Wednesday, May 24, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: THE WARDENS - SLEEPING BUFFALO



Here's a snazzy set of Western swing and roots music, from a band so western, they're based in Banff National Park. The Wardens are named for what they know; two of the members are actual veterans of the park warden service, doing all those marvelous jobs, from protecting the wildlife to rescuing folks out a bit too far in the wilderness. All the while they were collecting stories, and now are passing on those tales in song, which are as colourful and unique as the cowboy music of the region. Warden culture, they call it. and this is their second collection.


Produced by roots music vet Leeroy Stagger, the acoustic trio is aided by all the right sounds, from dobro to fiddle to banjo. The Wardens aren't overly-polished singers, but you don't want them to be. They are campfire-casual and pleasing, with ragged-but-right harmonies. The story-telling is what really matters here, including The Ballad Of Bill Neish, the true story of a Banff warden who helped end a 1935 manhunt for outlaws who had killed four policemen, by shooting two of them in the woods. Troop Train was created using the poetry of Dale Mainprize, a railroad brakeman who had been in a terrible crash in the 1950's. They have their own tales to pass on as well, including Backfire, about wildfires in 2003, where the service had to use fire to fight fire in order to save Banff. It's a slice of Canadian culture I didn't realize existed, and we're richer for it for sure.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: MAXIM CORMIER - PLAYS J.S. BACH

Sometime around the early 1720's, J.S. Bach wrote a four-movement suite for flute, to be played unaccompanied by any other instrument, called Partita in A minor, BWV 1013. Sometime around 2016, Cheticamp, N.S. classical musician Maxim Cormier decided he should record it. Only he plays guitar. To throw another curve at the project, instead of playing the pieces like most classical guitarists, on nylon strings plucked by fingers, Cormier used steel strings a flat pick. If that wasn't causing enough trouble, he also recorded a couple of other Bach works, one a solo piece for lute, the other for keyboard, also done with the same guitar technique. So you have a young guitar hotshot, basically messing with 300 years of tradition, and Bach to boot.


Cormier is already a favourite musician on the East Coast, working in jazz and world music, as well as classical. His desire to do things differently led to his playing classical guitar with a flat pick, and it's not just a worthy experiment, it's a revelation. The tone, the crispness of the notes, the occasional vibrato, it all combines for a mesmerizing listening experience. There's a wonderful, fast pace at times, and combined with the metallic quality, it almost sounds like a plucked keyboard. That hypnotic quality comes into play on the final track here, a version of the Bach/Gounod version of Ave Maria, where he is joined by mezzo-soprano Aurélie Cormier. It's captivating and quite accessible as well, the solo beauty of the guitar work not a stretch for anyone, no matter your tastes.

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: NICK CAVE and the BAD SEEDS - LOVELY CREATURES



This collection celebrates the output of the Bad Seeds band, as opposed to Nick Cave himself, so you won't find his soundtrack work here, or old Birthday Party cuts. Certainly there's enough to examine in the 30 years covered here. Available in several packages, including CD, digital and vinyl, you also get the choice of one, two or three CD's worth, plus a two-hour DVD of live appearances. The more, the better of course.


Cave and his colleagues exist in extremes. Loud is very loud, quiet is nearly hushed, experiments are wild. Cave's lyrics are disarming and disconcerting and even scary, and his topics elemental: God, death, love, sex, violence, all at their most intense. It's not mere shock value, although there are plenty of shocking moments. This is a band that refuses to blink, and insists on examining the darkest corners. It's not for the faint of heart, but if you are brave enough to follow along, you'll find deep understanding.


Along the journey, Cave learned a few tricks, and the group changed from a raw wound to a softer presence. Cave had realized the quiet made his love songs, such as Into My Arms that much more potent. Later on, they became something terribly out of fashion, an actual rock and roll band, about as powerful as has ever been, steering his new anthems such as There She Goes, My Beautiful World and Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! At his best, Cave approaches the lyrical strengths of Dylan and Cohen, but with the decadence and darkness of Lou Reed.


The DVD is a fine addition, featuring some brief interview sections that give some insight into Cave's drive, but never too long to get dull. The performances come from all over, including raw YouTube footage, commercial DVD cuts and TV appearances. There's some very strong material from British TV shows, and a live MTV version of the legendary Aussie pairing of Cave and Kylie Minogue on Where The Wild Roses Grow from his Murder Ballads album. Cave's work is going to be examined for a long time, and will probably only grow in stature.

Monday, May 22, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: DIANA KRALL - TURN UP THE QUIET



This is Krall's most popular style, her intimate takes on classic vocal numbers, with small combos supporting her piano work. There are a few selections with large string sections, but they are kept as subtle as possible by producer Tommy Lipuma, a gentle accent rather than a lush addition. As always, Krall is able to breathe life and surprising swing into chestnuts such as L-O-V-E (the Nat King Cole number), and Blue Skies.


There are three tasty groups featured on the 11 cuts. The smallest features only Christian McBride on bass and Russell Malone on guitar. The next set has John Clayton Jr. on bass, Anthony Wilson on guitar, and adds drummer Jeff Hamilton. There are lots of smart arrangements that let each player shine, Krall certainly not a spotlight hog on the piano. The most interesting numbers feature a fascinating group long-time Dylan bass player Tony Garnier, drummer Karriem Riggins, the great Marc Ribot on guitar (Tom Waits, Elvis Costello) and most surprisingly, fiddler Stuart Duncan, known for bluegrass and beyond. As top-notch as the other tracks are, I would have loved to hear a whole album with this group, On Moonglow, Duncan winds his way around Krall's vocal, and then takes a solo that sets the song apart from the Songbook era. Then Ribot and Krall come in with their own inspired breaks.


Again, this takes nothing away from the fine versions elsewhere on the album, especially when Moonglow is followed by Blue Skies, where McBride, Malone and especially Krall are on fire, taking the song at a delightful pace. But I can't get enough of the that fiddle band.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: STEVE KRASE - SHOULD'VE SEEN IT COMING



There is a lot of strong blues music coming out of Houston these days, featured on the Connor Ray Music label. It's been signing up local veterans with plenty of touring experience, the ones who prove it night after night. Not getting down to Houston much (read: never) they are all new names to me, but it's obvious they are first-rate, the kind I'd want to discover at a classic roadhouse. I found out about harp player Steve Krase back in December of 2016 when I heard him all over the latest album by singer Trudy Lynn, took note that he had his own group, and waited for the next album from him.


Luckily, it didn't take long. Here Krase takes the vocal mic as well, and brings his tight, good-time band to fore, with a set of band originals and cool covers. As you'd expect, and hope, there's plenty of sharp harp punctuating each cut, What I like about him is that he's not a huffer-and-puffer; he's controlling the thing, to make sure he's getting the right melody and solo lines out of it. Where many simply rely on volume to cover a couple of bars, Krase is joining in with parts. On Should've Seen It Coming (written by his brother David Krase), he joins lines started by sax player Alisha Pattillo. He also leaves room for the others, wisely letting piano player Randy Wall shine on that same track, along with an awesome jazzy guitar solo by David Carter.



The band is clearly most comfortable playing fun material, and takes off when there's a light-hearted groove to grab, such as on Travellin' Mood, and the Arthur Alexander hit Shot Of Rhythm and Blues, a Cavern Club favourite of The Beatles and covered later by Van Morrison. Krase's own The World's Still In A Tangle is advice for the world-weary to stop getting beaten down by all the negative stuff on the news: "There's salmonella in my burger/it's in my nuggets too/e coli in my lettuce/what am I to do?" I'll repeat what I said about Trudy Lynn's album; This is a group I would rush to see, and stay for each set.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: CHRIS STAPLETON - FROM A ROOM VOL. 1

One of the great hopes for country music, Stapleton cleaned up with his debut album Traveller from 2015, going to #1 and winning tons of awards. He was no rookie though, but rather one of Nashville's biggest hit writers, responsible for cuts for Kenny Chesney, Brad Paisley, Tim McGraw, Dierks Bentley, you know, all the hats. But here's the difference. They used the non-country, post-Shania pop production. Stapleton on his own is going back to better days, the outlaw sound of Waylon and Willie and the like.

For his second album, Stapleton continued on that classic path. He recorded the album in the famous RCA Studio A in Nashville, founded by Chet Atkins and Owen Bradley. That's the room, in From A Room, and Volume 1 means he has another bunch of tracks to come out later this year from the sessions. This one is a little brief, with just nine songs, but it's still another fine blast of fresh air for the country world. Stapleton proud of his twang, as a good Kentucky son of a coal miner should be, and he sounds like a real country singer. The music is just rough enough to let us know is about feel and substance, not the trends. You get the feeling he can knock out these songs one a day, and has lots of great music to make now that he's an artist in his own right.

