Wednesday, June 29, 2016

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: SENIOR CITIZEN - THE HAWK



One of the good things about being a drummer is that there's always lots of musicians who need your help. And when you, in return, need some help back, well, you know lots of other musicians. Fredericton-based percussionist-producer Bob Deveau has held down the drum stool at various points for the long-running Grand Theft Bus, does the same duty whenever Olympic Symphonium feels noisy, and back when Michael Feuerstack still went by Snailhouse, help set the snail's pace.


Over several years, Deveau has called in many of his chips for his project under the name Senior Citizen. Working on this set since way back in 2009, what he did was start in with some drum tracks, then start in with the electronic stuff, creating computer files. Then, those were sent out to the mutual admiration society, where vocalists and players would contribute what they do best.


Chaos could have ensued, but if it did, it didn't make the final product. Instead, the posse of pals get moody, inventive, celebratory, hypnotic, loud, soft, but never too much of anything. Nick Cobham of the Symphonium takes the repetitive pattern of Footprints, adds a surprisingly low vocal, but then adds a layer, and then another layer of vocals, dreamy waves of sweet singing along with a thematic synth line. Temporary Madness is an ambitious six-plus minute track, going through a variety of personalities, looking back on great early synth groups like OMD, while leaving room for two different lead singers, Matt Gillis and Erin Breau, to add their own very different elements, his eerie, hers dark and funky. Andrew Sisk (Share, Coco et co.) manages to make things nice and folkie, while electro-notes burble behind him like a trout-filled New Brunswick stream. Kinda blissful really.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: COLVIN & EARLE



An odd couple or natural fit? I wasn't sure going in, but it turned out to be the latter, for sure. Colvin's known for making good harmonies with others, and here she blends well with his shopworn and life-hardened pipes. And it is all about duet vocals, with the pair harmonizing almost all the way through. It's all about the sound of this new voice.


There are some pretty nifty covers here, including great update of Ian and Sylvia's You Were On My Mind, and a grateful nation thanks the pair. It's a cool mix of both the folkie original and the pop cover by We Five. A take on Ruby Tuesday is inspired too, but it's their version of Tobacco Road that really takes off, with the roots-grunge production of Buddy Miller giving it an edge.


What really wasn't expected was how much the pair wrote together, with six of the 10 cuts brand-new. You're Right (I'm Wrong) is a dark number, a break-up song that still hurts. Tell Moses is spiritual-based, but modernized to include the Ferguson, Missouri protests. You're Still Gone is a sadder one, from the oft-divorced Earle, and one gets the sense that Colvin understands him, from that, and the whole fine set. Hopefully volume two will come soon.

Monday, June 27, 2016

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: PAUL MCCARTNEY - PURE MCCARTNEY



The beauty of a curated collection of an artist, especially one that doesn't follow the standard hit or chronologically ordered setlist, is the opportunity for magic moments. There are times when two great songs, from different periods, can be placed back-to-back and allow you to appreciate them, and the artist, even more. For me, that happened strongly on the final disc of this four-CD set, when the 1971 Ram album track Back Seat Of My Car moved into the opening notes of 1984's No More Lonely Nights, the under-performing ballad from the flop movie Give My Regards To Broad Street. I've always loved the first tune, it's probably my favourite McCartney song ever. The second I also like a lot, but it gets too produced in the latter half, and Dave Gilmour's guitar solo is way overblown. However, back-to-back, hair stood oup on the back of my neck.


McCartney did the job of picking the tracks himself supposedly, giving us a four-plus hour look at his entire post-Beatles career, or a cut-rate version if you get the cheaper two-disc set. I wouldn't; the bigger set is nicer, with a deluxe book and only $38 right now. Who better to do the job? Well, that's the question. Me, for one. You, for another. Really, it's going to be hard to anybody to satisfy everybody, as we all have a favourite Paul period. So that's the key with this kind of box, did he do a good job for as many fans as possible; will we find our magic moments like the one I mentioned above, and enough of them?


McCartney has included almost everyone of his major hits, for good (Jet) and bad (Ebony and Ivory, Say Say Say). The pattern is pretty much a hit followed by an album cut. There are some strange omissions, including not one track from the critically acclaimed Flowers In The Dirt album, no My Brave Face, That Day Is Done, nothing. Wags are suggesting as it's the next deluxe edition scheduled for release, McCartney wanted to create more demand. I wouldn't doubt it. One might think Picasso's Last Words (Drink To Me) would have made the list. But you have a whole lot of later-period albums to sample of course, and McCartney seems to have wanted to prove their was good stuff through them all. And he's right, there's lots.


