Friday, April 20, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: ELISE BESLER -TRUTH

Well, this is embarrassing. Here I was, going to plug Elise Besler's album launch show for the Carleton in Halifax May 20, but it turns out it's already sold out. No surprise, really. People there know that she's one of the finest vocalists in the region, a true singer with range, emotion and spectacular tone. Plus, word is out that this is an artistic leap for her, with an increased focus on songwriting and soulful sounds, so, you know, sorry I didn't tell you earlier.

Truth is produced by no less than Erin Costelo, the Halifax songwriter/producer currently making waves in the U.S. The pair met up to try a little co-writing, and that took off to this album partnership, with Costelo also handling the keyboards and guiding the way to that gentle groove and big-hearted sound at which she excels. Besler meanwhile had a set of lyrics coming from that same source, all truth and heart. A little bit jazzy, another part Bill Withers, and some nice modern touches like the drums-forward verses and high harmonies on first single Never Learn, this is pure class. Hey, there will be more shows, and meanwhile just get the album.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: MUD MORGANFIELD - THEY CALL ME MUD

Although he didn't know a whole lot about his father Muddy Waters (Mud was one of several children born out of wedlock to the blues master), he nonetheless felt the blues calling through his life. Still, he was in his fifties before giving in, and now Morganfield is making up for lost time, with a fourth album since his emergence in 2008. With his deep, rich voice, he's a natural, and when he sings "The blues is my birthright" on opener They Call Me Mud, it's hard to argue.

The blues, and a bit more actually. His last album, the award-winning For Pops, was a straight tribute to his father, but this has more of the soul feel that he grew up admiring in the '70's on several tracks. Cheatin' Is Cheatin' is smooth as silk, a fine ballad with horn accents, and Who's Fooling Who? is funky stuff. But Howling Wolf is definitely gritty Chess stuff, of course, and Mud has no problem looking back. He's the main writer on most of the cuts, and makes sure we know he's keen on moving the music forward. There's lots of fine playing throughout, especially from harp ace Studebaker John, and if you took away the famous name, there's no question this would still be a strong new blues album, from an especially fine singer and writer.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: DAVID BOWIE - ALADDIN SANE (45th Anniversary Vinyl Edition)

Oh coloured vinyl, how I love you. Of course, it means nothing to the quality of the music or the pressing, but nothing spruces up an old favourite like a little splash of colour. Bowie's 1973 hit has been reissued several times, most recently in 2015 on vinyl, so it's hardly rare now, so something had to be added for this 45th anniversary version, and that would be the silver vinyl to match the mercury shade of Bowie's skin on the cover.

While Aladdin Sane never gets the acclaim given to its predecessor Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, it really has to be considered part two of those heady days, coming just 10 months after. The album is just as consistent, is better produced, and has more tremendous performances from the Spiders. The only thing that keeps this set a notch below is the sequencing, with too many of the very best cuts on side two, and less than satisfying opener in Watch That Man. Along the way, it includes the immortal The Jean Genie, the claustrophobic Panic In Detroit, and his inspired cover of Let's Spend The Night Together, which led to the next record, the all-covers Pin Ups.

Audio-wise, this uses the same brilliant remaster as the 2015 vinyl version, which is a revelation for any fan more used to the old '70's album. During the quick pauses in Time, there's a rich echo unheard before. The delightful horns on The Prettiest Star now stand out, and the mandolin and piano on Lady Grinning Soul have a shinning quality. It's a great album that doesn't always get its due, and now it's silver.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: BETTYE LAVETTE - THINGS HAVE CHANGED

There's no question Bob Dylan has had the blues for a long time, and that's certainly influenced his writing. There have been a few collections of Dylan songs done in blues, soul and gospel styles, and most turn out quite well. This one, from the veteran soul singer LaVette, is cool as can be, her rich, rough voice a fine match for these warnings and weary life lessons from Dylan's catalogue. The songs chosen come from all phases of his career, from the well-known (It Ain't Me Babe) to buried album cuts (Going, Going, Gone), but all of course of the highest calibre. Of the many, many singers who tackle Dylan, soul/blues/gospel singers, especially women, arguably do the best versions.

Sometimes they do a better version in fact. Listen to LaVette dig into Don't Fall Apart On Me Tonight, not the most inspired Dylan performance, but she finds an emotional reading the composer only hinted at. And what LaVette does for the vocals, producer Steve Jordan does for the arrangements. A song that's a real clunker from the '80's, Seeing The Real You At Last, is now slinky and funky. Lavette gives it an update too, with new lyrics. Instead of referring to Annie Oakley and Belle Starr, she's rewrites it as "You could sing like Otis Redding/You Could Dance like Bruno Mars." And it works great, you purists.

Sometimes it's pretty much just awesome singing from LaVette. Mama, You Been On My Mind has spare backing, and a heartfelt and sentimental treatment that will have you reaching for the Kleenex box. Where Dylan was singing about a lover, LaVette sings it to her own mother. Ain't Talkin', one that Dylan himself does a mighty job singing, here gets an eerie and subtle arrangement with a string quartet. Others have a grade-A cast to catch a great groove. Jordan handles drums and some guitar, long-time Dylan guitar player Larry Campbell is all over the record, Leon Pendarvis (James Brown, SNL Band, etc.) handles keys and Pino Palladino (The Who) covers bass. Guests include Trombone Shorty, Ivan Neville, and one Keith Richards on a couple of tracks. Honestly, the arrangements and playing are so fresh, it would be worth hearing these reinterpretations of the Dylan material with almost any vocalist, they are that good. But it's all sublime with LaVette's passion leading the way.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: RICK AND GAILLIE - THE LOST ALBUM

I love getting around the country, at the very least via the audio route, and this time we stop by Peterborough, Ontario. We'll drop by the Black Horse Pub, well-known for live music seven night (and some matinees) a week. If you go Monday nights, you can get half-price wings (yay) and catch the Crash And Burn show, with Rick & Gailie (double yay). They have a long-standing residency at the pub, also doing matinees Friday and Saturdays, honing a sound that's a little bit prog (think Moody Blues) and a lot pop (think British Invasion). That's resulted in their latest disc, which collects a solid 16 originals with classic songwriting and warm vocals and harmonies.

From the lighter, happy style of the '64 era (Thank You, Be My Baby), which echo early Beatles/Dave Clark Five singles, to the more mature pop for Falling For You, to the adventurous opener Deity, echoing those Procol Harum/Moodies productions, everything on this album is familiar, fun and fresh at the same time. Rick and Gailie don't recreate, instead they are inspired by this beloved era, and create new works that sit perfectly in that style. Don't Take Time is a great piece of early rock 'n' roll, but as heard through British ears and then sent back to North America, the same way those '60's bands were interpreting Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran, etc.

When Rick and Gailie do get a bit more modern, such as on Faster, it's the same way it happened in the early '70's, when pop bands heavily influenced by The Beatles et al, like Badfinger, sharpened up the sound. The production here is crisp and new as well, there's nothing screaming 'vintage' but rather it's all refreshing, for folks with an ear to those proven qualities. Worth a trip to Peterborough, huh? Well, that and the wings.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: JORDAN OFFICER - THREE RIVERS

A stunning album from Montreal's Officer, who makes the brilliant sound so casual. This is subtle blues/jazz/roots, his vocals so easy-going and comfortable you're lulled into a pleasant listening spot. Then, just when you're taking the music for granted, he blows you away with an awesome, short guitar line or a raw riff or two on his violin.

Produced by the drummer here Charlie Drayton, who Keith Richards uses for his solo work, this is multi-genre, all-class. There's a bit of country-shuffle (Dream Of You And Me), some gospel, and the lovely, indescribable sound of Driving Back From Three Rivers, a late-night drive at a slow pace, Officer caressing each low note. Where Has This Come From reminds me a bit of J.J. Cale, a little more uptempo, but that same ease, at least until he knocks off a twangy solo. Meanwhile Drayton is equally subtle, lots of snare, stick work on the rims, no big booms, and bassist Zev Katz, the only other player here, is tasty but never overpowering, filling that crucial bottom.

