Monday, February 28, 2011



Quite wisely, the Johnny Cash people at Sony are following the same format as they did for Dylan.  Cash's vast estate of tapes, discovered and now handled by son John Carter, are being rolled in the double-disc format, full of rare cuts, unreleased gems, radio shows and demo recordings.  This time, the set includes some of his earliest work from the 1950's, and a parcel of neat gems from the 60's, after his move to L.A.

Disc one starts with my kind of treasure, a full radio show from 1955, Cash's first time hosting his own 15 minute weekly segment, along with the Tennessee Two, Luther Perkins and Marshall Grant on guitar and bass.  Cash sounds nervous, especially reading the sponsor's ads, and repeatedly asking for requests by mail.  But the four cuts are classic, especially his early self-written gospel number, Belshazzar.  Released once before on a 2005 expensive edition of a boxed set as bonus cuts, it's good to have this available widely.

Then the new finds appear.  From the tapes stored in his Hendersonville, Tennessee archives come the original demos for the classic Sun Records songs of the 50's, including the seminal I Walk The Line, plus favourites Get Rhythm, Train Of Love and more.  This is just Cash alone, a without the boom-chicka-boom trademark sound of his early Sun hits, and we get to hear him as a true balladeer, steeped in the grand traditions, in love with country, gospel, Western, folk and 19th century music.  With his band and Sun adding the rockabilly, a true original was born, as important a figure as label mate Elvis.  Rounding out disc one are a bunch of rare Sun demos, available only on European collector's pressings and the like.

The second disc is the Hollywood stuff, and that's a lot better than it sounds. Cash moved to Los Angeles when he signed to Columbia, and remained with the label until the mid-80's.  Unlike Elvis, when Johnny went to La-La Land, he didn't lose a step, and in fact only became bigger in the '60's.  He even tried movies, and we get some unreleased material that was written for, and dropped from films, songs of a quality that would have changed Presley's Hollywood debacle for sure.  Many of the 60's singles had unique b-sides that have never been on albums, so to get them collected here is great, as many are top-drawer.  As for the unreleased stuff, well, who knew Johnny had recorded a duet with Lorne "Ringo" Greene?  Yup, singing and speaking, it's a treat, one of the best tracks here.  As with the Dylan bootleg series, you come away from this set with an even greater appreciation for Johnny Cash's career, and some new favourite tracks.

Sunday, February 27, 2011



Petty's breakthrough album from 1979 still rocks.  Even though it includes the unabashed pop hits Don't Do Me Like That and Refugee, it was at a rare time when you could still be cool and be popular.  It's a fine line, and Petty has managed it much of his career.  It's also a rare record, especially these days, where big hits don't overshadow everything else on the album.  Equally strong are Here Comes My Girl, Shadow Of A Doubt, and the beloved Even The Losers.  As we discover in the good liner notes, he didn't even have the killer second line "get lucky sometimes" until he stepped up to the mic to record the song.  Sometimes perspiration causes inspiration.

For those with just the Petty Greatest Hits from the olden days, do yourself a favour and pick this up, because there's much to love, including 9 bonus tracks.  B-sides Casa Dega and It's Rainin' Again are long-familiar b-sides, the first a good one, the second barely a song, more an idea.  More importantly are two never-before released session out-takes, Nowhere and Surrender, either good enough to be on the album, and surprisingly, they were never called apon until now.  There's a great little trio of live tunes too, Shadow Of A Doubt, Don't Do Me Like That and a cover of Eddie Cochran's Somethin' Else.  The Heartbreakers have always been a smokin' band, I've seen them a couple of times, and these tracks have the excitement of a band breaking big in front of your eyes.

Now, my review copy isn't CD, I got a vinyl one, specifically to get back in the mood, but let me tell ya, if you want to groove on some needle grooves, this is one to do it to.  The 180-gram pressing is rich and warm and loud and makes you wonder why you fell for that CD crap in the first place.  Quit bugging me, I am enjoying living in 1979 again.  I'm so thin!

Saturday, February 26, 2011



I missed writing about this last fall when it came out, as the companion documentary to the reissue of the Stones' classic album Exile On Main Street, so I'll step a few months to correct that here.  Made with the cooperation and participation of the band, current and former members included, it's an attempt to explain and describe the near-legendary circumstances surrounding the landmark album.  Since there's been an entire mythology that's been built up around the sessions, held largely at Keith's house in the south of France, the movie spends much of the time demystifying the months leading up to Exile's 1972 release.

It seems we know most of the story, and it's not really that glamorous.  In a nutshell, the Stones are having serious money problems, thanks to rip-off deals with Allen Klein, Andrew Loog Oldham, Decca, you name it.  Then the British government hit them with the nefarious 93% tax rate, and they basically skipped town.  They couldn't find a studio, so they recorded in Keith's villa, made some amazing music, Keith found easy access to hard drugs, things got heavy, and they left 9 months later with half the album, which then got finished in L.A.  The end.

