Monday, October 31, 2011


We all know about the legends who have passed through the ranks of Ronnie Hawkins' various incarnations of The Hawks.  You have, of course, The Band members, but that was just part of the story.  Also in the group at various times were Roy Buchanan, King Biscuit Boy, members of Crowbar, Janis Joplin's Full Tilt Boogie Band, Dominic Troiano, even (gulp) David Foster.  Given that track record, one should never take a credit in Hawkins' band lightly.

Ryan and Sam Weber were rock-obsessed kids from Baltimore who got introduced to Hawkins thanks to The Last Waltz movie.  Youthful guts lead them to contact The Hawk back in 2001, and offer their services.  Whatever Hawkins heard, he once again proved his talent scout smarts were still there.  The Webers moved on up to Ontario, and got the full course under his tutelage.  Then, like the rest, they went out to earn their own stripes.

The past decade has seen them settle in the Peterborough area, and put out a long string of discs, somehow avoiding any great attention.  I want to grab passers-by and play them this new disc.  While it might sound like a bragging title a blues group would use, The Weber Brothers are instead a great, classic, rock group who may indeed be the baddest in the land.  They have mastered great chunks of bedrock group sounds, from the cowbell-dumb hard stuff of "Panic Attack" to the piano-pounding Leon/Elton number "Different Day".  Both Webers handle lead vocals, offering more variety that takes us from hard to soft, gutsy and smooth.  In "Can't Help Feeling Bad", they even conquer hit single-worthy material, that is if this was 1972, and they were Badfinger.

The thing is, it's also the most excitement rock band album I've heard in eons, or at least since The Sheepdogs.  Unlike The Sheepdogs, who sound too much like their influences, The Weber Brothers have swallowed up everything and created a bold blend.  It's as tight as a New Orleans funk band, and as surprising as the best mix tape.  This is the band I want to see tonight.

Sunday, October 30, 2011


As technology improves, archivists are better able to salvage lost causes.  And as artists pass away, the search for unreleased material intensifies.  It's like looking for shipwrecks; rumours that a camera crew was at a live concert, or that somebody heard demos one time of a certain unissued song.  Even if its found, what shape will it be in?  And is it any good in the first place?

So it was great luck finding, and even better luck restoring to quality, this stellar footage of Ray Charles.  Plus, it's a momentous series of concerts:  His first trip to Europe, his best band, his peak period, his greatest hits.  A French TV crew was there to capture it for later broadcast, over four nights at the Antibes Jazz Festival.  Although the master tapes were chopped to pieces, enough was left to put together nearly two hours of the four nights, with sparkling black-and-white footage.  The angles are excellent; in fact, it would be considered well-shot and unique in this day-and-age.  Best of all, the producers today were able to seamlessly match it to the original radio recordings of the shows, for much better sound and to cover many incomplete song edits from the films.

And here was Brother Ray, at that important moment in his career.  He was on top of his game, having found a way to connect his rich soul music (which he mostly invented) to a mainstream audience, giving him huge hits with What'd I Say and Georgia On My Mind.  His smaller orchestra on these dates did the funky soul thing, but they were also prime jazz players, and Charles was still doing instrumentals featuring his horns, and going back to his starting days in the Nat King Cole vein.  The great Fathead Newman was with him on sax, and you can watch this disc just for the playing.

You can also watch it just for the singing.  Charles was a master at delivery, and to hear the passion come out as the soul intensified is a thing of beautty.  And to see the Raelettes, the original quartet, saunter out and belt such raw and rich accompaniment, well again we are blessed these tapes were located and lovingly restored.  Hats off to the Reelin' In The Years team, which consistently produces some of the best music DVD's available.

Thursday, October 27, 2011


Gabriel's Scratch My Back project has exploded into a whole career phase for the veteran experimenter.  As always, when he tackles something, he knows how to make it big and interesting, plus highly artistic.  The background is that last year, Gabriel released an album of him covering other songwriters.  Those folks (Paul Simon, Regina Spektor, Lou Reed, etc.) are supposed to be sending him back covers of his songs.  So far, only some of the songs have been completed in the And I'll Scratch Yours project.  That left Gabriel with some time.

