Friday, April 29, 2011



Geez, I hate this group's name.  I mean, it sounds like the latest solo album from Duff McKagan or someone.  But geez, I love this group.  Well, side project is the better term I guess.  This is the second release under the Stripper's pole, featuring Craig Northey (Odds) and Rob Baker (The Tragically Hip).  Geez, I want them to quit their day jobs (and change that name).

The project is about Baker and Northey writing songs together, and getting them on disc.  The band is essentially the rest of the Odds, plus Baker, and pal Simon Kendall on keys.  Full disclosure:  I will listen to Northey sing anytime, especially when he's doing that quirky, nifty pop at which he excels.  Here you have one of the best voices in Can-rock, and on that basis alone, should be added to any group.  When you do get him, he's a hook machine as a writer.  Baker?  You can tell he's having a ball, letting loose and trying styles that don't fit into the Hip machine.  Baker's even singing for gosh sakes, in a low, 'I'm not a lead singer' experimental voice, but hey, that's what side project are for.

Odds fans, check out tracks such as Making Strange and When Your Beauty Fades, numbers that would, should, could make great cuts on the next Odds album if indeed they are still a group.  Then spin to the end, where Baker deconstructs the old Gord Lightfoot number The Circle Is Small, making the infidelity number even more claustrophobic.  While you're listening, I'm thinking up a new name for them.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


There comes a time in every young songwriter's career when he or she reaches a critical age.  Maybe it's around 30, I'm not sure.  Royal Wood seems to at it though.  It's big shift in how you are perceived.  Yes, at some point, the time ends when you are considered Alternative, and become a Singer-Songwriter.

Wood laughs at the thought.  "I'm 32 now.  I guess I'm maturing, and this is becoming a career."  It's certainly been a lot of work for him.  Wood has been performing for more than a decade, has recorded three acclaimed discs, and is constantly on the road.  His latest, The Waiting, brought him a large pile of acclaim and recognition, including a Juno nomination for Songwriter of the Year, that most coveted award (those award-hogs Arcade Fire ended up with the trophy).  Wood has used the success to his advantage, not by getting bigger, but by going smaller, although it's a strategic and streamlined show he's touring.

Called the Root Of It All Tour, Wood has crossed the country on his own, headlining a pure solo show, with just his guitar and keyboard.  After touring with a full band last year, he felt a need to get into more intimate rooms, tell his stories along with the songs, and get to some smaller places.  "I am strongly connected with my roots, and I'm from a small town," explains Wood.  "There were just 500 people in my high school."  That would be Peterborough, ON, but he's from nearby Lakefield.  For this one-man show, he's hit Nelson, BC and Coleman, AB, and now is starting out the East Coast leg in Moncton, before heading back to Ontario for such metropolis sites as Madoc, Dunville, and Meaford.

The stripped-down sound offers a new way to appreciate the lush pop of The Waiting, minus such flourishes as the string and horn parts.  That should further confuse the label-makers, not used to a singer-songwriter manning a piano for the most part.  "Ya, just because it's a piano, they have to bring up Elton John or Billy Joel, like they are the only piano players working," says Wood.  The other problem is his exceptional voice, certainly a couple of notches above the usual performer.  "So I get called a crooner," he laughs.  Michael Buble he's not.  That sweet voice is delivering some highly personal lyrics, reflecting some pretty intense times.

After the solo tour wraps up, Wood says he'll go right back to work.  "I've let it be known it's time to record again," he confirms.  "This tour has set a lot of wheels in motion."

East Coast dates:

Wednesday, Apr. 27 - Plan B, Moncton
Thursday, Apr. 28 - The Company House, Halifax
Friday, Apr. 29 - The Company House, Halifax
Saturday, Apr. 30th - Charlotte Street Arts Centre, Fredericton
Sunday, May 1st - Bourbon Quarter, Saint John
Check out the rest of the tour dates, plus Royal's blog, at

Tuesday, April 26, 2011



That could be the question about Simon's career, at least for the non-believers.  I'm a drop-dead fan for most, but even I've had trouble at some points in his career, most notably The Capeman debacle and the One Trick Pony movie/soundtrack.  And while his last one, 2006's Surprise, had lots of enjoyable moments, it failed to connect with his normal broader audience.  Still, I can name you a few people who say Paul Simon is their very favourite artist.

So what do you want from Simon?  Another Graceland?  More songs in the Duncan/Still Crazy After All These Years/The Boxer style?  How about a bouncy Kodachrome/Mother And Child Reunion rewrite?  Screw that, there's enough Greatest Hits now, I'd rather have him stretch some more, and see if a new kind of gem emerges.

That, dearest darlings, is exactly what we have here.  Ignore those early reviews about this being a return to 70's songwriting, I don't have a clue how anybody can hear that.  Instead, it seems a logical progression in his production style, using lots of snippets, grooves and found sounds, clever touches and intricate ensemble pieces.  Simon since Graceland has really been a studio craftsman, building songs around licks and rhythms, something borrowed and something blue, turning his songs into intricate ear candy.

What makes this work even more important is a connected lyrical theme, a treatise examining beauty, love and God, as they exist in all of us.  In The Afterlife, our hero dies, and expects to be greeted by the Lord, only to be told "you gotta fill out a form first/and then you wait in the line".  It turns out we all have to wait for the answer to it all, across the vastness of time, at least Simon Says.

