Tuesday, May 26, 2015

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: KEN TIZZARD - NO DARK NO LIGHT

If you're familiar with the bands The Watchmen and Thornley, you might know the common member, bass player Ken Tizzard.  Originally from Newfoundland, Tizzard has moved around a lot in his career, from province to province, band to band, and style to style.  After leaving Thornley he started a solo career that is now five albums deep, but pinning him down is still difficult.  If you played this new album back-to-back with any Watchmen or Thornley album, you wouldn't recognize him.  But that goes for the solo albums too.

This time out, Tizzard found himself interested in acoustic music, country-folk specifically.  He'd been touring with just an acoustic trio, and wanted to capture that sound.  So he put a ban on electric instruments for the album, added drums and dove in with some well-crafted story-telling.  Inspired by time on the road with fellow Newfoundlander and song crafter par excellence, Ron Hynes, Tizzard came up with a series of character-driven lyrics.  Among the best tunes here are 37 Bullets, which looks at the Bonnie & Clyde story, but not through the eyes of the main characters.  Instead he invents a life of a teenage girl from a coffee shop who sees Clyde in a robbery early on, and falls in love with the dashing character. 

He's taken to this style well, with evocative writing and great sympathy for the regular folks in life.  Everything is recorded in one take off the floor, no polishing, and the warmth and humanity comes through. Tizzard's a wizard at re-invention.

Monday, May 25, 2015

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: DAVID CLAYTON-THOMAS - COMBO



Clayton-Thomas has been the big voice in front of big bands for a long time, going back to Blood, Sweat & Tears, and continuing through his solo jazz career. This time out, he cuts it back to a tight, five person all-star team, a jazz combo to record this batch of intimate classics.


You'll know them all; Stardust, As Time Goes By, Summertime, Nature Boy, etc. They are so well known, you have to really put everything into them, or they can fall flat. Clayton-Thomas really makes them his own. It's a sturdy combination of emotion and skill as he digs into the time-tested words and melodies, trusting both his ability and the magic in the songs. Well into his sixth decade of performing, he may not be able to huff and puff and blow your house down anymore, but his technique and musicality has only improved with the years.


This isn't new territory for Clayton-Thomas. He revisits a song that has over the years become his signature vocal, God Bless The Child, as first recorded on the second BS&T album in 1968. For someone known for so long for his tremendous vocal power, this set shows he's always had the gift of nuance as well.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: BRANDON FLOWERS - THE DESIRED EFFECT



It's no surprise that Brandon Flowers evokes some 80's music in his second solo album, it's what his band The Killers has been doing all along. It's more a surprise how downright pop it is. Diggin' Up The Heart might as well be the the last ELO single. There are Queen moments all over, and I'm quite sure Chris De Burgh walked through at one point.


Wisely, Flowers never goes over-the-top on the production, keeping the synths and drum programming and bells and sugar-coating in check, or at least in proper balance. But it's weird to listen to an album where every song makes you wonder where you've heard that before, and each the time the answer is some dated 80's production, perhaps the era of Moody Blues or Yes. Funny thing is, Flowers writes good songs and lyrics, and has a fine voice. I wonder what a solo album without the tricks would be like?

Saturday, May 23, 2015

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: BRIAN WILSON - S/T (Deluxe Edition)



In anticipation of the Wilson biopic Love And Mercy arriving in theatres in June, here's a reissue of his first solo album, from back in 1988. Actually, it's a reissue of the reissue; this is the expanded 2000 version that has been out of print awhile. That's important because it includes an extra 14 tracks past the original 11.


This has always been "what if" album, thanks to Wilson's precarious mental health, his somewhat childish approach to lyrics, and the meddling of his then-psychiatrist, the notorious Dr. Landy. Restricting access to Wilson, who knows what damage Landy did, especially if pros such as Jeff Lynne and Andy Paley could have could have convinced him to re-write some words and replace glaring sounds like the synth bass. However, there are some absolute gems along the way as well.


Love and Mercy has become Wilson's theme song since his comeback, and there are many more beautiful harmony moments among the tracks, including the sublime Melt Away. At Warner Music's insistence, Wilson came up with an epic track in the manner of the legendary Smile material, and Rio Grande is actually pretty fascinating and complex, despite being made to order. Much of the material confirmed that Wilson did indeed retain a large percentage of his talent from his '60's heyday.


The bonus cuts are more for the collector/enthusiast, including demos, b-sides and interview segments about the album. The best are the working versions of the songs, a look at Wilson's building process, with the multi-layered instruments and complex arrangements, still and always a genius in the studio. If you ever wondered about the methods and madness behind the music, the movie has been very well reviewed, and should give you most of the story.