Of course, it's a fascinating story, and doesn't really need any more rumours, theories or tall tales.  The doc does the important job of describing what it was like, through the eyes of Jagger, Richards, Wyman and Watts, Mick Taylor, horn man Bobby Keyes, Anita Pallenberg, plus several others there on a daily basis.  While there's precious little actual film footage of the house and the sessions, the director and editor do a fabulous job of using the ample still photography and sources such as the controversial, still-unreleased tour film Cocksucker Blues, from that period.  The new interviews are no-bullshit, with Mick actually answering questions and giving insights, and Wyman and Watts accurately describing what a drag it was working in a dank, hot basement, and spending hours waiting for either Keith or Mick to show.

There's lots of fun moments, including Mick and Charlie returning to Olympic Studios in L.A. recently, bantering like two old British war vets.  And geez, Charlie looks old.  Mick, however, looks timeless.  Bobby Keyes, with his Texan drawl, is a valuable source, telling us "hell yes, there were drugs, and scantily-clad women.  This is rock'n'roll!"  What none of them can answer is why it all came together so perfectly on this album, now widely considered the band's best.  It doesn't matter, it just matters that it does exist, and we know have as accurate a picture as we're going to get.

Friday, February 25, 2011



Cowboy Junkies appear in The Top 100 Canadian Albums at #62 - The Trinity Session

This is the second release in the band's ongoing Nomads series, a cycle that will see the Junkies release four discs in roughly 18 months, volumes 3 and 4 to appear later this year. First, some facts about the Nomads releases: There is in fact, no thematic connection between the four releases, at least not musically. It's just that the group had a surplus of songs, now own their own label, and wanted to present themselves a time-based challenge. Also, they received four paintings from an artist friend that they wanted to use as album covers. So they picked four topics, and started last year with Renmin Park, songs about Michael Timmins' three-month stay in China.

Demons is a collection of cover versions of a great friend of the band's, U.S. cult figure Vic Chestnutt. As Michael Timmins explains on the group's website, they had long discussed a collaborative album, but when Chestnutt died last year, it became obvious they should delve into his large, and largely unheard catalogue. Timmins felt the group could bring their "Northern" perspective to the songs. You don't have to be a devotee of Chestnutt's work to appreciate the album, and it's almost better if you aren't. Discovering these moody, quirky songs is half the fun, and hearing them from a solid band with a unique sound is an especially good way. Chestnutt fans might question the interpretations, and the loss of Chestnutt's distinctive style, but the Junkies have their own, and their own audience, and the material works well for them.

The songs allow the band to sink back into their trademark murkiness to a point, with Margo Timmins slightly buried in the mix, along with the drums and bass, and other elements like the splash of the cymbals and ambience of the strings filling more of the listening space. Also, the group's natural languid and laid-back style put a strong focus on the words, certainly a strong point in Chestnutt's work. Also, you know you have a song that works for Cowboy Junkies with a line like "crows flying around my head". These songs may be highly personal to Chestnutt, but at the same time, when it's a labour of love for the band, it's moving in a new way. Don't think of it as a tribute disc, or part of a greater series, the album stands on its own as an examination of one artists' craft, and his Demons.

Thursday, February 24, 2011



Mae Moore, where ya been? Ten years is a long time between discs, especially for somebody with lots of chart hits, Juno nominations and even a cut on the Top Gun soundtrack. It seems Mae's been enjoying a quiet life as a landscape painter, and organic farmer in B.C.'s Gulf Islands. A committed environmentalist, she's taken the back-to-the-land job very seriously, but recently became ready to re-enter the music scene.

While her way with melodies, and mellow voice gave her access to the pop market in the '90's, in truth she started as a folkie and returns comfortably to that larger genre title. Of course, that doesn't mean the music is any less accessable, and Moore's jazzier arrangements only help make her approachable from any number of vantage points. Horns and strings are gently used on several cuts, and even a good old Joni Mitchell dulcimer. The Mitchell comparisons are plenty actually, from the painting to the soprano sax, to the folk-meets-jazz, even the vocal range, and it must be mentioned, because you're going to think it anyway. But that does a disservice to the quality of material, the great vibe, and the satisfaction of hearing this style done so well.

Moore is operating from the landscape painter's perspective, with the natural world featuring prominantly across the disc. When Constellations Align is a song of a lover's devotion under The Milky Way, the heavens the only thing big enough to dwarf two hearts. Having lived on both coasts, Moore bravely and successfully tackles that ultimate naturalist writers' topic on Oh, Canada. Where many have tried and come up with trite results, Moore succeeds with lines such as "In a landscape so wild/I am beguiled/With all the beauty that I see".

Mae Moore is taking the Via Train across Canada in March, stopping off at clubs from Victoria to P.E.I. to launch the Folklore album. For those with a desire to see her paintings, some are included in the liner notes, plus there's a companion coffee table book with 19 of her works, and a download for the album.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011



For 18 years, Sean McCann has lived in a bit of anonymity, despite the fact he's been an integral part of Atlantic Canada's biggest band. You might not even recognize his name, but you surely know him as a member of Great Big Sea, and you'd probably know his face if you saw him. But Alan Doyle has grabbed the larger share of individual fame, as the more outspoken member of the group, and even starring in the movie Robin Hood with his buddy Russell Crowe. McCann has been there from the start, sharing in the singing, songwriting and band-leading. Now, after all those years of comparitive quiet, he has emerged with two solo albums in less than a year.

