Tuesday, March 28, 2017


The latest in the Fleetwood Mac remasters series, Tango In The Night is the last album from the glory-years lineup, as Lindsey Buckingham quit right after album was finished, blowing off a booked tour. That's when the guitar combo of Rick Zito and Billy Burnette came in, and the wilderness years began. Even this album was in doubt at first, as the band had been on hiatus since 1982's Mirage, an underachieving effort at least in Buckingham's eyes. The band had all gone off to make solo projects and have personal crises, most notably Nicks' entertaining the Betty Ford Clinic, with the rest of them in various states of disrepair. At least Nicks was now a huge solo star as well, but she was still open to the band's future.

It was Buckingham who pulled the strings though, and after starting another solo album, agreed to through in his lot with the bunch of them once more. It's easy to hear why, as the other writers (C. McVie, Nicks) had some major hits waiting. McVie's "Little Lies" was one of her catchiest, while "Everywhere" was a dreamy and bouncy cut. Nicks came in with "Seven Wonders", from her pal Sandy Stewart, who contributed songs to Nicks' solo albums. Buckingham himself had one of his quirky little gems to lead things off as well, "Big Love".

Buckingham was able to craft all these into memorable hits, continuing the glossy charm of Fleetwood Mac numbers, and brought the band back to their huge sales figures, especially back in England where they had been originally formed in the '60's. But there were more noticeable holes in the non-single tracks. There are some 80's moments in the production, especially in the McVie/Buckingham cut Isn't It Midnight, way too shiny. You and I, Part II has some cool vocals bouncing around but that drum machine and synth hook got tired fast. This set had plenty of pop, but needed some guts too. Props to the delicious remastering job though, you can really here the work Buckingham did on the vocals especially. It sounds like candy.

Monday, March 27, 2017


For over 30 years, Holger Petersen has been waving the blues flag in Canada on his weekly CBC Radio show, Saturday Night Blues.  For even longer, he's been releasing some of the best blues, folk, jazz and all-around roots music as well, via his highly regarded Stony Plain Records.  He's a mountain of knowledge, a tireless supporter and a huge fan, and what that has given him is incredible access to some incredible artists.

These aren't the ones who play ball with the press, dutifully do the rounds, shake all the hands, answer all the inane questions.  These are the gifted few that more often don't care a bit about press coverage, image or social media reach.  They just care about the music.  And they all realize that's what Petersen is about as well.  Time after time, he gets those trouble-makers to open up and let us find out a little bit of the real story, the guarded history that usually only gets told in the back seats of the bus.

This is the second volume of Petersen's collected interviews, and even though they were mostly done for broadcast on his radio shows, they are just as engaging in print.  Even the people you thought you knew, like the giant of them all, B.B. King, is seen in a fresh light from Petersen's visit.  He describes him behind the computer screen, which had replaced the old 78's, LP's and cassettes he used to always have with him to hear his own favourites.  King insisted Petersen stay after the interview, just to hang out so he could play him some music by an old bluesman he liked.  You can feel the friendship between the two.

In every interview, he gets amazing lines or insight from his subject.  Describing his lyric-writing technique, Allen Toussaint tells him, "I collect wishbones and feathers everywhere, and try and make a chicken when I get home."  The reclusive, legendary Bobby Charles, he of "See You Later, Alligator," adds this gem about writing: "That’s the only thing that’s hell about it. It’s amazing what you’ve got to go through to put one little song down, you know. For songs that last two or three minutes, you’ve got to go through a life of crap, right?"

Where most interviews would get pat answers at best, Petersen would have them adding little gems and asides to story, free-flowing conversations.  Charles again, back in 1997, letting him in on this kid guitar player he'd been working with:  "A great little guitar player, man, Derek Trucks. He’s a killer. A seventeen-year-old boy. He’s great. Get ready because you’re going to hear a lot about him."  Chip Taylor was happy to admit to being more interested in playing the horses than in his job at the Brill Building writing "Wild Thing" and "Angel of the Morning," rushed out so he could get his bets down.

The extensive list features one character after another, including Van Dyke Parks, Billy Boy Arnold,  and Sam "The Sham", still talking in rhyming patter that outdoes any freestyle rapper.  There's James Burton, Solomon Burke, Wanda Jackson and Townes Van Zandt, David Clayton-Thomas and Ronnie Hawkins filling in the early days of the Canadian scene.   Every chapter, every interview makes me feel like I know each musician well, and that I've learned far more than I knew about them going in.

