Saturday, April 17, 2021

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: DIANA HAYES/ANDY MEYERS - DEEPER INTO THE FOREST


Many people in the arts have found themselves shut out of some of their regular work in the Covid reality, which has been a curse financially, but occasionally there have been a few creative blessings. Without readings, conferences and launches on the schedule, B.C. poet Diana Hayes had time to turn some of her most recent work into a different project. Teaming up with guitarist and experimenter Andy Meyers (The Scenics, "The Last Pogo"), Hayes recited a number of her poems, which were then augmented with music, voices and sound effects. It's a rewarding combination of spoken word, music and atmosphere.

Rather than simply composing music to accompany the poems, Meyers lived with the audio, thought about the words, and found sounds, natural or created, to weave in and layer. Since nature is key to Hayes' poetry, field recordings of bird calls and frog peeps appear, treated with effects. There are wordless vocals at various times, supplied by Susheela Dawne, and Hayes' own voice is sometimes echoed back, a ghostly repetition. For the most part Meyers provides calm beds for the poems, fitting as Hayes has a soothing, Hinterland Who's Who-quality of narration. But when fuller sounds appear, it makes it even more dramatic, as found on "Thirteen Ways to Free a Crow." Here the guitar is richer and louder, train-like tones appear and the poet's voice doubled, sometimes repeated. If you too have extra time in lockdown, it's a good chance to expand your listening and try something different. 

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: KAT DANSER - ONE EYE OPEN


There's not too many albums that would qualify as blues with such a straight-up punk rock song as the title cut. But that's the big wide blues world for Kat Danser. She isn't confined to the bar band sound of much modern blues, nor is she confined to her hometown Edmonton sounds, pandemic or not. Danser teamed up with producer Steve Dawson in Nashville, and aces scattered around the continent for this set, recording her vocals remotely in Edmonton, with nobody in the same studio. How they pulled off all her different styles is a testament to the talent involved, and the now-familiar miracle that is Zoom.

Danser is an integrator, taking classic location sounds and smoothly blending them, while still allowing different genres to come to the fore depending on the track. "Mi Corazon," obviously Cuban and sung in Spanish, still has horns that owe as much to New Orleans. And where that pedal steel solo comes from, well, it's part of the magic. In "Lonely & The Dragon," those horns are now serving up slow-burning soul jazz lines, while Kevin McKendree (Brian Setzer, Delbert McClinton) provides a shot of vitamin B-3. And "Bring It With You When You Come" is delightfully Dixieland/Fats Waller, with Dawson sliding in some licks, while the horns go off script for a bebop moment or two. Meanwhile Danser goes from goodtime vocals on "Frenchman Street" to tough as nails on "Way I Like It Done," a different character for every different song. By the time she rages, "What the hell is going on?" in her best punk voice for "One Eye Open," it all makes sense actually.

Friday, April 2, 2021

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: NEIL YOUNG - YOUNG SHAKESPEARE


Just imagine the people who went to this concert in January of 1971, and said after, "It was good, but he played a bunch of new songs nobody knew." It would be a year before they came out on Harvest, and that night Young treated the crowds to the brand-new "A Man Needs A Maid," "Old Man," "The Needle And The Damage Done," and "Heart Of Gold." They didn't know how lucky they were at the Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford, CT. 

This new LP/CD/DVD is billed as the earliest concert film of Young, but let's be realistic. He looks and sounds the same as he did all for decades, at least when he did these acoustic shows. More importantly, it's a strong show from this crucial time in his career. His songwriting was flowing so well that he couldn't afford to stand still and promote his just-released album After The Gold Rush. The set features just two of those tracks, "Tell Me Why" and "Don't Let It Bring You Down." He did the CSNY favourites "Ohio" and "Helpless," but it was the unreleased material that really held his interest.