So what's caused this sudden burst of solo work? No, there's no trouble in the Great Big Sea camp. They're still touring like crazy. It's all hands on deck, always, when it comes to Great Big Sea. It's actually been all that touring work that has caused McCann to do even more work. With a schedule of over a hundred shows a year, including some far-flung territories in North America, that means hours and hours on the tour bus. McCann has found the best way to pass that time is to write. And write. Now, with three writers in the band already, he simply has too much material to offer. So what to do? Last year's Lullabies For Bloodshot Eyes celebrated new fatherhood, obviously a personal release for him. Now comes Son Of A Sailor. While it's not as directly personal, there are some personal tunes here, including the title track, as indeed he is the son of a sailor, and grandson too. No surprise, given Great Big Sea's long career of telling those kind of Newfoundland stories.

GBS fans will want to know if McCann's solo work is like that of the band's, and the quick answer is yes, you'll certainly recognize his style of writing and singing and the instruments here. They are what you'd expect, fiddle, whistles, bouzuki, all those little touches on top of guitars and such. But what isn't here is the more raucous and fun side of the group. This is a more gentle, folk-oriented disc, a songwriter, ballad kind of album. What you get is a group of poignant tales: some personal, but mostly an opportunity to peer into the lives of others, characters for which McCann shows empathy. There's the Newfoundland fishery, of course, and those folks. We hear about soldiers at wartime, and a loving couple who's marriage lasts many years, and we get the start and the finish. It's actually inspired by his grandparents. That song features a duet vocal with Jeen O'Brien, the Toronto singer who has worked with the band and Hawksley Workman before. Other guests include, surprise, the whole Great Big Sea bunch, all over the album, plus Kelly Russell from the beloved Newfoundland group Figgy Duff, and Boyd MacNeil of the Barra MacNeils.

Now I should mention it's not all quiet, there are some uptempo tunes, but those ones are strumming sing-alongs, not the fist-pumpers Great Big Sea can do. So there's enough tempo-switching to make it an enjoyable listen all through. To answer that obvious question, yes...if you like the Great Big Sea sound, you'll like this album, and you're also going to be introduced to a new side of Sean McCann, and get a better understanding about what makes his band tick. In many ways, he provides much of the heart of the group.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011



When a disc's opening track includes background vocals that go "shoo-bop-shoo-bop", I know I'm gonna love it.  Elkas, ex-Local Rabbit and a member in good standing of The Joel Plaskett Emergency, has delivered a smooth soul tour-de-force on his third solo disc.  This is a disc that takes you directly to that warm spot in your heart, the place where you hold your deep abiding love of music.  For anyone who remembers 70's vinyl and radio, this is as glorious as grabbing a favourite 45 with a Hot Wax/Invictus label, or playing that Boz Scaggs album for the first time in years.  If you're the new breed of vinyl buyer, yes, this is EXACTLY what they sounded like in the day, with all the polish and care the songs deserved.

Of course, it is today, and Elkas made much of the music in his basement, but it still has the great horn riffs, the infectious rhythms, the spot-on backing vocals.  While soul is certainly felt throughout, it's really pop song craft that's celebrated, with a little bit of this and a little bit of that, no clear homage.  Really, there's nothing here that screams retro either, it's just returning to a high-water mark for track-making.  But there's no ignoring Elkas's goal:  the ten-track disc is divided into Side 1 and 2 even on the CD, and New Scotland Records (Plaskett's boutique label) is focused on vinyl.

Side 2's lead track, Melody, is a lesson in how a gem is put together.  It starts off a capella, except for a cymbal beating, and then a chunky rhythm guitar, bass and electric piano join.  By the first bridge, strings come in, and at the chorus, the sweet backing vocals arrive.  Second verse, same as the first, as Curtis Mayfield nods approval, and the Funk Brothers claim kinship.  A fuzzy guitar solo leads to some call-and-response with the singers, who may or may not be The Temptations.  Rinse, wash, repeat, fade out.  Five minutes of bliss.  Each track is worthy of such dissection.  Special kudos go to Elkas's vocals as well, heart-tugging and awesome.  <3 <3 <3.

Monday, February 21, 2011


Available in both DVD and CD, this live concert is Beck's tribute to his friend and hero, guitar pioneer Les Paul, who passed away a couple of years ago.  Beck knew the kind of music Paul appreciated, and put together a crack band to cover old rock'n'roll hits, plus a good selection of classic Les Paul and Mary Ford hits.  Joining him were guests Imelda May, Brian Setzer, Gary U.S. Bonds and Trombone Shorty.  Best of all, it took place at a tiny club, New York's 300-seat Iridium, where Paul famously played every Monday night, well into his 90's.
Beck steals the show at his own party.  He can't help it.  He loves to play, and loves to play this stuff.  May and Darrel Higham, two retro-rockers from England, share vocals, and do a great job on the classics, including Baby Let's Play House, Rock Around The Clock, Shake, Rattle & Roll, and Cry Me A River.  But on every song, the master takes a solo, and blows everyone, including you dear viewer, away.  To see him play with such joy and love is a brilliant thing.  Best of all are the instrumentals, including Peter Gunn, Apache and Sleep Walk, plus a stunning version of The Shangri-La's Remember (Walking In The Sand), which sounds like it could have been a brand-new hit.
Paul's influence is celebrated in a set of his classics, with Mary Ford's part taken by the charming May.  To explain Paul's important invention of multi-tracking, she pre-recorded her layers of backing vocals, so you get the full effect of those early 50's hits, which changed Beck's life and that of every musician.  But this show isn't about teaching, it's about the total fun of early rock'n'roll, and when you see it done so well, it's impossible not to be hit by the bug.  Having Beck's amazing playing on top makes it all the more special.  As audience guest Miami Steve Van Zandt opines, "This has to be his next record, right?"  Thankfully, it is.

