Thursday, September 20, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: ROXANNE POTVIN - ALL IT WAS

Potvin's musical evolution continues, after 2016's roots surprise For Dreaming LP. This five-track EP is an even wider, wilder ride, from the dreamy and psychedelic title cut, to the pop-calypso of Lonely Island, to the closing, French-language Nuit Électrique.

Just to remind, Potvin has gone from being a blues performer early on to becoming a self-contained artist, engineering and producing her songs, and now experimenting in all sorts of styles. This set includes more personal lyrics, changing moods, and the continued feeling that she's growing by leaps each new release. Nice new 'do, too.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: MORRISSEY - THIS IS MORRISSEY

Morrissey in North America remains an acquired taste, and polarizing. You either revere him, hate him, or have never heard of him. In the U.K., he's royalty, which explains the constant flow of best-of's and catalogue reworking. This one's an odd duck, but of course so is he, which means he probably picked the tracks himself.

It leans almost completely on earlier solo works, late '80's to mid-'90's, and largely on non-album singles and b-sides (Jack the Ripper, Have-A-Go Merchant). That might make sense if they were rare, but they've been on some of the various collections over the years. And why nothing later? There's one lone album cut, but again, it's older, from 1991's Kill Uncle album, The Harsh Truth of the Camera Eye. And it's not a very good one at that, rather dull and whiny. The A-sides are uniformly excellent, especially The Last of the International Playboys and Ouija Board, Ouija Board. But trying to include rarer tracks, two better singles Suedehead and You're The One For Me, Fatty are diluted by alternative takes. The former is a remix by Sparks which will attract some buyers, as it does not appear on any other albums, while Fatty is taken from the Beethoven Was Deaf live album. One other live track, another non-album track and the only modern cut here, is Morrissey's cover of the Lou Reed classic Satellite Of Love, marking its first album appearance.

So it's a strange collection, sometimes exciting, other times dull, even frustrating, and a tough listen, with the mood never settling between the peaks and valleys. And just 10 cuts? Morrissey is hardly concerned with modesty. Confusion has always been one of his tactics, and I'm not sure whether this is aimed at the completist fan, or the rookie.

Friday, September 14, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: JOHN WORT HANNAM - ACRES OF ELBOW ROOM

Sometimes its hard to describe certain musicians, and other times, it's pretty obvious. Veteran Alberta folk singer John Wort Hannam makes it really easy. He took the time to explain himself on his latest album, in the cut I Believe. He rattles off a few things, saying he believes in a good pair of boots, post and beam construction, love at first sight, words on a page. "That's me in a nutshell. Really not a whole lot to tell."

Well, that's a modest statement, pretty simple. But simple is often the best when it comes to songwriting, especially in the folk genre. Make your case, make it plain, get out. Of course, it takes ages to get to that point for a writer, if they ever get there. Hannam gets there over and over on his latest. Part of that is the recognition he's hit 50, and he pauses to take stock in the song That's Life: "Lessons I should have learned. New leaves I should have overturned, and oh all the money I have burned." But age also helps him recognize the good things more clearly, such as the positive effects of his relationship with his child in Song For A Young Son. And in Acres Of Elbow Room, he sings the praises of nightlife before admitting the whole time he misses family and rural life.

Effective writing is often at its most powerful in a live setting, and lucky Maritimers, Mr. Hannam is on his way for a lengthy stay. Check him out at the following:

September 21 - Canning, NS - Sea-Esta
September 22 - Mount Stewart, PEI - Trailside Cafe
September 26 - Halifax - The Carleton
September 27 - Fredericton - Wilser's Room
September 28 - Fredericton - Landsdowne Concert Series
September 29 - Saint John, NB - Dancing Tree Concert Series
September 30 - Annapolis Royal, NS - Strong Will Barn

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: LED ZEPPELIN - THE SONG REMAINS THE SAME (Blu-Ray)

For decades, this was the official document of the great juggernaut of the '70's, Zeppelin in its arena-conquering days. But it was supplanted and ignored when Jimmy Page brought the band into this century with his catalogue overhaul, beginning with his How The West Was Won box, making it the priority and go-to place for concert Zep. It's understandable, as this original beast had a bad rap, and it wasn't going to shake it.

Part of that was the film from which it came, a so-so production marred by those ridiculous fantasy sequences. The band was also less than enthusiastic about it, so over the years the lingering negativity attached itself to the album too. That finally got somewhat fixed in 2007, when Page remixed the whole thing, and added a whole bunch of tunes, some of which had been in the movie but not the film, and vice-versa. In addition to vastly improving the sound, the original double-album was now beefed up to a full concert length, recreating a typical 1973 night, arguably the peak of Zeppelin popularity.

Now comes this edition, ostensibly to celebrate the group's 50th anniversary. It gives it another audio step-up, now making it to Blu-Ray audio for the first time with a new remastering. There are some new additions, although nothing as major as the 2007 additions. The video portion includes footage of four songs you won't find in the film: Celebration Day, Over The Hills and Far Away, Misty Mountain Hop and The Ocean. Some edits to the lengthy Dazed and Confused, and already-long Moby Dick drum solo have been removed, perhaps not really a bonus.

Of course, it sounds massive now, more regal, befitting these dark princes of rock excess. I'd say it matches up to How The West Was Won, perhaps not the best performances, but as a full document of a Zeppelin show. I'll always argue the best live shows would be way before this, from the first few tours when the group was suffering from so much bloat. Here, favourites like Black Dog and Rock and Roll are dealt with quickly, while lengthy and moody numbers such as No Quarter and The Song Remains The Same dominate. The parlour tricks, Page's bowing and Plant's awkward scatting don't work well outside the venue. That's wishful thinking though, as Page has a tight grip on the catalogue, and has shown a preference of keeping the vaults closed for the most part. Despite its shaky past and excesses, this is a valuable document that now sounds a whole lot better thanks to Page's tinkering and polishing.

Monday, September 10, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: DAVID VEST - DAVID VEST

Here's another act appearing at my hometown festival this week, the beloved Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival. The festival can rightly brag about bringing in some the best, and some of the hottest acts on the continent each year, a mix that includes Sturgill Simpson, Mavis Staples and The Magpie Salute this time. But it never fails to promote Canadian talent too, and why not, when some of the best current blues and jazz players hail from all over this fair land. For example, the awesome piano player/performer David Vest is taking the stage Saturday.

Vest is Canadian by choice, which kinda makes me like him even more. He was born in Alabama way back in the 40's, but he's no heritage act. He's the 2018 Maple Blues Award winner for piano/keyboard player of the year, an award he's grabbed a few times. His most recent album, self-titled, shows why. It's filled with rollicking boogie and New Orleans-flavoured tunes, most by the man himself, along with a couple of tasty covers and a great instrumental around the old country hit Gotta Travel On.

Vest has a easy-going feel, with a good-time mood to most of the material, but he and the band can toughen it up when needed too. Renoviction Man is old-school nasty and deep, with sharp acoustic bass from Ryan Tandy. And he really brings the blues up-to-date with the excellent lyric in Decolonize Yourself, a little social activism for the mix. Lomax, the album closer, is a mood piece, piano only, a sad torch tale that shows another side to Vest's talents.

Check out this unique Canadian talent at the Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival Saturday, Sept. 15, 9 o'clock at the Cox and Palmer Blues Court, along with the Kendra Gale Band, Buck Tingley and Ross Neilsen.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: THE MAGPIE SALUTE - HIGH WATER I

Here's the true studio debut from the band of former Black Crowes and sundry pals of Rich Robinson, after a live album last year announced the new group. And what do you know, the group is in my very own hometown this Wednesday, Sept. 12, headlining that night at the Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival. So if any of my homies are on the fence about it, here's a big plug.