Oh, and the larger premise was that it wasn't supposed to be standard rock group instrumentation in these covers.  With time in front of him, Gabriel decided to make another disc while waiting, and he decided to try on the concept himself, to see how it would work.  So for New Blood, he went back into his own catalog, and chose songs which could be re-imagined into something non-rock.  He assembled a 40-piece orchestra, and dumped the guitar-bass-drums format the songs were first recorded with.  Some of the tunes were his hits (In Your Eyes, Don't Give Up, Solsbury Hill), while others were somewhat obscure.

You get two versions of the experiment here.  The CD is a studio disc with orchestra, while the DVD is a two-hour plus concert recording back in March, before the album was even finished.  Gosh, the guy really knows how to put together a project.  Here we have the live experience coming out the very same time as the new album, that is fresh-thinking and solid new marketing.  It's also because Gabriel really knows how to do live concerts well these days.

While both of these are worthy, because it's orchestra-based, some of the CD plods a bit, in slower sections.  That's why I prefer the DVD, which also includes twice as many songs.  Several of them are the covers he did on the Scratch My Back disc, including a dark take on Simon's Boy In The Bubble, and the excellent Magnetic Fields tune The Book Of Love, a highlight of that CD, and here.  You also get more Gabriel songs with orchestra, including Biko, Blood Of Eden and Signal To Noise.  Watching an orchestra is more exciting in this situation as well, seeing them build in intensity, especially since this concert was so well-recorded.  Although I just have the DVD, you can also buy it in Blu-Ray and 3D, and a lot of care and a lot of cameras went into the shoot.

The other thing going for the video is that Gabriel always tries to make his concerts different for the audience, at home and in the seats.  Visually, there's lots going on, with screen work and animation.  At home, you see him messing with the on-stage mini-cams and you get cool edit tricks. This is the fifth Gabriel concert DVD set I have, and every one is a treat, the rare discs you can watch a few times.  So, recapping, it's a good idea, the orchestrated versions are a lot more powerful and different than you'd imagine, it's fun to watch, and it's a new concept.  It's all good.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


Over 25 years, Neil and Pegi Young have put on one of the most anticipated concerts of the year, for the school that has helped their severely impaired son.  Much of the Bridge School's yearly budget comes from this event, and the Young's make sure it's star-studded each time.  Since it's them, there's no shortage of talent happy to show up, and all pretty much A-list.  Aside from some download tracks, this is the first time the vaults have been opened.  It's a generous selection too, available as a 3-DVD or 2-CD package, with only about half the tracks featured on both.

Right from the start stars rushed to the stage, and from the first year comes Bruce Springsteen, doing a solo version of his misunderstood anthem Born In The USA.  That set the program for the entire concert series, which remains a largely-acoustic showcase.  So not only do you have the big stars, you get them in different settings, especially the large rock groups.  That's a calm but mighty version of Disposable Heroes by Metallica, and Pearl Jam always sounds great at a reduced volume, giving Vedder a chance to shine.  The acoustic rules get relaxed over the years for the biggest names (McCartney, Elton with Leon Russell), but lots of others play along, including James Taylor with nice Fire And Rain done with cello.  Others choose to bring out rarely-performed numbers, such as Tom Petty doing Shadow Of A Doubt.

The concert also has become a most welcome stop for those doing major event tours, such as reunions.  The Who came by on one of theirs, as did Simon and Garfunkel.  And of course, CSNY has done it more than once.  It's too bad they didn't include a number from this past year's Buffalo Springfield set, but knowing Young he probably has a whole live album of that coming at some point.  Young doesn't hog the spotlight on the discs, despite the fact he appears many times during the actual concerts with his guests.  Here we only get him with CSNY on the CD version, with REM playing guitar on Country Feedback, and versions of Crime In The City (DVD) and Love And Only Love (CD).  Good on ya, Neil, because there are just wonderful performances by Fleet Foxes, Emmylou Harris and Buddy Miller, Gillian Welch, David Bowie with a lovely Heroes, Patti Smith and many more.

The DVD is definitely the way to go if you are only buying one.  The performances come alive with the video, and there's a bonus disc of documentaries, behind the scenes and about the Bridge School.  For some reason I found the CD flat, and there aren't many of the performances that are only on the audio version that you'll regret not having.  No Doubt anyone?  Fans who want to shell out the extra $20 for the discs will get a fine Norah Jones version of Wilco's Jesus, Etc., and Jonathan Richman's I Was Dancing At The Lesbian Bar, but you'll also have to sit through Jack Johnson.  Oh, that wasn't nice, this is for charity.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


It was so easy in the early to mid-60's.  If you wanted to make it big in the U.S., you had to get on Ed Sullivan.  The show got the biggest stars, and made them superstars.  Diana Ross and the Supremes, The Beatles, The Mama's & the Papa's, the faces of that time were immortalized on the show.

