Sunday, June 25, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: HEADSTONES - LITTLE ARMY



Hugh Dillon has a fine career going on in acting, even a brief moment in the new Twin Peaks series, so he doesn't need to be doing the Headstones revival. That's probably why it's working so good, especially in the songwriting department. After doing some shows in 2011, the reunion has seen the full album Love + Fury in 2013, the enjoyable set of acoustic versions of their hits, One in the Chamber Music, in 2014, and now lots more shows and this new full-length. Dillon, along with originals Trent Carr and Tim White are clearly enjoying the second life.


And what's not to love back? They still sound like the toughest band on the block, backed with street smarts. Opener Devil's On Fire is all aggression, and more follows, with the occasional break for something moody and dark, such as Done The Math. Gruff and intense, Dillon can handle the full punk of Don't Think At All, the easy-going melody in The View Here, and the power pop of Kingston. Intense guitar from Carr and Rickferd Van Dyk comes up on virtually every track as well. I think I like 'em better now than I did in their '90's heyday. Is that allowed?

Friday, June 23, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: PRINCE & the REVOLUTION - PURPLE RAIN Deluxe Edition



Prince had already signed a big deal to start reissuing his back catalog before he died, so this isn't posthumous vault raiding. He had effectively guarded this material for years, both the original albums and the copious piles of unreleased material, so fans have been waiting with great anticipation to hear what would happen with his greatest album.


There's no scrimping on the bonus tracks. On the deluxe version, there's a full second disc with 11 previously-unreleased cuts, clocking in at over 70 minutes thanks to a couple of 10-plus minute jams. These aren't extended mixes or demos either, these are pretty much complete cuts which remained under lock. A couple of them surfaced in versions by other artists, including The Dance Electric by Andre Cymone, and We Can Fuck became We Can Funk for George Clinton. The rest came from the vibrant lab Prince was running, some cuts done completely be himself, others featuring his new band called The Revolution. Since he was producing others at the time, it's possible some of the cuts were meant for artists such as Apollonia. A couple more were recorded after the Purple Rain sessions, so weren't for that, but the remaining ones were for possible inclusion before the final selections were made.


Listening again to the genius album that turned Prince into a superstar, it's a fun game to figure out if any of these extra tracks could have improved the original album. I think not, as each one has its merits, and there is certainly nothing from the discarded batch that comes close to the excitement of Let's Go Crazy, When Doves Cry or I Would Die 4 U. A couple are the kind of funk numbers he could turn out in his sleep, such as Love And Sex. I like the poppier numbers Velvet Kitty Cat and Katrina's Paper Dolls, probably not of enough substance for serious album consideration, but good examples of Prince's new interest then for crafting pop numbers, which would flower on songs such as Raspberry Beret and Manic Monday in the next couple of years. Prince made all the right moves choosing the final cuts for Purple Rain, but this is a very strong set of material to hear right after.


Those with deep pockets and a Prince fixation can also shell out for a 3-CD, plus DVD version of the reissue, although everything on that has been available before. The third CD collects the edited singles and non-LP b-sides from the album, including the holiday b-side, Another Lonely Christmas. The DVD features a long-unavailable live concert, a 19-cut Prince and the Revolution show from March 30, 1985 in Syracuse, N.Y.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: GUY BÉLANGER - TRACES & SCARS



There's no more tortured or abused instrument than the harmonica. To paraphrase Steve Earle, I'll stand on a table in my cowboy boots and loudly proclaim that Bob Dylan ruined the instrument with his bleating through his early career, as everyone thought he was good at all the other stuff, he must know what he's doing with that, too. And over in the blues genre, countless more hopped around stage, sucking and blowing. They also attempted to play harmonica.


That's why it's such a pleasure to hear an actual master such as Bélanger, who knows how to make it a melodic treat rather than a percussion instrument at best. This Quebec veteran has decided to make his latest album almost entirely instrumental, a brave choice perhaps, but certainly a winning one. And if you think that means pumped-up electric blues, it's the opposite. These are for the most part moody pieces that highlight the haunting beauty you can get from the harp. There are folk numbers, some jazzy tunes, Louisiana influences, and of course blues, but for the most part, the songs allow Bélanger to do lots of subtle work. There's room for other instruments that compliment the harmonica too, such as pedal steel, and on Les Mauvaises Herbes, piano. One of the vocals features guest Luce Dufault, who turns Who's Left Standing into a Mavis Staples-like triumph. Bélanger is smart to play it cool with the harp.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: THE DOORS - 50th ANNIVERSARY REMASTER



It's hard to remember what The Doors were like before Jim Morrison was turned into a caricature, a drunken, raving, tortured dead poet. But that's how persuasive the biographies, and of course Oliver Stone's movie have been. The image is everything, the music there to back up the stories.