The group includes three ex-Crowes, with guitarist Marc Ford and bass player Sven Pipien back with Robinson. Two others, Matt Slocum on keys and drummer Joe Magistro have done time in Robinson's solo groups. So you would expect those classic rock influences and Faces/Stones/Southern soul sounds to continue. But, that doesn't take into account the sixth member, singer and chief songwriter John Hogg. The least-known member is arguably the most important in defining the group's sound, and adds a whole new twist to the continuing Crowes & family story. This band has, yes, lots of golden-era rock influences, but forges a more independent sound. With Hogg at the mic, the singing is less about show and more about nuance, mood to go along with the intricate rock jams happening in the songs. Of course, with the band filled with seasoned pros, there are lots of grooves explored, and interplay to enjoy. In short, this is something new instead of trotting out what they've done before, and an exciting band to watch.

You can watch them Wednesday night at the Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival in Fredericton, at the Blues Tent, with festival favourites The Record Company on board to open.

Friday, September 7, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: A TREE WITH ROOTS - FAIRPORT CONVENTION & FRIENDS - THE SONGS OF BOB DYLAN

When it comes to artists associated with Dylan covers, the ones that spring to mind are Joan Baez, The Byrds, The Band of course, Jimi Hendrix, and then lots and lots of hits such as Manfred Mann's The Might Quinn. But England's Fairport Convention had one of the most successful runs with Dylan songs, starting at the group's formation in 1967, and continuing to this day with the latest incarnations of the band. The group were one of the lucky ones to hear the first copy of the soon-to-be-infamous Basement Tapes songs as publisher's demos, and allowed to pick a couple of these unreleased gems to record.

Seventeen Dylan covers have been included here, 70-some minutes worth, from various Fairport ensembles in the '60's and '70's. These come from their albums, some live shows, and rare BBC recordings. Earliest ones feature the original group singer, Judy Dyble, including a John Peel BBC recording of Lay Down Your Weary Tune. The more famous Sandy Denny then took over the mic, and she famously loved Dylan. There are a host of tracks here, from her first group appearances, including another Peel session featuring the unreleased Dylan gem Percy's Tune, which he didn't put out until the Biograph set in 1985. Denny and group are able to highlight the traditional English folk sound that Dylan often leaned on, those old melodies and themes they shared. Denny is heard right up until her final show in 1977, just before her death which included a version of Tomorrow Is A Long Time found here.

Then there's the surprising and only hit single the group had, 1969's Si Tu Dois Partir, which was If You Gotta Go, Go Now sung in French. Richard Thompson thought it would make a cool Cajun song. After Thompson and Denny's departure, other Fairport leaders took on the Dylan mantle, including Trevor Lucas, who sings a fine live version of Days Of '49 here from 1973, and at the same gig Denny returned to guest on Down In The Flood, which rocks just as much as the Dylan/Band version. Any Dylan fan will appreciate getting all these fine covers under one roof, and Fairport fans will already know this is some of the very best work the group recorded over the years.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: JEREMY NAIL - LIVE OAK

People do stupid stuff all the time, including this particular act: Back in 1989, a man in Austin, Texas, tried to kill a 600-year old Treaty Oak tree, by poisoning it, for no explainable reason. Thanks to much hard work and care, the tree was saved, thankfully. That's something to which Texan Nail can relate, having battled a rare cancer and lost a leg. His last album, My Mountain, dealt with that, whereas this one is about getting on with live, and growing strong again. "Dead leaves falling  underneath as I come back new again/ Strong as a Live Oak," he sings in the title cut.

This isn't your stereotypical Austin album, even though Nail's a singer-songwriter. It's more meditative and relaxed, and all the more striking for it. With it's calmer, slower pace, both the words and guitars ring out, along with echoes of Nail's healing journey. One song references stillness, the next a quiet night and a mind at ease. Lap steel and smooth electric piano sweeten the latter cut, Rolling Dice, moody in a positive way. The most dramatic statement is saved for the end, in Till' Kingdom Come, where first Nail questions fate, with "Was it karma from another life?/Or was it just a roll of the dice?", before letting us know he's moving forward with strength, "From a body ridden with disease/To this new life I live and breath." With the subtle music and overall warmth, Nail isn't trying to be a poster boy for conquering adversity; this is about finding modest peace and growth, and passing on that it's possible.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: NEIL DIAMOND - HOT AUGUST NIGHT III

I have to admit an odd fascination with Neil Diamond, an artist I both love and loathe, depending on the material. Here's someone who is arguably among the very best songwriters and also the most appalling at times. He's been willing to embrace the shlockiest parts of showbiz, taking over from Elvis in the glittery suit spectacles. At the same time, there's a reason for his huge popularity, and why  Boston Red Sox fans sing Sweet Caroline in the tens of thousands; he's written wonderfully catchy pop and folk-rock songs.

I'm not alone in my semi-fandom. Both Robbie Robertson and Rick Rubin have tried (and pretty much failed) to make Diamond more appealing for hip audiences. But as late as 2008, he wrote an tremendous track, Pretty Amazing Grace, giving some hope for a late-career bloom. Then he followed that up with A Cherry Cherry Christmas, where he covered Adam Sandler's The Chanukah Song.

Diamond was known as a hit songwriter and singles artist until 1972, when the original Hot August Night album became a massive success. He had lots of other big albums after that, but that live set was a personal favourite for him, and he's celebrated it a few times. Hot August Night 2 came out in 1987, then there was a Hot August Night/NYC DVD. Back in 2012, he returned to the original venue, L.A.'s Greek Theater, to celebrate the 40th anniversary, and it's just now getting issued. That's quite possibly due to his unforeseen retirement from performing earlier this year after receiving a diagnosis of Parkinson's disease.

You can't fault his cheerfulness on this anniversary gig, reliving some of the songs from the original Hot August Night (Crunchy Granola Suite, I Am ... I Said), and stuffing the rest of the night with hit after hit. On stage, Diamond is all polish and no edge, which softens the show too much. Songs such as Solitary Man, Kentucky Woman and Cracklin' Rosie are played too slick, September Morn and You Don't Bring Me Flowers are painful, and the whole Sweet Caroline singalong wrecks the song. But then you get Holly Holy retaining some mystique, and that Pretty Amazing Grace quietly steals the show, a then-current song most of his fans wouldn't even know.

There are always enough great songs on a Diamond collection to keep me listening, yet there are always moments that set my teeth on edge. I've come to accept that conundrum, and happily own up to this guilty pleasure.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: DAVID BOWIE - ZEROES (7-inch Picture Disc)

Here's the first salvo from the new Bowie box set, Loving The Alien, coming out in October. This is another of the 7" picture discs, a series that has been following the 40th anniversary of original singles, but this is something different. Instead, it's a "new" Bowie single, as this features brand-new versions of two songs from the Never Let Me Down (2018) album that is the highlight of the upcoming box.

What's happened is that the entire 1987 album has been remade, using Bowie's original vocals but adding mostly new instrumental parts. Bowie hated the original album, and most of fans agreed, as it was made with drum machines and synths and was a blatantly commercial effort. It's a little hard to judge the final efforts, as picture discs don't have the best fidelity, but listening to the new versions of Zeroes and the flip, Beat Of Your Drum, these are more stripped-down, punchier tracks  now. They are quite radical remakes, a pretty rare move, but given Bowie's oft-stated wish to redo the tracks, it feels okay. These still aren't the best songs Bowie wrote, but it does bode well for the full album. Me, I like these picture discs, as usual the photos are great, and as a little bonus, these are edited versions of the new album mixes, so there's collector interest as well.

Monday, September 3, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: MILLER MACDONALD CORMIER - SOUTH HAVEN

Ben Miller and Anita MacDonald have been pushing the boundaries of their styles, his Scottish Highlands, and hers Cape Breton, in their ongoing partnership. Now they take it one big step further, inviting in Acadian guitar player and foot-percussionist Zakk Cormier from P.E.I. Largely instrumental (with one song in Gaelic), these are medleys that allow Miller and MacDonald to explore their usual interplay with some extra driving rhythm courtesy of Cormier.

