Wednesday, August 31, 2011


Okay, here's the deal.  I love Glen Campbell.  When I was a kid, my favourite song was Galveston.  I was, like, 7.  Glen knocked The Monkees off the number one perch in my life.  Now, Abbey Road came along and did him in, but I have never lost my appreciation for his music.  I love all those late 60's classics, many of which were written by Jimmy Webb.  Wichita Lineman, By The Time I Get To Phoenix, Try A Little Kindness, Gentle On My Mind, Honey Come Back, Dreams Of The Everyday Housewife; okay, that last one was awfully sexist, but he sang the hell out of it.

Much later, I found out Glen had actually been in my favourite band for a few months years earlier.  He'd taken the place of Brian Wilson in 1965 for a few months in my beloved Beach Boys.  This was after Wilson stopped going on the road, and just stayed home to make the hits.  As payback for that, Brian wrote and produced a single for Campbell, called Guess I'm Dumb, which is excellent, and considered a direct link to the masterpiece Pet Sounds album.  It flopped, just slightly ahead of its time.  Another reason I love Glen.

So, it came as bittersweet news to hear that Campbell is going on one final tour.  This isn't the usual showbiz phony retirement announcement.  Campbell has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's, and wants to do this while he still can.  There's something deeply heroic in that effort.

If you like, or love, Campbell, and live near Moncton, NB, here's a chance to go this Friday, Sept. 2.  He's playing Moncton's Casino New Brunswick.  The local folks and my beloved colleagues at CBC Moncton have two pairs of tickets to give away for Information Morning's Facebook friends.   All you have to do is write a post about your favourite Glen Campbell song. Whatever song is your favourite, tell them why. They'll put all the entries in a hat and draw two winners to Friday night's concert. it now, the deadline is NOW!  Thursday, noon Atlantic.  Oh, you'll have to go and be friends with them, so head on over to:

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


Whoa, where did this come from?  Ry Cooder's always been different, and a bit of a curmudgeon, but he just got topical, political and ass-kicking.  He's mad about a few things, and he's pointing fingers directly at who he feels should shoulder the blame:  bankers and politicians.  Sure, these are easy targets, but Cooder's done his homework, and over an hour proceeds to tell us what's up.

The reason this comes as a surprise is because for the past three albums, he's been dealing with these issues and others in a less-direct way.  A trilogy of California-based albums used characters and story-telling to look at 20th century social history and problems.  But having singing cats standing in for Woody Guthrie (My Name Is Buddy) or exploring racism through 1950's Mexicali tales (Chavez Ravine) was a bit too obscure, and not that grabbing.  Narrative is a hard thing to pull off, and so are concept albums.  This time, we get it, plan and simple.  This is protest music, using classic protest music, with vitriol and humour, us against the fat cats.

Lead song No Banker Left Behind mocks the whining cry-babies of the financial world, lining up in Washington for their handouts when the housing crisis hit.  They are whisked away on a special train from all their troubles, served shrimp cocktails and champagne to sooth the pain.  Of course, they did get the last laugh with all their bonuses, but Cooder takes care of that in the next track, El Corrido de Jesse James.  Here he visits the notorious bank robber in heaven, where he tells his cronies that despite all the terrible deeds in his past, "I never turned a family from their home."  He wishes he could get his old gun back and visit Wall Street, where "I'll cut you down to size my banking brothers/Put that bonus money back where it belongs."  Of course, Cooder isn't advocating the murder of bankers, or not quite anyway.  But he does have James tell them "You lined your pockets well/But I'll see you all in hell."

The most shocking song on the disc is Christmas Time This Year, which has all the joyous sounds of the season, but watch those words.  The kids are coming home for the holidays, but they're coming from Afghanistan:  "Our children will be coming home in plastic bags I fear/Then we'll know it's Christmas time this year."  Blame?  This time, he doesn't want us to forget who was in charge when that started:  "Take this war, and shove it up your Crawford, Texas ass." 

There are lighter moments in all this anger.  John Lee Hooker For President sees Cooder imitating the late, famous bluesman, perfectly.  The voice is right, the guitar is right, and the logic is right on.  Cooder, as Hooker, tells us his idea is "every man and woman gets one scotch, one bourbon and one beer, three times a day if they stay cool.  Little chillens gets milk, cream and alcohol, two times a day if they stay in school.  Now boogie chillen."  Oh, the ideas from John Lee's logic keep comin', including nine fine lookin' womens on the Supreme Court, if he catches back-biters and syndicators messin' 'round the White House, he might cut 'em or shoot 'em.  "If you vote for John Lee Hooker, you know you gonna groove."