Definitely the high point is when he switches to piano, an instrument he admits he's still learning. But he's used it to write stunning new material. We get his "Man Needs A Maid/Heart Of Gold" suite, still in its original medley state. It's funny how "Heart Of Gold" was the afterthought at this point. In introducing "Maid," he explains his recent back injury (slipped disc) had left him bedridden for a time, wishing somebody would clean up. That might have inspired the "maid" lines, but the real story here is the bit about "I fell in love with the actress," a reference to his new relationship with Carrie Snodgrass, probably the heart of gold. Young stays at the keys for "Journey Through The Past," such a strong number it would be saved for his experimental film of the same name the next year. 

Young fans will know this this show was a mere three days after his Massey Hall concert, released in 2007. That featured a longer setlist, and the only difference here is an encore of "Sugar Mountain." Also, the Massey Hall show had a DVD that linked up those cuts with this same exact film footage, since at that point, they didn't realize they had this good audio from the Shakespeare Theatre set. Well, never mind, it's good to have the video and audio now in its proper place, and the Shakespeare show is more serious and quiet, without the excitement of the audience at the hometown Massey Hall gig. It is Young at the very height of his songwriting prowess. You can buy the CD, LP or a deluxe set with the DVD and both audio versions.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: JERRY LEGER - SONGS FROM THE APARTMENT (Vinyl), TIME OUT FOR TOMORROW (Deluxe)



Some musicians are using the Covid downtime to work on new music, and others have used it to search back in their vaults for some forgotten treasures to release. Our favourite Toronto roots-rocker (well, mine) Jerry Leger has done both, and been quite generous about it, with a couple of new/old releases. There's finally a (red) vinyl version of his 2020 album Songs From The Apartment, which was a surprise album released digitally at the start of pandemic last year, a collection of acoustic cuts recorded at home, one mic. To spruce that up, Jerry's added a fine new single to the album, "Sweep It Under The Rug," done in the same style, just him at the piano.


You're not missing anything having the song released in this bare-bones version. I wouldn't want the ballad adorned in any way. It's a moving song, sad but looking forward, about a couple who find out they both have been untrue, but agree to put it aside, as there is still love and hope. As for his home demos, they show just how strong a composer Leger is, the songs fully formed before he hits the studio, not relying on other instruments to beef them up. 



The other release just out is a deluxe edition of his 2019 album, Time Out For Tomorrow. I love this full-band album, produced by Michael Timmins of Cowboy Junkies, a big, guitar-centered album. Leger embodies the spirit of a bunch of classic songwriter-rockers here. I could throw out the all-star names, but the point is he sounds a little like all of them, while copying none of them. His work stands on his own, inspiring and engrossing. The great news here is that the album is now beefed up with a remarkable 18 bonus cuts. These include lots more demos, out-takes and some relevetory live tracks. Solo, live or with a band, Leger has become a songwriting treasure. Check out his site for buying details, and his YouTube channel for even more content.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: NEIL YOUNG WITH CRAZY HORSE - WAY DOWN IN THE RUST BUCKET


Another one from Young's Performance Series, this one comes from a special night, a warm-up gig for the Ragged Glory tour in 1990. Young and Crazy Horse took over the Catalyst in Santa Cruz, California, and did three sets for the lucky few, two and a half hours of tunes. Since this was before the tour, the setlist for his upcoming gigs hadn't been put together yet, so there was a good spirit of fun throughout, with some rare cuts, band favourites and almost all the new album played.

There's already a live album from this tour, Weld, which was released in 1991. It's good, but this beats it, for various reasons. First, there's excellent sound on this thanks to the small club feel. Young's vocals especially are up close and personal, and the venue allowed for a better recording. The setlist is very different from the tour document of Weld, and we get some gems here. "Country Home" was an old Horse number that first appeared back in 1975, made the Ragged Glory album, but wasn't featured on the tour. "Surfer Joe And Moe The Sleaze" was a dud on the RE*AC*TOR album, but it proves much more enjoyable played live. Other old '70's tracks "Danger Bird" and "Bite The Bullet" are welcome as well, deep cuts for strong fans, rather than those hoping for "Helpless." 

