Tuesday, November 21, 2017

MUSIC REVEW OF THE DAY: KEVIN BREIT - JOHNNY GOLDTOOTH & THE CHEVY CASANOVAS

Oh, he's a bright one, that Kevin Breit. The flash Toronto guitarist (Norah Jones, k.d. lang, Serena Ryder et al) has fooled us before, posing as The Upper York Mandolin Orchestra while in truth playing all the parts himself. Here, he creates the persona of Johnny Goldtooth, an old-school guitar slinger from the early rock 'n' roll days when they were still inventing the form, and the guitar players were inventing their own gear too. You know the type, only one hit single ever, a legend for his prototype sound, licks that continue to show up six decades later, a hero to all the later guitar gods.

It's an all-instrumental album, with great twangy riffs and wild excursions on guitar. The songs come from the era when the guitars played the melodies, spawning all the surf music bands, Duane Eddy and The Ventures, British groups such as The Shadows and the Tornados, and of course everyone learning their innovation from Les Paul. Breit can, and does, play every variation on these and more, and music archeologists will delight on the bits and pieces he hints at, the techniques he uses, the accurate sounds and the attention to the very last detail. Then they'll shake their heads when he goes left-field a few seconds later, somewhere that could only come from the most fertile six-string imagination.

Then, he does it all over in the arrangements and recordings. Breit estimates he played about 90 per cent of the music here, painstakingly adding all extra touches such as bass clarinet and melodica, fed through all his vintage gear. And never once does it feel recycled or a mere replica. This is instead inspired by a time, but as the saying doesn't go, 50 per cent imagination and the other 50 per cent perspiration.

Monday, November 20, 2017

SHIRLEY JACKSON & HER GOOD ROCKIN' DADDYS - THINGS KEEP LOOKIN' UP

Nova Scotia's Queen of swingin' blues comes through with more horn-filled fun. Jackson's big arrangements use the whole horn section on the up-tempo cuts, which makes it just as enjoyable to listen close as to dance to them. She knows the down and dark side too, as on He Won't Be Coming Back, the tale of a man who talked a good game but then got mean. The swamp blues number sees him get his in the end.

Jackson keeps it mostly good-time though, with numbers such as Hot Rod Special, one of the album's several instrumentals including lots of those boppin' horns,and room for a sweet jive guitar solo from Tom Crilley, who finds lots of room even with the three horns. But hearing all the harmony horn parts and sharp leads, straight out of the '50's playbook is the big attraction here, and whether it's swing, jump or straight blues, this is the sound that doesn't let you down.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: QUEEN - NEWS OF THE WORLD - 40th ANNIVERSARY SUPER DELUXE EDITION

Queen's 1977 album marked a big shift for the band, after five albums of complex, "baroque" pop, as they called it. While England had loved them all along, there were some rumblings about the group being out of step with the new rawness of punk. Meanwhile, in the U.S., the audience was still on the fence. 1976's A Day At The Races had done well, and the single Somebody To Love was a hit, but further singles were a little too complex for the Top 40. This was a driven group however, and they were more than willing to change and progress, plus confident enough that they believed in themselves to pull it off. Cocky even.

They decided to go back to band basics, just the core instruments and not spend so much time layering parts in the studio. So, no Bohemian Rhapsody then. However, they had something even catchier up their sleeves, in We Will Rock You. Brief but incredibly catchy, it was basically the perfect statement for a band, and it did the trick of making the group viable at home at a time when old-school rock was being rejected, and it caught fire on the U.S. charts. That was backed up by another of their immense anthems, We Are The Champions, making for a huge double-sided hit. The album eventually sold four million copies in the U.S., and they had become a superstar band around the world.

