Saturday, December 16, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: NOEL GALLAGHER'S HIGH FLYING BIRDS - WHO BUILT THE MOON?

Sing with me: "The First Noel, I've actually liked...". Everybody's more preferred brother in rock music's Kardashian family, the saner one puts together a strong album that sounds progressive and doesn't dip too much into other people's cliches. That said, you can certainly hear the influences, but they aren't overwhelming and show quite a bit of imagination on Gallagher's part. Holy Mountain is a T.Rex stomper, with a sly reference to Bowie's Diamond Dogs thrown in for good measure but it sure does rock, with a great chorus. Keep On Reaching is his take on Motown, with both Stevie Wonder's Higher Ground and Marvin's Can I Get A Witness supplying lines in the lyrics, and the horns borrowed from the Snakepit.

It's much more than borrowing though. The melodies aren't stolen, and the production and rhythm are thoroughly modern. If anything it's homage, and a little help in coming up with song ideas, nothing more nefarious. Once the songs are in flight, they are big, bold and catchy, and a lot more fired up than the last few Oasis albums, and the first couple of High Flying Birds albums. New single It's A Beautiful World is too much U2 for my liking, so don't judge the album on that basis, it's much more fun than that cut, and I think that is the key, this is a good time record.

Friday, December 15, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: BRETT KISSEL - WE WERE THAT SONG

Big league album #3 for the now-confirmed Canadian country star (don't forget he also recorded as a young teen back in Alberta starting out). He's already grabbed gold records, a #1 single, top ten albums, a Juno, a bunch of CCMA's, pals around with the likes of Garth Brooks, Brad Paisley, Charley Pride and Dave Mustaine(!), so it feels like at some point soon, all this adulation will spill over into the U.S. as well.

It's pretty much a wall-to-wall party on We Were That Song, almost everything high on the BPM meter. Damn!, with Mustaine cranking out on guitar, has that big pounding drum beat and wild banjo groove, almost a frenzy really. The title cut, already a hit, has the same big sound, impossible to ignore. Kissel's writing some more on this release, Cecilia a good one, a bit more on the melodic side, but still another potential hit. The main body of the album, the first 10 cuts, are all aimed at the modern country world.

The last three cuts, called Encores, are old-school country, something Kissel grew up with and recorded lots of when he first started. That's where Pride shows up, doing a duet on his old 1978 hit Burgers and Fries, kind of a last waltz for the album. Drink, Cuss or Fish is one of those old "make mine country" numbers, another that would've sounded right at home in the '70's, and God Made Daughters is Kissel's own sentimental number for his two baby girls. So you have all this heavily produced stuff up front, and then the throwback songs from simpler times at the very end. Guess which I like more?

Thursday, December 14, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: NEIL YOUNG + PROMISE OF THE REAL - THE VISITOR

In case you hadn't noticed, Promise of the Real is turning into a first-rate backing group for Neil Young, now that the beloved Crazy Horse seems no more. That's sacrilege I suppose for classic Neil fans, and I've bemoaned many of his weaker albums of the past couple of decades. But so far, the albums with the group, The Monsanto Years and the doctored live release Earth, plus this latest, have a different and inspired approach, which actually helps Young present his often-awkward political and protest songs in a much more enjoyable way.

When Young is trying to write topical material, it's often so simplistic and obvious, even the choir he's preaching to rolls their eyes. Think about the cringe-worthy rants on the environmental fable Greendale, or the feeble fist-shaking of the Living With War album, railing against Bush Jr.

Or maybe it's just us that have changed, now that it's so freaking obvious there's a psycho in the White House and a whole bunch of vicious men pulling all the strings. Anyway, the songs here are going down much easier, and I give a lot of credit to the less-dogmatic sounds Promise of the Real bring to the table, it seems much more of a collaborative effort, and not the rigid "This is Neil's Sound" presentation. They are a looser bunch, Tato Melgar's percussion adds a Latin feel, and they move easily from rock to blues to acoustic tunes, while never repeating classic Neil approaches.

Opener Already Great proves a few of my above points, and it's also a better-written song than anything on Living With War, reminding Americans "You're already great, you're the promised land," while capping it off with "No wall, no hate, no fascist USA." He even remembers to deflate the obvious criticism by starting the song "I'm Canadian, by the way/And I love the USA." The cut Almost Always is even subtle and thoughtful, Young singing "I'm livin' with a game show host who has to brag and has to boast/'Bout tearin' down the things that I hold dear." That's actual good lyric writing, something that can be the least of Young's concerns at times. When Bad Got Good is brief, and to the point, and kind of funny: "No belief in the Liar-in-Chief/Lock him up." Only when he gets one of his ideas about bringing in a big choir and orchestra, on Children of Destiny, does Young return to the overblown and bland protest, the dozens of people joining him for cliches such as "Stand up for what you believe/Resist the powers that be."

Another smart move is that the protest and political work is spread out, separated by several regular tunes, so we're not feeling beaten over the head. Again, there is lots of variety, from the mystical dream trip Carnival, Sugar Mountain all grown up and voodoo-trippy. Diggin' A Hole is a good, old rockin' blues by the group, down and dirty and mindless. Closer Forever is going to need some studying. It's a lovely semi-acoustic work, lengthy, with lots of references to previous Young works, including the galleons of war from Cortez the Killer. The big line is "Earth is like a church without a preacher," and I think it may hold a clue to Young's philosophy. I'll get back to you on that. Meantime, I'm pretty positive about this album, and in general the last few years of Young's production.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: COUSIN HARLEY - BLUE SMOKE: THE MUSIC OF MERLE TRAVIS

Because we focus so much on the rock and roll heroes, or the great jazz players of earlier in the 20th century, Merle Travis has been neglected, quite unfairly. Not only was he a guitar innovator and master player in the country/Western Swing world, he was a tremendous songwriter as well. Take his classics, 16 Tons and Dark As A Dungeon, certainly two of the masterpieces of the recording era, and that's just the tip of the iceberg.