Broken Halos is a hardy opener, a country-rock anthem that Mellencamp and even Springsteen might drool over. Surprisingly for a prolific writer, he drops a cover version in, with a great version of the Willie Nelson hit Last Thing I Needed First Thing This Morning, which once again lets you know where he's coming from. Judging by the reaction to Stapleton's music so far, a lot of people like where he's taking country.

Monday, May 15, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: CARMEL MIKOL - DAUGHTER OF A WORKING MAN



Nova Scotia's Mikol moves back and forth between folk and singer-songwriter songs, with some contemporary effects in there to add some layers. Some of the lyrics have a deliberately ancient approach, such as Spirits, with its "Fill my cup, fill my cup boys, with spirits and good luck" chorus, complete with fiddle, bodhran and bouzouki. Cape Breton Child has a more modern rock sound and lyrics but retains the folk pride, declaring "I was born and raised and I'm going to stay a Cape Breton Child."


There's still plenty of room for new sounds and current affairs though. First single Hold feels like a shout-out to the masses, advising them to hold on while lots of political, economic and authority voices are saying give up. Caroline, with its raw guitar, is about a troubled path for a renegade. It's back in time for the closing tracks, with Last Hour's Wage about hard times at home trying to scrape together enough money, while Dust To Dust returns to the connection between land and self. These new folk songs feel like old wisdom brought forward to today, when we need them again in a bad way.

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: IMELDA MAY - LIFE. LOVE. FLESH. BLOOD



Here's a major departure for the Irish singer, best known in the past for her rockabilly style, and many guest appearances with stars such as Jeff Beck, U2 and Jools Holland. She's moved out of that genre pigeon-hole with a collection of mood pieces produced by T-Bone Burnett. Backed by one of his usual crack groups (drummer Jay Bellerose, guiters by Marc Ribot, etc.), the songs feature lots of subtlety and texture, to match the personal, introspective lyrics.


Mostly, these are songs that spill out a lot of feelings, spurred on by the end of her marriage and a desire to cast off the image she felt trapped in, that rockabilly singer with the wild haircut. Everything still revolves around her vocals, potent weapon that her voice is, but with the softer or haunting material dominating, we get to hear her doing more singing than belting. The Girl I Used To Be sums it all up, stripped to almost nothing but acoustic guitar, May singing her emotional biography: "Life kicked in with all its might/But my strong heart wouldn't break."


There are some moments when she does let loose, including Bad Habit, when we're reminded of the powerhouse singing she can do, and When It's My Time, a gospel-flavoured track featuring Holland on piano. Beck also does a guest solo on Black Tears, not one of his scorchers though, as it's one of the moody cuts. The deluxe edition of the album features an extra four tracks (for $3 more), and is well worth it, with some gutsy rock to balance the chill smoothness elsewhere.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: RODNEY CROWELL - CLOSE TIES



I've loved Rodney Crowell in all his phases. His early days saw him as the harmony foil to EmmyLou Harris in the original Hot Band, and the young gun songwriter of hit for Bob Seger (Shame On The Moon), Waylon Jennings (Ain't Living Long Like This) and Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (Voila! An American Dream). Then he was the hit producer of his wife Rosanne Cash's albums, and his own explosion with five #1 country hits from the album Diamonds and Dirt. The '90's weren't kind, as the hits dried up, but he reinvented himself as a more biographical writer with 2001's The Houston Kid, and has been making uniformly strong music since.


Now that's a pretty great career, but this one is something special, maybe his best in all that time. It's a highly personal collection of songs that examine both his past and present, mistakes made, great loves and friendship, and where he is today. He's not pulling any punches, and lays it on the line about his faults, vanity and stubbornness. His younger self takes the bulk of the criticism, but the current man isn't spared, although he is wiser for the experience. He looks back with regret, with love and with contrition.


That's the art, and the magic is found in the stories he's telling. Nashville 1972 is the one to smile over, as Crowell reflects on when he first moved to the city, part of a now-legendary group of up-and-comers including Townes Van Zandt, Guy and Susanna Clark, Steve Earle and more, all of whom show up. Crowell describes meeting the greats, including Tom T. Hall, Harlan Howard, Bob McDill and best of all, Willie Nelson: "There was hippies and reefer and God knows what all/I was drinking pretty hard/I played him this shitty song I wrote/and puked out in the yard."


While that one was with a smile, most have some sadness or even heart-wrenching moments. Life Without Susanna is about the lengthy illness and passing of Susanna Clark, who was the strong den mother of that bunch, but who gave up on life after Townes Van Zandt died. "As she withdrew I grew distant and judgmental, a self-sure bastard and a stubborn bitch," he admits. The emotional centerpiece is It Ain't Over Yet, a song that wraps up the past and looks to the future. It features words again about Susanna, and Guy Clark too, who has passed away as well, weaving in truths about Crowell himself, and features a guest vocal by ex-wife Cash.


Crowell has always had the ability with words, but now he has the power of age and experience, and the strength to see and reveal crucial truths.

Friday, May 12, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: THE SUPREMES - A'GO-GO (Expanded Edition)



Motown albums in the 1960's weren't a priority for the label. It was all about the singles, and the albums were for a smaller, adult market. Not so with this one. The Supremes had already proved the exception to the rule, with Top 10 albums Where Did Our Love Go, More Hits By The Supremes and I Hear A Symphony. This one from 1966 did them all better, hitting number one, the first so-called girl group to ever take the top spot in the rock era.


It was a winning concept, no stuffy affair, but the trio having fun with some dancing songs, dressed in their casual clothes. This was for the teens for sure. Anchored by the hits You Can't Hurry Love and Love Is Like An Itching In My Heart, the 10 other cuts were a mix of Motown favourites and other fun hits. Who couldn't resist The Supremes versions of These Boots Are Made For Walking and Hang On Sloopy? Elsewhere, they take on their peers, doing justice to the hits of The Temptations (Get Ready), The Four Tops (Baby I Need Your Loving, I Can't Help Myself), and that Motown chestnut, Money (That's What I Want).


But like all Motown projects, it had a much more complicated back story. "Itching.." had been less than a smash, just barely in the Top 10, and that wasn't enough for Berry Gordy's golden girls. He put the word out that he would only accept a #1 from the next single, so producers Holland-Dozier-Holland got busy, indeed hitting the top with You Can't Hurry Love. But in the meantime a bunch of different sessions and concepts were worked on, different album ideas started, and eventually a great of tracks were in the can.


This double-CD collection features a whopping 29 bonus tracks, as well as stereo and mono versions of the original album. They are all associated with the era, and some were used on later collections, but what are found here in that case are alternate takes or mixes. There's Supremes' versions of It's Not Unusual, Satisfaction, and Blowin' In The Wind. There are more forays in the Motown hit parade, with their takes on Heat Wave, Can I Get A Witness and What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted. And to show how much work went into crafting a single, there are early versions of Love Is Like An Itching In My Heart as well as a new mix for this collection.


All this is explained with detailed notes in not one, but two booklets that accompany the set. Previous similar expanded editions of Supremes albums have sold out to rabid collectors, and now command extreme prices, so if you're itching for some more Motown during arguably the label's pinnacle year of 1966, grab it fast.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: T. THOMASON - SWEET BABY



Here's a wider release for Thomason's EP which first arrived last year as an independent project. Now it's being used to launch a new tour which also starts today, as the Nova Scotia/Toronto performer kicks things off in the East Coast (see below for shows).


It's quite a departure from the three previous albums made under the name Molly Thomason, even from the rock band treatment for 2014's Columbus Field. Thomason now identifies as non-binary, or gender-neutral, and this is the first release since. It's about discovering a new voice, opening up to new ideas, and sounding a little wilder. Opening cut Sally (Sally be my spirit guide) has more volume and punch, and more surprises than we've heard before, vocals that go off the rails a couple of times and a sense of freedom through that release. My Kind and Done Bad go back and forth, the dynamics and layers keeping listeners on their toes. The most intense song of the five is the closer, The Wait, a slow burn with heavy backing (Blake Manning from The Heartbroken on drums) and lots of soaring vocal freedom. Is it surprising? Not really, coming from an artist who already has lots of stage confidence, started as a teen with an acoustic guitar, and now is a 20-something with a broader musical world to draw on.


Catch the tour!


Friday, May 12 - The Carleton, Halifax
Saturday, May 13 - Governors, Sydney, N.S.
Thursday, May 18 - Plan B, Moncton, N.B.
Friday. May 19 - Grimross Brewing, Fredericton

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: JASON HAYWOOD - FOLKLORE



New Brunswick's Haywood takes a big step forward from his more traditional country sound on his third solo release, as well as his time in Moncton's The Divorcees. For this set, he works in the story-song form, roots music that stretches back to 19th century murder ballads and dark tales. It is folklore; the songs feature those classic cornerstones of love, betrayal, good and evil.


