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.