Friday, September 30, 2016

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: FLEETWOOD MAC - MIRAGE (Deluxe)



This is the latest deluxe reissue of Mac from the multi-platinum years, available in a couple of variations. The economically-minded buyer can get a no-nonsense two-disc version, the regular album with a new remastering job on the first, while the second features a whopping 20 cuts in the alternate version/outtake/leftover category. Those with collector/audiophile tastes can grab the set with a third CD of a live concert from 1982, a DVD with the 5.1 surround and 24/96 stereo mixes, and a heavyweight vinyl pressing to boot.


One thing about these Fleetwood Mac albums, they do sound spectacular, thanks to the no-expense spared way they recorded at the time, the top talent involved and the very precise, clean production led by Lindsay Buckingham. So all the versions leap out in this latest upgrade, which may be the peak of Buckingham's crafty work. I'm not saying it's the best of the group's albums, just the best-sounding. It needed a couple more catchy singles, a couple more of the Rumours-style strong numbers.


The band did however get back to business with the album, after the sprawling Tusk double album, viewed as Lindsay's folly. The emphasis here was on more concise tracks, with the single Hold Me having that upbeat Mac signature sound and Gypsy a made-to-order Stevie Nicks hit. But listen closer to Buckingham production treats such as Love In Store and Book Of Love, with the ringing notes, quirky sounds and overall eccentricity, and you'll find him completely subverting the cliche rock band approach. Most amazing is how many cool sounds he could conjure from his guitar.


The outtakes and early versions are pretty interesting, as for the most part they are steps along the journey. Most groups would have been satisfied at this point, but most groups didn't have a visionary like Buckingham, and deep enough pockets to let him play around for months more. There are three cuts left off the album, including the Nicks track If You Were My Love, which showed up on her 24 Karat Gold vault collection, Smile At You, another of hers that was resurrected for the Say You Will album, and Buckingham's Goodbye Angel, reworked for the box set The Chain in 1992. It's great to finally have the b-side to Gypsy on an album, the group's take on the old Western number, Cool Water.


The live concert on the big box shows the group still struggling with identity, or at least Buckingham's idiosyncrasies. The Chain, Rhiannon, and You Make Lovin' Fun are there for fans, along with strong new songs Gypsy and Eyes Of The World, but with an overabundance of favourites to choose from, Buckingham comes out with Not That Funny and Tusk, eye-raising if not downright mood-killing at a big show. Well, Go Your Own Way and Songbird always saved things at the end.


There's never a whole lot of talk about Mirage, partially thanks to Rumours colossal success, and Tusk's buzz kill before it. But it's actually a charming set, and either deluxe version gives you much more to discover.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: JIM LAUDERDALE - THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING



One of my favourite Lauderdale songs is The King of Broken Hearts, but you could also call him the King of Americana. He glides effortlessly from genre to genre, and is able to not just fit in, but to add to the form with top-flight new songs. He's a songwriter admired across all country and into rock and even Memphis soul, and back to bluegrass.


Add Western swing to that mix, or at least Lauderdale's own take on it. Stopping off in Austin for a quick recording session, he laid down a Texas dancehall set, fiddles to the front, pedal steel on the side. With his huge catalog to work from, he pulled out some older and newer cuts that fit the bill. But this being Lauderdale, he always has his own particular style in there, even when largely adhering to tradition. There's just that little surprising blue note or chord change, And don't worry about cliches; he just can't write them.


All The Rage In Paris features a guy looking back at his time in a Bob Wills-inspired band, that was huge, but only within the Texas boundaries. You Turned Me Around has that classic Big Band-meets-Swing Band style, and one of Lauderdale's killer couplets, "Just like we had never met, my heart did a pirouette." With his great drawl, he sounds halfway between high lonesome and George Jones on It All Started and Ended With You. I loved his take on the common ground between Tennessee's hubs of Nashville and Memphis on last year's Soul Searching, and would have been happy for more of the same, but this is equally pleasing.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK - THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH



Like all things Bowie, his most-admired movie, the 1976 cult film The Man Who Fell To Earth, is getting a grand new reissue, with an upgraded special edition coming Nov. 1. First though, is the the soundtrack album, which has never been released before because of the usual contract muddle. So 40 years later, they've cleared that up and about 90 minutes of music is now available, on this two-disc set.