MacDonald's fiddle and Miller's pipes sound so connected at times, it's as if there's only one person playing, or better yet, a brand-new instrument has been created. Their versions of this traditional material is full of spark, the tempos largely quick, and the interplay exciting. Cormier's addition is mostly subtle (until the feet get going), but very effective, adding an almost bluesy harmony that both supports and thickens. Traditional sounds but most definitely a modern Maritime mix.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: THE BAND - MUSIC FROM BIG PINK 50th ANNIVERSARY SUPER DELUXE EDITION

As far as reissues, Band fans have certainly been treated well over the years, with box sets and deluxe editions galore. There's not much to add to the story of the group's debut, it's a story that's been told at length in books (by both Robbie Robertson and Levon Helm), as part of the Dylan narrative by countless biographers and journalists, and by the many essays pointing to it as the birthplace of roots (or Americana) music. But here we are at the 50th anniversary of this hugely important album, and a celebration is certainly in order. What's a record company to do?

A super deluxe edition was certainly called for in today's consumer climate, but what could they put in it that was new for fans? Studio outtakes have already helped fill two box sets, and the 2000 reissue collected nine of them. There were no live concerts to add, as the group didn't do any playing until their second album came out. They've been selling new 180-gram vinyl editions of the album for several years, alone, and as part of the widely available Band box of albums. So it took a bold move to freshen up this package. They changed the whole sound.

Famed engineer Bob Clearmountain (Springsteen, Bowie, Rolling Stones) was brought in to provide a brand new remix of the well-known tracks. That's pretty risky, opening up the decision to criticism from fans for messing with a classic. Already some reviewers are complaining about the bright new mix, but I'm not one of them. I found the new sound spectacular. The vocals stand out more than ever, as do Garth Hudson's battery of keyboards, all the wonderful, strange sounds he coaxed out of vintage and obscure organs and electronics. We all know The Weight of course, but you've never heard the booming bass and drums like this before.

I agree that the remix, which separates the sounds from the rather murky original mix, goes against the original idea of the album sound. Famously, the group insisted on sitting in a circle facing each other to record, rather than hiding behind baffles and sitting apart, to prevent the instruments bleeding into the other mics. But here's the thing; it's not most people don't already own that original mix in some form. This is new, and an alternative, and really does inspire new interest.

The only other "new" addition to the package is another piece of studio manipulation, stripping away the instruments to offer up an a cappella version of I Shall Be Released, perhaps the loveliest vocal on the record, with Richard Manuel's plaintive falsetto. The Clearmountain mix is spread across all the formats here, vinyl, CD and Blu-ray, where it shows up as stereo and 5.1. It's most effective on the always-temperamental but ultimately rewarding vinyl, and that's where the other "new" product is found. It has been pressed at 45 RPM over two albums, even better fidelity, and it provided a deeply satisfying listen.

The box packaging matches up to the name super deluxe, starting with Bob Dylan's famous commissioned painting. The box is textured to feel like a canvas. The booklet contains a decent new essay from Rolling Stone regular David Fricke, which goes over the main points, but since the story is well-told elsewhere, it's kept tight. Instead, lots of the great Elliot Landy photos are used, as iconic as the album itself. There are also three photos enlarged on harder paper stock included, and a repressing of the original 45 for The Weight/I Shall Be Released, issued before The Band had even been named,with the five members' names used instead.

So, there's nothing exactly new in this box, and not even all the bonus tracks from the past are included, just five of them. But in other ways, it's all new, at least that's how it seemed to my ears, and it looks and sounds great. It's one of those boxes that feels very satisfying to own, and it's going to be the way I listen to the album now, certainly for some time.

Friday, August 31, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: LIGHTHOUSE - ICON

It's been a year since Lighthouse leader and drummer Skip Prokop passed away, and hopefully in that time a little more appreciation has come his way. Prokop was a seminal figure in the Canadian rock scene of the '60's, with his Toronto band The Paupers the kings of the Yorkville scene. When that band hit a string of bad breaks in the U.S, he got drafted into Al Kooper and Mike Bloomfield's Super Session live band, worked with Janis Joplin, and then Mama Cass. It was during Cass's Vegas show, back by a full orchestra and horn section, that Prokop conceived of the idea of a huge group, featuring a rock section of four, a horn section and a string quartet, 12 players plus a singer. He high-tailed back to Toronto and put together Lighthouse, famously debuting at the Rock Pile club with an introduction by Duke Ellington.

At first, the band leaned jazz, and built a strong reputation on the U.S. festival circuit. With the Lighthouse Live hit album, they became the first Canadians to be awarded a platinum album in the States. Then they started getting radio hits, along with other big-sounding groups such as Chicago and Blood, Sweat and Tears. We all know the big ones, One Fine Morning and the ever-popular Sunny Days, sure to be heard the first nice day in the summer on nearly every radio station.

Those with any memories of '70's radio will recognize a lot of the deeper cuts here too, with such CanCon favourites as Take It Slow, Hats Off To The Stranger, Pretty Lady and I Just Want To Be Your Friend. The glory period featured Bob McBride on vocals, although Prokop himself sang Pretty Lady and Sunny Days, and wrote most of the band's hits. Keyboard player Paul Hoffert and guitar player Ralph Cole were the other mainstays, and Howard Shore was in the horn section before heading to fame leading the original Saturday Night Live band, and then becoming a noted film composer (Lord of the Rings), winning several Academy and Grammy Awards. Prokop and Lighthouse are cornerstones of the Canadian rock scene.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: REENY SMITH - WWIII STRENGTH COURAGE LOVE

The much-anticipated debut album from the Halifax favourite, a singer of great renown before she ever recorded, thanks to her years of live performing. Much of that came from her church background, although you won't find any sign of that here, other than the topic of her ear-worm single, Good Girl Swag. "I'm the type of girl that you take home to mommy," she advises, turning the tables on the old Rick James Super Freak lyrics.

Apart from gospel, you do get lots of fantastic singing, and a whole bunch of styles. You Got It is old school, uptempo R'n'B pop, where Smith proves she can sound great in the diva/Whitney role. Good Girl Swag is going to stand out and drive everybody nuts, a dance hall/hip-hop cross, all hooks and bravado. Survive has an alternative edge, with lots of atmosphere behind her, and Is It Too Late is a big, heart-stirring ballad. Last Call is another ridiculously catchy track, funky and dance-ready, with a guest rap from fellow Haligonian Quake Matthews.

Through it all, Smith shows what a versatile and inspiring singer she is, filling each song with lots of positive vibes and confidence. It's about time the country found out about her.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: MARLON CHAPLIN - THE CIRCLE


Ah guitar rock, it still brings a big smile to my face, especially when it's ear-friendly and hook-filled. That goes double when it's new and current, proving if you do it right, it's a sound that lives in quite nicely with lots of melodies left to discover in those six strings.

Marlon Chaplin is a relative newcomer from Toronto with one well-received E.P. under his belt, and now this debut full-length. It's a rock'n'roll record for sure, with lots of punch, but plenty of thought too. There's introspection in the lyrics, lots of variety, quirky songs (One Man Show, Where Did We Go?), a fun lyric (Imaginary Mary K.), a couple of ballads and a few flat-out rockers. The first single, Elevation, has that bite, and the feel of a Chris Murphy (Sloan) song. 

Oh look, Toronto folks can go see the album launch show this very night (Thursday, Aug. 30) at the Piston Bar, with more Ontario and Quebec dates coming up.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: BEN KUNDER - BETTER HUMAN

Hey, nice one Ben Kunder. For his second album, the Toronto native (with some P.E.I. living experience) hits us with some very listenable songwriter-pop, with lots of great harmony moments and country-ish highlights. But he's also not afraid to pull out the synth, anything that makes some sweet sounds. Better Days gets the pedal steel, Fight For Time the Jackson Browne treatment ("I don't want to fight for time with you, there's never enough.")

Kunder's tapped into the search for joy we all struggle with, trying to make happiness about more than just posting pictures of what our lives are supposed to be like on Instagram: "Now I'm living the hard line, and I'm losing all the good times/can you tell me how to get back to you?" he asks in Hard Line, with dramatic strings and piano making this one of the richest songs on the album. Searching albums, when done properly, can be tremendously uplifting, just knowing our worries are shared by like-minded folks, and Kunder has the ability to heal us a little with his songs.

And, he's on the road with an East Coast tour kicking off Saturday, Sept. 1 in my very own bucolic home of Fredericton. Join me, Maritime friends at one of these fine establishments.

