Monday, March 10, 2014
Smith fits nicely between classic and modern rock, just enough production finesse to keep contemporary, but plenty of rock and roll basics covered as well. And underneath that big and bright sound lurks a writer with a solid understanding of hooks and structure. Believe In Me has snappy lines and a catchy chorus, straight out of the John Hiatt school. Opening cut I Need To Know builds from verse to bridge to chorus, getting more and more addictive. And as always, Smith's powerful vocals give everything a dramatic feel, a tension in the ballads and celebration in the rockers. Catch her regular Wednesday residency at the Liquid Lounge in Brantford, ON this month, and visit sarahsmithmusic.com for other dates.
Sunday, March 9, 2014
Back in the early 80's, a branch of L.A. punk was fused with rockabilly, and in some cases, actual country. You had Rank And File, and even X could lean that way. Lone Justice came along in 1982, quickly becoming a buzz band in the region, grabbing up a contract with Geffen Records and an initial burst of fame, particularly for lead singer Maria McKee. It was a brief career though. Despite lots of hype, big-name connections, opening for U2, getting Tom Petty to write for them, Steve Van Zandt to produce, nothing really clicked, and McKee went solo after 2 albums in 1986.
This collection of demos made in 1983 explains a lot. They were really country at the start, fused with that raw punk attitude. They were doing covers of Johnny Cash and June Carter, George Jones, as well as raw band originals, McKee sounding like a deranged Dolly. Somewhere along the line, things went more earnest, more singer-songwriter, and they tried to fit in to modern rock. Big mistake, as these dozen cuts show. They had spark, energy and stood out, always a good thing. Certainly the rest of the original band knew the score, they all had quit by the second album. Meantime, alternative country came along by the end of the decade. McKee did make some fine music solo, one excellent album called You Gotta Sin To Be Saved in '93, and has also acted and published fiction. As for Lone Justice, great promise went unfulfilled. But this kick-ass dozen recorded cheap in a couple of days beats the crap out of the group's two official discs.
Saturday, March 8, 2014
The on-going reissue series of classic Bowie 45's continues with one of his biggest. Each original single is being re-launched on the 40th anniversary of its first appearance, as a limited-edition picture disc, with a unique B-side. These are beautiful pieces, excellent quality pressings and gorgeous colours on the rare photos. In short, collectors should love them.
Some of these have already become incredibly rare, fetching prices upwards of a hundred dollars. Now, don't expect that from the later ones, the secret is out and probably a lot more are being demanded and pressed. Still, you'll enjoy having any of them, you don't need the whole set unless you're, well, like me, and have to have the complete set.
Previous singles have included rare and live b-sides of the main tracks, which I consider great, instead of the old b-side which most collectors will no doubt have. So I was a bit upset to see that the flip here was simply a remix of the normal version of Rebel Rebel. But wait! I forgot that this, the U.S. mix of the 45, is drastically different than the original. It starts, not with the familiar guitar line, but instead, with the line, "Hot tramp, I love you so." The song is taken apart, bits lifted from other areas, volumes raised, edits made, it's all recognizable but a much different experience. I have this on another CD compilation, but most won't and it's a smart and quality edition. I'm not the biggest picture disc collector, but I am a big Bowie fan, and this series has me hooked.
Friday, March 7, 2014
The Icon series was launched by Universal Music to provide yet another line of best-of's or greatest hits by their many artists. That's because those are all that the few remaining mall stores still carry other than new releases and a few classic albums, so these fill the bill, and seem new. With Universal purchasing much of EMI a couple of years back, they have lots more new artists and catalogues to repackage in the Icon format.
That also means they can cherry-pick hits, and plug them into these types of compilations. Both these sets are double CD's, jammed with familiar tunes still played on lots of radio stations. It worries me that the 90's are considered retro now, but that's just because I'm old and still think it can't be more than say, 2004, until I look at my calender.
I thought I'd like the 80's more than the 90's set, but the compilers have surprised me with pretty good selections. I'm always up for Concrete Blonde's Joey, a great song in any decade, and as overplayed as it was at the time, Joan Osborne really did a fine job with One Of Us. Sheryl Crow's All I Wanna Do is still fun, and New Radicals You Get What You Give is such a pop gem, I can't believe nothing else happened for them. Sadly though, this was also the decade of Blind Melon, Sublime and Wilson Phillips.