As much as I love the fact the songs travel so easily among the various styles, there's a particular magic Officer brings to the more blues-based numbers here. He's Got It All is one of the most spectacular new blues numbers I've heard in years, very simple in structure, but sung and played with so much feel. His guitar work and tone is almost shocking, sure to light up the face of any fan. I can't throw enough accolades at this collection.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: VARIOUS - THE JOSHUA TREE - NEW ROOTS

Here's a charity project that's all about Ireland, but with enough interest that it's made it's way across the ocean. The charity in question is a children's hospice in that country called LauraLynn, and the album includes mostly new and upcoming Irish musicians who aren't known here, except for a couple of exceptions. The real star here though is the material, one of the best-known albums of Irish origin ever, U2's landmark The Joshua Tree. It just had its 30th anniversary, which was the impetus for this new version.

Each track on the original album has been covered by one of the groups or solo artists, either in loving recreation, or with a new and novel arrangement. The known names here include Imelda May, who puts her tremendous vocal talents into a spare version of I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For, slower and dominated by her mighty pipes. The only other act I'm familiar with is The Strypes, youngsters who weren't even born until almost a decade after Joshua Tree's initial release, who put their considerable energy into a far-more rocking take of Trip Through Your Wires. That's the main flip-flip for cuts here, the bigger songs are done slower, and the moody ones toughened up.

Gavin James, a star singer-songwriter at home who has been making waves here on TV shows and opening up for Ed Sheeran, will probably be a well-known name soon, gets the honour of doing Where The Streets Have No Name, a more thoughtful cover certainly. The Academic, the current hottest band in the country, who went to number one with their debut album, put a sharper edge (pun intended) in In God's Country. It's actually an interesting way to be introduced to a bunch of new groups.

And what of the superstars originally responsible? Well, they are always charity-minded and nationally-focused as well, and go above and beyond for the cause. The compilers here make note of the fact the band and their publishing company are donating all the publishing royalties from the sales and airplay, plus they show up too, with the final cut. It's a live version of Red Hill Mining Town, recorded on their anniversary tour last year for the album. This set is win-win for everybody.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: HUGH CHRISTOPHER BROWN - PACEM

 
Toronto's Bourbon Tabernacle Choir were certainly one of the country's most eclectic bands of the '90's or ever, and founding member Chris Brown has continued in a varied career. A producer, co-conspirator and activist, Brown has turned the old post office in Wolfe Island, ON. into his studio, and has also run a respected program in prison to help inmates with music careers. His new album corrals many of his ideas and influences, starting with a Latin prayer, adding a host of guest co-vocalists, allowing room for a serene piano instrumental, and filling the rest with inspiring, thoughtful lyrics.

A keyboard player first and foremost, Brown lets the meditative qualities of piano feature prominently on some songs, including penultimate song The Wave, even handing over the vocals to longtime partner Kate Fenner, another original from the Bourbon Tabernacle Choir days. It's imbued with this gem of wisdom, like some ancient Eastern text: "If goodness is what sorrow saves, then let these tears roll like the waves." Others spring from acoustic guitar, accented with only the most peaceful of instrumental help, from cello and violins, mandolin, pedal and lap steel. Pacem, indeed. There's decency, humanity and fine musical innovation at work here.

Monday, April 9, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: EVA CASSIDY - SONGBIRD 20

One of the saddest, and oddest stories in music has to be the superstardom of Cassidy, who first came to fame 20 years ago with this landmark album. Sad because she was recently deceased, discovered only when she was succumbing to cancer. Cassidy was just another singer doing what she loved, singing jazz and blues in clubs in Washington, D.C., recording when she pieced together enough cash and offers. She had some local respect, but nobody outside her hometown had paid any attention.

After her death in 1996, people started people her music a bit more, and eventually tracks got to England, where BBC Radio got tremendous response playing her material. A compilation of sessions called Songbird was released, featuring her versions of classics and covers such as Over The Rainbow, Sting's Fields of Gold, and the Fleetwood Mac favourite as the title track. One of the few stars who had heard of her before was Mick Fleetwood, when she had played his Washington-area restaurant. He wrote a piece in a British magazine about her wonderful voice and collection, which was selling hundreds of thousands of copies in the U.K., making the Top 10. Eventually word spread to North America, and it became a massive seller for the recent Amazon chain, as well as a PBS favourite and coffee shop standard, marking a new kind of retail hit. It eventually sold a staggering five million copies,
 
The success of the album led to a great demand for more, and live tapes, demo sessions, collaborations and more were mined for subsequent albums, both family-approved (all good) or not (not much Eva involvement). Since everything has been repackaged already, there wasn't much to left to supplement this anniversary edition. What the label has done is taken acoustic versions of versions of four of the favourite tracks here that have already been out on the Simply Eva set, and appended them here. My guess is only the bigger fans will have that other album, so if you're knew to Cassidy or looking for another copy of this classic, it's worthwhile.

How good was she? Songbird will make you forget it was ever a Christine McVie song. Oh, Had I A Golden Thread will turn you religious, and Over The Rainbow will reduce you to tears. The acoustics versions are, if anything, better.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: SILLS & SMITH - MAPS - BURNED OR LOST

Six albums in, Ottawa duo Sills & Smith have a reputation for alt-rock and prog rock, but this is calmed down, and leaning heavily folk/singer-songwriter. Perhaps that's because they've got some things to get off their respective chests. Frank Smith, who handles almost all the lyrics, has some harsh words off the top in On The Edge for those senators and congressmen Dylan called out years ago, and who haven't learned in all that time: "A pox on all your house." The song puts us near the precipice, foolishly getting too close, just lucky we're not falling over. It's a warning that seemingly nobody's taking. How we got in this mess is pretty clear, Smith once again pointing the finger at the greedy in Kings: "Opportunists in tailored suits collide with Fascists Sloganeers Carnival barkers. Although the song is looking back at the old captains of industry, the parallel is plain to see.

There's a lot of different subject matter over the 14 cuts here, and for such a lengthy album to steer away from love songs for the most part is pretty remarkable. Several times they return to current affairs, echoing feelings a lot of us are having of late. Grave Fascination looks at how bigotry and greed have become so open in society, and how brazen the perpetrators are. Mercy is simply a call for some of it. There are moments of hope spread about, and the record doesn't have a negative tone. It's more a plea for a little sanity, putting their lot on the side of the righteous. It feels like something we should all be making clear these days.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: SLOAN - 12

Canadian rock's most enduring democracy soldiers on, proving a good band is worth nurturing. Album 12 sees the group rules firmly entrenched: Four writers, each getting equal treatment if they desire, each creating their own tracks, with or without help from the others as requested or required. Oddly, while that should lead to a fractured collection at best, instead this has to be the most cohesive album the group has ever made. I don't know that anybody put out the word to make a pop album, but 12 is, start to finish, hooks and harmonies and catchy moments galore.

Chris Murphy kicks things off with the song that rocks the most, Spin Our Wheels, although All Of Our Voices is guitar-edged as well. After that, it's a cavalcade of fun. Andrew's Gone For Good has CSN vocals, whereas Essential Services sounds more '70's British, piano and cheery harmonies. Don't Stop (If It Feels Good Do It) is a brilliant celebration of that cliche, with an insane chorus. Every song is clean, crisp, sharp, and features some of the best guitar playing they (all of them) have done. Usually you go through a Sloan album thinking Jay's songs are this and Patrick's that, but on 12, you get 12 potential hit singles. I know there are lots of different opinions of what the best Sloan sound is, favourite eras and such, but for me, this is the group's pinnacle.

Friday, April 6, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: ALEX PANGMAN'S HOT THREE!

They don't make like this anymore, except for this one. Toronto swing/jazz singer Pangman took her trio into a studio in New Orleans that specializes in antique gear and sounds, and recorded this seven song set onto an old 78 RPM cutting lathe, the way they did it back in the Dirty '30's. What you lack in fidelity is more than made up for in presence, as you really feel like you've been transported back in time. While the sounds are tinny and flattened out, the magic is in the skilled musicians making room for each other in the limited space, and the vibrant tone of the instruments cutting through the atmosphere.

Pangman chose several hot tunes, some of which have a bluesy feel, others a European sensibility. All three of her players handle solo work, passing the lead back and forth; mostly violinist Matt Rhody and guitar player Nahum Zoybel take spotlight, but for me bass sax player Tom Saunders is the key, handling the bottom end, always present and the counter to Pangman's singing. She's always a joy, whether it's today tech or this ultimate oldies gig, and takes this way past retro chic. It's really an appreciation for that whole style of music-making, and lets us realize new technology isn't better, it's just part of the package.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: ROSIE & the RIVETERS - MS. BEHAVE

Mix the Andrews Sisters with Amy Winehouse and you'll get the sound of Rosie and the Riveters, a trio of strong women letting loose. Their retro/modern mix includes vintage clothes, hair, look but voices very much from today. They rip apart mansplaining on Ask A Man, singing "I Need a man to explain things to me/the space in my head is quite small you see/I am uncertain, what are my concerns/Can you spell them out in more simpler terms?" Point made.

