Thursday, October 30, 2014

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: DINNER BELLES - THE RIVER AND THE WILLOW



The return of Hamilton's semi-secret roots collective, bringing us more modern sounds in country and western music. These are seven solid and committed musicians, well-versed in folk, rock, and all the other vintage sounds, and they pack them into original, high-quality tunes. There's tons of interplay, from he-she vocals to assorted stringed things to real piano and organ, and no loops, beats or studio trickery.


The community vibe is heavy and healthy right across the album, the group's second after 2011's West Simcoe County. There's a respect here for the music, the members letting us know they feel honoured to be making these sounds, to be keeping the tradition going. Lead track Back Home (In The Valley) rings with pedal steel and a great Bakersfield groove, plus soulful harmonies from the great partnership of Brad Germain and Terra Lightfoot. That's followed up with a country-Gospel tune, I Might Do Everything Wrong, with a Revival Meeting flavour. Wandering Eye has some wild rockabilly crossed with saloon sounds, including a brilliant, brief piano break from Greg Brisco.


And so it goes, a different blend on each tune, written with care and love. There's lots of homage paid, but lots of little modern touches too, whether its some revved-up drums or an aggressive guitar part, just to remind us it's not all from the 60's. Some folks named Hudson, Manuel and Danko came out of these parts awhile back, and Dinner Belles show that lineage is strong.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: ANNIE LENNOX - NOSTALGIA

The new jazz singers aren't even jazz singers, they are ex-pop stars crossing over, with little else to do.  Your average rock hero from twenty years ago might still have a record contract, but there's precious little interest from their company, and indeed, most of their fans, for new material.  Rod Stewart can sell four million copies of retro swill covers of show tunes, but he gets off his ass and writes his first new set of songs in decades, and nobody cares, let alone buys it.  So what to do, 80's all-stars?  Bryan Adams is trying to cover the 60's and 70's.  Annie Lennox wants to be a serious interpreter of the old classics that speak to her.

These are, of course, the same old classics that speak to everyone, from Summertime to Georgia On My Mind.   But Lennox is an accomplished singer, and her voice was always the highlight of any Eurythmics project (aside from a cow in a video).  So this does seem like a natural progression for her.  If anyone could make the transition, and keep it classy, it would be her.  She does have a good way of stretching out a note, such as the "you" in You Belong To Me (Jo Stafford's, rather than the Carly Simon tune).  While the temptation on these discs is to cover the great female vocalists, Lennox mixes it up, with Billie Holiday represented (Strange Fruit), but Ray Charles (Georgia On My Mind) and Screamin' Jay Hawkins (I Put A Spell On You) also included.  That's another good thing about Lennox, she doesn't like walls.  Her lovely September In The Rain is a treat, an emotional vocal for a sensitive song.  I'm pretty skeptical about these covers projects, but Lennox is one singer who can deliver sweet dreams with these standards.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: LED ZEPPELIN - IV/HOUSES OF THE HOLY DELUXE EDITIONS


Do I need to argue the merits of these two Zeppelin albums here?  They are well-known, and much debate exists about the benefits of these, albums four and five in the group's career, compared to the first three.  As bored as I am with Stairway, right up there with Sweet Home Alabama in the Great Overplayed Classic Rock Anthems of the '70's radio format, IV includes the great opening couplet of Black Dog and Rock And Roll, and Side 2 opens with Misty Mountain Hop, so it still packs awesomeness even when skipping the ubiquitous cut 4, Side 1.  As for Houses, I love all the acoustic work, and unlike so many others, find D'yer Mak'er quite enjoyable, actual ear candy from these serious blues-rockers.

Then there are the bonus cuts.  These are for all you fans out there who have been wondering for years what The Rain Song would sound like without piano.  Hands?  Bueller?  How about No Quarter without the vocal track and some John Paul Jones keyboard overdubs?  A different mix of Stairway that sounds pretty much identical?  Maybe I don't know the songs well enough that I'm missing the subtle differences, but the fact is, these are the same basic tracks, not different recordings on different days.  All that is changed is some fader levels and overdub parts.  And there's no controversy over levels and layers, not like say, the Nirvana In Utero sessions.

When first announced, there was some buzz about the "fabled, alternate Stairway to Heaven mixed at the Sunset Sound Studio in Los Angeles."  Mixes can make a huge difference in a song, when choices are made to bury certain elements, increase the volume of others, let more echo be heard, and then you can get into any amount of messing about with studio effects.  The less elements you have, the less you can do, although sometimes it can seem quite drastic if you eliminate well-known parts or include something that was mixed out of the famous version.  I'd have to say this alternate mix includes only subtle differences at best, with the electric piano a little louder at one point, a drum roll more present, that kind of thing.  The vocal-less mixes on the sets are included to showcase the guitar and sometimes mandolin overdubs that were done, but again, Page and Co. were very economical in the studio, and either all the truly different things were thrown out or erased, he won't issue, or there just weren't any.