Produced by Dale Murray (Christina Martin, The Guthries), the sound is an interesting mix of western country songs and eastern folk music, the Appalachian kind. There are fiddles but also strings, so a song such as Lost and Foregone has a rustic feel, but also a George Martin/McCartney quality to the arrangement. You can follow the characters through rural settings from another time, harrowing tales like the one of Poor Edward, who takes the blame for the murder of Mary Anne, found bludgeoned in a woodpile. That song is all strings, beautiful but quite unsettling.


Several of the 11 tracks slide into each other with hardly a pause, and it's a smartly conceived production and concept. It's really a complete, 40-minute piece, which deserves to be heard in its entirety, and that's what Haywood and some of the musicians from the production will be doing as the album launch. It's happening at Moncton's Empress Theatre on Saturday, May 13 at 8 p.m. Producer Murray along with Christina Martin will open the show, and then stay on board for their playing/singing album roles, joining P.E.I. fiddler Gordie MacKeeman, Remi Arsenault from The Backyard Devils on bass, and more. The album is a moody gem, and should be just as enjoyable from the stage as well.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: IAN JANES - YES MAN

If you were one of the lucky folks to score a ticket to the recent sold-out Matt Andersen show at the ECMA's in Saint John, N.B., no doubt you'll remember the strong set Ian Janes did on the bill as well. Now, I wasn't there, as I had MC duties at another event, but I know it was good, because I had an expert tell me so. That's Matt himself, who I ran into later that evening. Without me asking, he immediately told me how great Janes was that night. That's a pretty strong recommendation.

James has been on a roll since the release of his latest album, Yes Man, back in February. He did a string of dates with Andersen, made a writing trip to Nashville and Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and saw his song Can't Remember Never Loving You used on the TV show Nashville. Now he's on a string of solo shows through the Maritimes, listed below. I reviewed the new album when it came out, but we might as well read up again if you're keen to one of his shows in the next couple of weeks. Remember, Matt Andersen told you to.

05/12/17 Florenceville-Bristol, NB at Second Wind Music Centre
05/13/17 Fredericton, NB at Grimross Brewing Co.
05/19/17 Ripples, NB at The Hollywood Star Room
05/20/17 St. Andrews, NB at Paddlefest
05/21/17 Saint John at Cask and Kettle
05/26/17 Chester, NS at Chester Playhouse
06/03/17 Halifax, NS at The Carleton
06/08/17 Liverpool, NS at The Astor Theatre
06/10/17 Wolfville, NS at The Al Whittle

                                                           Ian Janes - Yes Man

Ian Janes is one of the best songwriters from the East Coast like, ever, and we never hear enough from him. This is only his fourth album in 19 years, back when it all started with the still-killer Occasional Crush, and his first since 2010, so it's a joy just to have something new. Even better, he hasn't lost a step, and this is a major soulful bunch of new tunes.


Whether it's a funky number like the opening cut, Used, or a tearjerker like Any Fool, Janes sings with pure passion. The songs have an easy feel, but on close look are skillfully crafted, sitting somewhere between soul, pop and Americana. The colouring is bang-on, whether it's the organ that is featured on several tracks, or pedal steel, used so effectively on New Words. Broken Record has an irresistible groove, super vocal, and then out of nowhere, an awesome solo with a guitar sound I've never heard before, and that's courtesy of Janes as well.


The whole mix, production and quality is sharp, bright and exciting, and a great testament to what can be done in these parts these days. Some of it was done in Nashville, some in Pennsylvania, some in St. John's, and the rest in Nova Scotia, using both famous studio folks in the States and many local talents, and you can't tell which is what from who and where until you dig into the credits. The point being, a lot has changed around here in 20 years, and Janes is one of the reasons the quality has always been there, and getting better all the time.

Monday, May 8, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: WILLIE NELSON - GOD'S PROBLEM CHILD



I don't know if you've listened to a lot of Willie's albums from the past couple of decades, but I sure have, every one. And there's been a lot of them. When he's not on the bus, he's in the studio. This is his 20th album. SINCE 2000. And for the most part, they've all been of strong quality, aside from a couple of albums full of old songs where he just phoned it in. But every time he comes to the mic, the old magic is still there, and he's seemingly not lost a bit of his storied voice or a lick from old Trigger.


The one thing he doesn't do a lot of is write. Usually there's only a new cut or two, if any, and he's done tributes to other songwriters (Cindy Walker, Ray Price, the Gershwins), gone back to favourite songs from his youth, and raided his own '60s and '70s catalog a number of times. This one is different though. Seven of the 13 cuts are new ones, written with his frequent producer Buddy Cannon. The attention will go to Still Not Dead, a fun poke at both his age and the internet gossipers that can't wait for his demise: "I woke up still not dead again today/The news said I was gone to my dismay." But there's actually a theme here, a brooding look bad at mistakes, and a few reflections on what's transpired.


A sad tone flows through the record, aided and abetting by that world-weary voice, the warm, worn tone of Trigger, the mournful notes from Mickey Raphael's always-near harmonica. Even when the advice is positive, as in It Gets Easier ("It gets easier as we get older, it gets easier to say not today"), the punch line is one of regret ("I don't have to do one damn thing that I don't want to do/except for missing you and that won't go away"). The outside material chosen reflects this as well, capped by closing number He Won't Ever Be Gone, writer Gary Nicholson's tribute to Willie's dear friend Merle Haggard. Normally those kinds of songs are far too forced and sentimental, but this is a keeper, and Willie was surely the best person to do it.


This never feels like an attempt at a concept album, which is wise, and there are moments of relief throughout. It's not overly sad either, it's simply some profound thoughts and feelings and advice from someone who's been there and back, and lucky us, continues to express himself masterfully.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

ECMA WINNERS LIKE A MOTORCYCLE DON'T WANT TROPHY - AND THAT'S A GOOD THING


What do you do with an East Coast Music Award if you're in a band and win? There's just the one trophy, so which member gets to keep it? Halifax group Like A Motorcycle has come with a novel idea. None of them will be keeping it. Instead it's going to a good cause.

The group won Rising Star of the Year at the recent event in Saint John, much to their surprise. "We're a bunch of obnoxious punks, we get it, we aren't your typical east coast band so we were completely shock when we won," said guitarist KT Lamond in a release. So the group felt they needed to make a statement of some sort, and has chosen to help a non-profit group they admire.

They are going to auction off their trophy to the highest bidder, and donate the proceeds to Phoenix House, which is a Halifax community group with a mandate to engage and support displaced youth.
It has a walk-in centre that offers confidential services and support, crisis intervention and lots more.
They hope the money will be used to help buy instruments fro Phoenix House, for the people that come through their and want to try their hand at becoming the next punk band.

Bids are being accepted until May 23, at musicforphoenix.ca.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: STU PHILLIPS PRESENTS THE MONKEES SONGBOOK PLAYED BY THE GOLDEN GATE STRINGS



Here's a wee bit of fun, for Monkees fans and cheese enthusiasts as well. String albums were surprisingly big sellers in the '60's, with the Hollyridge Strings the purveyors of hit collections by The Beatles and The Beach Boys ,among others. The guy behind them was a producer/arranger named Stu Phillips, who had a bunch of hits to his credit, million sellers such as Johnny Angel by Shelley Fabares. There was no such orchestra as the Hollyridge Strings of course, just a bunch of session players hired by Capitol Records.


Phillips moved to television, doing background music for first the Donna Reed Show, and then the new hit The Monkees. By year two of the series, 1967, he also had a job with Epic Records, so they decided to bring back the string concept. However, Phillips couldn't use the Hollyridge name, since it was Capitol's, so he used Epic's name, The Golden Gate Strings.


As Phillips was already very familiar with The Monkees' music, he was able to come up with some pretty interesting arrangements. (I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone, a pretty edgy rocker for the day, became a moody theme. The already goofy Auntie Grizelda could have been in a screwball comedy of the day in this version. The originally frantic (Theme from) The Monkees here has a surprisingly complicated melody, with a little James Bond ending thrown on.


Phillips stayed in the TV and film game, composing instrumental music for everything from Beyond the Valley of the Dolls to Knight Rider to Battlestar Galactica. The Monkees show was cancelled, and they were never heard from again.