Forty years on, big super deluxe boxed sets are now in vogue, and if any group is made for that treatment, it's Queen. Bigger always means better with them, and fans will love this gorgeous set. The hard-box edition includes the original album on vinyl, and they've gone back to the original master tapes for a newly-mastered pressing. The three CD's included feature the album again, and two discs worth of previously unreleased material from that era. The second disc is one of those sets where they present an alternative version of the album, each track a totally different version taken from the album sessions or demos. This includes some notable differences, including guitar openings that got cut out, Freddie Mercury's original vocals original vocals on the cut All Dead, All Dead, which didn't make the album, and a couple of Roger Taylor numbers that he did on his own before the studio versions. Disc three is packed with live cuts, BBC sessions, more studio work, and a true out-take that didn't make the album, a good cut called Feelings Feelings. While the backing tracks and instrumentals are merely that, for you karaoke fans, for once the BBC sessions are incredibly different. The band used the opportunity to experiment rather than mirror the studio takes. That includes doing the fast version of We Will Rock You, the part two of the song that they did live. Roger's punkish Sheer Heart Attack sounds especially good in its live version.

There's a documentary DVD as well, called Queen: The American Dream. That title is a bit misleading, as the doc also covers the band back home, changing their sound, but the bulk was shot back in the day while the group was starting the U.S. tour that really broke the group. Luckily there was lots of great footage and interviews, and as usual, they were confident enough to be themselves and trust the fans to accept their personalities. They admit to their collective ego, but you can't argue the results of course, they simply were a huge band, able to sing We Are The Champions and know what that sounded like. They allowed an audio tape of a nasty fight to be used, the stuff most bands would rush to hide. And while they sound ridiculously posh, and look smug, they weren't from the streets, so at least they aren't pretending.

There's a high-quality, hard-bound book of essays, photos and stats, and lots of memorabilia replicated, including a poster, promotional newspaper, photos, even a back-stage pass. Queen fans are the kind that don't mind spending an extra few dollars on more Freddie, and this set delivers a lot more than you would have thought was left in the vaults.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: HOLLY BLAZINA - TRANSCENDENCIA

Many people that pick up a guitar rush headlong into performing, writing and even recording, but Holly Blazina had far more patience. The Calgary instrumentalist spent over a decade studying the traditions and intricacies of the flamenco form, learning from some the form's masters, before finally committing to this debut album. The result is a bold and ground-breaking album, which sees her confidently joining the ranks, while being one of the very few female nylon-string players in the genre.

While she studied with Spanish, U.S. and Canadian experts, Blazina also brought her own flair and interest in adding to the traditional sounds to the set. Here such different instruments as violin, piano and saxophone are featured, and broader hints of jazz and world music influence the selections as well. Still at the core are her own skills on the nylon strings, bringing out all the subtleties, allowing the instrument to move from quiet moments to whirlwind intensity. Meanwhile, there are plenty of vocal numbers featuring two gifted singers, lots of ensemble playing, and both the percussive handclaps and dancing that is such a distinct feature of the form. Often rousing, other times intimate, Transcendencia offers a full look at what flamenco music offers.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: TEARS FOR FEARS - RULE THE WORLD

Not many bands have weathered the split and subsequent reformation of the two main partners so well. Tears For Fears did in fact rule the world in the '80's, as this best-of so amply shows. Then in the early '90's the rot developed, with their manager caught helping himself to their money, and the pair at odds over that and band development. Smith left, and Orzabal got to keep the name, delivering two decent albums, but with diminishing returns. Then surprisingly in the 2000's, Smith returned, new music was made including the appropriately named Everybody Loves A Happy Ending, and quite a bit of live work has followed, including this year. A new album has been in the works for awhile, including two tracks featured here among the hits.

And hits we got. There's a surprising number of them, given that they only made six albums starting in 1983. The monster, '85's Songs From The Big Chair, had five of them, pretty impressive given the album only had eight cuts. Those five are all here: Shout, Everybody Wants To Rule The Work, I Believe, Mother's Talk and Head Overs Heels. Even with that dominance, there's still room to drop in on each album, including another three from the debut The Hurting: Mad World, Pale Shelter and Change. That's half the hits collection right there, but those were the big albums.

1989's The Seeds Of Love is generally considered the album where they jumped the shark, but I've always liked the grand opulence of it, and the move away from synths to guitars, strings and loads of musicians and a big production. Sowing the Seeds of Love and Woman In Chains both sound great today thanks to that. The Orzabal-only years yielded two albums that didn't match the usual sales marks for the group, but the two cuts included, Break It Down Again and Raoul and the Kings of Spain sound strong beside the better-known hits, as does Closest Thing To Heaven from the the 2005 reformation album.