Elsewhere Simon connects love to a divine creation, or is it an accident?  What is God's role in finding this ideal joining of two people?  In the song Love And Hard Times, Simon figures he should thank him mightily at least, for the love he found.

It all comes to a head in the boldly-titled Love Is Eternal Sacred Light, we get a full poetic look at Simon's views on love, which is God to him it seems.  If there's a divine that exists above the space-time continuum for people, he figures its love in it's brilliant light, "free from the shackles of time".  I can't begin to tell you how I admire his bravery, tackling this love/God connection, even writing words for The Big Guy to say.  Even then, it's never sacrilegious, and even the most evangelical of us could only disagree, but appreciate Simon's big-hearted thoughts.  No one else I can think of could pull this off, and it's most definitely a brand-new kind of Paul Simon work.

Sunday, April 24, 2011



James is in poor health, and there's already been at least one internet-fueled death scare circulating.  That started the accolades, most of which centered on her 1960's hit sides recorded for a couple of Chess Records labels, Tell Mama and other cuts.  Those songs, which got her onto the pop charts, are considered the greatest of her career, but this collection makes a very strong case for her earliest cuts.  It's 15 sides for the Modern label, every one of them them an excellent single, taking James from 50's jump blues into the new, driving rhythm and blues.

Although the details are a little sketchy, the basic story of James' early career can be found here.  She was as young as 14 when bandleader and hitmaker Johnny Otis discovered her in San Francisco and took her to L.A.  She recorded the lead vocal on Otis's smash The Wallflower (Roll With Me Henry), and that led quickly to her own career. Within a year she was touring with Little Richard as a featured singer, and you can hear his influence on the pounding Tough Lover.

While James is primarily remembered as a blues singer, and has even promoted herself under such titles as Matriarch Of The Blues, as these tracks show, she  was not originally influenced much by the Chicago sound.  Her L.A.-based label was immersed in the bigger group recordings that came out of the big band era, and there was a lot more rhythm going on than blues.  Minor hits such as Come What May had elements of pop vocal music, and Shortnin' Bread Rock was an attempt to move directly in to rock and roll.  This shouldn't be used as an argument to discount her later, truer blues; it just goes to show she was a singer first, and also brought a lot of uptempo experience to Chess, forging a different sound, certainly unique among female blues singers.  It's not surprise belters like Janis Joplin borrowed directly from her.

Over the next couple of years, people will discover or rediscover James, and mostly head to the Chess hits compilations.  It's worth finding this new one, distributed by EMI, that adds a whole lot to her story, all of it very good.

Saturday, April 23, 2011


QUIET PARADE - PLEASE COME HOME (We hate it here without you)
Well, wouldn't you know it?  I got a letter with that sentiment in it when I was 22 and moved to Newfoundland!  Hee hee, it was enough to make me move back.  That's a good way to start with a new album.  For the rest of you without that coincidental connection, there are other charms that may help you form a bond.  However, you better be into sleepy music.  Me, I love a parade.  But this one is about the softest celebration you'll ever hear.

The parade is also a very short one, as this is a one-man band, Mr. Trevor Murphy.  Going out on a limb from his usual crowd, Nova Scotian rockers Sleepless Nights, here Murphy chills out to some gentle plucking and a few atmospheric touches in behind.  Over the course of its 35 minutes and nine tracks, the disc approaches significant volume all of two times.  Cut 2, the lovely End Of Days, actually employs drums that start thumping two-thirds of the way in the song, joined by horn section.  And I Never Wanted To Live Like That employs a huge choir, which is quite joyous.

I'm not the biggest fan of acoustic low-fi shoegazing, but Murphy actually has some good stuff to write about, and also has a musical trick up his sleeve on each number.  Instead of just strumming away, there's an added instrument or bit of production that makes each number different and interesting.  I Will Try is his pledge to "make this life alright", which involves buying his partner "a real house on the lake".  Cute.

The Parade is crossing the Maritimes right now, leaving Nova Scotia for points west.  Umm, these points:

Apr. 24 Fredericton, NB  ReNeu Boutique
Apr. 27 Brantford, ON Two Doors Down
Apr. 28  Toronto, ON The Imperial Pub
Apr. 29 Elgin, ON Portland United Church
Apr. 30 Ottawa, ON - Raw Sugar Cafe

Friday, April 22, 2011


DEREK AND THE DOMINOS - LAYLA and other assorted love songs DELUXE EDITION

A hugely popular album, but how often do we play it?  Everybody knows Layla, lots more know and love the equally emotional Bell Bottom Blues.  Now, without looking, name a couple of more songs on it.  Having trouble?  Well, there's a pretty good cover of Hendrix's Little Wing, an odd closer by Bobby Whitlock called Thorn Tree In The Garden, and then some blues numbers and minor Clapton compositions fill out this double-disc.  Really, its iconic status rests on the title cut and the fact Duane Allman hung around to play on most of the cuts.