The title cut says it's nobody's business how a woman acts, demanding an end to the old cliche of lady-like behaviour. Gotta Get Paid is about the most soulful way of campaigning for pay equity you can imagine. They aren't bashing anyone with these message songs, it's just plain, and they do it with good humour, stating the obvious while entertaining at the same time. Great harmonies, jazzy and groovy arrangements, and a positive way to get women's voices in the mix of crud that's slammed at us daily. The biggest point to take away is that these issues and societal changes should have been over with back in the '40's, but 70 years later we still need Rosie and the Riveters fighting the fight.

The group is bringing its dynamic live show to the East Coast to launch the new album. They'll be performing Saturday, Apr. 7 at the Kings Theatre in Annapolis Royal, NS, Sunday at Le Richelieu in Metaghan, NS, Wednesday, Apr. 11 at the Playhouse in Fredericton, Friday the 13th at the Harbourfront Theatre in Summerside, PEI, and Saturday the 14th at the Mermaid Imperial Performing Arts centre in Windsor, N.S.

Monday, April 2, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: JOEL THOMAS HYNES - DEAD MAN'S MELODY

If you've spent any time in the gritty downtown core of the city, any city, you'll know there's a subculture. Most musicians and lots of the arts community are familiar with that scene, from the very late nights to the shell-shocked mornings, where the reality of sex and drugs and rock and roll is far from the glamourous lifestyle often portrayed. And that goes double in ports, for a variety of reasons. Or so I'm told.

Hynes knows the deep city, the port of St. John's. Yes, he's a close relation to Ron, and yes, it runs in the family. He's already a hugely successful writer, his recent We'll All Be Burnt In Our Beds Some Night winning the Governor General's Award for Fiction. This is his first studio album, after a live collection, and it sounds like he's just as comfortable in this role as he is on the page. As befits his edgy lyrics, there's a punkish, searing feel to the music, lots of rough guitar and his gritty vocals. Hynes' characters are in various points of disarray, from the barfly frustrated at being downtown "going home, all alone, in your tightest pants" (Last Call) to the "cold and callous, mean and cruel" love interest in Bad Boy. And he closes the album with a real Zevon-worthy rocker with a classic observation, Everybody Loves You (When You're Dead).

Usually, people in one artistic discipline who try to move into music end up sounding like they're on holiday. Hynes sounds like he's belonged there all along, and if he wasn't already a tremendous writer, I'd be calling him that for this album alone.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: NATHANIEL RATELIFF & the NIGHT SWEATS - TEARING AT THE SEAMS

Starting with the saucy strut Shoe Boot sets the right tone for another great soul reboot from Rateliff. Thick organ and greasy horns lead into a drum break that, if it was 40 years old, would be seized by samplers upon rediscovery. What I like most is, despite all the correct and proper instrumentation, is a loose and uncluttered sound, lots of room to enjoy Rateliff's country-flavoured vocals.

What sets Rateliff apart from the equally-fine Daptone label soul groups is that old folk-roots side that he had starting out. Cuts like Babe I Know feel like the country soul of Arthur Alexander, slow and thoughtful, with strong lyrics. And he plays around with both forms, much the same way Otis Redding wanted to go with Dock of the Bay. Usually we spend time studying folk-style lyrics for deep truths, but Rateliff is reminding us the real truths can be found in the soulful places too.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: JANN ARDEN - THESE ARE THE DAYS

Jann Arden sounds like she's having fun on this album, which is welcome, because sometimes she sounds just too darn sad, and we all know what a great sense of humour she has. Lead track Everybody's Pulling On Me, with its girl group throwback sound, addresses getting away from the people bringing you down. There are several songs with similar positive advice, and there's even a page in the booklet devoted to one line: These are the days to kick ass. That's no doubt directed at herself as much as us.

Bob Rock produced and co-wrote most of the tracks with Arden, and its a solid collaboration. The songs play to her strengths, with the focus on the vocals and not too much, well, Rock, or rock. And it's no exercise is being up for up's sake either. A Long Goodbye addresses being the caregiver to her mother as she progresses with Alzheimer's, also the topic of her most recent book. It's a powerful, unflinching song, and that's what ties all this material together, the strength in the lyric. Come Down The River With Me is a full-on gospel rocker, Franklin is Southern Soul, One More Mile To Go could be a new country hit, and includes my favourite line, "I pulled over to grab a cup of coffee and use a dirty bathroom." The album is varied, runs the gamut of emotions, but never loses that strength.

Friday, March 30, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: DAVID BYRNE - AMERICAN UTOPIA

Byrne's back with a big art piece, no surprise, most of his work has been just that. He's working with Eno again, who supplied the bulk of the track ideas. They are slightly funky, dance-y tunes, nothing explosive but happy and enjoyable, with that Latin influence Byrne's had this century. The focus is more on the lyrics, as this is a thought piece, and he goes out of his way in the sleeve notes to explain it as best he can. He's not being ironic with the title, he's referring to the original view of the U.S. experiment, that it could approach a utopian society.

Instead of wailing about how that failed, and the woeful situation that country and most of the rest are in, Byrne writes about what we could do to change all that. Not that he has any concrete ideas; it's more about the potential we all have. Much of this is abstract, askew, goofy, whimsical, even confusing if you're looking for a normal story arc. He looks at things differently, and wonders if we all looked at life differently, and acted differently, would it be better? He just wants to ask questions.

It's best not to think too hard, if you want to enjoy the record, and it is enjoyable, if a little jarring. "The bullet went into him, it went it's merry way," he sings in Bullet, which basically just talks about the act of being shot. You can study what he's singing, or sit back and get into the pleasing grooves. I'd go with the grooves. And of course, you have Byrne's always-fascinating voice and delivery, along with some pretty novel soundscapes, so there's lots being offered. It's like a visit to an art gallery with lots of pretty paintings of people you can almost recognize.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: CHRISTINA MARTIN - IMPOSSIBLE TO HOLD

There's a wider musical palette on this latest, from one of the most consistently strong Maritime singer-songwriters. Along with producer/guitar player/husband Dale Murray, Dave Rawlings to her Gillian Welch, Martin is ranging into styles you'd never call roots. Always Reminding is bubbly '80's electronic pop, while Foreign features a Euro/Bowie techno chill. Keep Me Calm is catchy with '60's Top 10 touches and the single Lungs Are Burning is everything Stevie Nicks should still be doing with Fleetwood Mac.

That's all very welcome, as it makes the 10-track album widely varied and adventurous. The key though lies in her dramatic delivery of sharp observational lyrics, whether it's a relationship moment or someone's personal crisis. It feels like we're on the knife-edge in each song, when things could go wrong, but love manages to save the day or at least pull us back for now. This album is why the repeat button was invented.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: LARISSA TANDY - THE GRIP

Her music might be called Americana, but that's a distinct Australian accent coming through clearly. Larissa Tandy comes from a rural background in that country, and now is working a lot in Canada. She's heading out on her first tour of the Maritimes starting today (Mar. 28) with a mix of house concerts and club dates, featuring this 2017 album.

Her singer-songwriter songs are acoustic at the centre, surrounded by a rough and ready roots sound, with touches of organ, pedal steel and twangy lead guitar. The key is found in her strong lyrics, and her sharp observational style. The stuff we all struggle to figure out, she's managed to find a way to put into words. In The River, she sums up a relationship with "When it comes to you and me, I know nothing is perfect/ It has never been easy but it's always been worth it." In the opening cut Friendly Fire, she tells us "I didn't want to be a fighter but it became apparent from an early age that life had me backed into a corner." Most striking is My Mother's Boyfriend, where she goes over advice received by two parents, one close friend, and the titular guy who says "Make your luck, I hope he meant it lying dead under that truck." In short, lots of advice, life's still a mess, but press on.

That's the kind of voice I want to hear, and it's not the accent (cool as it is), it's the clarity of her writing, and bursts of wisdom in each song. Catch Tandy at the Rogue Cafe in Saint John, N.B. on Thursday the 29th, Grimross in Fredericton on Friday, an in-store at Back Alley Music in Charlottetown Saturday afternoon, a show at The Dunk in Breadalbane, P.E.I. Saturday evening, and the Carleton in Halifax Tuesday, April 3.

