Tuesday, December 12, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: RAWLINS CROSS - ROCK STEADY

The return of the ultimate East Coast Celtic rockers, and I'll argue the ultimate East Coast band, with members from all four provinces, plus a ton of musical influences in the mix. Every so often the band heads back out for a few dates, and this time had some new material to pass on as well, resulting in this six-track E.P.

The title cut has the group's classic uptempo sound, in the Reel 'n' Roll style, the big driving beat, and Joey Kitson's booming bass vocals, which feels just like your favourite pub on a Saturday night. They slow it down for Long Have We Travelled, and the bagpipes appear, stirring in this big ballad. There's a departure on the tune Can't Get You Out Of Mind, a deep funky blues with, get this, a solo on the pipes thrown in. Find that anywhere else. Accordion, mandolin and tin whistle combine for the warm closing number, Waltzing The Time Away. When you hear a Rawlins Cross song, you can be in no other place than Atlantic Canada.

Monday, December 11, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: SQUEEZE - THE KNOWLEDGE

Such is the goodwill Squeeze earned in the New Wave days, they continue to be welcomed warmly with each new tour and album these days. Called the Lennon and McCartney of their generation, it's really just Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook and whatever band they put together these days, but they do always surround themselves with strong players and contributors, notably keyboard player Stephen Large, who adds lots of colourful parts to Tilbrook's flights of pop fancy.


The most endearing and enduring Squeeze songs remain the big, hook-filled hits, from Tempted to Hourglass to Annie Get Your Gun, but the duo has stretched over the years into more eclectic compositions, from their "solo" disc Difford and Tilbrook in the mid-'80's on. It's almost like Difford especially (the music guy) finds it a little dull to go for insanely catchy songs each time, and instead gets whimsical. He thinks nothing of a doing a disco tune with an opera singer's part and a children's chorus, as we hear on Rough Ride. These tunes are still melodically wonderful and complex, captivating productions though, so we have no choice but to follow him down the rabbit hole on each one.

Almost as an aside, the group throws in some more easily digested numbers, such as Please Be Upstanding, where the title becomes this epic singalong, and Albatross, with its sly reference to Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac at the end. As a recent live streaming concert revealed, the band still performs all the hits, but they mix in lots of the new material too, as always daring us to dig a little deeper into the more sophisticated numbers, and it's a rewarding challenge when you do.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: CHRIS STAPLETON - FROM A ROOM: VOL. 2

Fans of quality country have been drooling over Stapleton, from his hit debut album Traveller, and from the first volume of this back-to-basics set released this past spring. Basics here means no fancy-ass programming or auto-fixing or whatever, just a small group making outlaw country in an old school studio. Nashville's RCA Studio A was founded by Chet Atkins and Owen Bradley, and Stapleton has the stuff to do the room justice.

Volume one was the eye-opener, nine cuts that recalled Waylon and Willie at their '70's finest, coming in under 40 minutes. That's the same program here, the same length, but a little more variety in tempo at least. Stapleton moves from raging rock (Midnight Train To Memphis) to introspective ballad (A Simple Song), all delivered with hardcore troubadour twang, in both vocals and lead guitar. He hurts and he rages, but there's no bullshit let's party music, aimed at entertaining the shooters-in-the-bar crowd. Here, liquor is treated realistically, like it was in the '60's: "I wish that I could go to church but I'm too ashamed of me/I hate the fact it takes a bottle to get me on my knees," he sings in Drunkard's Prayer. There are an awful lot of songwriters in Nashville that need to sit down and have a long talk with this guy.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: THE COOPER BROTHERS - RADIO SILENCE

Ottawa's Cooper Brothers have always been about more than the Southern Rock tag they got, having been signed by the famous Capricorn label (Allman Bros, Marshall Tucker Band, etc.) in the '70's. Even though you can still hear a little of that classic twang, the group have all sorts of catchy hooks and choruses through their songs, as well as lots of other surprises. The title cut for instance far more of a soul cut, complete with a sweet and full horn section.

Dick Cooper has been full of new songs ever since the band got active again in 2006, and here fills the whole collection with brand-new material, everything from ballads to blues to rockers. I like the shot at their hometown, kind of a Jack and Diane theme set in the city, called Government Town: "They roll up the sidewalks at sunset/Put up a sign saying 'No fun allowed!'" It's also a really adept band these days, with lots of hands to call on for a big sound, plus specialty licks on pedal steel, banjo, the horns and cello. There's also a Grade-A East Coast guest, the fabulous fiddler and mandolin player Ray Legere, who adds a big presence on several songs, helping give a little more country feel to those cuts. It's old school, but The Cooper Brothers went to the right one.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: THE DOORS - STRANGE DAYS 50th Anniversary Edition

The final part of the Doors 50th anniversary celebration features the group's second album of the crucial year of 1967. The band's debut had established them as one of the biggest new American bands, thanks to the huge hit single Light My Fire. Already kings of the Sunset Strip club scene, they had graduated to national touring, but also had to find time to get into the studio for that important follow-up album.

Most groups put all their best songs on their debut disc, and then are stuck for material for the next one, but in The Doors case, they had more than enough stockpiled, thanks to months on the club scene playing their originals, and the fact Jim Morrison was somewhat prolific. Also, Robbie Krieger had written Light My Fire, and the rest of the band came up with the music, so he wasn't on his own in the writing department. Moonlight Drive was left over from the first album sessions, and other tracks, including the epic When The Music's Over, were staples of the club shows. The other big tracks here are People Are Strange and Love Me Two Times, so it's one of the group's stronger discs. It also reflects the flip side of the peace and love scene of San Francisco that was popular that year. Morrison had picked up on the darkness that fed on naivety, and the whole album had that vibe. Sometimes it was an act, but most times, especially early on in the group's career, he was trying for art.