Separated from lesser material filling up lesser albums, some of these cuts are allowed to blossom in this format, placed side-by-side with beloved hits. Little Willow from the Flaming Pie album (sometimes called "Flaming pile....") is a lovely cut following With A Little Luck. Band On The Run is followed by Appreciate from 2013's New album, and I hope it gives people a reminder to check out that excellent, under-appreciated release. And sometimes, it's just a matter that we've forgotten quite good songs in his very lengthy career, such as Every Night, Dear Boy and Good Times Coming/Feel The Sun.


On the down side, McCartney was a little too taken with his mellow work at times. There are a lot of songs on a similar theme: Jenny Wren, English Tea, and My Valentine are too sickly-sweet, especially since among the hits are Pipes Of Peace and My Love. This needs to rock more. And as much as he loves to promote his experimental side, I'll never cotton to the McCartney II synth sounds of Temporary Secretary, nor the annoying We All Stand Together frog song from his Rupert the Bear project.


I think in the end, this does what McCartney wanted, which was to put the spotlight on the later years. Not many out there will know cuts such as Queenie Eye, Winedark Open Sea, Little Willow and Don't Let It Bring You Down. I think there are some better cuts along the way than some that are here, he had no business including the horrid studio take of Coming Up, it's a rip that he used the edited single version of Venus and Mars/Rock Show which fades way too early, but if you like Paul McCartney, you're going to like him even more after this.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: AL LERMAN - SLOW BURN



It's always a welcome move when Al Lerman goes off on his own from the much-loved Fathead for a solo blues/roots album. He certainly has lots of solid material for it, with eleven originals here, plus Kokomo (yes, the blues cut, not the Cocktail-Beach Boys number - whew!). And although he does his share of playing alone at times, here he brings on lots of friends to make a fun, largely uptempo album, with both acoustic and electric tracks.


There's lots of harp of course, but it's more important to know he also handles all the guitar here, showing that he's able to stand up with anyone. There's a clean, sweet, pleasing tone to the whole set, and along with Lerman's friendly and warm vocals,and the great grooves, the album is simply a pleasure.


In the end though, it's the songwriting that takes it a cut above, Lerman a fine storyteller who finds different topics and good ideas. Don't Try To Push Your Mess On Me is about anyone trying to dump their problems with other cultures and religions on their fellow countrymen. Bad Luck Blues is about a true Ontario bank job, which feels like a George Clooney movie put to a smooth groove. Gonna Have To Wait is a singer-songwriter number right up there with some John Hiatt tunes, and Any Way You Want moves with a relaxed pace and positive vibe. When Lerman does end the album with the instrumental title track, Slow Burn (an apt description), where he plays all the intertwined guitar and harp, you remember that he is a great player too, after being taken by all those fine words and vocals the whole way through.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: MARK MAY BAND - BLUES HEAVEN



A one-time guitar player with Dickey Betts and Great Southern, May has all the tools, as a writer, singer and sharp player. Here he zips through a variety of blues styles, Southern and Northern and over to Texas. There's even a touch of funk on the number Boomerang. He's especially adept at the lively stuff, coming alive during fun numbers such as Put Down That Poison, with its rollicking Chicago-meets-jump blues sound.


It's one of several here where May is aided by the Soul Satyr Horns, who really push the good times-level up with some great solos and ensemble work. That lets May shine even more, when he unleashes some of his stinging leads. Plus, his soulful voice never fails to cut through and make each number better. A strong sixth album for this guy out of Ohio.

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: LITTLE FEAT - FEATS DON'T FAIL ME NOW/THE LAST RECORD ALBUM (180 gm vinyl)



Two of the original Feat's good ones, which means they are from the Lowell George years, now back and on heavyweight vinyl. No perks here, other than fresh and fine copies. I wouldn't mind a serious reworking off Feats Don't Fail Me Now, which sounds like it got muddy somewhere along the line, but this is a lot better than the CD transfers along the way.


