Wednesday, October 18, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: KATHLEEN GOREY-MCSORLEY - MY MADNESS BROUGHT ME HERE

It's hard to change horses mid-stream, so it's wise New Brunswick's Kathleen Gorey-McSorley is doing it at a young age. An East Coast favourite while still in her early teens, she was following the traditional Celtic path as a fiddler, nominated for an ECMA in roots/traditional, touring festivals in the U.S, Europe and Ireland, and eventually going to school in the Emerald Island. But health issues led her to take a couple of years off to regroup and grow, and she's reemerged as a largely different performer.


She's still playing fiddle when it fits, but for the most part she's now working as a singer-songwriter, with piano and ukulele her other instruments, singing her own lyrics her focus. So while this isn't her debut, it's the debut of her roots-indie style. These go from upbeat uke songs such as Brianna, to some hard-won life lessons in thoughtful tracks such as Pamplona, having seen a lot and traveled a lot already in her young life. You can still hear a bit of her folk past in Drunk Words, just enough to set her apart from the rest of the pack brought up on Beyonce instead. In fact, she turned to veterans such as Toronto guitar whiz Kevin Breit and former Cockburn foil Fergus Marsh on bass to thicken up the songs, more with needed heft than any kind of alt-edge.


For those who do miss her fiddle, there's a bonus track, an extended take on Pamplona that sees her jamming, trading licks with Breit, and it's actually the most interesting move on the album. There's a groove that doesn't lose the contemporary feel the rest of the album has, and lets her put her fiddle back in this new setting, away from the Celtic. It may be a good way forward for her, finding more room for that instrument on which she still shines.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: JULIAN FAUTH - THE WEAK AND THE WICKED

Blues and boogie-woogie piano man Fauth doesn't record nearly enough for those who love his unique style. This is the first for the Juno-winner since 2012's Everybody Ought To Teach A Stranger Right. It's his most straightforward and simple release, mostly played solo, and mostly classic blues and folks songs. These are the heroes and villains and sad cases we've all heard of our whole lives, but somehow Fauth makes their stories fresh. Casey Jones, Frankie and Johnny, John Henry, it's like we're getting the real story behind these legends.

Fauth has found some different versions of the lyrics (Frankie gets away with the murder in this one, for instance) but it's mostly Fauth's delivery and arrangements that bring the songs to new life. With his foot tapping like a metronome, his rolling piano is barrelhouse, Bourbon Street and front parlour all at once, always at a relaxed but somewhat fast tempo, given the songs a feeling of urgency. He adds a bit of organ on top of some sadder songs, some harmonica on some of the folk numbers such as John Henry, and some spare guitar, trumpet and percussion on others. Meanwhile, he's spinning the tales in a relaxed voice, as comfortable as a barber chatting to his Saturday morning customers.

Fauth has given us more original tunes on previous albums, and even though the theme here was classic folk heroes and anti-heroes, he did have three originals that fit the bill. And wouldn't you know, they slide in well right between the well-known ones, with only the language giving them away. Dan was about a Canadian soldier off to Afghanistan, and except for singing about Kandahar, it could have taken place in Gettysburg or Ypres. So Far Down is a true story of someone who saw the horrors of WW 2, forever troubled, close to Fauth later in life. The big surprise though, after hearing The House Carpenter and Betty & Dupree and the others, is his remake of a later student of the same classic material, Dylan, and his Blowin' In The Wind. Here, it has a gospel-flavoured ragtime stroll, easy-going, and totally unlike anyone else's cover. It's actually hopeful, suggesting if we pick up on what the wind is blowing our way, we may find a couple of good suggestions for what ails us. Like everything else here, Fauth fills an old favourite with a breathe of fresh air.

Monday, October 16, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: WHITNEY ROSE - RULE 62

P.E.I.-born Rose continues to blossom as not just an excellent retro-country singer, but as a writer as well. Her last effort, the E.P. South Texas Suite, was a love letter to her new home in Austin, with the appropriate local swing, but this full-length is more of a '60's Nashville set, especially the great ballads that were being written at the time. I Don't Want Half (I Just Want Out) is the update of D.I.V.O.R.C.E., Rose's character happy to leave a big mistake behind. Trucker's Funeral is a classic weeper lyric, straight out of the gossip files of the Harper Valley P.T.A. Here, a loving daughter goes to the funeral of her dad who died young, only to discover her trucker father had a whole other family on the other side of the country. Does she walk away with hate? No, she's left with the notion he had a heart big enough for two families. I thought they couldn't write 'em like that any more.

Rose sometimes surprises me, as she doesn't let loose all that much, and seems to prefer the thoughtful ballads and heartbreakers. But when she does, as on Can't Stop Shakin', she has all the goods, and starts edging into rockabilly, along with some country-soul. Wisely, she doesn't lean too hard on her mentor and co-producer, The Mavericks' Raul Malo, who does do lots of backing vocals, but his distinctive pipes are kept in the back, with her in the spotlight. I like the way Rose has slowly but surely kept playing it cool.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: THE GALPINES - TRUCK

Rude, crude, lewd and loving it, Moncton's Galpines take everything one step further than you thought anyone would ever dare. This is the outrageous talk you laugh about, but would never say yourself, the kind that makes Trump's locker room look more like pre-school. And that's part of the point; make all those macho dicks do a double-take and hide before they get embarrassed.

As for the rest of the audience, they can simply have a whole lot of fun, if they don't mind a few (well, a lot) of F-bombs and S-bombs and P-bombs and C-bombs and even the occasional Q-bomb (if there is such a thing). The four Moncton women who make up the group were one of the hits at this past weekend's Music New Brunswick conference, winning Emerging Artist of the Year, this debut EP coming out last year.

Red neck culture is the target (not lower class, let's make the distinction), but rather those that can afford an expensive truck purely to "fuck shit up," as they sing on Truck. Drunk Tank is the big crowd favourite, the tale of one woman who goes out drinking, gets loaded and mean, beats up a guy, the cops come, she berates them and by 8 a.m. realizes that she's probably going to be late for work, since "I'm in the drunk tank." I'd call it a cautionary tale, but in truth, they'd do it all over again, and probably will.

There are five tracks on the EP, and the group is getting ready to record a full-length, with the songs already in the set list. That includes a true number aimed at a douche who threw a Tim's coffee cup out the car window at them, and the promise none of them will ever sleep with a litterbug. There's also a crowd-baiting tune about the world's number one problem, which is apparently the restrictive nature of pants, and how everyone should not have to wear them. The audience is instructed during this number to participate in the "pants-off dance-off" in front of the stage.

Intrigued? Not easily offended? The Galpines appear at Grimross Brewing Co. in Fredericton on Saturday, Oct. 21.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

MUSIC NEWS OF THE DAY: CAVEBOY HOOKS UP ON RIA MAE/SCOTT HELMAN TOUR

Montreal's Caveboy just jumped a level in the pecking order of up-and-coming Canadian bands. The trio was one of three acts selected as this year's Juno Master Class winners, by a jury featuring Lights, Kardinal Offishall, Max Kerman of Arkells and others. Essentially the group, along with co-winners Quake Matthews and Ivory Hours, have been judged Juno-ready.

It's an honour that has immediate results. The group has been added to some dates on the current Ria Mae/Scott Helman tour, a couple in Quebec, and two in the Maritimes, their first band trip to the East Coast. Lead singer, guitar and synth player Michelle Bensimon says the award is one that's taken seriously.

"Our name is being passed around now, and people are seeing it more and more," she said from Montreal, taking a break from rehearsals for the shows. "Hopefully that sparks something so when we try to make contacts in the near future, people will go, 'Oh I remember that name.' It's something that gets spread around in the Canadian music industry."

The group has just released its latest video and single, Raconteur, seen here, which features their unique mix of '80's synth, a bit of dance pop, and a definite dark edge as well. It's a combination that sets them apart.

"When I think about it, I wonder how did our brains come together and decide this was what we were going to do?," says Bensimon. "Because there was no real conversation of being like, 'Yeah, we want it to be super '80's or super dancey or super intense.' We just started writing together and this is what came out. It really is just a combination of the three of our brains."

Caveboy can trace its emergence back to an unlikely Genesis. "We were actually playing at my little sister's birthday party," says drummer Lana Cooney, of her first gig with bass/synth player Isabelle Banos. "When Isabelle and I got together to play music, it was for covers at first." That included anything from Metric to Pink Floyd.