Sunday, February 20, 2011



There's a cool YouTube video getting passed around music fans right now, of this Cape Breton powerhouse.  It's Carmen acoustic, all alone and center stage at Massey Hall, wooing them with her song 'Til The Morning.  Townsend is currently winning over thousands of new folks as she goes across country, opening for Heart on that band's hugely successful tour.  Townsend won the slot after vets Ann and Nancy Wilson got a listen to her debut album, and gave the thumbs up.  Take a look and listen:

That's the solo world for Carmen but you'll find none of that on her new disc.  You will get that energy and talent though.   For any East Coast fan who has watched her the past few years, with the old Carmen Townsend and the Shaky Deal days, through her time having fun in the Tom Fun Orchestra, they know she's a rocker for the most part.  Leading her own power trio, Townsend has always made a big noise, and that's the style on Waitin' And Seein'.  Wailing away on the guitar, captivating on vocals, she's like the Wilson Sisters all in one.

Except of course, this isn't classic rock, it's the brand-new deal, and Townsend's not like anyone else.  She sings like Bjork meets Jeff Buckley, makes a mighty guitar noise, and writes her own stuff.  This is rave-rocker stuff, but without the easy jams.  Instead, it's an all-out attack, with songs rich with melody, and full-lunged vocals.  And when Townsend does pull out that acoustic for some fast-paced strumming, there's nothing wimpy about it, with the chords chiming, and the vocals captivating.  She stretches out last words over several notes..."a - ga-ah-ah-ah-ah-en, a frai-ai-ai-ai aid".  It's surely her own style, and between the Heart tour and the new album, this should be a breakout album and tour for Carmen Townsend.

Thursday, February 17, 2011



The Newfoundland group has been building quite the following the past few years, since the release of their Polaris-short listed Into Your Lungs disc in 2008. A bit of a hipster band when it first came out on the scene, the group now attracts a youthful market into the high school crowd, yet still manages to claim boomer fans. In concert, they get a solid university-and-up crowd, keen on the big sound, the danceable energy, and lots of live excitement.

The past three years, Hey Rosetta! has been touring constantly. They've bee across Canada a number of times, into the Far East, and Australia, down into the States and over to Europe. That's hard work that pays off. Their reputation has grown steadily, and now you would have to say they are in the A-league of East Coast bands. That touring schedule has certainly had an affect on singer and songwriter Tim Baker. The band's new album, Seeds, has just been released, and it's the result of those long long days and nights of touring and travel, a restless record. Baker has admitted much of it comes from his road reflections and feelings. The title cut is a refence to what he feels the band has become, seeds scattered across the continent, landing in various spots, trying to start something developing whereever they take root. Of course, that gives the whole disc a sense of momentum, and one of being unsettled. Well, that fits the sound Hey Rosetta! have worked on these past years, as they specialize in big, epic tunes that build in tension and layers and volume, and a bit of joyous explosion near the end.

Seeds sees the band explore the softer side a little more, with a few more quiet passages that build into the great big sound, and a few more subtle moments and instruments in there, strings and oboes and french horns. But they can't help themselves, there's never any true ballads, they just have to work those softer times into great big peaks of music. But I like the increased use of the strings here, in some smart places, accenting the beat, sweetening the sound. Lyrically Baker has grown up a bit too, able to tackle some deeper subject-matter. There's strong buzz for the group, and it could be a break-out album, especially if a Rolling Stone magazine prediction about them being one of the Canadian bands to watch comes true. The group have just launched a major North American tour, so now is their time.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011



Theatricality is nothing new in music; in fact, it's a lot older than rock and pop and such, what most of us now talk about. Songs in theatre, opera, vaudeville, movie musicals, freakin' Spiderman and Bono on Broadway, it's always been there, yet these days when somebody puts a little show in show business, it's viewed suspiciously at best.

Halifax's Ryan MacGrath isn't trying to turn the pop world upside-down, but he's certainly not shoe-gazing on his first full-length disc.. MacGrath is on-stage, singing to the audience with his new disc, Cooper Hatch Paris. He's playing himself, or a version, with the songs about I and Me. The music is often big and fun, with old disco beats and modern cabaret, soul and pop, and some big ballads too, heart-tuggers with piano and strings and backing singers. You can't help listening to this without visualizing MacGrath on stage, a gentle tear falling down his face in the spotlight.
Theatrical can also be another way to say melodramatic, and MacGrath is happily guilty as charged. Everything is played as a big, life-wrenching moment, sad and confessional. And if it's not serious, it's charming and fun. In "My Boyfriend", he sings "and he'll never come to bed with his socks on". In Celebrity Death, he croons "All Iever really wanted was the lights of Broadway/but instead I'm pushing daisies." Yes, this is impinging on Rufus Wainwright's gig a bit, but MacGrath has also created a unique sound for himself. The disc is produced by Jason MacIsaac (Heavy Blinkers, Jenn Grant), a known pop experimenter, and features the talents of the Halifax group Gypsophilia, the Django-and-jazz mini-orchestra. Plus, Chantal Kreviazuk drops by for an excellent duet, as do several other fine female singers. There's probably some Rufus influence in there, but MacGrath has made his own style from it all.