Feat fans like to debate which 70's album was the best, with the live Waiting For Columbus the favourite I think, and Dixie Chicken or Sailin' Shoes usually the studio choices. I waver, but I will say that 74's Feats Don't Fail Me Now has a mighty claim as well. George was still fully committed and knocking mighty compositions out of the park, including the mighty Rock And Roll Doctor and the slippery groove of Spanish Moon. The rest of the band were stepping up too, with Bill Payne's Oh Atlanta a great rave, and Paul Barrere no slouch with Skin It Back. The jam track Cold Cold Cold/Tripe Face Boogie was just that, a boogie, not a jazzy meandering that would wreck stuff in the future.

The group's next, and fifth album, The Last Record Album, was the start of the decline, although still a strong album album. As George's participation and interest was starting to waver, and Payne and Barrere starting to fill the gap, the songwriting suffered. George's quirkiness was missing, those winking, wacky lyrics, and the crazy blues numbers he'd channeled through Howlin' Wolf were replaced by more serious ballads. So it was Payne and Barrere trying to inject some fun, Romance Dance decent but no Fat Man In The Bathtub, let's say.

George's mellow numbers did connect, however. Mercenary Territory is a mighty lyric and performance, George's half-hearted apology for being such a personal mess ("Fool that I am/I'd do it all over again"). Long Distance Love sees him desperate but refusing to leave the road/lifestyle, even though he knows what would be good for him. The other guys do come through with the funky All That You Dream, but after listening to this album for 40 years, I still can't remember what Payne's Somebody's Leaving sounds like 10 minutes after hearing it. So, Feats Don't Fail Me Now, must-own, The Last Record Album, close.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

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



Well, here's another wacky concept from Neil, and really, he's been getting further and further out there for a while now. But this on, on paper, seemed to take the cake. It's a live album, but heavily doctored, with overdubs, huge amounts of extra vocals from a small choir of singers, some effects, and most strangely, all these added animal noises. Yes, animals. Honking geese, buzzing insects, all manner of hoots and grunts, mostly at the start and end of cuts, often alongside audience applause.


Still with me? One might assume a double-live album would be an opportunity for Young to trot out some hits and get back a little of the sales magic he's lost lately. But instead, the songs come from his recent themed tour, which saw him doing cuts from his career about food and the land. Now, we all know and admire him for Farm Aid, but his last studio album, The Monsanto Years, didn't exactly set the world ablaze in a frenzy of protest. He always seems to forget you need good lyrics to inspire, not platitudes. Anyway, he's written a ton of these Mother Earth-type songs over his career, including the annoying Mother Earth, which kicks off the set. The only one you'd call a hit or favourite would be After The Gold Rush.


Touring with a group of young acolytes, The Promise of the Real, featuring two of Willie Nelson's sons, even their energy gets buried in the tape doctoring. Mostly this is Neil's vocals, the studio-added backing singers, and those damn chirping crickets and horses and such.


Like I said, wacky. And guess what? I'm shocked at how much I enjoy it. Apart from a couple of clunkers, the aforementioned Mother Earth, and a clunky brand new number, Seed Justice, debuted at last year's Farm Aid, it works surprisingly well. There are some welcome old friends returning from past albums, such as Vampire Blues off On The Beach, Country Home from Ragged Glory, and Comes A Time's Human Highway. The new songs, particularly Big Box, come across better sandwiched with other cuts rather than the similar-sounding numbers of The Monsanto Years. And those backing vocals? Well, they do work, adding some harmony to the gruffness, and even a few new surprises to old chestnuts. Even the animal noises aren't a distraction once you are used to them, and there's some sort of odd logic to having them there. At the very least, Young proves that cows kind of sound like his guitar in self-destruct mode.


Don't even start the debate about using overdubs on live albums. Young has been mixing up the two sources since at least the early 70s, taking live performances as bed tracks for albums, sticking live moments in the middle of studio collections, and I'm still pretty convinced that wasn't Crazy Horse singing when I saw them live back in the 90s, but rather some sort of programming. Arguably his greatest moment came from his manipulation of a short series of live shows into the "studio" album, Rust Never Sleeps. And that's just fine, it's audio art, and I'm buying into this song set.


As always, Young could have played it a lot safer. The tour he's collected these songs from featured such favourites as Heart of Gold, Long May You Run, Old Man, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, Down By The River, and plenty more, a wide-ranging setlist with the adaptable Promise of the Real. But damned if he didn't hear a whole different album out of all these tapes and songs, a theme that didn't even come out in the concerts, only back at the ranch when he started playing with the tapes. That is one of Young's oldest strengths, which may be why this works so well.