Saturday, August 19, 2017

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 18, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 17, 2017

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 12, 2017

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

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

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

Friday, August 11, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: DAVID RAWLINGS - POOR DAVID'S ALMANACK

It's no longer the Dave Rawlings Machine, as his first two albums were released as, but it's still the same deal. Rawlings is joined by Gillian Welch all the way through, only he takes the lead vocals. What is different is that this album is a lot more traditional than anything the pair have done, well over half the cuts pure old-time hill music. The songs are said to have been inspired and re-written old numbers, so it's difficult to know where the folk tradition stops and the Rawlings begins, and that is just fine. Certainly numbers such as Lindsey Button and Money Is The Meat In The Coconut sound 150 years old, and that's all that matters.

Rawlings is a master at the relaxed feel of these songs, almost hypnotic in their pace, the music serving the tales being spun. The song Yup is a laugh, each line of the story punctuated at the end with that knowing title word. Good God A Woman is a twist on the creation story: "That's when the Big Man made the little man, and all the animals too, but he saved the best for last." Most of these tracks keep a string band approach, but the pair do add drums to a couple of cuts, including the decidedly rocky Cumberland Gap, but it too is a classic 19th century story about traveling west. If this had come out under Welch's name and with the vocals more evenly shared, there would probably be a lot of talk about a masterpiece, so I hope this finds a large audience as well.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: FAIRPORT CONVENTION - COME ALL YE

Fairport fans will go wacky with this new seven-disc box featuring a whopping 55 previously unreleased tracks. That includes two full live concerts from '73 and '74, and everything from outtakes to alternates to BBC tracks. And since it only covers the group's first decade, that means the glory days of their two brightest stars, Richard Thompson and Sandy Denny are here.

The box does a great job of being a primer as well, and at a price of just under $100, is a reasonable way to begin the journey. You'll discover they actually started as more of a late '60's rock band with a nod to singer-songwriters, covering Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen and Dylan, while Thompson tentatively dipped his toe into writing, while firing off guitar-hero leads. With the addition of Denny and then fiddler Dave Swarbrick they started modernizing traditional material into rock band settings, and invented British folk rock. It differed from its American cousin in that it was a lot more folk, and a lot more rock. But the fragile mix was hard to capture for long. Whenever it strayed too far to one side or the other, defections would follow, starting with Iain "Shake It" Matthews, then Denny, followed by Thompson. The Swarb groups of the early '70's produced some good moments, but it was a relief when Denny returned in 1974, such a great singer.

There's so much room in the box, you can follow brilliant side roads in their career, including a stop at the rock and roll cover band The Bunch that featured Thompson and Denny playing Buddy Holly cuts with their old pals. Or you can see Fairport as one of the truly great Dylan covers bands, with early access to The Basement Tapes demos (Down In The Flood), and their British hit cover of If You Gotta Go, Go Now, done as a Cajun number completely in French (Si Tu Dois Partir).

The downside here is the sacrifice of packaging for price points, meaning only a small booklet and no info on where the cuts first appeared. It's a little too democratic as well, with lesser, later albums afforded the same space as classics. For you newbies, if this catches your fancy, you should just go out and buy copies of Unhalfbricking and Liege and Leaf as well. For you old fans, did I mention there are 55 previously unreleased cuts? You can ever own too many versions of Sloth, can you?

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: EMMYLOU HARRIS & THE NASH RAMBLERS - AT THE RYMAN

These days, it's hard to find an empty night at the Mother Church of country music, the venerable Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. Shows coming up in the next few weeks include Jason Isbell, Father John Misty, Alison Krauss and even UB40. Loretta Lynn had to cancel hers, recovering from a recent stroke. Through the day, you can take tours, or see an audio-visual presentation about the years when the building housed the original Grand Old Opry.

Shockingly, all that was almost lost to the wrecking ball. Back in 1991 when Emmylou Harris took the stage to record this live album, it was so decrepit the balcony was off-limits, and only 200 people were allowed inside the hall meant to hold over 2,000. But Harris's album, and the documentary done to focus attention on the 100-year old building helped spur renewed interest in its fate, and three years later a complete renovation occurred, making it a must-see spot in Nashville.

Par for the course for Harris, who was actually just looking for a spot to record her brand-new old-time group The Nash Ramblers, but turned it into a crusade. In a new second act in her career, she became the spokesperson for classic country, helping launch the Americana movement. The album featured bluegrass players Roy Huskey Jr., Sam Bush and Al Perkins, but with drummer Larry Atamanuik and second guitar/harmony singer Jon Randall Stewart helping bridge the gap to modern sounds. Harris matched old Bill Monroe and Johnny Cash songs with those from Steve Earle, Springsteen and even CCR's Lodi, showing how it all came together, that's it's all great music.

Harris has been celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Grammy-winning album with a series of projects. In May, she reconvened the Ramblers for a return engagement at the Ryman playing the complete album, soon to be a PBS special seen on every fundraiser. It's been reissued on vinyl, and this CD features two previously unreleased cuts, the song Rollin' and Ramblin' about Hank Williams, and the band instrumental The Nash Ramble.

Monday, August 7, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: MATTHEW BYRNE - HORIZON LINES

For anyone who might think there's nothing new to offer from traditional music, I direct you immediately to Byrne's song Adelaide, not only completely new and completely true, it happened to his own family, his father, in 1990. A letter appeared in a St. John's newspaper from an old sailor, wondering if anyone knew what had happened to one Adelaide Byrne, whom he had met and fell in love with in 1947. It turned out to be Byrne's father's sister, who had died shortly after. The mystery had been solved for the sailor of why his first love had stopped writing him back.

Byrne has written a heart-tugging song of that story, fully the equal of the other great traditional ballads offered on his third solo album. Family has always been key to his career, on his own and with The Dardenelles, coming from a family of performers and music historians. With a clear voice that heads straight for your soul, Byrne does a masterful job highlighting the emotion in each song. Nancy From London is a Newfoundland song about that most frightening and common reality for many a century or more past, a sailor's wife having to live for months not knowing if her love would return home. He found Long Years Ago on a tape of his grandmother singing that his mother had made years back. His learned the Scottish number Farewell To Tarwathie from his uncle's repertoire. And his father Joe appears again, this time to sing Kitty Bawn O'Brien. Trad's alive and very well in Byrne's hands, and as it's always been, all about family.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: ATLANTIC ROCK & ROLL SERIES

The folks at Atlantic Records were getting frustrated in 1956, watching some of their R'n'B sounds, and even the songs themselves being grabbed by this upstart rock 'n' roll music. Big Joe Turner's Shake, Rattle and Roll had been co-opted by Bill Haley for one of the biggest hits of the new genre, and while the label's artists were doing just fine on the R'n'B charts, there was much bigger money flowing in rock 'n' roll. So when the company decided to move into the LP market that year, they set up a division for their "popular" records (i.e. non-jazz), and that included a "Rock & Roll Series."