Old-fashioned as the stiff Sullivan was, the program didn't shy away from modern times.  It presented more African-American performers than the rest of network TV in total.  The comedy could be, on occasion, mildly controversial.  And sometimes, the rock music was subversive.

The Rolling Stones weren't even hit-makers in the U.S. when they first appeared on the show in May of 1965, but they were famous by reputation as the dirtier version of The Beatles.  We're now so used to the sight of MIck and the boys that the shock is gone, but at the time they caused strokes in parents, and raw excitement for anyone under 20.  It was great TV, before anyone understood the concept.

There are four complete Sullivan shows over two DVD's here, featuring the Stones and a variety of acts, plus all of Ed's chat, and even the original commercials.  It's an amazing, often hilarious snapshot of the entertainment world, on the cusp of a dramatic cultural shift.  The first show here is even in black and white, which is pretty wild to show your teenagers.  The jugglers and clog dancers that seemed so interesting back then seem hopelessly lame now.  Take the woman balancing a tray of glasses without spilling; That's all you do?  And I thought I loved that little puppet mouse, Topo Gigio, but now it's awfully annoying.

And the Stones?  Friggin' great, of course, and blessedly, mostly live, or at least real vocals over backing tracks.  Watching them do Howlin' Wolf is a thrill, a great reminder of how strong a blues band they were.  Watching a truly bizarre Brian Jones playing sitar for Paint It, Black must have blown minds back then.  And of course, the infamous CBS censorship of Let's Spend The Night Together into Let's Spend Some Time Together was pointless, with the band simply sneering their way through it.  We also get Satisfaction, Lady Jane, As Tears Go By, 19th Nervous Breakdown and more.  The Beatles might have been bigger hits, but the Stones did better TV.

Monday, October 24, 2011


I'm telling you, why this double-album doesn't get more love is beyond me.  Sure, Rolling Stone mag has put it in its Top 500 albums of all time, but there's a Carpenters album ahead of it.  Maybe it's just because it's from 1972, when there was a lot of great music around.  Maybe it's because Todd became a bit of a nutcase.  Maybe it's because so many albums that came later sucked.  Maybe it's because there's a little weirdness spread around the four sides.  Whatever.  There is also some downright incredible music, and some killer pop songs.  Plus, way before so many studio maniacs, he produced and recorded 3/4's of this album by himself.

Hey!  Pay attention to that last bit.  Aside from McCartney, nobody had really made an album all by themselves, to this hit-quality success.  Aside from side four, which is a suite of songs recorded with a large group of studio pros, the first three sides were written, produced, arranged, played and sung by Rundgren, with only an engineer getting a credit on it.  Pick your studio boffins, and they might be better at some aspects, like Brian Wilson as a producer and arranger, but Todd did it all by himself.

What you get on Something/Anything are three of my all-time favourite songs:  Hello It's Me, I Saw The Light, and It Wouldn't Have Made Any Difference.  These are three genuine gems, now called blue-eyed soul, but really power-pop, on the ballad side.  And listen to how sweet this mother can sing.  Oh boy, he could melt hearts with this stuff.  Plus, over the course of the album, he shows so many sides, from pop to hard rock to ballads to experimental sonics to humour to conceptual.  It's no surprise that later on he became a hit producer for such different acts as Meatloaf, Grand Funk, The Band, XTC and The Pursuit Of Happiness.

Funny, you get so many bands with fewer actual career highlights, such as Big Star and Badfinger (another group Todd produced), that are cult and critical favourites, and beloved today.  Yet Rundgren, who had several high-quality albums in this period, is barely mentioned, rarely in the same breath.  However, allow me to present exhibit A from Something/Anything, the track Couldn't I Just Tell You, which I believe to be the equal or better than any raunchy bubblegum track Alex Chilton ever composed for Big Star.  And the words?  A confused young man, trying to explain that he wants to talk about his feelings with his girl, instead of bottling them up to seem tough?  Holy Pet Sounds, Batman.

