Saturday, May 28, 2016

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: SKYDIGGERS - HERE WITHOUT YOU - THE SONGS OF GENE CLARK



Our beloved Skydiggers, no slouches in the songwriting department, throw us a curve ball with their latest, a collection of songs written by the most enigmatic Byrd, Gene Clark. In a band with big personalities (Roger McGuinn, David Crosby), and big hits written by Dylan, in the first couple of years of the group Clark's songwriting still managed to stand out. His pop/folk melodies partially obscured a sadness and sophistication in his lyrics, and his standing seems to increase every year. Even though he quit the band just a couple of years into their run, and languished in relative obscurity until his untimely death in 1991, he was probably the best songwriter The Byrds produced.


The Skydiggers go for stripped down and emotional arrangements of the eight Clark-penned tunes here. For the most part it's Andy Maize singing lead, Josh Finlayson on ukulele and guitar, and Jessy Bell Smith on harmonies, who has been elevated to full band member status. They are ably helped by producer Michael Timmins, sound doctor Joshua Van Tassel on moody "sonics", and the occasional extra guitar and such, but basically it's an acoustic-plus-vocals album, Maize and Smith a moody pair.


The sparer arrangements let us focus on the advanced wordplay Clark was fitting in these songs, especially for 1965-66. Since the songs sat side-by-side with Dylan numbers, they didn't get all the attention deserved then, or now really. Tom Petty covering Feel A Whole Lot Better helped for sure, and we get that cut here without the bounce, pretty sophisticated for the time as a break-up song with the deal-breaker going unmentioned: "The reason why oh I can't say." She Don't Care About Time is another deceptively simple tune, seemingly kid-friendly ('don't' instead of the proper 'doesn't'), but its main theme worthy of the aforementioned Dylan: "And she'll always be there, my love don't care about time."


By not going all jingle-jangle on these cuts, especially the most familiar (8 Miles High), The Skydiggers also play to their best strengths. Andy Maize has an ability to draw us in, entrance us, and hold us on every word. The group has found and highlighted the mysterious blue in Clark's music.

Friday, May 27, 2016

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: JANIS JOPLIN - LITTLE GIRL BLUE



Here's the soundtrack from the new biography of Joplin, as seen on PBS, by filmmaker Amy Berg (West of Memphis). It was a successful but sad look, her problems with drugs overshadowing her accomplishments and talents. But it's important to remember her breakthroughs as a female performer and as an outsider in a conservative world. Oh, and all the tunes too.


The soundtrack is not a greatest hits, but rather a set largely made up of greatest live performances. The film concentrates on stage footage, where she was most accomplished, so we get lots of her show-stoppers, as well as a few studio tracks. There's not much new stuff; the Joplin vaults have been picked through pretty thoroughly, so there's just one track making its debut, a 1968 live version of Piece of my Heart. But you'd have to be a big collector to have all the others, as they come from a wide variety of sources, including box sets, expanded editions of albums, live collections, posthumous obscure releases and even a previous film, Janis, made in Canada in 1974,


Along the way, we get to hear her at the shows that made her famous; Monteray, Woodstock, the Festival Express train tour in Canada. Some of the nights are better than others, depending on her state, and whatever band she had. Big Brother was always energetic, but often notoriously sloppy, and that's shown here on those early tracks in her career. But Joplin almost always rose above it with her powerful, impassioned vocals. Every bit of the joy and the sadness and the blues of her life was on display when she sang, and this set of 17 performances captures that as well as any of her collections.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

ROXANNE POTVIN HEADLINES LIVING ROOTS FESTIVAL, TOURS MARITIMES

The fab Roxanne Potvin is in my neck of the woods right now, playing a festival and some other dates,  She just released her newest, For Dreaming, a couple of months back, which I glowingly reviewed, but wanted to point out the show dates as well.  It seemed like a good way to put the review up again, not write anything new and slack off watching the Mets game.  Except they aren't playing tonight I just found out, so I'm taking Netflix suggestions, or possibly listening to the new Dylan or Skydiggers.  Anyway, those reviews later but really, you should go see Roxanne play too.

Friday, May 27 she's doing a second night in Fredericton at the new Living Roots Music Festival, at the Cinnamon Cafe at 8:30.  Here are the other Maritime shows,


  • Saturday, May 28 - Creek View Restaurant, Gagetown, NB
  • Sunday, May 29 - Barnone Brewery, Rose Valley, PEI
  • Tuesday, May 31 - Baba's Lounge, Charlottetown
  • Wednesday, June 1 - Company House, Halifax
  • Thursday, June 2 - Plan B, Moncton, NB
  • Friday, June 3 - The Port Grocer, Port Medway, NS
  • Saturday, June 4 - Patchworks house concerts, Bedford, NB
  • Sunday, June 5 - Lift the Wind concert series, St. Margarets Bay, NS

Now, that review from back in early April:

When someone has spent five years between albums, you assume the worst; burned out, uninspired, on drugs, frustrated with the music business, writer's block, huge fights with record label/bandmates/spouse, these are just some of the regular reasons. So it's a rare thing indeed when someone like Potvin spends the five years actually growing, and working on their craft, in preparation for the next release.

