Monday, February 27, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: IAN JANES - YES MAN



Ian Janes is one of the best songwriters from the East Coast like, ever, and we never here 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.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: SOUNDTRACK - GIMME DANGER: THE STORY OF THE STOOGES



Here's great news for all of you who follow the theory that The Stooges were/are the greatest rock and roll band of all time, as filmmaker Jim Jarmusch proclaims. His documentary, which hit film festivals last year, is now out on DVD, and the soundtrack has arrived as well. I haven't seen the film yet, but it got excellent reviews, so there's that to look forward to. I'd have to say they've done a bang-up job on this music set as well.


It starts out with the band in it's prime, Iggy leading them through the title song here, a great one from Raw Power, and then some classics, the string of No Fun, I Wanna Be Your Dog and 1969. Some more album cuts follow, and then the rarer stuff kicks in. A couple of outtakes from Raw Power, I Got A Right and I'm Sick Of You could only previously be found on the four disc deluxe edition.


Fellow Detroit travelers MC5 are heard next, part of the Stooges' story for sure, with Ramblin' Rose from their debut live album Kick Out The Jams. Then come a couple of ragged recordings from Iggy's previous 60's bands, The Iguanas and the Prime Movers, the latter an audience recording of Bo Diddley's I'm A Man, which gives a good taste of the blues rawness that Iggy had in his background. The set closes with a couple more hard-to-get numbers, taken from expensive deluxe reissues of the first two Stooges albums, including a full-on freak-out called Asthma Attack.


That pretty much tells you the story, that this been put together with fans in mind, especially if you like the band but haven't gone all crazy buying box set reissues. Plus, it hasn't been messed up with bits of dialogue or later, post-'73 stuff, whether you like that or not. It sticks to the script, the original Stooges, and there's plenty to base a documentary, and a soundtrack on from that time.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: ANDREW SISK - ANTARCTICALIA



Now don't you be trying to nail down what Andrew Sisk is up to. He's been juggling projects and bands and names since his beloved Fredericton band Share closed shop back in 2010. Just when you got your head around that, Share's back, although just for a couple of shows. Sisk will join his former bandmates, who also comprise Olympic Symphonium, in a double-bill of classic albums, at the Fredericton Public Library on March 3, and the Timber Lounge in Halifax March 4. They'll play the entirety of Share's album Pedestrian, and then switch over and play the Symphonium's debut Chapter 1, celebrating the 10th anniversary of both.


In the meantime, Sisk has a brand-new EP out under his own name (as opposed to the work he's done with Coco et Co.) called Antarcticalia. It's the follow-up to Articalia, projects that match his songwriting charms with a touch of bossa nova ease. It's six tracks, all at around 3 minutes, of relaxed tempos and plush melodies. Some are stripped-down to acoustic charms, especially Bad Landlord and No Killing, which Gilberto and Getz could jam on. Other parts get some pretty nifty upgrades, including out-of-place noisy guitar and out-of-era synth. As always, Sisk supplies cool vocals and some great pop moments, Book Club here sounding like a lost Todd Rundgren classic. It's over too fast, but easily handles much repeated listening.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: BETH GARNER - SNAKE FARM



Texas-raised but Nashville-based, Garner got the best of both worlds, and ended up as a kind of Americana blues artist. She's also that rare beast, a female lead guitar and slide player as well as a twangy singer, and clever writer. So that's just about everything a roots fan could want.


This set is brief at seven cuts, but power-packed. Garner wanted to go straight blues on it, and for her that means high-energy, big groove electric numbers. While the songs are the stars, always with high-quality writing, she left herself lots of room for soloing too, including some nasty slide on the ZZ Top-ish closer, Wish I Was. While the playing fans are digging that, I'm focused on fun tunes like Backroads Freddie, about getting off the highway and looking around, and her cover of Ray Wylie Hubbard's Texas novelty, the title cut Snake Farm, apparently a true-to-life spot. A great spirit permeates this disc.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: ALISON KRAUSS - WINDY CITY



Holy Hanna! It's Alison Krauss, covering Hal Lone Pine! Lone Pine, or Hal Breau, was a big star in Maine and the Maritimes especially, and was doing well in Nashville for a bit in the 50's. He was also the dad of jazz great Lenny Breau and... oh, don't get me going here. Anyway, Lone Pine and his Mountaineers and better half, Betty Cody, did the song It's GoodBye and So Long To You first, but Krauss probably knew it better from bluegrass favourites the Osborne Brothers and Mac Wiseman. She knows her classics, and much of this album features old-school numbers.