The band formally came together when Bensimon, who had been living in Toronto, moved back to Montreal's West Island suburbs, where they all were from. "Michelle and I knew each other as kids, played soccer together, went to same elementary and high school," says Cooney. "Michelle moved back, jammed one time with us and never left."

While the recordings and videos have attracted attention, it's the live show they all feel is their biggest strength. "It's definitely a drug that we're addicted to," says Banos. "We come alive on stage. All of our energy goes into our live set, and making it as enjoyable and contagious for the audience, to just forget whatever's been going on that day and just be in the moment with us."

While the synths play a big role, the group is just as happy to switch to a guitar/bass/drums lineup, which lets them mine the dark '80's minor chord/punk rock element more. "Just all sorts of ways for our six hands to play these things," says Bensimon of the instrument switching.

Caveboy will be featured on the Helman/Mae dates starting in Montreal Saturday, Oct. 15, at L'Astral, then Monday at Salle Multi in Quebec City, Tuesday, Oct. 18 at Boyce Farmer's Market in Fredericton, and then Friday, Oct. 21 at the Charlottetown Beer Garden.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: GABRIELLE PAPILLON - KEEP THE FIRE

Nova Scotia's Papillon continues the work she's been doing with producer Daniel Ledwell, but there's been quite a dramatic shift in her music. Previously you could have called her a folk songwriter at heart, yet willing to embrace production and soundscapes. Now her songs are filled with pop, heartfelt intensity, and most dramatically, lots of strings.

Always a strong lyricist, she's proving herself an emotional heavyweight here, lots of turmoil to examine, "trouble around the corner." We don't get the details, but all the mood, and lots of inner strength in the aftermath. With such subject matter, the set tends towards the introspective, and we get beauty in spades, from her haunting vocals to the strings to the fabulous aural softness of the production. Rather than push the elements, everything is placed with great subtlety around Papillon's voice, and when the disc ends with No Paradise, we've been on a pretty fulfilling trip.

You can see Gabrielle Papillon Thursday, Oct. 12 at the Trailside Music Cafe in Mount Stewart, P.E.I., Saturday at the Roots and Soul Music Room in Fredericton, Sunday at the Blacksheep Inn in Wakefield, Quebec, Monday at the Burdock Music Hall in Toronto, and on an on.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: THE NORTHERN PIKES - BIG BLUE SKY (SUPER SIZED)

In an unlikely spot, the bucolic Nova Scotia port town of Lunenburg, the quintessential Prairie band, Saskatchewan heroes The Northern Pikes, have been squirreled away for several days. They are in intense rehearsals for their national tour since the early 2000's. It's actually a convenient space, as the town is now the home of Pikes guitar player Bryan Potvin, and the first dates are on the east coast, beginning Thursday, Oct. 12 in Saint John N.B.

The band, which came to fame in the late '80's, has been active the past 15 years in a limited way, playing perhaps a dozen shows a year, usually festival, casino or corporate gigs, keeping the name alive while working on their own projects. But it wasn't enough, says Potvin. "I found it for years kind of unsatisfying. If we're lucky enough to do two shows in a row over a fly-in weekend, the second night is always dramatically better, we're more cohesive as a unit. I'm intensely curious to hear what we're going to sound like after show 25 on tour."

The other major factor in play is a pretty impressive anniversary. 2017 marks 30 years since the band's debut album, Big Blue Sky, was released, putting them on national radio and MuchMusic, going gold with the help of the hit singles Teenland and Things I Do For Money. Over a few months, a big plan came together. The Pikes put together a plan not just to tour, but also reissue the album in a glorious way.

Big Blue Sky - Super Sized (love that title) is a two-CD, or even better, 3-lp reissue out Friday. The vinyl edition features three different colour albums. The original release is on the first, the second features 10 brand-new to us demos from the period, in effect an entirely new album, and the third is a concert recording in 1986 at Toronto's Horseshoe Tavern.

The demos had been carefully compiled and saved over the years by drummer Don Schmid. On his own, he has acted as the unofficial band curator, saving 30 years' worth of Pikes paraphernalia and those all-important recordings. As the one least involved in the songwriting, he always saw the value in what the others had forgotten or discarded.

"I guess I was probably the biggest cheerleader for those songs all these years, because just being an outsider in some ways, I could look at them differently than the other three guys, is probably the best way to put it," says Schmid. "I always felt strongly about hooks and what makes some songs memorable, it's a hidden ingredient, either it works or it doesn't."

The ten cuts are no mere throwaways, or even early versions of well-known cuts. These are gems, pretty much in finished form, that sound so good today it's a wonder they didn't come out then. The band had a backlog, thanks to working hard for two years before getting the first album out, plus a parcel of tunes from their previous Saskatoon bands, The Idols, Doris Daye and 17 Envelope. The stand-out Look Out Below is a Jay Semko tune from The Idols, that goes back to 1982. The ballad Stay With Me Now is Schmid pick for the single that never was, a track he still thinks could have been a hit.

The Horseshoe tape came from a different source. "We'd never heard that recording for all those years until just a few months ago, it was just silent all those years," says Schmid. It came back to the group thanks to recording engineer Doug McClement from Toronto, who recorded them 12 separate times for radio broadcasts and specials.

"He contacted Bryan roughly ten years ago, and said 'I've got these tapes kicking around, I'm trying to clean house, would you like them?' But Bryan didn't have any way to play them, they are on quarter inch master reel-to-reel, so he hung onto them all this time, and thought some day there will hopefully be a chance."

Once the tapes got fixed up, the band realized they had a vault filled with high-energy performances that shows the group's well-loved potency as a live act. "We've always been that kind of a group," says Schmid. "Our live show, the adrenaline in front of people, it's always way more aggressive, and usually the songs are played faster."

So, a tour, the new album, that's this fall, but then the question remained as to what to do after that. Once again, the vaults gave them the answer. It turns out those ten demos were just the tip of the iceberg, and they'll put out another anniversary set for each of their original albums over the next five years, plus take them on tour.

"We have a lot more, that's the interesting thing," says Schmid. "We tried to keep all these ten songs on the unreleased album around that era of Big Blue Sky, 1986 - 1987. Then in the next years to come, with Secrets of the Alibi next year, we're going to pick another ten, then Snow In June and Neptune. It's a five-year plan."

The Big Blue Sky 30 tour will see the group go coast-to-coast, performing the entire album, some of the demos, and lots of their other hits as well. Tour dates can be found on their website, thenorthernpikes.com/gigs/.

Monday, October 9, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: MO KENNEY - THE DETAILS

When Nova Scotia's Mo Kenney first appeared on around seven years ago, she was a young singer-songwriter finding her way. Two albums of largely acoustic guitar pop showed her to be a writer of rich, thoughtful lyrics, with a sharp eye and an equally sharp wit. With producer Joel Plaskett alongside, you could feel her willing try it all out, and learn new tricks at every turn.

After the second album, In My Dreams, Kenney went from touring as an acoustic opening act to headlining clubs with her own band, returning to electric guitar where she started out as a kid. She wanted to get loud, and work some stuff out. This album, she's stated, deals with her depression, problems with alcohol (she's quit drinking since), and a break-up we hear about at the start. But if you're expecting something bleak, the opener is as disarming as could be; it's a brief, 35-second cut, as oddball as can be, called Cat's Not A Cake, where she imagines the cat having to be split in the separation, and the other person trying to take the bigger piece.

There are several smaller cuts like that on The Details, the title cut as short as 28 seconds, a couple more under two minutes, many of the songs between two and three minutes, and only two above that, 3:36 for the longest. It makes for a cohesive listen, a true album of songs, her co-producer Plaskett as always the master at using a device to glue together a group of songs. It also allows her to bounce all over the place musically, and keep surprising us with short bursts.

The biggest revelation is how great Kenney rocks. On The Roof is wildly catchy, with searing guitar, and her own brilliant harmonies. June 3rd is a more dreamy, with clouds of vocals, which let the guitar go into a psychedelic transistion to the next track, Maybe I Am. That one's an updated '60's number, with more tortured guitar and some of that old Halifax Pop Explosion magic. If You're Not Dead is gutsier, a piece of bravado with a punchy chorus, while Unglued is another gorgeous melody, where she enters Aimee Mann territory, a comparison loaded with praise.