Sept. 1 - Grimross Brewing Co, Fredericton
Sept. 2 - Plan B, Moncton, N.B.
Sept. 5 - The Carleton, Halifax
Sept. 7 - Iona Heights Inn, Iona Heights, N.S.
Sept. 8 - Back Alley Music, Charlottetown (in-store)
Sept. 9 - Trailside Cafe, Mt. Stewart, P.E.I.
Sept. 11 - Ross Creek Arts Centre, Canning, N.S.

You can check out his music at 
https://benkunder.lnk.to/betterhuman

And here is his website link: http://www.benkunder.com/

Sunday, August 26, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: LENNIE GALLANT - TIME TRAVEL

Lennie Gallant's been holding out on us. Oh sure, he's had his hit musical Searching For Abegweit going the last five years, and he's put out two live albums, winning the ECMA Entertainer of the Year award for 2017. But it's been nine long years since he released his last studio album. Worth the wait? You bet.

The veteran is acting positively youthful, teaming up with Halifax producer Daniel Ledwell for this set. Ledwell, known for his rich, radio-friendly layers for recent hitmakers Rachel Beck and Gabriel Papillon, didn't turn on the atmospherics for this set though, instead keeping Gallant natural and comfortable. Instead, the acoustic tunes are accompanied by strings (The Fretless, Atlantic String Machine) and guest singers (Jenn Grant, Mary Jane Lamond, Rose Cousins). That's the right kind of accenting for these songs, as Gallant has come with his some of his finest, polished lyrics, a start-to-finish set of reflective and thoughtful insights.

The title cut is a clever mix of the complexities of the universe, mortality and love, making Einstein's big picture pretty simple in the end. Selkie is one of always-fine songs about spirits and ghosts, in this case an old Scottish sprite sort able to change from seal to human, and Gallant turns the tale into a haunting love story. There's A Storm Comin' is going to be played every time a Nor'Easter blows into the Maritimes for years to come with its snowdrifts and howling gale, all the time a metaphor for a relationship in crisis.

The final cut will also be remembered a long time, a beautiful and powerful tribute to the late, great Ron Hynes. The Newfoundland songwriter was known for his own tributes, penning memorable ones for Gene MacLellan and Rita MacNeil, and Gallant does those songs, and the man himself justice with Saying Goodbye To Ron. He name-drops Hynes' best-loved songs, taking us all to St. John's to share one more memory.

Full of emotion and gentle power, this is Lennie Gallant at his very best. The album comes out Friday, Aug. 31, and that night he'll launch the album at the Indian River Festival home on P.E.I.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: NEIL YOUNG - HAWKS & DOVES, RE.AC.TOR, THIS NOTE'S FOR YOU (VINYL REISSUES)

These are three troublesome Young albums from the '80's, released again on vinyl in the ongoing Archives series. Troublesome because, like so many Young albums, they are each flawed but also contain some important material and glimpses of magic. Some of the tracks are weak, some just dull, yet at some point you'll snap back to attention when you recognize that spark.

Hawks & Doves was a classic Neil move, following up one of the biggest hits of his career, 1979's Rust Never Sleeps' punkish heaviness with an acoustic, country-ish set. It was also a hybrid, with some cuts left over from the mid-70's, and others newly recorded. The Old Homestead was an odd duck, a lengthy ramble that was part of the unreleased Homegrown album, featuring Levon Helm on drums, with a naked rider, a Crazy Horse, and a prehistoric bird. It's been 38 years and I still can't figure out. Captain Kennedy was one of the cuts that came from the Hitchhiker sessions of 1976 (and finally released in full last year), and fits in with the Powderfinger/Pocahontas kind of spacey lyric. Side two of the album saw the switch to country, featuring Rufus Thibodeaux on fiddle. The title cut was strong, but the tracks also showed Young's blue-collar hokey streak, trying to make sense of Red State thinking in cuts like Union Man.  The biggest sins here are the lack of focus, and lack of memorable songs.

Re.ac.tor was the follow-up, at first greeted hopefully because of the return of Crazy Horse, but then the reaction was downright hostile. Young was trying to change his electric sound, going for a more contemporary, choppy style and even starting to use synths (he'd go wholly that way on his next release, Trans). The worst track was the pointless jam T-Bone, a nonsense lyric stretched over nine minutes. The rest of the tracks offered little excitement, until Young dropped a bomb at the end, the epic Shots, which was more than a keeper. The moody track had the feel of the On The Beach numbers, and certainly deserved to be played much more over the years.

From later on, 1988, This Note's For You, marked Young's return to the Reprise label, after his controversial stay at Geffen Records (where they sued him for making willfully non-commercial albums). Instead of coming back with something more popular, instead he pulled another of his genre switches, introducing the new band The Bluenotes (later called Ten Men Working, because of a legal issue with the first name). It was a ten-man group, six of them horn players, and the major cuts could fit in the blues category. The first track, Ten Men Workin', is another of Young's cliche cuts, where he pushes the theme of his genre exercise, in this case a hard-working blues band, with bad lyrics: "Well we work all day/Then we work all night." But he follows that with the brilliant This Note's For You, his one-man stand against corporate sponsorship. Its success as a video mocking Michael Jackson and others won him an MTV Award for the year's best clip, and brought him renewed respectability. Frustratingly, this excellent tune is edited to a brief 2'05" on the album. As usual with Young's experiments, he tires quickly of the joke, and several of the cuts here are more thoughtful, and precursors of the work on his next album, Freedom.

Of these three albums, This Note's For You is the best, as there was actually a lot more than blues going on. Hawks & Doves is interesting at times, and it's still Young, so it's never less than tolerable. Re.ac.tor is a dud, but as it's still the only place to find Shots, whattya gonna do? So yeah, troublesome, that Neil, and the trouble is, you have to love his flops along with his classics.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: LEON BRIDGES - GOOD THING

Bridges was all the rage three years back with his debut Coming Home, a Grammy-nominated hit that had everyone raving about his '60's soul sound, right down to using original instruments and gear from that time, and dressing in vintage clothing. Many of those same fans have been disappointed in this follow-up, as he's shifted from that rawer soul to smooth R'n'B, including some modern beats. I've waited a little bit to review this (it came out in May) to see whether the initial reaction held, and to properly gauge my own reactions, as I was one of those very excited initial fans.

First, I can't say I'm surprised at his switch of sound. That debut was meant as an homage to his mother, and her music. Bridges is a young man (29) and certainly wouldn't enjoy standing still in somebody else's sound, no matter how good we think it is. He's been out there with Pharrell and Macklemore and Lewis, and has his own spin. Now that's not to say he's abandoned soul, and in fact, this set shows he's successfully bringing some very strong, melodic stuff to contemporary R'n'B. There are lots of echoes of Philly soul in the singles Bet Ain't Worth The Hand and Bad Bad News, some deep grooves that '70's Marvin fans will appreciate, and even a little acoustic Van Morrison, Into The Mystic mellowness on Beyond. It's quite simple, he's brimming with ideas of how to merge new music with some of the more melodic music of the past, and I'm all for that. Let him grow.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: CLASSIFIED - TOMORROW COULD BE ...

The latest from the Nova Scotia hip-hop artist is a six-track E.P. jammed with singles. That includes his moody Changes featuring Anjulie, the funky riff number She Ain't Gotta Do Much, and the strong message track Powerless, about the national tragedy of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

As always, Classified offers up challenging, thoughtful and relatable lyrics, direct and powerful. He's able to say in short rhymes what others struggle to address in lengthy stories. In Fallen, which could easily be another single, he goes after social media: "We used to talk face-to-face now we talk face to face-time/lately all I see is more race, gay and hate crimes/reported live on my Twitter and on Dateline." All the while, he jams the tunes with hooks and surprising breaks, always making sure there's something to groove to as well. These are six compact, well-crafted cuts with no wasted space, some of his very best.

Monday, August 20, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: THE PUNCH BROTHERS - ALL ASHORE

Impossible to pin down, The Punch Brothers continue to cut asunder our notions of bluegrass, classical, jazz and acoustic music, with their intricate, yet wonderfully listenable songs. These five lively players, on mandolin, violin, guitar, banjo and bass, jam like crazy with their bluegrass backgrounds, but stretch way past the usual band dynamics and structures. Songs veer into asides, as the troupe becomes quickly becomes a chamber ensemble or a stringband jazz group, each move seamless and beautiful.

