Saturday, August 19, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: EAGLES OF DEATH METAL - I LOVE YOU ALL THE TIME

Eagles of Death Metal were, horrifyingly for them, the band playing the Bataclan in Paris on November 13, 2015 when 89 people were slaughtered in a terrorist attack. Vowing to return, the band first appeared as guests at a U2 show a month later, and then headlined their own event at the Paris Olympia on Feb. 16, 2016, resuming their European tour. This is the show of that concert, about 90 minutes over two discs.

Although co-founder Josh Homme doesn't usually tour with the group, he made a special appearance that night behind the drum kit. But as always, on stage this is Jesse Hughes' group, with his oversized personality and enthusiasm. Since the group is largely about celebrating metal riffs mixed with over-the-top pop attitude, there wasn't going to be a big cathartic statement for the city, more like an announcement that nothing would stop the rawk. There was a brief pause right at the start in the middle of the first song, I Only Want You, and then it was Hughes' circus act the rest of the night, except for a shout-out to the group's merch manager, Nick Alexander, one of the Bataclan victims.

The last EODM album, Zipper Down, was surprisingly polished and tuneful, but that hasn't translated to the live show so much. It's still more of a full-on guitar-boogie. and Hughes is happy to keep it slightly sloppy and loud. The memorable melodies here come from a couple of tongue-in-cheek covers, Stuck In The Middle With You, now called Stuck In The Metal, and their beloved take on Duran Duran's Save A Prayer. This won't be the concert of the group's career, but it was a statement that needed to be made.

Friday, August 18, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: ELVIS PRESLEY - A BOY FROM TUPELO

Here's an excellent way to listen and learn all about the beginnings of the King. This 3-disc set examines all his known recordings from the crucial Sun Records period, from his first two $3.98 vanity booth recordings to his remarkable sides recorded by Sam Phillips, to the incendiary live shows that he put on across the South. Crucially, a 120-page book features a day-to-day timeline that takes Elvis from the first rehearsals with Scotty and Bill to sale of his contract to RCA at the end of 1955, when it all went crazy.

What the combination of the music and book lets us do is explore how that magic came about, the almost-accidental creation of this unique brand of rock 'n' roll. Presley was a talent, but not an obvious one, and certainly Phillips and others had their doubts. Yet Phillips stuck with him, listening to his affected crooning through years-old ballads. Finally on a lark, Elvis, Scotty and Bill started goofing on That's All Right, an eight-year-old cut by Arthur Crudup, and in their foolishness turned it into an uninhabited combination of rhythm and blues and country. All Phillips had to do was slap on the slapback echo.

Disc three, which features scratchy concert fragments from October 1954 to October 1955, shows us what happened when that sound got out in the public. The worldwide hysteria was yet to come, but certainly those crowds knew something was up. These are taken from radio station concerts, including the famous Louisiana Hayride, and even the disc jockeys interviewing Presley knew how different the sound was, and how the game was going to change. Because he was white, he was still operating in the country world, but they were soon going to have to invent a new category for him and the many that would follow.

These live cuts are remarkable, both for the excitement, and for the fact they exist at all. Most have been transferred from the only copies of acetates (one-time only recorded discs, notoriously flimsy), and have had to be painstakingly doctored to save the fragile recording. One acetate was even destroyed during the process. As such, the quality is far less than hi-fi, but this is all about history.

Sadly, the outtakes found on disc two don't really add much to our knowledge. There are no eureka moments, and many of the original session tapes were destroyed, taped over and even thrown out in the transition of ownership from Sun to RCA. As hard as it is to believe, RCA cleaned out their vaults in 1959, discarding completely unreleased songs, now lost to history. These are mostly breakdowns, takes that start and stop after a mistake is made, and as such a bit dull to wade through.

The magic is disc one, featuring the original Sun sides, which get more and more exciting as Phillips and the trio figure out the kind of songs that work for them, including Mystery Train and Good Rockin' Tonight. Disc three is great to have for anyone who likes to study big bang moments in music, and the book is just fantastic, filled with stunning photos, jaw-dropping facts and the kind of interesting minutiae collectors love.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: MUSIC FROM THE MOTION PICTURE - BABY DRIVER

I haven't seen the movie, which I'm told is quite good, but the soundtrack is seriously awesome. You can tell when a serious music fan is involved (one Edgar Wright is credited), someone who delights in picking off-the-beaten-track gems that will wow folks, especially rare '60's or '70's cuts. They will also have too much pride to go for obvious, big hits to curry favour with crowds. For instance here, when a Motown cut is chosen, it's not the usual Big Chill soundtrack number, but rather neglected, beautiful Every Little Bit Hurts by Brenda Holloway.

While the '60's and '70's get a lot of cuts on this double CD, more modern numbers from Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Young MC, Blur and Kid Koala make the cut too. It all fits, and the most wonderful aspect is how the selections just keep getting better and better, whether you know them or not. Whether it's the now seldom-heard rocker Hocus Pocus by Focus, the excellent Dave Brubeck cut Unsquare Dance or the long-forgotten soul hit Baby Let Me Take You by The Detroit Emeralds, each one is a delightful surprise. Any fan of the art of sequencing will smile when it goes from T. Rex's bongo-fired Deborah to Beck's Debra to Canada's old Incredible Bongo Band and Bongolia. Even the only two really well-known songs here, The Commodores' Easy and Radar Love by Golden Earring, fit so well it's hard to criticize their inclusion. The best thing is that these great cuts are largely such a mixed bag, you probably won't own more than a handful of the 30.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: WHITEHORSE - PANTHER IN THE DOLLHOUSE

A more laid-back Whitehorse album this time, with mood and lyrics trumping guitar sonics and vocal flights. That just goes to show how well McClelland and Doucet do in those departments as well. There's still lots of edge, and some pretty sharp observations as well. "Boys like you they live with their mothers, forever and ever and ever." McClelland jabs, while in Gracie, Doucet tells us "I can hear the sniffles from behind the bathroom door, is it cocaine or heartbreak, we never can be sure."