Six albums by six of the label's main stars were created for the series, and have become both collector's items and standard-bearers for the Atlantic sound over the years. Now the six have been reissued in a handy boxed set, at a very handy price, $36 bucks at last check. There aren't a lot of frills, just a slim book and the original decent biography liner notes on the covers, but it's the music that matters here. The six featured are Clyde McPhatter & the Drifters, Ruth Brown, Turner, Ray Charles, LaVern Baker and Ivory Joe Hunter. Each set includes their biggest hits to early '57 on Atlantic, which means some pretty major music indeed. None of these albums really qualified as rock & roll, but you could sure hear the roots of it.

McPhatter's tenure with the Drifters predated their big Top 40 successes, and they were a largely different group, as he was considered the premiere voice of gospel-infused popular music of the day. They had great vocals grooves going on with songs such as Money Honey and Honey Love, and the surprisingly fun and funky take on White Christmas is a nice addition. Ruth Brown was the label's biggest star of the day, the acknowledged queen of R'n'B with hits such as Lucky Lips and Teardrops From My Eyes.

Joe Turner's style was infused with Kansas City blues, and he gave us the immortal Flip, Flop & Fly, Honey Hush, and the more folk-styled Corinne, Corinna, later a pop hit and a song covered by Dylan. Ray Charles, for my money and many others, was at his very best at Atlantic, and that includes here Mess Around, Drown In My Own Tears, I Got A Woman and Hallelujah I Love Her So.

LaVern Baker was grittier than others, best heard on Jim Dandy, and the rollicking, huge hit Tweedlee Dee. Ivory Joe Hunter was the most sophisticated and pop of the batch, crooning his way with Since I Met You Baby and Heaven Came Down To Earth. If you're new to Atlantic, this is a great place to start, and if you're a fan, it's a fine way to make sure you have all these classic sides.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE - HUG OF THUNDER

This is the longest period between albums for the collective since forming in 2001, as it's been seven years since the release of Forgiveness Rock Record. I'd call this a more chill set, with many of the tracks smooth and groove-filled. The vocals are still a big part of each track, with the lead singers the stars of each cut, and the usual kitchen sink of performers and instruments in the mix. For the record, there are 18 members credited this time out, with most of the familiar folks returning for at least a cut or two.

The pattern for the album is one male, then one female lead vocal, so it's mostly Kevin Drew, and occasionally Brendan Canning, while Emily Haines, Feist, Lisa Lobsinger and Ariel Engle, with Amy Millan just doing backing parts this time. The women especially bring a great sound to these cuts, along with all the intricate bits and ebbs and flows that go into each song. And yes, the sound is the thing; honestly I can't think of a lyric that stands out. Maybe that's just fine, and certainly strong vocalists like Feist can put a lot of emotion into their performances. Musicians Drew and Canning do a great job sailing this big ship as well, I just find it missing that final element to make the sounds memorable. Like the cover, it's art but it doesn't really say anything.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

MUSIC EVENT OF THE DAY: 5 SHOWS TO SEE AT THE LARLEE CREEK HULLABALOO

My favourite Little Festival That Could, the Larlee Creek Hullabaloo is coming up, happening Aug. 09 - 13 in Perth-Andover.  The festival is held partly around the village, while the main shows, Friday and Saturday, happen on a absolutely gorgeous part of the Saint John River, with talls hills on both sides and the concert site snuggled in the valley between. 

This is the 10th year for the festival, which each year features one of the best-curated lineups around, especially impressive for a small community a bit out of the way.  They draw mostly on East Coast talent, always are on the lookout for rising high-quality performers, and keep room for one or two Upper Canadians to tempt to the area.  If anything, they've outdone themselves for the 10th anniversary, so here are five shows that I don't want to miss.

1. Samantha Martin & Delta Sugar in an exclusive private show!

If you buy one of the early bird passes for the full weekend mainstage shows, at the crazy low price of $65, you get a free ticket to a Thursday night show at the Castle Inn, featuring Toronto's Samantha Martin & Delta Sugar.  I caught this group a couple of years ago at the Harvest Jazz & Blues Festival, and was blown away by their gospel/blues/soul mix, raw music and powerhouse vocals and harmonies.  Seeing them in a small venue will be intense.

2. Hillsburn on the Main Stage Friday night

These Halifax favourites started out soft but pumped up the volume in the last year, adding drummer Clare Macdonald and switching out some of the acoustic instruments for electric ones.  That's paid off with a dynamic stage show, and rep as a must-see East Coast act, including winning at the Canadian Folk Music Awards and East Coast Music Awards.  Fans love 'em.

3. Christine Campbell Band on the Main Stage Friday night

The first time Campbell played this festival, she had just released her first, independent album and doing a small acoustic set for early risers.  But she impressed everyone with a fantastic voice, awesome guitar and winning personality.  Now, she's just released her second disc, Roller Coaster, produced by Classified and Blake Johnston, and returns to the Hullabaloo with her full band to rock the main stage.

4. Pretty Archie on a boat!

One of the highlights of the festival is the chance to take a boat cruise on the Saint John, while being entertained by one of the main groups.  And seriously, the boat trip alone on that stretch of the river is worth it.  Hearing Cape Breton's folk/bluegrass faves Pretty Archie makes it pretty perfect, the ideal music for a hopefully sunny Saturday on the river, starting at 11 a.m.

5. Gordie MacKeeman & his Rhythm Boys on the Main Stage Saturday

I saw Gordie and the guys last weekend, and it was stellar always.  They do a high-energy, tremendously fun show, really entertaining in the best sense of the word.  Gordie blows you away as soon as his steps on stage with his crazy legs and flying bow, but at the heart of it is a true passion for fiddle music and that great tradition in this here land.  Even if you think you don't like fiddle music, after seeing this group you'll never say that again.

Rats, I only get five?  What about The Wooden Sky? Ria Mae?  Minglewood? Erin Costelo?  The Big and Little Hullabaloo's?  Stupid listicles.  For tickets and info, check out www.larleecreekmusic.ca.

Monday, July 31, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: CòIG - ROVE

I've seen Cape Breton's Còig a number of times, so it came as a surprise that there are a few vocal tracks included on their new album. They usually let their flying fingers and bows speak on stage. It's an added bonus to have the singing among the jigs and reels, happily pushing the envelope sometimes, while then coming back to the solid, traditional Celtic base that makes them ideal ambassadors for the Cape Breton sound. Rachel Davis and Darren McMullen each take a couple of turns at the mic, with songs both old and new. McMullen has the biggest surprise, a subtle interpretation of Peter Gabriel's Solsbury Hill, with his mandolin leading the way and Davis providing a sweet harmony.