Friday, May 5, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: EARLE & COFFIN - WOOD WIRE BLOOD & BONE



You know how I know up and coming blues duo Earle and Coffin have the right attitude? Because at the recent East Coast Music Awards, I saw the young duo sitting close at the renowned Flocase, watching the beloved Flo Sampson play her late-night mix of piano favourites, soaking up all the atmosphere. Most 17-year-olds would be trying to sneak into some hotel party at 3 a.m. to score some beer, but these two were jamming with a senior, who was happily leading them through Love Potion #9 and Flip, Flop and Fly.


One listen to the new Wood Wire Blood & Bone confirms the pair have already picked up lots of blues knowledge, and they have the instincts too. It's a guitar-heavy set of seven originals and three covers, There's no novelty to the young folks doing the working blues of 16 Tons, sounding easily mature enough for the cut, and delivering a surprising, sharp electric guitar line in the break of this normally acoustic number. That continues on all the originals, played and sang with confidence, and above all, guts. Not to harp on it, but there's some really intense guitar going on, starting with the opening cut, Someday, with dual leads and loads of volume. Closer You've Done Nothing is a slower burn at seven minutes, but with intensity as well, showing they can handle the blues ballads too. They should be around a good long time, especially if they keep learning from their elders.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: VAN MORRISON - THE AUTHORIZED BANG COLLECTION



Who's a happy camper? Surprisingly, it seems to be Van Morrison, who provides a big essay for the liner notes and totally approved of this deluxe reissue of his very first solo album. For those unfamiliar, this is the 1967 set that gave us the immortal "Brown-Eyed Girl" and started his solo career after Them broke up. He must be glad to get control of this material after so many years of it being issued in all sorts of different ways without his permission. That goes back to the very start, when he thought he was making a couple of singles and saw it all put out as an album after his surprise top ten hit.


The story is told in Morrison's own words here, beginning with his meeting the renowned producer and songwriter Bert Berns in London, while still with Them. Berns gifted the band the hit "Here Comes The Night", but then headed back to the States. Later he got word to Morrison that he wanted to sign him up to his new Bang label, so Van, a fan, headed over. The two really clicked in the studio, and Morrison still speaks in glowing terms of those times, and Berns himself, calling him a genius. He also says it all went pear-shaped on further sessions, with Berns distracted. Then, a shocker, Berns up and died the very day they were supposed to write together.


They only did 16 songs together, but those include some gems, including the creepy, haunted blues of "T.B. Sheets", which includes Morrison coughing at the appropriate moments. There's the original recording of "Madame George", soon to become one of the most memorable tracks on the acclaimed Astral Weeks album. It's an interesting time for Morrison, as he was in the process of moving from blues to his own inspired vocal roots-jazz. So while there's a cover of "Midnight Special" and the somewhat raunchy blues of "He Ain't Give You None," there's also explorations such as "Who Drove The Red Sports Car" and "Joe Harper Saturday Morning".



This is a 3-disc set, so in addition to the 16 Bang masters, you get a few mono/stereo versions, with the stereo "Brown-Eyed Girl" especially fresh and spacious. There are also several alternate takes issued here for the very first time, with some significant differences such as backing vocals or instrumental approaches, and quite enjoyable studio chatter featuring Van's still-very thick Irish accent. Disc three is made up of the infamous Contractual Obligation session, which Morrison did to get out of the rest of the Bang contract. He owed the company several more recordings but had no intention of working for them without Berns, so he gave them a bunch of garbage. These are 31 songs of short length where he sings silliness off the top of his head, titles such as "Jump and Thump", "The Big Royalty Check", "Want a Danish", and several with the name George featured. He was mocking his own songs, and the Bang contract, with one called "Blowin' Your Nose", in reference to the Blowin' Your Mind album they released. It says on this set that it's the first time these have been officially issued, but they've certainly been part of previous compilations. It's interesting to hear them once, but they are only mildly amusing, a party novelty to play to unsuspecting Van fans.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: STEVE KOZAK BAND - IT'S TIME



Blues from the Vancouver scene, Kozak and his tight band are augmented by the Harpoonist and the Axe Murderer for his latest, with Matthew "Axe" Rogers handling the production as well. Even being far away from the Toronto-dominated blues scene in the country, he's managed to impress his way in, and this set is only going to add to his acclaim.


Kozak's a fine writer with lots more to talk about then the usual woman done me wrong songs, including the you-can't-go-back blues of "Stranger In My Home Town", and a tribute to the joys of a simple pursuit, "Goin' Fishin'". He's smart with the covers as well, digging deep for the hipster cool of Brook Benton's "Kiddio" and using the Harpoonist to great effect on Magic Sam's "Every Night and Every Day".This highly adaptable group shifts easily from jump blues and r'n'b to electric sizzle, but everything is played with a sense of history and respect for the form. Things are happening out west.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: ROBYN HITCHCOCK - ROBYN HITCHCOCK



The always delightful Robyn Hitchcock has hit another purple patch in his long run, with 2014's admired The Man Upstairs followed up strongly with this self-titled effort. If anything, Hitchcock sounds invigorated and even younger, with some edgy rockers that hark back to his Soft Boys times.


As always, there's lots of quirky but catchy writing, with references to mechanical overlords, Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf, and the wonderfully titled "1970 In Aspic". What the song "Detective Mindhorn" has to do with the new British of the same name I'm not sure, but it's one of his best pop tunes yet. Given the subject matter of these and others, such as "Mad Shelley's Letterbox", it's surprising how concise and attractive he keeps the songs. They are tight, charming and crisp, and if it wasn't so wild a thought, you'd think he was trying to write a hit single for some really, really great radio station. It's Hitchcock at his most accessible ever, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that plan.

Monday, May 1, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: KIERA DALL'OSTO - KIERA DALL'OSTO



Her backstory is pretty interesting, as she may be the only person in the world who moved from Australia to Moncton to Saskatchewan. There's probably more than a few stories in there that inform Dall'Osto's debut album, and whatever they are sure left an interesting mark. She's developed a haunted, old-time sound that's steeped in mystery and atmosphere.


Dall'Osto is joined here by her producers, the fine Saskatchewan roots duo Kacy and Clayton, fellow fans of antique folk. On drums is Clayton's pal in The Deep Dark Woods, Lucas Goetz. Opening cut "Graveyard Shift" is some strange country mix of a forlorn western lover's lament and a Lee Hazlewood production of Nancy Sinatra. It feels a hundred-plus years old, but has drums and vibes and electric piano on it. First single "Hear The Drums" is equally haunted, but with a surprising slow groove. It's soaked with echo, as are all the eight cuts, and uses a writing style from the 19th century: "I'm young and only passing through."


"Wrong Kind Of Crazy" is more conventional country, at least the good, classic kind, It takes Patsy Cline's "Crazy" one step further, questioning just how healthy obsessions are. All the sounds, lyric and especially Dall'Osto's vocals on the album are filled with a beautiful melancholy, a sadness over life's troubles. It's that same unsettled feeling we get listening to the old Child Ballads of England and Scotland, or the Harry Smith Anthology of American Folk Music. Pretty awesome stuff from a small group of Saskatoon folk fanatics.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL.2 - AWESOME MIX VOL. 2



The first Guardians of the Galaxy film had a terrific soundtrack, used to great effect in the movie, sold a bunch, and it certainly helped spur interest. So the pressure was on to repeat the magic for the sequel. Kudos, oh music supervisors, you have done it again.


Once again the 1970's provide the tunes, most of them well-known to those of that era (ahem) but probably brand new to the film's core audience of millennials. The most famous cuts are George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord", but it's rarely heard on such collections, no doubt very pricey, and Fleetwood Mac's "The Chain", not one of their overplayed numbers so a good choice. The focus cut on the previews has been Sweet's "Fox On The Run", which retains its silly charms. Pop frivolity abounds with ELO's "Mr. Blue Sky", the Looking Glass' chestnut "Brandy", and Cheap Trick's cheesy "Surrender".


There's a killer cult hit, the 1971 number "Lake Shore Drive" by Chicago band Aliotta Haynes Jeremiah, long rumoured but denied to be about LSD. Silver's bubblegum number "Wham Bam Shang-a-Lang" is another surprise, and a better cut than the title suggests. Missteps are few here, but I'd quibble about using Glen Campbell's "Southern Nights", there are better songs around, and Sam Cooke's "Bring It On Home To Me" is out of the time period so out of place. But as advertised, this is another awesome mix.

Monday, April 24, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: CHRIS ANTONIK - MONARCH



Antonik and crew bring a huge electric approach to these grooves, with major blues volume on each cut. The core group of Antonik on guitar, drummer Chuck Keeping, bassist Guenther Kapelle and Jesse O'Brien on keys don't hold back, most songs played with intensity from start to finish. Even on the so-called fantasy-blues-western, "Love, Bettike", Antonik's guitar pierces throughout.