I got bored quickly by Cooder's last three albums, even though the music was, as usual, top-notch, with excellent Mexican, blues and roots sounds.  But the stories were just too complicated to follow, it was more reading than listening.  As it turns out, those discs were important precursors to this effort, as Cooder worked on his political themes, and started to connect the dots over the past decades, where the misuse of money and power continues to be the great problem for those without it.

Monday, August 29, 2011


Well, I just finished listening to everything The Hollies released from 1963 to 1968, from the group's formation to the departure of Graham Nash.  I mean, everything.  This new, exhaustive 6-disc set is exactly what you want from a medium-level group in the reissue department.  It's complete, it has a few rare cuts, a few unreleased finds, and a fine price.  Both Chapters and Amazon on-line stores have it for $48.19, good value.  Ya, that might be a bit much for the average record buyer, but this is aimed at us completests and collectors, where the physical CD is still important.

The Hollies were the odd duck of the British Invasion groups.  They lasted longer than anybody but The Rolling Stones, and actually got better with age.  They were never comfortable as a Beat group, and were really more of a British Beach Boys, with vocals and arrangements the real strength of the band.  The core members were Nash, Allan Clarke and Tony Hicks, sand although they had some success in North America, they were far bigger in England during this time.  Oddly, after Nash's departure their real world-wide success happened, with Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress, He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother and The Air That I Breathe all to come later in the 70's.  These are The Hollies of Carrie-Anne, Bus Stop and Stop Stop Stop, Top 10 hits but not huge on our shores.

After The Beatles had broken out of Liverpool, EMI sent the scouts out to other provincial cities, assuming there must be more of the same elsewhere.  Way before Joy Division and The Happy Mondays, The Hollies put Manchester on the map.  The band was writing their own songs, but certainly not at Lennon-McCartney level, so at first they only made it to b-sides and album tracks.  In the meantime, their stage show provided the majority of the cuts, often the same one all the other groups were doing, U.S. covers such as Searchin', Poison Ivy and Mr. Moonlight, and Chuck Berry and Little Richard numbers.  It takes almost the entire first CD to get to a stand-out cut, their version of Just One Look, where you can start to hear the distinct vocal blend.

Like all the other groups, the writing got better, but The Hollies never seemed to get the big self-penned hit.  While The Stones had Satisfaction, The Kinks You Really Got Me, and The Who had My Generation, The Hollies hits came from outside writers.  Bus Stop was from a 16-year old kid, Graham Gouldman, who would also pen No Milk Today for Herman's Hermits, For Your Love and Heart Full Of Soul for The Yardbirds and then form 10CC years later.  Meantime, the writing trio of Hicks, Nash and Clarke were getting better, as the b-sides and album tracks showed, just not a-side material yet.  That's when this set really gets going, when you discover tasty little numbers that stand out in the 7 hours of listening, such as Disc 2's What Kind Of Boy.  You could make a really great 15-track mix cd out of these barely-known gems.

As the 60's moved on, the productions got more complicated, and you can hear The Hollies following the more complicated productions of The Beatles.  The world was watching the Fabs and George Martin as they revolutionized pop music with I Feel Fine, Rain, and Strawberry Field Forever.  The Hollies and their EMI staff producer Ron Richards were definitely second-string at the label, and were given smaller budgets and less time to be creative.  But they still tried to experiment, and more often than not came up with something worthwhile.  Meanwhile, under Richards' tutelage, the songwriting was getting better.

Stop Stop Stop was the first one of note to come from the trio, and from then on, the confidence was there.  On A Carousel took it further, and then Carrie-Anne was a huge hit.  But Nash was changing, getting more complicated and mature.  King Midas In Reverse was a smart lyric and production, but didn't do as well in sales, and the the rest of the group worried.  Nash started to see himself as he odd man out.  One of the main differences, he admits, was that he was smoking a lot of dope and the rest weren't.  In 1967, he went to California and started harmonizing with Crosby and Stills, and fell in love with that blend.  Back in England, his bandmates balked at new material he wanted to record, such as Marrakesh Express and Teach Your Children.  The final straw was a proposed album of pop arrangements of Dylan songs.  Nash left, and for once, it worked out great for everyone.  The Hollies had more and bigger hits, which they wanted, and Nash got creative control, some new friends, and far greater fame than he had ever had.

The highlight of the bonuses included in this set is a half-hour live concert from 1968, recently discovered.  The big hits are here, and we find out the band could do it live, too.  My interest in the group has certainly increased.  The Hollies weren't The Beatles or Stones, they didn't have the true R'n'B chops and grit of The Animals, they couldn't touch The Who or The Kinks.  But, they were better than Gerry and The Pacemakers, Freddie and the Dreamers, Peter and Gordon, and it's a toss-up with the Dave Clark Five.  I might not do the seven hours, start-to-finish run on this box again, but I like having it.