Elsewhere, the fiddles of Davis and Chrissie Crowley fly, while Jason Roach provides the crucial middle, his piano bringing all the strings together. McMullen colours each set differently, providing guitars, cello, bouzouki, mandolin, mandola, banjo, whistle and flute. The reels, jigs and strathspey sets are imaginative, drawing in themes from local Cape Breton heroes, the group's originals, and wild cards such as Dave Brubeck's Three To Get Ready. There's a lot of thought, and a lot of joy in this collection.

Friday, July 28, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: THE RAMONES - LEAVE HOME 40th ANNIVERSARY DELUXE EDITION

I seriously wonder if any fans of The Ramones ever worried about the mix on their albums, but for the 40th anniversary edition of their second disc, we get four different ways to hear it. There's the released version, then a brand-new mix done by original engineer Ed Stasium, rough mixes done back in the day without some of the overdubs, and finally some extra parts and instrumentals Stasium dug up from the master tapes just for fun, to make new takes. It all sounds pretty much the same, unless you're crouching close to the speakers with a stopwatch and notebook to remember the variations. Of all of them, I prefer the rough mixes, because you can make out the vocals the best, the laughs being a pretty major part of the effort.

This deluxe set features three CDs and the new mix on vinyl, plus a booklet with memories from Stasium and manager Danny Fields. Disc three features a full Ramones show from CBGB during the tour for the Leave Home album in '77, 19 songs in just over an hour, the band spitting them with unflagging energy. On first listen, I didn't even notice the note that explained the show was actually taken from a bootleg, one microphone in the small club, but there ya go, sound quality is in the ears of the beholder. I was listening to Joey's sneering vocals and Johnny's buzzsaw guitar.

Leave Home doesn't get the most attention of the crucial first four Ramones albums, but it's more a question of being overlooked. There are some very important tracks in Ramones lore here, including the brilliant cover of California Sun, showing how connected the group was to '60's Top 40 radio. The final two cuts, You're Gonna Kill That Girl and You Should Never Have Opened That Door, showcased the group's interest in horror films and grotesque oddballs. Pinhead was the ultimate celebration of that, and introduced the Gabba Gabba Hey chant, borrowed from the 1932 film Freaks. Then there's Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment, Carbona Not Glue and Suzy Is A Headbanger. When the Carbona company threatened suit, that track was pulled, replaced by the beloved Sheena Is A Punk Rocker, making the album even better. What's not to love? It's actually one of their best. Fields has the final word on why it didn't break through, saying the cover sucked. On a $10,000 budget, it wasn't like they were going to get a chance to scrap it for another.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: NEIL YOUNG - DECADE

Without a doubt this is one of the best compilation albums ever, and helped set the standard for the box set craze that would come in the CD era.  What Young did was unprecedented at the time (1977), putting out a career retrospective that included 3 LP's, with several unreleased songs and different versions.  Plus, it was his material from all his different periods and bands; Buffalo Springfield, CSNY, Crazy Horse and solo.  Thanks to the inclusion and only appearance of songs such as the Springfield's Down To The Wire, Love Is A Rose, Campaigner, and the different mix of Long May You Run with Crosby and Nash added, this is a must-own for any Neil fan. 

Of course, it's just plain awesome from start to end as well.  Young turned out to be a grand editor, including almost every song that has lasted the test of time from his first decade.  This is where the concert staples of his next 40 years were first gathered; Cinnamon Girl, Cowgirl In The Sand, Down By The River, Southern Man, Tonight's The Night, Like A Hurricane, Cortez the Killer, all the electric tracks.  Acoustic tours would feature Heart of Gold, The Needle and the Damage Done, Old Man, Helpless, and After The Gold Rush.  
 
This set was first reissued for Record Store Day as vinyl, and now appears in CD form.  There were lots of raves for the audio quality of the LP's, and to my ears this pressing easily beats the old, out-of-print CD version as well.  Plus, a nice bonus:  Originally the CD version had some tracks edited down for space reasons, but thanks to better technology, the original lengths have been restored, as much as 21 seconds on The Old Laughing Lady.  There wasn't much wrong with this before, and now it's even better.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

MUSIC EVENT OF THE DAY: ANNE'S LEGACY CELEBRATED IN NEW MUSIC FESTIVAL

I'm heading to Springhill, N.S. this week for a new music festival. It's called the Maritime Music Fest, and features concerts, theatre and even a visit from the town's most famous citizen. Now, before you get too flustered, no, Anne Murray won't be performing; she's still holding strictly to her retirement vows. But the international superstar will be dropping by the Anne Murray Centre Saturday afternoon for a lengthy meet-and-greet with the public, something she always takes part in at least once a year. And this festival was conceived as a way to celebrate Murray's legacy and inspiration for East Coast talent.

Other events in the festival include a seven-hour concert Saturday, July 29, which will feature Catherine MacLellan, Christina Martin, Gordie MacKeeman and his Rhythm Boys, Jessica Rhaye, City Natives and several others. I'm stoked, because I get to MC that one. Earlier in the day, there's a songwriters' circle, featuring MacLellan, Martin, Rhaye and Christopher Brown, and part of that will see each performer do an Anne Murray song that speaks to them. Wednesday to Friday features a performance of the play Anne of Springhill, written and directed by Charlie Rhindress and presented by Live Bait Theatre. The dinner theatre comedy is already hugely popular, and at last word there were only a few tickets left, only on Thursday.
 
Rhindress is coordinator of the festival, and a member of the board of the Anne Murray Centre. The board had been talking about some kind of concert, and then was able to access some Canada 150 funding from the Nova Scotia government, he says.

"As a board we talked about the idea of the Anne Murray Centre not just celebrating Anne's remarkable career, but also playing a role in supporting other East Coast artists. We see it as a way of ensuring the longevity of the Centre, but also using Anne's legacy to offer exposure and opportunities to other Maritime performers. So, we started with that goal and came up with The Maritime Music Fest, which celebrates Anne, offers some opportunities for youth and features East Coast artists in performance," said Rhindress.
 
Murray has never failed to promote and support her hometown, and as far back as 1970, she has appeared at major events in Springhill, using her celebrity to bolster the town. That's still the goal, said Rhindress.

Not only does Springhill get a series of events, which just happen to coincide with the Old Home Week, but we also hope the Festival will provide a bit of an economic boost by bringing in visitors who might not otherwise come to the area," he said. "It is our hope that we can make this an annual event."
 