That intensity is mirrored in the lyrical theme on most of the cuts as well, examining the end of a relationship, and how to find the strength to forgive and move on. This isn't finger-pointing or laying blame, but rather how to get past that for everyone's health, found in the cuts "Forgiveness Is Free", "The Art of Letting Go" and "Gold Star". While it's great advice on the surface, all that extreme guitar work is letting out the emotion behind the story. And that would be the blues.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: RON SEXSMITH - THE LAST RIDER



After years of using big-name producers (Mitchell Froom, Steve Earle, Bob Rock) and their studio crews, for his 14th album, Sexsmith does the most obvious thing, and goes with the familiar. For the first time, he's used his long-serving and loyal road band (the "Eh Team"), and co-produced along side drummer Don Kerr, who has plenty of credits in that field on his own. Works for me; it's saying that there's nothing wrong with what Sexsmith does with his music, no magic formula that needs to be added to break through to more ears. He writes tight, sophisticated pop songs, always with wonderful melodies, with the cleverness of the great '60's and '70's hitmakers. I don't know why there aren't more of us mad fans out there, but c'est la vie. These musicians already know how to make this type of music well, so just let them go ahead and make more.


Sure enough, The Last Rider is full of those delicious moments, Sexsmith never satisfied with an easy melody. Over 15 tracks (and a worthy bonus cut on the double vinyl set), he runs the gamut, from wistful ballads to the surprising energy of first single, "Radio". That one explains so much; "Back when my whole world was the radio." We know where he got his taste for hooks, and the whole band piles them on in more and more inventive ways. Meantime, he continues to give us new ways to look at the normal; "Upward Dog" personifies the yoga position ("Upward dog, always taking the high road"). What's new for this album is a little bit more synthesizer which does tend to sweeten things a bit. I might like a little more guts, as the album is top-heavy with love songs, but I'll trade that for the pop glory he puts in each song.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: JERRY LEGER - NONSENSE AND HEARTACHE



Two albums in one from Leger, Nonsense the first and Heartache the other. They really are different approaches, the first being an electric wild blues set, the second a singer/songwriter album with an acoustic core, the two sides of Leger.


Produced by Michael Timmins (Cowboy Junkies), the gang went for the rough-and-ready approach, recording everybody playing together as a live unit in the studio. The Nonsense album has a real Highway 61 Revisited feel, bookended with a couple of epic tracks, "Coat On The Rack" and "She's The Best Writer You've Never Heard Of." The groove is loose, the guitars raunchy, and Leger lets his voice get raw when needed. I actually don't think it's nonsense though, there are some powerful and unique images here, as heard in the above two titles, and others such as "Baby's Got A Rare Gun" and "The Big Smoke Blues."


Heartache features acoustic guitar and piano, lap steel, fiddle, upright bass and brushes on drums, plus more harmonies. These aren't all ballads, but more country-flavoured numbers with an Everly Brothers/Buddy Holly feel on some, Western mystery on others ("Another Dead Radio Star"). When he does get quiet, as on "It Don't Make The Wrong Go Away," he employs powerful language that intensifies the impact. The only problem with these albums is trying to decide which to play first.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: SHERYL CROW - BE MYSELF



I guess I can't fault Crow too much for making a country album last time out in 2013. She's lived in Nashville for several years, so when in Rome...and, she is from Missouri. Plus, I'm sure she was told by pretty much everybody that the only way to sell actual albums was to do standards, Christmas carols or go country. She quickly found out that it also involved selling your soul to the devil, or in this case, country radio programmers, and that experiment is over.


When you look at it, what do we know her for? Big pop-rock hits with catchy chorus, and a bit of ironic wit. She did have a fine streak of those hits from 1993 to 2005, starting with Tuesday Night Music Club and including later smashes such as "Soak Up The Sun" and "My Favorite Mistake." The thinking is a return to those days, and she's brought in a couple of the collaborators from those times, including sound-shaping engineer Tchad Blake, and co-producer and co-writer Jeff Trott. Those aren't the Tuesday Night Music Club people, but the ones from the next couple of albums, the folks that helped with "If It Makes You Happy," "Everyday Is A Winding Road," etc.


And I'm all for it. I think she's always done well with those smart rockers, she knows how to make them groove, and it's fun stuff. She'll throw in a ballad to break things up every few songs, but the core stuff here is songs made of wry observations that you can dance to. Now, she's added a little maturity to the mix too, stuck between still feeling young, but not quite connecting with that age group: "Hangin' with the hipsters/is a lot of hard work/How many selfies can you take/before you look like a jerk." Crow has a few things to point out about cellphones and self-absorption, and in general is getting a little cranky about young people and the Age of Kardashian. I like that too. We need more cranky parents.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: ALEJANDRA RIBERA - THIS ISLAND



Ribera's third album is a stunning combination of her enchanting vocals and captivating melodies, all packaged in timeless, fresh productions. Her songs defy easy description, skirting the fine lines of jazz, pop and Latin, each one an adventure as they unfold. Each song on This Island is subtle but intense, the dynamics being the key, whether from her soft, controlled singing, acoustic arrangements or the colouring of marvellous strings and horns.


It's a collection that's hard to pin down as well, as it seems to exist in the cracks and spaces rather than obvious forms and planes. It's mostly in English, although there are verses in French and Spanish. There's no time stamp anywhere, or an obvious place (other than a mention of Montreal and snow, where she is based). There are no blacks or whites, the songs are never bright or dark, It's not even dreamy really, there's no hazy feeling, all the vocals and instruments have clarity. It's just simply gorgeous, intriguing, unique.

Monday, April 17, 2017

MUSIC BOOK REVIEW OF THE DAY: EAMON McGRATH - BERLIN-WARSZAWA EXPRESS

When Eamon McGrath takes the stage this spring on his current tour, in the time-honoured tradition, he'll be promoting his latest release. Only it's not an album, or a single, nothing like that. It doesn't have songs even. This time, McGrath and his band are promoting his brand-new book.

No, he won't be doing readings before the rowdy crowds waiting for July Talk. He'll be blasting his normal loud rock with a taste of smarter punk. But the Edmonton native will point out that Berlin-Warszawa Express is being released in May, and that it will tell you about the other side of being a touring musician, life on the road. In this case, it's the road through Europe, largely by train, through Paris, Germany, across the old Iron Curtain and into Poland, plus lots of other stops on the continent.

It gets pretty down and dirty into the realities of touring. The endless travel, the grind of being stuck in small vehicles with bandmates, lugging gear up flights of stairs, sleeping in disgusting band quarters, and the downward spiral of night after night of overindulging. And it's all in the name of creating art.

"That was kind of the whole thematic thread that's been woven through the book," said McGrath, home in Toronto, getting ready for yet another long tour. "This depiction of what it's like to put yourself through hell for the sake of something you're passionate about."

Don't look for scandalous stories about Canadian musicians behaving badly in Europe though. Well, that does happen, but the names are made up and it's not a biography. Rather, it's a fictionalized account, but that allowed him to be much more truthful, because no-one, including himself had to be protected.

"There's a lot of things that are under-exaggerated, and a lot of things that are over-exaggerated, and there's a lot of things that are really true to how it happened, and there's a lot of things that are completely fictionalized," said McGrath. "I make no attempt to hide that, that's the truth of the book, that some of these stories really did happen to me, and some of them happened to someone else. Using fictionalized names is what gives you the license to do that. The minute that you remove that journalistic element from what you're writing, that's when it opens it up for you as a writer to be a little more flexible."

McGrath has toured in Europe several times, and is obviously captivated with it. The book takes place in the mid-2000's, a time when countries in the old Soviet block especially were feeling the full flush of capitalism. McGrath's narrator is taking it in, through train windows, in small bars, from music fans and bartenders, punks and anarchists, all through increasingly blurry eyes as the boozing gets worse. It's Europe on five Euros a drink, and a view tourists never see.

"It was this really optimistic time," McGrath said. "Berliners, people started to have money there, which was this really new thing. Poland wasn't this poor country anymore. Even as a very left wing person, being a Canadian, at that time it would be very difficult to criticize the European Union. Because no matter how left wing you are, from the outside, it seemed to be working."

He tries to tour Europe every year, and has seen dramatic changes since then, especially a rise in nationalism and intolerance, and a loss of some of those freedoms of 10 years ago. Usually this is the stuff that goes into the songs from an articulate, knowledgeable rocker, what informs the music. With Berlin-Warszawa Express, McGrath lets us see everything that happens before and after the show, on a particularly wild stretch of the road.