Now, let's clear up what this isn't: There's no Bowie. Nothing, no movie music, no old hits as used in the film He's an actor only, and that's why his face is on the set, he has the lead role. He was originally supposed to provide the soundtrack, but once again, it was those old contractual difficulties in the way. Bowie, a movie about a stranded, alcoholic alien, it would have been great. We know it probably was, as the cover of his next album, Station To Station, used a still of the movie and included at least one awesome song inspired partially by the script, TVC 15.


Without Bowie, the soundtrack fell to another star, former Papa, John Phillips. He did what is supposed to be done in movies, and came up with music for the scenes, to fit the visual cues. This was a combination of existing music, and score segments composed by Phillips. He put together a studio group to record everything from some jazz-influenced sections to mock-country stuff, the players including Stone Mick Taylor. There's even a zippy little instrumental version of Rickie Nelson's Hello Mary Lou.


The collection is more dominated by the six selections from Japanese percussionist Stomu Yamashta. These weren't written for the film, but the airy, unique instrumentals have an undeniable presence, with their fusion of traditional Japanese and prog rock and jazz of the day.


All together, it's a varied and striking set, going from the Yamashta breeziness to the Phillips novelty numbers, and the occasional vocal piece, such as Louis Armstrong doing Blueberry Hill. It's surprisingly effective and listenable, but again, there's no Bowie, got it?

Monday, September 26, 2016

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: CLAIRE LYNCH - NORTH BY SOUTH



I've been a fan of bluegrass singer Claire Lynch for a long time, and it turns out I'm not the only Canadian. A while back, a fan in Toronto wrote her, saying she should play up here sometime. That turned into a continuing conversation about Canadian music and songwriters, and the fan got to introduce Lynch to some of the wide variety of great writers that fit in with her style of performing.


It must have seemed like a well of discovery, and a glorious opportunity. Lynch has responded with a full album of songs written by Canadians. While bluegrass isn't that huge in this country, there are many folk and singer/songwriter musicians who easily fall in the fold when the border is opened. The album starts with a Ron Sexsmith cut, not a very well-known one, Cold Hearted Wind from his 2006 Time Being album, a breezy track that features the giant of the dobro, Jerry Douglas.


Lynch continues going to surprising places for the songs, choosing another deep album track from Gordon Lightfoot, It's Worth Believin' from Old Dan's Records. Somebody tipped her to the East Coast, with a cut from Old Man Luedecke, Kingdom Come, and our banjo hero will be pretty pleased to hear none other than Bela Fleck take over the five-string on this version. There's also a superior tune from J.P. Cormier, the sad sea tale of the Molly May. Ottawa's Lynn Miles is a perfect choice, and her weary Black Flowers is excellent for Lynch's voice. The best-known cut here closes the album, and Lynch adds wonderful harmonies to Bruce Cockburn's Canuck classic, All The Diamonds In The World.


Tantalizingly, Lynch gives a nod to several other writers in the liner notes, other ones there just wasn't room for, including Ron Hynes, Dave Gunning, Stephen Fearing, Stan Rogers, Jimmy Rankin, Gene MacLellan, and on and on. Could a second collection be coming? There's reason to think it may. Remember that fan, who talked up Canada to her in the first place? Lynch ended up marrying him. That's some fan appreciation.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: FRANK ZAPPA - ZAPPAtite: FRANK ZAPPA'S TASTIEST TRACKS



If you've read anything about the great Zappa family feud, you'll know that there's bad blood between his kids, and Zappa's late wife Gail stirred the pot with her divisive will. This new compilation from the so-called Zappa Family Trust is the first basic best-of set in ages, which one might assume is an attempt by Ahmet, who is in charge now, of getting the catalog back in some comprehensible order. Forget it. There are some 100 different Zappa albums out there, and it's just getting more and more confusing, as the family minders keeps trolling the archive for different mixes, live tapes and discarded ideas, piling more and more two-and-three CD collections out there. It may be glorious for the coterie of Zappaphiles, but I'd bet that group is dwindling rather than growing.


I'd argue instead of more confusing releases (What is Lumpy Money supposed to be, anyway? Some sort of alternate look at two different albums), they need to get back to the core catalog that once earned Zappa a lot of attention. Go the Deluxe set route on such gems as Freak Out!, Over-Nite Sensation and Apostrophe', let a new generation in on the gems the way they came out in the first place. Instead, we're getting 12 (yes, freakin' 12) new sets in 2016 that I can count, between these out-take/alternative mix sets and new-to-disc live shows. I've known a few Zappa fans in my time, and while they may be devoted and even obsessive, none of them were particularly rich.