The concerts are being held at the Dr. Carson and Marion Murray Community Centre, and the meet-and-greet is happening at the Anne Murray Centre. That one is free, while tickets for the shows are available at the Anne Murray Centre or by phoning (902) 597-8614.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: LILY FROST - REBOUND

Always enjoyable chanteuse Lily Frost gets bolder and brassier than ever on this five-track E.P. Lead cut Rebound Bitch is about having had enough of the latest guy, and deciding the other team looks pretty attractive. She's playing the adventurous tourist on Sex Trip as well. "Mama's got needs," indeed. Red Flags unfolds like a nightmare encounter, as a creep comes on to her, but Frost pays him back with a withering string of put-downs.

Meantime, big-time horns fire through each song, and some favourite genres figure in as well, from the surf guitar on Rebound Bitch to the spooky lounge on Red Flags. Frost sounds like she's having a ball, getting a little payback and giving it all some pop fun too. With her previously jazzy albums, I guess we always knew Frost was a swinger.

Monday, July 17, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: DAVID BOWIE - CRACKED ACTOR, BE MY WIFE (45)


Released first on vinyl only for this year's Record Store Day and now a 2-CD set, this is a live album recorded in 1974, as Bowie toured the U.S. in support of his Diamond Dogs album. Wait, say the knowledgeable Bowie fans, isn't that the very same tour which the David Live album came from, released back in the day and still in print? Why would we need two live albums recorded just a few weeks apart?

Well smarties, here's why. David Live was done at the Tower Theatre in Philadelphia in July, but shortly after Bowie took August off to start recording what became the Young Americans album. That soul-infused album completely changed his outlook, so when he got back on the road in September in Los Angeles where this was recorded, it was a brand-new show. It was now called The Soul Tour, and was starting to lean towards the new sound he'd been working on. The band went from 11 to 16 pieces by adding a bunch of singers, notably the young Luther Vandross.

The setlist is pretty much the same as David Live, with a couple of notable differences. Added was the cut It's Gonna Be Me, which at that point had been recorded for Young Americans, but would later be cut so that Bowie could add the fruits of his one-day session with John Lennon, which resulted in Fame. It was later added as a bonus cut, but remains somewhat obscure. As an encore, Bowie trotted out his new re-make of the British John, I'm Only Dancing (Again), which had been turned into a full-out funk dance number.

But the bigger difference was in the sound of the band, as the emphasis switched from the rock of Diamond Dogs to soul, which crept into almost every song. That was heard in the big group of singers, now numbering seven, and the larger role for sax player David Sanborn. If there was ever a player who could handle the spotlight in that role, it was Sanborn, who positively shines from start to finish. The album isn't without its flaws, notably a couple of blown lines from Bowie, but I'd rather have a document than some patch job to fix things up. In October and November, the show would change even more, with unreleased numbers such as Young Americans, Win and Somebody Up There Likes Me debuted. Maybe down the line we'll get one of those shows as well, to complete the picture.

Also just out is the latest in the ongoing 40th anniversary reissue series of Bowie 45's, coming out as picture discs. This one is for Be My Wife, from the landmark Low album. By now, Bowie had fallen out of favour with the charts, doing his experimental, largely instrumental work, but of course it went on to be highly influential for '80's synth bands. As always, the B-side features a rare cut, this time a previously-unreleased live version of the instrumental Art Decade, to make us collectors have to buy it. But really, the fabulous photos on these picture discs make them hard to resist.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: JOHN MARTYN - HEAD AND HEART: THE ACOUSTIC JOHN MARTYN

The brilliant but troubled Martyn was already one of great names of modern British folk in the early '70s when he shook the scene to the core with a new style. Martyn discovered an echoplex system that let him loop and swoop his guitar, leading to an explosive new sound. That was coupled with his developing writing and singing, which saw him bringing in more of a jazz approach, making him a unique figure. However, there are fans who would have preferred he never plugged in those pedals, and this is the set for them.


Well, it's still for any fan, since his acoustic material is just as winning. When he wasn't dazzling us with his percussive finger-picking, he had a melodic style that sent shivers up your spine, coupled with his remarkable lyrical turns. Plus, he was almost always accompanied by the incomparable Danny Thompson on double bass, the two as musically connected as possible.

Curator Joe Black has done a marvelous job finding not just the best acoustic album tracks, but alternates of others that originally were more electric. For this, he's gone to everything from unreleased demos to BBC recordings to alternate takes. What that means is all the best-loved Martyn cuts are here in some form, from a live May You Never to the original Solid Air to a previously unreleased Bless The Weather from the Old Grey Whistle Test. The two-disc set therefore operates as kind of an alternative history of Martyn, and the quality is always so high, even the echoplex fans won't mind.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: MICHAEL NESMITH - INFINITE TUESDAY

This is the companion soundtrack to Nesmith's new autobiography of the same name, and it sounds like his life. It's varied, exploratory, fun and underestimated. Life started out fascinating for him, as the son of a single mother that invented liquid paper and made a fortune. Things went uphill from there, from writing Top 40 hits for others (Different Drum for Linda Ronstadt), himself (Joanne from 1970), hanging in London with The Beatles when they were making Sgt. Pepper, sponsoring Jimi Hendrix in the U.S, being the conceptual father of MTV, coming up with various long-form video projects, working in virtual reality, etc., etc. Then there was that band he was in for a couple of years in the late 60's.

Even with his attention split in so many different ways, he can still put together one strong best-of, with music going up to 2005. It opens with a rare solo effort from pre-Monkees days, the black satire of The New Recruit, an anti-Vietnam piece he recorded as Michael Blessing in 1965. He was always struggling to get his compositions on Monkees albums, and those that did make it showed he was a true talent. Papa Gene's Blues, The Girl I Knew Somewhere and Listen To The Band certainly hold up as country-tinged pop.

When the band fizzled out, Nesmith was ready on the cutting edge of the L.A. cosmic cowboy scene. Bringing pedal steel into pop was a bold move, and resulted in the excellent Joanne along with the should-have-been bigger Silver Moon. From there, he got progressively more eccentric, often with excellent results, especially the groundbreaking music video concept Rio. More South American influences came in, and the excellent Laugh Kills Lonesome from 1992 features the rather remarkable merger of Latin and Western, from the album "..Tropical Campfires...".

There has been so much more to this man over the decades, but even he has come to realize he'll never escape the two-dimensional image television thrust on him in that crazed few years of hysteria and fame. Do yourself a favour and find out what he was up to when he wasn't monkeying around.

Friday, July 14, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: GAVIN SIMMS - FAR CRY

"I want your love, you want war," sings Newfoundland's Simms on this set of wrenching break-up ballads. When he and the backing singers hit the word 'war', the mostly gentle acoustic album gets thrown into distortion, a chilling effect. The album is filled with sad reflections that pack a punch: "I don't know what to say, you can't stop the pouring rain, you're already gone," is found in Already Gone, while opener See It Coming includes the line "I counted on your love like I counted on time." But there are other songs that speak of better moments, like in Your Side: "The harder it gets, the harder we try."