Monday, March 26, 2018

MUDDY WATERS - CAN'T BE SATISFIED: THE VERY BEST OF

It occurs to me that there is probably a whole generation of music fans that only know Muddy Waters from his appearance in the The Last Waltz movie. Not that it wasn't good, it's just that he was near the end of his life at that point, and comes across more as the genial, revered grandfather figure, rather than the dangerous performer and massive innovator that he truly was. This set would be a fine place for anyone to go to pick up on that.

First off, they'd need to know these weren't cliches when Muddy sang them, he was putting them down for the first time. They were either new then, or gathered from old acoustic blues numbers, and being assembled for these new versions, you know, the blues tradition, either his own tracks or the ones he popularized by Willie Dixon. And when they hear Muddy do You Need Love, they'll recognize where Led Zeppelin got their songs. The sexy stuff, not the lyrics about hobbits and shit.

You can't go too wrong with a Muddy Waters collection, and this two-disc set does it just about perfectly. Unveiled chronologically, it traces Waters from acoustic to fully electric, and marks the explosion of Chess blues that he led in the '50's. While there aren't any of his sides previous to Chess, the initial cuts here, such as I Can't Be Satisfied, show him still in the acoustic field with just slide and bass, in the Delta blues style of mentors such as Son House. But soon he teamed up with the other greats of Chess, and exploded that particularly threatening, big city blues at which he was the master, more sophisticated than Howlin' Wolf, his great rival.

The second disc here follows Waters through the second half of his career, as his fame grew thanks to all those white boys from England bowing at his feet. Although it's usually the earlier material that draws the most praise, there were plenty of albums and tracks from the mid-'60's to the mid-'70's worthy of repeating play. Plus, there's the still-divisive Electric Mud album to discuss, Chess's attempt to modernize the master after the success of the Stones, Cream, etc. It keeps getting better with age, separated from the controversy over the premise at the time. Quite simply though, here's two hours of the real thing, and a kind of wish I was young again just so I could hear it all over for the first time.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: CHARLES WRIGHT & the WATTS 103rd STREET RHYTHM BAND - THE BEST OF

These funk pioneers came together as session players in the late '60's L.A. hotbed, among other jobs serving as backing band for Bill Cosby's foray in soul as part of his stage act. The talented group proved to have a great, danceable groove going on, able to fill floors with improvised jams and killer hooks. Soon they were editing actual hit singles out of those live shows, starting with 1969's Do Your Thing. Wright was the producer, singer on the funky stuff, and band leader, so his name went to the top of the billing. For the smoother fare, drummer James Gadson handled the vocals, best heard on the hit Love Land from 1970 that deserves to be better remembered.

It was the next song that became their best-known cut, Express Yourself, another adaption of the Do Your Thing theme, the band's signature. If it doesn't leap to mind, you'd recognize bits from the dozens of tracks that have sampled the break beats over the years, and all the group's material from those years includes ridiculously infectious rhythms. Although they just had three years of core existence, this best-of easily fills up an hour without flagging. Most surprisingly, there are two recent cuts from Wright from an upcoming album that are seriously strong, including the return of that ultimate groove in Remember That Thing.

Friday, March 23, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: LED ZEPPELIN - HOW THE WEST WAS WON

It seems like this just came out, but it was actually 15 years ago, so it missed the rebirth of vinyl, which is the main reason it's being reissued now. It sounded great in the first place, after much detailed work by Page himself, and now gets some retweaking. This is where the detailed restoration has gone, and it's now the focus album for concert stuff of Zeppelin, rather than the inferior, bloated The Song Remains The Same soundtrack.

Page calls this the height of Zeppelin live, and certainly they are firing on all cylinders here. They are also by this time (1972) huge, conquering the new arena circuit in the U.S., and showing how monster shows should be done, for then and for the future. I tried to put myself in that audience, and can easily imagine how blown away people must have been. Disc one (or albums one and two) in particular is a tremendous listen still, songs that come at you with power and majesty. Particular effective is the opening trio of Immigrant Song, Heartbreaker and Black Dog. Stairway To Heaven is perhaps a might underwhelming, but it always was live, one song where it's impossible to meet expectations. But Going To California is a delight, its different textures a good contrast from the heaviness, and you'll notice Plant refer to "Joni" in an adlib, letting all know that Joni Mitchell was the inspiration.

I find discs two and three (or on vinyl, albums three and four) lose the momentum, thanks to the expansions of Dazed And Confused (25:25), Moby Dick (19:20) and Whole Lotta Love (20:59), which were probably more effective in person. And as for the infamous drum solo in Moby Dick, well, those things stand out like bell bottoms and afros do from the '70's these days. And the band really didn't have a good encore figured out on that whole tour. Certainly Rock and Roll and The Ocean worked, but ended on Bring It On Home seems like a let down. Disc one is the one to replay, as an example of when giants roamed the Earth.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: SIERRA NOBLE - CITY OF GHOSTS

I know everybody's down on Facebook these days, selling off our personal info to Russians or Trump or the Illuminati, and being full of fake news that gets us all riled up and voting for right-wing, pro-cannibals. That's all true (ish) but if it's truly bugging you and you want to log off and live in the woods with no computer and indoor plumbing, let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater just yet. Howz about we all stop using it for say, just news (easily manipulated) and instead use it for good and truth and beauty and art? For instance, here I was just yesterday, checking out a live show by a musician I knew but had never had the chance to see live before. Very handy, this Facebook Live thing. A Winnipeg group called The Village Idiots have a weekly show Live At The Roslyn each Wednesday night that features a different local group in concert. That let me look in on singer-songwriter Sierra Noble, whose 2016 album City Of Ghosts I found intriguing and surprising.

I can remember Noble when she was starting out as a kid fiddler, but along the way she moved into songwriting, guitar and has become a first-class vocalist and performer. Two years in Nashville and another two in New York City happened, but she moved back home with all that experience, and a parcel of good songs from it as well. On stage she presented a powerful set of originals with sharp, insightful lyrics, some from City Of Ghosts, and a couple of brand-new ones that even stronger. One as-yet unnamed tune she explained came from the scary, changed world for someone who is single, the risks that are out there. That left me looking forward to her next one.

But for now, City Of Ghosts still sounds sharp and full. Her fiddle still appears, every few songs on stage, and as a mood-maker on several songs, including album-opener Be Who You Be, with an Eastern feel not unlike Robert Plant's recent albums. There's strength throughout in the lyrics, including a farewell song, Breaking Up With New York City, really a love song. Kiss Me Like You Mean It is a break-up song, but one that takes strength from it: "So let's drink our cheap red wine, and pay our last regrets/Push our hands in concrete and split a cigarette." Rebel Song has a pointed message for the corrupt and powerful who take greed too far: "Music never dies/but kings do every day."

I had heard the album before, but the live performance of several of these songs made it all hit home stronger. So I'll salute Facebook, and remind all it's okay to use - with caution.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: KRISTI LANE SINCLAIR - THE ABILITY TO JUDGE DISTANCE

From B.C. and now living in Toronto, Sinclair challenges rather than soothes on this five-song E.P. Her five-piece band specializes in melancholy post-punk with a touch of Factory Records sounds. That includes a mesmerizing violin that sets the unsettled, but still melodic mood on the soul-searching cuts Starlite & Dust and Time.

Sinclair can also rock out in a jagged way, Guido energetic and rough, short and danceable, a Siouxsie and the Banshees-worthy track. Reflection turns to anger on Fire In Santa Fe, inspired by the shitshow in the U.S., and the Standing Rock protest. No surprise her last album, 2015's Dark Matter, won Best Rock Album at the 2017 Indigenous Music Awards. There's substance in each song.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: ELISE LEGROW - PLAYING CHESS

I recently slammed Randy Bachman for his ham-handed tribute to George Harrison, By George, as an example of what not to do in a covers album. On the other side, we have this, with LeGrow doing updates of classic Chess Records songs from the '50's and '60's. The key word is update, and Bachman's grievous error was that his covers did nothing to move the songs forward, but instead offered reinterpretations stuck in cliches. Here, Toronto's LeGrow comes up with soulful, modern and captivating versions of these well-worn numbers that brings them alive again.