The 80's set could have been better by far. There are lots better choices for hits than the likes of Tiffany, Kim Wilde and Billy Squier. For some reason, the bulk of the songs come from the early to mid-80's, and that means a lot of over-produced, dated sounds from The Fixx, Asia and Level 42. There also seems to be an inability to make an 80's collection without including Don't You Want Me (Human League), Shout (Tears For Fears) or Karma Chameleon. This was not my 1980's. The 90's set does the job, but you can do better by making your own 80's mix.
Monday, March 3, 2014
At first I was pretty surprised by this album, not least of all because I put the deluxe version's disc two on first, the remix collection. Do yourself a favour, and don't. Once I got to the main disc, I was still skeptical, because of the blatant embrace of pop and uptempo grooves found on the tracks. These were catchy songs, too catchy I felt.
That feeling has quickly worn off with a few listens. What I've found, in fact, is what I've been looking for in a SRB album since the famous debut EP from 2002, The Inhuman Condition. That release announced the group as a strong rock-hit machine, with Brother Down, Don't Walk Away Eileen, and Where Have All The Good People Gone. Subsequent albums, which toughened up the sound, lack the spark and radio-friendly fun I enjoyed. But here Roberts and Co. are back in that vein, with the happy hooks of Shapeshifters and Human Heat. I'm groovin'.
There's more synth and electropop sounds than on the early, guitar-oriented records, and the beats are crisp and produced, but for once I don't feel like this is a bad thing. These are strong songs, big melodies, and deserve the giant polish placed on them by producer Youth (Paul McCartney, The Verve, U2). Roberts is one of the few artists who can pull off this much synth and still sound rock, and if it grabs him higher pop presence too, good on him.
Thursday, February 27, 2014
Here's a surprising album. Lake Street Dive comes out of Boston, and has been treading the boards for several years, before a breakthrough performance on the Showtime broadcast of the Celebration of the Music of Inside Llewyn Davis concert, where they came close to stealing the show. Since then it's been all the big TV shows and Rolling Stone's band to watch, etc. But what's surprising is how basic this is. Basic, in the best way.
What you have is r'n'b, pop, soul, big harmonies, essentially 70's music. Killer vocals, especially lead singer Rachael Price, kinda smoky, kinda jazzy. And of all things, there's not a hint of studio in the music; no effects, no ambient washes, no great amounts of gizmos, it's about as clean as you'll hear. Just singers and musicians doing what they're supposed to, without using anything to make them artificially better.
That's not to say there aren't overdubs and such, it's just back to the basics of classic record-making, and they sounds great. Bobbie Tanqueray is bubbly, almost girl-group 60's, a warning about a bad character, and tons of harmonies. The title cut is tough-luck soul, an excellent lyric about a woman who bought a camera to take pictures of her love, who then dumps her, and now "I'm taking landscapes, I'm taking still lifes, I'm taking bad self portraits of a lonely woman." Seventeen has Jackson Five verses and then dirty Prince guitar all over the chorus. This is just one fun, smart album, made by talented folks. Remember those?
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
The venerable psychobillies umpteenth album, still growing strong, and possibly better than ever? After all, Jim Heath and company have been doing this long enough to know what works, and how to keep it fresh. Plus, he keeps coming up with great lyric ideas, and an endless supply of tremendous riffs.
The key is that there aren't many rockabilly bands around, and it's always fun to dip your toe back in, especially with such an incendiary bunch. With all the energy of punk, but with chops galore, you can have your thrash and still marvel at the quality playing.
Heath also knows the right level of double-entendre to use. The instant classic here is Let Me Teach You How To Eat, which never crosses the line, but lets you know its one big metaphor: "How to marinate the meat/let me teach how to eat." But it's not all jokes; Schizoid is his commentary on all the kids today being prescribed drugs for any number of anxieties that might just be part of growing up. Basic love ballads aren't part of his repertoire. Intense rocking is.