The album might have been born from difficult times, but it sounds fresh and uplifting throughout. It does end on a positive note lyrically, with Feelin' Good, the end of that journey for Kenney, but it's the beginning of a whole new approach for her musically that is already exciting.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: VAN MORRISON - ROLL WITH THE PUNCHES

Call it the Working Van's Blues. This is a mostly covers album, featuring Morrison's favourite stuff, R'n'B from the '50's and '60's, with a little jazz and soul mixed in. There are five of his own cuts, but nothing that stands out. The real winners here come when he dives into classics such as Sam Cooke's Bring It On Home To Me, Bo Diddly's Ride On Josephine and a fine medley of Stormy Monday and Lonely Avenue.

He has some help too, some heavyweight guests. While most people bring on a star for a single track, Morrison lets his pals work on a bunch of songs. British hit vocalist Chris Farlowe, who has been touring with Morrison, appears as a second lead singer on several cuts. Another old friend who has often taken that role, Georgie Fame, is back, singing and playing his famed organ. The real big news though is the appearance of Jeff Beck, who takes leads on five cuts. His playing helps spice up a somewhat routine Morrison outing, although Van singing this stuff is always worth a listen.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: THE DOORS - THE SINGLES

There's been an ongoing celebration and reissue series this year to mark the 50th anniversary of the recording debut of The Doors, including the pre-fame live album London Fog, a deluxe version of the self-titled Doors album, with another live show added, an upcoming deluxe version of the Strange Days set, and this double CD. It includes every a- and b-side from each 45 the group released, including the hard-to-find mono radio versions from back in the day. There are also three b-sides that weren't on any of the original albums, although they have been added to various collections and reissues in the CD era.

The Doors lived and died on their singles, surprising for a major act of the late '60's, but they really were a group with a big teenage following. The huge, #1 success of Light My Fire put them on the map, and for more than a year they kept pounding the charts with People Are Strange, Love Me Two Times, The Unknown Solider, Hello I Love You and Touch Me. But 1969 and 1970 were tough years for the group, as Jim Morrison's stage antics brought them legal problems and little radio support. It didn't help that songs such as Wishful Sinful, Tell All The People and You Make Me Real weren't actually very good choices as singles, and the future classic Roadhouse Blues was oddly relegated to a b-side. The band's fortunes were on the rise again in 1971 with the L.A. Woman album, and the hit single Love Her Madly. Riders On The Storm was also climbing the charts when the news of Morrison's death came from Paris, ensuring it would be a hit.

That's disc one, and there's still an hour to go. First, there are five singles from the post-Morrison doors, when the remaining trio tried to keep things going, to zero interest from the public. Those two albums (Other Voices, Full Circle) have never been considered anything but a mistake, and it was an awfully big legacy to live up to. Ray Manzarek certainly wasn't much of a singer, and at best you could say the group took on a kind of Band vibe, along with the blues edge they'd been developing at the end of the Morrison years. I listened dutifully, but can't say I feel the need to return. Then comes a return to better days, a live Roadhouse Blues that was lifted as a single from the An American Prayer posthumous set, the one with Morrison reading poetry over new instrumental bits by the group, released in 1978. A bit of that is heard as the included b-side, Morrison reading over Albinoni: Adagio. The 1983 live album Alive, She Cried, was better, and so is the single here, Gloria/Moonlight Drive, the latter with a particularly effective slide guitar solo from Robby Krieger. The disc is rounded off by four mono versions of original singles, none of them on CD before, including Hello, I Love You and Touch Me. These are pretty punchy mixes, and good to have.

As a collection, it's not the best way to get an overview of The Doors, as it misses some key album cuts, such as The End and Alabama Song, so the still-available Very Best Of, or the venerable Weird Scenes Inside The Gold Mine might be better choices for the newcomer. However, Doors fans will get a different perspective by following the trail of singles here, and pick up a handful of rarities as well.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: THE REPLACEMENTS - FOR SALE: LIVE AT MAXWELL'S 1986

Oh those Replacements. Just when things were looking good, they'd screw it up on purpose. That was certainly the order of the day in the group's overall career, and the basic operating procedure for live shows as well. I saw them a couple of times, in front of larger crowds than they normally played for, opening for big stars (Petty, Costello), and both times they did absolutely nothing to impress potential new fans. Instead, they did stuff to amuse themselves and the small coterie of die-hards who had wandered down to the front to egg them on, switching instruments, spotting songs part-way through, etc.

Those live shows have always been the stuff of great stories shared among fans, or traded on bootlegs, as there was no official live album ever released by the group. Finally, this show sees the light of day, recorded back in 1986 for a potential live album, but stuck away when plans changed. Each show was a miniature version of their career. Just when a song or set was getting too close to professional, they'd get bored or sloppy or just make a well-timed mistake to let things go off the rails. Because they knew, and fans knew, they could be really good if they wanted, and make incredible power pop songs. But they knew it was actually better, more rock and roll, to be imperfect. That happens right off the bat here, when the second song, Color Me Impressed, gets messed up when it threatens to be too catchy. Soon after, a really good version of The Sweet's Fox On The Run is brought to a quick halt just when they were killin' it.

It was, and is still, so strange, how we still love them. Some of course just like their drunken sloppiness, but I have always thought the main appeal for the small but mighty fan club was that they could hear how amazing these songs would be if done by expert musicians. If Paul Westerberg's voice didn't crack and strain on those gorgeous melodies, he'd sound like Pete Ham from Badfinger. In other hands, songs like the then-current Kiss Me On The Bus from the Tim album might have had a shot on the Top 40. And although they came out of punk, they were mad for hooks, heard here as they go through a covers string near the end of the show, doing T. Rex's Baby Strange, the bubblegum hit Hitchin' A Ride by Vanity Fare, and Nowhere Man by the Fabs.

Any live album we would get at this point would be most welcome, but this happens to document an important time for the group. It's at the end of the original lineup, shortly before Bob Stinson was ousted for being too unruly even for them, and at the time when they were still capable of the punk abandon of their earliest material, along with the relatively sophisticated later Westerberg songs. And even with all the rough edges, this is a great listen. Color me impressed.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: THE ORIGINAL BLUES BROTHERS BAND - THE LAST SHADE OF BLUE BEFORE BLACK

Original these days means the group is fronted by sax player Blue Lou Marini and guitar great Steve Cropper, both from the first incarnation of the band, as seen in the famous first film. While the rest of the current players may not be household names, as a recording act they have put together a first-rate set in much the same musical spirit. Plus, there are a bunch of guest players and singers featured that have ties as well, including Paul "The Shiv" Shaffer, the original band leader from his time at Saturday Night Live with Belushi and Ackroyd. The only reason he wasn't in the movie was that he had committed to working on Gilda Radner's stage show at the same time the filming was scheduled. Here, Shaffer does his famous James Brown impersonation on Sex Machine.

That's pretty much the vibe here, good times and plenty of guest solos. Tom Malone, another original does some trumpet work, and Matt "Guitar" Murphy adds a lengthy solo on another cut. Dr. John takes lead vocals on one of his oldies, Qualified, and Eddie Floyd does the same on a song he wrote with Cropper back in the Stax Records days, On A Saturday Night. Even without the guest power, there's plenty to enjoy from the group's own trio of vocalists, Bobby Harden, Tommy McDonnell and Rob Paparozzi, and with seasoned band vets including SNL regular Leon Pendarvis on organ, all the performances are grade A. In film terms, this album is a lot more like the first movie than the regrettable second.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: LINDA RONSTADT - SIMPLE DREAMS 40th ANNIVERSARY EDITION

Ronstadt's biggest album from the '70's gets a 40th reissue, although a little subdued compared to others. It's upgraded with just three bonus cuts, all live versions of big favourites, and a brief new liner note from producer Peter Asher. However, it's a good reminder of just how fantastic a vocalist she was at this point, with so much power and perfect tone. If you tried to put auto-tuning on her, the machine would just shrug and turn itself off.

Of course she got lots of flak for being too commercial, and smoothing the edge off the rock songs and writers she favoured. But place her Tumbling Dice beside the Stones, and while the guitars may not have the same grit, she matches or even passes Mick's vocals. She was Warren Zevon's best friend as well, giving him a much bigger audience, and here doing fine versions of Carmelita and Poor Poor Pitiful Me.