So, the thing is alright, but is probably one of those discs that would have been better as a single album.  The rest of the cuts are truly quite different than Layla and Bell Bottom Blues, so it's evidence of a band that never gelled.  Clapton was drifting into heroin addiction, there were lots of other demons lurking behind the group, and what should have been a promising future ended quickly.  The same five tracks recorded for the canceled second album that first surfaced on the Clapton Crossroads boxed set are here on disc two's bonus cuts, but what's missing is context.  There are no - NO - liner notes on this purported Deluxe edition of the disc.  Nothing?  No words on how Allman ended up guesting but was never a real member of the band.  No explanation of why the second album died.  We don't even get the famous Clapton-Harrison-Patti Boyd love triangle story that inspired Layla.  Quit cheaping out you buggers!

I guess it's because there's also a five-CD, 2 LP, REALLY deluxe version of the album out now too, and it has a big booklet plus the live Fillmore East concert and more stuff in it.  So, we only get notes if we pay over a hundred bucks?  I'm bummed here, because many of us still picking up physical CD's and albums is that we want the whole experience, including notes.  The new Leon Russell best-of didn't have any notes either, not even what album the cuts were from.  Let's hope this trend doesn't continue.  It's too band, because the other bonus cuts on disc two are excellent, including the entire band appearance on the Johnny Cash TV show, with an interview, the band just blazing, playing unreleased stuff, Eric solo material, even Matchbox with Carl Perkins.  Now that's a great bonus set.  There's the non-LP, Phil Spector-produced first single for the band, too.  Yes, this is a worthy purchase for sure.  Send me an email, I'll write you some notes for it, no charge.

Thursday, April 21, 2011



Okay, you Elton Johnny-come-lately's, you're all into Leon now that his old pal has resurrected his career, got him a hit album, placed into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, etc.  Me, I've loved the guy since the early 70's, back when he was the hippest guy going, the key man with Joe Cocker, pal to George Harrison and Dylan, and a hit maker in his own right.  Yup, I've always loved him.  The trouble is, like almost everybody else from the early 70's, I forgot him, after he made a couple of stinker LP's.  I gave up on him.  Even though most of his work at some point has been put on CD, I never got any.  Even though his hit album Carney remains one of my all-time favourites, I still just have my vinyl copy, and haven't played it in 25 years.

So, cheers to Elton for reminding us all, or introducing lots of new folks to his work.  The album they made, The Union, was pretty good, and did what it was designed to, put Leon in a more secure financial position.  Meantime, this Best Of serves as a good introduction set, or reminder.  Carney remains his masterwork, home of the Top 30 hit Tightrope, the swamp rock number Out In The Woods, and the original version of This Masquerade, which became a hit for George Benson.  Those are here, as are 13 more solid numbers, proving the deeper you go into his body or work, the more wonders there are to discover.

Russell, is his day, was the ultimate bandleader, supplying funky keyboards, guitar, or whatever was needed, including some classic songs from his own pen.  He gave Cocker Delta Lady, and saw everyone from The Carpenters to Ray Charles to Michael Buble cover A Song For You.  His great pal Willie Nelson took him on the road, and released the live hit Heartbreak Hotel with him, and he stole the show at The Concert For Bangladesh with his set that included Jumpin' Jack Flash/Youngblood.  In other words, he should have been ridiculously wealthy, and must have had one of those terrible rip-off contracts.  All those tracks are here, it's a great listen from start to finish, and it makes me want to pick up about six of his originals.  I can also assure you I'll be throwing Carney on the turntable in the next couple of days.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011



The usual view of the East Coast music scene is that it's a small regional area of the country, rich in musical tradition with lots of bands of all types. That's pretty much right, except that it's actually a big geographical area as the crow flies. Most of us NB'ers don't get to visit the rest of the area all that often. Sure, you get the occasional trip to Halifax or PEI, but Cape Breton or Newfoundland, that's a special voyage, and certainly we don't get to know about all the music happening in each place. So unless a new group tours to your city or you notice them on-line or radio, you can miss a lot.

That's my job then, to tell you about the latest cool music happening on the East Coast. That's one of the reasons why the ECMA's are important, to showcase the latest bands so we can share this information. That's why, if you miss one, you can miss out on a lot. And that's why I failed you, dear readers, by not attending last year's event. I can't even remember why I didn't go, that's not important. But what is important is that I missed out on a few groups, and one group in particular. Not just any group, but the group of the year at this year's ECMA's.

I did my usual predictions before I went to Charlottetown, and did not bad, five out of ten for the categories I looked at. One I missed completely was Group Recording of the Year. I thought about Boxer the Horse, a hip young band out of Halifax, Wintersleep, certainly one of the top groups in the region, and then thought Slowcoaster would win, because of their big hits on radio from The Darkest of Discos. The band The Once from Newfoundland didn't even register with me, because I didn't know them. I hadn't heard their self-titled disc, and since I haven't been to St. John's in a bit, I hadn't heard ABOUT them. It turns out I'd missed the excitement over them at last year's ECMA's too.

My bad. In fact, it didn't take long for me to discover what I'd been missing. The very first night of the ECMA's, they were on stage playing to delegates and buyers from around the globe. Immediately it's obvious this is a traditional band with a big difference. Two men, one woman, Geraldine Hollett is the singer, and what a great voice she has, a really captivating one, on stage or on disc, the kind that holds your attention immediately. It's nice and pure, like cold spring water. The backing is sparse but effective, usually just a couple of instruments going from Phil Churchill and Andrew Dale, anything with strings really, from bouzoukis to banjo, and some light percussion. While Geraldine has the dominate lead, on occasion the boys break in with some harmonies.

