Saturday, October 3, 2015


Famous Rock Star: I want to make an album deal. Will you release it?

Big Record Label: No. Nobody buys old rock stars music anymore. They just go to your concerts.

Famous Rock Star: But I need to feel like a legitimate artist, not a has-been. I'll do anything.

Big Record Label: Okay, here's the deal. Guest stars. Has to be lots of them.

Famous Rock Star: Sure, I got lots of friends. I can get Jackson, Linda, Crosby, Nash, Stevie, Lindsay, the guys in my band...

Big Record Label: No no, they aren't hip anymore. We need country stars. They sell records.

Famous Rock Star: Country? Why country?

Big Record Label: Because you're making a country album.

Famous Rock Star: What? I'm a rock star. I can't do country.

Big Record Label: Sure you can. Jewel did it. Hootie did it.

Famous Rock Star: What does country sound like?

Big Record Label: Oh, exactly what you sounded like in the '70's. Just make it like that. Just say that you've always really wanted to make a country album, and you're finally where you belong.

Famous Rock Star: Okay. I got a the songs already.

Big Record Label: Great. Just book a pedal steel player.

Famous Rock Star: I got Mick Jagger.

Big Record Label: Hmm. Okay. But only if you get Miranda Lambert too. Deal?

Famous Rock Star: Deal.

Friday, October 2, 2015


This is the soundtrack to the acclaimed new biopic of Beach Boy leader Brian Wilson.  The favourable script focuses on his mental breakdown and subsequent rehab decades later, after years of malpractice and abuse.  Don't expect a Beach Boys greatest hits though, or even a Wilson one.  While there are some examples, it also includes several sections of the score, as composed by Atticus Ross.

It's actually quite interesting what Ross has done, trying to present audio that matches the torment of swirling voices Wilson had in his head.  He uses snippets of dialogue, some Beach Boys samples and clouds of new instrumental sections.  All the while, he keeps a connection to the original music Wilson composed, so there are hints all the way through of that sound, from the '60's surf hits to Pet Sounds era to his time adrift in the '70's.

For full songs, there are key Beach Boys numbers Don't Worry Baby, Good Vibrations and God Only Knows.  There's a brief passage of actor Paul Dano in the Wilson role doing a rough version of the latter from the film as well.  For Wilson solo cuts, there's a previously-released live version of Love and Mercy, his long-time theme song and concert closer, plus a new track as featured in the film, One Kind Of Love, not much of a tune to be honest, a typical example of his more bland recent ballads.  The attraction here will be the overall mix of the heady score pieces by Ross, going back and forth with classic Beach Boys productions, the ultimate mood music.

Thursday, October 1, 2015


The latest two deluxe and super-deluxe reissues from McCartney's past focus on his early 80's albums, a pair done post-Wings, and marking a major shift in his career. A couple of major events had happened: The drug bust in Japan was a big downer, and put an end to his touring days for the time being, and the murder of John Lennon was an even worse blow. He was feeling unloved and unappreciated, and that pushed him both creatively and competitively.

The first move was teaming up with George Martin again. This was risky on the p.r. front, as it invited Beatles comparisons. But it also meant the old habits would return, with the pair sparking each other with ideas. McCartney could go for pop hits again, a place he wanted to be, on top of the charts.

Tug Of War had a checklist of McCartney menu items. There were the fun hits (Ebony and Ivory, Take It Away), the serious songs (Here Today, Tug Of War), the quirky pieces that could have been part of the Abbey Road medley (Be What You See/Dress Me Up As A Robber). At times he hit pure excellence, such as the beautiful Wanderlust. For the most part though, everything was good, not great. The highlights were found in the less-calculated numbers such as Ballroom Dancing and The Pound is Sinking, when his playfulness came out. Ebony and Ivory and Take It Away got tiresome with repetition.

Pipes Of Peace was the quick follow-up in 1983, and continued the formula with some modest changes. Michael Jackson replaced Stevie Wonder as the guest star, perfect timing for both, with the inevitable hit Say Say Say hitting the top of the charts near the end of the Thriller run. The title cut was on the same theme as Tug Of War, another heartfelt but bland number. So Bad was a good little single, quite lovely but hardly a rocker, and didn't do enough to push the album along The hits ended there, and really, McCartney hasn't been a pop star since. He's made better albums in the 30 years after, but nothing that has captured his former gigantic fan club, other than his live concerts.