Here's where you can see Eamon McGrath and July Talk:

April 18 - Fredericton, NB @ Farmer’s Market
April 19 - Charlottetown, NB @ PEI Brewing Company
April 20 - Moncton, NB @ Tide & Boar
April 21 - Halifax, NS @ Marquee Club
April 22 - Halifax, NS @ Marquee Club

Friday, April 14, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: DAVID MYLES - SO FAR



Our pal Dave has sneaked this one into the market without fanfare, largely because it's not new per se. Instead, it's a collection of some of his fan-favourite tracks from his career, rerecorded with his live band in a relaxed studio session, to do them much the same way you'd hear them in concert. Also, this was first made a couple of years ago to have a sort of best-of for U.S. audiences as he toured there, to give them something to pick up at the shows that included all the songs they'd heard that night.


It's actually a great pick-up for us regular fans too, as it gives the stripped-down feel to many tracks that received a bigger studio production. Now we get them as easy-going, largely acoustic tracks, highlighted by Myles with his core trio members Kyle Cunjak (acoustic bass) and Alan Jeffries (lead acoustic guitar), which is the way we see him most often. There is a bit more embellishment, notably subtle drums from pal/producer Joshua Van Tassel, and occasional keys and pedal steel. While we miss the more experimental side Myles incorporates on his regular albums, the flights into hip-hop or travels to Latin areas, horn lines and such, it's just as enjoyable to have him record in this form. He truly would make an excellent bluegrass James Taylor for today.


Due to the obvious restrictions, it's not a true best-of, as the acoustic style doesn't lend itself to the Classified collaborations such as "Inner Ninja" or "So Blind." But "Turn Time Off" and "When It Comes My Turn" sure feel good, and Jeffries gets to excel at his guitar lines as he does on stage. "Change My Mind" gets a great '50s arrangement, complete with some fun doo-wop backing from the gang. And "Need A Break" proves you don't need amps to rock. It's a must-add to your Myles collection.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: THE HARPOONIST & THE AXE MURDERER - APOCALIPSTICK



Everybody's favourite blues duo (well, mine) gets bigger on this set, a full electric album with lots of high energy moments. They've beefed up the sound with drums and keyboards throughout, plus there's a flock of singers on board to give each song more body, plus a gospel vibe, especially on the rave "Pretty Please."


The songs are filled with big grooves, particularly "Promises, Promises," with big vocals on the chorus, and ample distortion. On the richest cuts, there's a bit of the Black Keys-style of thick production, especially on the closer "Fragile," with layers of sound coming in and out, including the gospel voices, dynamic drums and cool effects on Shawn Hall's vocals. Meanwhile there's a theme of barely-controlled panic thanks to everything going on these days, countered by an almost desperate need to have good-time music save us. If anybody can do that, I'll bet it's these two blues superheroes.

Monday, April 10, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS - WHITEOUT CONDITIONS

The NP's are feeling more like a full-time band than ever these days. It's been less than three years since their last album, the hailed Brill Bruisers, and they are set for a tour that takes them through North America and over to Europe until August. However, it's also the first album they've done without Destroyer's Dan Bejar in the ranks, so it really is the A.C. Newman and friends show now.


No Matter, Newman's more than capable and firing on all cylinders these days. His celebratory pop is positively exploding here, with both good vibes and all those wonderful melodies. Synths burble away in a combination of '80s new wave and modern artistic triumph. And of course, there's the ultimate drawing card, the best co-vocalist in the game, Neko Case. She seems to be even more present on this set, taking the lead more often than not, and always there to join in on the chorus or go call-and-response on a verse. She takes part with great enthusiasm in Newman's pop dreams, ready to chime in with any needed ooh-ooh, driving the songs with her own mystery. When all is said and done, The New Pornographers always have these great strengths: Fantastic songs and Neko Case.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: RICHARD LAVIOLETTE - TAKING THE LONG WAY HOME



A welcome return to recording from Laviolette, who hasn't been heard from since 2010. Old country music is still his game, acoustic and true, with pedal steel and fiddle for sweetening. It's an album about family and roots, mortality and connections, with the simple but profound truths the best old country music employs.


In fact, one of the strongest cuts here is called "Old Country Music," about a father's love for it, and the physical pleasure of the needle on the dusty grooves. The title cut has an outlaw twang, and the same warmth that Neil Young found back in the Harvest days. Jessy Bell Smith from the Skydiggers does classic harmonies here and throughout the album, and "The Rock and the Moss" they match Gram and Emmylou for sadness. In a completely unironic shot at people who don't know better, Laviolette declares "My Grandma's More Punk (Than Most Punks I Know)." The album is filled with honest words and music, from an artist who a genuine affection, and skill for this sound.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK - GOLD



This film, loosely based on the Bre-X mining stock scandal, got mixed reviews despite an appreciated performance but Matthew McConaughey. But the music supervisor should get rave notices. Whoever put it together has both good taste and good ideas, and stayed away from all the usual soundtrack pitfalls and over-used songs.


The big new track for the movie was a collaboration between Iggy Pop and Danger Mouse, and it's really the only disappointment. Not that the song "Gold" is poor, it's just not much of anything, with Iggy in deep voice croon on an unmemorable melody. After that though, it's a fine mix tape for the '80s/'90s alternative fan. Both Joy Division and New Order are here, with "Atmosphere" and "Temptation." Pixies' cut "Hey" is inspired, a regal strut from Black Francis. Scottish cult favourites Orange Juice are always welcome, with "Rip It Up."


There was some deeper crate digging on a couple of other tracks, which are nice surprises. Instead of the Eric Burdon & War version of "Spill the Wine", a cover by The Isley Brothers makes it more fresh. And I was won over by Kishi Bashi (Jupiter One/Of Montreal) doing Talking Heads' "This Must Be The Place" with just strings. When Television wrap up the disc with "1880 Or So," you can tell that a lot of thought went into programming a strong 45 minutes of music.

Friday, April 7, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: NEIL DIAMOND - 50th ANNIVERSARY COLLECTION

The question here is not whether the music is good, but where it comes from and what is included.  I think we all know where we stand on Diamond, and and even on certain periods of his career.  I, for instance, love the '60s stuff ("Solitary Man," "Kentucky Woman," "Sweet Caroline"), tread carefully through the '70s ("Cracklin' Rosie," "Song Sung Blue," "Longfellow Serenade"), and am very, very careful from "You Don't Bring Me Flowers" on.  On this three-disc set celebrating 50 years, that's pretty much how it's laid out, one CD on each of those periods, 50 songs in total. 

In the past, Diamond collections have been hampered by rights issues.  Since he recorded for several companies, from Bang to UNI to MCA to Columbia to Capitol, you'd get the frustrating situation where a set such as The Essential Neil Diamond from 2001 would have several live cuts, in that case featuring concert records of the UNI tracks including "Play Me" and "Brother Love's Travelling Salvation Show."  Others, like the confusingly titled Neil Diamond Collection, would be just the 1968-1972 UNI era.  Well, finally, this set seems to have covered all the bases, and very well.  Almost every hit song is here, and the ones that aren't are from later, dodgy years, only enough to create a minor squabble among completists.  There are a handful of important album cuts thrown in, including "Crunchy Granola Suite" and his versions of "I'm A Believer" and "Red Red Wine", much bigger hits for others.  There are even minor hits that have rarely shown up on collections or reissues, such as the 1968 fizzle "Sunday Sun", quite a good song that tanked at #68 on release.

Disc three does get shaky, but not as dire as it could be, as the set races through the late '70s to today.  I always felt that the cheese and bluster was hard to take in those years, with "America" from The Jazz Singer and Vegas material like "Heartlight". Like so many others, Diamond enlisted Rick Rubin in the new century to give him the Johnny Cash makeover, without as much success, but the three tracks from those albums do bring him back down to Earth at least.  Still, it's disc one that will get my repeat play.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: ERIC BIBB - MIGRATION BLUES



Bibb tackles the very topical issue of forced migration on this set, whether it be due to war, poverty or enslavement. His goal is to challenge us to be more tolerant and welcoming, as history always shows us welcoming immigrants is humane and right. Opening cut Refugee Moan is a prayer, and it could be from migrant worker in the depression heading west, or a Syrian refugee arriving in Canada, scarred and scared for the future. We hear about the Great Migration of the early 20th century, when the children and grandchildren of former slaves left the Jim Crow-infested South for work in the northern cities. and soon after, "Prayin' For Shore" is about the drownings of thousands of refugees trying to reach Europe in recent years.


Bibb's acoustic blues are powerful, dark, and with just the right amount of tension. Like the Delta bluesmen, he's singing, but there's a bit of speaking in there as well, which reinforces the story-telling feel. The accompaniment is subtle, mostly Bibb with his two frequent touring collaborators, Canadian Michael Jerome Browne on guitar, mandolin and banjo, and the atmospheric harmonica of France's J.J. Milteau. For a final stamp on the theme, Bibb covers Dylan's "Masters of War," and Guthrie's "The Land Is Your Land," making the strong connection between blues and social justice.