There was a time though when The Doors were the powerful equivalent of, say, Nick Cave, only with really big hit songs. Fifty years ago the L.A. group was leading the charge to make rock and roll not only dangerous again, but with university-level thinking as well. It was a heady mix of blues, radicalism, and English lit. Sure, Morrison was a rebel and self-destructive, but he and his pals had a great idea too, and it was at its best on their self-titled debut.


There's still a touch of pop music here, with I Looked At The Night holding onto a bit of British Invasion, and Light My Fire a resounding hit. But imagine the kid who bought this album based on the latter tune, a number one hit, and getting blasted with Break On Through as cut one. And by the time the album finished, with Morrison yelling about wanting to kill his father and suggesting something worse for mom, the teenyboppers had grown up a whole lot. It was a tricky intensity to keep up, and Morrison would cross into self-parody several times in future albums, but at this point, it was the scary alternative to the Summer Of Love. The Beatles were pretty happy doing Sgt. Pepper, the Stones had no concept of hippydom, failing with Their Satanic Majesty's Request, all the San Francisco bands were stoned, and Dylan was hiding in the basement with The Band. The Doors owned a lot more of 1967 than they are remembered for these days.


You have a couple of options for this 50th anniversary. There's a box with three CD's, the first a remastered stereo version of the album, the second mono, and the third an eight-song live set from early '67, plus there's a vinyl copy of the album, and a big old book for $70. You can buy the vinyl, always nice, or get the remastered stereo CD, which does sound very solid, big drums and that famous organ cutting through all the time. What impressed me most though was realizing how strong their first disc remains.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: GLEN CAMPBELL - ADIOS



This is billed as the final album by Campbell, pieced together from a batch of final sessions for which he mustered the strength about five years back, before his dementia took over. From the liner notes, we find that each vocal was hard work for the singer, but that he did want to be in the studio. The sessions were run by his longtime friend and former banjo player, Carl Jackson, who had to do the lion's work of putting together the bits and pieces, but obviously with affection and a desire to make it a strong collection, songs that he knew Campbell loved.


Although guitar playing was past his powers by this point, Campbell sings as great as ever, which alone makes this a worthwhile effort. At its heart are four songs by long-time collaborator Jimmy Webb, each one sounding as if it was written to be sung by Campbell. Truly, it was always, and remains a thing of magic, pairing his voice when Webb's great ballads of male romantic pain. Each of the four here deserves to be heard alongside the earlier hits, with the same touches of sadness as By The Time I Get To Phoenix and Galveston.


There are several other good choices, taken from songs Campbell often performed live, including the old Nillson hit Everybody's Talkin', which always sounded like a Glen song anyway. Dylan's Don't Think Twice, It's Alright was a parlour trick Campbell would do on guitar, and while Jackson had to handle those licks for this, the singer still sounds like he's having fun making Bob country. There are some that don't quite click, including Funny How Time Slips Away, writer and guest Willie Nelson sounding tacked on (as he was), and She Thinks I Still Care is serviceable, but it's still George Jones' song. But there's nothing maudlin, and the Webb cuts make this a valuable collection. For added enticement, there's a second disc of Campbell's greatest, in case you don't have Wichita Lineman nearby.

Monday, June 19, 2017

MUSIC NEWS: P.E.I. house concert venue The Dunk hosting special Canada 150 concerts this summer

The Dunk, on P.E.I.'s Dixon Road

I don't know how I was convinced to drive over three hours on my weekend just to wash windows, but I guess that's how much I love house concerts. The occasion was an all-points bulletin put out by Friends of The Dunk, the board of directors of the rural P.E.I. house concert venue known as the Dunk. They needed lots of helping hands to get the place sparkling for a special series of shows this summer, part of the national Canada 150 celebrations. And when your place is a cabin in the woods, cobwebs and dirty windows are par for the course.

The Dunk (named after the Dunk River, going through the backyard) started hosting house concerts in 2005, built by music fan Hal Mills on the Dixon Road near Breadalbane, P.E.I. It started out as something for fun, but soon became almost a weekly event, and pretty famous too. Upwards of 2,000 people have attending some of the longer, weekend soirees.
Hal Mills hosting a Dunk event

When Mills died unexpectedly two years ago, his daughter Melanie made the decision to move in and keep the Dunk going, holding house concerts about once a month. The Dunk was already well-known and well-loved by national touring musicians, its reputation has only grown of late. In the last couple of months, it has hosted concerts by Great Lake Swimmers, Roxanne Potvin and Megan Bonnell. The hospitality and the rural serenity is legendary. The Swimmers stayed around for a couple of days, to hang out and do their laundry.