Saturday, March 25, 2017


(photo credit: Riley Smith)

Kudos to Nova Scotia's soulful bluesman Charlie A'Court. A longtime favourite in these parts, A'Court is helping make sure the music tradition continues on the East Coast by establishing a new scholarship.

It's called the Charlie A'Court Scholarship for Excellence in Music, and will be awarded to a high school grad who is going into music education in university or collage from his province. The bursary is worth $500, and can be for a student going into a local music program, or outside the province as well.

For its first year, A'Court has something sentimental planned. It's been 20 years since he graduated from Cobequid Educational Centre's music program in Truro. So A’Court plans to award the scholarship to a CEC student this June, before expanding it province-wide after that. He said it was a way to say thank you to the school and its band program, which gave him his start.

It seems he learned more than music.

Friday, March 24, 2017


Conventional wisdom is that Paul McCartney hit a wall in the mid-80s, with the lame movie Give My Regards To Broad Street, some dire soundtrack songs ("Spies Like Us") and the over-produced Press To Play album. But he was rejuvenated by an inspired choice of co-writer, the younger, edgier Elvis Costello, as close to an equal as could be imagined. That resulted in the successful 1989 album Flowers In The Dirt, a true return to form. It's a nice, tight story, but that's not what really happened.

The hole in that story is obvious from a listen to Flowers In The Dirt. It's not that good. There are some truly annoying songs, and some dated production techniques, cheesy sounds of the '80s. His dance-pop fascination continues with "Ou Est Le Soleil?", and the much-vaunted Costello partnership yielded only four cuts of the 13. Those were the best certainly, but they are flawed, again by production, and there was a very awkward-sounding duet from the pair on "You Want Her Too".

The beauty of these special (2 CD) and deluxe (3 CD/DVD) sets is that we finally get to discover what went wrong, and more importantly, what could have been. What could have been is one amazing album, and it's here, only it's on disc two, called The Original Demos. Nine cuts, just Costello and McCartney, guitar and piano and harmonies, and seriously, this is the great Beatle-quality album everybody has always hoped would one day come from McCartney. Too bad he screwed it up back in '89, because heck, the whole world might have been different. There may never have been a Trump presidency. I'm serious, it's that good.

It's not Paul and John Pt. 2. It's two very very good songwriters picking up on each other's talents, and pushing each other to come up with something great. They were writing a song a day at McCartney's studio, then recording a demo. What's most impressive is the vocal blend, harmonies throughout, McCartney up high, Costello low. There are the four songs on Flowers, and ones Costello kept for himself, "So Like Candy" and "Playboy To A Man." Why neither ever used "Tommy's Coming Home" or "Twenty Fine Fingers" is just bizarre. Even "You Want Her Too," so forced in the final version, sounds great stripped back with the two singers digging in. For once, and truly, just this once in decades, McCartney sounds unguarded, and truly engaged. It's like somebody took that stick out of his butt too.

What happened next can be gleaned from comments made in a variety of spots, in the lengthy book that comes with the super-box, in the DVD footage in the same, and from new interviews that are showing up with the pair. Costello was apparently going to co-produce at one point, but they started to have different views about treatments. When McCartney wanted to explore a Human League-style approach for the decidedly gospel-influenced That Day Is Done, Costello fumed. Finally, McCartney decided he didn't want to make an Elvis Costello album, he had other things he wanted to try. The songs were split up, which was the original plan, and that day was done. Costello wisely held his tongue all these years, and the pair have remained friends.

Here's where I ask the now-obvious question: McCartney would rather go off and work with Trevor Horn than continue with these tremendous Costello songs? He's a confusing and frustrating musician too often.

That extends to this deluxe box as well. Fans are screaming mad because a bunch of material has only been offered in download form, an entire extra CD full of b-sides, alternate mixes and more Costello demos. You're paying top dollar, and you still have no physical copy. What do you bet this stuff comes out for the next four or five Record Store Days in a row, as everyone continues to pay and pay for what should have been including on a disc in the first place. The box is absolutely gorgeous, I'll give him that, but the bulk of that is in photography. Great of photography fans of course, a whole book of a Linda exhibit, another with stills from a video shoot, a reproduction of his lyric notebook, shots of the band, but really, there's a lot better art books out there. Kudos for the third disc, the next step in the demos, the more polished studio versions, and also, the DVD is very generous with all the associated videos from the album, a great feature on Costello and McCartney working in the studio together, and the documentary Put It There, which features his touring band in the studio playing live versions of the new songs and lots of old Beatle tunes as well, preparing to hit the road. That's a good thing.