MacGrath has made quite a splash with his work so far. This debut disc has grabbed three East Coast Music Award nominations. His shows are equally intriguing, with a recent "Hawaiian Valentine" performance, and
a tour on the cross-country train, backed by a barbershop quartet. Next up are a couple of New Brunswick dates, at the Vintage Bistro in Hampton Feb. 19th, and Wilser's in Fredericton on the 20th.

Monday, February 14, 2011



Something truly unexpected has been happening the past couple of weeks.  Beginning on January 28th in St. John's, classic rock favourites Heart have been working their way across the country, in what's billed as a homecoming tour of Canada.  The band does have Canadian roots, as the Wilson Sisters did live and work in Vancouver when they started out, although they are long-time Seattle residents.  As each show has taken place, the reviews have been near-unanimous in their praise.  At first, I thought it was local hype, and a bit of nostalgia, but it's kept on happening, including one post from a reputable source, who after the Massey Hall show in Toronto called in "the best concert he's ever seen".

Hmm.  I don't quite know why this boomer group would all of a sudden get a second period of love, except that it seems everyone does in today's climate.  Andy Warhol was wrong.  You get your first 15 minutes of fame, and then a second go around 30 years later.  It's Heart's turn.  If you're not convinced yet, or want to relive that show you just saw, there's a new DVD on the stands, featuring a 2010 show.  Night At Sky Church is a 90-minute set that sees a mix of the group's biggest, plus a helping of last year's successful Red Velvet Car disc, their first Top Ten album in years.  In the concert, Ann and Nancy and current anonymous members manage to give those tracks enough life to suggest they still matter as working artists, which is pretty hard these days.  Most stadium-name rock acts have pretty much switched to a greatest hits formula.

Part of the interest on the DVD is special guest Alison Krauss, who provides fiddle and cool, plus an excellent lead vocal on These Dreams.  There's also Red Velvet Car producer and Canuck Ben Mink, the former creative partner of k.d. lang.  It seems Canada just brings Heart good luck.  But like most concert DVD's, it's not a match for an actual live experience.  They aren't the most dynamic visual group, even with the sisters pulling out harmonicas and flutes and autoharps and such.  Despite a good number of hits through the 70's and 80's, including Magic Man, What About Love, Magic Man and Barricuda, there are still a few filler tracks, where they show their sub-Zeppelin side.  It's still Heart folks, they had a few good ones, let's not get carried away in the nostalgia.  But speaking of tracks, where's Dreamboat Annie?  Sheesh.

So, the tour continues out west, now making the Winnipeg to Vancouver run until the end of the month.  While it may not be your particular concert of a lifetime, it does sound like Heart are putting on a solid, professional show, and that's certainly what you get on this DVD as well.

Sunday, February 13, 2011



Raves for this Toronto roots songwriter keep pouring in.  Already a favourite of Ron Sexsmith and Fred Eaglesmith, Leger's quietly been building an impressive body of work.  Now on his fourth disc, Traveling Grey is the one that puts it all together.  There's the country flavour, the images, the strong instrumentation of his group The Situation, the mix of old-time and alternative, and more.  Leger has a lot of tricks and a lot going for him.

The disc was done quickly, and passionately, partially with the band and partially acoustic with gentle backing.  It's pointless to stick an overall genre onto the disc, as you'll get a gentle ballad in the songwriter style, a parlour piano number, cuts with a fiddle weaving through, or a darker rocker with electric leads.  For such a young fellow, he's got quite the world-weary twang, but you can tell it's real, not a made-up voice to match the material.  In fact, there's nothing to suggest he's trying to channel the past for effect.  This is simply Leger's music.

Best of all, for a lyrics fan, is the knowledge that another strong wordsmith has established himself.  The groove on some tracks, and the mood throughout, is so strong, that it's easy just to sit back and enjoy the performance, but behind that is a writer pouring his heart into his work.  Touching and true, never hokey or banal, this is the stuff that is so familiar, you keep straining to hear the influences, but of course, he's a combination of everything, and a complete individual.

Saturday, February 12, 2011



Finally on Blu-ray, this doc has been around for a couple of years, and truly sets the standard.  Directed by Peter Bogdanovich, it clocks in at a fabulous four hours, totally ignoring any attempts at courting the movie theatres at release, and instead heading straight for the DVD collector and Petty fan.  The thing is, Blu-ray was still in infancy when it was released, and it's taken this long to see the thing in its best quality.

And what a fine treat it is.  This is loaded with remarkable footage, even home video of the day the old Petty group Mudcrutch left Florida for fame and fortune, only to have their vehicle break down within hours of leaving.  This laugh aside, it pretty much sums up the bumps and bruises Petty and the Heartbreakers have endured, and shows there is a lot of pain on the road to fame, and even when you get there, it continues.  Career milestones are often accompanied by equal amounts of grief, and even tragedy.  Band members get fired or quit, bassist Howie Epstein dies, a mess of drugs and sadness.  Wounds are opened, and some heal.  We get the warts, but you can tell there's still some personal problems left out, but only the ones that are more gossip than music.