Now we get the first new music in 13 years (other than some covers that have snuck out in various places), and the two samples bode well for the new album. I Love You But I'm Lost and Stay both have that dramatic feel and instrumental brightness that typifies the Tears For Fears sound, and given the enthusiastic crowd support they've been receiving, it should be a hardy return for the group in 2018.

Monday, November 13, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: ELTON JOHN - DIAMONDS

Whether the world needs another Elton John best-of is certainly a worthy question, but if you do, at least you have plenty of options. Given the vast number of hits he's created since the late '60's, it's no easy task putting them all in one set. So for this, you have several different choices, given your enthusiasm. You can get either one, two or three discs, or of course, the vinyl option, 2-LPs.

One disc barely covers it. Thirteen of the cuts are from the 1970's, natch, which only leaves room for four more, and one of those is the '90's remake of Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me with George Michael. It's essentially his live concert favourites: Your Song, Tiny Dancer, Crocodile Rock, Philadelphia Freedom, etc. You could pretty much name them without looking, except I doubt too many people would pick Island Girl as a must-have.

At two discs, we get a better look at the '80's which in fact were not a bad decade at all for EJ. Now there's room for Little Jeannie (a #1 in Canada, btw), Sad Songs, Nikita and Sacrifice, all strong ballads, largely his strength at that time. The '90's are a bit more of a problem, but there's Something About The Way You Look Tonight, famous mostly because of its inclusion on the Lady Di tribute single Candle In The Wind 1997 (not here, as per his wishes), and Circle of Life, which every child of the era and every parent will know forever. But in the spirit of inclusion, we then get a run of songs called Electricity, Home Again and Looking Up, none of which I can remember or even attempt to sing along to, from the later albums Peachtree Road, The Diving Board and Wonderful Crazy Night. Hey, why not include a couple of little songs called Border Song and Levon instead? Remember those? I'm betting much of the world does.

For the three disc set, they go back and grab some lesser hits, some vital but some lesser for good reasons. Elton's always loved to do the duet thing, so there's Written In The Stars with LeAnn Rimes, Live Like Horses with Pavarotti, and That's What Friends Are For, with Dionne, Stevie and Gladys. I guess I said lesser hits, but that one was huge, not too many people can stick a #1 single on the bonus disc. Better though are Empty Garden, his tribute to John Lennon, his cover of Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, another #1, and his soundtrack take on Pinball Wizard, not a single in Canada but it sure got played everywhere.

There is a ton of memorable, fantastic music here, and I don't think you'll go wrong with the three-CD set, but there are pockets of blandness, mostly because of his apparent inability to say no to bad duet songs. Also, a better job could have been done curating the later years, including grabbing a track or two off that fine Leon Russell/Elton John album. Also, even the one-disc version needs a warning sticker: Includes Kiki Dee. I'd still make sure you own Tumbleweed Connection and Madman Across The Water, his true essential albums.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: ROBERT PLANT - CARRY FIRE

Quite a band, the Sensational Space Shifters. They certainly fit the modern Plant well, able to fit in all the various influences he's collected over his many years, except, interestingly, the raw bluesy Zeppelin stuff. They don't go near that, so don't ask. This is the moody, mystical mix of Eastern rhythms, Celtic vibes and even some electronic layers. Plus, the strangest cover of Bluebirds Over The Mountain ever, a duet with Chrissie Hynde of all things.

The songs have rich grooves with multiple percussion elements, and even the quietest moments such as closer Heaven Sent have a deep rumble and slow burn. This bunch works in textures and hues, not chords and solos. Above it all is one of the most famous voices of the last century, and for reason. It's his total command of the song that makes each one work, his ability to add gravitas and a hypnotic presence. And it's so interesting that he now does this without his trademark falsetto wailing and fierce volume, but with just as much power conveyed. It's purely captivating, other than that odd choice of Bluebirds Over The Mountain, which I don't get at all. Yet.