Saturday, August 27, 2011


Major moves can trigger lots of changes.  When you're pulling up stakes and changing homes, cities, even coasts, other life changes tend to get tossed in the mix as well.  And, some big ideas can pop into your head as well.  That's what happened to Bonnie Ste-Croix last year when she found herself moving from Vancouver all the way to Halifax.  She decided to be closer to her mother, who was not well.  Ste-Croix had grown up in Gaspe, so it was sort of a homecoming, the right ocean anyway.  Thinking about all the provinces she'd cross to get there inspired a unique idea.

Ste-Croix decided to make a trip cross-country and do what she does best:  Make music at every stop.  To this end, she planned a tour that took her to each province and territory, to play shows, but also to record.  In 13 stops, she recorded 13 tracks, with special guest from each location, friends from the folk music community.  You'll know lots of the names;  Catherine MacLellan was there in PEI, Natalie MacMaster for Nova Scotia, The Once in Newfoundland, etc.  Here in N.B., it was a bilingual date, with Jessica Rhaye joining on vocals, Dominque Dupuis on fiddle, as well as Aaron Currie on guitar.  They recorded a track called Theo, a good one, and like all the tracks, composed by Ste-Croix.  The songs weren't specifically about each area, thank goodness, that's too difficult and would have resulted in bad travelogue ads no doubt.  The highlight of this number is the fine vocal blend between Rhaye and Ste-Croix.

Ste-Croix calls the process the adventure of a lifetime, and I think she's actually hit on something here.  Concept discs, whether they are tributes or charity efforts or thematic adventures, tend to fall flat in the hype, or the forced performances between disparate colleagues.  Here Ste-Croix hasn't tried to write-to-order per province, or record with the biggest names.  Instead, she's taken the songs she already had, and played with people she liked and wanted to, who properly fit the roles and material.  Plus, the songs are of strong quality throughout.  In the end, it turns out to be a high-quality celebration of the folk-and-roots community of the country.

Okay, there's one song that was written-to-order about Canada and home and such, but since it's also the best on the album, it deserves singular praise.  Canadian Girl gives the album its title, and here represents her new Nova Scotia home, also gives us the great statement of the project.  Ste-Croix now sees the whole country as her home, having gone from small towns to big cities, to all three coasts, and become familiar with just about every stop between.  That's a thought right up there with "Something to sing about, this land of ours."

Fittingly, Ste-Croix is launching the disc with a cross-Canada tour, starting with:

September 17 – The Company House, Halifax, NS with guest Dylan Guthro
September 22 -Best Western Manoir Adelaide, Dalhousie, NB
September 24 – La Petite Eglize, Gaspe, QC
October 6 – Centre Ambroise, Montreal, QC with guest Dale Boyle
October 7 – The Rainbow Bistro, Ottawa, ON
October 8 – The Spill, Peterborough, ON
October 9 – Acoustic Grill, Picton, ON
October 11- L-Lounge, Kitchener, ON
October 12 – London Music Club, ON
October 13 – Bohemian Fridays, Dunnville, ON
October 14 and 15 - OCFF, Niagara Falls ON
October 16 – The Pearl Company, Hamilton, ON
October 19 – The Moonshine Café, Oakville, ON
October 22 – Pearl Theatre, Lunenburg (with Ken Whitely), NS
October 28 – Vintage Bistro, Hampton, NB

Thursday, August 25, 2011


Bruce Peninsula member Tamara Lindeman brings her second solo discs as The Weather Station, with a dramatic shift. Working with the folk-country-acoustic-obsessed Daniel Romano, Lindeman waltzed right into his style like she was born to it. Recorded with great warmth, clarity and closeness, the tunes fall somewhere between ancient folk melodies and 60's revival, and if you added a little hiss and dropped the harmonies, this could be the work of some previously undiscovered mountain gal. Oh, that is until they get a little wild with the drums, like with Know It To See It, which turns into a pretty cool blues.

It's a pretty simple affair, if you count the number of parts. There are voices, guitars, mostly acoustic, some banjo, bass, a touch of pedal steel, that drum, and well-used violin. This was a match made in indie heaven, because Lindeman sounds so great in this setting, the quality and purity of her voice shining through, and there are wonderful harmonies all along, with Bruce Peninsula cohort Misha Bower, and well as Romano joining. Lindeman's sweetness keeps the quiet tunes positive and dreamy. And on noisier ones, like Nobody, she gets downright old-timey, with a twang that's more Gillian Welch than southern Ontario.