I think it's the choice of material that really sets the group apart, and the way they tackle it is very different, thanks to some unique arrangements. There are several a cappela songs or sections of songs, and that's when Geraldine's voice really hits you. It's emotional stuff, a lot of it older traditional numbers. Hearing her sing these sad ballads transports you, and she can capture your heart on stage or on record. For modern material, they have picked some really clever numbers, including two Leonard Cohen tracks you don't hear covered, Anthem and Coming Back To You, and there's a song by their friend, the excellent East Coast writer Amelia Curran. Hollett makes each song her own, and you can hear her pour her all into the numbers. I think also the dramatic training she has certainly helps in how she delivers the songs.

It's been awhile since I've been this excited about a largely traditional group, having been bombarded by them in years past. Now that the craze is over, perhaps the cream is rising again. Anyway, I'm glad to be on board with The Once, finally.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011



While the kids were about to go crazy with The Beatles and The Stones in North America in the early 1960's, adults were still shying away from Rock 'n' Roll. In those days pop music still meant crooners, a leftover from the Big Band era when the vocalist was often the star. There were still plenty of radio stations playing non-rock, and much of it dominated the charts and airwaves. That's what we find on this two-disc set, essentially the music of the Don Draper-type people. But it wasn't just slick admen listening, this was the stuff I heard constantly on the only radio station in my town in the daytime, where the governing rule was no electric guitars before 6 PM.

I still have a soft spot for some of this, and I'm not the only one. A song such as Jack Jones' Wives And Lovers is despicably sexist today, but fit in with the prevailing attitudes about wives in the post-war era. Hate the lyrics, but that gentle melody is an earworm-wormhole that leads directly to my preschool memories. Many of these songs had long passed out of even my trivia-filled brain, and until I heard Billy Vaughn's instrumental A Swingin' Safari again, I could never had named but I must have heard it 300 times back in the day. In fact there are several instrumentals here I'm thrilled to have, from cheesy organ sounds to hard-to-find classics, such as James Booker's Gonzo. Occaisionally the set slips out of Draper-land for a trip downtown, with funkier numbers such as Something's Got A Hold On Me by Etta James, but mostly it's the safer stuff.

Once the compilation moves into the '63 - '65 time period, it gets more familiar, as that's also when the kids completely took over the radio and kicked Dad's music onto the living room hi-fi where it belonged. Some of the cuts chosen are a little too familiar, such as I Only Want To Be With You by Dusty Springfield, Shotgun by Junior Walker and Marvin Gaye's Ain't That Peculiar. But kudos for Sam The Sham's Wooly Bully and the Sir Douglas Quintet's She's About A Mover. Plus, there's some Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions, and a somewhat obscure Lesley Gore, so even collectors are well-served. I'm making another martini and playing it again.

Friday, April 15, 2011


It's only Thursday night, but already some hardware has been passed out at the East Coast Music Awards.  Fredericton's David Myles was the winner of the Folk Recording of the Year award, for his album Turn Time Off.  Myles was on hand to pick up the trophy at the Roots Room showcase at this year's awards being held in Charlottetown.

It's a different format for the awards this year.  There's still a major event being held Sunday night, but like most award shows, there's too many trophies to be handed out in a couple of hours.  Instead of having an earlier night of awards for some of the genre-specific categories, such as jazz, classical, folk, and hip-hop, this year the ECMA's are being handed out in a series of showcases throughout the event.  Thursday night was the first, and the folk and roots artists were honoured, plus the audience was treated to showcases by some of the best of the region's folk performers.

Also picking up an award was Dave Gunning from Nova Scotia, winning for Roots/Traditional Solo Recording of the Year, for the disc A Tribute To John Allen Cameron.  In his acceptance speech, Gunning pointed out that the East Coast Music scene would never have happened without the late Cameron, who popularized Cape Breton music in the 60's and 70's, and served as an inspiration to generations of musicians.  The winner of the Roots/Traditional Group Recording of the Year was Newfoundland's Ennis, for Lessons Learned.  Karen Ennis was there to accept for herself and her sister Maureen.  She pointed out the duo had indeed learned a lesson, having lived in Nashville for a year, but ultimately moving back to Newfoundland, and happier for it.

Myles and Gunning are just getting started at the awards.  Both are nominated for a total of five awards each, tied for the most nominations this week.  More awards will be handed out Friday and Saturday, before the rest are revealed Sunday night at the ECMA gala.

Thursday, April 14, 2011


Hey, I'm at the East Coast Music Awards in Charlottetown, covering for CBC, doing TV, radio and CBC.CA stuff.  Apr. 13 - 17.  You can read my blog over there at
You can find out about bands such as The Trews, The Once, and get lots more coverage and gossip!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011



We have a bevy of new Atlantic Canadian music releases this week, as it's East Coast Music Awards time.  The even runs Apr. 13 - 17 in Charlottetown, and Mr. Myles leads the pack with five nominations (Dave Gunning has five as well, but one is an industry award).  Fredericton's favourite son now resides in Halifax, and that's where he recorded this set, during a four-night stand this past December.  That's a fast turnaround.  I like the whole get-it-done, get-it-out-there attitude.  It's also my favourite bar in the world, run by Mike Campbell and Mike Rhodes, answering the question "what ever happened to those guys from Mike and Mike's Excellent Adventures?"  Actually, Steph runs it, the Mikes are eye candy only.  It's where we did the Halifax launch for the Top 100 Canadian Singles last October.  It's become a very popular spot among musicians, including Ron Sexsmith, Cuddy and Keelor, Willie Nile, Steve Poltz and of course, the cream of the crop of Halifax.