Her hit cover of Buddy Holly's It's So Easy was a radical remake, adding guts to the track, but maybe what bugs people is that cowbell. I'm starting to think Asher's more to blame for the overly-commercial moments. But certainly you can't fault her version of Blue Bayou, where she does successfully tackles the operatic Orbison hit. She knew how to pick 'em and deliver 'em.

Oh, and about those bonus cuts, they are actually great versions of It's So Easy, Blue Bayou and Poor Poor Pitiful Me. Her control live is just as impressive as on record, and led me to check on other live material. She's one of the very few stars of that era that didn't release a live album, which is crazy considering how well they sold then (Frampton, Eagles, Mac, etc.). That's what I'd like to see next.

Monday, October 2, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: GRAND FUNK RAILROAD - TRUCK OF FUNK VOL. 1 & 2

For a great big '70's band, one with an armload of gold and platinum albums and two #1 hits, Grand Funk Railroad don't get much respect these days. Actually, they didn't get much respect when they were topping the charts and filling the halls either. Important critics of the day hated them, and they've never overcome that. They're not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, for instance, but I bet almost everybody knows "We're An American Band."

These stuffed boxed sets probably won't change that perception, but they'll please a particular era of hard rockin' fans when music first moved into hockey rinks. They are called Trunk of Funk Vol.1 and 2, and feature the first 12 of the group's albums, up to the time they were dying out. They include a batch of non-album cuts, unedited takes and live versions, beefing all the originals up to an hour or more in length. Funk fans will know there were two distinct eras for the group, the hard-driving, power trio heavy blues-rock start, and then the much cleaner, Top 40 era, when the band dropped the Railroad from the name, and added a keyboard player.

The earliest work hasn't dated all that well, with the group struggling to find their own voice in the Cream/Hendrix mode. What they add eventually was in the name all the time, a bit of funk and some basic boogie. They became big favourites live, and on the third album, Closer To Home, developed a rep for some heavy lyrics as well. An edited version of the title cut became their first radio hit, and fit in with the anti-Vietnam war movement. That mix of heaviness and party tunes took off with Live Album, which went double platinum in 1970. Two more albums followed in 1971, Survival and E Pluribus Funk, which featured the hit Footstompin' Music, which had the kids rockin'. All that hard work, six albums in three years, was paying off big-time.

The band decided to go for a bigger sound by adding keyboardist Craig Frost at that time, but more importantly, they found out their longtime manager Terry Knight was taking most of their money, so he was let go. A new direction was called for, and in came a top gun in producer Todd Rundgren, for We're An American Band. Another changed was drummer Don Brewer's increased role. He sang that hit, which used to be the sole job of guitarist Mark Farner, and also was allowed to write several of the cuts, alone or with Farner. It was almost a whole new group. Some purists prefer the louder, looser version of the band, but really they were making better albums now, and that was reflected in the charts. Shinin' On brought them another huge success, and featured their surprise hit cover of the oldie The Loco-motion. Then came Some Kind Of Wonderful, and the excellent but soft rocker Bad Time.

But the group was disintegrating, and they had lost their core hard rock audience. Pop fans are more fickle, and when the ho-hum Born To Die in 1976 did just that, without any hits, the group was ready to wrap it up. That's where the second box ends, although interestingly they did regroup later that year for the chance to make a final album with Frank Zappa producing, which isn't included here and wouldn't add much anyway. Various reunions and even a couple of new albums were done in the '80's, and a version without Farner and Frost has kept touring, but the confusing history of the band has kept them from being remembered with the greats.

Friday, September 29, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: ORIGINAL MOTION PICTURE SOUNDTRACK - DETROIT

So here we have a movie about an incident in the Detroit riots in 1967, so what's the soundtrack going to be, all Motown, right? Well thankfully, no. Even though I love Motown, that catalogue's been milked dry since The Big Chill, and there was a lot more going on to sample. There should be some though, to properly reflect its ass popularity, but at least it's not the overused stuff. Instead we get Jimmy Mack by Martha and the Vandellas, Your Precious Love from Marvin and Tammy, and one only the truly big fans will know, The Elgins' Heaven Must Have Sent You. That last one is one killer cut by the way, and should have been huge, so they're doing you a favour.

Part of the non-Motown need in this film is that the factual story involves a member of the group The Dramatics, who later would score hits on the Stax label, and here gets caught up in a police murder. In addition to a couple of non-hit but strong Dramatics numbers, there are several obscure soul songs by acts such as Devotions, Lee Rogers and Jerry Williams, all really great choices. A smooth John Coltrane number, I Want To Talk About You, is added, and there are a couple of new cuts too, the best being a Roots one called It Ain't Fair, which is jazz, soul and rap combined. This is certainly one of the best soundtrack collections in awhile.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: PENNY BLACKS - LONG LIGHTS

The Saint John, N.B. group launches its second full album (along with three EP's) Friday, Sept. 29 at the Carleton in Halifax, before hitting the road through the Maritimes, Quebec and Ontario. It's a classic indie guitar album, unadorned and unaffected by trends, with high quality playing, clean but no tricks, just some well-integrated violin weaving from Ali Leonard. There are guitar jams, some explosions, but mostly its moody and really thoughtful, rock when its needed, folk in the contemplative parts.

And contemplate they do. Jason Ogden's lyrics set that mood, as he struggles to find a place for himself in unsettled times. There's a lot of poetic weight to the words, a lot of darkness and nighttime, and lonely time for thought. Meanwhile, opener Blackwool sizzles with CSNY guitar parts, while The High Tides Motel starts calmly but a huge, dark mix of drums and violin consumes the initial quiet. It's stirring stuff.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: THE EAST POINTERS - WHAT WE LEAVE BEHIND

After their exciting debut, 2015's Secret Victory won them a Juno award, P.E.I.'s East Pointers haven't looked back. They've become hugely popular festival and theatre performers in several global markets, and are about to head out for a 11-date U.K. tour. That shows how big an appetite there is for the group's updated take on East Coast trad, and it's fed back into their songs as well. 82 Fires, the first single from the new album, comes from a conversation with a lifelong Tasmanian resident, who told them about the record number of wildfires plaguing his country. Environmental concerns touch everyone, no matter what side of the world your Island paradise is on.

What's new for this release is a sound boost from Grammy-winning songwriter and fellow East Coaster Gordie Sampson, who produced the album in Nashville and helped on some of the writing. The tracks have a more modern feel, with atmospheric touches layered in the background, but it's still the basic trio of top musicians, Koady Chiasson on banjo, Tim Chiasson fiddling and Jake Charron on guitar. The vocal tracks, featuring the sweet pipes of Tim, get a little more production, and you can hear Sampson's hitmaking prowess at work, but with a singer like Chiasson, well, he's just waiting to break more hearts. His vocal cuts are full of emotion, and it's a fun contrast to the often-lively instrumentals that continue to be the core sound of the group. This is a group moving up, and fast.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: TOMMY GREEN JR. - LIVE AT SECOND WIND

Tommy Green Jr. travels all over the world in his self-confessed "sweet" gig, as a featured performer on cruise ships, so popular with vacationers he's renewed every season. But for this release, he sailed back home to Carleton Co., N.B., to play for family and friends at the new Second Wind Music Centre in Bristol. It was a chance to sing the songs and tell the stories to the very people who inspired many of them, and to show off the skills he's polished on the road, er, waves.

Green lets the tape roll to capture the stories that charm his audiences, with six of the ten cuts set up this way. These aren't rambled pauses while he tunes or in-jokes, it's a major part of his performance and a solid way to connect with people. While many performers don't like giving away the truth behind the songs, Green has us paying even closer attention, as we're now in on the secret. They aren't over-rehearsed either, and often are adlibbed for the occasion, such as the night in question, where we hear loving stories about his father and his grandfather, each in the audience.

That only makes songs such as 89 years, in celebration of that grandfather who hands out chocolate to everyone, or Turn The Jets On, the hockey advise he got from his dad. Then there's I Blame Toronto, which we all do to some degree, but for Green, it's because of a break-up. It's a rare skill, being this personable in performance, and the result is we like Green the person, so we like his songs even more.

Tommy Green Jr. is playing the Capital in Fredericton on Friday, Sept. 29, opening for Adyn Townes.

Monday, September 25, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: MENONCLE JASON - DANS SON PRIME (Vinyl)

One of the great moments of the most recent East Coast Music Awards in Saint John, N.B., was getting to see the hot new name in Acadian music. Singing and talking to the audience in Chiac, and playing the hybrid style of old country music that has long been a favourite in the region, Menoncle Jason does the whole act. Yes, his tongue is in his cheek with songs about setting bear traps, spending the weekend roofing, and complaining viciously about the size of the power bill, but there's a lot of love there too. This is kind of like joking about your country cousins, but acknowledging you're closely related, get along great and will probably be spending the weekend with them.