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: BREAD - THE ELEKTRA YEARS

Perhaps the poster boys for soft rock, Bread are often cited and dismissed for belonging to that '70's genre. But they weren't The Carpenters, and had a lot more going on than the hits they are best known for. Most people assume David Gates was the whole band, but he wasn't even the main singer at the start. Gates had joined up with a songwriting team he had produced in Los Angeles, James Griffen and Robb Royer. They formed the group with Griffen as the lead singer, Gates as the ballads guy, and the songwriting split. Griffen and Royer had the rockier side, but their 1969 debut album was a bit of a failure, and Griffen's single didn't chart.

On the next album, they tried a Gates track, and that did the trick. Make It With You shot to #1 in 1970, and the die was cast. For the rest of the group's existence, Gates got all the A-sides, which meant what people heard were soft rocks ballads, his specialty. And the hits kept coming: It Don't Matter To Me, If, Baby I'm-a Want You, Everything I Own, Guitar Man and more. Every album brought another Top 10 hit or two. Meanwhile the albums were full of very well-produced and arranged pop tracks, even some stronger material such as Blue Satin Pillow, which proved Gates could rock when he felt like it too. In the meantime, they were developing into a tight group, touring all the time, and adding a permanent drummer in Mike Botts. While their peers were scoring kudos for their albums and live shows, Bread, who deserved the same, was still stuck in soft-rock limbo.

Royer was the first to bail out, as the inevitable tensions arose, particularly with Gates. He kept writing with Griffen, but the band was becoming a compromise. Gates drafted in an old pal from the L.A. session scene, Larry Knechtel, best known for playing the fantastic piano on Bridge Over Trouble Water, for the fourth album, Baby I'm-a Want You in 1972, and the band got even better. It was quickly followed by the Guitar Man album, with tracks such as Aubrey and the title cut making these pop gems.

But by that point Griffen and Gates were at odds, and the band broke up, Gates figuring solo life had more to over. Except something unexpected happened. The Best of Bread came out and sold an insane amount of copies, and the record label made the band members an offer they couldn't refuse. Bread came back for one last album in 1977, Lost Without Your Love, named after the Gates-written top 10 hit of course. There was touring too, but once again the bond proved fractious, and Gates having a hit with The Goodbye Girl on his own only made it easier for him to leave for good.

The band did solve their issues in the '90's and did a tour, but Griffen, Botts and Knechtel have all passed on now, and Gates is happy in retirement. For those who've only had a greatest hits all these years, there's lots more to discover on these six original albums, repackaged with replica album sleeves but no additions, making for a low-cost box set at around fifty bucks.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: EMILY BURGESS - ARE WE IN LOVE?

Working with her pals in The Weber Brothers, former 24th Street Wailers lead guitarist Burgess steps into the spotlight solo for the first time.  She's always shown excellent skills as a player, and now unveils a whole bunch of talents, as a vocalist, songwriter and a multi-genre performer.  This one's a big winner.

Whereas the Wailers had a blues focus, Burgess has that a lot of other interests. All I Wanna Do Is Love You is a slash-and-burn rocker, garage punk with sizzle, all 1'59" of it.  Only One In Your Dreams is blues-boogie, but tough as nails. Arrested is a groovy little soul number with a nifty vocal arrangement and smart guitar break, lots going on in that one.  For the title track, she pulls off a smooth, jazzy ballad. 

Best of all, it's empowered and sexy too.  It's great to see Burgess flying solo.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: KIM WILSON - BLUES AND BOOGIE VOL. 1

Wilson certainly has the blues pedigree, as a founder of the Fabulous Thunderbirds, and one of the most respected harp players and vocalists working. So when he decides to go back to the well for a set of deep Chicago blues, it's pretty much a given it's going to be done right. Wilson is calling this Vol. 1 with the intention of keeping on this path now, and it certainly seems a smart move. It's the classics, from Jimmy Reed, Little Walter, Elmore James and the like, plus a few of his own that fit right in.

The thing here is that it all sounds exactly right. Using a crew of veterans including pianist Barrelhouse Chuck and drummer Richard Innes, who both passed away after laying down their parts, the recordings have all the growl and grit that's meant to be there. Wilson's harmonica has the perfect amount of distortion, Chuck's piano is off in the distance slightly, like on those Chess recordings, and there are no rock or pop influences sneaking in. It's undiluted, and only people who have been studying this their entire lives could do this.