The great thing about this style is how, by stripping back, the melodies and harmonies are revealed. The singing, and the acoustic guitar is allowed to carry the tune, and blossom. Listening to Lindeman hit these notes with such emotion, join in the parts with her friends, and get to the core of the song, is magic. And by sympathetically letting the songs travel back in time, by using banjo and violin and the like, gives the music more substance. There's nothing particularly old in the words of the lyrics, but it's the way they are sung. As you can tell, I'm already sold on Romano, and thrilled Lindeman has brought her voice and songs to the picture.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


Of all the white blues bands to emerge in the mid-60's, Canned Heat was certainly one of the most respected.  The players truly seemed to get the blues, not just play it like other copyists.  Indeed, along with Paul Butterfield, Mike Bloomfield and their associates, and Them over in England, and some of the San Fran players (Janis, etc.), the Chicago blues was taken up by some pretty talented hands.

The early glory days of the Heat are well-represented in live settings, as the band were one of the highlights at both Monterey and Woodstock.  But purists say they never recovered from the loss of co-leader Al Wilson in 1970. Certainly Bob "The Bear" Hite was a charismatic front man, and a blazing harp player, but the group never did come up with more hits to match On The Road Again and Going Up The Country.  Luckily, they did keep up the live show, and remained a reliable concert band through the 1970's.  As a kid, I saw them play UNB here in Fredericton, but I'm afraid I was too young to appreciate it or even remember the full billing?  Was it part of the Hooker n' Heat tour?  Somebody feel free to fill me in.

Any, this Montreux set comes from 1973, and shows just how good they remained.  However, part of the magic is their guest star.  One of the ways Canned Heat made up for the loss of Wilson was to tour with the greats, including John Lee Hooker, Little Richard, and on this night, Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown.  We get a full mini-set with Gatemouth, where he brings out all his tricks, including guitar, fiddle, mouth harp and lots of antics.  The Heat are fine to step back for several songs, and it livens up this hour-plus disc.  Gatemouth's then-topical Please Mr. Nixon clearly pointed out the gap between the generations and races that was dominate at the time.

Back with the core band, Hite has no problem getting lots of boogie and audience response going.  The good news is this particular Montreux release is very well recorded and preserved (some in the series don't have the best audio), so we get a great mix and up-front closeness, with Hite's vocals, Henry Vestine's lead lines and Ed Beyer's organ runs particularly vibrant.  The version here of Let's Work Together is what live blues is all about.

Monday, August 22, 2011


I was thinking about Laurie Anderson the other day, the New York performance artist who grabbed the punk attitude of the 70's, mixed some music into her show, experimented with sampling via tape loops on her violin, and came up with the revolutionary O Superman in 1980.  What surprised me is that it never charted as a Top 100 single, but of course, what radio station would have touched it then, other than college and the furthest-out FM ones.  It taken take long to realize that 30 years later, her ground-breaking can be found in so many of today's songwriters and performers, especially women.

Connecting just some of the dots, you'll find Anderson opened the doors for singer-songwriters to modernize away from folk, and experiment, as Suzanne Vega did.  Now you can write a song and dump that acoustic, start layering, be alternative.  Mary Margaret O'Hara was another, but stuck in the 80's was still concerned too left field for the greater populace.  Into the 90's, our own Julie Doiron took it back low-fi, stuck in some raw emotion and sang from her gut.  Which, in the way my brain links these things, takes me right up to Halifax's Rebekah Higgs. Now, I don't know her, and she may have never heard of Laurie Anderson and probably just came by all this quite naturally, which is all great.  My point is that these days, this is what a pop album sounds like, it's darn good and I silently tip my hat to O Superman.

Higgs' new one is part playful and lots of hard work, coming up with fabulous arrangements and cool production.  "Lazy Mornings", with its tic-toc piano and percussion, vibrating backing vocals and shimmering strings gives us a wonderful, stony and slow passage of time.  "Stick & Poke" (great title) starts slow and plodding, with the vocals chopped up into a crawl, until half-way through it goes double time, then doubles again, Higgs accusing a paramour of having bloodshot eyes and "tooma-NEE late nights".  Some songs are more straight-ahead and fun, and the disc does start with the jaunty "Little Voice", and "There's a busy bee/humming merrily", like a Disney theme from a lost 60's movie.  "Gosh Darn Damn", the lead single, sounds like a single, like those pop ones circa 1973.

A big hats off to Higgs, the musicians and producer Brian Deck, as this is a tremendous effort, such craft involved.  Rebekah, if you had been around to make this in the '70's, you would have freaked 'em all out and picked up the wacky artist tag like Laurie Anderson.  Of course, you also would have picked up Lou Reed, post-heroin, so.....

Sunday, August 21, 2011


There's nothing more pathetic than a bunch of geeky white guys trying to be funky.  Unless of course, it was the Average White Band in the 70's.  By some stroke of luck, this bunch of Scots somehow managed not only to do the music justice, they actually managed to get full-fledged hits at a time when some of the best funk ever was coming out. 

