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.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: BIG STAR - #1 RECORD



There are deluxe editions and box sets and such, but sometimes it's better to have a classic album reissued as simply as possible, to hear just the magic the way it was originally. There are demos and alternate versions of Big Star tracks around, but leave them on the other sets, here's the first, wonderful album on its own.


This is the band when everything was still possible. The quartet knew they had a bunch of brilliant songs, and with any luck at all, they'd have a hit album. Alex Chilton was a young veteran, and had picked up tons of tricks and knowledge as the singer in The Box Tops, touring and being friends with smart music-makers. Chris Bell was a songwriter and studio fiend, with great ideas and the ability to get those sounds onto tape. The fact these songs from the early '70's still sound perfect says it all.


This album is a celebration of rock and roll's power. Not power chords or hippy ideals or us against the man; it's the power we all got from hearing music which spoke to us as kids, separated us from our parents, and gave us freedom. There's a reason That 70's Show used In The Street as its theme. Look at the faces of the actors goofing around in the car, it's that power and feeling. Then listen to the defiance in Thirteen, as the singer and his girlfriend bond over a Rolling Stones song and defying parental authority. The whole album is wonderful though, made with love and hope, and slowly, it came to the acclaim it deserved.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: BRYAN ADAMS - TRACKS OF MY YEARS

I suppose it says a lot that even Bryan Adams is asked to make a covers record.  We know he was asked, because he tells us in the liner notes; veteran producer and Vancouver pal David Foster (they worked on Tears Are Not Enough back in '85) is now head of Verve Records, and requested Adams do this set.  Foster even set the rules, requesting Top 10 U.S. hits from the rock era.  In other words, Foster had a concept that he felt could sell some records, not an easy thing for these veteran rockers these days.  You can figure out the thinking on this:  "Rod Stewart has the Great American Songbook covered, Bryan can do the '70's, and we can have different volumes of it if it takes off."

Ironically, the best tune here is a new one, which Adams must have had to negotiate as part of the deal.  She Knows Me is a co-write with his long-standing partner Jim Vallance, a classic Adams mid-tempo number, solid if not spectacular, and would make a fine single if there was still such a system.  So it's not like Adams has to go the covers route, and I'd be interested in a full album with Vallance again.  But he'd probably have to self-finance that, and this was the deal on offer.  It's a strange mix of tunes, and it doesn't even follow the rules.  The opening cut is a cover of The Beatles' Any Time At All, a great song but never a single, let alone Top 10.  Oh well, he does a good job on it.  The mixed bag of cuts continues with everything from Ray Charles' I Can't Stop Loving You to CCR's Down On The Corner to The Beach Boys' God Only Knows.

It all comes down to which songs suit Adams' raspy voice best, and oddly, he doesn't seem to have a good handle on that.  He does well with rock numbers such as Rock And Roll Music, and the old Eddie Cochrane number C'mon Everybody.  Medium-paced ones work too, such as Dylan's Lay Lady Lay and Sunny by Bobby Hebb.  But he has to strain on the slow ones, and it's a little painful to sit through the Ray Charles and Beach Boys numbers, plus Kris Kristofferson's Help Me Make It Through The Night.  Only once does he truly take a sad song and make it better, his cover of The Associations' Never My Love.  It was always a wimpy number from that group, but Adams gives it some well-deserved guts, as it is a good song at heart.

Bryan Adams has always been a pretty good singer, with an easily-identifiable voice.  He'll need a stronger song selection than this to inspire enough buyers to make this a worthwhile project.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY - AWESOME MIX VOL. 1



Never underestimate nostalgia. Even though the Marvel movie takes place in outer space, they managed to connect the film to 70's Earth, and use all these classics. Whenever that magic happens in a film, such as The Big Chill or American Graffiti, you'll have a hit soundtrack on your hands. The mix tape-themed disc has gone to #1 in both Canada and the U.S., filled with fun, mostly well-chosen cuts.


The mix starts with the beloved "Ooga-chaka, ooga-chaka" of Blue Swede's Hooked On A Feeling, guaranteed to bring a smile to those old enough to remember, and a giggle from the kids, laughing at those silly old songs. They should hopefully be blown away by the next number, power-pop giants The Raspberries' Go All The Way. And that's the back-and-forth of the set, from fun pop to more serious rock and soul. The marvelous Five Stairsteps' hit O-O-H Child is one of the cool vocal gems from the soul side, along with Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell's original version of Ain't No Mountain High Enough (a 60's cut, but no matter). More Motown fun comes from I Want You Back, one of the truly great Jackson 5 cuts. Bowie's Moonage Daydream helps toughen things up, as does the non-hit but still cool Cherry Bomb from The Runaways.


There's only one annoying cut on the whole disc, and really they should have known better. Rupert Holmes' Escape (The Pina Colada Song) is not only bad, it's offensive. Boo. Norman Greenbaum's Spirit In The Sky is the only track I'd say is overused in compilations, so we probably could have done without that, too. But overall, it is a pretty good, if not a truly awesome mix.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: JW JONES - BELMONT BOULEVARD

I find blues albums sound best driving around in my car, so that's where I started with JW's latest.  It's rare an album SOUNDS so good that I can't focus on the rest of it at first, but I was quite simply blown away by the overall aural experience.  All the tones, the mix, the soundscape that the team creates, from artist to band to producer to engineer to mastering engineer, all that stuff we mortals only vaguely comprehend, it all works here.  Just to insure I wasn't simply on a caffeine high (that happens a lot), the disc moved from my car to home system to work computer, and each time it was the sound that leaped out first.