While the emotions may be raw, the sound is beautiful. SImms and his co-producers Jake Nicoll and Ilia Nicoll crafted a rich bed for each number, tender playing with soothing layers behind. Ilia Nicoll adds strings to some numbers, while providing a duet vocals throughout much of the album, almost as a sympathetic voice to ease the pain. Pedal steel, airy guitars and light percussion help soften the blows as well.  This effective mix will leave you a little shaken, but ultimately better for the journey.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: DELTA WIRES - BORN IN OAKLAND

Just the other day somebody brought up the great Tower of Power, and I thought to myself, yeah, where are all the horn bands? And then this arrived in the electronic mail. The first thing I noticed was the title, the same hometown as T of P, which seemed too much of a coincidence to ignore. And wouldn't you know, opening cut Sunny Day is a delightful slice of that very same East Bay grease, and this is indeed a horn band.

However, there's lots more to the group, and they don't trade exclusively in that king of funk. And for a horn-based blues band, they don't stick to any one style either, with their share of jump blues, and lots of modern things. The band has 30 years of playing, and knows how to put together story-songs such as Devil's In My Headset that update the blues into century 21. There's always lots of energy, and the tight horn arrangements and sharp guitar lines provide a punch straight through. In the end though, there must be some fine funk in the San Francisco Bay water, because the instrumental In The Middle smokes from start to finish. Timely of you folks, thanks.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: JOHN GRACIE - HOLLOW STREET

Nova Scotia's Gracie has covered a lot of ground over 15 albums, from jazz vocalist to Christmas crooner to his tribute to songwriter Gene MacLellan. Now he's bringing it all back home on his latest, going back to singer-songwriter material, both famous covers and his own acoustic material, how he started his career.

The idea is to capture the spirit of what he grew up with, the music and ideals of the immediate post-Woodstock era. To that end, there are favourites from Dylan, Gord Lightfoot, CCR, and Ian Tyson, some older stuff such as Tom Paxton's The Last Thing On My Mind, to later, like-minded writers such as Steve Forbert. He's going more for emotion and mindset than political writing, most effectively on a sparse, intense reading of Leslie Duncan's Love Song, best-known from Elton John's version.

Gracie's own songs come with more of the Woodstock generation message, including the title cut, about sympathy for your fellow humans. His Hideaway is more direct, a tribute to MacLellan and the songs he left.

The acoustic playing gives a good intimacy to the performance. Wisely there's a small bit of extra instrumentation for more atmosphere, including acoustic bass for depth, some gentle electric guitar for texture and a bit of nightclub sax for some occasional richness. This certainly captures the feel of those folk club nights and coffee house shows from simpler times.

Monday, July 10, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: k.d. lang - INGENUE 25th ANNIVERSARY EDITION

It was certainly a good move at the start of her career for lang to model herself as the reincarnation of Patsy Cline, and embrace classic country and rockabilly with a wild and wacky persona. It got her noticed big-time in Canada and helped knock down doors into the U.S., but she was also pigeonholed as country when her career advanced. Her albums were starting to show that she was an exceptional vocalist, and different roads to explore.

Still, the transformation that occurred with Ingénue was a shock for all, as it was so complete. This was not just a genre switch, lang and co-writer/co-producer Ben Mink had come up with an entire new sound for her, with no easy comparisons or slots to place her. There were lush, soaring moments, intimate, calm periods, and she finally had a full album to stretch her vocal talents, with all the shades and nuances of which she was capable.

Perhaps the use of steel guitar, accordion and strings sounds a little more common 25 years later, but that's only because she helped knock down a bunch of doors for that esoteric mix with Ingénue. The sound was only part of the transition though, as lang also opened her heart in her lyrics, and penned a song cycle about an unrequited love. The confessions were not a secret, as she even addressed herself in the song The Mind Of Love: "I'm talking to myself again/It's causing great concern for my health/Where is your head Kathryn/Where is your head."

This anniversary set comes in a deluxe box similar to her Recollection best-of set, and includes a second, live disc. It features eight of the album tracks as performed on MTV Unplugged, which haven't been released before. Sadly, there are no bonus tracks or out-takes from the album sessions, but it would surprise if there were any, as it seems such a complete statement as is.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: BOB MARLEY & the WAILERS - EXODUS 40th ANNIVERSARY EDITION

Marley's most loved album (after the Legend hits set) has been given the deluxe treatment before, so they had to come up with something new for this 40th edition. They did well; it's 3 CD's this time, disc two featuring a brand-new reworking of the album (more on that in a sec) and disc three a set of live cuts from his famous appearance at London's Rainbow Theatre over several days, when the album first came out. There have been Rainbow live releases before, but this includes previously unreleased versions, except for one song.

Back to that disc two: Son Ziggy has taken the original album tapes and done a full remix on the tracks, finding some unused elements such as backing vocals and guitar parts, and played around a little bit with the original concept. It's not a radical overhaul by any means, and he was respectful of his father's ideas. Mostly the cuts are punched up a bit in the drum and bass department, more in line with today's ears. Most interesting is the version of Turn Your Lights Down Low, where he and a band have re-recorded the entire track, save the vocals, again with respect to the original but giving it a fresher sound. Waiting In Vain features an alternate version of the song from the session tapes rather than the original, again helping make this version sound fresh. Honestly, I would have been happy for him to go crazy at times, do some radical remixing, since we have the original on disc one.

The best thing about the remixing is that Ziggy played with the running order, and there he's done a much better job than Bob. The album includes some of his most-loved tracks: Jamming, Three Little Birds, One Love/People Get Ready and the title cut, but none of those appear until cut 5 of 10, which made the first side drag I always felt. On Ziggy's version, Exodus kicks things off, and we get the militant message right away, that people were on the move and weren't going to take being downtrodden anymore.

The live concert tracks show that this album was made to be played for crowds, the solid, hypnotic rhythms taking over, and you can feel the entire crowd pulsing. This album was his great act of defiance, after the failed attempt on his life back in Jamaica. The message wasn't to those who fired the shots, but rather the politicians who allowed the atmosphere to exist, and it pushed Marley to create some of his most politically charged songs, but also some of his best love songs and party anthems as well, in the burst of creativity around this album.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: THE BEACH BOYS - SUNSHINE TOMORROW

Instead of the usual deluxe set reissue of a single album, this instead focuses on a year in the career of The Beach Boys, specifically 1967. The title comes from a line in the song Let The Wind Blow, off the group's highly underrated album Wild Honey, a huge underachiever for a band that had hit the top of charts just months before with Good Vibrations, and had until that point been considered America's number one group. But the scrapping of the much-hyped album Smile, and the group's pulling out of the Monterey Pop Festival in June dropped them out of the rapidly changing rock 'n' roll scene, and saw their cool factor fall to near zero. Janis and Jimi, The Doors and The Buffalo Springfield got all the attention, and the new Rolling Stone magazine snubbed them.