In those days, you couldn't really fake it in the studio either.  You had to be able to play, or at least hire studio musicians who could.  But here's the proof, in this live concert, part of the ongoing series of Montreux releases, this one from 1977.  Original drummer Robbie McIntosh was gone, a young drug casualty, replaced by Brit Steve Ferrone, but the rest were still pure Scots.  Not that you would know it, except during stage introductions.  Even the vocals didn't give 'em away, and certainly not the playing either.  This tight blend of horns and soulful stuff is obviously a homage to American 60's music, with James Brown and Motown right up front.  But not only did they get it right, they moved it forward, enough that "Pick Up The Pieces" was a number one hit for them, and "Cut The Cake" wasn't far behind.  The first is pretty much an instrumental, and the second might as well be, and such is the strength of the groove we couldn't wait for them to hit the airwaves back then.

Unfortunately, AWB never had a frontman who could move the group along vocally, which probably hurt them in the long run.  After those two hits, there wasn't much, and they petered out in the early '80's.  The live set does show they could be strong in concert, and were probably best as a stage act.  Hamish Stuart went on to work for several years with Paul McCartney, and Ferrone became one of the most in-demand drummers ever, doing duty for Eric Clapton, Chaka Khan, Duran Duran, the Saturday Night Live house band, and most recently, a full member of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

Thursday, August 18, 2011


Well, I had a hard time imagining what The Dude would sound like making an album, and I have to admit the results are a surprise.  Knowing hotshot T-Bone Burnett was producing, I assumed some sort of acoustic roots record with songwriter and country leanings, and that's half-right.  Bridges does have a taste for Americana, and they chose two from the late Stephen Bruton, who had worked with them on the film Crazy Heart.  The actor was already friends with songwriter John Goodwin, who supplied three, and there's a Greg Brown number.  But there are some unique numbers, supplied by Bridges himself, and they remind me of that well-known hallucinatory scene in The Big Lebowski.

Okay, that's a bit flip.  But they are different, very calm, somewhat philosophical as well.  Burnett pours on the atmosphere, and Bridges sings his own likes such as "Here is my seat/I do not pay rent/I'm delighted/I'm buddhistly bent (sic)".  Now, that might sound stoner, but not only does it work for him, this subtle and soothing sound Burnett has crafted pulls you in.  Rosanne Cash helps out on three songs as a second voice, but it isn't a star turn, I barely recognized her,everybody is out for the greater good here.

Bridges does have the voice you'd expect, and it's friendly, warm and inviting, quite serviceable for this music.  Is he the real deal?  Pretty close, for sure.  If it was all his material, I'd say for sure.  His skill as an interpreter is good, I like this individual feel, the mellowness.  But... it's a lark in a way, helped by the fact he's so well-like and well-connected.  Burnett's about as good as you can get as a producer in this wider genre, although not infallible.  The John Mellancamp discs that he produced, for instance, are nothing special.  This is better, and it's a whole lot better than just about any other actor trying singing release.  In the end, there are people that might like to own this to listen to, and that's all anybody can ask from an album

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


I wrote about Roxanne Potvin arriving in my neck of the woods yesterday, so I thought I'd better give equal billing to another guy on some of the dates.  I first reviewed Jay's latest back in March, so here's a re-post of that article, and don't forget to check out him (with Rox P. on some dates) at the following:

Wednesday, Aug. 17 Creek View Restaurant, Gagetown, NB (w/Roxanne Potvin)
Thursday, Aug. 18 Vintage Bistro, Hampton, NB (w/Roxanne Potvin)
Friday - Sat., Aug. 19-20  Kennedy Inn, St. Andrews-By-The-Sea, NB


I don't know if Jay Aymar knows where he's from anymore.  While Toronto may be a home base, most of his work and time is on the road, and he's getting to know the country really well.  He's part of a solid new folk scene that's crisscrossing the country, trading in a little blues or roots, whatever will get them on the bill of whatever club, festival or house concert is happening.  As much as these genres are interchangeable now, what's remained true is the idea of the songwriter picking up bits and pieces of people's lives, and passing them on like seeds, wherever they land next.

I think I'll repeat that, because I like the sound of it:  Jay Aymar writes people's lives.  You get the actress who wanted to play the big-time roles, but had to settle for bit parts.  There's the guy who just wants to find a normal girl.  Or the white guy who's learned a lot more than most about First Nations people in the country by hanging out and being a friend.  There are big stories, but it's the little details he puts in that paint the real picture for us, like the bus passenger who tells us, "As the weight of my wallet goes, I'm a Greyhound kind of guy."  Then there's "the beautiful girl in vintage clothes".  These people pop right into your head with one listen.