The good news is that the album is now available on vinyl, and what a fantastic job they've done with it. Visuals are a big part of the Menoncle Jason experience, and here it goes a lot further than the fantastic cover shot that is now famous in Quebec as well as his home province. It's a grand gatefold cover, with the inside a shot of his desk, covered with a half-eaten burger and fries, empty beer cans, unpaid power bills (from the fictitious Shitty Power}, electrical tape, a deck of cards for poker, and a video cassette with a home-taped episode of Little House on the Prairie. The inner sleeve has several snapshots of Jason and the gang at the local tavern, playing pool and darts, drinking pitchers, then some more doing some repairs and drinking beer, then out in the garage, drinking beer.

The other half of the gatefold sleeve holds the real surprise and crowning piece of the experience. It's a guitar tab book, the complete songs, lyrics, melodies and chords of all his tunes. You too can learn Bear Traps, Dear Deer, Viande de moose and Bill de hydro. There's also a story on the back about him getting in trouble with his neighbours who phone the cops on him over a patch of homegrown in his yard, and his lawnmower is involved, and anyway, "Ouaille ça ç'était des good times," he tells us. Yup, it's all good times.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: PETUNIA AND THE VIPERS - LONESOME, HEAVY AND LONESOME

The always eclectic and exciting Petunia and the Vipers deliver another set of musical sleight-of-hand, acting old-timey but pushing the boundaries of roots music into uncharted territory. Where does this music come from? Certainly there are Western skyscapes, campfire sounds with yodels and steel guitar soaring into the night, but there's hot jazz, spacey lounge, and layers that slick producers would die to create. An Anchor (Dropped Off A Ship) has guitar moments and arrangements that take it into Steely Dan sophistication, then Blues In My Heart has us right back to the 1920's, Petunia some kind of love great-grandchild of Bessie Smith and Al Jolson.

Wonderfully, Petunia's long-time touring partner, the Minimalist Jug Band (Vancouver poet Al Mader), joins on guest vocals for the delightfully eccentric and manic I Don't Have To Go To High School, about waking up from a nightmare realizing its many years past the time when you had to go to class first thing in the morning. If that seems like a wild concept for a song, that's just scratching the surface of what Petunia delivers. From shaggy dog stories to rockabilly lust (Jeanie, Jeanie) to Ugliest Bitterist Coldest Dreary Place I've Ever Seen, he's far removed from the standard lyrical subjects. And he still has room for his brilliant takes on the best traditional numbers, such as Dying Crapshooter's Blues. Is this the sound of the future, or the past?

Saturday, September 23, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: BRIAN WILSON - PLAYBACK: THE BRIAN WILSON ANTHOLOGY

Wilson's comeback as a performer since the 1980's has been nothing short of a miracle, as well documented in the movie Love and Mercy. Now, as he tours his masterpiece 1966 Beach Boys album Pet Sounds, comes a first-ever career compilation of his solo years. Unlike his Beach Boys output, it's not hit-filled, so it's more of a primer from the dozen albums he's released under his own name.

Although the scripted version of his life has him getting healthy again after being saved from the clutches of therapist/leech Dr. Eugene Landy, his initial solo album actually came out when they were still a team, 1988's Brian Wilson. A full four cuts from that are featured here, including his best-known solo track and theme song, Love and Mercy. Finally free of Landy, his next proper studio album was 1998's Imagination, another solid set represented here by the lovely Lay Down Burdon and Cry, but oddly not the excellent single Your Imagination. Gettin' In Over My Head came out in 2004, a raid on the dozens of songs Wilson had sitting in storage waiting for release, including the fun title cut.

The real shock of his rebirth was the willingness to tackle his famously unreleased masterwork, Smile, the unfinished 1966 Beach Boys album that had become a legend, supposedly lost. In 2004, Wilson first performed, then recorded the songs with his amazing road band, finishing the work, which eventually led to the original Beach Boys tracks coming out as well. His own versions of now-classic tracks such as Surf's Up and Heroes and Villains, found here, were what fans thought they'd never hear, and a lifetime of faint hopes were fulfilled for many.

Other, later studio albums are sampled, but quality varies, mostly in finding memorable tunes to compare to Wilson's legacy material. Really it was his return to touring that satisfied most fans, and here two cuts from his Live at the Roxy Theatre are included. But instead of the more obscure and wonderful deep Beach Boys cuts that he performs regularly, here we get two middling "new" songs that were included on that album, This Isn't Love and The First Time, which didn't need to be recycled. They lost the chance to feature something like 'Til I Die or This Whole World. And since he's touring Pet Sounds this year, why not sample something off his Pet Sounds Live album?

At the same time, long-time fans are treated to two previously unreleased cuts from his massive vaults. Some Sweet Day goes way back to early '90's sessions, a welcome tune, but the big winner is Run James Run, which has an old rock and roll feel and makes this a must-own for Brian followers. Given that there are dozens of such unreleased tracks he's made over these decades, this probably won't be the only anthology volume.

Friday, September 22, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: YUSUF - THE LAUGHING APPLE

Although the outside of the cover says Yusuf and makes no mention of Cat, inside the booklet he's Yusuf/Cat Stevens, and there's even more that's familiar. The album's story is introduced as one told by the Tillerman to Teaser and the Firecat in a series of drawings, just the way he used to do them back in the '70's. Also returning are his producer from the glory days, Paul Samwell-Smith, and his guitar foil, Alun Davies. And the real clincher is the fact this sounds just like he used to make them, that incredibly warm, soothing voice, the gentle acoustic touches, and the childlike joy with which each song is offered, from the drawings to the many references to youth and discovery.

There's even an old Stevens song that first appeared on his best-of's in the '90's, I've Got A Thing About Seeing My Grandson Grow Old, now rewritten with new verses, and called Grandsons. Sometimes the lyrics are simple and touching, such as I'm So Sleepy, or the rewritten Mary and the Little Lamb, while elsewhere there are those pearls of wisdom that have soothed us before, and we have sung to our own children over the years. "I was a strong man/strong as can be/come back and see what love did to me," he sings. There might not be as many clear, special lyrics as when he was giving us gems such as Moodshadow, Peace Train and Wild World, but they aren't far away, and the beautiful melodies and arrangements are just as powerful. Of the four albums he has made since his return to secular music, this is the one closest to those beloved '70's ones.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: MUSIC FROM THE SERIES THIS IS US

I am not familiar with the NBC series This Is Us, which is due to return for its second season on Sept. 26, and I don't plan on watching it. I'm never watching a TV show again until somebody explains the ending of Twin Peaks to me. However, I can tell music plays a big role in setting the mood of the drama, and whoever is picking it does one heck of a job. It's a singer-songwriter, mellow mood feast, with the odd uptempo fun hit, with a mix of hits and surprises, and overall it's a cohesive and excellent listen. It goes from the '60's to today, quite seamlessly.


You got your hip names (Sufjan Stevens, Wilco, Jim James), your classics (Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder, Cat Stevens), and your collector favourites (Richard and Linda Thompson, Blind Faith, Nick Drake). There are also relative unknowns (Goldspot, Maria Taylor, Labi Siffre) who all contribute fine numbers. A couple of the tunes are a little too familiar, such as You Can Call Me Al, and Badfinger's Without You, but even a #1 hit, Ringo's Photograph, can still sound fresh, and most of these are smart selections. Even show star Mandy Moore does an okay version of Willin' that doesn't harm the running order.

The big find here is Siffre, a name not ever known here but with an armload of credits and a great song, Watch Me. It was a Top 30 hit in his homeland, England, in 1972, but his best-known one would be It Must Be Love, later covered by Madness. He's also had songs covered by everyone from Kenny Rogers to Joss Stone to Rod Stewart, and been sampled by Eminem, Primal Scream. Jay-Z, Kanye, and seemingly everybody else. I'm hooked, and have to hear more. That's pretty good work for a soundtrack.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: PAUL SIMON - THE CONCERT IN HYDE PARK

Wait, didn't he put this out already? No, that was The Concert in Central Park, with Art. This one was from London in 2012, one of those great mammoth shows that have also featured Springsteen, McCartney, The Who and others playing in front of enormous crowds. It comes as a two-CD or one Blu-ray set, and you'll want to watch for sure. The huge crowd is pretty cool, but most of the action is in the huge cast appearing onstage, including two different bands, guest artists and all manner of instruments. It was a big day, a big show.