There's a significant amount of programming and synth going on to create the dark mystery mood. While they're cool enough to play the Roadhouse in Twin Peaks, they're probably a bit too upbeat, and the couple's natural wit creeps through as well. Just to remind you of what he can do, Doucet lets out a sizzling solo finally on the last cut, Manitoba Death Star. Still, taking an album off from such stuff to throw the spotlight on songwriting is well worth it.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: THE NIGHTHAWKS - ALL YOU GOTTA DO

Blues bands are a little like baseball teams, I figure. Once you root for one, you always like them, no matter how much the lineup changes or their fortunes rise and fall. Real good bands, like real good franchises, always seem to be able to put on a good show. I think of The Nighthawks as like the Yankees or Dodgers, always putting a good team together. I'll stop the baseball metaphor, hopefully you get my point.


I remember seeing the D.C. band back in the mid-80's, when there was a big buzz about them. They put on a steamy show led by singer/harpist Mark Wenner and guitar player Jimmy Thackery. Only Wenner remains of the original quartet all these years later, but that high quality and intensity still remains on this latest disc. Never purists, instead the group is happy to throw a lot of styles out there, as long as has that electric energy. Case in point, this disc ends with the beloved Dirty Water by The Standells, harped-up but still retaining the garage rock feel. I can't think of another blues band that has claimed that tune. Same goes for the Jesse Winchester cut Isn't That So, bringing more of a roots sound to the fore.

There's no short-shrift to true blues either, with the group's strong originals, such as drummer Mark Stutso's VooDoo Doll, and Wenner's mellow instrumental Blues for Brother John. And the band knows how to make those old rent-party blues numbers like Willie Dixon's I Want To Be Loved just as danceable as it was in the day. It's good to know the Nighthawks still wear the team colours with pride.

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: NEIL YOUNG - OFFICIAL RELEASE SERIES 8.5-12

Here are the latest Neil Young vinyl reissues, part of his ongoing, ever-changing archive work, mastered for this release from the original analog tapes. The latest news is that he's going to put his entire recording legacy online in super high quality for streaming, but we don't know if that means he'll stop putting out physical releases now of his old music. If so, at least all the great original albums up to the end of the '70's have now been brought back to the market with these five albums. Originally issued as a boxed collection back before Christmas, you can now get each separately.

The weakest of the group here is the Stills-Young Band set, the result of another failed attempt at a CSNY album in 1976. Crosby and Nash left the sessions before the album was complete, so the other two wiped their contributions, and used only their own work. The title cut became a Young classic, but mostly due to its inclusion on his Decade collection. The rest of the tracks pale, with four more Young contributions and four of Stills'. Side two is better, with Young's Let It Shine and Fontainebleau approaching, but not worthy of his On The Beach-era work. The biggest problem is that it was Still's band on the recordings, and it just feels that Young wasn't putting out a full effort. Of all his '70's output, this is weak link.

Young's next two albums were a lot better, and still hold up to play. American Stars 'n Bars was a salvage job of nine songs from four different sessions dating back to 1974, after he scuttled the albums Homegrown and Chrome Dreams. There are different styles, from country rock (Hey Babe) to epic guitar (Like A Hurricane). The newer tracks from '77 are more of a lark, but with Star of Bethlehem and Homegrown on side two, it's an important piece in his puzzle. Comes A Time from 1978 went further down the country road, and was seen as a concession back to the Harvest sound. It's the most produced of his albums, featuring a ton of instruments, from strings to fiddle by Rufus Thibodeaux to harmonies from Nicolette Larson. The title cut and his cover of Four Strong Winds brought back a lot of fans of his softer side, but Young wasn't about to stay that calm for long.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
It's hard to remember what a shock Rust Never Sleeps was in 1979, but it forever changed cemented Young's reputation as an unpredictable wild card. The wild, distorted guitar of Hey Hey. My My (Into The Black) out-punked the punks, and the surreal lyrics of Ride My Llama and Sedan Delivery showed he was delightfully out to lunch. Meanwhile, Powderfinger was another guitar classic up there with Down By The River and Like A Hurricane. Getting the concert album Live Rust shortly after seemed like an extra present, and Young left the '70's back on top.

Goodness me these vinyl editions sound great, and I don't think I'll ever want to play these albums in any different format again. The 20 minute sides are exactly the way they should be heard, well-sequenced and for me, full of fond memories.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: PAUL KELLY - LIFE IS FINE

Kelly has long been a leading light songwriter-rocker in Australia, and occasionally his stuff gets though to a small but mighty following in North America. It's fad-less and no-nonsense, with great stories and excellent ensemble playing, roots-rock if that's a category Down Under. I'd call it Antipodean Austinian.

Above all, Kelly builds solid songs based on smart, conversational lines and moving melodies. Even the break-up song Petrichor has words and a tune that inspires: "I walked straight, didn't turn my head, the hardest thing I ever did, seabirds wheeling overhead and cryin'." Everything is to serve the song, and Kelly even generously hands over the vocal duties on My Man's Got A Cold to backing singer Vika Bull, since it makes more sense, and she nails the wailing blues. Her sister Linda gets to do the same for Don't Explain. He's brave too; Kelly takes an old Roy Orbison hit and updates the story in Leah: The Sequel, thus seeing his name join the legend's in the writer's credits. But it's a darn good one, and I doubt the Big O would have a problem with an album of such fine writing.