Almost all the choices are delightfully obscure, at least these days. Little Walter's instrumental Teenage Beat is a guitar and harp showcase, Wilson long ago learning that the key to a great harp solo is not how loud you blow, but how musical you make it. And while the old songs are played right, that doesn't mean the group copies note-for-note. They make John Lee Hooker's Same Old Blues very different from his in fact, with lots more parts, especially Jonny Viau's horn additions. Wilson has now become a classic, with a seasoned voice, gruff but musical, and his own cut Searched All Over sitting fine surrounded by the works of his heroes. He says he has lots in the can, and certainly these albums could keep coming a long time before they get old.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: PATRICK BALLANTYNE - CALENDAR

There are going to be musicians out there cursing and swearing when they hear this latest from Ontario's Ballantyne. A longtime songcrafter who has worked with Big Sugar, Tim Chiasson and The Trews, for his latest, he set a goal of doing a song a month. And while most writers struggle to come up with a few ideas and sounds to come base an album around, Ballantyne came up with a dozen varied numbers, with different styles and wide-ranging lyrics, each one beating the next, in hooks or words or smarts.

There's also an interesting feel to the set, not as basic as demos, but not heavily produced either. Bass, drums, guitars, keys, it's all there but sounding homespun as well. It lets you hear that these could go in any number of directions in the pop/rock/roots field. Also, we're getting a glimpse at the solid foundation and strong frame of a good song, before all the shiny bits are added.

Those envious songwriters will no doubt scream in frustration at their idle keyboards when they hear lines like "even Jesus with a GPS/could only make an education guess," from Mirror Mirror. The dark, Rubber Soul-era sound on 25 Feet of Snow is a lesson in how to borrow and turn it into something new, and Canadian too. Stay In Heaven flat-out rocks, one of several here where Ballantyne plays all the instruments himself, right down to the pseudo-saxes, and it's immediately followed by My Excellent Boy, a tender tribute that comes from the Nillson/Sexsmith school of sentiment. Not a bad year's worth of work.

Monday, November 6, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: THE JAM - 1977

I know, there's a box set and a super deluxe edition for every bloody album these days, making us buy the same music we already own for three times the money. But I still love them, and they keep finding new ways to make them interesting. Here's a case in point. This box, with four CD's and a DVD, looks at one year in the life of The Jam, the pivotal one when the group's first two albums came out, and they burst onto the British scene. It includes newly remastered versions of those two albums, In The City and This Is The Modern World, a bunch of demos for their label preceding the first album, some appearances on the famed John Peel show, and a full live concert in their early glory. The DVD is made up of official videos, Top of the Pops and other TV broadcasts, and gloriously, an appearance on the short-lived Marc Bolan TV show, where the host introduces them as simply "Jam."

The Jam stood out from the punk bands of the day, and immediately became big hits in the U.K. They had lots of attitude, volume and spiky energy, but they were also nattily dressed, bringing back the whole Mod thing with their suits and ties, and they could really play well. The songs were strong, they acted professionally they were taking this very seriously. Right off the bat they sang about social issues and British society, Ray Davies lyrics, Who swagger, Clash punch and conscious.

There won't be anything new for fans on the regular albums, apart from the remastering and the inclusion of non-album singles All Around The World and Carnaby Street on In The City. The new stuff is on the other discs. Five of the demos have slipped out in other places, but this adds a further six and puts them all on one disc, most of the first album heard in raw form, along with live favourites So Sad About Us (The Who) and Slow Down (Larry Williams via The Beatles). The Peel Sessions have been around the block before, but the live concert is new, a great raw set that shows the band's powerhouse show of the day. Like the punks, they played fast and furious, and shoved out a bunch of short songs, numbers often clocking in under two minutes. Those favourite covers are here too, as well as popular soul numbers In The Midnight Hour and Sweet Soul Music, played pretty wild and crazy, a place to release a lot of energy for band and crowd, so maybe the message in the originals would sink home a little better.