No, she wasn't just practicing guitar and polishing lyrics. Potvin worked in a recording studio, and took proper courses in engineering. Wow, education! That's pretty sensible. Of course, when all that was happening, she picked up lots of inspiration for making her own records, and kept her radar on for her next batch of writing.

Potvin has changed and grown dramatically since her first recordings, when she quickly became known as one of the young, bright lights of blues. But with 2011's Play, she ventured into power pop with the help of producer Steve Dawson, with lots of playful moments, funky feel, and a surprise with a cover of Right Said Fred's I'm Too Sexy.

For Dreaming sees an entirely new feel, this time with the exuberance tempered for intimacy. although still in the pop vein. This is an album that could only be made in Montreal, with its instrumental experimentation and quirky outlook. Potvin's new production knowledge brings in lots of interesting sound combinations, lots of beautiful moments, and a warmth from her lead and backing vocals.

Her lyrics are just as dynamic, and singular. Prairie Sunrise is a stunning track, Potvin describing a trip by train that served to open her eyes to how closed she had become, compared to the wide-open vistas. Figuring It Out points a finger at someone who can't get their shit together: "Have you figured out your ex/have you figured out dependence/Have you figured out the times you've been rejected/How long are you gonna spend/Figuring it out."

The intimacy of the recording matches the closeness examined in the lyrics, whether its between a couple, or in solitude, the closeness with your thoughts being alone. The beauty, well, that's the sound of somebody who has learned how to make the sounds in her heart come alive.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: CHAIM TANNENBAUM - (self-titled)



Bit of a mystery man, this Tannenbaum. For years, I've seen his name gracing projects by The McGarrigle Sisters, Loudon Wainwright III and that whole extended family. A multi-instrumentalist and harmony singer, I assumed he was some kind of master musician Kate or Anna had found squirreled away in a folk club, and drafted into their employ.


Part of that was true, and it turns out he was a teenage friend of Kate's, but music wasn't his main job, he was actually teaching philosophy at Dawson College in Montreal, specializing in logic, that ridiculous math-philosophy hybrid that brought about my demise is second year. If "A" then "B", that's all I remember. You need a brain much bigger than ... well, mine, for instance.


Anyway, was Tannenbaum a musical hobbyist with some cool, connected friends? Hardly. Not only was he a killer player, he was often the subtle third voice making the magical blend with the Sisters, and a fellow traveler in the world of real folk music, recognizing the beauty in old-time melodies, and the importance of continuing traditions, plus making it all modern too.


In all this time, he stayed at the back, almost nameless, until being convinced to make this debut album. And what a joy it is, helping to fill a bit of the hole left after the death of Kate McGarrigle. A mixture of traditional songs and his own, Tannenbaum plays the same kind of parlour folk as his famed friends, with such a warm, lived-in voice. He sounds a bit like Pete Seeger, with a bit of Wainwright thrown in at times, a lovely, wordy, conversational delivery. Not big-philosophy worthy though, just a lot of good ones, with great stories.


He knows his old blues for sure, able to call out numbers by Sweet Papa Stovepipe and Peg Leg Howell, names so classic I was worried they might be made up (they aren't, I Googled.) Ain't No More Cane on the Brazos, that I know from The Basement Tapes, but Tannenbaum and crew are less rough-hewn than Dylan and The Band. Here he's helped out, as on other tracks by pals Wainwright and the venerable stringman David Mansfield.


There's old-time Gospel here too, with a good approximation of Salvation Army backing, with tuba, bass drum and cymbals. The gentle wheeze of keys is a sound featured throughout as well, whether accordion or harmonium, again helping establish that parlour mood.


It would all be great and charming and worthy, but it turns out that Tannenbaum is also a songwriter of distinction, with a singular style that defies comparison. There are three grand examples here that dominate the second half of the album. They each feature a narrator, telling an important life story, as if we're sitting listening to a stranger laying out his melancholy tale in a down-and-out bar. London, Longing For Home sees an ex-pat stuck in that huge city a few decades back, telling those of us listening just how awful Jolly Old England really is, despising that warm beer and the entire neighbourhoods of poverty nobody sings about. Brooklyn 1955 is a classic baseball story, that of the much-loved Dodgers before they moved to Los Angeles, and as a huge ball fan, I can tell you this is the Field of Dreams of baseball songs. Lastly comes Belfast Louis Falls In Love, more of a shaggy dog character this time, and the story the protagonist tells is full of curves and hills as its unravels over its eight minutes, with rich phrases such as "There are men who think the future is all bicycles and ice cream." The poet-philosopher, then.