The group had indeed pulled back from the ambitious project that was Smile (think Good Vibrations as a full album), and instead decide to make simpler records again, dumping all the different studios and A-level session players, and instead working out of Brian Wilson's home. It was in fact a bold move, and did result in some spectacular music, which has slowly been recognized in the 50 years since.

Wild Honey move into r'n'b sounds, on the surface odd for the California spokesband, but actually long a favourite of the group, who were raised on '50's hits of that genre. Of course The Beach Boys didn't quite do it the same, with their layered harmonies, but there's no denying the drive of the near-hit Darlin', and the raw sweetness of the Wild Honey track itself. Also featured was a strong cover of the new Stevie Wonder single I Was Made To Love Her that perhaps bested the original.

The entirety of this two-CD set, jammed at almost 80 minutes each, could be called brand-new. The Wild Honey album is presented for the first time in true stereo, a delight for the long-time fans. But that's just the beginning. Session out-takes and alternates from the whole album are featured, including songs tried out and scrapped (Hide Go Seek, Honey Get Home), ones that were held for later albums (Time To Get Alone, Cool Cool Water), and others that would appear in the '90's when the vaults started to give up their treasures (Can't Wait Too Long). But again, all these versions have never been released.

Then the live material begins, with some of the Wild Honey tracks that appeared in the setlists of the day briefly, but were dropped when the album flopped. Cuts such as Country Air and How She Boogalooed It were never heard on the stage after '67, while Barbara Ann lived on.

Disc two offers looks at the other two album projects of the year. Earlier in '67 the group had answered the demand for Smile with the very-thinned out Smiley Smile, which was pretty much some of the tracks re-recorded quickly in the home studio. Oddly, it worked wonderfully, a testament to the quality of the material. Here we get some alternate versions with interesting differences, and backing tracks, maybe the least interesting part of this set, but still worthwhile as it shows the fabulous arrangements of Brian Wilson.

The other album was scrapped, and wisely. Having missed Monterey and word going around the band wasn't functioning well, it was determined they should do their own splashy concert, and they picked Hawaii as the site. With the provisional and risque title of Lei'd In Hawaii, the group lined up a show to record, which would also feature leader Brian Wilson's rare return to the live group, itself a newsworthy event. The trouble was, Brian decided he wanted to play his Baldwin organ, not his usual bass guitar. For some reason, they decided since Brian was coming, they wouldn't bring Bruce Johnston, his bass stand-in, so it was left to Al Jardine and Carl Wilson to cover the bass role, taking the band down to one guitar. Under-prepared on the new cuts, and with a thin sound on the old ones, the shows were not up to scratch. A few songs are salvaged here, including the one-time only performance of an opening instrumental called Hawthorne Boulevard, and a song that was almost impossible to enjoy, the recent single Gettin' Hungry, you can hear why the set wasn't issued.

However, the group didn't give up that easily. Instead, they decided to go into the studio back in L.A. and fake the whole concert again, pumping up the tracks with better recordings, and then they would add fake crowd noise. It was a dubious but common practice in the '60's. That whole album is here, without the phony applause, which never got done. It's better, kind of like hearing The Beach Boys unplugged or something, but again, the right decision was made to leave that album alone.

It's quite a batch of work for one year, and shows the highs and the lows that can happen, especially when a lot is at stake and everybody is trying very hard. Certainly Wild Honey deserves a better legacy, as does all the late 60's material from the band. As a reissue format, I love the way this has been collected, offering real value-for-money and giving us context on a tumultuous year, listening historically as well as for enjoyment.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: THE BARROWDOWNS - COME WHAT MAY COME

Here's a new, young folk group out of Halifax with a different sound and feel. The Barrowdowns is a five-piece with lots of vocals and lots of instruments, more of a modern folk sound with bass and drums throughout. The emphasis is on the vocal arrangements and lyrics, with all five sinigng at times, and the violin of Kendra Breen, sometimes joined by Dave Fultz as well. I certainly wouldn't call it a fiddle, and this isn't the Celtic or hoedown stuff. Many of the parts are intricate and even classically-inspired, working in and around the vocals and harmonies, on the top of the acoustic guitar-bass-drums rhythm, and alongside the banjo parts.

The stories aren't old-fashioned folk either. Instead, it's more Mumfords territory, modern problems like trying to earn a living wage, and a love vs. lust study called You, Me, the Earth and Infinity. Meanwhile, A Snowball In Hell is a dark ghost story done at full clip, more jazz than folk. At times, the group vocals remind me of that old America quality from the pop charts. That's a lot of stuff that isn't folk on a folk disc, but it all works, and The Barrowdowns should be an exciting band on the festival rounds this year.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: JOSEPH BRIDGE - MARVIN'S SANITARIUM

Cape Breton's Bridge has been tinkering on his opus for a couple of years, releasing it in pieces and versions, but now here it is complete, 16 tracks that take us through 24 hours in the life of our hero, Marvin Penn. Marvin's day is spent in a sanitarium, but it's also populated by colourful characters such as Mr. Waterpump and and Phyllis the Parking Meter Lady. It's all in the psychedelic spirit of Sgt. Pepper and Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd. Some of the tracks came out on previous releases, like his self-titled 2015 album, and he's found a fan at BBC Radio 2, which has recognized the British/eccentric qualities.

While the quirky lyrics are loads of fun, what makes the release so much more than just charming are the wonderful performances. The Mind's Eye goes from Klezmer violin verses to prog-metal choruses, which had me reaching for the Uriah Heep albums to see if it was a cover version. Much like the beloved Pepper, whatever the songs call for, from raunchy rock to old-time singalongs, get summoned. Bridge is a musical polymath, dropping in a banjo whenever needed, every type of guitar effect with a killer solo to go with it, to silly little organ moments. That's silly, as in delightful. Don't let Marvin worry you, even with the straightjacket; as we find out, he's a lunatic, but a very friendly one. Spend a day with him, you'll have all kinds of adventures.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: DYLAN IRELAND - EVERY OTHER NIGHT

The former frontman for Peterborough's Express and Company leaves behind the more folk oriented sound of that band to get grittier on his first solo album. This one's personal, as Ireland tackles harder life themes, choosing guitar roots-rock as the vehicle. The more intense the topic, the more energy and sound is thrown on the fire.