You can hear how much fun Myles is having at these shows, which is at least partly due to the atmosphere of the club.  It also shows why Myles is quickly becoming a hit live performer across the country and into Europe.  There's a lot of energy, humour and joy in the show.  The perpetually-smiling nice guy just makes you feel good, and there's a buzz in the air that this is going to be a good night as soon as he hits the stage, at each and every concert.  The big revelation here is how relaxed he's become on stage, with loose and engaging stories, the kind that win you over.  He's a better stand-up comedian than most of the foul-mouthed examples working the rounds in the country.

Of course, you're there for the music, and that's working for me here too, maybe even more so than his Joel Plaskett-produced, ECMA-nominated Turn Time Off album.  These intimate songs work well in the simple setting, with just three pieces.  Of course, it helps that the other two pieces, guitarist Alan Jeffries and stand-up bassist Kyle Cunjak sing and play with such a direct connection to Myles' music.  The rich harmonies they developed for these shows are special and stirring.  Both musicians are steeped in bluegrass playing, and that gives an extra dimension not found on the album versions.  The version of Don't Drive Through, Myles' song for New Brunswick on the CBC Song Quest project, flies along on Jefferies' sizzling leads and some high and hurtin' harmonies.

David Myles fans are going to know and enjoy this disc, a live best-of, a solid souvenir.  It's also a smart introduction for others, showing him at his best, performing a fun live concert.

Monday, April 11, 2011



Just in time for Canyon to host the East Coast Music Awards April 17th in Charlottetown comes his sixth long-player.  The Nova Scotia-raised, Alberta-settled star manages to straddle the middle ground of modern country, trading in lots of traditional rural topics, a little cowboy and western, and a big hat, while giving it all a modern production, as radio-friendly as it gets.  Once again he's aided by producer Richard Marx, yes that Richard Marx, he of the similar shiny sound back in the 80's.  Marx and Canyon, the co-writers, are a pretty formidable team, one that Nashville types should check out for more potential hits.  They certainly seem to have found the formula.

There's old-school country and popular, modern country, and Canyon certainly fits into the latter, the post-Shania and Garth Brooks era.  Now, there are lots that complain about that style, and I've been one of them at times, but it's often because it's largely transparent and somewhat soulless.  However, there's a place for pop country, and not everybody has to sound like Merle Haggard or Hank Williams.  Lord knows there's lots of people doing that already.  And Canyon means it, he grew up with a mixture of Top 40, from rock and country fields, and came to the crossover honestly.  Plus, as he points out in the cut Real Thing, is does come from rural and farm stock in Nova Scotia, and now Alberta, and he cuts the phony competition like a gangsta rapper:  "Being a cowboy is more than just wearing the boots/I got the hat but I got the cattle too".

It's interesting to hear him cover the Crowded House title track, a pop hit I never thought would make the country charts.  But Canyon rolls out one of his strengths, his big voice, and owns that number.  He even keeps the haunting quality of the original, a sadness not normally found on happy radio dials.  Plus, he sings in a quiet, higher register than normal.  Hey, the guy is stretching and succeeding here.  I know he won't win over any alt-country or outlaw fans, but mainstream country is obviously here to stay, and I like having Canyon there a lot more than the poster boys of Nashville.

Sunday, April 10, 2011



The first three Kinks albums, now with plenty of bonuses, and each as a double disc with at least a couple of dozen of extra cuts on each.  That's huge and generous, unless you've been picking up the various reissues and collections over the years, in which case there's only a few previously unreleased versions here.  You collectors will have to be the judge on whether they're worth the new cost.  But of course, you're completists, and the compilers know that, so you've probably already bought these.

Like the rest of the British beat groups of the early 60's, The Kinks started out scuffling in clubs, playing R'n'B and mimicking American favourites.  The group was a little behind The Beatles and The Stones, by about a year, and actually didn't sound that great on the usual Chuck Berry, Motown and Little Richard covers.  Taking bold-faced advantage of The Beatles' popularity, The Kinks released a cover of Long Tall Sally as their first single, beating the Fabs to it.  It tanked anyway, as did a follow-up, but then the group did something truly awesome.  Whether The Kinks invented heavy metal with You Really Got Me is a great debate question, but there's no questioning it was the hardest thing on the radio in 1964.  Follow-up All Day And All Of The Night is the best Part Two song ever, but Ray Davies was about to show he had a lot more tricks up his sleeve.