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: HURRAY FOR THE RIFF RAFF - THE NAVIGATOR



Bronx-raised of Puerto Rican descent, Alynda Segarra made this one personal, a concept album about a street kid lost in America, trying to find her culture in all this mashed-up mess. It's presented as a two-act play, looking back and looking forward, and it has layers upon layers of interest, from the story she's trying to tell to the Puerto Rican musical elements she's incorporated to the literary/cultural references added. As rich as that makes the concept, it's simply a fantastic collection of songs.


Segarra has a tremendous alto voice (reminds me of Feist, am I alone in this?), and her vocals hold you throughout, full of drama as the songs unfold. She's still working in the folk idiom, but it's enhanced by the melting pot of influences Segarra has collected, as production techniques and a wide assortment of instruments are used across the album. There are piano ballads with power ("Pa'lante") and uptempo guitar pop tunes ("Life To Save"), before closing on a Puerto Rican percussive groove. Segarra is making a bold statement about culture and identity for sure, and it the fact it comes rapped in such dynamic music makes it that much more important.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: THE ORWELLS - TERRIBLE HUMAN BEINGS

Ah, young, loud and snotty, the basic recipe for modern-day punk.  Not much has changed since the '70s really, although this is a tad more polished than your granddad's punk.  More like latter-day Green Day punk, if you get my drift.  The must-hear band of 2014 by some accounts has now got to put up or shut up.  They've cleaned up the production a bit, but kept the attitude and power chords, and thrown in some gratuitous shocks ("No one can fill your vision/They're on vacation masturbating").

There's some fun going on certainly.  The tribute song called "Black Francis," goes about it in a roundabout way, including a conversation in the second verse:  "Have you heard that band?  Yeah I think they're shit."  It's off-kilter, like Bowie's "Andy Warhol."  There's great sha-lala's in "Hippie Soldier," a good contrast to the distorted bits to come.   Even some very, very dark lyrics are treated with goofball irony:  "So take me to the desert and chop off my heavy, heavy head.  Put it in an Easter basket and place it down upon my mama's bed."  I guess jaded never gets old.

Monday, April 3, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: MURRAY McLAUCHLAN - LOVE CAN'T TELL TIME

With a career that goes back to the heyday of Yorkville Village in Toronto, and enough Juno Awards to make Drake and Bieber gasp, Murray McLauchlan has earned the right to do, well, whatever the hell he wants to in music. At 68, he still tours constantly, both solo and as part of the long-running collective Lunch At Allen's, never failing to fill the soft-seat theatres across the country. As for new music, he hadn't released an album since 2011's Human Writes, until now.

"I thought, okay, I've hit my dinger, I don't know if I've got another album in me," said McLauchlan of his 19th album, Love Can't Tell Time. "So along came this project, and I went, well I guess that wasn't the case. I'm totally overjoyed with it, I really really love it."

The album was more of an accident, and never a plan. He had several new songs he'd done for another project that hadn't worked out, but he had picked up a new guitar technique. He thought the songs sounded great with that playing style, so he decided to record them to try it out. Sitting with his friend, acoustic bass player Victor Bateman, McLauchlan laid down the songs in the simplest of ways.

"We just did what I really like to do, which is a kind of retro recording," he said. "Although I think it may be also the recording of the future. The idea was, let's make a recording here that just sounds like what people used to do in the 1940s or early 1950s, just set up with a great big old U-47 tube mic, I'm going to sit in front of it with my 1938 guitar, and I'm going to just sing the songs, I won't even put a microphone on the guitar because I believe the performance will kind of mix itself as we move in and out dynamically. And it did. Victor was certainly on mic, but everything leaked into everything else. So you can't really adjust anything while you're mixing, if you change the equalization on the voice you're going to do it on the guitar, so you can't. The result is, you get something very honest and very natural right off the floor."

It's not all about being retro though, it's also about sounding, to McLauchlan's ears, and plenty of others, better. "I'm a big fan of this idea of recording," he said. "You put people in a room that can play, and you record it. Somewhere along the line, I think the technology took over the music. I guess I'm sort of a bit of a bloody-minded person, as I tend to kind of go the opposite way from what is the current flavour of the month, and right now the current flavour of the month is electronically manufactured soundscapes with tones of auto-tuning on them."

The only parts that were added later were the glorious string arrangements on each track, done by Drew Jurecka. Each is elegant, and quite different from the next, working with the vocal rather than providing a lush background. Again, a modern use of a classic technique.

Old but new is theme throughout Love Can't Tell Time. Seven of the cuts are new McLauchlan pieces he either wrote or co-wrote, while three of the numbers are favourites of his from the 1940s and '50s. "They were songs that when I'm up at the cottage playing music for the loons, that I play for my own enjoyment, it's the kind of music that I play when I'm just relaxing by myself," he said. They are "Come Fly With Me," "Hey There," a Rosemary Clooney number from the movie Pyjama Game, and the Jerome Kern tune "Pick Yourself Up".

McLauchlan, a fan of the classics, has found himself moving toward that style of songwriting as well.

"The songs are deceptively simple when you look at them casually, but they are layered like an onion, and you don't really get the songs unless you've been around the block a little bit," he said of the '40s - '50s hits. "So that's what I was shooting for, in a co-write with my brother, who is the original Don Draper, there's a song called 'My Martini.' I actually went back to the well, to how Sammy Cahn wrote lyrics, because he was the master of ethnic inversion. The best example is, 'My kind of town, Chicago is.' It's like how an old Jewish guy would talk. So I did the same thing with 'My Martini,' when my brother wrote the lyric originally, it was 'Don't mess with my martini, I like it on the rocks.' So I went to the Sammy Cahn well, and went 'My martini, not a thing you should mess with.'"

Other songs are light-hearted as well, but not without a message. For the most part, they pass on a little wisdom from experience, such as "I'm Not Going To Waste A Minute Of My Life". McLauchlan has been out road-testing the material. "I just had an eight-concert run myself, and the whole second half of the show on stage is actually this record, these songs," he said. "You think off the top of your head it's a lot to ask people to accept a lot of new material they haven't necessarily heard before, but the really interesting thing is, they go nuts."

There are lots of opportunities for most of the country to go nuts for the Love Can't Tell Time album. He says he has 29 concerts on his books before the end of November, 19 with Lunch At Allen's in both the west and east, and a 10-concert tour in central Canada in November.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: BOB DYLAN - TRIPLICATE



It always takes me a bit to get used to Dylan's, um, croon on these classic songwriter collections. It doesn't help that he hits a couple of clunkers on the very first song, "I Guess I'll Have To Change My Plans," but eventually I warm up to it, and start appreciating the phrasing and the charm. When you listen closely to, say, "P.S. I Love You" (NOT The Beatles' song), he is bang-on the melody. He does better on the ballads than on livelier numbers; he's all over the place on "The Best Is Yet To Come," which has a tricky tempo, but he survives.


Even if he's not the greatest singer, he does a lot of other things very, very well on these collections. Dylan is, as he has always been, an excellent curator. His taste is impeccable, and if at this time in his life he has chosen to perform the work of the great American songwriters, it's that guy who wanted us to know about Woody Guthrie back in 1962. That touring band of his has developed a whole new sound for this material, different than anybody else has ever played it. The key is Donnie Herron's pedal steel, lush and eerie, that replaces the strings that are usually found on these songs. The guitars, brushed percussion and acoustic bass settle in, and create a dreamy, jazzy world.


Dylan had said he'd recorded a bunch of this material when he released the first such album, Shadows in the Night, back in 2015. Since he's never stood still for long, it wouldn't surprise me if, with this triple album, he'll be done with this career phase. It sure doesn't feel like a last act.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: ROSE COUSINS - NATURAL CONCLUSION



A very different record for Cousins, resulting from a period of introspection and collaboration. After the release of 2012's Juno-winning We Have Made A Spark, and the 2014 EP Stray Birds, she allowed herself the time to get off the music business treadmill and instead connect artistically in a variety of projects. Ultimately, that led to some co-writing in several locations, and then forming an interesting team to make this album.


A-list producer Joe Henry (Bonnie Raitt, Elvis Costello & Allen Toussaint, Aimee Mann) was already a friend, and brought some of his ace team to Toronto, while Cousins brought in some of her associates, assembling an ace group including pianist Aaron Davis, drummer Jay Bellarose and bass player David Piltch. If you're familiar with these names, you'll know that means a rich, textured feel, no gimmickry, with a late night, jazzy feel.