Aymar's folk is the kind with country leanings, and features strong fiddle, mandolin and ensemble playing.  Aymar's part of a larger scene of like-minded folk folk, such as David Gavin Baxter, Tim Des Islets (who handles rhythm guitar on all tracks here) and young Jadea Kelly, an exceptional singer who shows up for an excellent old-timey duet on "Worthless String Of Pearls".  There's honesty and raw talent flowing through all these people, so go out and see them next time they're in town.  Especially Jay Aymar, since he's probably driving into yours right now.

Sunday, August 14, 2011


The very talented Roxanne Potvin is touring down my way this week, which makes it an excellent time to look at her most recent disc, which dropped, as the kids say, back in April.  Now, in the history of popular music, it's been proven you have to be pretty brave to change horses mid-stream, and that's what Potvin has done.  She started out as a bright new light in blues and soul, moved to Toronto from Quebec, got all set up.. and it didn't sit right with her.  She found she wasn't being true to her muse, just working in that field.  She had more modern paths to follow.  The blues was just one of her interests.  She took time to regroup, rethink, and write.  Then, by chance, Vancouver producer Steve Dawson phoned about working together.  Dude is one of the best roots-type producers going, and a match was struck.

So, old fans are going to be surprised, and I hope pleasantly, as I sure am.  Potvin was dead right to do what she did, she obviously had so much to explore.  Throw on the New Wave-flavoured and crazed "Dis-moi que tu m'aimes", and you'll find energy untapped since Plastic Bertrand did "Ça plane pour moi".   "Pretty Girls" keeps the power pop going, with a refreshing under-30 singer taking a strong poke at the fashion industry.  Geoff Hicks Motown-perfect drums drive the track, flavoured with synths and plenty of funk.  These musicians are having a blast.

Potvin bounces about musically, which is ideal, with a couple of numbers in French, and lots of different tricks and textures courtesy of Mr. Dawson.  The one constant is an excellent vocal presence in the mix, her warm singing soft but full.  On "Seashells", it's plain dreamy, a fantasy trip on a different plain.  She can also put an edge on the funkier stuff, with a good growl when she wants.  But the big surprise in all this art is a cover of Right Said Fred's "I'm Too Sexy", dripping with irony and cool.  Real cool, not the attempt at cool most young indie bands do their best to muster.  This thing rocks.

Ms. Potvin can be found this week at:

15/08/11 Baba’s, Charlottetown, PEI
16/08/11 Plan B, Moncton, NB w/ Sarah Jayne Doiron
17/08/11 Creek View Restaurant, Gagetown, NB w/Jay Aymar
18/08/11 Vintage, Hampton, NB w/ Jay Aymar
19/08/11 Bourbon Quarter, Saint John, NB

Friday, August 12, 2011


One of the best true bands of all time, with two excellent songwriters, three singers, and four ace players.  But the game was stacked against them, thanks to contract restrictions that wouldn't let co-leaders Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds record under the Rockpile name until nearly the end of the group.  So we've only ever had the one okay album from them, and there's never been a live one.  This release makes us old fans leap with joy.

Nick and Dave were best buddies in the late 70's, each emerging as a star in England, and at least a strong cult figure in North America.  They were central figures in New Wave, and also shared a love and talent for early rock 'n' roll.  Plus, they were both excellent producers and songwriters.  They teamed up on each other's albums, hit the road together, and formed Rockpile with ace drummer Terry Williams and guitarist/singer Billy Bremner.  Alas, contractually they were confined to different labels.  Barnstorming Rockpile shows left fans drooling.  When the legal mess was finally overcome, the Seconds Of Pleasure album was good, not great, and maybe the magic was over.  After all, these guys were used to their own way on albums, and compromise is never the best product.  The band and the friendship fizzled out shortly after.

However, like at every other show, the famous Montreux Jazz Festival had the tapes rolling when they played this Euro gig in 1980.  The Montreux releases are hit-and-miss, since sometimes the groups weren't that hot the lone night at the festival, and other times, the recording quality and mix was off.  Here, it's the latter problem; Rockpile are super, but the quality isn't as good as you'd hope.  The bass is way too loud, the rhythm guitar is often missing, the drums are basically cymbals at times, and Nick Lowe's mic needs to be louder.  Now, that's all too bad, but understandable, these shows weren't originally being recorded to be released, that was decided 30 years later.  Since it's probably going to be the only Rockpile official live disc ever, I say go for it, I can live with the flaws.

While the vocals are shared between Edmunds, Lowe and Bremner, Dave gets more here, it's more his show.  We hear his bigger hits, including Girls Talk, Queen Of Hearts, Crawling From The Wreckage, and even his old Top Ten number from 1970, I Hear You Knockin'.  Lowe does give us a sampling of his quirky pop, with So It Goes, Switchboard Susan and They Called It Rock, and the pair duet on perhaps their most-loved tune, I Knew The Bride, the best Chuck Berry song he never wrote.  The medium-sized hit from Seconds Of Pleasure, Teacher Teacher appears, and the group is super-tight, trading off leads, harmonies and solos.  Their three-minute songs fly by, and yes, I wish I was there, wish I had traveled some time to seem them, wish this disc was twice as long, but since I never thought I'd see it, this ain't nothin' but fine.