Here's the issue though.  If there weren't bonus cuts, they couldn't do the more expensive Super Deluxe boxes, or even 2-disc deluxe versions.  The real prize here is the remastered sound, but will consumers shell out for just upgraded sound?  Not so much.  Any decent outtakes were supposedly used on Coda and previous boxed sets, what there were, and there's been a BBC Sessions collection.  I'd much rather have live tracks, but Page has been picky with that.  There's a lot of live stuff out there now, I suppose.  So what else can you do?  Let some re-mixer come in and add a rapper?  Get Page to record new banjo parts?  Enjoy the main albums, they are classics after all.  And for heaven's sake, listen to them on a stereo, not your computer.

Monday, October 27, 2014

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: WINGS - VENUS AND MARS/WINGS AT THE SPEED OF SOUND




Two more in the big McCartney release program, that is seeing his 70's albums put out in 2-CD and 2-CD/DVD deluxe versions, with appropriate bonus content. This is McCartney's high point with Wings, when he was touring the world and hitting number one with his singles and albums. He had become so big, there was only one band that was bigger, his last one.


After Band On The Run, it seemed like McCartney might also be able to return to Beatles-quality songwriting as well. But Venus And Mars and Speed Of Sound were not to that level of quality. It seemed instead to convince him that his increasingly cartoonish songwriting was imaginative. While Band On The Run and Jet had somewhat interesting story lines, now we were getting actual cartoons such as Magneto And Titanium Man, corny tales about going to the rock show, and of course, silly love songs. Most of these songs were catchy as all get out, but ear worms as well, annoying in their repetitive nature, like Let 'Em In. Now, the combo of Venus And Mars/Rock Show does sound great, the latter one of the best rockers he's ever done, but man, the lyrics just do not hold up under scrutiny. Can you still enjoy these discs? Well, I do, having grown up with them, and musically there are so many fine moments, but if you can sit through Linda's vocal on Cook Of The House more than once, you've been brainwashed.


The bonus audio discs are better here than on most deluxe editions, with some brand-new and very different material from sessions around the albums. For Venus And Mars, we get a jam-packed, 14-song collection from all sorts of different sources. It reminds me, in the best way, of one of those classic 70's bootlegs that mixed and matched rare material. This includes the non-album single tracks Junior's Farm and Sally G, the Country Hams single Walking In The Park With Eloise and Bridge On The River Suite (a Nashville recording, not promoted as a McCartney product and soon deleted), the New Orleans number My Carnival, and a different mix of the Ram-era cut Hey Diddle. Better are the new finds, including an early version of Rock Show, and McCartney's version of the song he'd written and produced for Peggy Lee in 1974, Let's Love.


The bonus disc for Speed Of Song is much shorter, just seven tracks and 21 minutes, but once again there are fun finds, including a version of Beware My Love with John Bonham on drums, and Must Do Something About It with a McCartney vocal instead of drummer Joe English, who was featured on the album. As for the DVD's included in the Deluxe Editions, forget them, they are completely useless. They consist mostly of footage following the band around various spots as they tour in 1976, or head to record in different locales. There are no good interview bits, or any live music bits that add anything substantial to his catalogue, and mostly this is just Paul and Linda mugging for the camera, trying to be funny but coming across as smug. McCartney never seemed to have his guard down. I haven't seen the hard-bound books with lots of detail and new McCartney interviews included in the Deluxe versions, but the DVD's certainly shouldn't be considered any kind of a draw. Too bad, as the bonus audio is first-rate.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: NOW 25 TOP HITS OF THE 1970's/1980's/1990's



Well, what do you know? It was the '90's that sucked for music, not the '80's after all. At least, that's if you go by the tracks included on this series of double CD's. I'd like to be the meeting sometime when they select tracks for these things. Also, I'd love to know who the target audience is, and why they keep using the same songs over and over. Anyway, the 90's collection really does suck: Vanilla Ice, followed by Hanson, the worst Spice Girls song (Wannabe), the song that seemingly must be included on every 90's set (All Star, Smash Mouth), and Achy Breaky Heart. 25 cuts included, I'd keep maybe five of them.