These are vocal tunes, and certainly not the mysteriously produced kind she did on the hit album with Robert Plant. Instead, she's playing it straight for the most part, and letting her voice do the work. Taking on the very well-known Gentle On My Mind is a tough one, with Glen Campbell's version etched in our conscience, but her clear-as-a-bell delivery gives it a more haunting tone. Her delivery of Brenda Lee's hit All Alone Am I is nothing less than stunning, giving it gravitas previously unimaginable, and her work on Lee's Losing You is just as impressive.


It's an impressive list of numbers, obscure at times, surprising elsewhere, like the title cut, another Osborne Brothers number. Only her choice of You Don't Own Me sputters, as it has been done to death, and she doesn't add much to it. While the source material does feature some bluegrass numbers, really this precious little of that, as it's pretty much a classic country crooner set. It's kind of a mixed bag though, as it features ten cuts in the main body of the album, then four of them done in live versions. If you shell out a couple of more bucks for the deluxe version, you get another two studio cuts, covers of more modern hits, Till I Gain Control Again (Emmylou) and Angel Flying Too Close To The Ground (Willie). It doesn't matter, she just sounds fantastic in every format and style.

Monday, February 20, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: JONATHAN ROY - MR. OPTIMIST BLUES



It's very hard to get your head around the fact this is son of NHL star goaltender/coach Patrick Roy. If that isn't enough, he's the protege of another Quebec star, Corey Hart, who signed young Roy to his label, and wrote several of the cuts on this 9-track set, including the breakthrough hit Daniella Denmark. But you don't hear Hart or Roy senior when you play the songs, just this big, soulful voice.


Falling somewhere between Ed Sheeran and Passenger (even though there's not much room between them), Roy's music is smooth, mellow and right in line with the new kind of singer-songwriter, with a side of reggae. While he has a few of his own here, the best ones are Hart's, while Roy is excelling at emotional deliveries and sincerity. Best of all, he doesn't sound like he's forcing the feelings, a tendency some of the others in this style are guilty of. Add in that these are some of the best songs Hart has written since, you know, THAT one, and it's a promising partnership. This time, a Roy scores (groan).

Saturday, February 18, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: CREAM - FRESH CREAM SUPER DELUXE EDITION



We live in a world where the President of the United States routinely lies and gets away with it, where a bottle of Pepsi is cheaper than a bottle of water in restaurants, and where a 50-year old, 35-minute album can be turned into a four-disc, five-hour long box set. I can explain the last one.


It's the whole mono/stereo thing. Take this Cream album, the group's December 1966 debut. Disc one is the album in mono, an outtake in mono, and the singles from the album in mono. But that was only 50-ish minutes, so God bless 'em, here come the French. France loved the E.P. in the 60's, and instead of singles would put out E.P.'s of four cuts. Often, and in the case of two here, they would get slightly different mixes of cuts than the British versions, mostly because nobody checked or cared that much. So now, we're up to 75 minutes, disc one is done.


Disc two, of course, repeats everything in stereo. But because there are no singles or E.P.'s (all in mono those days), to draw on, instead the compilers took it upon themselves to create a few new mixes, just because. Disc three is the outtakes and BBC set, another standard of these collections, where you get early versions of the songs, and a couple more attempted but dropped songs, not fully formed. Then there's four different sessions for the Beeb, with 14 cuts recorded at the radio station studios, plus a couple of interviews with Eric Clapton. Finally, disc four is the now-standard Blu-ray featuring high resolution versions of all the same again, for those with very big ears and matching sound systems.


Whew! That's a lot of versions of these cuts, some here as many as nine times. I don't know about you, but I have to pay pretty close attention to tell if something's in mono or stereo. Now, some of them do have noticeable differences, which is always fun, even the occasional alternative solo from Clapton, or moments buried in mono that come out clear in stereo. But most of the time, it's basically the same. Or, as my son said, didn't we just hear that? Most cool would be the BBC stuff, where the new band showed off some of their live stuff, including Clapton's stand-by Crossroads, and Lawdy Mama, songs not on the Fresh Cream album.


Fresh Cream is probably the least-known release from the band, as they didn't break out in North America until the next year, with Disraeli Gears, followed by Wheels of Fire. It's probably not what you'd expect if unfamiliar with it, and it wasn't what was expected when it came out, either. This trio of exceptional blues players, rock's first supergroup, surprised everyone by being more arty than expected, debuting with the music hall-styled Wrapping Paper (included here) and then some whimsical concoctions of the first side of their album, such as N.S.U. and Sleepy Time Time. They did get to the blues eventually, and the fireworks got going with radical takes on classics Spoonful, Rollin' and Tumblin' and I'm So Glad. Drumming madman Ginger Baker has his famous solo piece here, Toad, thankfully only five minutes long in its studio incarnation. Also included is the very strong second single, I Feel Free, a better indication of where they'd be going than Wrapping Paper suggested. In all, it's a solid debut, not the home run they'd hit as a live band, but worth having in some form.


