Sweet and Hoffs return in their alter-egos of Sid n' Susie, in their ongoing series of pop covers. While the previous two have covered the 60's and 70's, this one is dedicated to 80's new wave and college rock tracks. That means it's straight out of my record collection, made up of music geek tunes from back in the day when you were defined by your playlist. I'm pretty sure most of these ended up on my Walkman mix tapes.As usual, the duo do a bang-up job, with pretty faithful recreations. Much of the fun is just how close they come to sounding like the originals, without being perfect. Lindsey Buckingham's quirky solo hit Trouble is a great example, where they do his breathy vocals, each singer somehow managing to sound like the original. Sometimes they just come close, like on REM's Sitting Still, but mirror the music to great effect. And when they choose a cut that can't be mimicked, like The Smith's How Soon Is Now, then they just prove what talented performers they are.
Thursday, November 28, 2013
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
Most 19-year old pop stars from England are X-Factor contestants doing cover versions (looking at you, One Direction). Then there's Bugg, who exploded two years ago with a #1 British album and actual credibility. He even came up with his own sound, a hybrid folk-punk-rockabilly that was so retro it was brand-new again. Plus, he rocked, not popped. The real deal, then.Still, he's ambitious and impatient, moving quickly on to album two. He's spoken of wanting to write in different styles, sucking up influences like a vacuum cleaner. He's jumped from his council estate upbringing to Los Angeles and celebrity producer Rick Rubin. And Rubin's given him his wish, letting him try on a whole lot of different sounds to see what sticks.
Monday, November 25, 2013
An interesting duo for sure; Jones has certainly showed an interest in roots-country before, but Billie Joe Armstrong? The Green Day guy has been wandering from punk, but this is a whole other highway. In the end, it doesn't matter who they are, it's whether it's any good.
Tuesday, November 19, 2013
Since many have neglected him, they should know Hiatt has never neglected his craft and drive. For all those who just know Have A Little Faith In Me, this set is a great place to reconnect, as it finely cherry-picks rockers and a couple of ballads from his eight albums in this period. Master Of Disaster is classic Hiatt, with rich rhymes and a dark, comic take on rockers aging less than gracefully. What Kind of Man, from The Open Road, is nasty country, the kind of stuff the Stones were doing with Tumbling Dice, another mean character that might have been Hiatt at one point in his life: "I cheated on my love, I cheated on my taxes/Burned bridges, ground axes." Blues Can't Even Find Me, from his most recent disc, Mystic Pinball, is about being down and feeling nothing, and nobody can describe that kind of lonesome like Hiatt.
Look, I'm as guilty as everyone else, I didn't even get the last two albums, but with handy reminder, I'll remedy that soon. There's no drop in quality from his heyday, and his only sin is consistency, as in consistently excellent.
Monday, November 18, 2013
Back in the old days, when everybody still bought music in stores and stuff, record collectors were considered the oddballs. Many artists disliked their intense interest and annoying habits of knowing every obscure song and the name of the bass player in their high school band, and the music industry didn't spend an enormous amount of time worrying about them either. They knew they didn't have to put a lot of work into selling to them, they'd buy anything that had their favourite musician's name on it.
A funny thing happened around about the time the internet darn near killed the record labels. With profits dropping everywhere else, the one place companies could still rely on was their catalogue division. And those collectors were still buying. What used to be chump change for the labels was now all that was keeping them in the black. The ability to sell the same music over and over again to largely the same people, by clever repackaging, is a much-valued business model. All those deluxe sets, super deluxe sets, greatest hits, boxed sets, 25th anniversary editions, they are all marketed at collectors. And who's behind the vinyl boom of the past couple of years? Old, and new collectors, as another generation of lifelong purchasers is indoctrinated into the club.
Remember 45's? Who's still playing them? I'm not really sure if they're playing them, but collectors are buying them, new ones. Those Record Store Days, half the sales are in 45's, Jack White has his own label for them, they're getting as hot as LP's. Of course, collectors have loved 45's for years, with a big boom coming in the late 70's, when punk and new wave artists started putting out tracks just for the 7-inch. Back in the day, we used to hunt out any British import we could, for the rare b-side, and the picture sleeve.