The songs are full of admissions, about relationships, struggles and life in general, but surprisingly uplifting in their honesty and openness. "I don't know just what I'm doing, I get lost in the light almost every other night," he tells us, and there's something powerful about him getting that out there, we feel he can beat that particular demon. The whole tone of the record is defiant; with each song, each bit of heartache or confusion, the band, the melodies, and the gut-punch of the uplifting performance answer back, letting us know it can be alright, and Ireland is working things out.

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: THE STRYPES - SPITTING IMAGE

This Irish band came on the scene back in 2013, when they were still in their mid-teens, and are still in the 19-21 bracket. At first it looked like they were going to revive blues and r'n'b, with Bo Diddley and Yardbirds high on the influence list, as well as the British pub rock toughness of the mid-70's. But here on their third album, there's been a shift in their sound, and much like those pub rockers of the past, they've morphed into more of a new wave group. I mean the real, first new wave sound out of England, that of Rockpile, Nick Lowe, Squeeze and such.

That means more pop in the proceedings, plus some pretty supple work on the lyrics. Opener Behind Closed Doors hits us with the inspired couplets right away: "The clothes you wore to work today/are speckled with sick and Beaujolais." Meanwhile, (I Need A Break From) Holidays is one of those nightmare family vacations with the annoying uncle. It's filled with that Farfisa organ sound that Jools Holland used in Squeeze, as well as the same kind of jagged guitar solo Glenn Tilbrook would rip out. It's all very much that Top of the Pops sound of immediate post-punk pop, lots of energy but just as much melody, infectious as all get out. Since this is my favourite era of music of all time, big A-pluses from me.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: DELANEY & BONNIE & FRIENDS ON TOUR WITH ERIC CLAPTON

Here's a slimmed-down version of the 2010 boxed set release, still with four CD's and a great book, just packaged in a small case, available at a cheaper price, thanks. This band has always been more famous for its story than its music, but they did cook, especially on these live shows caught over a week in England. As the extensive notes explain, the influence they had on rock and roll's future can't be overstated, serving as an incubator for the sound and stars that would go on to dominate much of '70's rock.

Here's the backstory quickly: Delaney and Bonnie were a rising L.A. act, and Delaney had gathered a lot of the area's hotshot players into his ad hoc backing band. They were the first white act signed to Stax Records, thanks to this incredible southern r'n'b sound they had developed, but that album failed to sell. Next they made a record that quickly got passed around to the right people, called The Original Delaney and Bonnie and Friends. George Harrison tried (unsuccessfully) to grab them for Apple Records, and played the disc for pal Eric Clapton, who loved them so much he had them open a U.S. tour for his current band, Blind Faith. Tired of being the star, and just wanting to play in a band, Clapton decided to join forces with the Friends as they were known, one of the large collective overseen by the Bramletts.

With Delaney producing, Clapton shipped the whole collective to England to live at his house and start work on his first solo album, and then go on tour. Billed as the stars, but "with" Clapton as part of the band, the act was on the cusp of breaking through. It's easy to hear why everyone was excited. Delaney and Bonnie were thrilling singers, plus they had Rita Coolidge keeping the Southern gospel vibe going. The rhythm section was tight and perfect, with bass player Carl Radle, drummer Jim Gordon, and organ player Bobby Whitlock. In addition to Clapton on lead and Delaney on rhythm, Traffic's Dave Mason had decided to join in, doing some singing as well. It was also the first big exposure of the legendary horn duo of Bobby Keys and Jim Price. After seeing them play at the Royal Albert Hall, George Harrison couldn't stand not being more involved, so he joined them on the bus, and hid in the back on stage, playing slide guitar out of the spotlight.

The original album had eight cuts, recorded by the cream of the crop, the brothers Andy and Glyn Johns. This wide-ranging, hugely talented group had captured lightning in a bottle for sure, and was pumping out huge grooves with unbelievably tight arrangements. The intricate Coming Home, a song written by the Bramletts and Clapton, features intricate, fiery guitar led by Clapton with Harrison's slide licks, and dynamite horns, plus Delaney's impassioned vocals. Only two things could happen with this mix; it could skyrocket and become the biggest band of the day, or it could implode. It was the latter of course, too many personalities and too much booze and drugs.

The album was easily the biggest of Delaney and Bonnie's career, but when they finished the tour and got back to the States, the emphasis was placed on finishing Clapton's album. They did perhaps too good a job there; Delaney cajoled and convinced the unambitious star to finally sing for a full record, and it was an instant success, mostly with songs co-written by the team, as well as After Midnight, which Bonnie brought to Clapton. Meanwhile, offers too good to pass up came for the other musicians. The rhythm section and Coolidge were scooped up for Joe Cocker's Mad Dogs and Englishmen outfit, while the horn players were whisked off to The Rolling Stones. Clapton then took Radle, Whitlock and Gordon for his next group, Derek & the Dominoes. The Bramletts were Friend-less, and subsequent studio albums failed to catch on.

Each CD here features basically a full concert from four different shows, so there is some repetition of cuts, but which everything so dynamic and fluid, you won't mind. It's interesting to hear the band develop over the week, confidence growing, and energy as well, with the realization that they could excite the British crowds. By the time they closed out the final night in Croydon with a medley of Little Richard hits, they had all the power of James Brown or Ike and Tina, but with a rock element as well. The only similar sound I can think of is Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band live encores, and I'm left wondering if he modeled his famous Detroit Medley after the one here (they share Jenny Jenny), as well as Mitch Ryder's version.

Both Bramletts were famously a handful, and probably did themselves no favours with the suits and lawyers controlling things, so we're left wondering what might have been. This expanded set only helps that mystery along, with more recorded proof of what a great live act this band was for that brief, shining time.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: CATHERINE MACLELLAN - IF IT'S ALRIGHT WITH YOU: THE SONGS OF GENE MACLELLAN

Here's a classic Canadian thing. In this Canada 150 celebration, I've seen several list of the best or most iconic Canadian songs of all time, and most of them include Snowbird up pretty high. Yet when we're asked to name the great Canadian songwriters, lots forget to put its author, Gene MacLellan, on that list. Despite having not one, but two of the biggest Canadian hits of the last century (along with the gospel/pop favourite Put Your Hand in the Hand), MacLellan's name has faded over the years, first when he focused on gospel music, and then after his death in 1995.

Let's hope this work from his Juno Award-winning daughter will help focus new attention on him, and it should. For the first decade of her own career, Catherine MacLellan stayed away from her father's work for the most part, in order to establish herself by her own terms. Since that has been well accomplished, she decided it was time to find out more about the father she lost in her teens. In addition to this album, she has written a new theatrical production by the same name, which features the stories and songs of Gene MacLellan, and she and her band will be putting on that show all summer in Charlottetown, then taking it on the road across the country.