Thursday, August 11, 2011


The career resurrection continues, with a fascinating live collection.  I've been a pretty strong fan of Russell's since his early 70's heyday, but I had no idea he had released a live album in Japan only back in 1973.  Usually these semi-obscure albums eventually get released in North America as well (see Bob Dylan's At Budokan).  But this one has remained hidden until now.  This Elton John-fired comeback for Leon has now given us a pretty good studio album with Elton, a cool Greatest Hits (see review:, and now a live album from back in the day.

It's actually from two concerts and time periods.  The Live In Japan proper disc was a 9-cut 40 minute set from 1973 in Budokan.  Added to that as a bonus here is another show from 1971, seven cuts from Houston just as Leon was starting to take off.  For those not already in the know, listening to this will help explain just why he's considered by many as one of the greats.  After leading Joe Cocker's Mad Dogs and Englishmen band and tour, Russell took that big on-stage revue style into his own Shelter People group.  The idea was to put a super band of players up there, including back-up singers, and make it a rock 'n' roll revival show, part preaching, part grooving.  Springsteen didn't invent that.  In Japan, Russell had recently added real gospel elements, including Rev. Patrick Henderson on piano, and the trio Black Grass on vocals.  The show actually started with a gospel song lead by Henderson, until Leon leaps on his piano to play some lead guitar licks.  Then the show goes into Russell's hits (Queen of the Roller Derby, Tight Rope) and the real showman appears.  He's an unlikely rock star and front man, which probably explains why he went back to obscurity for so long.  He certainly was no Mick Jagger,  But listen to the way he leads that troupe on stage, with such feeling on piano, with a funk that wouldn't be out of place in New Orleans.  He inspired you to be in the moment with the music, and it was never about phony rock star poses.

The bonus live set is just as rewarding, with an earlier version of the Shelter People.  Kathi MacDonald is in this group, known to Canadians as the woman who shared the stage with Long John Baldry here in the 1980's.  She takes the lead on Russell's Superstar, or rather the original version of that song, called Groupie.  It became, obviously,  a little calmer when it became a hit for The Carpenters.  There are some other gems from his older catalog, including my favourite, Stranger In A Strange Land, as well as a couple of rock 'n' roll cliche songs that Russell truly made his own, Roll Over Beethoven and Jumpin' Jack Flash.  Now, recent reviews of his rejuvenated stage show report he's doing great live, and if you get a chance, he's even on tour with a legend these days, opening for Bob Dylan.  Hmm.  Maybe they could do a Budokan revisited theme show.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


The roots here don't refer to roots music; this is modern country for sure.  Instead, it's Clark's own roots she's singing about, back in Canada, and her lifestyle and attitude growing up.  This is her second disc since her self-professed return to this country, and it continues to be a pretty good subject to write about.  The wings refer to her flying alone in a way, as she lost her mother to cancer last year, a dominate person in her life, and ended a relationship, as well as flying back to Canada of late.  All these stories come out on the album.

There are some good touches in those themes.  The song for her mother, Smile, is a fine ballad, not a weeper really, more of a strength through reflection number, featuring Alison Krauss on harmonies.  I like the lead single, Northern Girl, a lot, with plenty of Canuck references, lots of nature remarks, and a shout-out to the National Anthem.  Works for me.  And what a smooth move, covering Trooper's iconic We're Here For A Good Time, a song that still hasn't overstayed its welcome on Canadian radio, and may even prove a hit on the U.S. country charts, where it is so far unknown.

I just wonder what Clark would be like without the accepted and expected Nashville sound.  She produced this herself, down on Music Row, with some of the most talented and famous session names money can buy.  It's a darn good job too, it is exactly what has worked on what's called country radio since the ascension of Garth.  However, as a fan of "Roots" music, I'd actually like to hear her sing and play without the gloss and manufactured charm.  I bet there's even more there that would make me a proud Canadian.

Friday, August 5, 2011


I often think back to the way things were when I first started getting into music, and collecting records and tapes.  In the 70's, my teen years, you had vinyl, which was a must, 8-tracks which were a joke, and cassettes, which we were starting to use for mix tapes, and copying rare and cool stuff from friends.  Oh, and bootlegs!  I remember checking out those shady ads in the back of Rolling Stone, and sending away for catalogues of illicit tapes, scratchy live recordings and muddy demos of our favourites.  I still have most of those boot tapes, which I treasured as holy relics at that time.