Oh ya, the reason I'm all-Todd all day, is because Rhino Records, that most wonderful reissue label in the Warner stable, has just put out S/A as a 180 gram pressing, which sounds wonderful, shiny and bright.  It's exactly the kind of record that works well in the return to vinyl trend, because it was segmented over the four sides, and those cool old guitar and keyboard sounds are much better on warm vinyl.  I'm either getting really cranky and old, or music was a lot better in 1972.  Quit rolling your eyes, I'm not the only one who says that.

Sunday, October 23, 2011


For such a short-lived talk show, compared to the generation-spanning runs of Carson, Letterman, Leno, even hipsters such as Conan, that Dick Cavett has the honour of so many important rock guests and programs.  Famously John and Yoko happily hung out, and Cavett's team put together a fascinating show mere hours after Woodstock, featuring CSNY, Joni Mitchell and Jefferson Airplane.  Instead of playing it safe (Leno) or really being about the laughs (Carson and Letterman), Cavett had a journalistic streak that saw him tackle important issues and bring on important people, and rock music was a big part of that in the late 60's and early 70's.

Now, hats off to the producer who managed to make an entire DVD out of just two 1969 appearances by Jimi Hendrix on the show.  And unlike the Woodstock or Lennon shows, he was just one of the guests those nights, so all you have is an interview and one song on the first appearance, and an interview and two songs from the second.  The easy thing to do would have been using the whole show, but thankfully, we don't have to endure segments with actor Robert Young, or Robert Downey (yes, Sr. to Jr.).  They did leave in the original monologues to give us a taste of what Cavett was like, and he's an odd duck for sure in the Great Host Wars.  Dry and cerebral, he's goofy but not a laugh riot.  He invited people to be bemused with him.

So, the monologue with now-obscure references, the music, the interview, from both shows, that's about a half-hour of time total.  Added on is an hour-long documentary on the Cavett show and Hendrix at the time, with brand-new interviews with Cavett, drummer Mitch Mitchell, bassist Billy Cox, and music writer Bill Flanagan.  But much of it repeats what we have just seen on the shows, so it's kinda boring. In the end, the important stuff is the music performances and the interviews, and both are interesting.  For the first appearance, Hendrix plays with the house band, doing Hear My Train A-Comin', giving us some solos but nothing fiery.  However, just to see the guy like this is fascinating, and on second viewing you realize how effortless this is for him, his nonchalance hiding tremendous talent.  The second show has him with the Experience of that time, Cox and Mitchell, plus percussionist Juma Sultan, doing Izabella and Machine Gun.  This is better stuff, although not the best songs perhaps.  And The Experience really needed a concert setting to properly get up to steam (and volume).  The TV studio, with its adult audience, was hardly their natural habitat.  Jimi gives it a good college try though, and even a little teeth solo, but that's tossed off with a laugh.

The interviews are a bit strange, as Cavett and Hendrix never quite seem to exist in the same dimension.  There are a couple of looks that suggest confusion over questions and answers, and really we get no historical facts.  You do come to know Hendrix a bit better, as there is no artifice in his appearance, and he's not intimidated by this usually conservative medium.  Thank Cavett for that though, he had made TV safe for counter-culture musicians in the U.S.

Saturday, October 22, 2011


Oh, it sounded so good in the right-up, and I was looking forward to it.  Plus, it's for charity, so you want to like it, but sadly that doesn't usually work out.  What we have here is a T-Bone Burnett traveling circus.  Burnett and lots of his musical pals, most of whom he produced, hit the road for a short tour of very nice theaters, to raise money for music and arts education.  The confusing name for the roadshow came from the always-verbose Elvis Costello, Burnett's old partner in The Coward Brothers, who leads us off with a track from his latest, Burnett-overseen disc, called Jimmy Standing In the Rain.  It's not a bad one, and the next number really had me going, from Gregg Allman.  Yes, it's his chestnut Midnight Rider, still a gem.  Neko Case did fine, but then my interest started to flag.

I wouldn't blame The Punch Brothers on their own, but things were starting to get pretty precious as the artsy-rootsy crowd was taking over.  Yim Yames, that name thing is getting really old.  Karen Elson and The Secret Sisters, i can barely remember.  And I wish I couldn't remember John Mellencamp.  I don't know why Burnett has an appreciation for him, but he's now produced his last two albums, and they are tepid and grouchy affairs.

