Monday, September 9, 2019

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: CORB LUND - COVER YOUR TRACKS

The Hurtin' Albertan tries on other people's cowboy boots for a change. Lund's picked eight cuts that mean something to him, his favourites from over the years, or songs he's done in concert. Some are big surprises, and most of them from the pop side of things rather than country, cowboy or outlaw.

The most fun comes on a cover of the old hit "Cover Of The Rolling Stone," helped out by his pal Hayes Carll. This one's a natural for Lund's easy-going side, and in fact he does a better job than the original Dr. Hook version, which always felt a bit corny. Lund and Carll are just having fun. Same goes for his take on "It's Still Rock And Roll To Me," it's fun but a little too close to Billy Joel's version, I'd like to hear it with some oomph.

Lund goes the other way on the most surprising cut, AC/DC's "Ride On," which he turns into a country-ish number. If that's not enough of a shock, it also features guest vocals from none other than Ian Tyson, Lund's mentor. It works great, with a twangy loud guitar a nod to the original. Covers always work best when they successfully re-imagined. No such luck with "These Boots Are Made For Walkin'," which I'll argue really sounds better from a woman, or at least Nancy Sinatra. Still, strong marks for this mini-LP, a welcome side-step while we wait for Lund's next move.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: JACKSON BROWNE - RUNNING ON EMPTY

Browne's single best album doesn't get the sales love these days that his peers such as The Eagles, with Hotel California, enjoy, and the hefty boost to his bank account. Maybe this reissue on vinyl will bring back some love.

It's certainly deserved. This was a concept album like no other, a group of songs about being on the road, performed on the road, not just on stage but in the bus and hotel rooms too. Since those were the settings for the songs, there is an extra poignancy as Browne sings about the feelings he, the band and the crew share, as well as the problems, humour and heartache.

The title cut may be Browne's very best song, as his band helped him move from his sad balladry to hockey rink rock. These were expert L.A. players (David Lindley, Danny Kortchmar, Russ Kunkel, etc.) on the loose in middle America, a writer at the height of his creative powers, lots of time to jam, too much time to play, and more money than brains. The cocaine and groupie stories might have humour up front, but Browne lets the listener know this definitely isn't going to turn out well; all they can hope for is survival and a few lessons learned.

Every cut here is a gem, including Kortchmar's ode to truckers, "Shaky Town," the hilarious story of the cuckolded roadie, "Rosie," and Rev. Gary Davis's ode to marching powder, "Cocaine," complete with new couplets from enthusiasts Browne and Glenn Frey. And there's no better tribute to the crew than "The Load-Out," played as the walk-out music at a million concerts since. Browne oversaw the remastering of this new edition, which remarkably has always had brilliant sound for a live album, thanks of course to the terrific band.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: THE SPECIALS - ENCORE

The almost-always in flux Specials surprisingly continue, now dwindled down to three original members: Terry Hall on vocals, Lynval Golding on guitar and vocals, and bass player Horace Panter. They've done lots of touring in these reunion years, but little recording. It's the first studio album since 2001 to bear the name. It turns out they had some pretty good ideas saved up.

Wisely the band sticks to what got them recognized way back in the ska revival of the late '70's, political lyrics with fun music. Race is still just as volatile a topic, and most of the tracks revolve around that, from this still multi-racial group. "B.L.M." is Golding's story, telling of the racism his father faced in England when he emigrated, and that the same happened to him over the decades both in the U.K. and U.S. The message, finally is Black Lives Matter. Hall weighs in with some smart covers, such as The Equals' "Black Skin Blue-Eyed Boys," and takes on the craziness of guns on :Blam Blam Fever," first done by The Valentines in 1967, now updated with some contemporary statistics from the States.  I also love that Hall and Golding brought back their old Fun Boy Three cut "The Lunatics (Have Taken Over The Asylum)," in these Brexit/Boris times.

To sweeten the pot, there's a bonus disc included, a life concert of the current band, featuring several of the old faves, such as "Monkey Man," "A Message To You, Rudy," and "Too Much, Too Young." They still pack a live punch, and the band certainly has more to offer, even down to three.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: THE SHANGS - GOLDEN HITS OF THE SHANGS

What the heck is it with Hamilton and the enduring legacy of that ultimate cult-cool band Simply Saucer? That hybrid alt-rock/psych/punk combo was formed in the '70's and rediscovered decades later, leading to an ongoing reformation and status as a global influence. Now, an original co-founding member is seeing the same thing happen to his 90's project, The Shangs, who are back and beautiful with this, the group's first in over 20 years.

David Byers brought the pop side to the original Saucer, and when The Shangs got going in the '90's, he and cohorts Ed and Pat O'Neill showed a deep love of '60's sultry studio work, especially from girl groups and lounge sounds. Two CD's came out then, and now this sees Byers continuing those influences, with a batch of new songs, some found recordings past and a revisit to a couple of others. The O'Neill brothers are featured on the tracks, as well as the new generation Saucer folks, including original co-founder Edgar Breau,  still leading the Saucer. But this is not like that group's energetic output. The Shangs remain pop, fun at times, psych and mellow at others. From the moody opener "Adore" to the trippy cover of Norma Tanega's obscure 1966 single "A Street That Rhymes At 6 AM," this is a fascinating journey filled with delightful sounds and deep mysteries.

Byers is just as fascinated with dark Hollywood as he is with girl groups, and several of the songs are about sad tales of bit players. "Whatever Happened To Carol Wayne" is about the Tonight Show regular (the Matinee Lady) who drowned in mysterious circumstances, and "Claudine" is a tribute to the actress/singer Claudine Longet, who famously shot and killed her boyfriend, Olympic skier Spider Sabich.