The songs explore personal values and qualities, with a lot of honest feelings on display. The characters have big hearts and strength, but self-doubt and worry as well, trying to navigate the complexities of relationships and personal trials. As intense as the bare lyrics can be, there's also a warmth and empathy that's calming from both Cousins' vocals and the soothing musicianship. While there are some echoes of early '70s singer-songwriter music in its openness, ultimately it's more timeless and genre-neutral, simply Rose Cousins music at an emotional peak.


Cousins is on the road right now, and you can find her on the following spots soon:

  • April 3 - St. John's, LSPU Hall
  • April 5 - Halifax, St. Matthews United Church
  • April 6 - Fredericton, Wilmot United Church
  • April 7 - Moncton, Tide & Boar
  • April 8 - Charlottetown, Confederation Centre of the Arts

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: CHRISTINE CAMPBELL - ROLLER COASTER



I have to admit I was more than a little surprised to hear that P.E.I.-born, Halifax-based rocker Christine Campbell had chosen hip hop's Classified as the producer for some of her second album. Classified has shown he's a very adaptable producer of course, from his work with David Myles and Ria Mae, but Campbell's not someone who has worked with the more contemporary sounds. She's rock and blues, Zeppelin and '70's. I just couldn't figure out how that would sound.


Well, it sounds just great. Instead of forcing something on her sound, the pair have taken her songs, and done a great production job that makes her stand out from all the guitar slingers. What Classified has brought is musical drama; pauses, big punches of sound, slightly off-kilter mixes, surprising moments, such as a double-tracked vocals. The three songs they worked on, including the first single, "Last Man Standing", are just packed with musical imagination. Still, there's no question these are '70's-influenced hard rock tunes.


Campbell's road-warrior partner, Blake Johnston, produced four of the other cuts, and Brian Moncarz did two more.  While more straight-forward, the tracks are dynamic and exciting.  All her strengths are all on display; lots of heavy-duty guitar solos, soaring vocals, with some quite scintillating high notes, and that surprising classical piano training sneaking in a couple of times. Old school guitar fans have nothing to worry about, there are plenty of raunchy licks, particularly on "Can't Stop The Clock", as nasty as an AC/DC cut. But she's very handy with a more melodic track too, such as "Nobody Cares", which sits somewhere between an Eagles and a Fleetwood Mac cut. It has the most glorious vocal on the set, and a twin-guitar solo to boot. That's my favourite cut, one of those ones where you wish we still had rock radio somewhere that would play it.


Campbell's going to be doing a few shows in New Brunswick for the next week, before venturing out to Ontario to wake them up. Catch her at:


  • Thursday, March 30 - Corked Wine Bar, Fredericton
  • Saturday, April 1 - Parkindale Hall, Parkindale, N.B.
  • Friday, April 7 - Lou's Pub, Bathurst, N.B.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: DOUG COX & SAM HURRIE - OLD FRIENDS



Here's a relaxed and warm set of acoustic blues that feels as old as the hills, and as fresh as this evening's snow (I'm in New Brunswick). Doug Cox and Sam Hurrie have been doing this for 20 years, and know how to classics sound timeless. With just two guitars, usually an acoustic for chords and Cox adding dobro throughout, the pair take us outside ourselves, into that space where we just disappear for a while and listen and feel. I think they call it the blues.


Most of the songs here are classics or traditional, and often they have the spiritual connection, where all the blues came from. "John the Revalator" from Son House is the best-known, a good way to start and set the tone. But the less familiar ones hold more power I think. The take of Charlie Patton's "By and By" is haunting and emotional. Mississippi John Hurt's "Payday" has his trademark good-natured lope, but they slow it down and give it more of a hypnotic drone. The Hank Williams tune "Angel of Death" is far more tuneful in there hands, naturally, but more chilling as well.


There are some modern songs; Willie P. Bennett's "Rains On Me", Guy Clark's title cut, and Cox's own "Dexter's Back", but they all retain that antique quality, and warmth. And as a special treat just for this little ol' New Brunswicker, they do a wonderfully intricate two acoustic guitar version of the fiddle tune St. Anne's Reel, best known from my homeboy, Don Messer. Respect all the way around.

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: FLEETWOOD MAC - TANGO IN THE NIGHT

The latest in the Fleetwood Mac remasters series, Tango In The Night is the last album from the glory-years lineup, as Lindsey Buckingham quit right after album was finished, blowing off a booked tour. That's when the guitar combo of Rick Zito and Billy Burnette came in, and the wilderness years began. Even this album was in doubt at first, as the band had been on hiatus since 1982's Mirage, an underachieving effort at least in Buckingham's eyes. The band had all gone off to make solo projects and have personal crises, most notably Nicks' entertaining the Betty Ford Clinic, with the rest of them in various states of disrepair. At least Nicks was now a huge solo star as well, but she was still open to the band's future.

It was Buckingham who pulled the strings though, and after starting another solo album, agreed to through in his lot with the bunch of them once more. It's easy to hear why, as the other writers (C. McVie, Nicks) had some major hits waiting. McVie's "Little Lies" was one of her catchiest, while "Everywhere" was a dreamy and bouncy cut. Nicks came in with "Seven Wonders", from her pal Sandy Stewart, who contributed songs to Nicks' solo albums. Buckingham himself had one of his quirky little gems to lead things off as well, "Big Love".

Buckingham was able to craft all these into memorable hits, continuing the glossy charm of Fleetwood Mac numbers, and brought the band back to their huge sales figures, especially back in England where they had been originally formed in the '60's. But there were more noticeable holes in the non-single tracks. There are some 80's moments in the production, especially in the McVie/Buckingham cut Isn't It Midnight, way too shiny. You and I, Part II has some cool vocals bouncing around but that drum machine and synth hook got tired fast. This set had plenty of pop, but needed some guts too. Props to the delicious remastering job though, you can really here the work Buckingham did on the vocals especially. It sounds like candy.

Monday, March 27, 2017

MUSIC (BOOK) REVIEW OF THE DAY: HOLGER PETERSEN - TALKING MUSIC 2


For over 30 years, Holger Petersen has been waving the blues flag in Canada on his weekly CBC Radio show, Saturday Night Blues.  For even longer, he's been releasing some of the best blues, folk, jazz and all-around roots music as well, via his highly regarded Stony Plain Records.  He's a mountain of knowledge, a tireless supporter and a huge fan, and what that has given him is incredible access to some incredible artists.

These aren't the ones who play ball with the press, dutifully do the rounds, shake all the hands, answer all the inane questions.  These are the gifted few that more often don't care a bit about press coverage, image or social media reach.  They just care about the music.  And they all realize that's what Petersen is about as well.  Time after time, he gets those trouble-makers to open up and let us find out a little bit of the real story, the guarded history that usually only gets told in the back seats of the bus.

This is the second volume of Petersen's collected interviews, and even though they were mostly done for broadcast on his radio shows, they are just as engaging in print.  Even the people you thought you knew, like the giant of them all, B.B. King, is seen in a fresh light from Petersen's visit.  He describes him behind the computer screen, which had replaced the old 78's, LP's and cassettes he used to always have with him to hear his own favourites.  King insisted Petersen stay after the interview, just to hang out so he could play him some music by an old bluesman he liked.  You can feel the friendship between the two.

In every interview, he gets amazing lines or insight from his subject.  Describing his lyric-writing technique, Allen Toussaint tells him, "I collect wishbones and feathers everywhere, and try and make a chicken when I get home."  The reclusive, legendary Bobby Charles, he of "See You Later, Alligator," adds this gem about writing: "That’s the only thing that’s hell about it. It’s amazing what you’ve got to go through to put one little song down, you know. For songs that last two or three minutes, you’ve got to go through a life of crap, right?"

Where most interviews would get pat answers at best, Petersen would have them adding little gems and asides to story, free-flowing conversations.  Charles again, back in 1997, letting him in on this kid guitar player he'd been working with:  "A great little guitar player, man, Derek Trucks. He’s a killer. A seventeen-year-old boy. He’s great. Get ready because you’re going to hear a lot about him."  Chip Taylor was happy to admit to being more interested in playing the horses than in his job at the Brill Building writing "Wild Thing" and "Angel of the Morning," rushed out so he could get his bets down.

The extensive list features one character after another, including Van Dyke Parks, Billy Boy Arnold,  and Sam "The Sham", still talking in rhyming patter that outdoes any freestyle rapper.  There's James Burton, Solomon Burke, Wanda Jackson and Townes Van Zandt, David Clayton-Thomas and Ronnie Hawkins filling in the early days of the Canadian scene.   Every chapter, every interview makes me feel like I know each musician well, and that I've learned far more than I knew about them going in.