I'm sure the whole theater went into bliss when the living icon Ralph Stanley took the stage to warble.  But the problem with living icons is that they are better appreciated visually, as they are inevitably ancient.  Stanley's rusty pipes are no relief for us, having now patiently waited a half-hour for some excitement at home.  Jeff Bridges, you were not it.  Like living icons, movie stars singing are only impressive in front of you, where we can gawk and take cell phone photos.  Serious vocal flaws emerge when all you have is the audio.

So it's left to the final cut here to provide some spark, and you bet Elton John and Leon Russell deliver.  Aided by horns, singers and a crack band of Burnett-approved sidemen, the duo show us that their recent album did indeed have some great life in it, with a funky and fun Monkey Suit.  I get that this was a charity gig, and a revue, and not a regular concert, but there were way too many acts on board, most of them in the earnest camp.  I guess they all had to be included, instead of giving us two or three Elvis or Elton/Leon cuts, and hey T-Bone, it's your show, but what was probably really neat live is not much of a disc to take home.

Friday, October 21, 2011


Proving that you either have it or you don't, and age doesn't matter, Maria Muldaur sounds absolutely smokin' her latest, album number 39 in a career that goes back to the early 60's Greenwich Village.  Only so many people can sing a line like "If you want my peaches/you better shake my tree", and make it sound sexy not silly.  Truth be told, Muldaur can sing just about any form of roots music, and make it work.  It fact, she has sung most of them.  In the past decade, perhaps the most truly fruitful of her career, she's tackled the great early women blues singers, gone back to visit her jug band beginnings, and done an album of socially-themed music.  Now, she's in New Orleans, the place she says she feels the most at home.

Can't argue with that.  This one grooves mightily, thanks to excellent playing straight through, and brilliant song choices.  You're not going to see the usual suspects here for tunes, this isn't a troll through the Mardi Gras songbook.  I recognized lots of the names, but few of the songs, and there are some gems.  The late Bobby Charles number, Why Are People Like That?, is a powerful example of the great lyrics that came out of the city, and Percy Mayfield's Please Send Me Someone To Love reminds us why he is such an underrated talent.  Not everything is an actual New Orleans song, but they are sure given the treatment, and I bet Elvin Bishop, Eric Bibb and Greg Brown never knew it was in them.

The biggest surprise is that there's just as much gospel here as gumbo.  Stephen Bruton's Walk By Faith, Rick Vito's I Am Not Alone, and the Rev. Brewster's As An Eagle Stirreth In Her Nest all sound as convincing as the rest of the music, and even though it a case of strange bedfellows having them sit next to a tawdry little number like Soulful Dress, Muldaur pulls it off.  Now, we've seen lots of recent discs where veteran performers, say a Mavis Staples or a Wanda Jackson, have a rootsy comeback thanks to a hotshot younger producer.  The genius behind this project is...producer Maria Muldaur.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


Amazingly, the treasure-trove of Williams material continues to yield incredible finds. Considering we're talking rare recordings from as early as 1938, and never commercially available, it's a shock these things survived. This time, there's enough for 3 CD's. The bulk comes from syndicated radio station programs Hank and his group recorded, shilling miracle cures for The Health And Happiness shows, or playing for charity on the March Of Dimes broadcast. Best, of all they are in great shape, probably better-sounding than you would have heard them on the radio back then.

The Health and Happiness Shows were eight separate programs recorded in 1949, after Williams had become a star with Lovesick Blues. They were about 15 minutes long, with commercial breaks inserted by local DJ's. The format was the same for all, a verse of Hank's theme song, Happy Rovin' Cowboy, one of his hits, a commercial, another tune, another commerical, a finale and a blast of fiddler Jerry Rivers doing Sally Goodin to end. Often there would be a hymn, always a staple in Williams repertoire, and for the first four shows, a guest spot by Miss Audrey, Hank's wife, either solo or as a duet partner. She was awful, barely able to carry a tune, and if she did, it would wander off-course at some point. After the first four, the sponsor asked that she not return for the next recordings. Too bad other live audiences weren't so lucky at the time. Hank's stuff was gold though, including band renditions of Wedding Bells, Lost Highway, A Mansion On The Hill, and I Saw The Light. While there is some repetition over the two CD's because of the theme songs, this is pure music history, time capsule stuff.