My how the 'net has changed it all.  In the 70's, information was scarce about what your heroes were playing on the road.  Now, it seems a miracle to me that I can access an archive of any performer, find out what they played last night or in 1976, and probably find a recording of it.  I've never been one for file sharing, and I wouldn't know a bit torrent if it bit me on the bum, but if this stuff had been around in my crazed fan days, I can assure it I'd have been in hog heaven, snatching up Beach Boys Smile sessions or Neil Young live shows.

Since I now review so much stuff, I don't have time to collect everything out there by my favourites, but since I'm at a cottage this week with the kids, life is a little more relaxed.  Trolling thrrough Facebook, I saw a posting from one of the Neil Young sites, advertisting Rust Radio.  Now, this is a satellite, fan-run webcast, dedicated to Neil music.  And not just any Neil music, it only plays live concerts.  All day long.  Every day.  The site has dozens, hundreds, access to thousands of hours, no doubt all collected through the fan community.  Turning it on, I found excellent streaming quality, and got hooked immediately.  It was a 1986 show from St. Louis, on the Rusted-Out Garage Tour.  This was Young's first jaunt with Crazy Horse since the Rust Never Sleeps days, and his first tour since dissolving the country band.  He had a stage show, with the concept being that this, the 3rd-best garage band in the city, was rehearsing, much to the chagrin of neighbours and Mom.  I remember seeing a special satellite broadcast of one show on pay-per-view way back then, such was the rare nature of live rock in those days.

Not now, obviously.  As I listen to such obscure numbers as Too Lonely, Road Of Plenty and Prisoners Of Rock 'n' Roll from this show, I realize that nothing is truly rare anymore.  As soon as somebody gets a tape, it's on the 'net for everybody.  I love the fact that all this stuff I had only ever heard of can now be heard in a short series of clicks.  But I also miss the thrill of the search, and the mystery too.  Oh well.  I'm now addicted to Rust Radio, and obviously Neil doesn't have a problem with it, since his management is often in contact with the fan site that directed me to it.  I guess I can toss those old cassettes finally.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


I'm loving the rich sound The D.D.W.'s have developed over their career.  With The Sheepdogs scoring big this week as well, is Saskatchewan the new Seattle?  Dated 1991 reference aside, there's some pretty cool things happening in our most rectangular province.  And rarely does a band have such a wonderfully descriptive name, as the music is getting deeper and darker.

This is a band that knows how to do textures and layers.  On the murder ballad Mary's Gone, an acoustic guitar and vocal is joined slowly by harmonies, vocals, bass, strings, simple drums, piano, pedal steel, and organ, never getting louder, only spookier and more dramatic.  The jaunty Virginia features a combination of organ, pedal steel and fiddle that sees the instruments weave in and out, each one taking a few seconds of prominence, never really soloing, but just taking our attention for a bit.  Old Man Luedecke's guest banjo is bright touch, too.

I shouldn't give the impression it's too dark though, there are plenty of uptempo tunes, such as Sugar Mama, which could have been an out-take from Workingman's Dead.  But this group really does moody well.  The Banks Of The Leopold Canal may be the first song in the greater rock history of Canada to address our country's involvement in The Battle of the Scheldt in 1944 in Belgium.  Cool, huh?  Oh, and special words go to singer Ryan Boldt, whose warm and soothing voice gives the songs much of the timeless quality that makes them winners.  Each one of them brings excellent instrumentation to the table, and it's so refreshing to hear so many ideas and influences and perfect little moments throughout.  Definitely one of my top albums of the year.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


Well, whaddya know, Halifax's Dog Day has devolved, as Devo advised.  Actually, the group is calling it deforming, as in they have deformed the band into a two-piece, stripping back to just guitars and drums.  Those are handled by wife-husband team Nancy Urich and Seth Smith.  The disc was recorded at home, and it sounds it, as the duo are old-school low-fi, Eric's Trip'd out.

The mix of muddy and melodic is always a bit distracting to my ears, having grown up in the Pop Wars of the 60's and 70's.  You youngsters wouldn't remember, but knights such as Darth Spector and Obi-Wan Wilson used to wield their light sabers to make the music bigger and brighter.  So when I hear great chord changes and boy-girl harmonies buried in a mix that only allows grungy guitar and clashing cymbals behind muffled lyrics, it makes me strain.  I have no doubt the Canine Couple could compete on that level, they just choose not to.

Stripping down to a two-piece actually works in the group's favour, as Deformer is their most concise and complete effort.  The songs have a more finished feeling, and a general glow that was missing on occasion before.  With only themselves to worry about, less becomes more.  There's even a bit more experimentation, with some different guitar sounds, tempos and changes that wouldn't be so effective in a larger group context.  With results this good, if I was a bass player, I'd be worried about this becoming a trend.