In this form, you do get all the extras in one place, and the BBC takes are worth repeated listening, as there are some fiery versions. There's typical fine packaging as well, a solid hard-cover book and a good historical essay of how the band formed, and their first year together. These things are always a treat for big fans, and that's a good way to look at it, treating yourself to something a little extra, and going, yeah, I DO want 9 versions of I Feel Free, thank you very much.

Friday, February 17, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: RYAN ADAMS - PRISONER



From a guy whose breakthrough album was called Heartbreaker, it shouldn't be a surprise that relationship woes can continue to inspire great work. This is Adams' first set of originals since his self-titled album of 2014, a strong set that saw him embrace a more basic rock sound. That was followed by 2015's headline-grabbing complete cover of Taylor Swift's 1989 album, apparently feeling in need of a little joy during the collapse of his marriage. Now, we get the inevitable disc of break-up songs.


Adams sure can write 'em with his heart on display. Lead single Do You Still Love Me? sets the tone, asking "Why can't I feel your love, my heart must be blind." There's no great progression from hurt to anger to acceptance here, it's a whole collection of levels of blue. In Haunted House, he admits, "I live here all alone ain't no one else." To Be Without You states "Every night is lonesome and is longer than before." Even the last track leaves us with "If I was born to be a loner, ok, but I'm not made of stone and I'm so blown away." Heck, even the photo in the booklet shows him lying in bed, clinging to a cat.


I guess enough time has past that he can deal with it all. Musically, in some cases it rocks, and surprisingly doesn't pitch into dreariness. Adams can deliver those lines in a mesmerising way, almost like he is a detached observer, and that lets us off the emotional hook a bit as well. He must be doing okay with it all anyway, as he's doing the big push on every media platform, from The Tonight Show to Marc Maron's WTF podcast, and then going on a big tour. He's still the best broken heart around.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: BILL & JOEL PLASKETT - SOLIDARITY



I recall sitting on a prize jury a few years back, and one of the company disparagingly referred to Joel Plaskett's music as "dad rock". That meant the kind of rock your dad would listen to, if you were in your 30's I guess, and hipper than that, music from the 60's-70's era. I guess this would make him apoplectic, as Plaskett has made his latest with his actual dad.


Fans will be familiar with the senior Plaskett, Bill, as he's recorded on previous works by his son such as Three, and done the occasional tour with him. A folk performer and songwriter himself, he's probably been as big an influence as any on his son's life, natch, but here we find out it's more than just choice of profession. Bill's a died-in-the-wool folksinger, where the words mean something, whether personal or for the people. Some of that is political for sure, and Plaskett the younger certainly has chosen to drive on the left side of that road. That's reflected here in the traditional We Have Fed You All For 1000 Years, and Joel's Blank Cheque, partially a reaction to the U.S. election campaign.


It's more of a folk album certainly, although there are a couple of rockers, where Joel utilizes his New Scotland Yard studio in Dartmouth to add on drums, bass and a handle of guest musicians. But mostly it's the two of them, Bill adding acoustic guitars and bouzouki, while handling lead vocals on a handful of cuts. That includes his own Help Me Somebody Depression Blues, and On Down The River, a favourite of Joel's that he has heard since he was a kid. Politics again comes up in Joel's Solidarity, a song he wrote for the two of them to sing that reflects connected beliefs. While there may be some sentimental reasons behind the project, that's always an element in Joel's music, and this is far more about presenting the folk music the pair have been making for years now.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: ARCADE FIRE - THE REFLEKTOR TAPES



The further on Arcade Fire has moved, the more it's become a big art project, so it's no surprise the whole Reflektor album from 2013 was turned into a film as well. Directed by Kahlil Joseph, a Sundance festival award-winner, The Reflektor Tapes is the centerpiece of this two-disc set. But let's not stop there; it's a well-crammed collection that also includes promo videos, for three cuts, the TV special Here Comes The Night Time, a half-hour piece that followed the group's appearance on Saturday Night Live in 2013, and the group's interesting appearance on the 2013 YouTube Music Awards, which included a live-action story directed by Spike Jonze. And that's just disc one. Disc two is a full live concert from London from the Reflektor tour.