Here she covers 13 of her father's songs, all the best-known ones and some a little more obscure but equally worthy. If anything, these songs are now better, for age and production styles. The 70's versions we know, whether by MacLellan or via the many cover versions (especially Anne Murray), had a brightness to them, and were aimed at the charts, so had lots of polish. Here, Catherine MacLellan gets to strip them back. Working in the home studio of her partner Chris Gauthier, with the gold single for Snowbird on the wall, the songs have become roots numbers, with the rural, natural world vibe they were written with initially. It's less than an hour's drive from that studio to Pownal, P.E.I., where Snowbird, The Call, Bidin' My Time and others were first composed. That quietness, that feeling of nature, and the solitary pursuit of putting one's thoughts and emotions into a song have been captured on the new collection.

"There are places on Earth where the poets give birth to the songs of the river, and where it should flow," goes the title cut, and perhaps that's as good a way as any to describe this sound. It's not simply acoustic, because there are lots of ringing electric guitar lines, strong rhythms for the drums, bits of country flavour, and even a little rock and roll. All the great melodies of the songs are still there, but they have been lifted up out of one time, and placed in a more timeless context now.

The one song that is recrafted, smartly so, is the one we know by heart, Snowbird. MacLellan does it solo, at a Wurlitzer piano, infusing it with the sadness the lyrics always suggested: "The one I love forever is untrue, and if I could you know that I would fly away with you." She also sings the lesser-known second verse, left out of the hit version by Murray, and it should have every listener feeling like they're hearing the song with new ears. The other big hit, Put Your Hand in the Hand, almost didn't make the album. It wasn't recorded back at the P.E.I. sessions, and it was only by luck it was captured. On tour in Alberta with fellow Maritimers Dave Gunning and J.P. Cormier, the trio were looking for an encore number one night, when that song was suggested. It went down so well, the next day they recorded it simply and quickly, that laid-back version the perfect antidote to too many bad church singalongs for this old Baptist.

More songs leap out; the neglected single from 1972, Lonesome River, the deft country writing of Face In The Mirror, a classic barroom number, and the haunting Faces, his reaction to the unwanted parts of fame MacLellan found himself dealing with after his initial rush of fame and riches. Especially poignant is his daughter's version of The Shilo Song, a 1976 song still brings adults to tears; I had two people separately tell me that since last Friday, one by Catherine's version, one regarding Gene's original. Gene MacLellan was a complete craftsman as a songwriter, working guitar lines and lyrics over and over until he felt they were ready. The songs themselves have always been strong and remarkable, and now they have the sound and performance they deserve as well. Let's hope a whole new audience will discover them through this milestone collection.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: CHEAP TRICK - WE'RE ALL ALRIGHT!



I'm still bugged at the way Cheap Trick treated drummer Bun E. Carlos, refusing to let him record or tour (although he maintains 25 per cent interest in the band business, where the real money is). What set the band apart were the unique personalities of Carlos and guitarist Rick Nielsen, and it doesn't feel right without him. We're talking about a band that's had to travel on its image for much of its career, with a relative few classic songs and great albums to show for four decades, so willfully dumping the cool-looking drummer lessons my interest for sure. Really, we watch this band for fun, mostly.


They can at times come through with some decent songs, and this is one of their better sets, certainly a few cuts above last year's Bang, Zoom, Crazy...Hello, which was rushed out to capitalize on their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction and tour. It was filled with inane, high school band lyrics, and seemed to be purposely dumbed down, like they were trying to appeal to high school kids again. Please take no offence high school kids, I'm generalizing to make a point. This time though, some of the old humourous spark is back, with titles including Brand New Name On An Old Tattoo, and while they won't trouble the legacy of Leonard Cohen, at least it's not all mindless.


The music side seems sharper as well, with some Stooges-like raw power to some of the American glam they pioneered back in the day. Not quite enough on the pop side of things though, the band seems to want to veer towards metal or Kiss more than the catchy material, and I think they do themselves a disservice. See for instance the deluxe version of the album, which adds three cuts, all in that power pop vein, including an ace cover of The Move's Blackberry Way. Cheap Trick is a band that a lot of people pull for, but they seem to be their own worst enemy.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: STEVE EARLE & THE DUKES - SO YOU WANNABE AN OUTLAW



Earle's walked a lot of paths over his four-decade career, even adding some N.Y.C. street beats a few albums ago, but he's always been an outlaw too. This set sees him focused back in that direction, with the album dedicated to Waylon Jennings and several of the cuts in direct homage. That means his hard-working, longstanding touring group The Dukes was just perfect for the studio work this time, ready with fiddle, pedal steel, mandolin and lots of down and dirty guitar. Earle himself even sounds gruffer than usual, ear-pleasing vocals definitely not the priority here.


Willie's on hand for the title cut, to add his blessing to the proceedings, and he's sounding pretty growly too, advising all the wannabes that would like to emulate him that you "can't trust anybody not a lover or a friend/Your mama maybe, then, you never know." As he explains in the liner notes, part of the reason for the album is because of all the funerals he's been going to of late, peers and heroes from his salad days starting out in Nashville, in a late-night songwriter scene where Waylon was king. But as always, Earle doesn't sit long in sentiment, and offers up some hard truths, cautionary tales, touching ballads and even a number (Fixin' To Die) that's hard-core outlaw bordering on, well, hard core. But his heart is still on display too, with the finale Goodbye Michelangelo his tribute to his own late guru, Guy Clark. Oh, if you can't tell by now, fans of early Earle (Copperhead Road, etc.) will find this fits in well.

Monday, June 26, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: RODNEY DECROO - OLD TENEMENT MAN



Poet and playwrite as well, Vancouver's DeCroo knows lots about creating vivid characters with complex stories, and getting them out in dramatic fashion. On his latest album, those songs burn with added intensity thanks to tightly wound but very catchy melodies. He and producer Lorrie Matheson have turned these into compelling tales no matter the darkness inside.


Inner demons are featured throughout, some more desperate than others, but all the characters and narrators have something tormenting them. When he sings "I'm thinking of you" in Like Jacob When He Felt The Angel's Touch, that's not a good thing, it's more like "a cold-blooded assassin with names on a list." Even the closest thing to a love song, In The Backrooms of the Romance, with it's chipper backing vocals and happy organ is negative, the bookstore where they met not there anymore, and there are hardly any bookstores anymore.


The track When It's Everything explains there's something deep down that's the root cause for all this unease, "The darkness in the corner of your eyes." DeCroo isn't trafficking in bad things people have inside them, he's trying to name them and expose them, for the better. The haunting and memorable tunes make us want to see that too.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: HEADSTONES - LITTLE ARMY



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


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