Although there are five discs, you're not getting the full hour-plus that box sets usually deliver. The original two albums clock in at around the half-hour mark, and while they could have fit on one disc, I think it's right to stick to the integrity of the initial releases. The demos again whiz by, half an hour there as well. And on the DVD, 11 songs at that concert speed come in under the 30-minute mark. Only the Peel Sessions and live concert make it to the hour length. So really, this could have been three discs, but they more than make up for that with an expansive book, 148 pages that go through each month of the year with all the press reports taken from the British papers of the day, plus full historical and chart information, a really fun way to go through this box. There's also plenty of loving detail in the design elements, right down to the box interiors and disc jackets. It's not crazy pricey at $85 currently (Amazon pricing) and I think even the biggest fans will be impressed with the work that's gone into it, it all feels first-rate and indeed, deluxe.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: SKYDIGGERS - WARMTH OF THE SUN

For the first time in almost a decade, the Skydiggers feel like a band again on record. In that time, it's been more the core of Maize/Finlayson, and then the addition of singer Jessy Bell Smith. It was just the three of them pictured on the last album, 2016's Here Without You - The Songs of Gene Clark. But if you've been to their more frequent live shows over the past couple of years, the touring musicians have felt like part of the team too, and now they are featured equally on this set of strong originals (and a couple of covers).
 
The full band is put to good use right off the bat, with ringing guitar chords announcing the title cut, a wistful rocker, the band putting lots of guts into a quite gorgeous melody. Beauty with punch is a good way to think of it. Push Comes To Shove could have been soft and sad and acoustic, but instead gets a rhythmic drive through the verses and a big chorus. This is the catchy roots feel that made early Skydiggers albums such as Restless so appealing.

There's still room for the quiet and bold interpersonal songs at which Andy Maize excels. The gentle acoustic baking of Don't Try To Explain is aided by light drums and tasteful guitar, plus the emotional edge Smith now adds to those songs, like the other side of the love song conversation.
 
Smith's role is now well-defined as second vocalist, adding another voice at important points to Maize's, handling the lead on the old timey Show Me The Night, not a regular backing singer, more of another instrument. On the mystical Time Of Season, she weaves back and forth with Maize, a different path on the same journey. And when Finlayson takes a rare lead on the country tune When You're On A Roll, she sweetens his rough edges.

The group has enjoyed doing cover tunes, and even full albums in the past, and once again they come up with a couple of great choices. They reclaim the '70's Hollies track The Air That I Breathe from the classic rock radio graveyard, certainly one of the underrated gems of that era. Singers as fantastic as Phil Everly, k.d. lang and Mick Hucknell have thought so too in the past, and the group's understated take is just as winning. The most poignant moment on the album is the quiet version of The Rock by The Tragically Hip, part of The Depression Suite on the band's We Are The Same album. Maize zeroes in on the intimacy of the lyric, the question "Are you going through something?" and reminds us all, as if we needed it, of the remarkable heart behind those words. The whole album shines with that kind of warmth.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: DAVID BOWIE - A NEW CAREER IN A NEW TOWN

The big news that greeted the release of this box set wasn't about the fantastic music from this Bowie period (1977 - 1982) but rather an audio problem on one of the discs from the set. And we're not talking a huge problem either. At the 2'50 mark of perhaps the most loved song in the whole box, Heroes, there's a slight drop in volume. You had to have pretty good ears to pick it out in the first place, although once you know it's there, you'll always hear it, I guess. It was apparently some problem with the master tape that they tried to fix, but audio fans hated the result, and entire digital forests were felled to hold the online complaints, emails, posts and even whole columns devoted to the issue. Henry Rollins even told people to refuse to buy the set! Parlophone finally caved, and announced a replacement disc was forthcoming.

There were other complaints as well, most of them about the new mastering done for the albums, but those were more a matter of taste, again for the folks that can hear at dog frequency levels. I think I need to point out that the complainers already own copies of the originals, so just keep both, folks. Compare and contrast to your heart's content. You probably have at least five other copies of Heroes to play, with your original album, your CD, the version on the box set you own, and on the Best of set, you might have the picture disc single, and now this. Chill out. Enjoy the music.