That's a great start, but would also be kinda frustrating if the material didn't hold up.  After all the initial listens, I got to the point where the songs came through, and of course, Jones came through.  The Ottawa native has been one of the country's very top artists since his arrival in 2000, and its been a joy to watch his confidence and art grow with each release.  This one puts him up another significant notch though.  Now signed to the respected U.S. blues label and industry leader Blind Pig, Jones worked with producer Tom Hambridge on this album.  The Grammy-winning drummer and songwriter was the producer for the last couple of highly-successful Buddy Guy albums, produced Susan Tedeschi's breakthrough album, and has dozens of equally-impressive writing and production credits.  Lets just say given the dynamic sound I've tried to describe above, it was an inspired choice for Jones.  Plus, if you work with Hambridge, you have access to his pen as well.  Belmont Boulevard features of mix of Jones' originals, Hambridge cuts, some new co-writes, and an older Guy number, What's Inside Of You, where Jones shows his sharp and stinging guitar prowess.  Hambridge brought a new, funky number written with Colin Linden, Love Times Ten, a tight tune that shows off Jones' frontman skills.

The new Jones songs show how he's advanced as a writer.  Thank You turns the tables on the woman-done-me-wrong blues cliches, where the singer admits she was doing him a favour, that the love was gone.  Blue Jean Jacket celebrates that coat we all loved and had our best moments in.  What Would Jimmie Do? tells about a blues hero who does it with style and commitment and all the right motives, and for Jones, that's Jimmy Vaughn.  These are all original, strong ideas, something of a rare commodity in blues writing.  And for those who just want guitar and more guitar, his Magic West Side Boogie brings the instrumental fireworks, just bass, drums and one long sizzling, echo-drenched lead.  A-level stuff across the board from Jones, but what sound!  Just lean back and listen.

Monday, October 6, 2014

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: DAVID BOWIE - SOUND + VISION, KNOCK ON WOOD 7"

It is a great time to be a Bowie fan, and really, who didn't think that train had run its course?  But as 2013's wonderful The Next Day album showed, he always has the ability to surprise with his next move.  And there is one, with a new best-of, Nothing Has Changed coming in November, which includes a brand-new track.  And there's also more worthwhile stuff just out, which should be attractive to both collectors and more casual fans.

Sound + Vision is a box set that first came out way back in 1989, and was quite a hit, selling a quarter-million copies, at a time when those things were still always expensive.  It had a fan's bonanza of tracks, including the original demo version of Space Oddity, and a previously-unknown cover of Bruce Springsteen's It's Hard To Be A Saint In The City.  Bowie by this time own the rights to his back catalogue, and would contract them out for a few years, then go elsewhere.  In 2003, after being unavailable for a few years, Sound + Vision returned with a new deal at EMI Music, and a newly-expanded track list.  It was now four discs long, and included tracks post 1980, again with several rarities.  Then the same thing happened, Bowie pulled the set from the stores as he worked on another reissue plan.

It is here again, this time with no changes from the 2003 edition, except for a major one in size.  Instead of the fancy box, it now comes slimmed down into a basic bulky CD case, housing the four discs and a decent booklet.  This is not a bad thing, as it is now available for $40, which is about half of what it cost way back in 1989, and now has almost twice the music.  The first two-and-a-half discs hold up remarkably well, being the glory years and all, and I especially like how the live tracks are used.  Instead of giving us the usual studio versions of songs such as Ziggy Stardust, Suffragette City and Station To Station, which most fans would own elsewhere, there are live sections built in every few tracks, which also include concert favourites such as White Light/White Heat and Watch That Man.  Now, post-1980 is always a rock road for any fan.  Many find the overt commercial numbers Modern Love and Loving The Alien lesser fare.  But the controversial Tin Machine has many more detractors, and with six tracks from two albums included here, it seems a desperate attempt to say the music was ahead of its time and we should like it now.  We shouldn't.  Tracks from Earthling and Black Tie, White Noise also fail to bring a better rep for those albums.  The box ends there, too bad as there are grand songs to be found on under-appreciated albums such as Heathen (2002) and Reality (2003).  And while the new best-of will include this era, and last year's comeback, I'd rather have it all housed in one place, maybe as a five-disc box.  But of course, it's price that really attracts here, and keeping it unchanged but under forty bucks is a great deal

Also out now is the latest in the wonderful picture disc campaign of original singles, each coming out on the 40th anniversary of its first release.  We are now up to 1974's David Live album, with the single Knock On Wood, a cover of the Eddie Floyd 60's soul hit.  Anyone who owns David Live will have this, and its B-side, Rock 'n' Roll With Me, but the point is more the beautiful photos on the disc, actual collector's pieces in my opinion, worthy of a bookshelf.  I am a bit miffed that there isn't a previously-unreleased B-side, or something a little rare, as earlier singles in the series had included, so hopefully that will change back in the months ahead.  Still, an excellent addition to my growing Bowie section.