That brings us back to today, with a wise old 70's artist doing the same thing with the same music he was doing then. David Bowie has been celebrating the 40th anniversary of his great 45's by reissuing each one as a special, limited-edition 45. Every few months, to coincide with the actual 40th release date, another arrives, in the same format: a gorgeous picture disc 7-inch, with a colourful shot of Bowie on one side, and a nice in-action photo on the other. The A side is the single in question, the AA side (no B's for Bowie) is a live version of the same, previously unreleased. Man, they've thought of everything here, getting all the collectors excited. It's worked, too. These limited-edition singles have completely sold out in the last year, with some now going for $75 on eBay. For a 45!
There are two out right now, lots of copies available, grab them now if you're worried about missing out. Bowie's cover of The Pretty Things song Sorrow was more a British hit, taken from his covers album Pin-ups, and I've always loved his more spacey version. The live b-side comes from a 1984 concert in Vancouver, a decent funky take from the Let's Dance years. The other was a song forced out in England thanks to the huge demand for his songs at the peak of his Ziggy years. Life On Mars? had been an album track on 1971's Hunky Dory, but Bowie couldn't record new stuff fast enough, so it was pulled for a single. The British public loved it just the same, as it reached #3 on the charts. Here the b-side comes from a more vintage source, a 1972 Ziggy-era concert in Boston.
Prices are not stable on these discs, with the new releases going anywhere from ten to twenty bucks at different stores. Oh, they're pretty things though; you'll be hard-pressed to walk away, even though that voice in the back of your head is reminding you that you already own the song, probably two or three times. You know you want it though. Collectors are pathetic.
Friday, November 15, 2013
Well, this ain't your normal Cowboy Junkies album, not by a long shot. Instead it's a rock musical piece, created by the group along with a grand hosts of pals, about the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Huh? Well, the 50th anniversary is coming up Nov. 22, and composer/lyricist Scott Garbe had the bright idea. Michael Timmins of the Junkies jumped on board to produce, along with Andy Maize and Josh Finlayson of The Skydiggers. Then they assembled the large crew, arranged it all and have themselves a tight little collection.First off, Junkies junkies, this rocks a lot more than their usual albums, thanks to guests such as Jason Collett, Harlan Pepper, Lee Harvey Osmond (type casting) and ex-Rheostatics Martin Tielli and Dave Clark. Considering the subject matter, it's quite a bouncy disc at times, which reflects the interesting take on JFK murder. All the various plots and schemes of the times are brought into the lyrics, from Castro and Cuba to what Jack Ruby was thinking. Mostly, it looks at the event from different and sometimes unexpected angles. There are three sisters who come to Dallas to get a glimpse of Kennedy, the local cop who was driving in the car when the bullets flew, Osmond himself when he does the deed, and even the President is given a voice, after the killing as he's about to be buried.
It's not a strict narrative, but rather slices and imaginations, which actually works better for the songs. If anything, it feels more like a Skydiggers album, and that's a fine thing, too. There isn't a dull song on it, it's highly listenable, certainly intriguing. When Margo Timmins finally appears, it's a jazzy, spooky, slow number as Jackie Kennedy contemplates it all. Lyrics are included, it's fun to read along, and like all good theatre, it makes you see things differently.
Thursday, November 14, 2013
All that is pretty fascinating, if you indeed love the original album, and are interested in how tracks develop from rough ideas to full band creations. It can also get tedious, after 25 minutes of Caravan stops and starts. Really, you have to decide your level of interest: The 5-disc treatment for the obsessive, the 2-disc, with an overview of the alternatives, or just the single album.
Whichever, you have to have this, even if you still have a perfectly fine copy of the CD or album. They've done a tremendous remaster of the original, with the horns much clearer, and much more space between the instruments and backing vocals. I'm hearing lovely little touches I never knew were there.
It is a glorious album, of course, with one of the great Side 1's of all time: And It Stoned Me, Mooddance, Crazy Love, Caravan, and Into The Mystic. Listen again to the subtle answering horns after Morrison sings "When the foghorn blows". If you get the expanded set, check out the alternative instrumental take of Moondance, with completely different solos. And you should be tempted by a major out-take, the famous I Shall Sing, dropped from the album but picked up by Art Garfunkel, who had a sizable hit with it. Note to purchasers: The 2-disc deluxe set is only a couple of bucks more than the single disc, so you might as well get at least that.