Both those hits can be found on The Kinks deluxe edition, the first having been there in the first place, and All Day added as a bonus cut.  That points out the problem with the original albums; like those by the other British acts of the day, often the hit singles weren't on the albums.  It was still considered bad practice, even for The Beatles, to duplicate songs on the albums, so the best tracks were usually found on the singles and E.P.'s, with the albums padded with covers and filler.  Even Lennon and McCartney had a couple of clunkers on their first L.P.'s.  The Kinks album is, aside from You Really Got Me and Stop Your Sobbing, largely forgettable.  That is, unless you add on 25 single cuts, demos, BBC recordings and the entire album in stereo and mono.  Now, we're talking.  Flushed with success, Davies' writing immediately started to improve, with the Kinksize Session E.P. cuts showing maturity, and quality cuts such as Don't Ever Let Me Go not even being released.  Already Davies was being tapped as a songwriter of note, and his demos were being shopped around to other acts.  I probably wouldn't even bother to have The Kinks in my collection in its normal 12-track version, but this double-disc has lots of good tracks.

The pattern continues on Kinda Kinks, which did have Tired Of Waiting For You, but nothing else you'll recognize, except a dire cover of Dancing In The Street.  Don't blame The Kinks for this though, they had managers and record executives screaming at them for more product, to cash in on the fame.  The best stuff came flowing in a series of singles through 1964 and 1965:  Who'll Be The Next In Line, Set Me Free, See My Friends and A Well Respected Man were great compositions and productions, and thankfully, all here with their associated b-sides and E.P. tracks.  Meanwhile, the Davies demo factory continued pumping them out, with such gems as I Go To Sleep and This Strange Effect not even making The Kinks projects, but thankfully rediscovered and preserved here from solo Ray sessions or BBC radio takes.

The Kink Kontroversy is the last of the band's albums that sees them with any vestiges of the blues left.  Beat groups were transforming in England as the songwriters found their individuality.  Ray Davies, the melancholy son of lower-class suburbia, cast a questioning eye at Swinging London, and instead related more to his country's past.  Still in his early 20's, he was already pining for the old days, asking Where Have All The Good Times Gone while the rest of the groups were living it up.  So Kontroversy sees the group moving on wistfully.  They do their best-ever blues cover, Sleepy John Estes' Milk Cow Blues, as good as any Stones blues, but then change abruptly to the likes of Till The End Of The Day.  On the singles charts, Davies was belittling Carnaby Street dandies on Dedicated Follower Of Fashion, and admitting I'm Not Like Everybody Else.  1965 was turning into 1966, and when the rest of the world went psychedelic, Davies was about to go on a one-man quest to bring back the days of the music hall in England.

As mentioned, these discs explode with bonus cuts, unless one has already purchased the previous single-disc 90's reissues from Castle, the Kinks At The BBC double-disc, and the six-CD boxed set Picture Book from 2008.  But even with those under your belt, you'll still get three, five and eight previously unavailable cuts on these sets.  If you don't have them already, well perfect time, eh wot?

Thursday, April 7, 2011


T. is Tim, no relation the 60's-70's artist, and father of Jeff, but it does mean he has to go by the initial. That's okay, I like it, it's cool. This T. Buckley is from Calgary, one of the rising stars of the roots scene in the city, winning the Folk Festival songwriting contest there, plus a big recording grant. The result is his debut album, recently released, and an exploratory cross-country trip to spread the word, on one of those VIA Rail on-board entertainment programs. That's brought him out east to my neck of the woods and interest.

Buckley fits in nicely with the traditional Alberta country scene, which is crossed with the folk storytelling tradition and a little of the rowdy cowboy style as well. He's equal parts Ian Tyson and Corb Lund, both name-checked in the title track here. Like other non-Nashville writers, he comes up with better traditional country material than the freshly-scrubbed types of that city. His "A Thousand Times" is an excellent Everly Brothers-Louvin Brothers number, with the high, close harmonies. "Hank Williams Songs (Just Remind Me Of You)" is another excellent one, squeezing as many Hank song titles into the lyrics as he can, as another woman walks away. These are the tunes that follow the country line more, but Buckley can also Outlaw it up, with "Medicine Line" a strong rocker with a wild-at-heart storyline.

If Austin, Texas wasn't now filled with every alt-anything band and hipster scenemaker, I'd suggest Buckley fits in nicely with the kind of songwriter that city produces, or used to produce: the authentic roots performer who worries about the song first, the performance second, the audience next and the image last. Roll On is filled with strong images, concise writing and memorable melodies. Buckley's on the East Coast right now, at:

Vintage Bistro & Lounge, Hampton NB Thurs, Apr. 7
Backstreet Records, Saint John NB Fri, Apr. 8
The Company House, Halifax, NS Fri, Apr. 15

Wednesday, April 6, 2011



New Brunswick axeman Ross Neilsen has been playing it slow and steady, still a relative youngster in the blues field, a decade into his career.  He's put out a handful of live and studio releases, and worked hard on the touring, whether solo or with the Bastards.  He keeps expanding his touring schedule, added new markets and venues.  He's recently been doing residencies in some profile Ontario clubs solo, once a week, getting in some face time in various communities.  Ya, it's that old approach, come out, impress a few people, and next time they'll bring more friends, and so it builds.