In comparison, the 80's set comes off like 1966, full of hits. There's a find mix of R.E.M.'s The One I Love into Tainted Love into Split Enz's I Got You. The 80's New Music hits come off nicely on disc one, with Simple Minds, Tears For Fears, The Fixx and The Human League all doing there thing. There are very few gawd-awful cuts, although Whitesnake's Here I Go Again and Culture Club's Do You Really Want To Hurt Me need to be buried somewhere safe.


The 70's, how do you mess up the 70's? Here's how: You follow The Band's Up On Cripple Creek with Love Will Keep Us Together by Captain & Tennille. This perhaps the worst song pairing I have ever heard on a collection. I now have an aural example of "from the sublime to the ridiculous." Other duds included here are the theme from Rocky, Gonna Fly Now, not something you ever need to hear, and Kool & the Gang's Ladies Night, Other than that, it's a pretty good collection but still, totally ruined by that opening salvo of The Band/Captain & Tennille. For shame.

Friday, October 24, 2014

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: THE WHO - HITS 50!

If the Stones could do it and The Beach Boys could do it, I guess Pete Townshend figured he had to do something to honour fifty years of The Who.  Roger Daltry no doubt had little problem with it, he seems happy to give fans old and new something to enjoy each year.  So a tour is coming, along with this collection, yet another in a very long list of best-of's, boxes and re-packages.  As the group has done in the past, a new song is included to tempt the fans who must have it all, and this boasts tracks from every period.  That isn't a great boast of course, as it means including newer stuff at the expense of classics.  It's hard to find anything to like about It's Hard, for instance, but the title cut is dutifully included.  That means we only get two songs from Quadrophenia, and three from Tommy.   And once again the dire Eminence Front is chosen for a best-of, another It's Hard cut that the group has long pretended was popular.  I get that the compilers were trying to include all the singles, but they left off Long Live Rock, a song ten times better.

Still, most everything is here, and if you need a best-of, the two-disc version of this is as good as any they've released.  I'd go with that over the single disc, as there are some interesting cuts included that are rarely heard.  Postcard comes from Odds and Sods (like Long Live Rock), and unless you don't have that set, it's a fun little number sung by John Entwistle that barely sounds like the band.  Join Together and Relay were singles released between Who's Next and Quadrophenia, neither of them big hits and never played on radio these days.  Then there's the obscure 1968 single Dogs, basically about people who like greyhound racing, including some spoken-word stuff, very odd and not a hit.  It slows down the hit-after-hit pace, but it's fun to have something different to hear from the band.

The new cut here, Be Lucky, is supposed to be the first taste of an upcoming album, to be released sometime in 2015.  It has some great Daltry vocals in the verses, but an annoying chorus, and has something to do with the band AC/DC.  It's a bit of a meandering mess really, totally Townshend's fault, Roger's doing his job.  Doesn't bode well for anything new.  As for everything else here, well, it's one of the great canons in rock, ain't it?  Call it a bargain.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: PRINCE - ART OFFICIAL AGE/PRINCE & 3RDEYEGIRL - PLECTRUMELECTRUM




Prince was always, what's the polite word, idiosyncratic? Even at his most commercial in the 80's, he was an enigmatic wonder. Back then you could pretty much figure out what he was singing about, whether raspberry berets or crying doves. It just got wacky after awhile. I don't know what the sun looks like in his paisley-purple universe, but I'm guessing it ain't yellow.


Here's the thing; don't even hope for a normal lyric anymore. There are no easy to understand songs here, verse-verse-chorus-solo, no way. What is on these two discs is fabulous though, wildly inventive and super-sounding. And there is grand rock and funk and roll too, real Prince flights of fancy with awesome guitar. There is also some of the most advanced studio trickery going on as well, audio manipulation and general messing-about that proves the master is still at the controls. So dive in.


The two new albums are wildly different. If you are less adventurous and want your rock/funk Prince, it's the 3rdEyeGirl album you need, Prince's new all-women trio, all fabulous players and singers. For the most part, this is the basic stuff, grand though. Prince shares the spotlight nicely, giving lead vocals on several cuts to the others, such as the funkified Boytrouble, and the lovely Whitecaps. When Prince is singing, he gets the benefits of excellent backing vocals. This is my favourite Prince album in a long time.


The one credited to just him, Art Official Age, is a lot more challenging, but quite rewarding as well. Working with 3rdEyeGirl and producer Joshua Welton, this set is Prince being playful, taking the songs and turning them inside-out in the studio. Most here have his vocals sped up or slowed down, sometimes to the point of the Chipmunk effect, and other times so low you can't tell its him, or even human. The songs are space-age, cut-up and reassembled. It's actually quite a striking feat, and Prince shows how these techniques can make excellent music too. I much prefer the band album, just because I like things traditional, but it's easy to marvel at his experimental side as well.