Tuesday, November 12, 2013
Because they recorded so often for the radio shows, the band didn't have enough material from their albums and singles, so they went back to their club days, digging into the Cavern and Hamburg repertoire from the days when they had to do several sets and hours a night. They loved to find obscure U.S. pop and R&B numbers, especially from their heroes: Carl Perkins, Little Richard, Chuck Berry and the stars of Motown. Most of these cuts were unknown in England, so there was little difference to the audience between, say, Honey Don't and Please Please Me. The best finds included here are numbers covered but never recorded by the band, including Berry's I'm Talking About You, Perkins' Sure To Fall, and Chan Romero's The Hippy Hippy Shake. Lots of the other covers The Beatles made famous on record are here as well, such as Roll Over Beethoven, Twist and Shout, and Honey Don't.
They had to play the hits too, and some of them were recorded up to 16 times (From Me to You). So now we have Please Please Me, I Want To Hold Your Hand, She Loves You and I Saw Her Standing There yet again. If there's a gripe with this set, it's the repetition with the first one. There are songs repeated, only slightly different from the other BBC collection, and there are even some actual repeats; cuts from the CD EP Baby It's You that was issued at the same time as Volume 1, and a cut also included on Beatles Anthology 1. With so many Beeb numbers available, this seems a little cheap for those many collectors out there.
You can however pick up a couple of better versions than the ones you've had before. This is probably the best vocal Paul McCartney did on the Broadway number Till There Was You, less schmaltzy than usual. And his rip through Little Richard's Lucille beats the take included on BBC Volume 1, recorded just four days later in '63. The big win though, same as the first set, is hearing the band virtually live, recording direct to mono tape at the BBC's studio, the way they would have sounded on stage, without all those screaming fans. If there's enough left for a Volume 3, I'm in.
Friday, November 8, 2013
I'm not really sure how much interest is out there in a new Paul McCartney album. Still beloved, still a huge concert draw, this release will be greatly overshadowed by the new Beatles collection, Live At The BBC Vol. 2. But as for an audience for new stuff, it's probably down to the die-hards. In the meantime, Canada's top albums chart boasts such winners as the new Cher and a Christmas album from the Duck Dynasty people.But really folks, this is Paul McCartney making an excellent Paul McCartney album. It's full of catchy songs, quirky production, lively vocals, playful lyrics, and great melodies. Most of all, it's inventive. Nobody knows more about putting together a pop song, and finding new and fun ways to liven them up. The entire texture of a song can change in the middle, including all the instruments, the key, the way he's singing, yet fit perfectly. Of course, he learned much of this back in The Beatle days, and continued it into the 70's, with early solo works such as Ram and Band On The Run. All those different McCartney voices, such as the rockin' Wings one, the gentle ballad crooner, the funny bluesy guy, he can switch to at will, and it keeps you on your toes as he goes from one to another.
Monday, November 4, 2013
There's also a dignified maturity to the band. They aren't writing or bragging like they're teenagers, and they aren't covering the same old classics half or more of the other bands are. Downchild is well-entrenched, and that means confidence do to what THEY do, and sing their songs. Bass player Gary Kendall came up with the number that fits perfectly, called Worn In. It's the middle-aged blues: "I got some snow up on the roof, but there's a fire deep inside/This old boy's got low mileage so come on baby, take a ride."
Kudos for the best Canadian album cover this year, too. It depicts the famous Sam The Record Man sign from Yonge St. in Toronto, now the source of controversy in the city, as it hasn't yet been restored and displayed by current owners Ryerson U., as promised. Downchild is Canadian music.
Sunday, November 3, 2013
More sanctified blues from Vancouver's excellent vocal trio, gospel singers teamed up with fine musicians to bring back the fine tradition of electrified salvation. All three came from the States, fully versed in the traditional church harmony singing, and the importance it played in social movements, so this is the real deal. With album #3, there's a no shortage of fine material, including some clever secular covers that fit nicely in the spiritual realm.This time out, they're working with a tight blues combo led by producer Pigat, who adds strong guitar lines, and if there's a fourth voice on the disc, it's Canadian harp favourite Steve Marriner from MonkeyJunk, adding lots of piping fills between the harmonies. It's perhaps a tougher sound than their previous work, putting them more in line with Staples Singers material, but certainly at no loss to their finesse and I appreciate the added punch.