Throughout, the band is locked in, and Young sounds invested in the performance. You can tell the difference, he's not acting at being Neil Young, he's enjoying the thrill of teaming up once again with his best band, and letting loose on some different and new material. Young was enjoying himself so much, during Don't Cry No Tears, a normally short tune, he got the group to continue playing it rather than ending, explaining to the crowd, "I just felt like singing it some more." 

Of course, it helps that there were so many good new songs to play. Ragged Glory was a very good album, and individually the songs were even better live. "Love To Burn" was a great song to jam on, a long story with full-sized guitar solo breaks. "F*!#in' Up" quickly became both a band and fan favourite, and "Love And Only Love" matched the intensity of other Crazy Horse epics such as "Cortez The Killer," the show closer. 

Yeah, there's a lot of Neil Young albums out there, but this one has everything going for it, if you're a fan of Crazy Horse tours. If that doesn't tempt you, stand by the next one, Young Shakespeare," coming this Friday, solo acoustic from 1971, featuring Harvest-era songs.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: COLLEEN POWER - TALES FROM DOWNTOWN WEST


Here's another use of Covid down time. St. John's mainstay Colleen Power took the RPM Challenge in February. That's Record Production Month, and the goal is to make an entire album by yourself, from songwriting to finished product. Power managed just that, coming up with six strong new ones, and doing all the playing and producing herself. That includes vocals, guitar, bass, dulcimer, drum programming and editing, ukulele and accordion. 

You get a bit of everything Power is about in these tracks. There's Newfoundland whimsy, trad, biting wit, social observation, punk attitude, Francophone, grass roots and modern folk. In the sharpest bit of commentary, she uses the tiktok trend of sea shanties to skewer the socio-political climate of her own province. "NL Sea Shanty" chides the province for being "Halif an hour later b'ys, and fifty years behind." Power isn't pulling any punches with this one: "While the world is wielding windmills, we're bawlin' out for oil/Join me in this sea shanty, pretend you're Alan Doyle." On a softer note, her "Purple Aster" is a ukulele charmer, maybe the first song tribute to that hardy flower. Her downtown St. John's street cred comes through solidly on "Spell For A Broken Mirror," with "Bad luck, bad luck, enough to fill up a dump truck."

The pandemic has curtailed the usual St. Patrick's Day shenanigans in St. John's, but not the music, and Power is doing her bit of celebrating on Facebook Live. Join her at 8:30 PM NST (which is 8 PM Atlantic, 7 PM Eastern, etc.) at www.facebook.com/ColleenPowerNL. And to pick up a copy of Tales From Downtown West or any of her other releases, go to www.singsonginc.ca.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: LEAHY - GOOD WATER


Man, that's a lot of Leahy's. I count seven in the beloved Ontario family band these days, some of the eleven siblings not active these days, others stepping in to take their place, including a couple of next-generation members. With the changes, they are sounding a lot more progressive these days, with more modern instruments and a world music sound on several cuts, more Enya than trad for sure. Produced by Canadian David Bottrill, with plenty of prog and rock credits from Peter Gabriel to Rush to his credit, there are plenty of big-sounding epic tracks here, lots of soaring vocals, moody keyboards and prominent drums. With Donnell, Doug and Angus all on the sidelines, the fiddle content is way down, not even showing up until the third song on the album.

So, a new chapter, but still with moments of the old "Call To Dance" instrumental excitement. Both "Little Moon" and "Star of the Sea" have that fiddle-and-drum Irish swing, where the group's long-standing prowess as dynamic players takes over. For the rest though, Denise's vocals shine, on rockers such as "Joanne" and the piano ballad "Falling." And for the full family story, check out "My Old Man," which tells how the Leahy music dream got passed down, albeit with the generational shift in tastes we hear in this latest version of the group.