Sunday, July 5, 2015

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: PETE TOWNSHEND - TRUANCY: THE VERY BEST OF



Since the early 1970's, Townshend has run a parallel solo career to his efforts with The Who, which sometimes have overshadowed the primary band's work. He seems to have even hoped to free himself of the band, especially after the death of Keith Moon. But his songwriting slipped by the '80's, and like The Who, all the best stuff happens before then for his solo work too.


There are several Townshend best-of's out there, including a couple of two-CD versions. I'm guessing new-to-Pete buyers will do fine with just this single-disc, 17-track set. It's basically a primer for a new generation of fans, so in typical fashion it includes a cut from most of his albums, whether they deserve it or not.


There is recognition of the best two Townshend albums. His first solo from 1972, Who Came First, was not a standard release, but rather a collection of demos, and songs done up for Meher Baba charity albums. One of the great home recorders of all time, here we get versions of Let's See Action and the key Lifehouse song Pure And Easy that could have been placed on any Who album as is. Next up came an album done to help his friend Ronnie Lane, Rough Mix, which turned from a production job to a co-starring role. This is the gem of the catalogue, with Townshend contributing some of this best compositions of the time, and quite different from his usual writing.


The rest of the disc shows the falling-off, despite great effort. His only solo hit, Let My Love Open The Door is catchy but slight. Grand projects White City and Psychoderelict were attempts at new rock operas, and sadly, convoluted and just not entertaining. There are other really good albums that were barely touched. I've always found the Scoop series of discs fascinating, three double albums full of home demos, but only a single track is included.


As usual, in an effort to attract buyers from the huge fan base and collector community, new tracks have been added. The two songs are recent, and sadly, uninteresting. Guantanamo is an attempt at righteous rage, but all Townshend seems to know about Cuba is that cigars are made there. Here's my advice to prospective Townshend buyers: Get Who Came First, Rough Mix, any or all of the Scoop ones, and buyer beware after that.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: GORDIE TENTREES - LESS IS MORE

Tentrees sounds like that guy in town who likes to sing any chance he gets, always the first one with a guitar at a kitchen party.  Except when you listen, he's not playing Wagon Wheel, he's playing originals, and really great ones.  The vocals may not be polished, but he's singing the stuff that makes you think and makes you laugh.  The Yukon performer has six albums out now, and has steadily impressed, joining the ranks of top roots writers, while maintaining a relentless touring schedule.

Tentrees likes to keep things rough-hewn, with a relaxed performance, choppy guitar, creepy percussion (his phrase), and loose harmonies.  Even the normally lovely singer Catherine MacLellan plays it casual on her three guest slots, like a front-porch sing-along.  But it's a trick, you see.  All this easy-going music makes the words even more powerful.  On Somebody's Child, Tentrees has written about the conflicting emotions of watching the Boston Marathon bombing, while his wife was running the course.  Fear and anger was there, all his family moments and love flashed before his eyes, but still he had a moment to think of the bigger picture:  "This old world can be cruel and kind/Somebody's child blew up a finish line."

Dead Beat Dad is like a Roger Miller song, fun but with a huge message, about fathers relating to their kids, and simply hanging out with them.  "It's not about you, it's not about me, it's about the little man lost at sea, get over yourself."  Less Is More is an album full of heart, and homespun wisdom as well.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: PETE TOWNSHEND'S CLASSIC QUADROPHENIA



The heck with Tommy; Pete Townshend's best rock opera is Quadrophenia. The story is better, the music is better, it actually makes sense. Tommy was first, and had Pinball Wizard, one hell of a stand-alone rocker, and that has given it more status over the years, that's all.


What Quadrophenia has is a fabulous musical score, and that's what Townshend was keen on promoting with this project. Aging and knowing it, he plans on turning his major pieces (Quad, Tommy, Lifehouse) into works for orchestra, definitive editions. First, he brought in his significant other, orchestrator Rachel Fuller, to compose a new score. Then, it was recorded with the full Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, as well as a large choir. Finally, lead vocals were added.


About the score: it's really wonderful, especially the longer, instrumental pieces where you get to hear the terrific, sweeping melodies Townshend created in the first place. These truly do lend themselves to orchestral treatment, and lose none of the rock and swagger.


Now, speaking of rock and swagger, I really don't understand the full dynamic of Townshend's relationship with Roger Daltry, but nobody sings these songs like him. Here, someone suggested opera singer Alfie Boe would be a good choice, but often he's just too mannered. Using Phil Daniels, who starred as Jimmy in the film version to sing the Dad roles was just some sentimental casting, and his voice is unappealing. Billy Idol comes back as the Bell Boy, a role he's done before, which is fine. But really, if Townshend had wanted the definitive version with orchestra, there's no reason Daltry shouldn't be doing it.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: TINA TURNER - PRIVATE DANCER 30th ANNIVERSARY EDITION

The most famous legs in r'n'b were walking the comeback trail back in 1984.  Turner hadn't made an album in five years, and had never really been a solo star.  Having escaped the abusive marriage with Ike Turner, she went back to basics, hitting the road and getting a new image for the MTV era.  A cover of Al Green's Let's Stay Together did well in the U.K. in 1983, and a management/production team put together a plan of attack that brought her more fame and acclaim than ever before. 