For the deluxe editions, there are several formats. The two-disc versions contain an extra set of bonus tracks for each. Both include several demos of album tracks, as well as period B-sides. There are also demos for cuts that didn't make the album, unreleased until now. There's nothing exciting among those cuts, but he made good demos, so it's fun to hear the embryonic versions. Best is a Pipes Of Peace out-take called It's Not On, one of those slightly odd tracks that certainly would have improved the final album. There's a totally useless, brand-new remix of Say Say Say that follows the remixer's dictum that if you want to make it different, speed up the original. The thing is, nobody wanted this remix in the first place.

If you shell out for the deluxe versions with the big hardbound book and photos, you'll also get a DVD with lots of content. There are the official videos for the singles off each album, plus there's behind-the-scenes footage that has been freshly edited into new packages. Best is a making-off piece on Take It Away, which has interview bits with Paul and Linda, actor John Hurt, and Ringo and George Martin clowning around. Worst is five minutes of Michael Jackson riding around on horseback with the McCartney children.

As usual with this archive series, the deluxe versions are the nicest, the large book a visual treat that would be cool to have for any fan. But then you have to justify the $63 current price tag, for decent but not deluxe music. The regular, 2-CD versions at $16 are the better bargain.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015


No less an authority than Benjamin Franklin told us "Lost time is never found again."  Bob Dylan appropriated that as the kicker line for his Basement Tapes number Odds and Ends: "Lost time is not found again."  The Brothers Alvin finally figured out what it meant in 2014, releasing the album Common Ground, their first collaboration since Dave quit The Blasters back in 1986.  Now they are moving to make up that lost time, releasing a second disc a year later.

Common Ground was a tribute to Big Bill Broonzy, a shared love of the brothers and something easy to work on for a new beginning.  This set is made of covers as well, but a more varied lot.  The young Alvins met and mentored with Big Joe Turner, and do four of his numbers.  There's a version of the Rising Sun Blues, the more traditional take on House of the Rising Sun, a fun cover of James Brown's Please, Please, Please, and the somewhat obscure old blues tune Papa's on the House Top.

On the more electric side, there's a strong boogie version of Otis Rush's Sit Down, Baby, Dave Alvin's guitar taking some stinging leads between the verses.  Phil's vocals are a major part of the formula, with lots of comfort and passion.  Both brothers know how to perform with intensity, but never to the point of histrionics.  They also show a hitherto unexplored connection between folk, traditional, jump and electric blues:  I believe it's called the groove.  No more fights please, brothers.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015


A bit of a joke of course, that title, but many won't know Darlene Love as a singer as much as a personality. After her many years singing at Christmas on the Letterman show, and her appearance in the documentary Twenty Feet From Stardom, about back-up singers, she's more famous for being retro-famous.

These late career comeback albums follow a formula of sorts. Using the Roy Orbison and Solomon Burke examples, you draft in a big-name producer (Miami Steve from the E Street Band here), and collect new or slightly-used tunes from famous stars. Here, The Boss pays tribute as a long-time fan with two compositions, as does Elvis Costello (a veteran of the Burke and Orbison albums as well). Since Love is a vet of '60's Brill Building songs, there's a Mann/Weil song, and a Jimmy Webb one as well. The producer drops in three as well. And although he doesn't write any, Love fanboy Paul Shaffer drops down a killer organ solo on the gospel closer Jesus Is the Rock (That Keeps Me Rollin'). written by Van Zandt.

Everybody worked very, very hard on this, and you can tell all hands were keen to work with the icon. She's unquestionably on fire here, especially on the cuts that make her most comfortable, the gospel-styled ones, and big belters such as the Springsteen tracks. There's a brilliant remake of River Deep, Mountain High that equals the Ike and Tina Turner original as well. Van Zandt tries to do her proud, and comes up with some major productions and arrangements, especially with horns and strings. They aren't quite Wall-of-Sound, but people don't exactly mention Phil Spector's name a lot lately.