Ah well, back to this best-of, which they won't call a best-of since Zappa didn't really have a lot of hits. Valley Girl, his lone actual Top 40 number, is here, as are several of the beloved treasures, including the grand Peaches En Regalia, the icy words of wisdom Don't Eat The Yellow Snow and the still-relevant 1966 racism warning, Trouble Every Day. As usual, there's lots of the bodily fluid/sexual depravity numbers that so delight a certain part of his audience, including Bobby Brown Goes Down and Titties and Beer, Frank exercising his First Amendment rights as vociferously as those who scream for their Second Amendment ones. One was never sure if he was a patriot, an anarchist, a homophobe. sexist or just a pervert.


On a single collection, it's impossible to sum up Zappa, and while this admittedly leans towards the rock side, the compilation probably suffers by trying to do too much, ending off with a selection of his instrumental work, even Strictly Genteel with the London Symphony Orchestra. I don't think Zappa would have ever wanted to continue to appeal only to the converted, but rather catch 'em young and twist their minds his way. This seems like another confusing move when clarity was needed.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: HELLO DELAWARE - MY MISTAKE



Last year, former singer/songwriter Dana Beeler of Halifax pulled a u-turn and got off the country/bluegrass road she'd been traveling, and instead embraced some inner oomph. Reemerging with a band she dubbed Hello Delaware, Beeler grabbed an electric guitar and vented a lot of anger, directed at some manipulators and fools, your basic lousy boyfriends among them, including one horrific break-up in particular.


Now, this would certainly give license to really thrash away loud and crazy, and there's some YouTube evidence of that, but Beeler is also one fine song-crafter, as shown on her 2012 debut, while she was still in that earlier phase. So instead of totally punking out (which would have been kinda cool too), she took the high craft route, and went into Daniel (Jenn Grant, Gabrielle Papillon) Ledwell's studio for all that magic that happens there. The pair came up with lots of dynamics, hooks and enjoyable complications, all the while keeping the pissed-up factor intact.


My Mistake is centered around a plucky electric piano, and a punchy rhythm, something to dance to, with a screw you, Loretta Lynn lyric. We Were The Ocean is funky, fun and summery, sounding like the product of somebody who has embraced having a good time after living through some lousy ones. Black Cherries is the chippiest track, all angles and anger, but cushioned by a chorus that couldn't be more catchy. What works best of all is that Beeler's voice is right up front, as she's a dynamic singer, with lots of punch and sweetness combined. She might have been angry while writing them, but the songs make me very happy.


Hello Delaware launches the new album Friday, Sept. 30 at The Seahorse in Halifax.

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: THE SEARCHERS - THE VERY BEST OF



The Searchers are often the forgotten band in the British Invasion story, but they were a fellow Merseybeat band to the Fabs, and had done the same Hamburg/Liverpool club circuit. They probably would have been snapped up by Brian Epstein as so many others of the city had, except that producer Tony Hatch got to them first. In total the band charted 16 times in North America, including seven in the top 40, and of course did even better in England.


The Searchers had a great vocal sound, and a good two-guitar attack, the hallmark of the beat groups. What they didn't have was solid songwriters in the band, so they had to rely on grabbing material from the top writers of the day, often battling it out with other versions of the same songs. Twice they took Jackie DeShannon singles and had better success, probably the best two songs they ever did. They bested her version of Needles and Pins (written by Sonny Bono and Jack Nitzsche, Phil Spector's studio hands), giving them their best-known and enduring hit. They also had the hit version of the DeShannon-written classic When You Walk In The Room.


But 1964 to 1966 were tremendously competitive times on the charts, and follow-ups were needed fast. Without a well of self-written material, the group bounced from U.S. cover versions (a big hit with The Clovers' Love Potion #9) to hot new hitmakers (P.F. Sloan's Take Me For What I'm Worth) to Jagger-Richards' cast-offs (a cut called Take It or Leave It, a minor album cut). Their last chart entry at that time saw them covering fellow Invasion group The Hollies, a low-level placing of Have You Ever Loved Somebody, which sounds like The Hollies with louder guitars. The group soldiered on for many years, and I recall seeing a 'new wave' version of them in the 80's which almost got them going again. Apparently there's still a version out there.