B.C. band Cousin Harley does a fantastic job celebrating the master on this 12-song set. Lead by a guitar whiz themselves, Paul Pigat, the group edges the Travis songs a bit further into the rockabilly territory, but there's nothing wrong with that, for sure, as folks such as Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins sure admired Travis. In fact, his fingerpicking style certainly inspired the rockabilly pace. The band keeps lots of the humour Travis was known for as well, doing justice to the tongue-in-cheek numbers Divorce Me C.O.D., So Round, So Firm, So Fully Packed, and Smoke Smoke Smoke That Cigarette.

Pigat has a friendly, old-timey voice that's perfect for this material, and transports us back to the '40's and '50's with ease. Wisely the group is happy to show just how fun and solid the songs are without resorting to anything modern and fancy, just great playing does the trick. Pigat's guitar certainly stands out throughout, handling Travis' singular mix of country, Western Swing, jazz, blues and boogie-woogie. He tops it off with his own tribute to the Travis style, an instrumental called Rosewood, that the master himself would no doubt admire.

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: VARIOUS - HOLIDAYS RULE VOL. 2

A mix of newcomers and veterans is featured on this set, which is made up of new or very recent recordings, and none of them the same old Christmas tunes you'll find on half the other albums you have in your collection. At least half the songs I've never heard of in any version, and the more familiar ones are done in quite different versions. In short, this will be a new take of Christmas tunes for any of your gatherings.


The biggest winners are from a trio of women in the middle of the disc. Norah Jones offers up a suitably jazzy live version of a Horace Silver song, Peace, which sits nicely as a holiday number, or for any time really. Grace Potter, of all people, does one of those old-fashioned luxurious ballads with clouds full of strings and choirs of angels, which she wrote herself, called Christmas Moon. And Rosanne Cash has finger-snapping fun with an old Louis Jordan number, Make Ev'ry Day Be Christmas.


Other fun ones include Lake Street Dive doing a novelty song, I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas, an old '50's tune that they do a charming job with. The Decemberists offer up Alex Chilton's surprisingly unironic Jesus Christ, with just a touch of rebellion in a nasty guitar line at the end. And Judah & the Lion do their updated folk on The Christmas Song (that's the "chestnuts roasting" one).


Overall there are nice sounds across the whole set, with some well-chosen new artists, including Flor De Toloache, Vera Blue and Muna, doing Paul McCartney's Pipes of Peace. McCartney himself shows up on that remake of his Wonderful Christmastime, with Jimmy Fallon and The Roots, with The Roots remix welcome, Fallon's pointless inclusion not.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: RAWLINS CROSS - ROCK STEADY

The return of the ultimate East Coast Celtic rockers, and I'll argue the ultimate East Coast band, with members from all four provinces, plus a ton of musical influences in the mix. Every so often the band heads back out for a few dates, and this time had some new material to pass on as well, resulting in this six-track E.P.

The title cut has the group's classic uptempo sound, in the Reel 'n' Roll style, the big driving beat, and Joey Kitson's booming bass vocals, which feels just like your favourite pub on a Saturday night. They slow it down for Long Have We Travelled, and the bagpipes appear, stirring in this big ballad. There's a departure on the tune Can't Get You Out Of Mind, a deep funky blues with, get this, a solo on the pipes thrown in. Find that anywhere else. Accordion, mandolin and tin whistle combine for the warm closing number, Waltzing The Time Away. When you hear a Rawlins Cross song, you can be in no other place than Atlantic Canada.

Monday, December 11, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: SQUEEZE - THE KNOWLEDGE

Such is the goodwill Squeeze earned in the New Wave days, they continue to be welcomed warmly with each new tour and album these days. Called the Lennon and McCartney of their generation, it's really just Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook and whatever band they put together these days, but they do always surround themselves with strong players and contributors, notably keyboard player Stephen Large, who adds lots of colourful parts to Tilbrook's flights of pop fancy.


The most endearing and enduring Squeeze songs remain the big, hook-filled hits, from Tempted to Hourglass to Annie Get Your Gun, but the duo has stretched over the years into more eclectic compositions, from their "solo" disc Difford and Tilbrook in the mid-'80's on. It's almost like Difford especially (the music guy) finds it a little dull to go for insanely catchy songs each time, and instead gets whimsical. He thinks nothing of a doing a disco tune with an opera singer's part and a children's chorus, as we hear on Rough Ride. These tunes are still melodically wonderful and complex, captivating productions though, so we have no choice but to follow him down the rabbit hole on each one.

Almost as an aside, the group throws in some more easily digested numbers, such as Please Be Upstanding, where the title becomes this epic singalong, and Albatross, with its sly reference to Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac at the end. As a recent live streaming concert revealed, the band still performs all the hits, but they mix in lots of the new material too, as always daring us to dig a little deeper into the more sophisticated numbers, and it's a rewarding challenge when you do.