At times, such as the cover of the Goffin/King number "Just A Little Boy," The Shangs recall the later studio meanderings of Brian Wilson, with a low-fi charm. Elsewhere, that same demo-like quality recalls the fuzzy warbles of XTC's Andy Partridge, unpolished gems better left alone than overworked. This is absolutely a headphones album, even one to drift off to sleep with, or at least another consciousness. Thanks for keeping it going, Mr. Byers.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: MELANIE PETERSON - WHAT YOU'RE SELLING

Here's a note to singer-songwriters based in Toronto: It's hot there in the summer. Come east, the weather's lovely and the ocean is magic this time of year. That's exactly what Melanie Peterson has figured out, as she makes her East Coast debut 2 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 11, at the Petite Riviere Vineyards at Crousetown, N.S. That's on the South Shore, near Bridgewater, and a great afternoon drive from Halifax. That sounds like a perfect introduction for Peterson to the charms of the area.

Peterson is actually from Saskatchewan originally, now making Toronto her headquarters. She's put out a couple of albums and a couple of EP's the last few years, featuring a couple of directions for her sound. Her most recent, What You're Selling, features three songwriter tunes in her acoustic folk style. Before that, her EP Two has larger, pop productions, which is what she plans for her next full album. I'm kind of torn between both styles, although the layered vocals and strings on the pop EP shine.

For her Sunday show, it's Melanie and her bass player, so I'll concentrate on the folk EP. On this less-adorned material, her voice stars, high-pitched and warm, charming and very appealing. She makes you want to lean in and soak up her stories, especially in "Lillian," the young girl from the troubled side of town, who needed a friend. She can do heartbreak too, but with strength. "What you're selling, I no longer buy," she advises the lying guy who she's giving the boot.

The long and short of it is, if you're looking for a great day Sunday in Nova Scotia, hop in the car, hit the Vineyard, and enjoy. If you're not close, check out Melanie Peterson online soon.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: GRATEFUL DEAD - AOXOMOXOA (50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION)

Here's the Dead's troubled third album, spiffed up for its 50th birthday. At that point, the group were far from the American institution they became (well, weird America anyway) and were still trying to live up to their reputation as San Francisco's finest. Everybody else - Janis, The Airplane, even Country Joe - had found a national audience, while the Dead was on the verge of breaking up, Weir and Pigpen not agreeing on direction.

With those two taking a back seat, this became the Dead's most experimental collection by far, with everything from weirdness to baroque balladry to old-time folk blues. Ideas were flying, Robert Hunter's lyrics were inspiring, and Jerry Garcia had embraced the studio, using sound effects and overdubs galore, racking up a huge bill, reported near $180,000. The group spent tons of time trying to get it right, but this was complex music with strange arrangements, and all over the place stylistically. No wonder it didn't catch on.

It does open with a Dead classic, "St. Stephen," about as straight-forward as they would get on the album, which is to say not that much, but there was a relatively easy melody to follow. Then the thick of the album begins with "Dupree's Diamond Blues," one of the old-timey tunes, complete with circus organ to brighten the mood. While mining the same seam as The Band, the Dead were making the sounds more complicated than organic, with little filigrees embroidered on top. There is harpischord on "Mountains Of The Moon," madrigal voices elsewhere, and even the blues rock of "China Cat Sunflower" gets jazzy flourishes. Meanwhile there's a jam band somewhere in there, and for all the intricate moments, there's remarkably still some occasional sloppy vibe.

Then things get really weird. The eight-minute "What's Become Of The Baby" is the group's "Revolution #9," with its drugged out, Twilight Zone approach. Somebody thought this exercise in tape manipulation and effects was a good idea, and I'm pretty sure they were stoned when they thought it. Thankfully they had saved one of the best numbers of their early period for the end, "Cosmic Charlie." The sister to "Truckin'," it would point the way to the group's glory period, with Workingman's Dead and American Beauty about to arrive.

For the anniversary edition, there are two big bonuses. The album was actually released twice, as Garcia had been dissatisfied with the initial mix, so he went back and redid it in 1971. While clearer, it doesn't really improve anything, and we get both mixes here. The other addition is a live show from '69 at the Avalon Ballroom in San Francisco, which features a couple of cuts from the album, including a rare outing for "Doin' That Rag." While from the same period as Live/Dead its largely different, often ragged and occasionally sparks fly. Pretty much your usual Dead show, then.

Monday, July 22, 2019

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: JESSICA HEINE - GOODBYE PARTY

Goodbye parties are odd affairs, as we try to celebrate what is essentially a loss; a friend, colleague or relative is moving on, and while we cheer their achievement, we're left to soldier on without them. It's the same thing we try to do with a personal loss, whether it's a broken relationship, a death in the family or of a close friend, when we lose someone close, we try to find something after the sundering that makes it better.

Edmonton singer-songwriter Heine has been through those kinds of losses, and her third album is informed by them. But here she mostly looks at the personal growth that we hope can come from those changes. "Figure It Out" is about brave folks who don't get spooked by failed relationships, and are looking for someone willing to gamely try again; "I found a road, if you've got a car we could drive it." In "Aspartame" she realizes her old love offered "words like sugar, the whole thing fake," but things are better, "you and he are not the same, the honey on your lips has the sweetest taste."

So it goes with Heine's voice as well. Warm and stirring, she is able to project vulnerability as well as strength through her vocals. It is easily the lead instrument, the folk arrangements a comfort to her lyrics, with the acoustic guitar, piano, mandolin, bass and drums never overwhelming the messages. While there are hints of hurt everywhere, ultimately this leaves you feeling the strength.