Friday, May 22, 2015

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: SHELBY LYNNE - I CAN'T IMAGINE

Lynne has certainly found her style, and has been perfecting out over the course of her last handful of albums.  She's passed through the Dusty In Memphis phase, keeping the vocal strength she exhibited then, and has made her songwriting even stronger.  Always steeped in southern humidity, and always saturated with sadness, her storytelling is vivid and filled with snapshot details.  And of course, she has one of the most soulful voices going, heart-crushing if you're not careful.

Back Door Front Porch is just that kind of tune, where she offers up glimpses of her surroundings and feelings.  Blacktop highways, dew drips off the mailbox, been making memories in the wrong place.  She knows where she needs to be, and let's us picture it too:  "Back door, front porch, window."  When she does get brighter, like on Sold The Devil, her voice in a good mood is a soaring wonder, a blast of clearing sun after a downpour. 

It's all elemental truths in her lyrics.  There's the strongest of love, rain and lightning, a tangible knowledge of God, big church steeples that pierce the sunset, waterfalls of laughter.  The songs are arranged with fine drama as well, building moments that let Lynne loose with her pipes.  Fans will be intrigued by the two co-writes with Ron Sexsmith here as well, an inspired pairing.  The best southern music has always had a little of everything, including country, soul, rock and folk.  Lynne brings all that, plus great stories and a tremendous voice, and this is one of her very best albums.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: LEONARD COHEN - CAN'T FORGET: A SOUVENIR OF THE GRAND TOUR

Cohen's sure been milking these extended tours he's been on for product.  In the last six months, he's released this live album plus an entire concert DVD, Live In Dublin, from the 2012-2013 world tour.  And before that, he put out the same amount, the Live in London DVD and Songs From The Road CD, from the 2008 - 2009 jaunt.  Not to mention the Live in Fredericton vinyl EP for a Record Store Day.  But who's complaining?  Not me.

That's because he keeps coming up with new things to send our way.  He has the vast catalogue of course, but he's been so prolific in his later years, he keeps adding brand-new songs that may or may not end up on studio albums.  There are two of them here, as well as interesting covers and reworked older material.  And remarkably, of the ten songs, only one has been on any of the other recent live releases, and in a radically different way.  Here, the well-known Tower of Song is renamed Stages, because it's mostly a humorous stage introduction to the song about aging and attractiveness, and then a couple of verses of the song done in a completely different arrangement and tempo. 

How Cohen manages this is by giving us a ticket to the secret show, before the main one.  Half of the cuts were recorded at soundcheck, a time for the band to work out new material that may or may not make it into the main set.  That's where we hear the great Joan of Arc, one of the few classics missing from the recent shows until he worked up this version with his current backing singers featured prominently.  Cohen returns to his first love, country music, covering a song that won George Jones a Grammy from 1999, Choices.  He only played it in concert a couple of times, and here we hear him working up the tribute cut, with Jones obviously a hero of his. 

The two new cuts being worked on are equally left-field additions.  Never Gave Nobody Trouble is a full-on blues song, Cohen reveling in the classic form of the lyrics, admitting he "don't wanna break no windows, don't wanna burn no car."  It's actually a clever attack on the rich and greedy tycoons, who don't see what's coming when they piss off the proletariat.  Got A Little Secret is another from his recent favourite topic, advanced age and diminishing expectations and returns. 

Of the concert tracks, it's especially fine to hear I Can't Forget make the set list, from the I'm Your Man album.  It's also wonderful to hear his tribute to his Francophone audience, a cover of the 1966 hit La Manic, by the poet, novelist and singer Georges Dor.  This was performed for audiences familiar with the song, in Quebec and New Brunswick.  As with all his recent live albums, Cohen's exceptional and subtle backing group is perfect, and perfectly understated, providing an exceptional recording, each instrument and voice at a gentle and beautiful level.  This is so much more than just a tour album, it's a real present to the faithful.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: THE SKYLARKS - THE SKYLARKS



Here's a band from L.A. that happily welcomes being labelled eclectic. A great big, seven-piece outfit, they throw lots into the mix, but it all comes out sweet. Largely roots-rock, The Skylarks feature great vocals, from lead singer Sam Mellon, second voice Amy Luftig Viste, and lots and lots of harmonies. Then there are plenty of accents, with a full-time pedal and lap steel player on duty in Julian Goldwhite, and a bona fide trumpeter, Dan Clucas, for that mariachi moment. Oh, and there are freak-outs too, just when you think everything's pop and smiley.


Maybe it's California; these folks aren't kids, they have kids, and have no doubt seen every scene from Sunset Strip pop to Palomino country to Paisley Underground to cowpunk to desert rock. All this comes together seamlessly, with hooks galore but an edge to every song too. The band can be light as a breeze, with touches of The Jayhawks, but mix in Wilco moments.


Earle Mankey ably produces, a perfect fit thanks to his resume, an early guitar player for Sparks, engineer on The Beach Boys Love You album, and producer of The Runaways, Concrete Blonde and The Long Ryders. So it's all this mix of classic influences, an appreciation for beauty and tears, craft and feeling, and moving forward. A gem.