I sure did. If you haven't been following, before he died Bowie embarked on a reissue program that would see all his catalogue, at least the main years from 1969 into the '80's, come out again in large box sets, a few new remixes where needed, and the various b-sides, edits and one-off recordings gathered together as well in the sets. This is the third, and sets off in '77 with the Low album, the first of the so-called Berlin Trilogy albums, named for where they were recorded. For many, it was a hugely disappointed album, an experimental set that was largely instrumental and very cold, with the use of electronics and synth. Since it was coming off a period that had seen Bowie break through in North America with big chart hits, including Young Americans, Fame and Golden Years, fans were hoping for more. The U.K. was hip to the sounds, and the album became hugely influential to the New Wave and post-punk groups soon to follow, but I can recall seeing lots of copies of Low in cut-out bins in K-Mart for $1.99, which is where I got mine. It took a lot longer on this side of the ocean to appreciate Low, Heroes and Lodger, and it really wasn't until the breakthrough video of Ashes To Ashes from 1980's Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) album that more people started to get back into Bowie. That led to the huge return with Let's Dance in 1983, but that's another story.

So there's four studio albums (Low, Heroes, Lodger and Scary Monsters) here, plus the live set that came out after Heroes, Stage. But the way these boxes work is that if they make any changes, they include both the old and new versions. So for Stage, there are two complete copies, the original, and a newly-compiled set that adds a further five songs, and rearranges the track listing into the way the live show originally happened. I've always loved Stage, with its ultra-clean sound, the gleaming keyboards, and the surprising mini-set of Ziggy Stardust songs, which were so powerful next to the dreamy robotics of the Low/Heroes era. You have to love the extra cuts too, especially the inclusion of The Jean Genie, with amazing, and I mean amazing solos from Adrian Belew and violin player Simon House.

The next bonus disc is a completely new mix of the album Lodger. Producer Tony Visconti explains that he and Bowie always hated the original mix, which was done on the fly because of time concerns, in an under-equipped studio. So while Bowie was working on his final album, Blackstar, Visconti used some extra time to remix the album, with Bowie's permission and approval. And even with my limited abilities, yes, I can hear a difference, I hear the instruments clearer and with extra depth, and a few parts that I've never noticed. It's the go-to version now. There's also a four-track E.P. included, that holds the foreign language versions of Heroes, in French and German, plus edits. If you have a need to hear Bowie sign in German, it's of interest. Once.

Finally, there's the latest of what are called the RE:CALL albums, which collect all the associated single tracks not featured on albums during this time. For the most part, these are single edits of well-known tracks, so a shorter Heroes (again with the Heroes), a slightly longer Beauty and the Beast, etc. This is not very interesting stuff, and it's often hard to spot the difference without a stopwatch. Better is the inclusion of b-sides, like Crystal Japan, which was also used as a beverage commercial in Japan. There's an edit of Under Pressure, which was technically a Queen song with Bowie guesting, so it's a nice inclusion. Most important and rare is the remake of Space Oddity he did as a single cut to go along with Ashes to Ashes, the Major Tom sequel, which is quite hard to find on any Bowie sets. Also there's the single of Alabama Song, a Brecht/Weill number he did in concert, and became a surprise British hit in 1980. You also get the five cuts from the oft-released and largely uninteresting Baal E.P., another Brecht production. Finally, if you don't have it on some Christmas collection, it's the famous TV duet with Bing Crosby on Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy.

My beefs are about the content, not the sound, and it's these RE:CALL sets. All those single edits, so minor and repetitive, should just be tossed in favour of the many bonus tracks that were released years ago on the first series of Bowie reissues, done by Rykodisc. These have been out of print for years, and are much more important and desired. They're probably saving them for some other great Bowie box to come, but still, it's miserly. Yet the pros far outweigh all these complaints. The boxes are beautiful, whether on vinyl or CD. The books are very well done, with notes this time from Visconti on his involvement, including lots of insider stories. The graphics are exceptional, with rare photos and memorabilia, and it feels like a museum catalogue. I think Lodger is a tremendous album that needs to be discovered by the great crowds that ignored it, and I actually believe it's the crown jewel here. It beats Scary Monsters, as it has better songs (Monsters dies off on side two), and while Lodger wasn't as influential as Low and Heroes, it is a better full listen with its wild characters, eccentric rocking, and Bowie's most dramatic vocals. The song D.J. is a roller coaster ride on its own. Plus, it now really does sound better, even for the majority of us who would rarely notice audio quality.

