Wednesday, July 18, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: THE GALPINES - SORRY MOM

Baby-hating, foul-mouthed liquor pigs, mired in debt and often in jail, even their mothers have denounced The Galpines. Well, not their real mothers I'm sure, and New Brunswick festival-goers and party animals have taken these four Moncton women to their hearts. The comedy country outfit sends up our redneck ways, from online shopping addiction (Visa Bill Blues) to living via Instagram (Hashtag Blessed). And sometimes, it's just for the shock value ("My dog is better than your baby.")

Fans will know many of the songs on the group's second release and first long-player, as they've been playing them to great reaction for months, and pretty much every song they write is instantly memorable. Go To Sleep has served as a lovely opening number, with those old-timey harmonies, like something that could have been on the O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack. Except that movie didn't feature some drug-and-booze addled festival goers trying to have a three-way but the baby wakes up and ruins everything.

If you shock easily, you don't want to go here, but if you have a sense of humour about four-letter words and questionable morals, and like comedy with your harmonies, The Galpines are absolutely entertaining. Plus, they don't like litterbugs, so there's a good lesson in here. One at least. 

The group is launching the album this Saturday, July 21, at the Parkindale Hall in Elgin, N.B., and are promising surprise musical guests, so I'm sure it's going to be a party. Then the band is continuing a busy summer of tour dates, including (gasp!) their first shows in Ontario and Quebec, including one at the Dakota in Toronto Aug. 31. That oughta show them stuck-up Upper Canadians.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: JENNIFER IRVING - LET 'EM IN

Formerly of the Nova Scotia group Drift a few years back, Jennifer Irving did drift away for a bit, into a photography career, kids, a move to Saint John and other adulting. Music was just on the back burner though, and now she returns with a debut solo EP, four cuts from three different sessions. It's an interesting variety from the singer-songwriter, thoughtful lyrics across the board but some dramatic style shifts.

The first two cuts, Weight and Well Enough, were made with Halifax producer Daniel Ledwell, and feature his well-known layers and textures. Irving adds to that a level of mystery, and intriguingly, a Spaghetti Western flavour. The third cut, Lines, was done with Charles Austin, another Halifax mainstay. While still featuring a rich sound, that track highlights the acoustic guitar sound of Irving's music, along with a bit of atmosphere. The final cut, Someday, is less spacious, Irving's vocals echoed and less prominent, brushed percussion joining the acoustic guitar along with a few bells and a haunted vibe. Toronto producer Snappy Homefry is the collaborator on this bit of electronic folk.

Irving proves a bit of a chameleon on the EP, adapting her voice to each atmosphere. On the mystery movie cuts at the start, she's moody and distant, while the acoustic tracks feel more warm and transparent. In each song though, her singing is compelling, and I like that she has these different sides.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: AL BASILE - ME & THE ORIGINATOR

My biggest complaint about modern blues artists is that a lot of the run-of-the-mill ones put such little effort into their lyrics. You know the ones, singing about being done wrong by their baby, or waiting for the weekend to let loose. Then comes the guitar solo. Ones who work hard on their lyrics stand out, and Al Basile is certainly one of the best. No surprise, since his other career is as a well-respected poet. While those two aspects always meet in his music, his new album is something special, a true combination of poetry and the blues.

The album is made up of spoken word pieces before each song. Some are part of a narrative, while others are true poems. The story is about a fictional musician, who has a stroke of blues luck. In drastic need of inspiration to help him write songs, but not being good at words, he deserves an old trunk filled with writings, author unknown. The journals are easily adapted into lyrics, and they help his band become stars. We here about how that all goes down, how the musician notices the lyrics mirror his own life, and how, in true blues fashion, fame and fortune doesn't mean happiness. His band mates and friends turn out to be not so trustworthy, his marriage fails, but life's ups and downs bring his strength.

The songs relate to the narrative, and were made to follow the arc of the story. They were recorded with the musicians knowing the spoken section each was following. Produced by the redoubtable Duke Robillard, the mood is right for each one, and it's one of the most engrossing listens I've enjoyed. Basile, already a strong performer, is an equally captivating narrator. His plan almost backfires, as the stories are so engrossing I found myself waiting for the songs to end to hear the next bit of reading. That was just the first listen though, and the music proves strong as well, giving me renewed appreciation for his lyrical abilities. I can't think of a similar blues/story album before, and it's certainly a fascinating listening experience, half-audio book, half-cruising music.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: CHARLES LLOYD & THE MARVELS + LUCINDA WILLIAMS - VANISHED GARDENS

Here's a pleasant-plus surprise. Veteran jazz sax and flute player Lloyd fronts a group of consummate players, including guitar maestro Bill Frisell and pedal steel and dobro giant Greg Leisz. They also play with Lucinda Williams, and Lloyd and Williams met and developed a mutual admiration. First she asked him to guest at a show, then he asked her, and then this collaboration was born. Lloyd and the Marves do five jazz instrumentals, and Williams takes the lead vocals on the other five songs. Four of them are her compositions, three older ones, one brand-new, and the last a cover of the Hendrix classic Angel.

Jazz fans will find lots to enjoy, as the genre-bending Lloyd has quite a team in the Marvels. The rhythm section is made up of Lloyd's longtime team of Reuben Rogers on bass and drummer Eric Harland. Frisell and Leisz help Lloyd veer off in every direction, from blues to country to free-form squonking. It's adventurous, mostly melodic, and fun, hearing players who can work in so many styles.