Now, if you don't like your music as a big art project, you'd be better off just heading to disc two, where the group proves they are a fully-functioning, highly entertaining live act. Their anthemic, feel-good songs have lots of power over an audience, and are surprisingly gimmick-free, other than the big visual element of the stage, with all its projections, colours, costumed dancers and travelling circus atmosphere. The big band on the road features a pair of Haitian percussionists, who add crucial rhythms and textures, especially to the new songs, and an absolutely bona fide part of the group's sound. Even the dance numbers ("If you're into that shit," says Win Butler, introducing We Exist) take on a stronger edge in concert than on the Reflektor album tracks.


As for the making-of film, well, it's certainly not a standard documentary. It's meant to be anything but what you'd expect, which can proof frustrating if you're looking for information instead of technique. Narrative quotes from Butler and Regine Chassagne (the other members are seen not heard from) are overlapped, sometimes faded out. The music has elements stripped away, including crowd noise. The visuals are doctored, squeezed, stuttered, all manners of treatment. In effect, the filmmaking becomes the story, instead of the action. There's precious little explanation about what was going on in the making of Reflektor. There's lots of footage involving Haiti and the musicians, and we do hear a tiny bit about Chassagne's heritage, but we never find out the grand concept of how that tied into Butler's dance music. Maybe there just wasn't that much to say, maybe it just is. If that's the case, the live show says that a lot better than the movie, which is a dull head-scratcher in comparison.

Monday, February 13, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: PORT CITIES - PORT CITIES

The long-anticipated debut from this young Nova Scotia supergroup has finally arrived, after almost three years of gigs and planning. The trio is made up of established solo artists: Carleton Stone, Breagh MacKinnon and Dylan Guthro, who first got together at the annual Gordie Sampson Songcamp in Cape Breton. Slowly over a few years, they became friends, co-writers and eventually started doing shows together. Finally they realized there was an undeniable magic happening.


Produced by their mentor Sampson, what jumps out the most is the group harmonies, which come out at you in every possible combination. Which each member a singer and writer on their own, they shares the leads, but each track has an arrangement that lets them use that strength to full advantage, coming at you in twos and threes. It's not even safe to speculate on who wrote what, as they all contribute in multiple combinations. It's certainly a situation where the whole is bigger than the parts as well, since the songs take off in surprising ways. Each member has complementary yet distinctive skills. While all write, sing and play, they differ as much as they compare; Guthro's strength is as a player/producer, MacKinnon's is as a composer, while Stone's best known as a writer.


That's resulted in an album with a wide reach of songs, almost impossible to categorize other than thoroughly modern. You'd never call it typical East Coast, except in the strength of the songwriting. The production is bright, clean, layered and modern, with the focus on the vocals, yet lots of edge in behind. They're going to be a band that attracts its own fans, some young, some older adults, some from country, some from pop, some from rock, it won't matter. Back To The Bottom has been the track heard over the past year, and there are more gems to come, with On The Nights You Stay Home a great driving rock cut in the Fleetwood Mac vein. Along with others such as Hillsburn and Ria Mae, the East Coast has a whole new side.

Friday, February 10, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: CHUCK PROPHET - BOBBY FULLER DIED FOR YOUR SINS



One of the great rockers left standing, the former Green On Red front man continues to blaze out in California. The title cut plays homage to the man who brought us I Fought The Law, and died in an unsolved Hollywood incident, straight out of a crime novel. Backed by a tight, edgy group, the sound is part nerves, part thrills a la Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.


Prophet sums up what we've all been feeling the last few months with Bad Year for Rock and Roll, which begins "The Thin White Duke took a final bow/There's one more star in the heavens now." Ironically, it's an epic rocker, catchy and exciting. In The Mausoleum, another song for a late rocker, in this case Alan Vega of Suicide, is an unrelenting, driving piece of electricity, certainly in the spirit of Vega's best. Rock's annus horribilis at least proved invigorating. And if the spirited rock isn't enough, you can have fun figuring out the story behind Post-War Cinematic Dead Man Blues and If I Was Connie Britton. I'm not hazarding a guess as yet.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: CARY MORIN - CRADLE TO THE GRAVE



Fingerpicker Morin proves that often the blues is best served up cut to the bone. This is the latest in his series of acoustic albums, just the man and his nimble fingers, weaving stories that ring true, all the while dazzling with dexterity. There's something haunting about fingerstyle blues, and Morin's soulful delivery just adds to that.


