Monday, September 27, 2010

Neil and Lanois Present Le Noise

Two years ago The Top 100 Canadian Albums book was reissued in soft cover, a year after the hard cover edition. As part of the promotion, I took to the road for a couple of events with ace producer and musician Daniel Lanois. His landmark album Acadie was in the book, at #20. Lanois was doing a series of shows in Atlantic Canada. For these, I served as a sort of opening act. A few hours before showtime, just after soundcheck, the public was invited to a free question and answer session, where I interviewed Lanois, and then opened the floor to inquiring minds.

At his Halifax show, well over a hundred people showed up to hear Lanois. After some banter between us, most of the hour was spent taking questions. One of the best ones from the floor had Lanois thinking: Who, he was asked, would he most like to produce? His answer was telling, and as it turns out, a prediction. Neil Young, he answered emphatically. Would it happen? Lanois said he had approached Young's manager, Elliot Roberts, and expressed his interest.

Now, two years on, it has happened. Lanois and Young met up earlier this year at Lanois' L.A. studio. It is perhaps the simplest album Young has ever made. Lanois has spoken often about his production technique, which he has built up over the years. He works in advance, and creates his famous magic, his atmospheric technique of soundscapes and effects. The idea is that the artist simply shows up, plugs in, and everything is set. Now, this has worked sometimes, but other times the artist balks. Dylan, who sees himself as his own producer, has butted heads with Lanois on the two discs they have created together, demanding his own vision. Lanois wants to be in charge. When it works, on albums such as Emmylou Harris's Wrecking Ball, the producer and the performer are perfectly agreed on the approach. It could have gone either way with someone as self-determined as Neil Young.

The results are now here with Le Noise. It seems the two were indeed agreed on the process. Young and Lanois came up with a unique recording style. There are no other musicians than Young, either on electric or acoustic. The other sounds come from the Lanois trickery, which is actually pretty subdued, especially on softer numbers. When Young plugs in, there are echoes, loops, atmospherics and layers, presenting him with an interesting new style: The solo electric troubadour.
It sounds like no other Young album; no Harvest country, no Crazy Horse caterwauling, no experiments in genres. It's Young raw and bare, nothing hidden.

The themes are typical, however, especially of his latter-day writing. There's quite a bit of looking back, and self-referencing. On "Love And War", Young takes us back to his Toronto days in the 60's, pre-Springfield, to tell us he was singing about those themes then, and still is. Incas are brought up again, for some reason. And there is the now-obligatory shout-out to Pegi on "Sign Of Love", another tender but cliched love song straight from the Harvest Moon tribute style. While he's not breaking too much new ground, these are at the very least good themes for him to explore, far better than an album of tributes to his Linc-Volt car, or impeaching Bush. It could mean this disc will be one people will return to more than once or twice.

I do hear echoes of the excellent On The Beach album, dark and serious songs which have remained strong decades later. Perhaps that's what Young was going for with this one. With new Neil Young albums, I've learned overtime to let it settle for awhile before passing complete judgement. Let's just say for now, on the first few listens, I'm pretty pleased with the Young-Lanois experiment. True, there's no big cut hear to grab ahold of your attention, no "Rockin' In The Free World" or "Hey Hey (My My)", but there's nothing to cringe about either. That's a good sign right there with a new Neil Young album.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Bob's Book Launch Tour

With the release of The Top 100 Canadian Singles just days away, I'm getting ready to hit the road for promotion and publicity. This means a couple of weeks of interviews, airports, and book launches. It's a chance to meet up with old friends, and connect with many of the people who voted in the poll to choose the Top 100 Singles. Also, there are a series of events, free and open to the public. I'll get to talk to lots of Canadian music fans, get your take on the music, and your memories. If you want to talk about Canadian popular music, I'd love to see you at one of these launches.

At each event, there's something different. Some feature music, some include a lively debate, and at all the them, I'll speak about the book and the stories behind the making of it. I've included details below about the events about my schedule over the next few days.

Already, the interviews have begun, and you'll see them showing up in newspapers, on-line, and on radio and tv in the coming days.

Tuesday, Sept. 28:
Travel day: I make my way from Fredericton to Toronto, arriving just before 4 PM, and the first interview is scheduled for 5 PM! Please, Air delays today.

Wednesday, Sept. 29
A media day. Doing several interviews which will come out the next day, the day of publication of The Top 100 Canadian Singles. These include CBC Radio 2, CP/BN news, Alan Cross for Metro and, and Greg Quill of the Toronto Star.

Thursday, Sept. 30
Publication Day! The book is out, and myself and publicity queen Sue McCallum of The Next Level PR are up and at 'em early, starting at Canada AM live at 7:45 with Seamus O'Regan, one of the illustrious voters in the book. We'll run around all day, from media outlet to media outlet, and hopefully this time Sue will let me get lunch. I must remind her for the Top 100 Canadian Albums release day three years ago, I didn't eat until 10 PM.

The official launch of The Top 100 Canadian Singles will be held in Toronto at 7 PM at Ben McNally Books, 366 Bay Street. The M.C. is Dave Bidini of bidiniband and Rheostatics, himself an accomplished author of several books on sports and music. Our musical guest is Newfoundland's legendary Ron Hynes.