The lyrics sound as swell as the music, and are just as hard to pin down. The songs feature lines that are inscrutable but wonderful to follow, such as "As I lie like the colours of the rainbow," and "Momma cuts through the morning like a man-of-war." Lead singer/songwriter and pretty much the world's greatest mandolin player, Chris Thiele, says the songs are about committed relationships during these turbulent times, but you'll go snaky trying to figure out how that fits in. Better just to enjoy hearing him sing "Don't let him get to you with his 'Hey batter batter swing,'" words as graceful as the music.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: CAMERON NICKERSON - DETOURS

A young man with an old voice, this Nova Scotia artist is doing outlaw country and sounding every bit the wily veteran. Formerly the leader of The Rockabillys, this is Nickerson's first solo album. It came out at the start of the year, but is getting a new push with the release of the single Gettin' Out Of Dodge.

From the mystery Western feel of opener Jeremiah to the Southern rock of the new single, Nickerson knows the difference between good and bad, or authentic and phony country rock, and he's clearly following the right path.The album has lots of sizzle, courtesy producer and lead guitar player Blake Johnston (Christine Campbell). Even the heartache ballad If She's Like has some crunch, while showing off a tender side and pretty decent pipes from Nickerson. Of course, all good outlaws have that side.
 
Nickerson has a couple of gigs coming up this Sunday, Aug. 26 at the Lunenburg Concert Series.  He'll play the Bandstand at 2 P.M., then he's at the Grand Banker at 9.30.

Friday, August 17, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: WAVESONG

Here's a Montreal folk trio with a debut album, although individually they have lots of varied experience. Main writer Bruce Jackson has put in lots of miles in the Quebec rock and folk world, Elisabeth Rousseau is a classical/choral vocalist, while Jane Critchlow has sung Celtic, jazz, blues and rock. So it's your basic bilingual, multi-genre, multi-voiced group that could only happen in Montreal. In this case, they found each other teaching classes, and discovered that they loved singing together.

The opening folk tune, Take It With You, starts a cappella and you get the point right away. This trio has one of those beautiful vocal blends that immediately warms your heart, and stays with you long after. Wisely, they play to their strength, and the harmonies flow right through each song, two or three voices the norm, a single singer only heard for a line or two, before the others chime in. Jackson's songs move from style to style, matching the group's experience, a little Celtic here, contemporary sounds in some, more traditional elsewhere, but all can be called harmony folk, even their cover of Seals and Crofts' Summer Breeze. That's as close to pop as they venture, but still a good indicator of the type of beauty they present in their material.

Dig a little deeper, and Jackson turns out to be a strong lyricist, his Down In The Valley River an effective number about having to move away from family for work, set on the Quebec-Vermont border. The closer, The Company I Keep, is a strong East Coast-styled lyric (says the East Coast native, meaning it as high praise), and I know a few Newfoundland folk groups who would love to have that one in their name. The group keeps the instrumentation spare and acoustic, Jackson providing all the guitar and percussion, with only a little guest piano sneaking in. When you have voices like they do, you don't want to cover them up.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: SHEMEKIA COPELAND - AMERICA'S CHILD

Copeland has already made a case for being the most powerful blues voice of this generation, and of late she's been crossing lines, working in the roots field as well. This album is potentially her biggest statement, inspired of course by the dire straits face by her nation. Quite rightly, she realizes the need for the right people to claim ownership of that flag, for the truth it represents, not the ignorance.

Copeland is a masterful interpreter, able to imbue well-written songs with added gravitas, even with the authors present. John Prine joins for a duet on his 1990's cut Great Rain, and that number gets new strength in this protest setting, while Prine's vocal seems to come up a notch to match, too. Her reworking of The Kinks' '60's cut I'm Not Like Everybody Else uncovers a bold, empowering statement that's been overlooked for decades.

It's the new material that really drives the album though, especially two from Mary Gauthier, Americans and Smoked Ham and Peaches. In the latter, Copeland is able to sum up the national nightmare with lines such as "Are you under the covers with a flashlight like the rest of us now? Does the world make you think that everything's coming unwound?" Later, she offers a respite, for now: "When the whole world seems fake, give me something real/Hank Williams singing, a whistle, a far-away train." All the while, Copeland's ruling with her vocals, all the authority of Mavis Staples and the intensity of Etta James.

The album also includes lots of variety, including the ballad Promised Myself, an old cut from her late father, Johnny Clyde Copeland, a Stones-style rocker In The Blood Of The Blues, and the calming closer, the traditional Go To Sleepy Little Baby. With plenty of stinging lead guitar from producer Will Kimbrough, and guest appearances by Emmylou Harris, Steve Cropper, Rhiannon Giddens, Prine and Gauthier, this is also a real statement about Copeland's artistic prominence as well, claiming a place as a major cross-genre artist today.

Monday, August 13, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: I WANNA BE SEDATED - FROM THE UNDERGROUND

Here's another in the four-album collection celebrating the 60th birthday of Warner Bros. Records. This double vinyl set features tracks from the late '70's to early 2000's, key cuts from punk, new wave and alternative groups and artists. It's especially strong on the early days of those movements, with Ramones, Dead Boys, Flamin' Groovies, Talking Heads, Richard Hell & the Voidoids and Johnny Thunders here. That's because of the foresight of Sire Records boss, the recently-retired Seymour Stein, who signed all those groups, and understood the art behind punk.

Warner picked up the ball when the Sire boutique label sold so much, it became a big deal. More bright signings followed, and their major tracks are here. That includes Blister In The Sun by Violent Femmes, The Pretenders and Talk Of The Town, the B-52's with Roam, and The Rezillos charming Somebody's Gonna Get Their Head Kicked In Tonight. They got to release major British post-punk groups as well, including New Order (Love Vigilantes), The Jesus and Mary Chain (April Skies) and Echo & the Bunnymen (The Killing Moon).

With such strong results, the company stayed brave, signing less-than-safe bets The Replacements, Jane's Addiction, Ministry, and Husker Du, while deep pockets let them grab prizes such as Elvis Costello and Wilco. It's all good, and even if you already have some or most of these cuts, it's pretty hard to pass up an album with a Side Two like this:

  • 1. Blister In The Sun - Violent Femmes
  • 2. You Can't Put Your Arms Around A Memory - Johnny Thunders
  • 3. Alex Chilton - The Replacements
  • 4. Jane Says - Jane's Addiction
  • 5. Jesus Built My Hot Rod - Ministry

Saturday, August 11, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: STEVE KRASE BAND - JUST WAITIN'

Houston harp hero Krase pulls a fast and fun one on his fourth album, with a batch of uptempo tunes, some unexpected. The old Hank Williams number Settin' The Woods On Fire kicks things off, putting some boogie into the legendary country sound. And on one of the most out-there covers in years, he turns the beloved theme of the Beverly Hillbillies, The Ballad of Jed Clampett, into a zydeco party number.

Party tricks aside, Krase once again delivers plenty of energy, injecting some new life in a couple of Howlin' Wolf numbers. Even the slow blues, Nobody Loves Me, features searing licks from guitar player David Carter. And the very fast (1:56) Blame It All On Love, a new cut from producer/bassist Rock Romano, is full of zip, reminding me of the beloved Canuck group Doug and the Slugs. For a blues album, this sure rocks.

Friday, August 10, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: THE LEWINSKIES - YESTERDAY WE HAD EVERYTHING

Accordion-fronted bands are normally either polka or comedy, so Nova Scotia's Lewinskies stand out immediately. There's no novelty factor here though, this is a modern, unique folk based around the portable keys, voice and composing talents of Kristen Hatt Lewis and her partner, guitar player Matthew Lewis. Thoughtful and compelling, Kristen's words and delivery have an old-world feel with contemporary approaches and attitudes.