Chuck Berry's playful You Never Can Tell is rendered as a simmering ballad, with LeGrow's elegant vocals capturing our attention, never letting go. Fontella Bass' immortal Rescue Me is delivered as something funky and hot, slower but spicier.
When she does play it straight, such as Long Lonely Nights, originally by Lee Andrews on Chess, but better known by Bobby Vinton, she simply wows with her great, emotional delivery, winning the song back from Vinton's schmaltz.

Nicely, the album isn't filled with the Chess sampler hits, but goes deeper to grab some obscurities, such as Hold On by The Radiants. She also reminds us that certain well-known numbers were originally Chess cuts, such as Sincerely, a big sappy #1 hit for the McGuire Sisters in 1956 but first done by The Moonglows. And another great idea was doing a medley of You Can't Judge A Book By The Cover with Berry's You Can't Catch Me. Everything about this album is fresh and inspired.

Friday, March 16, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: THE DOORS - LIVE AT THE ISLE OF WIGHT FESTIVAL 1970 (Blu-ray/CD)

I'm sure if The Doors had known this was the last concert of theirs that would ever be filmed, they would have brought more than the one red light illuminating them throughout this set. Of course, how were they to know they'd only play two more gigs before Jim Morrison left for Paris, and his demise. Also, they didn't know the deal at the Isle of Wight was that each band was responsible for their own lighting, so they just borrowed a red one, and had the festival's follow-spot to cut through the 2 a.m. gloom. Actually, the red gives the whole thing a spooky aura, fitting for The Doors, and the overall mood of their performance.

This was not a happy time for the group, with Morrison on trial for obscenity in Miami, nobody willing to book them in the U.S., and their immediate future bleak. Morrison had entered the beard phase, and clearly is not interested in causing a ruckus that night, barely moving from behind his mic, singing with his eyes closed for much of it, and letting the band try to make up the energy. Funny though, even this version of Morrison is still captivating, and he still manages to come alive at the right times to howl in Break On Through. If you couldn't see his face, like most of the 600,000 festival-goers, you'd have heard a really good show. The Blu-ray viewer has to wonder if he's stoned or drunk from his face, but really, he doesn't sound it.

The show does drag though, because of the long jams added to everything. There are just seven songs, but the set lasts over an hour. That's an awful lot of Robby Krieger soloing, never the best guitar player of the era, a time when everybody felt the need to ramble on. With nobody moving much, the viewer is left with the feeling they've entered a practice hall, not a live show. It also speaks volumes that this August 1970 show is based around their debut album from three years before, with the big four cuts from then featured: Light My Fire, Break On Through, Back Door Man and The End. Only Roadhouse Blues and Ship Of Fools are played from the just-released Morrison Hotel, with When The Music's Over the other number. It feels very much like they're doing what they have to do so people will feel like satisfied.

The sound is great though. Original Doors engineer Bruce Botnick has done a shiny 5.1 mix, and the film has been expertly restored, probably looking better than it ever has. A feature called This Is The End has been added, which explains the whole Miami incident in clips from the other three members, some new, some of the old Ray Manzarek stuff. The Isle of Wight show happened just after the trial started, Morrison still possibly going to prison, so no wonder he was subdued. It's good to have the context, I'd actually advise watching it first, before the live show.

Are there better Doors shows and videos available? Oh you bet, but with these important bands, we're now at the point where it's important to have the history. As John Densmore says, "Since he checked out at 27, it's precious footage."

Thursday, March 15, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: RANDY BACHMAN - BY GEORGE HARRISON

Randy Bachman has all the right in the world to do a tribute album to George Harrison, but he sure has a lot of balls to do this one. Bachman is almost the same vintage as Harrison, having started out in the early '60's, and was a Beatles fan before they even made it to North America, famously hearing them via a friend's reel-to-reel tapes sent over from England. They were both lead guitar players for hit-making '60's bands, and had a second big career in the '70's. So why did this turn out so tacky?
 
I won't slag Bachman for the usual reasons many Canadians do, sick of his radio  show and the constant me, me, me, refrain of his chatter, plus the outright factual errors he and the CBC allow to go through. At least I won't slag him in connection with this album. Instead, I'll slag him for the unnecessary and bizarre reinterpretations of the Harrison songs that will no doubt leave the late beloved Beatle spinning wherever he is, somewhere in the greater cosmos.
 
The thing starts somewhat lamely, but at least harmlessly, with a new tribute song Bachman wrote, Between Two Mountains. The title phrase refers to George's place between Lennon and McCartney, not the worst metaphor ever, but the rehash of classic Harrison guitar lines doesn't really make this a needed work.  Then, in a jaw-dropping move, the next cut and first cover is the Beatles' oldie If I Needed Someone, and I shit you not, it's done in a smooth jazz version. Now hey, I'm all for stretching and changing these things, but The Beatles as George Benson in his near-disco phase?  
 
And it gets worse. Here Comes The Sun as a reggae tune only sounds good on paper. Get it? Sunshine = Jamaica? The Wilburys' beloved Handle With Care is dull and sludgy, and sounds like BTO doing it. To liven up Think For Yourself, he flies in the slide guitar lick from My Sweet Lord, which only confuses the matter.
 
Taxman becomes an electric blues with a John Lee Hooker beat on the verses, and in the chorus it sounds like he and the singers are going "Batman!" instead of Taxman, like in the cartoon TV theme. And to show there's not a subtle moment on the album, I present Something, one of the great love songs of our day, now sped up and more resembling Boz Scaggs' Lowdown (actually a good song) with a plodding bass line and way too much electric soloing from Randy.
 
I'll give it this, the guitar playing is fine throughout, and the version of While My Guitar Gently Weeps works, along with guest Walter Trout on guitar. But like everything else he does, this album is all about Randy, and George gets lost in the process.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: TIN PAN DARLINGS PRESENT: INSIDE A MELODY

If anybody has done this before, I've never heard of it. Making an original album wasn't enough for the Tin Pan Darlings, so the group went ahead and made a movie to go along with it as well. Not a documentary or making-of, an actual movie that matches the plot of the album. And, the Maritime group is touring the creation, so you can go see the show, as they perform the album to go along with the film. Tres cool.

You'll also be able to see the film on YouTube starting in April. It's a silent movie, a comedy, reflecting the jazz age style of the music, a '20's - '30's vintage feel and look. Tin Pan Darlings is lead by singer Tracy Anderson, who conceived of the project five years ago, first as music. Then her sister, pianist Amy got more involved, and learned, yes learned, how to make a film. The nine-track album runs about 36 minutes, so a good chunk of filming to do.

I can't tell you about the visuals yet, but the music is superbly created, featuring some of the region's best jazz players. Anderson teamed up with the dean of the scene, Halifax jazz-blues pianist Bill Stevenson, a fixture on CBC for years, and a frequent collaborator with, hmm, everybody, as producer and co-writer. He brought along his colleagues in Easley (Thom, double bass), Stevenson and Arsenault (Geoff, drums) for some cuts, and there are different combinations of players on each cut, featuring rich horn arrangements, and even some vintage jazz violin from Ray Legere. Amy handles lots of piano, and predictably Stevenson wades in with some tasty keys himself, especially the organ on Bathtub Gin.

Legere's violin is featured on Let's Have A Romance, playing off Anderson's vocals, a lighthearted proposal played out to a tango. On Cabana Song, the troupe goes Latin as the lovebirds go on vacation to a gentle samba, with Anderson getting to playfully follow the melody, scatting along to the piano notes. You can get a good sense of the plot from the soundtrack, all those classic jazz scenarios, and revel in the fine performances all the way through.

The live show is going to be quite an event, with the movie and with the Tin Pan Darlings performing as a jazz quintet, featuring both Andersons, Paul St. Amand on trumpet, Adam Bourque on double bass and Brendan Melchin on drums. Here are the tour dates so far:

March 21st, Second Wind Music Centre, Florenceville - Bristol
 
March 22nd, Five and Dime, Saint John
 
March 23rd, Sackville Commons, Sackville, NB
 
March 24th, Grimross Brewery, Fredericton 
 
May 12th, CodaPop Studios, Halifax

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK - CONCERT FOR GEORGE

One of your classier and more enjoyable tribute concert sets gets reissued, and certainly one that resonates with fans still. There was no trouble gathering big names to celebrate Harrison, so much so that it was kept to real, close friends, which ended up making the performances all touching, and first-class as well. Everyone brought their A game, and of course, they had wonderful material to work with. Too bad Dylan wasn't there, no idea why not, but you had other fellow Wilburys Tom Petty (and the Heartbreakers) and Jeff Lynne, plus Beatles Paul and Ringo, one-time fifth Beatle Billy Preston, and friends Eric Clapton, Gary Brooker (Procol Harum) and Joe Brown.