Oh yes, there's lots of it, music galore, and in all its glory.  Part of the reason it does run four hours is that for once we don't feel cheated with truncated songs.  Bogdanovich wisely uses all the good stuff, which is equally important to the story.  In the end, it's the ultimate tale of how much hard work goes into making a great rock and roll band, which has remained the overriding factor in Petty's career.  Nothing, not friendship, the band, happiness, enjoying the money, none of it has come before making the best music, in Petty's unwavering dedication to the songs and the shows.  You can fault him for that sometimes, but you can't argue with the results.  Best of all, the film doesn't sugarcoat any of it, it's all true and here.

The only criticism isn't of the film itself, but rather the way it's been released.  The first, exclusive version was only available at Future Shop in Canada for a few months, with three DVD's, including the full 30th anniversary concert, and a CD of rare live songs from the film soundtrack.  Then it came out as a 2-DVD set, but that had a bonus song not on the 4 -disc set.  Now the Blu-ray comes without the bonus stuff from the other sets!  So to sum up, if you want the best quality and all the extras, you have to own all three of them.  That's just not fair to those with a collector's mentality.

Thursday, February 10, 2011



Mr. Terfry celebrates his 20th anniversary of recording not with a best-of, but rather a wrap-up job of the three E.P.'s he released in 2010.  Most of the tracks from those are here (but not all, collectors) plus some new ones.  Buck had some fun last year, largely using the studio to collaborate with music pals, getting a few nice voices on the tracks to contrast his rap.  They include surprises (Gord Downie), newcomers (Hannah Georgas), a cool French-Canadian combo (Marie-Pierre Arthur) and several tracks with Halifax homegirl Jenn Grant.

As always, Buck lays down a mean bed, full of solid beats and interesting add-ons.  He can work it both ways: either he'll take a hip-hop track and incorporate a guest singer's lead vocal, or take a basic song, and stick his rap onto it.  Paper Airplanes with Grant is a great example of the latter, with its sweet chorus of "How we missed that love" contrasting against Buck's spoken story, smoothly sent along by a delicately plucked banjo.  Zombie Delight is a hoot, with a hair metal guitar line as he spoofs our continued fascination with the undead.  These zombies are excellent dancers, of course.

Of course, what we really want from a Buck 65 disc is his unique phrases and ability to skewer pop culture.  Terfry soaks up mainstream media and spits it back at us in a torrent of observations, our hip hop everything, rap's Springsteen.  In his best songs, such as Superstars Don't Love, everything's distilled down to two-and-three word phrases, with a juxtaposed rhyme flowing next: "A lot of noise, little peace. Circumstance:  Middle East.  Woody Guthrie.  Would he trust me?".  Another highlight is his almost straight take on the ultra-hot Leonard Cohen, on a duet with Grant of Who By Fire.  With Grant's beautiful harmony, it's the surprise of the disc.  The silliest song, apart from the cool zombies track, is BCC, with John Southworth, which is just a glorified child's story, without any real humour.  That failure aside, it's a surprisingly cohesive and enjoyable collection, one of his best, despite being an odds-and-sods set.  Here's to Buck's 20th birthday, rap and broadcast on, East Coast king of the mic.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011



The former William Orbit colleague fronted the Bass-O-Matic project in the '90's, singing and co-writing on the international hit Fascinating Rhythm and other tracks on two albums.  Now she works out of the Hamilton area, and has had a string of projects on her own label the past ten years.  Her smooth soul voice fits almost anything, from old school to hiphop to club to jazz, and it's all here, as well as a taste of reggae and soca, and even some of her poetry spoken over a track.

While there's that little bit of everything for lots of styles, most intriguing is Musgrave's positive vibe that links track-to-track.  More than feel-good music, it's actually life-affirming and almost spiritual, at least for those whose spirituality comes from believing and loving one's self.  And not in some New Age-y or Dr. Phil message; rather it's just simply strength through self-motivation.

With a handful of remixes added on, Outflow will appeal mostly to dance fans with soul leanings.  Musgrave and co-producer Peter Grimmer give everything a clean and solid groove, aided by Hamilton guitar monster Brian Griffith, and she adds several compelling stories that will keep you listening at home too.  Although you'll be forgiven if you get up and dance by yourself.

Monday, February 7, 2011



Simply put, David Baxter knows how to do it.  For over 30 years he's been a go-to guy, as a producer, session man and band mainstay.  He's a guru to young musicians in Toronto, one of those people musicians want and need to have as a friend.  When it comes to writing and playing on songs, all that knowledge and taste and skill flows like wine.  Now in his fourth pro decade, he's suddenly discovered he's a recording musician as well, with his second album in three years.

This is a class collection from start to finish, with Baxter surrounded by pals Justin Rutledge, Tressa Levasseur, Gary Craig (Blackie & the Rodeo Kings drummer), Jason Sniderman (Blue Peter keyboardist) and a lovely duet with Catherine MacLellan to close out the show.  This select crew makes it all sound exactly right, like roots music should.  You get country, folk, and a little bit of roots-rock.