The set was recorded live off the floor of the Old Confidence Lodge in rural N.S. by producer Charles Austin, along with some flown-in parts by folk pals in England, and it has a fascinating aural quality. That starts with the accordion of course, but also gets rich Euro-touches from the clarinet of Phil Sedore, especially on the minor key klezmer of Icy So Long. Deep acoustic bass and woody percussion from the dynamic Halifax duo of Tom Easley and Geoff Arsenault is featured throughout, and guest violin from the UK's Matt Steady help give the music everything from a Parisienne cafe atmosphere to a beat poetry recital. Matthew Lewis flourishes sometimes give the songs Gypsy touches, so it's a absolutely a blend of their own.

With the slower tempos and dramatic moments, there's a distinct power in each song, especially when Kristen Lewis moves into crucial lines and a higher, forceful delivery. It's highly effective and moody, and I'm betting even more so in a club setting, the duo recently having return from a lengthy tour of England. They do have a few upcoming Maritime shows, so catch details at www.thelewinskies.com.

Monday, August 6, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: JOHN COLTRANE - BOTH DIRECTIONS AT ONCE THE LOST ALBUM

Much excitement greeted the news of the discovery of this previously-unheard music from Coltrane. For his fans, it's the same as, say, a full unknown Beatles album uncovered from 1965, or a Robert Johnson 78 from 1936. It's from his most important era, 1963, when he was leading his so-called Classic Quartet, with McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass, and drummer Elvin Jones. That's right after My Favorite Things, and just before A Love Supreme. Coltrane was by this point a star, albeit a controversial one, with free jazz dividing the jazz community.

Recording sessions were very different events then, not spread over days and weeks, with parts layered on multiple tracks. Bands went in, played complete takes and in Coltrane's case, planned to make an album in one day's work. Exactly why this day's work at Rudy Van Gelder's New Jersey studio didn't result in an album is now guesswork, but considering there were four other Coltrane albums released that year, including one with vocalist Johnny Hartman recorded the very next day, it might simply have been too much of a good thing.

The tapes remained on the shelf until Coltrane's untimely death in 1967, when Van Gelder handed over everything he had to the record label. Those were shipped to storage in Los Angeles, and classic bureaucratic thinking, all non-master tapes were destroyed to save space. As luck would have it, Coltrane was also given second, mono copies of his day's work when he left the studio. Those he had given to his first wife to hear, and decades later, that's why we get to hear them as well.

It's remarkable what can be done in a few hours, when you have a band at full stride. The quartet was just finishing a two-week run at Birdland, and had been playing some of this material, including one of Coltrane's major live works, Impressions. He was also working on versions of two well-known melodies, Nat King Cole's Nature Boy, and Vilia, best known as an Artie Shaw big band number. There were also untitled pieces, or at least those titles weren't recorded and aren't obvious now. Added up, the different selections would make an album. For this release, the different full takes done by the group are here as well, adding up to nearly 90 minutes, spread over two discs. Before you worry about wading through different takes of the same tune, a practice which bogs down so many retrospective rock albums, remember that this is a group of improvisational genius. On some takes, Tyner doesn't play, leaving the solos to Coltrane. On others, he switches from tenor to soprano sax. The group never plays it the same way twice.

As for the music, it's a fascinating session where Coltrane plays some old, some new, some conservative, some ground-breaking, both playing it safe and stretching. He was willing to be more accessible, but also wanted to take his music and perhaps his audience further. That's quite a day's work. Coltrane fans are making a fuss, and for good reason. It's providing a clearer picture of a crucial time for one of the giants of jazz.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: VARIOUS ARTISTS - LOTTA LOVE SOUNDS CALIFORNIA

Happy 60th birthday to the celebrated Warner Bros. record label, certainly home to some of the biggest records of our time, and generally regarded as a class act among companies. Thanks to a roster of artist-friendly producers and A&R execs over the years, many careers have been nurtured, and beloved stars have reached our stereos, radios and laptops because of the company's dedication. Of course, you don't usually hear that about record companies, but Warner was known to stick with acts they thought deserved to be heard (Little Feat, Gram Parsons) or give a home to true talents who probably were a little too weird for the mainstream (Van Dyke Parks, Capt. Beefheart). Of course, they also had plenty, I mean plenty of stars too, from James Taylor to Seals & Crofts to The Doobie Brothers.

For their birthday, the company is releasing a series of vinyl double albums, compilations that reflect the various sides to the roster. This set shows the company's California roots, as the label did start out as an offshoot of the Warner Bros. film company. During the singer-songwriter heyday, Warner (and associated label Reprise) had a lock on that cool pop style of writer. Even though the artists weren't all from that area, they were drawn there, as L.A. became the recording capitol over New York and Nashville. Even our own beloved Gord Lightfoot is featured here in a California collection, with his U.S. breakthrough If You Could Read My Mind, after he had signed up to the Warner empire. The former folkie was immediately rewarded with pop stardom, which continued right through the '70's.

Just to prove there's no real California music style (it's more a hip thing than a sound), you have such diverse artists as Norman Greenbaum (Spirit In The Sky), Christopher Cross (Ride Like The Wind) and Maria Muldaur (Midnight At The Oasis) here. There's a bit of the hippie vibe from Arlo Guthrie (The Motorcycle Song) and John Sebastian (She's A Lady). Master writers are included, Jimmy Webb doing his own version of Galveston (a little overwrought, Glen did a better job), and oh my goodness, the great Randy Newman, with Sail Away. You could knock this a bit by dragging out that old term, soft rock, but come on, Summer Breeze, Fire And Rain, and Willin'? This stuff has stood the test of time. Sadly, no Neil or Joni, both of whom were California standard-bearers by this era, but they routinely refuse to be part of such compilations, I'm assuming that's why. Also available are a New Wave 80's set, a Punk Nuggets collection, and still to come, I Wanna Be Sedated, a very strong underground set with Ramones, Replacements, Talking Heads, etc.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: RORY BLOCK - A WOMAN'S SOUL A TRIBUTE TO BESSIE SMITH

Block's Mentor Series of six collections was her way to celebrate the greats who inspired her in the blues. They were all originals who she was lucky enough to meet and study as a teen in New York in the '60's. Her tribute albums to Rev. Gary Davis, Mississippi Fred McDowell and the rest were not simply covers collections. They set Block apart as the leading interpreter of classic country blues today.

Now she has started a new series, and it will no doubt prove as excellent, and perhaps even more important than the Mentor Series. She's calling this Power Women Of The Blues, and she'll be following the same format, a full-length release on each of the legends selected. There's certainly no better place to start than Bessie Smith, the Empress of the Blues, from the '20's and '30's. Her voice was like no other, so utterly real, filled with the reality of her struggles but also her absolute joy with what life could offer. Smith's lyrics still resonate, and can still even shock with the raw sexuality she describes in the flimsiest of codes.

"Oh, his jelly roll is so nice and hot
Never fails to touch the spot
I can't do without my kitchen man."

Then there's that description of a Harlem party on Saturday night:

"Gimme a pigfoot and a bottle of beer
Send me again, I don't care, I feel just like I wanna clown
Give the piano player a drink because he's bringing me down."

It takes someone with experience and their own true quality to do justice to Smith's songs, to give them not only a proper airing but a believable one. Block plays every bit of every song here, all the percussion, bass and of course, her own acoustic guitar, including the stirring slide parts. These are also her own new arrangements. Smith recorded with piano and jazz combos, while Block has re-imagined the material as guitar-based, a whole new way of listening to these classics, and very satisfying.

It's worth noting how needed this collection is, and no doubt the rest to follow. You can't go a day without another blues album being released by some guy or band, doing yet another cover of the same Robert Johnson or Howlin' Wolf songs. Yet there are so many great women pioneers barely recognized today. Block acknowledges the lifetime work of Bonnie Raitt and Maria Muldaur in her liner notes, long-time keepers of the flame, and having started this series, she'll also do lots to remind us of these incredible early performers.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: LILLY HIATT - TRINITY LANE

The Halifax Urban Folk Festival (HUFF) has a bunch of great things going for it, from the intimate listener venues to the always-stellar lineup. It's the kind of event where you feel like you've seen something special, rather than another night on the road for the performers. Part of that is the wise move put in place to attract artists that might not get to the region any other way. Instead of booking a performer and their full group, they go after singer-songwriters who are willing to play with (very, very good) local players, vets who can do their music justice. Then they are booked over three nights, one night as headliner and the other two as part of a songwriter's circle. This keeps hotel and travel costs down for the festival, and the artist is promised a working vacation, getting to enjoy the famous Maritime hospitality. In other words, stuff them full of lobster until they're happy.