The drawing card was the reunion of many of the original Graceland musicians, and much of the middle of the show is devoted to that album. That included Ladysmith Black Mambazo, so we get the one-two punch of Homeless and Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes. Those aren't the only guests though. Early on, Simon brings on one of his heroes, and a popular guy in England, Jimmy Cliff, who does a mini-greatest hits set, a nice bit of stage-sharing by Simon. He joins him for Vietnam, and then Cliff does the honours for Mother and Child Reunion, and you get to see Simon's original influence for that song. Near the end of the set, dobro great Jerry Douglas is brought on to play a reworked, more rootsy version of The Boxer.

Despite having just put out a new, and well-reviewed album the year before, 2011's So Beautiful or So What, only one new song was played, Dazzling Blue. The rest of the event was straight greatest hits, mostly Simon solo, only The Boxer and The Sound of Silence from the S&G years. But when faced with a few hundred thousand fans, it's hard to argue with playing Kodachrome, You Can Call Me Al, 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover, Slip Slidin' Away and Still Crazy After All These Years. He still sounds great here too.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: STEVE MILLER BAND - ULTIMATE HITS

Miller has always been an outsider in the music world, never quite fitting in with whatever scene he was working in. An early blues guy, he could have been hanging with players such as Mike Bloomfield and Paul Butterfield, but instead he and buddy Boz Scaggs ended up in San Francisco when the Airplane and the Dead ruled. Despite some hits, he dropped off the radar until The Joker made him an unlikely Top 40 star. Liking that, he squirreled away from a couple of years to craft a set of ridiculously catchy pop-rock hits that ruled the charts from the albums Fly Like An Eagle and Book of Dreams. But Miller didn't have the star power to sustain that huge stature, and he drifted off in the '80's, returning to blues when he felt, popping up just enough to avoid the Where Are They Now category.

He's still a staple of classic rock, so every few years another best-of pops up, and this is one of the most comprehensive, two discs and 40 tracks. That's where the actual breadth of Miller's career becomes obvious. There are lots of tracks from the big two 70's albums, including the hits Take The Money And Run, Jungle Love, Jet Airliner, Rock 'n Me and Fly Like An Eagle, they are also supported by much-loved album cuts like Dance, Dance, Dance and Wild Mountain Honey. There's also an excellent, previously unreleased demo version of Take The Money And Run that shows the painstaking work Miller did crafting those two albums.

If that's all you know about Miller, there will be lots of surprises. It starts with a previously released, but not very well-known piece of tape, made when Miller was five. It features him singing for his godfather, the one and only Les Paul, who says Miller is a talent already. If it was another, higher profile rock star, this would be a legendary story, but it's barely known even by fans of the faceless Mlller. The list of tracks from his early days is impressive, including Living In The U.S.A., Space Cowboy, Gangster of Love and Kow Kow Calculator. For several of the songs of this era, Miller uses recent live versions instead. Although I'd rather have all originals, these tapes have been glossed up so much, they really do mirror the regular studio takes.

The post-Abracadabra era is rushed through in just six tracks, a bit of a slight really, and the near-hits Ya-Ya and Wide River are ignored, but certainly most of the highlights are covered. Even if you have a single CD of Miller hits, there's probably enough different here to beef up your collection.

Monday, September 18, 2017

MUSIC STORY OF THE DAY: REFLECTIONS ON ANOTHER HARVEST FESTIVAL

Tommy Green Jr. and Sr. watch Matt Andersen at Harvest
Another Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival has finished, the 27th Fredericton has put on. I've seen almost all of them, including the very first, and watched it grow into one of the premier music festivals in the country. It has attracted plenty of big names over the years, certainly bringing in talent that would never play this far-flung, relatively small community normally, such as Phish mainman Trey Anastasio this year.

If you haven't had the pleasure before, Harvest takes over most of the downtown in Fredericton for six days, using every venue available, and making venues where they ain't. Tents huge and little are pitched in parks and parking lots, a few hundred to see Hollerado, a couple of thousand at Sloan, even more at Steve Earle and the Dukes. You can choose a local bar for a more intimate (but still crowded) evening, or snatch a coveted ticket to see Bruce Cockburn launch his national tour and new album in the soft-seat Playhouse. That's just for starters. Then there's all the free shows through the days and evenings, which can feature local newcomers or Juno winners such as bluesman Garrett Mason.

But I'll argue the stars of the festival aren't the music acts, as top-notch as they always are. It's the crowds. I don't mean the behaviour of the crowds, or the numbers that turn up, although these are both impressive. Crowds are made up of many individuals, and each person who attends Harvest makes their own unique experience. Each has their own story, which they are happy to share in between sets or in line. There's the group of six women, longtime friends, who go each year together. No partners allowed, nobody getting in the way of that special bond. They take the week off work, start early in the day, and don't let up the whole week, dancing and laughing at every show. There's the guy who moved away long ago, has spent most of his lifetime in Ontario, but returns just for that event each year, a holiday to see whatever old friends he runs into in the tents.

Those are common stories. Babysitters long ago found out there were small fortunes to be made Harvest week, as people would go out every night early and stay out late. It's getting to be as popular as Christmas as a holiday week, with many people requesting vacation days. There's actually a trending meme, musical notes surrounding the phrase, "It's the most wonderful time of the year," People greet you with Happy Harvest! And they talk. They talk to people they haven't seen in years, they talk to total strangers. They make new friends. and hang out for the night with people they just met.

After going to the Bruce Cockburn show, I was standing in the tent crowd watching the antics of The TransCanada Highwaymen, the new supergroup made up of Chris Murphy of Sloan, Steven Page (ex-BNL), Craig Northey of Odds and Moe Berg (The Pursuit of Happiness). All hits, and lots of laughs. Next to me was a woman holding the new Cockburn album, signed from the show, and we started talking about him and the Highwaymen. It was Phyllis Grant's first time at the festival, and she'd made the trek from Pabineau First Nation on the North Shore. Grant is an interdisciplinary artist, a filmmaker for the NFB, an animator, a rapper, a writer, and community leader. She was asked to be an official Canada 150 Ambassador this year, a tricky job for someone who is Mi'gmaq. The idea that the country is only 150 years old is a ridiculous idea for a people that has been on the land for millenia. But she accepted, so she could use the position to celebrate the resilience and achievements of First Nations people, and as a way to open up dialogue in the community. A Harvest hello led to an eye-opening conversation for me.

Another night I got a note from the musician Tommy Green Jr., in town for Harvest, asking if we could meet before the Matt Andersen show, so he could hand over his latest release. A good chat was had, and later we were joined by his father, Tommy Sr. It only took about two minutes to discover we were the same age, had attended UNB the exact same years, and knew about 50 of the same people. How we hadn't met during all that time was a surprise, and Tommy Jr. was loving it. He confided how great it was to have his dad join him at the concert, as the above picture attests.

These are small moments, but day after day they add up at Harvest, for me and everybody else that makes up that crowd. People often talk about community spirit, but it takes special events to bring out those moments when the chemistry is just right. Of course, not everyone will take part, have positive experiences, or even enjoy a music festival like this. But when so many do, it really is a special community event, and that's what has made the Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival such a success.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: DAVID MYLES - REAL LOVE

My first thought on hearing the lead track Night & Day was wondering what kind of effect producer Daniel Ledwell had used on Myles' voice to make him sound like a vintage rockabilly singer. It turns out, apart from a little reverb, he used nothing. That's because Myles, after a little vocal work on his tired pipes (he tours constantly), he has returned to his more natural range, which he used way back on his first recordings. He's able to croon almost Elvis-like on some low tones, as the Myles band grooves semi-acoustically on that cut and the title track, clearly influenced by late '50's singers and production.

This isn't a genre celebration though. Cut three, Night After Night, introduces a noir-orchestral sound, complete with Kinley Dowling's strings, a mysterious mood, a pulsing R'n'B chorus and the big backing voices of Reeny and Mahalia Smith. Knock Out has the sly Mussel Shoals country-soul sound, spare and all groove. If You Want Tonight could have been cooked up at a cowboy campfire, or the lead singer of a doo-wop group's solo number underneath the streetlight.