The reason for the big clean-up is something called Ebb and Flow, an artist residency series happening at the Dunk this summer and into the fall. It will see musicians from across the country stay for up to a week at a time, using the tranquil setting to write new music, and then perform a concert at the end of their time. The concerts are free to the public, thanks to a grant from Canada 150.

"One of our board members suggested we apply for a Canada 150 project," said Melanie Mills. When they got approved for the project they put the word out across the country via a press release and social media, not really knowing how much interest there would be. It turned out to be an avalanche, with "dozens and dozens" of applications, thanks to the Dunk's national reputation with musicians.

"A lot of people, a surprising amount of people who had stayed and played here before, in the cabin and in the house," said Mills. That included everyone from young up-and-comers to Juno winners.

Bob cleans up well

"Because we got so many amazing applications, it was incredibly difficult to choose," said Mills. "So that's how we wound up having two artists at a time, we weren't going to do that. Ideally they will collaborate with each other, and hopefully be inspired by the beauty of the Dunk, the surrounding area, to create new music, or to perhaps further develop that they've had already."

The musicians chosen for the week long residencies are Lindy Vopnfjörð, Ahi, Aaron Goldstein, Ambre McLean, Paul Reddick and Tanya Davis. July will see a full-blown carnival, Le Carnavale de Promenade, presented in collaboration with la Fédération culturelle de l’ÎPÉ. It's called a fusion of dance, music and circus arts from the various cultural communities that make up Canada.

There's also going to be a special, one-off concert held on Wednesday, June 21 to kick things off, to celebrate both the summer solstice, and National Aboriginal Day. It will feature Hey Cuzzins Drum Group, Dana Sipos, Owen Steel and Tian Wigmore with Warhorses.

"I'm Mohawk, my mom's side of the family, and it's important to me to honour that aspect of it, and it felt like a perfect time to get things started, and the focus will be Indigenous performers," said Mills. "The Dunk has always been about inclusiveness and community and acceptance and encouragement."

A big part of the residency is having the musicians pick up some of the local colour of the Dixon Road, a well-known artist's enclave. One week will see the musicians visit local organic farms, another residency will look back at what we can learn from history and our elders, another will be about looking forward, all with the idea of having those aspects of the Island inform the songwriting.

"This community is an anomaly," said Mills. "It has one of the largest collections of people who identify as artists in the country. We have visual artists, potters, weavers, Juno Award-winning musicians, all in the area."

It's certainly a sweet deal for the visiting artists, who have their travel paid, and get cabin accommodations, an honorarium and all the glories of a P.E.I. summer to work on their art. It's a great deal for anyone visiting P.E.I. this summer too, with those free concerts. Sign up to the Ebb & Flow Facebook page for updates and concert information: https://www.facebook.com/TheDunkEbbAndFlow/



Sunday, June 18, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: TARA MACLEAN - ATLANTIC BLUE: A CELEBRATION OF EAST COAST SONGWRITERS



MacLean left music work for a full nine years to raise her three kids on Salt Spring Island in B.C. But when her grandmother back in P.E.I. became ill two years ago, she started missing the Island, and music too. So she came up with a plan to get herself back in, and back home. This album is a companion piece to a show she has developed, playing all summer in Charlottetown. It features the work of several of MacLean's favourite East Coast songwriters, a celebration of their talents, and an introduction for some of her fans who might not be familiar with the depth of talent in the region.


The show will feature MacLean and her band singing these numbers, plus telling the stories of the creators, with spoken word and film elements. Local fans are going to know many of the songs of course; there's Gene MacLellan's Snowbird, Rita MacNeil's Flying On Your Own and Ron Hynes gets two cuts, the title one and Sonny's Dream. Others are less familiar, including Stompin' Tom's Coal Boat Song, Stan Rogers' Turnaround, and Fear by Sarah McLachlan. The album is aimed a little more at the many tourists who flock to the Island, plus those who can't, introducing them to these top tunesmiths. Plus, there is a big wide audience of basic East Coast fans who will enjoy MacLean's interpretations, particularly her always warm voice.


For those who have heard most of these songs more than a few times, there's new life in all of them. Snowbird features a duet with fellow Islander Lennie Gallant (also featured here with the songs La Tempête), a more mellow version than Anne Murray's chipper hit. Coal Boat Song now sounds like a Little Feat number, and Flying On Your Own has beautiful fiddle parts from Richard Wood, and harmonies from MacLean's lifelong friend Catherine MacLellan. Produced on the Island by Chris Gauthier, the album has the sound and authenticity of Atlantic roots music all the way through.