This year's surprise choice (there's always at least one that you'd never think of beforehand) is Nashville's Lilly Hiatt. The up-and-coming singer-songwriter comes by it honestly, the daughter of the revered writer John Hiatt, but that of course only goes so far. She's clutching no-one's coattails, already an accomplished and passionate writer and performer. Her latest album, Trinity Lane, is a rowdy, rocking, emotionally charged release, full of fresh writing. There's a bit of twang to her sound but it's more roots-rock than country-folk, and her F-bombs will ensure there's no Opry invitation anytime soon.

Things are pretty intense when you delve into Hiatt's lyrics, with lots of lines about being on the edge emotionally, trying to get it together. She admits, "I just wanna rock 'n' roll/scream out my lungs and burn real slow." There are lots of old relationships hanging around, like the one in The Night David Bowie Died, where the singer wants to call a recent ex, but sits alone and cries, blaming herself for the split. No matter how much biography is in the songs, a key line seems to be "I'll take lonely if it means free." There's a whole lot of fire in the songs, and a bunch of life experience and survival wrapped up in that one line.

Lilly Hiatt will be at the Carleton in Halifax for HUFF Friday, Aug 31, Saturday, Sept. 1 and Sunday, Sept. 2, in the songwriter's circle the first two nights, and headlining the Sunday. Tickets and schedule info for all the shows and venues can be found at www.halifaxurbanfolkfestival.com.

Monday, July 30, 2018

MUSIC (BOOK) REVIEW OF THE DAY: THE BEATLES IN CANADA - THE ORIGINS OF BEATLEMANIA!

Quick, when did the British Invasion begin? You know, when The Beatles took over North American hearts and minds, starting a year of insanity that changed music and popular culture forever. The Ed Sullivan Show, right? When everybody tuned in? Well guess what. That was Feb. 9, 1964, and The Beatles were old news by that time in Canada. This country had been going wild for the Fab Four since December, and it had been building for a year already, way before those slowpokes in the U.S. had paid any attention.

That story has been completely told in the meticulous, essential The Beatles In Canada: The Origins of Beatlemania! by Toronto author and music historian Piers Hemmingsen. A life-long Beatles fan, Hemmingsen had a unique view of the group's rise, living in England in the early '60's as the group broke in that country, and then moving in Canada just prior to their ascendance here. A lifetime of research has led to a series of books on The Beatles in Canada, including the most exhaustive discography of their releases in this country. It all came together with this huge, hard-cover coffee table book released first in 2016, jammed with photos, historic articles, first-time interviews and truly the whole story.

If you don't know, The Beatles first broke in England in late 1962, and over 1963 Beatlemania raged in England, as well as parts of continental Europe and Scandinavia. The group's label in the U.S., Capitol Records, was not interested at first, and didn't bother to release any of the group's music. But in Canada, a wise Capitol exec named Paul White, whose job it was to choose which U.K. artists to release here, took an interest. At first, not much happened, with debut single Love Me Do selling under a 100 copies. But White was determined, and over the year, four singles and a Canadian-only album release, White convinced radio, and radio convinced Canada. Hemmingsen follows the path, and documents each piece of that journey. So when The Beatles showed up in New York to appear on Sullivan, they were already stars back in Canada. No wonder Paul White was one of the few people allowed into the group's inner circle during that visit. And as Hemmingsen tells us, as fans lined up for their Carnegie Hall appearance, The Beatles were studying their chart numbers from Saint John, N.B., in their Plaza Hotel suite.

It's all a fantastic story that shows Canada's crucial role in launching the group world-wide, and a must for Beatles fans. The book has just been released again, this time as an eBook via Amazon, or a special edition by Apple iBooks. That's an exclusive enhanced edition that includes audio clips embedded in the book with interviews, rare radio recordings and info from the author. Especially interesting is hearing the story from Paul White, who sadly passed away earlier this year. Just fire up the iTunes and grab a couple of your old Beatles albums to listen to as well.

The book features a red colour scheme, and is known as the Red book, in keeping with those famous Beatles hits albums from the '70's, the Red and Blue albums. That's because Hemmingsen is well on the way to completing the second volume, which will cover The Beatles in Canada the rest of the way, until their break-up in 1970. So get caught up quick with the new eBook or iBook version.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: CLAIRE COUPLAND - ON THE OTHER SIDE

A third release for singer-songwriter Coupland, a rising folk favourite in the Toronto scene. This is a five-track EP highlighting her emotionally charged writing, heartbreak with an edge, and a beat too. This One's For The Road is a break-up song with defiance in its tempo, hitting the road with a groove going on. She's also got a knack for spotting the problem and saying it clearly: "You're always asking questions, searching for holes in my words, you don't trust me." Nobody likes that feeling,and kudos to her for putting it so plainly. I find her writing highly effective.

First single Bound For Love showcases her guitar style and gives her an opportunity to let her vocals soar, an optimistic song for those who believe that love will prevail. Love In Your Eyes is filled with tender beauty, a special moment and some poignant pedal steel by guest Fats Kaplin (John Prine, Jack White). It's another fine example of smart writing. We don't get a long lead-up, or the ending, just the important moment where a romance could happen, might not, a song pared down to the emotional drama. Definitely looking for a full album soon.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: ROLLING STONES - NO SECURITY: SAN JOSE 1999

Here's the latest in the on-going From The Vault series, which has seen a bunch of live Stones shows from several different tours made available. You get the whole show, on two discs audio and one disc video, then you get to compare 76 different versions of Brown Sugar from over the years, and the increasingly leathery texture of Keith's skin.

I mock, only because I love. But it was quite the conglomerate they had going at this point. They put out an album in 1997, Bridges To Babylon, then did a year-long mega-tour in support of it, then released a live album from the tour (No Security), then did a six-month tour in 1999 in support of the live album. That's when this San Jose show happened, during the No Security tour supporting the live album (whew!), if you follow all that. Anyway, the good thing about the second tour was that they stripped things down a bit, moving from stadiums to arenas under 20,000, scaled down the sets and costumes, and concentrated more on the music than the showbiz. Even Jagger chose t-shirts for the most part.

Even so, the band always ends up playing mostly huge songs, afraid of disappointing the general audience, so as usual, it's late '60's to late '70's favourites, including Jumpin' Jack Flash, Honky Tonk Women, Tumbling Dice, It's Only Rock 'n' Roll, Start Me Up, Sympathy For The Devil and, you guessed it, Brown Sugar. There's the obligatory recent cuts, in this case Saint Of Me and Out Of Control from Bridges, neither memorable hits but the latter is a good concert number. You Got Me Rocking, a very good song from the underrated Voodoo Lounge album has by this time made its way into the regular lineup, and it is probably the best later Stones song from the post-1989 period, so always welcome. The biggest surprise of this tour, and one that makes for the best footage, is when the group moves to the second, smaller stage, just the core four members plus bassist Darryl Jones and keyboard player Chuck Leavell, doing a mini-set of blues versions of their old fave cover Route 66, Get Off Of My Cloud and Midnight Rambler. When Jagger lets lose on harp on the latter tune, the old spirit comes right back, the vastness of their empire falls away, and we're left with a brief but shining reminder of the real magic, so impossible to capture on the giant stage. Ah, but then it's back to the business of being The World's Greatest Rock'n'Roll Band. Cue Tumbling Dice.

Friday, July 27, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: RAY DAVIES - OUR COUNTRY AMERICANA ACT II

It's hard to get too excited about another Davies solo album, particularly a Part 2, when he's out fanning the flames for a Kinks reunion yet again. This isn't the first time it's supposedly been happening, but there did seem to be a little more substance behind it, confirmations of phone calls and interest from all three surviving members, if they can stomach being in a room together. Or, it all could have been Davies drumming up headlines to bring attention to his latest solo album. He's always been a bit of an actor.