It's retro but it's not, because there's such a huge mix of styles, mostly old dogs, but a few new tricks too. Myles has grabbed bits and pieces from favourite records and performers, mostly '50's and early '60's, from all over the pop spectrum of that day, and used them at will, so that the influences are never really singular and are hard to identify. Meanwhile, the lyrics are mostly timeless, but if anything, are more modern. In the song Stupid, he asks "If you met Mike Tyson, would you try to start a fight?" In the end, it's simply a reflection of Myles, an old soul in a handsome new suit.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: BRUCE COCKBURN - BONE ON BONE

Bruce Cockburn reaches another milestone later this month when he's inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, but instead of a victory lap, this new album sees him at the top of his game. It's a welcome return too, as he hasn't released a new album of songs since 2011's Small Source Of Comfort, after putting all his creative energy into his 2014 autobiography Rumours Of Glory, and a new daughter born during that time as well. But the bug returned when he accepted an assignment to write a song for a documentary on the poet Al Purdy, an experience when led to all these songs.

It's always good news when Cockburn puts his spirituality forward, a particular and unique faith that also encompasses his world view and personal politics. It's also heard loud and clear in several songs here that have a blues-gospel feel, aided by members of his church choir on lively vocals. Returning too are long-time producer Colin Linden (Blackie & the Rodeo Kings) and his core rhythm section of Gary Craig and John Dymond, pretty much the top roots group in the country. Everything from Cockburn's gentle trance-hymn 40 Years In The Wilderness to his cover of Rev. Gary Davis's Twelve Gates To The City is from that well where music is food for the spirit.

Of course, Cockburn's no softie, and his righteous anger and biting observations are still powerful. False River takes on the Kinder Morgan pipeline project in B.C., while Cafe Society puts us in the coffee shop overhearing the cappuccino drinkers making inane comments on current events. Elsewhere there's an instrumental, a song in French, and of course, Cockburn's tremendous guitar work, all the touchstones and moments we've cherished over his 50-year career. This album has the qualities that should leave it placed among his very best.

Bone On Bone will be launched Friday, Sept. 15 with a show at the Fredericton Playhouse during the Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival.

Monday, September 11, 2017

MUSIC NEWS OF THE DAY: MARTHA WAINWRIGHT HEADLINES FIRST SHOW OF HARVEST FESTIVAL

Martha Wainwright is still touring in what she calls the "record cycle", which means in support of her latest album, Goodnight City, which came out last November. She heads to the Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival as a sidebar to a set of U.S. and Western Canadian dates in October, a quick jaunt east from her home in Montreal to play Fredericton and two nights at a small club in P.E.I.
 
That means she won't bother with her band for the trip, but she often plays solo, and lots of her fans prefer the openness that brings to her set. "It's gonna be me and the guitar," Wainwright says. "It's so different, obviously it's less about the record, and way more about the songs. When you're playing it solo you have the freedom to divert somewhat. And the connection with the audience when you're playing solo is a very different thing as well. I have a tendency to stop in the middle of songs and talk, I'm very chatty, so it creates a different vibe. Solo can also be a lonelier existence, so I would not want to do it all the time. I like the companionship of the musicians, but there's also a great power in being up there on your own."
 
It also means she doesn't stick to the usual promotional duties for a new album.
"I'll be doing songs from all of my records, and even some songs that aren't on records, so more of a retrospective at this point," she says. "It's more interesting for me to do it that way."
 
It's pretty interesting for the audience as well. She says people shouldn't expect a slick performance. "I show up with the guitar, sometimes I break a string and I'm scrambling around," describes Wainwright. "There's not much artifice. There's a preparedness from the last 20 years of doing it, but what I'm showing is myself, or these days, a side of myself that's on display. I enjoy it that way."
 
Much of Wainwright's career has been about honesty. She has laid a lot out there in her songs for people to see, and not much has to be read between the lines. Marriage, family, fears and feelings all are grist for the mill, but she points out it's not about the facts, it's the emotions that she explores.

"My most well-known song, which was about an argument that I had with my father (songwriter Loudon Wainwright III), I'm sure that was upsetting to him." It was called Bloody Mother F***ing A**hole. "It was something where you're really going for it, it was very beneficial for me, and I don't take that lightly. I think that people really appreciated the rawness of it, even more than it being about somebody in particular. And I think that that's sort of what I'm striving for, not so much talking about my marriage and my kids specifically, but more sort of about these feelings that we all share that sometimes don't get spoken about in pop music."
 
Although born in New York, Wainwright spent of much of her youth in Montreal, along with her brother Rufus. She's been back in that city for four years, but still doesn't quite know where she fits in the Canadian music scene.

"I've always felt a bit of an outsider," she says, "although I'm very much an insider, being that my family are musicians and coming from this Canadiana tradition through my mother (Kate McGarrigle). When I was in the States as a singer-songwriter, although my music was folk-based, it was never particularly Americana, and I wouldn't call it Canadiana either.

"My career really started in England, as happens to a lot of songwriters. It's certainly what happened to my father. I also play a lot in Europe, and a lot in Australia, so there's an international element to what I do, and certainly North American, but I don't find that the songs are particularly placed, in a sense of place. I find that they are more living in a kind of emotional state more than anything, certainly more than political or topical. They're a little borderless."
 
Borders and boundaries, geographical and personal, will be happily ignored onstage at The Playhouse in Fredericton Tuesday, Sept. 12 at 7:30 p.m., as Martha Wainwright plays the first show of the Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival. Brent Mason and Jessica Rhaye open.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: BRENT MASON - HIGH WATER MARK

The backbone of the Saint John, N.B. music scene, Mason's always been a rootsy singer-songwriter, but here throws a curveball with a few "country-ish" numbers, as he describes them. The first two cuts fall in that description, especially The One That Got Away, aided by the excellent Ray Legere on fiddle and mandolin. But just as soon as I started the "Brent's gone country" notes, The Other Side Of Blue came grooving over the speakers, a tight little funky number with the Maritime master organ player Kim Dunn adding the smooth, and Saint John singer Jessica Rhaye providing a striking backing vocal, as she does on four cuts in total here.

Mason himself is singing strongly as well, perhaps inspired by the turnout of plenty of East Coast players, as well as his regular band and multi-talented producers Grant Heckman and Tim Davidson. With more Saint Johner's, such as Mike Biggar, Dann Downes and Tomato/Tomato's Lisa McLaggan involved, the disc threatens to break into a party at times, such as the boogie number I Can't Quit You. But there's still room for Mason's trademark observations of the real and sometimes rougher side of the local streets. Snowdrift is the one that will stop you in your tracks to think for awhile, a story about young women from First Nations brought into the city to turn tricks. Mason's never afraid to sing about things most of us would rather avoid or ignore.

Mason has album launch shows scheduled towards the end of September and into October, but first he's doing a special show Tuesday, Sept. 12 at Fredericton's Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival. He's joining Jessica Rhaye for a joint set at The Playhouse, opening for Martha Wainwright, starting at 7.30 p.m.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

MUSIC NEWS OF THE DAY: ALEX CUBA, REENY SMITH BRING POSITIVE SOUNDS TO HARVEST FEST




On the surface, the pairing of veteran Cuban musician Alex Cuba and relative newcomer, soul/R'n'B singer Reeny Smith, seems an unlikely mix. But the two performers, who share the bill for a Saturday evening show at this year's Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival in Fredericton, turn out to be an inspired double-bill. What they share is a belief in positive, life-affirming music.

Smith, from Halifax, opens the show, and while it's not her first time at the festival, it's her first star billing. Last year, she joined her friend David Myles for backing vocals, something she's also done for his brand-new album out this week. But this time, she's back with her full band, and Fredericton will finally get to hear what Nova Scotia crowds have been raving about for a few years now.
 
Michael Richard Photography
Although still described as an emerging artist at 24, Smith has been performing since she was five, including the choirs of her family's church, Saint Thomas Baptist in North Preston, N.S. Both her father and grandfather, Wallace Jr. and Sr., were members of the famed Gospel Heirs, and her father now directs the Hallelujah Praise Choir. If that's not enough, blues fans will know her uncles Carson and Murray of the Carson Downey Band.

Her own career took off in 2011, when she started winning awards and scholarships in the province. By 2014, she started performing major concerts such as the Halifax Jazz Festival, and Canada Day and Natal Day public shows.
 