For Lucinda fans, it's a revelation. Here she stretches past her usual roots style, and adds a whole new level to her vocal style, with extra notes and nuances. On her own robust albums, there isn't a whole lot of room for such vocal subtlety, but here there's more pacing and less volume, allowing her to shine. She clearly enjoys the changes made to her material by this group. She's also chosen songs that are from her more poetic side, and that brings extra strength to the verses. Match that with the exceptional performances from Lloyd and the group, and it will lead the listener to a whole new appreciation of Williams.

Monday, July 9, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: WANG CHUNG - ICON

Come on, we all know it ... Everybody have fun tonight, everybody Wang Chung tonight. There. Don't you feel better getting that out of the way? Darn catchy though, and a pretty brilliant move, putting the band name in the hook of the song. We'll never, ever forget it.

The bigger question is whether there's anything else to remember. And you know, they actually aren't a one-hit wonder. If you'll remember, Dance Hall Days was a pretty decent-sized hit, a couple of years before Everybody Have Fun Tonight. And the follow-up to that monster, Let's Go!, was also hit the Top 10, and it's a quite good track. Then there was the soundtrack to the film To Live and Die in L.A., which produced a decent title cut. So there's a few things there, and if you skip over the ubiquitous you-know-what, this isn't a bad listen, even with that glossy 80's production. A version of the group still tours the oldies circuit, with pals Cutting Crew. Oh by the way, Wang Chung is the Chinese phrase for yellow bell, the first note in their classical music scale. Which makes no sense, "everybody yellow bell tonight." Go figure.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: MOLLY JOHNSON - MEANING TO TELL YA

The Halifax Jazz Festival gets underway this coming week, has a stellar lineup, and opening night features a fantastic free show. It's starring none other than Canada's premiere jazz-soul singer, Molly Johnson. And wouldn't you know, she's got a killer new album out too.

It's produced by none other than Larry Klein, who has managed to do a decent job in the same role for Joni Mitchell, Tracy Chapman and Norah Jones over the years. He knows how to showcase the finest female singers, and that's just what you want with Johnson. She has one of those voices, the kind that you want to enjoy every syllable she sings, the last faded "sss..." on the end of a line. This is a particularly punchy, upbeat set for her, mostly originals, and some well-chosen covers. There aren't too many singers who can bring out the groove in Leonard Cohen's Boogie Street, and make a classy version of Marvin Gaye's Inner City Blues as well.

Her previous release was her tribute to Billie Holiday, Because Of Billie, so Johnson had a bunch of her own songs saved up for this one. Gone has a big groove, almost a rocker, while Stop, written with Klein and David Baerwald (David & David) is a jazzy modern ballad, with an emotional lead from Johnson at her smokiest.

See Molly Johnson at the free show Tuesday, July 10 at the Waterfront Stage at 8:30 pm, along with the Halifax All-Star Jazz Revue. That features the city's top players, including drummer Dave Burton, Jamie Gatti on bass, Geordie Haley on guitar, keyboard player Sylvio Pupo and Chris Mitchell on sax. There are plenty of other tempting shows throughout the week as well, including sets from Chaka Khan, The War On Drugs, Alvvays, Matt Andersen and the Mellotones, Whitehorse, Daniel Caesar, Charlotte Day Wilson and lots more.

Friday, July 6, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: GRAHAM NASH - OVER THE YEARS

I like this format quite a bit. Disc one is a basic best-of, all the hits written by Nash for CSN, Crosby-Nash, and his solo albums, while disc two is all demos, most of them previously unreleased. Some of the demos are those favourite hit tracks, while others are lesser-known but really charming stripped down. It's two very different ways of going through Nash's career, both of them worthy.

You can argue who was the better writer in CSN until the cows come home, but certainly Nash was the best commercial writer. His melodies were always catchy and his lyrics easily digested. Those delightful ditties, such as Marrakesh Express, Our House and Teach Your Children, were the singalong favourites that cleared the way for Crosby's hippie trips and Stills' guitar workouts. And he pretty much saved the band by writing the hits Just A Song Before I Go and Wasted On The Way, which propped up middling efforts later in the group's career. When pushed, he could get angry too, and Chicago, Immigration Man and Military Madness gave him an another dimension rather than just being a softy. No question though, of his colleagues (not including Young), he has been most consistent and deserving of a hits collection. It also allows folks unfamiliar with his solo or duo efforts to hear fine songs such as I Used To Be King.

The demos collection is more exciting, since it's almost all new, and quite interesting. We hear him putting down solo versions of Marrakesh Express and Horses Through A Rainstorm back in London, the former famously rejected by The Hollies, a final straw for Nash as he quit the band and fled to L.A. Horses was supposed to be a CSN track, and was first heard on that group's '90's box set, fully recorded, but here we get the acoustic treatment. Marrakesh is obviously a quality number even in its raw state, but the CSN treatment was magic. Teach Your Children was pretty bare-boned as a demo, again one that came alive with the band. Nash moved to piano writing shortly after that, and his demos became more vibrant at that point, more melodic. Simple Man is gorgeous, and could have been released just like that. Wind On The Water, a little bit more advanced of a demo, with piano and guitar, is a clear blueprint for that solid Crosby/Nash cut. Just A Song Before I Go, with piano and harmonica and none of the layered harmonies, is more haunting. And Wasted On The Way is far less jaunty, which makes this easily the better version. This set could have been another ho-hum best-of, but instead is really a must-own for CSN and Nash fans.