Then there was Ravi Shankar watching his daughter Anoushka lead a big Indian orchestra through his composition for George, Arpan, and Jeff Lynne singing Harrison's Indian-themed Beatle number The Inner Light, music that encompasses the first CD here. Of course, Harrison was the one who made us all pay attention to these exotic sounds in the first place. I remember as a kid finding them so difficult to appreciate, but now they float by, and I can follow these deft and delicate patterns, and find it relaxing and inspiring. Thanks for that, George.

On the rock side, well it's beloved hit after hit, with a huge band led by Clapton and augmented by young Dhani taking his father's place. Lynne, Clapton and Brooker offer up versions of three Harrison Beatle tunes back when he was being allowed the odd one: I Want To Tell You, If I Needed Someone and Old Brown Shoe. Not only do they hold up, they prove the point that he was being held back by being in the world's best band as his talents grew. A couple of solo numbers then make the point that his songwriting was brilliant from '68 on. Lynne does a nice job on Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth), although really that's one where the band absolutely shines, while Clapton does a stunning job on Beware Of Darkness, one of those times that proves how awesome he can be with the right song. British singer/actor Joe Brown gives a music hall feel to his tunes, including Here Comes The Sun, good-natured stuff. But then show switches to overdrive.

Petty and the Heartbreakers take things back to The Beatles with Taxman, before a mini-Wilburys reunion happens with Lynne and Dhani on board for Handle With Care, a true highlight. Then after Preston delivers a soulful Isn't It A Pity, Ringo rocks for his friend on the Harrison composition Photograph, and their old Carl Perkins favourite Honey Don't. Then it's Paul's turn with For You Blue, and a touching ukulele tribute on Something. The final push sees Clapton and McCartney team for While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Preston back on as the best one to do My Sweet Lord, and the whole gang with Clapton leading doing Wah-Wah. As a touching farewell, Brown returns to wish George well, singing I'll See You In My Dreams.

The reason for the reissue was to get it on vinyl for the first time, and to continue raising funds for Harrison's Material World Foundation. The big news on the vinyl is that the song Horse To The Water is included, as done by Sam Brown and Jools Holland, edited off the CD. And on the Blu-ray side, you get to see the hijinks of George's Monty Python pals, who show up for The Lumberjack Song in intermission, with Tom Hanks as an honourary Mountie. Here's the thing, not only is it a great watch or listen, you're going to feel good just owning it.

Monday, March 12, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: HYNESS - THE END OF MUSIC

New band, short E.P., four tracks. Hailing from Kitchener-Waterloo, Amy and Marcus Addams handle the fuzzy guitars and vocals, while Colin White drums and Justin Cober, umm, basses. What they're doing isn't as noisy as shoegaze, but could be, if they weren't so keen on melodies and twin harmonies. There's a distinct retro feel to the cut Satan, with its boy-girl, which starts out Mickey and Sylvia and winds down all '60's Who.

On her own, Amy Addams sound a little like Neko Case singing The Smiths' Hand In Glove here, the lone cover, done in a less dramatic version. On their three originals, the group doesn't dwell in Retroland, instead letting all their influences jockey for position, coming up with a cool take on where pop could have gone after the '90's. Let's just pretend the last two decades didn't happen, and now Hyness is here.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: THE LAZYS - TROPICAL HAZARDS

It remains mysterious to me why a heritage band such as, say, AC/DC remains hugely popular with original fans, concert-goers who have never owned one of their records, and entire new generations not born during the group's heyday, despite now being down to one original member (Angus). Yet new rock bands are having a desperate time trying to build any kind of interest and staying power, like its Dixieland or ballroom dancing or something else from a bygone era. I guess its just the whole spectacle of the thing, the cultural iconic moment it represents, and it doesn't matter who's up there as long as there's a guy in short pants and another one screeching "Highway to Hell" and some big lights and fireworks and like-minded souls numbering in the tens of thousands.

Anyway, if it's the music you actually enjoy, here's a band built on the AC/DC sound, from Sydney, Australia, natch. They'd been building and recording in their own country for a decade before a unique twist brought them to Canada. Playing in front of industry types at Canadian Music Week, they impressed the right folks fast, and in short order ended up working with Ian D'Sa of Billy Talent, and eventually moving here, so they're basically Canadian now.

The Lazys actually have more going on than the one-dimensional hard-pounding sound of their Australian forebearers, with the ability to throw in a ballad or two on the new album, and some more imaginative ways to get to the heavy choruses on the rockers. But when they strut their stuff, well, these are probably the hit songs Angus Young (and Def Leppard and Axl Rose and lots of others) wish they were still able to write. Nothing But Trouble is the first single, all churning energy, while Little Miss Crazy does the same trick as well. Half Mast Blues is an example of that rare genre, pirate rock ("Shiver me timbers/drink a barrel of rum"). But Young Modern Lightning is where the group stretches, kind of a power ballad with something decent to say. And One's Too Many is a hard rocker, but with more punk roots than metal. So, you know, rock 'n' roll still lives.

Friday, March 9, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: SUZIE VINNICK - SHAKE THE LOVE AROUND

After a couple of acoustic albums, this Ontario favourite singer/songwriter from the roots field returns with a full band album. It's hard to single out one aspect to focus on with Vinnick, as she writes strong songs and sings with tons of emotion, plus plays both guitar and bass with authority. And when she does choose a cover, she makes it her own. Check out her version of Percy Mayfield's Danger Zone, which she does solo, just her and her bass, pouring her heart in to the vocal, and making us realize the world's still in an uproar these days.

With the full band, Vinnick turns up the soulful sounds, with Find Some Freedom an inspiring gospel-flavoured number featuring a guest solo blast from Kevin Breit, and Colin Linden doing the same on slide for Crying A River. On Creaking Pines, Vinnick conjures up a dark, creepy and slow groove over writer Kent Theaker's ghost story, with a spooky vocal to help the mood. But then she turns right around on All I Wanna Do, with a great bit of fun in All I Wanna Do with its slinky New Orleans vibe. There are several co-writes with some of the best blues-roots folks around, including Steve Strongman, Treasa Lavasseur, and Matt Andersen. That last pair close off the set with Drift Away, a thoughtful, dignified ballad that really shows off Vinnick's luminous voice. Again, it's a real toss-up as to which kind of song here I admire most, and thank goodness we get lots to choose from.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: TAMPA - BELATED LOVE




Hey, it's release day for the debut album from the Moncton band, Tampa, called Belated Love. New band, old friends actually. This is three members of the group Danger Cat, now transformed with a new sound into Tampa, and adding a real ringer in Katrine Noël from the much-loved Les Hay Babies, newly deputized as the group's bass player. Speaking of ringers, Tampa made a smart move drafting in producer Joe Grass, sonic adventurer, N.B.'er by birth, and guitarist to the stars (Patrick Watson, etc.) in Montreal.

The phrase has become so frustratingly overused that it's now meaningless, but I'd call this real alternative rock music. It has all the recognizable traits of your basic rock song, but messes with them all with bright, new ideas. The verse-chorus-verse structure gets tossed, even the basic sounds of the instruments get manipulated. For every little retro moment, there's something to counter it on the adventurous and new side. If Richard Lloyd and Television came along now, I think this would be the kind of record they'd make. It's catchy as all get out, funky and danceable, and just crammed full of great ideas.

It's fascinating listening to all the individual guitar parts, sharp chords or stinging little riffs, pretty lines that run in and out with the melodies. There will be three, four or more of these in each song, along with different vocal styles, from single leads from Nic LeBlanc, to double-tracked ones to harmonies and blankets of effects. There's nothing better than adventurous music meeting adventurous production. There's an album release show today (Mar. 09) at the Capital Complex in Fredericton, and the big launch party is Saturday at Salle Bernard-LeBlanc in Moncton.

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: NEIL YOUNG - HARVEST MOON (Vinyl)

It's getting hard to keep up with all the new albums, movies and TV shows Neil Young is putting out, mixed in with the constant stream of reissues, plus of course the currently free content on his website archives, all of his released music streamable. We wait anxiously for his new flick, Paradox, filmed on the Earth tour, to debut on Netflix, and his Roxy: Tonight's The Night Live album to be released on Record Store Day in April. But don't miss out on this release, slipping out during this brief lull in the schedule of new stuff.