There's no bonus tracks for this, but instead we get the album in both mono and stereo, on two separate discs. There are some noteworthy differences, with the stereo allowing for instrument separation, but the mono is clean and powerful, thanks to a great remastering by original engineer Bruce Botnick. Sometimes the original is enough.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: THE RAMONES - ROCKET TO RUSSIA (40th Anniversary Edition)

The Ramones' third album, and second of 1977, is my favourite, where everything peaked, from song writing to ideas to production. After the modest success of the group's first two albums, and seeing they took recording seriously, the budget was increased for this album, and it sounds like it. There's nothing messy about it, the guitars have guts, the drums pound, there's a distinct bottom end and the vocals and harmonies stand out. This was The Ramones' response to British punk, that their music was good, not a joke.

That said, there was humour, either goofy or black, the latter found in We're A Happy Family. And when it was silly it was edgy, as in Teenage Lobotomy, which includes the immortal line, "Now I guess I'll have to tell 'em/That I got no cerebellum." The group was celebrating its growing fan club too, with songs like Sheena Is A Punk Rocker and Cretin Hop, creating a mythology that would stay with the scene throughout the group's long career.

Rocket To Russia features a non-stop run of great songs, 14 of them, all under three minutes. You get the brilliant East Coast Beach Boys number, Rockaway Beach, as well as covers of Surfin' Bird and Do You Wanna Dance? that show that punk had been around in the '60's too. The band's best-ever ballad was included, Here Today, Gone Tomorrow, as well as underrated cuts such as Ramona and I Don't Care. All other Ramones albums have at least a couple of filler cuts, but this one doesn't let up.

The reissue series for the 40th anniversary editions include single-disc original versions, as well as bigger boxes for bigger fans. The deluxe version has 3 discs as well as a vinyl copy of the original, including a couple of dozen outtakes and such, and a concert recording from Glasgow in 1977.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

THE MOODY BLUES - DAYS OF FUTURE PASSED 50th ANNIVERSARY EDITION

At the beginning of 1967, The Moody Blues had a problem. They sucked. After an initial 1965 hit in England and North America, Go Now, the British R'n'B group had failed to follow it up, and plainly weren't that good. They didn't have the tough stuff that the Stones, Animals and Yardbirds did to seem legitimate in the bluesy world, or even the pop scene. The only one who did, Denny Laine, had fled, not to be heard of until he resurfaced in Wings in the '70's.

The remaining members drafted in a couple of fellows who could write and sing, Justin Hayward and John Lodge on guitar and bass, and started searching for a new direction. A couple of important things happened. Keyboard geek Mike Pinder got a fancy Mellotron, a synth precursor that played tape loops to spacey effect, emulating strings and such (think Strawberry Fields Forever). And their record label asked them if they could do a rock version of a classical piece, with actual strings, to help promote the growing interest in stereo sound. Hayward and Lodge had been coming up with some possibilities, and since it was the Summer of Love and psychedelia and Sgt. Pepper and all that, experimentation was in the air.

Days Of Future Passed is often credited as a blueprint for prog, but on closer inspection, it's actually more of a very well-conceived mix of orchestra and pop group. The orchestral sections were recorded separately, with no group members playing (except on one song), and were used to open and close and link, as well as backing for a couple of poems. Then the rock songs would come in, and the Mellotron handled the string-like parts. For the most part the arrangements were quite interesting, and the opening The Day Begins foreshadows Nights In White Satin to great effect. Sometimes the strings do sound a little too faux-dramatic, but there are also some seamless transitions from orchestra to band that make this such a successful work.

The concept was even pretty good, given the flaky times. The title was made up by some record company person, but even it sounds okay, as the idea here is a set of songs that follow a day. It starts at sunrise, hits afternoon with the hit Tuesday Afternoon, and ends at night with Nights In White Satin. It was such a hit that it stayed on the charts from late '67 until 1972, when a reissue of Nights in the U.S., spurred on by constant FM radio play, made it all the way to #2 (#1 in Canada).

The remaining Moodies (Hayward, Lodge, drummer Graeme Edge) have been touring the album this year for its 50th, with a PBS special, and here we get the deluxe CD/DVD audio version of the original album. They've really done the set up well. Disc one features the original mix of the album on CD for the first time. In the '70's it had been remixed due to some damage on the original master, and all subsequent pressings used that. Now the technology is available to fix that old problem, so we get the 1967 version again, which has quite a few differences. Disc two features the '70's remix, and it's actually fun to spot the differences, including missing backing vocals and alternated orchestral fades and such. There are a plethora of bonus cuts, including some singles and b-sides issued around that time, but never on albums, and definitely not hits. They show the group changing as Hayward and Lodge start to put in their contributions. The always-welcome BBC sessions feature some of the album cuts, including Nights In White Satin, on their own without orchestra, and they do hold up well. Clearly the band was on to something good with this new lineup and direction. There are alternate versions of several album cuts, including The Sun Set, without its orchestra. On the accompanying DVD, we get 5.1 surround and superior stereo mixes, plus some rare footage from French television of the group doing live performances of Peak Hour, Tuesday Afternoon and Nights In White Satin.