Sometimes he's old blues, sometimes he's more folk, and in a couple of places, he brings on the lived-in roots charm of John Hiatt. You can feel the wide-open spaces of his home in Colorado, and previously in Montana, and an ancient connection through his own Crow tribal heritage. Dawn's Early Light reclaims that uber-patriotic phrase for people who are a lot closer to nature, written especially for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, and it's pipeline fight. Folks might get a kick out of the Phish cover, Back On The Train, but the killer is his blues version of Nothing Compares 2 U, which works really well. For one guitar, one guy, this is a surprisingly diverse, and never dull set.

Monday, February 6, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: TIFT MERRITT - STITCH OF THE WORLD



Produced with Mr. Iron and Wine himself, Sam Beam, Merritt offers up a batch of hopeful heartache, wise words in turbulent times. Love Soldiers On is certainly a positive spin, as is Heartache Is An Uphill Climb. That latter song is so uplifting, it makes having someone dump you seem like good news.


Acoustic guitar, piano, mandolin and spare percussion set the mood, and even the pedal steel is kept somewhat hushed. Meanwhile Merritt's gorgeous voice is as glowing as Emmylou's, with just a hint of the ethereal, Kate Bush quality. When the electric guitar comes out for Proclamation Bones, she proves she has some power in the pipes as well. Mostly though, it's an album full of comfort and warmth.

Friday, February 3, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: DAVID BOWIE - LEGACY



I guess it makes sense to update the official Bowie best-of with tracks from his successful, final album, last January's Blackstar. However, be careful if you bought the last greatest hits, Nothing Has Changed, which came out just two years back. It's the exact same set as the 2-CD version of that compilation, save for one difference: the track Sue (Or in a Season of Crime) has been dropped, and two numbers from Blackstar, Lazarus and I Can't Give Everything Away have been added. Well, there is one other difference, one that on the surface might seem minor but is actually quite stunning. Life On Mars? has a new mix, which highlights the wonderful string arrangement behind the Hunky Dory track, pushing it up to the same level as the piano, and moving the rock band out. It's a rare instance where the new mix eclipses the original.


You can't argue with the value-per-money, with 40 tracks here that start back at Space Oddity and pretty much cover each album, save the live ones (and thankfully, no Tin Machine). The first disc covers the glory decade of the 70's, heavy on Hunky Dory, Ziggy, all the hits. Disc two does suffer from having to find something off those 90's albums, although I'm Afraid Of Americans does seem rather prescient all of a sudden. Even the hits are a challenge at times, with the Live Aid version of Dancing In The Streets with Mick Jagger not a career high point for either. Kudos though for the inclusion of Under Pressure, the duet with Freddie Mercury more famous now than when it was released.


Disc one, though, never lets up. The Man Who Sold The World was no hit until Nirvana put it on their Unplugged show, but it certainly deserves to be here. I'll complain about two more tracks. It's a crime of omission to leave off Suffragette City in favour of Moonage Daydream from Ziggy, certainly a cut that deserves to be in his top ten, let alone top 40. And I'd rather see them drop a track in order to fit on the complete version of Young Americans, rather than use the horrible single edit of the cut, one of the worst hatchet jobs ever made of a great song. I'd rather skip it than hear it, it's that frustrating. But only a brilliant artist can make you that crazy.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

MUSIC RFVIEW OF THE DAY: TIM MOXAM - SOFT SUMMER

Tim Moxam has been a breath of fresh air over the past few months, with his album Soft Summer a touching, calming experience. I`d call his sound acoustic-plus, with the strumming and brushed drums joined by ringing pedal steel notes, sweet backing vocals and lots of ethereal echo. I`d written before that he reminds me of those early 70`s Cat Stevens cuts, and I say that with sincere praise, as he`s a fine singer with an emotional delivery and lots of quirky chord changes that put that extra bit of ennui into the songs.


Harvest for the Queen has received the most attention, thanks to some solid CBC Radio 2 support, with a little more pop oomph and some electric guitar to spice things up, while still sounding somewhat old-fashioned, with its queens and bees and honey. The whole album has that vibe, and I`m loving it, a kinder, gentler feel.


Moxam is back on the East Coast for the second time in four months for another set of dates. This time he`s appearing with Australian labelmate Liz Stringer. They`ll be at the beloved Dunk in Breadalbane, P.E.I. on Saturday, Feb. 4, Charlottetown`s Old Triangle on Sunday, Bar Menz in Halifax on Monday, Feb. 6, a house concert in Boutillier`s Point, N.S. on Tuesday, and at Grimross Brewery on Wednesday, Feb. 8.