While the reputation grows, so does the talent.  Ross is the guitarist, the singer, the writer, the bandleader, and that's a lot on one person's plate.  Those are skills you need to work on, and I think he's better every time I check in with him.  Certainly the guitar playing continues to advance, as he works on his electric, acoustic and slide guitar.  I'd say he's to the point where you can go and check him out live just for the playing, and be impressed.  He plays around my home enough that you can catch him very relaxed and having fun, instead of putting on the show, and on those times, it's really cool, some of his best work.  As a front man, he can now command the stage with ease as well, that confidence is there, he knows he can put on a kicking show.

Neilsen is launching a new album this coming Saturday, the latest in his ongoing Official Bootleg Series. It's made up of live concerts at various spots, either Ross solo or with his full trio of Bastards.  Now, bootleg usually suggests a bit of a shoddy product, but that is not the case here.  These are well-recorded, fully conceived sets, and Neilsen puts a lot of care into the shows selected, and the quality of the discs.  This one from the Acoustic Grill, and is a full band, full hour-long set.  The Grill is in Picton, Ontario, a well-known club for folk and blues performers, including lots of favourites such as Garnet Rogers and Fred Eaglesmith.  Ross has a great reputation there, and the Grill is always up for a live recording, so it's an obvious choice.  The disc is clean and bright, they did get an excellent tape that night, and the full band sounds tight and strong, emphasizing the classic blues they can do, and the louder, let-loose style they can get going when it's okay to turn the amps to 11.  He drops some new material into the set, including a song called Daddy Taught Me, about his late father, and we also hear an old favourite about one of his old jobs, back at the Ganong Candy Factory in his home area of St. Stephen, NB, called Jelly Bean.

Here's some Neilsen dates:  

Friday, April 8 at Bourbon Quarter, Saint John NB (solo)
Saturday, April 9 at The Playhouse, Fredericton NB (w/Bastards, album release show)
Thusday, Apr. 14 - Sunday, Apr. 17 at East Coast Music Awards, Charlottetown, PEI

Tuesday, April 5, 2011



For her fourth album, Barber believes she has found her true voice.  Actually, she thinks she found it last time out, with her Chances album of 2008.  That well-received set saw her team up with producer Les Cooper, open up her songs to lush and large orchestral arrangements, and embrace classic sounds of romantic music from decades past.  Now, on Mischievous Moon, she finds herself free to move forward with fewer fears:  "I am more confident," says Barber, primed and excited for the record's release.   "I feel more confident with every record.  I feel I'm building a body of work.  I'm at a place where I'm looking forward, but I can also look back.  I have a foundation and I can build on it."  Barber has always had the voice, and the songwriting chops, and has been a rising star since arriving in Halifax as a young folk singer last decade.  Now Vancouver-based (blame new husband and full-time wage earner, CBC Radio 3's Grant Lawrence), she's developed a highly-individual style.  "With Chances, it was the first record where I found I was doing a Jill Barber album.  The earlier ones were more experimental, I was trying things on.  Now I know what my style is.  Now I'm comfortable with who I am, and for (Mischievous Moon) I made a conscious decision to push myself past that comfort zone."

The new album sees Barber embrace more sounds, and eras.  Chances evoked 1930's to 50's productions, but with the first three songs of Mischievous Moon, she breaks out of that era.  The lead, title cut reestablishes her vocal control of that type of material, but Took Me By Surprise is breezy and fun, and takes us to the poppy early 60's, the track a potential hit for the Mad Men fans.  First single Tell Me follows, and it has a darker and far more modern sound, but still with Barber and company's rich and stylized orchestral production.  "I wanted to make a record that celebrated the signature sound we make, the six of us, and push it to a new level.  It's an evolution and a growth from Chances.  It's a little heavier than that, more serious.  I'm trying to make myself more serious, without taking myself too seriously.  I sing about love and matters of the heart, and I try to create a mood with my music."

Where Chances was easily set in the past, Mischievous Moon is much harder to date:  "I don't want to be locked into any one decade.  I'm influenced by all the decades past, it's not the sound, it's the classic forms of songwriting and production that I'm trying to preserve and work in.  The connective tissue is that these are real musicians, and we are making music the way people used to do it.  I love songs that sound classic, and I'm trying to write songs that sound that way.  I think classic sounds is what I'm going for."

Even the title hints at where she's going:  "There's a reason I called it Mischievous Moon.  I wanted it to have that evening feel.  I want to play in the shadows a bit."  One thing hasn't changed in all of this.  Barber remains a true romantic, and love is always in the air in her songs.  "I want it to be a soundtrack to people's love stories.  The album sounds like a soundtrack to a film, and I like to hope people can insert themselves into these songs.  Every love story needs a soundtrack, and I hope I can be that for some people." 

For upcoming Jill Barber tour dates in Quebec, Ontario and B.C., visit

Monday, April 4, 2011



Album #3 for the Toronto piano pro, and it's the one that best shows all his sides and styles.  A vibrant showman, Kaeshammer has chops to spare, and an all-around interest in entertaining you, and that really comes alive on this disc.  It feels like a concert, well-paced and varied, with Kaeshammer bringing out all his party tricks.  It's also his most mainstream disc, with songs here that will tickle the fancy of Buble fans, as the jazzman shows he can pop it up on the potential hits A Little Bit Of Love and The You-And-Me.