The comeback album featured the huge, #1 hit What's Love Got To Do With It, the decent follow-up Better Be Good To Me, and the kinda okay title cut, written by Mark Knopfler.  Turner could make anything sound good, but thirty years later, it's surprising how, umm, '80's this sounds, with overwrought synths, shrill production and odd song choices.  A slowed-down version of Help?  Bowie's 1984 at least had the right year for the project, but it's one of his worst clunkers.  The album proper is saved by the hits, but the other tracks drag it down.

Thankfully, it's made much better in this 30th anniversary edition.  When you put all the b-sides, remixes and live tracks back-to-back on Disc Two, it's far better than the original Private Dancer album.  Cuts such as I Wrote A Letter, Rock 'n' Roll Widow and Keep Your Hands Off My Baby should have been on the proper album.  Then you get her concert duets with Bowie (Tonight) and Bryan Adams (It's Only Love), highlighting her tremendous stage presence.  I'm not a huge fan of the Mad Max theme We Don't Need Another Hero, but it's here too.  Good job, deluxe set-makers.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: NEIL YOUNG & PROMISE OF THE REAL - THE MONSANTO YEARS



There is probably a team of lawyers working overtime for Monsanto and Starbucks, pouring over the lyrics here, asking "Can he say that?" As usual, Young pulls no punches here, delivering several songs directly attacking the corporate giants. And as usual, with his diatribe-based albums, it's a chore getting through the lyrics. He's not even trying to make them rhyme, and considers his message more important than our enjoyment. I'm certainly not going to argue with his views, or his willingness to use his star status for causes, but there's not a drop of subtlety and not much skill in this words.


As for the music, that's a different story. This is the most inspired I've heard Young in years, thanks to the new band on board. Promise of the Real feature two of Willie Nelson's kids, so they had an in with the boss already. And it didn't hurt that they took their name from a line in Young's song Walk On, "sooner or later it all gets real". While they may pray at Young's alter, the young folks add a spark, and a few chords not usually in Neil's charts. There's a conga player in the group, lots of interesting harmonies, and even new lead guitar playing.


Young and the Real mix it up nicely, between full-on rockers, mid-tempo grooves and a couple of nicer, dreamy numbers. But you really do have to tune out the singing, especially when he turns on the audience. People Want To Hear About Love is a shot at music fans who don't want to hear about corporations and dying fish and pesticides, just love songs. You know what Neil? I'd be fine hearing a protest song where the words weren't tossed off in five minutes.

Friday, June 26, 2015

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: JETHRO TULL - THICK AS A BRICK (vinyl reissue)



The Tull classic has held up remarkably well, and hopefully this latest reissue will win some younger fans new to the fluted fabulousness of Ian Anderson. After all, it's on vinyl, so that should attract the kids. And us old guys too, who lost their original somewhere...can't quite remember...anyway, always loved it.


This version features the new mix prepared for the 2012 deluxe set, which didn't change any of instruments or levels, or add anything, just made it a little clearer. It's a grand, heavy, 180 gram pressing, and those famous notes sound warm and bright again, an old friend to these ears.


The packaging was different though. I was hoping for an exact replica of the original, famous newspaper cover, which was a fold-out. Instead, it's the next best thing at least. It's been included as a glossy booklet, quite big for an album really. It also includes the book notes from the 2012 box, which are first-rate, with nicely bitchy quotes from Anderson, full of lots of great details. As much as I loved the old fold-out paper, the inclusion of the extra info and photos more than makes up for the change. All kidding aside, it is one of the albums that belongs in your vinyl collection. And it also comes with a download card, giving you your digital option as well.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: CRISSINGER - BLUES EXPRESSION



Out of B.C. chugs Mark Crissinger, although he did twenty years in Toronto, schooled at the Elmo, the Horseshoe, Grossman's, etc., a member of various bands and outfits. After some rock and roots outings, he's settled back in the blues, a re-birth in a way. There's no falling back on covers on this one, it features a full twelve original cuts, Crissinger obviously ready to express himself this way.


Crissinger has that rare asset for a blues guy, quite a pleasing voice. So not only are you getting wall-to-wall solid grooves, there's a polish to the performance as well. The tunes range from laid-back to excited, his band able to pound when called on, and Crissinger an able guitar slinger and soloist as well. Plus, the sound on the disc is crisp and clean, with the arrangements vibrant. Writer, singer, player, bandleader, recording artist, as they say in baseball, he's a five-tool star. Great to have him on the blues side.