She's now recognized as an extraordinary vocalist, and has just begun releasing her own singles, including the brand-new East Coast hit, Survive. A new E.P. is planned for later this fall.

For Smith, it all goes back to those choir shows she has spent her life doing, making sure the audience feels energized.

"Just try to have people talking about it afterwards and wanting more," she says. "We put together a show that's upbeat, and there's also some very strong ballads that we do. Overall it's such a great, musical show. I think that's the biggest thing that's missing from the industry right now, the musicality has just gone out the window. We want to play real songs, real music and give people what they paid for."

Alex Cuba may be a veteran, but he still has the same hopes for his audience. The Northern B.C.-based singer and guitar player is making his debut at Harvest this year, and comes with a truck-load of accolades. He has a couple of Junos, a Latin Grammy, and two Grammy nominations, plus a brand-new album, Lo Unico Constante. It was love that brought him to Canada in 1999, and on this new album, he returns to his roots, with songs influenced by the singer-songwriters of Cuba that he listened to growing up.

Cuba's songs have several direct messages in the Spanish lyrics, including advice to take it slow, know yourself, don't keep making the same mistakes. But the advice is aimed at himself, not the listener. "I think it's the most powerful way to communicate, when we put ourselves on the line," he explains. "You never want to come across giving people orders for free, nobody asked you. So the best way is to always talk about yourself, and chances are somebody will see themselves in it."

The songs on the new album are largely acoustic, with that rich rhythm and percussion behind. You don't have to speak the language to pick up on his affirmative lyrics. "I see music as the biggest, most precious gift we got from God or whoever we attribute these powers, so therefore why not use that gift to keep spreading love," says Cuba. "Music for me is sacred, very positive."

Cuba is bringing his three-piece band with him, comprised of bass, drums and a percussionist. He calls it his best group ever, as for the first time he's been able to work with all Cuban players, but ones like him, who all have a knowledge of North American sounds too. "When I want to funk, we can funk, when I want to rock, we can do that too."

Reeny Smith and Alex Cuba will be at the Fredericton Playhouse on Saturday, Sept. 16 starting at 7:30 p.m.

Friday, September 8, 2017

MUSIC NEWS OF THE DAY: SLOAN, PLUS SUPERGROUP THE TRANSCANADA HIGHWAYMEN GET READY FOR HARVEST FESTIVAL GIGS


It's the best of both worlds these days for beloved Canadian alt-rock heroes Sloan. They are happily balanced between the past and the current, celebrating their legacy of hit songs and albums from the '90's and 2000's, and continuing to make new, exciting albums. The group members are in the middle of recording their latest and 12th new album, but are taking a break to play the Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival, headlining Thursday, Sept. 14.

Guitar player Jay Ferguson admits he gets to do everything he always wanted to do. "I basically have the job that I wanted when I was 12, so I'm still riding that wave. I like writing songs and I like recording, and I listen to music every day," he says. "I feel like I write songs easier and better than I did 10 or 15 years ago, so I feel encouraged, I feel like it's a well that hasn't run dry."

Along with Chris Murphy, Ferguson assembles the detailed archival releases the band's fans cherish, such as 2016's box set celebrating the band's One Chord To Another album for its 20th anniversary. That's work he loves doing, just as much as working on the new, as yet untitled album. He says he's happy playing the old stuff too for the festival crowds. "I think there's a lot of bands that are in that mode of, never look back, just always looking forward, nothing nostalgic. But the music is still good, it's not dated, why should time affect the music? A great song that Patrick wrote 20 years ago is still a great song today, and you know what? He's got another great, new one right here."

As usual, the group members, all four of whom are writers, work on the new songs individually, usually thinking of parts the others might add. Then as the songs near completion, they call in their bandmates to add to the final product. That's what Chris Murphy has been doing the past few days, working on Ferguson's songs.

"I love sort of defiantly creating a giant body of work, whether anyone's listening or not," laughs Murphy. "It's hard to compete with your old records when you're this far in. I always say even if you wrote Bridge Over Troubled Water now, people would be yelling out for Underwhelmed, which you wrote in five minutes."

Murphy is always happy to be on stage, so much so that he's now a member of not one but three bands, two of which are playing Harvest. Last year, he teamed up with some old Halifax friends to form TUNS, and this year he joined a group of '90's music vets in the TransCanada Highwaymen, who are playing Friday, Sept. 15.

That band consists of four like-minded, fun-loving songwriters: Murphy, Steven Page from Barenaked Ladies, Moe Berg from The Pursuit of Happiness, and Craig Northey from the Odds.
The idea is four well-known people up on stage to sing their big hits, have fun and spread that feeling to the audience.
TransCanada Highwayman Moe Berg with Bob Mersereau


"Everybody involved is super-funny and wants to entertain," says Murphy, who plays drums for most of the set. "With the Highwaymen, everybody brings their top hits, most recognizable songs, and we just chirp on each other, make fun of each other the whole time, and it's a ball."

The TransCanada Highwaymen have only played eight shows so far, but member Moe Berg says the shows have been great fun for the audience and the band. "It's a very entertaining show, it's very funny. Chris and Steven are very funny, and it's new every night, we just riff off whatever's happening, and everybody's just playing their hits, so the whole thing is to make it as entertaining as possible, make sure everybody gets their money's worth."

Sloan will be at the Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival on Thursday, Sept. 14, at the TD Mojo Tent at 10:15 p.m., and you can see the TransCanada Highwaymen on Friday, Sept. 15 at the TD Mojo Tent's late show at 11:30 p.m.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: THE HYPOCHONDRIACS - IN 3/4

Real rockabilly is deceptive. It seems simple enough on the surface, but the stuff from the late '50's was dangerous. Not the corny shtick that the era has been stuck with since American Graffiti either, there was actual physical danger playing country music mixed with rock 'n' roll, refusing to accept the status quo of race and religion. That was reflected in the music, not just the hard-driving songs but the lyrics too. This people did bad things, and you'll hear about people that crossed the moral lines of the day.

The Hypochondriacs get that danger. The Fredericton band fills its eight-cut debut with true love gone very bad, ex-couples putting themselves through hell via breakup and cheating. Opener Just Like Before sets that clear; this is not a relationship the singer is going to forget, and there won't be any forgiveness either. Like the rockabilly days, the guitar is loud and distorted, especially at the end, leaving us with a sense of foreboding. Two Bottles Of Whiskey is worse, a husband and father abandoned, not knowing if they can love again, giving up and downing the booze. At the end, we find out he has a bottle of pills as well, and he's about to swallow them too, the last line being, "I miss my wife." To remind us that we're now in 2017, there's some atmospheric sound at the end, kind of a Twin Peaks feel, which works just fine.

Hung Up and Hung Over sounds more fun, with its happy rhythm, mighty twang and rowdy backing vocals, but it's more on the same theme, getting dumped. This time though, the band has a tongue-in-cheek finish in store, first a reggae version, then almost a hair metal chorus to close. The title cut, a weepy ballad heavy on the pedal steel, has a strong lyric with a great central couplet: "That was the day that you waltzed out my door/in 3/4." That's waltz time for you folks who didn't get music education in our school systems. The Meeting Place breaks the woman dumps man mold, instead being about a preacher who runs afoul of his flock at the church he established, some of those fire and brimstone rural roots that fit the rockabilly playbook.

Rockabilly, like soul, r'n'b, reggae, folk and all those roots sounds, is still very much a working music, when it's done right. The Hypochondriacs do it right, make it their own, and make it vibrant and new. The group is releasing the album with a show in their hometown of Fredericton on Saturday, Sept. 9 at 9 P.M. at the Capital Complex.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: MICK JAGGER - GOTTA GET A GRIP/ENGLAND LOST

Clearly energized by last year's good will surrounding the Stones' Blue and Lonesome album, Jagger surprises us with a two-track single, heavy on the groove. Gotta Get A Grip has a dark, funky mood, pretty much built around one riff, Jagger's gritty voice and a bit of his always-appreciated harp. He's called this a response to the political climate in England after Brexit, but really there's not a lot of analysis here, it's all in the slightly menacing delivery.

England Lost is another on the same theme, again a simple groove track. The lyrics are a bit more prominent, built around a play-on-words, England Lost either at soccer or politically. It's no great statement, but you can dance to it. Neither side feels like a desperate attempt at a hit, like Jagger used to do with his solo work, so consider that a success.