This is the first readily available version of this Young favourite on vinyl in Canada and the U.S., after a brief availability at last November's Black Friday RSD. It came out in 1992, when vinyl was pretty much dead, so it didn't get a release then, except in Europe. Now it's a three-sided album, to cover the 50-plus minutes and keep the fidelity high, with the fourth side an etched graphic of the cover image. The extra side is very appreciated, as this largely acoustic album boasts some of the warmest-sounding songs of Young's career, ideal for a vinyl listening.

The album marked a real burst in popularity for Young, when the new generation of MuchMusic and MTV viewers embraced him. Marketed, with Young's active approval, as a followup of sorts to Harvest, for that generation the two albums are spiritually connected. Young used many of the same players and singers, including Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor, Kenny Buttrey, Tim Drummond and Ben Keith, and even copied the style of playing. Listen to the acoustic guitar on War Of Man, right down to the chord changes, it echoes his playing on that earlier album. He drops the phrase "old man" in You and Me, and the set positively reeks of nostalgia. One Of These Days is a tribute to the '70's musicians and friends ("And I'm gonna thank that old country fiddler/and all those ruff boys who play that rock and roll"), while there are a couple of tributes to his then-wife Pegi and their initial courtship.

So Young knew exactly what he was doing, but at the same time, these are for the most part really great songs, and it was a welcome return to acoustic music after the 80's dabbling in proto-electro, rockabilly, country, blues and doom rock. Also it was yet another really great album after 1989's Freedom, 1990's Ragged Glory and the 1991 live set Weld. And now listening back decades later, now that what's new and old doesn't matter, we can appreciate that it is a strong companion to Harvest. And it's even better on vinyl.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: VANCE JOY - NATION OF TWO

The Riptide hitmaker from Australia releases his second album, with more acoustic singer-songwriter music. There's lots more coming in the Riptide vein, potential hit singles, some already hits in his home, with his trademark ukulele prominent, or at least acoustic guitar. Then the songs build, with lots more vocals added, wordless chorus bits of "oh-oh-whoa-oh" and "buh-ba-buh-ba", more instruments join in and it's all catchy as hell.

Catchy, but a bit too repetitive perhaps. The formula doesn't get changed much. We're Going Home adds brass, which makes it stand out, and current single Saturday Sun has that bright ukulele right off the bat, still a winning and different sound. But they are all love songs, all sentimental, and the same mellow style throughout. What sounds great as individual tracks overwhelms you the course of 13.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: SHOVELS & ROPE - BUSTED JUKEBOX VOL. 2

Shovels and Rope have always been about mixing things up for surprising results. Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst started out in separate groups, then with separate solo careers, then teaming up to tour, then marrying, then playing together and finally forming this band. It's always been a combo of both of their styles, and hard to pin down from folk to country to roots to rock. These Busted Jukebox sets are about mixing it up with their friends, and mixing all their styles into different takes on favourite covers. I'm all for it.

There isn't even a firm concept on the album itself, so you'll get Brandi Carlile as a guest on one of Trent's songs, Cleanup Hitter, no guests at all on a cover of Chuck Berry's You Never Can Tell, some classic covers featuring well-known guests and some more obscure one, and more obscure guests. The one overall connection is that they all work well. Indianola (a/k/a Owen Bradley) joins his pal/producer Trent for a slow, dreamy cover of The Hollies' Air That I Breathe, with Hearst's harmonies and a cool banjo line. Matthew Logan Vasquez takes time off from his group Delta Spirit to do a Midwest version of Untitled 1 by Sigur Ros. Americana favourite John Fullbright steps out of character to sing Leonard Cohen's I'm Your Man.

Bigger names include Nicole Atkins on Concrete Blonde's Joey and Rhett Miller singing Do You Love Me Know by The Breeders. Best of them all comes from Hayes Carll, as he and Shovels and Rope completely re-imagine The Clash's Death Or Glory, as a shit-kicking mandolin party tune. You can overthink the value of these things, but when it's a fun listen, that's all that really matters.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: SUE FOLEY - THE ICE QUEEN

The Ice Queen is on fire on this release, her first for Edmonton's beloved Stony Plain label. Sounding relaxed and pleased to be in the studio, Foley has returned to Austin where she spent much of her early career, and recorded this new one with lots of pals, stars and influences. The good vibes come over plain as day, with Foley singing and playing at the top of her game, and her new songs sharp and smart.

Indeed, Foley's writing so well, I'm tempted to call this a singer-songwriter album, especially as she stretches on songs Death Of A Dream, which is jazz-influenced, and The Dance, a solo acoustic flamenco-styled number. The lyrics, especially to the latter, are inspired, The Dance a dramatic tale you'd never find from another blues performer. There's also a solo take on the Carter Family's Cannonball Blues, where she shows off her mastery of that style of country blues storytelling.

Worry not though, electric blues fans, there's lots of that too, featuring one heck of a team, featuring Double Trouble/Arc Angel drummer Chris Layton, producer Mike Flanigin (Jimmie Vaughan) on keys, Chris Maresh (Eric Johnson) on electric bass, Johnny Bradley (Gary Clark Jr.) on standup bass, and The Texas Horns. In other words, some of the best of Austin. Then add in a trio of special guests ... Jimmy Vaughan, Charlie Sexton and Billy Gibbons ... and the party really gets going. Foley won't be overshadowed though. Her lead playing stings throughout, and her significant drawl plus sweet higher range gives her a fascinating vocal style. With all these elements firing at once, it's time to consider Foley among the very top tier of blues stars in North America.

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: JETHRO TULL - HEAVY HORSES (NEW SHOES EDITION)

I'm repeating myself here, but once again, the Tull camp sets the standard for album reissues with is ongoing series. It's not difficult, it's just treating the material and the fans properly by giving them everything all at once, and in high-quality audio and packaging. That means all the associated session material, from B-sides to unreleased numbers to alternates, lots of live work, and even video. You get multiple mixes of everything on DVD, and even a hidden track. The generous 96-page book has the entire story of the album, not fluffy and overly praising, but realistic and fact-based, warts and all. And when you put all these boxes together over the course of the decade covered so far, you get the complete history.

Heavy Horses was the second of Ian Anderson's trilogy of rural England-themed album, coming after 1977's Songs From The Wood. Like the rest of his '70's album, there was a loose lyrical concept, stemming from his move to the English countryside. The songs were more folk-based than other Tull albums, but still had lots of other elements, including lots of strings and some heavier guitar moments. It was a sadder, darker album though, with regrets that some of the old rural values were gone, as symbolized by the replacement of the workhorse by the modern tractor. It's a pretty well established theme, you'll find it in Lord Of The Rings, for instance, and I'll certainly take that over somebody stumbling through the writing of another love song. The title track, Moths, One Brown Mouse, these are all strong Tull songs with good melodies and drama. The variety of music makes this album, and its predecessor two of the better '70's releases, a step above works such as A Passion Play and Minstrel In The Gallery.

Tull fans will know that the next album in line was the double-set Live-Bursting Out. Instead of a simple reissue of that, it's included here, not just the original, but the full show from which it was taken, from Berne, Switzerland in May 1978. Importantly you get the song Heavy Horses back in the set list to give you the whole experience of what was a really strong tour. Anderson's stage banter is funny and engaging, Martin Barre is on fire on guitar and the whole band shows why they were one of the top touring draws of the decade. It's a strong mix of the big favourites, such as Aqualung, Too Old To Rock and Roll, Too Young To Die and a long segment of Thick As A Brick, and lots of the new material. I've always liked '70's Jethro Tull, and these boxes have made me appreciate them even more, learn a lot and enjoy revisiting, a great experience for music collectors.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: RACHEL BECK - RACHEL BECK



Rachel Beck has connected with CBC Radio 2 listeners with Reckless Heart, the lead track off her new, seven-track EP, with the song currently sitting at #4 on the Top 20 chart. That's quite a transition and achievement for the P.E.I. singer-songwriter, who usually records and performs with her sister Amy as the folk-based Beck Sisters.