And a wannabe playwright too. He's been writing concept albums since the late '60's, often with large autobiographical content, or at least based on his family experiences. He's awfully nostalgic too, and was so back then too, writing about his sisters and his childhood and his London home. Then came his fascination with America, and his Muswell Hillbillies concept (having his Muswell Hill neighbourhood taken over by U.S. hillbilly culture). That behemoth of a country has loomed ever larger in his life, as his band effectively moved there in the '70's and became arena rock stars, and then from the '90's on, Davies lived there, got shot there, and got completely obsessed.

That's culminated in Americana Act I and now II, where he describes to us his journey, looking for the source of the music and culture that inspired him as a kid, hitting the long road through middle America as a rock star, and finding himself at the end of the search. On paper, it seems like it might be a winner, especially since once again he's engaged The Jayhawks as his backing band. Trouble is, the story keeps getting in the way of the songs. From the spoken word segments to the conceptualized lyrics, somewhere all the fun got squeezed out. There's no memorable hooks or choruses. The most interesting is a song about a run-in with a groupie in Minneapolis who has the best of him, although he blatantly makes the song sound like a classic Pretenders cut. This is where I remind you that Davies and Chrissie Hynde had a relationship, and Indianapolis, her hometown, sounds a lot like Minneapolis. It's a rare energetic track for the record, but it also seems like a cheap shot too.

The story ends with Davies leaving New Orleans after being shot, wiser and a winner really, because he found his music source, paid his dues and survived. He returns to the Muswell Hillbillies theme with the closer Muswell Kills, describing how he'd avenge himself if he ran into that shooter again. Like most of the Davies concept albums, including Preservation Acts 1 and 2, Schoolboys In Disgrace and Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround Part One (there was no part two, thankfully), this is a story that is just not that entertaining to follow, and doesn't have much to offer as individual songs, either. If getting The Kinks back together will mean he returns to some basic rock writing to let brother Dave bash away on guitar and Mick Avory do the same on drums, now that will get me excited.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: VARIOUS ARTISTS - THIS IS SOUL

On the surface, this looks like a basic, though strong, '60's soul collection, featuring familiar names Sam & Dave, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin. And it is a solid set, with many well-known hits and a few surprises to attract fans. But there's also a cool back story.

Originally this was an album released in North America and England in 1968, but the U.K. version was drastically different, featuring an almost completely different track listing. It featured songs that were bigger hits there. It also proved quite influential, rising to #16 on their album charts. A favourite compilation, it's now been reissued for the first time, and greatly expanded, from the original 12 tracks, to 29 total, almost 80 minutes long.

The original mix was pretty cool, kicking off with Pickett's Mustang Sally, sliding into Carla Thomas's B.A.B.Y.. and then gearing into party mode with Arthur Conley's Sweet Soul Music. After Percy Sledge's immortal When A Man Loves A Woman, the cuts get lesser known, with Sam and Dave's I Got Everything I Need and Ben E. King's title track probably not recognizable by the average listener, but still top-drawer. The rest of the original 12 are bigger hits, including Redding's singalong Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song) and Eddie Floyd's Knock On Wood.

In case it wasn't obvious, these are all songs from the Atlantic Records label who had the cream of the crop of soul in those days, from its own roster and its distribution deal with Stax. The 17 bonus cuts here are taken from that same Atlantic stable of those years, with some repeats from Sam & Dave and Otis and Pickett, but also some period classics and a few very welcome one hit wonders as well. For those of you who thought Some Kind Of Wonderful  was a Grand Funk original, the first version, by Soul Brothers Six, should make for a pleasant surprise. The Mad Lads rarely make compilations, but their Get Out Of My Life is a fine example of group vocals of the day. Barbara Lynn needs to be better known for sure. Even some of the name artists get some exposure for their deeper cuts, including Eddie Floyd's excellent Big Bird (an airplane, not the Sesame Street character). Yes, you get Dock Of The Bay and Hold On I'm Coming for the umpteenth time, but the overall mix presents one of the best soul collections out there, with enough surprises to ensure that almost every buyer will get lots of tracks they don't already own.

Friday, July 20, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: THE ANDREW COLLINS TRIO - TONGUE and GROOVE

This is some mighty mandolinin', from Canada's eight-string king. Happy both singing and playing, Collins gives us the best of both worlds over these two sets, one all vocals and the other instrumentals. Like all good bluegrass players, he has a sense of humour in his choices, as well as a sense of adventure. On the instrumental side, that sees him rework Pink Floyd's Goodbye Blue Sky, while on the vocals disc (the Tongue one, of course), he has a go at everyone from Nick Drake to Roger Miller to The Hollies. A relaxed singer with that rustic quality to his vocals, he turns both Just A Gigolo and King Midas In Reverse into numbers that sound like folk wisdom.

When it comes to the pure playing on Groove, the whole trio shines, and shows off some multi-instrumental skills as well. Collins moves from mandolin to mandocello to violin. Mike Mezzatesta handles guitar, mandolin, and violin, and James McEleney covers bass and bowed acoustic double-bass, depending on the needs. This lets them jam in imaginative combos such as dueling mandolins on David Grisman's classic Dawg Grass, twin fiddles on Collins' own Kentakaya Waltz, and several jazz/bluegrass numbers featuring fast tempos or old-time fun. There's tremendous interplay among the trio as they come up with twists and turns, always in glorious harmony. As much as I love the story-telling on Tongue, my jaw dropped over Groove.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: THE GALPINES - SORRY MOM

Baby-hating, foul-mouthed liquor pigs, mired in debt and often in jail, even their mothers have denounced The Galpines. Well, not their real mothers I'm sure, and New Brunswick festival-goers and party animals have taken these four Moncton women to their hearts. The comedy country outfit sends up our redneck ways, from online shopping addiction (Visa Bill Blues) to living via Instagram (Hashtag Blessed). And sometimes, it's just for the shock value ("My dog is better than your baby.")

Fans will know many of the songs on the group's second release and first long-player, as they've been playing them to great reaction for months, and pretty much every song they write is instantly memorable. Go To Sleep has served as a lovely opening number, with those old-timey harmonies, like something that could have been on the O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack. Except that movie didn't feature some drug-and-booze addled festival goers trying to have a three-way but the baby wakes up and ruins everything.

If you shock easily, you don't want to go here, but if you have a sense of humour about four-letter words and questionable morals, and like comedy with your harmonies, The Galpines are absolutely entertaining. Plus, they don't like litterbugs, so there's a good lesson in here. One at least. 

The group is launching the album this Saturday, July 21, at the Parkindale Hall in Elgin, N.B., and are promising surprise musical guests, so I'm sure it's going to be a party. Then the band is continuing a busy summer of tour dates, including (gasp!) their first shows in Ontario and Quebec, including one at the Dakota in Toronto Aug. 31. That oughta show them stuck-up Upper Canadians.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: JENNIFER IRVING - LET 'EM IN

Formerly of the Nova Scotia group Drift a few years back, Jennifer Irving did drift away for a bit, into a photography career, kids, a move to Saint John and other adulting. Music was just on the back burner though, and now she returns with a debut solo EP, four cuts from three different sessions. It's an interesting variety from the singer-songwriter, thoughtful lyrics across the board but some dramatic style shifts.

The first two cuts, Weight and Well Enough, were made with Halifax producer Daniel Ledwell, and feature his well-known layers and textures. Irving adds to that a level of mystery, and intriguingly, a Spaghetti Western flavour. The third cut, Lines, was done with Charles Austin, another Halifax mainstay. While still featuring a rich sound, that track highlights the acoustic guitar sound of Irving's music, along with a bit of atmosphere. The final cut, Someday, is less spacious, Irving's vocals echoed and less prominent, brushed percussion joining the acoustic guitar along with a few bells and a haunted vibe. Toronto producer Snappy Homefry is the collaborator on this bit of electronic folk.

Irving proves a bit of a chameleon on the EP, adapting her voice to each atmosphere. On the mystery movie cuts at the start, she's moody and distant, while the acoustic tracks feel more warm and transparent. In each song though, her singing is compelling, and I like that she has these different sides.