Friday, Oct. 1
It's off to Vancouver early, arriving at 9-ish, and hitting the media trail there

Saturday, Oct. 2
More Vancouver media

Sunday, Oct. 3
4 PM, Zulu Records, 1972 West 4th Avenue. Hosted by CBC's Grant Lawrence. Grant and I will have a grand chat about Canadian music, what is and isn't in the book, and I'm sure he'll bring up his near-pathological love of The New Pornographers' "Letter From An Occupant". He claims he will storm out unless it's #1 on the list.. We'll see. Now, at this moment of writing, we're ironing out the last details of a surprise musical guest. Hopefully everything will come together, and I can make the announcement ASAP.

Monday, Oct. 4
Travel to Calgary. A media day. A sister day. No need for a hotel, will be staying in the man-cave in the basement.

Tuesday, Oct.. 5
7 PM Melrose Cafe and Bar, 730 17th Avenue SW, Calgary. Hosted by CBC Radio's Danielle Nerman. Ah, Nerman. I'm sure she'll be just as witty and charming as Calgary listeners expect. We go back, Nerman and I. Here's her biography notes:
Danielle Nerman is broadcaster, producer and columnist for CBC Radio in Calgary. Danielle is best known to Calgarians as "Nerman at Night," the entertainment reporter for CBC Calgary's drive-home show, The Homestretch.
Danielle began her career at CBC Fredericton, as a radio and television reporter hired fresh out of university. That's where she met Bob Mersereau. Bob taught Danielle how to write for television ... and where to find the freshest Tim Horton's donuts.
Since Fredericton, Danielle has filed for a number of national CBC Radio shows, including a documentary for Dispatches about people stealing dinosaur fossils from Mongolia's Gobi Desert.
Danielle Nerman has lived and travelled throughout Australia, Europe, The Middle East, Central America and Asia. She's moving to Beijing in December for a one-year stint as a documentary producer for China Radio International.

Wednesday, Oct. 6
A day off? Well, by that time, I'm sure Sue McCallum will have lined up a bunch more interviews to do by phone, or on-line. I hate that about Sue, doing her job really well and everything.

Thursday, Oct. 7
Travel to Winnipeg. Media day.

Friday, Oct. 8
7 PM, McNally Robinson Booksellers, 1120 Grant Avenue, Winnipeg. Hosted by John Einarson. John's the author of a bunch of the best music books ever to come out of Canada. He's an acknowledged expert on the Manitoba music world, including Neil Young and the Guess Who. He co-wrote Randy Bachman's autobiography, and has written music biographies of Neil Young, Steppenwolf, Chris Hillman and the Flying Burrito Brothers, and his latest, on Arthur Lee of Love, has garnered great praise from Rolling Stone Magazine and a certain Robert Plant. His books regularly show up on the year-end best music book lists in publications such as Mojo and Uncut. John and I will no doubt debate his favourite bold statement, that Winnipeg is the rock and roll capitol of Canada.

Saturday, Oct. 9
Fly to Moncton. Attend and present awards at the Music NB celebration.
Then, I go home. But it won't be peaceful. There's a reading in Saint John, NB Oct. 14th, a Fredericton book launch Oct. 15th, another one in Halifax on Oct. 22nd featuring Sloan, a talk at Halifax Pop Explosion on the 23rd, and in November I'm in Hamilton for the Hamilton Music Awards, with some music guests there as well. More details on these later dates in a few days...


Wednesday, September 1, 2010


Welcome to the new blog for The Top 100 Canadian Singles book. It's going to be released soon, on Sept. 30th, from Goose Lane Editions. It's been two years in the making, and is sure to spark debate, conversation, and above all, lots of passionate talk about the great music of Canada.

This blog will serve a few purposes. First, you'll get up-to-date information about the book, and events surrounding its release. You'll be able to find out about special launches for music fans in several cities across the country, starting Sept. 30th. Next, it will provide a place to give readers and music fans some added music news. And I'll be able to write more about many of the artists featured in this book, and in The Top 100 Canadian Albums.

Best of all, it will be a place for your feedback, questions, and debate. Music fans are passionate about their favourites, and you know as soon as the Top 100 Canadian Singles list is revealed, there will be plenty of comments, and some pretty heated arguments over which songs made the list, and those that didn't. There will be memories, and those wonderful pieces of trivia that music fans love to share. Whether your first concert was April Wine or The Arcade Fire, we'll want to read about it.

Just to remind you, I didn't actually pick the songs that will make up The Top 100 Canadian Singles. That job fell to a jury of around 800 people from across the country. I polled music professionals, such as musicians, broadcasters, reviewers, label employees, retailers, managers, and more. Plus, I included a strong selection of just-plain fans from across the country, to give that flavour to the vote as well. Everybody was allowed to pick their top ten, with number one getting the most points. This was the same method used to compile The Top 100 Canadian Albums three years ago. So when you're arguing, remember this was a consensus vote, rather than just a few so-called experts.

So the countdown is on, and so is this blog. I'm going to start writing daily now, filling you in, giving you a few hints, looking back at the Top 100 Canadian Albums, and paying attention to all the news in Canadian music, especially from our favourites in the Albums and Singles book. Expect an in-depth look at the new Neil Young album very shortly, an advance copy is on the way to me, and you'll hear how Daniel Lanois tipped off fans of the Top 100 Canadian Albums book a full two years ago to his plan to produce an album for Neil!

Thanks for your interest, and I look forward to being in touch with you on a regular basis, as we celebrate Canadian music.