For this set, she teamed up with Halifax producer Daniel Ledwell, who brought in his signature pop-smart layering and ambiance, providing a rich field for Beck's heart-tugging vocals. But wisely, there's not too much Ledwell; the base of each song, Beck's tender lyrics and piano melodies are still there. Except perhaps closer This Little Light, which gets a chain gang feel thanks to sister Amy's banjitar, and an ultra-modern arrangement for what started out a simpler folk tune no doubt. Anyway, the point is the team kept the emotion and sensitivity of the songs in full focus, which is no doubt what's hitting home with a country full of listeners discovering Beck's solo debut.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: NINA SIMONE - THE COLPIX SINGLES

The great Nina Simone is known for a lot of things, but hit singles is not generally one of them. True, her career did start with one, 1959's surprising Top 20 debut I Loves You, Porgy, but she never again dented the upper reaches of the charts. In the run of singles featured on this two-CD set, she only made it as high as 92. But the quality of the music far outweighs the attempts the Colpix label made to promote her, and she actually broke through with a series of live albums that showcased her unique talents, mixing classical, jazz and blues. But yeah, not exactly Top 40 material.

For those of you who have become familiar with the fiery Simone from the Civil Rights struggles, these songs just predate that, from 1959 to 1963, but it was a time of great development for Simone. Her remarkable ability to transform folk and blues standards such as Trouble In Mind, Cotton Eyed Joe and Little Liza Jane into new, sophisticated, and modern African-American music is still vastly underrated. What is fully obvious though is her amazing voice and her supreme musicality, and these cuts still shine today.

Several of the 45's were taken from the hit live albums, and again, people only familiar with the later Simone might be surprised to hear her having such a good time on stage, knowing how erratic she became later in life. There was absolute joy in some of these songs, as Simone was so in touch with her prodigious talent that she took great delight in just how good the performances were. It's interesting that although she didn't have a hit, every one of these 27 songs is a triumph.

Friday, February 23, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: JOHN MAYALL - THREE FOR THE ROAD

When Mayall's regular guitar player couldn't make a festival date awhile back, the 50-year vet didn't panic, he simply went ahead with the show, handling everything with himself on keys, plus the bass player and drummer. Bad move, guitar man. Mayall liked the trio format so much, he's been touring that way for over a year now. Always one to explore and change, Mayall liked the freedom and focus being even more upfront brought him.


In this new and quite exciting purple batch of his career, Mayall's been pumping out both new and archival albums of late, and this one documents the trio at work, recorded in Germany last year at two live dates. The trio also features bassist Greg Rzab and drummer Jay Davenport, plus Mayall sings and brings in a surprising amount of harmonica lines to fill in. But the best part is the interplay between the three musicians, tight grooves and lots of moments where you can hear them listening intently to each other, adding those spontaneous touches that the real player live for. There's lots of variety, as Mayall goes through his volumes of influences, from the old legends to modern interpretations from the likes of Curtis Salgado, to a couple of his own recent numbers. There's a wonderful closer, Sonny Landreth's Congo Square, where Mayall gets swampy on the minor keys, and Davenport goes voodoo, a real tour-de-force, and the audience responds in kind.


The British blues godfather is ready to keep pumpin' too. He's promised another new album for later this year, only now with guitar players (he says plural) welcomed back. Age seems at this point a real motivator for Mayall.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: ANNE JANELLE - I DIDN'T WANT TO BREAK IT

Wait a second here, isn't this the classically trained cellist from Nova Scotia who makes folk music as well, often with partner James Hill? She's gone from dabbling in songwriting to making it her full-on business, even bringing in a bunch of pop sounds for this latest. Not too much pop, lead track The End of the World is the biggest surprise, a very modern sounding tune, but there's still lots of lovely folk, but this time all from her pen, with some help from Hill on three cuts.

That's not the only stretch for Janelle, as making the album took all of her, and Hill's, talents. The pair played all the instruments, aside from some guest sax and bass, including fiddle, keyboards, percussion, electric guitar and of course cello. I'm not sure what the breakdown is, but this is quite the family combo, with Hill even producing and mixing.


Elsewhere, you get a piano singer-songwriter ballad, I Didn't Want To Break It, and a funky, dark guitar-drum number, with some sizzling cello behind on Knocking At My Door. Nicely, the album is split into three parts, with short instrumentals letting us pause and collect, Janelle's classical side coming forward a small bit. It's quite fascinating watching her development, as she moves into this unique hybrid sound.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: HOLLY COLE - HOLLY

Wow, Russ Titelman, Holly Cole snagged a big-name, classic veteran producer from L.A.'s golden studio days of the '60's for her latest, her first album in five years. And Titelman (Eric Clapton, Brian Wilson) brought some pretty slick players to the sessions too, including vocalist/trumpeter Wycliffe Gordon, who does two killer duets with Cole. I especially love the Louis Armstrong-inspired I Was Doing All Right. Normally we don't get duets on her albums, so this is a great change of pace, and she certainly shines in that situation too.

Of course, Cole can put together a mean band on her own, and her regulars Aaron Davis and David Pilch show up on piano and bass for three of the cuts. That includes the always-sharp Mose Allison tune, Your Mind Is On Vacation (but your mouth is working overtime), a lyric that never seems to go out of season. Her take on the old swinger Ain't That A Kick In The Head is a cool one too, as she really emphasizes the Sammy Cahn lyrics that sort of got buried by Dean Martin's trademark slur. Another Cahn lyric, Teach Me Tonight, best known from Dinah Washington, gets a great arrangement (Larry Goldings does them all here) featured his Hammond B-3 organ. Goldings, among his many jazz and pop credits, is a well-known James Taylor collaborator, and a great catch for Cole's album too.

Almost all the cuts are pretty well-known from the great years of jazz vocal songs, including the Gershwin's They Can't Take That Away From Me, and Rodgers & Hart's I Could Write A Book. The biggest surprise is her pared-down, unironic treatment of the big Dean Martin number Everybody Loves Somebody, his huge 1964 #1, done with just Piltch and Davis. The material, the players and production, and especially the vocal performance, this is real A-list stuff from Cole in today's jazz world.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: KRISTA MUIR - THE TIDES

A completely one-woman effort from Muir, except for a couple of horn parts (and a chainsaw), including the production and engineering. That's lots of keyboards, bass, percussion, synth, violin, and her main axe, the ukulele. While her personality, choice of instruments and cheery melodies make for a bright, easy listen, and she's certainly done lots of charming art in the past, this set has tougher stuff at its core. Several of the songs address her battle with endometriosis, a painful condition that kept her from life performances for a time.

She wrote though, and then did a whirlwind recording session over two weeks, with lots of vibrant electro-pop, the kind that took six members of Martha and the Muffins to make back in '80. Well, just a little more ukulele. Meanwhile, listen closer and you'll hear hints of her trials, such as "What doesn't kill you could make you invincible" and "Like a girl possessed - crumbles to the floor in a bloody mess" in Girl Possessed. Equal parts fun and fearless.

Monday, February 19, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: ROBERT PLANT & THE SENSATIONAL SPACE SHIFTERS - LIVE AT DAVID LYNCH'S FESTIVAL OF DISRUPTION (Blu-ray)

Here's Plant and his fabulous band doing their shape shifting of his music, blending together African, folk, rock and blues to create a sound really not found in any other group around. This set from 2016 predates his latest, last fall's Carry Fire, so the tracks mostly come from 2014's Lullaby and the Ceaseless Roar, so it's a little dated but still pretty fascinating, with all sorts of odd stringed and percussive instruments, such as the bendir drum and the lute-like tehardant from Mali. It's quite literally all over the map.

Plant's been all over the internet of late as well, telling all why a Zeppelin reunion is pointless, why look back when he has this great band and new sound with which to move forward? Good point, and certainly the albums are worthy of that confidence. However, there's still a life audience to appease, and on this there's a bit too much dabbling in the old Zep cuts. The cheers come up with the recognition of songs such as "Black Dog", "Going To California", and "Whole Lotta Love", the last in a blues medley. He has radically altered them, messing with the time signature, leaving out bits and parts, and no sign of Page-like guitar heroics, or his own classic wails. Yet it still has the feel of a retro show at times, and hopefully he's cutting more ties as he goes.

This show was a benefit for filmmaker/music fan David Lynch's foundation, which is something to do with meditation saving the world. Fair enough, except that means the bonus material here is all Lynch talking about the healing powers of transcendental meditation. Maybe he's right, but I'm here for the tunes, and Lynch being Lynch, most of the interview bites come out kinda kooky. Don't ask about the fish story. Concert yay, extra features blah.