I wish there was a bit more of the stronger stuff, to be honest.  Baxter and the group get a strong groove going on Magdalena, a great 70's flavoured tune that reminds me a bit of what Dylan was doing on Desire and Street-Legal.  Or maybe it's David's somewhat croaky vocals.  If there's a fly in the ointment it's that he's not the strongest singer, more of a well-worn sound coming from those pipes.  Age gives it gravitas though, so a crooner like River Moon comes off nicely.  He leans towards country-flavoured numbers, and he does them perfectly, especially the tongue-in-cheek warning She's Drinkin' Again.  But the disc leans a little too far that way, when it's obvious the guy has more tricks up his sleeve.  The Sweetest Flower In Ontario is nice, and well-done, but old-fashioned, and there's probably already enough other country on the disc.  He livens it up with some Cajun in the mix, but I'd kill to hear a whole album of the Magdalena stuff.  But at least he's doing it all perfectly, and try finding any album like that, it's a mark of true talent.

Sunday, February 6, 2011



Oh I love my quirky pop.  Grant is a singer-songwriter who loves it too, doesn't want basic instrumentation behind her, but instead wants a full pop production that amplifies the art.  You can be an excellent writer, let's say a John Hiatt, and keeps things rootsy.  Or you can make the whole production an aural joy too, and that's what you get from Grant.  She's matched ably in this effort by producer Daniel Ledwell, a multi-instrumentalist who knows how to make a joyful noise, and creating an often very fun mood around the songs.

Grant doesn't have a traditional voice, but it works well for her, and it is pleasant and different all at once.  Which is convenient, because that's what her songs are like.  If you follow the storylines, these are positive love songs, and all the jangly guitars, punchy drums, singing synths and clever tempo shifts up the joy considerably.  Several of the numbers swing like old Cars songs, including the one-two punch that kicks off the disc, Oh My Heart and How I Met You.  I guess it's the retro synths, but there's also that ELO-style solid production that always, always works. 

Even the most quiet, folkie numbers have a novelty to them.  Baby's Been Away is at it's core sultry ballad, but with the tempo doubled, the drums snapping and mixed up, and the guitars played with force instead of strummed, it becomes a full New Wave piece.  And while Paradise Mountain does keep remain slowed-down, sweet and dreamy, this time Grant's double-tracked vocals alone make it modern.  There, that's just the first four cuts on this all-round excellent disc, which is perfect to turn any frown upside down.

Saturday, February 5, 2011


Gregg Allman - Low Country Blues

Last year the future wasn't so bright for Gregg Allman. Word came down in the summer the leader of the venerable Allman Brothers was having liver transplant surgery. Gigs were cancelled, and the fate of the group looked shaky. But then came the good news. The operation went fine, and with it came a renewed spirit for Allman. The biggest surprise was word of a new solo disc. He's had several before, and there hasn't been a good one in awhile. Plus, nobody will ever let him forget the Allman and Woman fiasco when he was briefly married to Cher back in the '70's.

This time though, things are different. Once again we have master producer T-Bone Burnett to thank. Burnett is about the busiest producer in the business, since his remarkable success with the O Brother Where Are Thou soundtrack. He has become the go-to guy for veteran musicians and young ones alike, looking to grab his magic, and his specific ability to capture the old, rootsy, real sounds of traditional folk, blues, and R'n'B. He's the man behind the Robert Plant/Alison Krauss disc. He produces Jacob Dylan, Elvis Costello, the recent Elton John/Leon Russell disc, every couple of months there's another project comes out with his name on it.

For Allman, a concept was required, and here it is: a return to southern electric blues, the real stuff that inspired Gregg and his brother Duane when they were first kids, back in 1959, down south. So it's the blues of Muddy Waters, Skip James, Sleepy John Estes, Otis Rush, Amos Milburn, B.B. King, classic artists on this almost-entirely covers album. Happily, Burnett is also a music scholar, and he never picks the same, obvious tracks and classics everybody else does. So Allman and Burnett dug deep into the catalogues of these original players.

Allman sounds inspired....hey, not just inspired. He sounds BRILLIANT, alive, into it. He sings better than he has in years, obviously back in the game in a big way. Now, this is a guy who has been accused of phoning it in at various times in his career, so to hear him sing like he means it, and to be so in command, it's hugely exciting. He's backed by Burnett's usual band of top-notch session guys, plus some star favourites including Doyle Bramhall II on guitar, and Dr. John himself on piano. Even Blackie and the Rodeo King's Colin Linden guests on some tracks. Hearing these guys dig into the real stuff is a treat, with Dr. John in particular providing such an authentic tone, and Bramhall lifting songs with his solos. Burnett's mastery of the sound puts these tracks in a wonderous place, sounding both ancient and contemporary at the same time. The stand-out cut may be the Bobby "Blue" Bland number Blind Man, featuring a mellow growl from Allman that reminds us all of his glory, when he's on his game. This time, he truly is.