Both McCartney and Costello have declared that the best work they ever did together was those original demos. I'll go further, it's some of the best work either of them have done in their careers. And you know that can't be bad.

Thursday, March 23, 2017


Hey, it was Moe Berg's b-day earlier this week, and just in time there's a new collection celebrating his '80s and '90s outfit. And let's not forget Kris Abbott, Dave Gilby, Johnny Sinclair, Leslie Stanwick and Brad Barker, all members in the heyday. Since "I'm An Adult Now" was such an iconic number from those MuchMusic-heady days, we neglect to pour due love on all the other solid hits the group pumped out. But his set will remind you, as they fly by, 12 numbers of pop perfection.

Berg the songwriter should be more celebrated, methinks. He could take a delightful tune such as "She's So Young," with it's radio-friendly chorus, and toughen it up just enough so the last of the New Wave crowd could love it too. He could have sold "Killed By Love" to Kiss or Def Leppard. And surely, when I make my Hockey's Greatest Hits compilation, I'll put "Gretzky Rocks" right between Stompin' Tom's "The Hockey Song" and Johnny Bower's "Honky The Christmas Goose". Listen, is that the sound of millennials rushing to Wikipedia to look up Johnny Bower? While you're there, look up 1993's "Cigarette Dangles" by TPOH as well. Moe and the rest, you're always a breath of power-pop freshness on my current listening device.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017


Let's think back, way back to mid-December of 2016. It was an unusually snowy pre-Christmas then, but I remember being warmed to the heart by a new album I had just reviewed. It was by Canadian troubadour Zachary Lucky, a man with many travels and tales behind him, criss-crossing our fair land.

Well, it turns out that just a few months later, he's headed my way on the album tour, so I thought I'd plug the shows, and re-run the review, since it's good for him and easy for me, not as much writing and thinking tonight. I'm like that, lazy, but well-intentioned.

Get lucky, see Lucky:

Friday, March 24: Grimross Brewing, Fredericton
Saturday, Mar. 25: Nook and Cranny, Truro, N.S.
Tuesday. Mar. 28: The Townhouse, Antigonish, N.S.
Wed., March 29: Thunder & Lightning, Sackville, N.B
Thurs, March 30: Shakey's Pub, Florenceville, N.B

And here's the repeat review:

With his rugged voice and rural leanings, Lucky is channeling old-fashioned values and a country-folk classic style. From the kitchen, my son yelled, "Is that Lightfoot?" and that's a big influence for sure, in sound and spirit. Lucky is looking for values out there in the big world, hitting the road and trying to find the right way, to help and love, to appreciate the country and everybody living in it. After his many trips across the country, the Saskatchewan-raised singer-songwriter is coming to grips with his own traveling Jones, and turning into fodder for his tunes.

There's no question travel dominates the record, with a couple of songs filled with descriptions of the beauty of each province, "Prince Edward (Island)'s copper sand" and the like. But it's no mere "This land is your land" travelogue; Lucky's songs are all soaked in sadness, with pedal steel, fiddle and banjo setting the mood. If he rolls into Jasper after an all-night drive, despite the local beauty, he plays the legion for two or three. Freedom's just another word for loneliness at times, and that's here in spades as well. In other words, what could be gung-ho songs of "Isn't it great outside with all the trees and mountains?" are instead tales of looking everywhere to find yourself.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017


Four albums in, Toronto songwriter Palmer kicks off his latest with a couple of classy tributes, from different corners of the roots world. "That's No Way To Go" includes a heartfelt lyric about Glen Campbell's time with Alzheimer's, which includes a lush middle section in homage to his great late 60's recordings. Next up is "Tulsa Sound" which is just what it's advertised as, named after the late master, J.J. Cale.

Across its ten cuts, you hear Palmer move from strength to strength, from the easy-going blues "Our Love Bears Repeating" to the rural homage to his hometown, lovely Hartland, N.B., home of the world's longest covered bridge. Throwing a very welcome monkey wrench in the works is guitar whiz Kevin Breit, who always provides a left-field solo to spice things up. Palmer is sounding great throughout, which is excellent news, since he had to recover from quadruple-bypass surgery before recording this.