There are so many cultural touchstones here, geographically and musically, as Tannenbaum takes us from the Deep South to Appalachia to the continent, from antebellum periods and Stephen Foster melodies and light-hearted Broadway tunes. Too often an album like this will be tossed a nice compliment and called roots and folk music, but we're talking decades and centuries and multiple countries and connecting cultures here, plus Tannenbaum's own wonderful, unique creations. That's so much to enjoy and discover, all done within the context of his own musical stamp. There's a bit more here than, say, an album of dubstep, or whatever.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: GINGER ST. JAMES - ONE FOR THE MONEY

There's a little bit of everything St. James can do here, as she continues to broaden her sound past rockabilly. We still get some fiery, uptempo stuff in that vein, but there's more classic country sounds now, although still coming straight out of that fertile late-50s and early-60's period. This lets us hear her more of her writing and singing talents and gives the hot players behind her more freedom as well.


Honeymoon Stage is a sadcore ballad, Patsy-powered, a charmer if you're so inClined. Here Ginger takes the on the wedding bell blues, but with updated lyrics and reality check for those lovebirds who get the blinders taken off their eyes. Somebody Shot Me is a film noir script, St. James putting the fatal in femme fatale. Best of Me and You is more trouble, this twang-filled number about a couple like ''fire and gasoline." Hair of the Blackdog just rips it, rockabilly meets Zeppelin, no joke.


While showing all these sides, St. James still has time to show off her secret weapon too, giving guitar ripper SnowHeel Slim his own instrumental number among the nine tracks. And there's even a little bit of beauty at the end, Merry Go Round a touching number that's about small-town life changing, the horses rusted and abandoned on the ride. With each release, the Hamilton singer gets more impressive.

Monday, May 23, 2016

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: HELLO DELAWARE - I NEVER ASKED (single)



What did I do in the last four years? Umm, watched a lot of baseball, became addicted to Netflix, and of major note, switched from Raisin Bran for breakfast to a fruit-and-kale smoothie. Lost no weight.


While you're all going, "Woah, better pace yourself there buddy," that's nothing compared to Halifax's Dana Beeler. When we last heard from her back in 2012 with her debut, The Long Goodbye, she was a singer-songwriter doing alt-country, rural, bluegrass-flavoured songs, befitting her small-town Nova Scotia upbringing, in a family of musicians. But travelling a bit of a rocky road after that release (lousy relationships and such), and widening her experiences, she's come out swinging again with a whole new sound, and even a new name. Hello Delaware she calls the band she leads and the music she's made, with the first single now out, I Never Asked.


There's video about of the band, edgy and tough, with lots of guitar, positively shock and awe compared to what she used to do. The studio single is less raw, but pretty powerful still, with Daniel Ledwell's production letting her voice shine through, but still lots of loud chords in there. It's a good rockin' single with a touch of regret, and some of those lessons-learned lyrics up front. A good taste of what's to come, from the new album due in September.


Meanwhile, Hello Delaware is on the road promoting the single on the East Coast. You'll find them here:



Wednesday, May 25 - Trailside Inn & Cafe, Mount Stewart, P.E.I.
Thursday, May 26 - The Company House, Halifax
Friday, May 27 - Red Herring Pub, St. Andrews, N.B.
Saturday, May 28 - Living Roots Festival, Fredericton

Sunday, May 22, 2016

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: THE WAILERS - THE WAILING WAILERS



Here we have the exciting debut album of a group from Jamaica. The Wailers are comprised of Peter McIntosh, Neville Livingston and Robert Marley, who have already had several island hits produced by by Coxsone Dodd and released on his Studio One imprint. We're predicting more big things for this group in 1965!


Of course, this was years before Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer hit the big time, just before reggae too, while ska still ruled, and the sound was much rawer, The recording facilities were pretty limited, but not the playing, singing and spirit though. Here we find the original versions of Simmer Down and One Love, with more bounce before the cooler reggae style came in, but no less inspiring.


The big deal here is this is the first time the original album has come out on CD, with the right track listing, cover and no overdubs. Marley music has been repackaged so much, that's a find in itself, even if this was essentially a repackage of a bunch of one-off 45's in the first place. But there's a great charm to the tracks, even if the fidelity leaves a lot to be desired on several songs. Hearing how all the American soul and Top 40 hits were integrated into Jamaican music is half the fun, with some obvious influences. The styles ranged from the sophistication of Livingston's When Your Well Runs Dry, with its soul harmonies, to the cover of What's New, Pussycat to the doo-wop of Ten Commandments of Love. Behind it all were the great musicians of Jamaica, shining through even the muddiest of productions. Some of us think the '60's were a better period than the '70's for the country's music, and Marley's for that matter.