Friday, February 4, 2011


It's the one many Jam fans, and Paul Weller himself, consider the best album from the band. Released in 1980, the group had by then become the top alternative band in England, with its singles going to Number #1. Weller, however, was and still is always restless and keen on changing his sound. So this disc featuring a cleaner sound than the punk-influenced direction of the past, with obvious Beatles roots and a new interest in the jagged, crisp noise coming from new bands such as Joy Division and Gang Of Four. Check out Start! for instance, with its obvious connection to the Fab's Taxman.

This was also the disc that finally introduced the group to a lot of North American ears. The new force of college radio was able to grab onto it, with the dreamy Monday a favourite, and the kick of That's Entertainment more listenable than the tougher punk they had been known for. While it never broke the band to a mainstream audience, it did respectable business, and has kept Paul Weller's name and releases coming out to this day. While he's still an acquired taste here, his superstar status and Godfather influence remains unchecked in England.

For this deluxe set, the original album takes disc one, and disc two is Jam-packed with b-sides, demos and alternate versions of the tracks. There are some quite different takes of some of the cuts, including Monday, Set The House Ablaze, and That's Entertainment. Pretty much every track on the original is presented in some sort of early arrangement. Plus, to point out the influences, there are demos of 60's covers Weller loved: The Beatles Rain and And Your Bird Can Sing, plus The Kinks Waterloo Sunset. None are really polished efforts, as Weller describes them as just "mucking about", but the Ray Davies song is a solid effort. Several of these 22 bonus cuts have been released before, notably on the boxed set Direction, Reaction, Creation, but you'd have to be quite the fan or collector to have them all, so it's pretty much a needed set for Weller enthusiasts.

Thursday, February 3, 2011



Canadian roots supergroup Blackie and the Rodeo Kings previewed new material from its upcoming Kings And Queens album during a brief tour of New Brunswick this week. The trio of Colin Linden, Stephen Fearing and Tom Wilson have recorded 14 tracks with some of the most famous female singers on the continent. "We were hoping to have it out for Mother's Day," says Linden, "but it might be more like Father's Day now." It's taken two years to finish the ambitious project, which features the band members in duets with the likes of Emmy Lou Harris, Patti Scialfa, Rosanne Cash, Lucinda Williams, Cassandra Wilson, Amy Helm, Serena Ryder, Mary Margaret O'Hara and Sam Phillips.

The band performed a stripped-down show for the three N.B. dates, featuring only the three guitars and voices, Fearing and Wilson on acoustics and Lindon ripping slide on dobro and electric. In addition to several new songs from the album, Blackie unveiled a front-of-stage unplugged version of The Band's Acadian Driftwood for this brief Maritime stop. In the meantime, Linden is busy shopping the Kings And Queens album around to different labels, as they have left their old home at True North. With the star-power on board for this project, they've been listening to several offers, some including U.S. distribution. Blackie has already had some U.S. success, with a regional hit in the States with Swinging From The Chains Of Love. Linden is also a known quantity there, with a recording studio in Nashville, and a professional tie to star producer T-Bone Burnett, going back to his work on the O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack. Linden recently guested on the Burnett-produced Gregg Allman album, playing dobro on some cuts, joining an all-star band which also featured Dr. John and Doyle Bramhall II.

Linden also just wrapped up production of the upcoming release from rising Canadian blues star Matt Anderson. The disc was recorded at Levon Helm's studio in Nashville, and also features a guest spot from Helm's daughter Amy. Anderson walked away with two major Maple Blues Awards last month, Entertainer of the Year and Acoustic Act of the Year. Linden describes Anderson as one of the biggest talents he's ever come across, which is high praise from a man who mentored under Howlin' Wolf. That disc arrives in May.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011



This proudly proclaims on the jacket it's a 30th Anniversary edition of the disc, yet the original came out in 1979.  This package had been prepared for release in 2009, but sat until now, a classic move in the long, under-achieving career for Hunter.  Like his band, Mott The Hoople, he never quite broke through to the mass audience he deserved.  Everybody knows at least a couple of his songs, but he remains, now in his 70's, a cult figure.

Schizophrenic was Hunter's biggest-selling solo album, and he for once seemed poised for success, but the album just didn't have that one necessary ingredient of the day, a hit single.  Now, that's a shocker, as it includes Cleveland Rocks and Just Another Night, two giant rockers that could have been and should have been, except once again marketing proved Hunter's downfall.  It took the Drew Carey Show to make Cleveland Rocks a hit, twenty years too late.

Oh wait, it did have a hit, just not by Ian Hunter.  Of all people, Barry Manilow took the ballad Ships into the Top Ten, one of the least wimpy tunes he ever did.  In fact, Hunter's original, written about his relationship with his father, is majestic, plaintive and sentimental.

The album is made up of equal parts big rockers and big ballads.  It's anthem rock, bold and brassy or heart tugging, with big story-topics, such as "is there life after death?"  Using a core band of three E-Street regulars (Max Weinberg, Roy Bittan, Garry Talent), and his long-time foil, Spiders From Mars guitarist Mick Ronson, this was as outsized as Springsteen at times, yet playful too.  He was the thinking man's Meatloaf.

The deluxe part includes several early versions of the tracks, plus a full extra-disc concert from the day, featuring the new tunes and old Mott favourites, including All The Young Dudes.  These days, Hunter is considered a grand old man and given his proper due, especially in his English homeland.  Appreciate this gem, 30 -- err, 32 years later.