakey Pictures for nothing, but with this set, the point is the performance. It's stellar, certainly Young and Crazy Horse at their peak and most powerful. Young commands the stage, whether during the opinion solo set, or stomping around the band, ripping now-legendary fuzzy guitar solos. This was where he really started that whole insane, physically jerky lead playing, on numbers such as Sedan Delivery and Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black).

Even the show is kind of fun, with the famous road-eyes scurrying around in the opening (roadies dressed like Jawas from Star Wars), higher-up techs in lab coats, oversized equipment as stage props (we're supposed to think Young in the opening is a child), and the use of original stage announcements from the Woodstock movie. Don't work too hard trying to figure out exactly what he's saying, or not saying, it doesn't matter, it is entertaining at least.

I haven't compared an old version of this film, VHS or the earlier DVD, but I don't recall being able to hear all the road-eye shuffling and clanking so prominently before, and certainly the audio is best-ever, in 5.1. Mostly though, you'll stay glued to Young, clearly enjoying the acting role he's doing, and playing like he never had before.