Sometimes in an effort to sound big, the productions come out a little too slick, more Classic Rock and simply classic. There are definitely songs to skip over here, odd choices of material from the likes of Joan Jett and Linda Perry, and Van Zandt's opener, Among The Believers, isn't the strongest cut. Even Costello's numbers don't work all that well. Forbidden Nights is an attempt to recreate an early '60's number, and sounds more like an exercise than inspiration. His Still Too Soon To Know is killed by the inclusion of Righteous Brother Bill Medley as a duet partner for Love, and his voice has certainly not weathered the years as well as hers.

Oh my goodness though, three cheers for Springsteen, who really came through with two new gems. The album is worth it for his songs alone, glorious grand epics that capture the spirit of his Born To Run - Darkness On The Edge Of Town days, when he and Van Zandt were attempting to bring this very sound to their own music. I count five really great songs, five pretty good, and four duds, so I'd say that's a good score for anyone, let alone a 74-year old.

Monday, September 28, 2015


Hey, did you catch that super moon Sunday night?  It looked pretty cool, turning red in the eclipse and all that.  Now, how far in advance did MonkeyJunk know about this thing, timing the release of their latest album, Moon Turn Red, to last Friday, just two days before the event?  I'm thinking freaky coincidence.

For their fourth, Ottawa's M-Junk grooves a bit more, rocks a bit more.  Taking a cue from '70's bands, the band struts through a set of arena-sized numbers, lead singer Steve Marriner channeling his inner Paul Rodgers.  Meanwhile Tony D gets to blast out saucy lines and even play guitar hero on numbers such as Show Me Yours, with its middle-section solo and funky little accents throughout.  There's no time for a slow blues at this party.

The group plays homage to a Canadian guitar icon, covering David Wilcox's Hot Hot Papa, with the man himself sitting in for solos and a vocal verse, putting the fun in funk.  To mix things up, there's a bit of reggae in Love Attack, with its universal empowerment lyrics classic Marley.  Learn How To Live is the slow one, but still has a dark streak throughout it, no sappy love ballad.  Marriner pours his heart into it, proving himself up for the job on this soul number with punch.  But the core of the set are the album blues rock numbers, which sound like they could have come from your local FM station sometime after 10 PM back in 1976, when the DJ's could get heavier.  Check out Live Another Day, with its twin guitar line, pounding drums from Matt Sobb,  and tense delivery, it's exciting and dramatic and tough all over, like the bulk of the disc.

Friday, September 25, 2015


White Juan was the name given to the hurricane-strength blizzard that hit Nova Scotia and other parts of the Maritimes in 2004, just months after Hurricane Juan had blasted through.  White Juan saw ridiculous snowfall amounts, and winds up to 125 kilometers per hour.  It was intense and scary, just like the song of the same name that opens this album.  Group members no doubt remember the nor'easter well, as they shred guitars and throats on the brief, hard-core track, screaming "I'm not ready for this."

It's a surprising start to the group's fourth album, at least for those expecting something recognizable as Maritime and roots.  But bigger fans know to expect contradictions and sharp left turns from The Stanfields, a band always willing to take the road less traveled, especially if its rocky.  And as much as they can rant and roar a good bouzouki tune, this one's leaning even heavier towards electric and pounding tunes, after 2013's acoustic outing, For King and Country.  First single Fight Song sounds like a Saturday night theme for soccer hooligans, Metallica via Dublin: "This is our house, are you ready for the fisticuffs?" And later, "This is our house, take your medicine and fly the fiddle and fuck away from wence you came, hot time in the old town tonight."

While the band uses the F-bomb, we don't mention the C-word here.  That's Celtic, of course.  They aren't going to meet anyone's definition of that, but you can pick out the heritage moments.  The settings are familiar, like the waterfront in Sunday Warships, but this about current culture, how traditional values are being undermined, and how people are making do in this era:  "I spend my waking hours pixelated and engrossed."  The computer is the main character, as it has become for most of us.  Will The Circuit Be Unbroken is their song for the new folk music, "in the sky drones, in the sky."  This is hard-drive music.

This is the last flourish for the old band; Jason Wright and Gene Harris moved on after recording the album, and new players Dillan Tate and Calen Kinney are already on the road.  Who knows what to expect next?  With The Stanfields, all you can do is plan for a surprise.