Friday, November 3, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: BOB MARLEY and the WAILERS - LIVE! Deluxe Edition

The Marley catalogue has been reworked so often, all the great '70's albums are on their third configurations, with more bonus tracks added each time. This live album from London in 1975 was quite the document back in the day, the only way you could hear the magic the mighty Wailers band put out. hear the party that most of us couldn't attend. Since the '90's there have been several live '70's concerts released, so this has lost some of its prominence in the canon, simply because there are now 20 different places you can hear No Woman, No Cry. It's still a must though, the band and Bob locked in and hypnotic.

The first reissue of the album, back in 2001, added the b-side Kinky Reggae to the original seven tracks. Now, it's been exploded to two disc's worth, including the entire first and second shows that night in London. Surprisingly, for a bunch once must assume was on a perma-herb diet, they were an orderly machine, with each show following the same setlist, the second set 10 minutes longer, with an extra two songs. The original album was a mix of tracks from both sets, but now we get them in the original running order. I've been told so many times how amazing these shows were from the audience, a totally euphoric experience, and I've always been slightly disappointed when that doesn't translate to the released concerts. Well, I think I've finally heard what I was hoping with this release.

The first set is the more formal, as you would expect. That's not to say the performances aren't excellent, Bob and the band sounding joyous to bring Trenchtown Rock and Rebel Music to all the JA people now living in England. He's a star too, reclaiming the hits others have had with his songs Stir It Up and I Shot The Sheriff. But you can feel the second show's audience is ready for a bigger party, and the band responds. They are looser, the solos more free, and the energy greater. Lively Up Yourself drives the crowd wild, I Shot The Sheriff this time is intense, and despite attempts to go, the audience insists on bringing them back, to close on a lengthy Get Up Stand Up. My heart was beating a little faster, some 42 years after the fact. Yes, it's yet another reissue, but this time it's well worth the upgrade, at more than double the original's length.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: MATT MAYS - ONCE UPON A HELL OF A TIME...

Now here's the way to rock some Matt Mays. This baby comes as a two-record set, on clear vinyl, spinning at 45 RPM for better sound. Not that it really matters all that much how it looks, but it feels better, like cruising the highway in a convertible instead of a Civic, you know?

Mays fights back against broken hearts, the internet age and the slow death of rock 'n' roll with a great explosion of guitar, a celebration of the old religious belief that this music can save souls. True love still matters, "bring on the heartache, your love is not for the faint of heart," he dares, like some Viking ready for battle. And the battlefield is his old stomping grounds, a thousand different bars that are all the same, where things can go bad, but great too, like in Howl At The Night: "Hey barman, get it right this time, pour some life into these jaws of mine." In the great rock 'n' roll tradition, he even has time for a self-mythologizing line, "This old coyote has seen too much, with the sha-la-la's and the such-and-such." And he's certainly not a winner all the time. "Stop falling for New York City girls," is the wise advise handed out, "It don't matter what you do, don't matter what you say, she'll never love you anyway."

It all comes to a glorious finale on side four, with a trio of tunes take the congregation to new height. He celebrates the Old Testament formats on 78s 33s and 45s, singing "When you find out she has somebody else, just take that record right off the shelf." Next comes that old rock on the car radio metaphor, with Station Out Of Range, and last, there's a Meatloaf-worthy finale in Never Say Never. I know this record was made a long time before we lost Tom Petty and Gord Downie, but it sure feels like Mays stepped up to fill the gap.

Note to N.B and N.S. music fans: Tickets go on sale Friday, Nov. 3 at 10 a.m. for a pair of concerts in Fredericton and Halifax. Mays will be at UNB's Currie Centre on Jan. 19, and at the Scotiabank Centre in Halifax on Jan. 20.