Kaeshammer's also in excellent voice on this material, which is not something I've really paid too much attention to before.  Normally it's been the piano doing the talking, and that's here of course, but the whole package seems to impress me more, probably because the choice of material is uniformly strong, and geared towards showmanship, voice and fingers.  He has a playful voice, and with the fun, uptempo tunes here such as Heartbeat (featuring Divine Brown doing the backgrounds), he hits a groove like those 60's sides from Georgie Fame.

My favourite part of his piano work has always been his New Orleans-flavoured numbers, and there are a few of them here, as he does a few roles that would make Allen Toussaint nod in agreement.  The slow ballad Shalamar Wind, a duet with frequent tour partner Jill Barber, lets him take an emotional solo in the middle, but the real piano showcase comes in the middle of the disc, on his version of the Curtis Mayfield classic People Get Ready.  As a good jazzman knows, you don't always have to sing, sometimes your fingers can do a well-known melody justice, and here he nails it, just as he does live at most of his shows, as the song has been a concert highlight for awhile.  This feels like a major release for Kaeshammer.

Sunday, April 3, 2011



The next installment in the Nick reissues sees his second solo disc tarted up, although not to the extent of the previous issue, Jesus Of Cool, which saw a whack of bonus cuts.  This time, the 1979 album gets just a couple of familiar b-sides added to the platter, Endless Grey Ribbon and Basing Street.  Meh, no matter, the original disc is fine and dandy and sweet as candy, and it's been a long time since it's been in print.  This is Lowe's solo high point, with the album a strong seller, and its single, Cruel To Be Kind, nearly making the Top Ten.  It was also a high-water mark for New Wave, with Nick and Dave Edmunds and Rockpile, plus Elvis Costello, Squeeze and Graham Parker all looking like the next big thing.

It didn't quite work out that way, but apart from Edmunds, all have enjoyed long and excellent careers, and this disc remains a strong favourite of Nick fans.  Recorded with his Rockpile pals, Lowe and the group spit out classic rock and pop, with every imaginable hook shoved in.  Lowe was Abbott to Elvis's Costello, the composer of some of the great puns in pop, a British Chuck Berry.  There's A Dose Of You with it's "I need a stiff shot badly" line.  American Squirm features the memorable "tried to mate in a horrible state", and Cruel To Be Kind itself is just chock-full of the best rhymes, including "you say your love is bona fide/but that don't coincide...".  It's just a joy to listen to these songs every time.

Lowe could seemingly knock off these homage numbers at will, with a complete love and knowledge of roots rock.  Without Love was a classic rockabilly tribute, and at any moment, any song could have a little soul moment.  But you never felt like it was retro, as Lowe and Rockpile piled so much energy and modern slang into the mix, it was the hippest thing on the block.  Umm, in 1979 at least.  Look, to my ears this sounds as fresh as ever, and it's still one of my all-time favourite disks.  Given the hipster love of roots stuff these days, I think there's lots of 20-somethings that could dig his mood these days as well.

Friday, April 1, 2011



Steve Dawson is one of my most favourite Canadian players and producers.  The Juno-winning multi-instrumentalist and former member of Zubot and Dawson works out of Vancouver, runs the cool Black Hen label, and has produced some of the best all-Canadian music of the past few years.  That includes Juno winners for Old Man Luedecke, plus discs for The Sojourners, The Deep Dark Woods, Kelly Joe Phelps, Jim Byrnes, and more.  His project A Tribute To The Music Of The Mississippi Sheiks was named the best blues album of 2010 by England's respected Mojo Magazine.

Dawson serves up a mighty fine set of originals here, all with a solid groove and great ensemble playing.  He has the ability to hear exactly what moment to fill in the holes with a little lick, or a keyboard part, tasty keys supplied here by Chris Gestrin.  And note-for-note, you're going to be hard-pressed to find a better roots/blues guitar player in the country, which also goes for his work on a bunch of other stringed and keyed instruments here.  The songs too need to be praised.  In a genre rife with cliches, Dawson rarely falls into the usual 12-bar traps, lyrically or musically.  Darker Still, a trip into lonely nighttime, ends with an extended coda where Dawson plays off Gestrin's Wurlitzer.  The title track continues the evening theme, with "the nightshade the deadliest of them all", a cool song that completely switches gears and tempos in the middle, for a big slide solo.  Jill Barber joins for harmonies on the relaxed and fun Walk On.  On each song, there's a moment worthy of sitting up and smiling, especially for blues fans looking for something different.

I repeat, Dawson is one of my favourite players and producers.  Unfortunately, he is not one of my favourite singers.  Blues doesn't require the greatest singers, but it does sound best when the singer has some unique personality or force.  Dawson's lone weak spot is a soulless voice.   There's no presence or strength, no guts or gravel.  That's a hard problem to fix, especially for such a good songwriter.  He's the producer, so nobody is telling him to bury his voice in the mix, but maybe that might help.  You want to hear the fine lyrics, but listening to him sing "hey hey mama" in Gulf Coast Bay, the lone cover here, is a bit of an advertisement for why some have said white men shouldn't sing the blues.  That's not true of course, but he does sound like his mom packed his lunch for him on the way to the studio.  Howlin' Wolf, he ain't.  Everything else about Steve Dawson and this album I love, so you'll have to judge how much the vocals mean to your listening experience.