Disc three has the March Of Dimes broadcast from 1951, Williams by now the biggest country star in the U.S. While we get the immortal Lovesick Blues again, we also have Audrey to deal with, and Mrs. Williams graces us with a version of There's A Bluebird On Your Windowsill that's akin to Jack Benny's violin playing. However, hearing the couple discussing the year-old Hank Jr., and how sad it would be if he got polio, is quite a chilling moment.

There are significant audio problems with the other tracks on the third disc, but their inclusion is because of the historical value. Back in 1938, a teenage Williams was first captured on a radio show in Birmingham, Alabama. The very scratchy acetate of two songs was kept by the MC his whole life, a Williams pal, and he eventually gave it to Hank's illegitimate daughter, Jet, who now co-manages these archival releases. A bit better fidelity is found on four cuts found on a home recording from 1940, Williams doing popular covers of the day, including St. Louis Blues and Freight Train Blues. The teen obviously had a drive to perform.

I find these releases fascinating. What else exists in the world, waiting to be found? What do collectors have squired away, or which artists are holding onto their own debuts, thinking them insignificant or embarrassing? Maybe we'll even hear more from Hank from those vaults, "if the good Lord's willing, and the creeks don't rise," as he told his audience each week on radio.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


Sound is everything to Ontario band Ohbijou.  For their new and third album, Metal Meets, singer Casey Mecija says the group went on retreat to work on the aural qualities of the music, as much as the composition:  "We spent a lot of time away writing and arranging it at a cottage. We were trying to come up with ways to push our sound from the first two albums. I think we've been able to take each others' musical capabilities and come up with a sound that is something that reflects all of us."

The group is hardly set up like a traditional rock band.  Casey plays the relatively normal guitar, ukulele and piano, but little sister Jennifer chimes in with violin, and a variety of odd keyboards, while the other four members bring in banjo, trumpet, glockenspiel, cello, lots of synths, whatever works.  Strings play a huge role, so arrangements are key.  "We bring these ideas when we're all together and arrange them as a group," explains Mecija.  "We all have input on each others' arrangements. That's why this album is one of our most cohesive, we did a lot of pre-production to get the songs ready."

The big change this time, and the major expansion for the group, is the addition of treatments and sonic adventures, aided and abetted by producer Jace Lasek.  "We really tried to create an environment for each song," says Mecija of the final product.  "We have never used effects that much until now, so we wanted to have this grandiose sound. We're not an exploding band, the level of our sound can get louder, but were not really considered a loud band. We explore the dynamics."

One thing that keeps them grounded in pop music is the lyric content.  "It's very much a love story," Mecija admits, "and we're just trying to communicate that with a different language and a different way of playing instruments. It's a hopeful album set to a moody environment.  I often use that word, environment, because we house songs in different environments and they can become anything that way."

You can be part of the Ohbijou environment as they take Metal Meets on the road.  Here are the upcoming dates:

Oct 20 – Sackville, NB – George’s Roadhouse
Oct 21 – Charlottetown, PE @ Baba’s Lounge
Oct 22 – Fredericton, NB @ The Capital 
Nov 9 – Sudbury, ON – The Townehouse
Nov 11 – Thunder Bay, ON – The Apollo
Nov 12 – Winnipeg, MB – West End Cultural Centre 
Nov 13 – Saskatoon, SK – Amigo’s 
Nov 14 – Edmonton, AB – The Haven Social Club 
Nov 16 – Calgary, AB – Palomino Smokehouse   
Nov 17 – Canmore, AB – Communitea Cafe
Nov 18 – Nelson, BC – The Royal 
Nov 19 – Vancouver, BC – The Biltmore Cabaret 
Nov 20 – Victoria, BC – Lucky Bar

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


It's so perfect it's amazing it wasn't done 10 years ago.  Everybody's known Chris Isaak has a classic old-school voice, akin to the Elvis-Roy-Johnny school of rockabilly from the 50's.  Ya, he can really do up those kinds of songs, the ones that came out of Memphis.  You know, Sun Studios and all that.  He's so good at it, he could do a whole Elvis tribute album.  Nah, too cliche.  How about Johnny Cash?  Again, it's been done, Orbison too, most of them.  But somebody finally went, "hey, what if it was a tribute to all the Sun Studios artists, that echo-drenched sound?  You know, the Sam Phillips thing?"

Beauty.  You have to hear Isaak do Elvis, with big ballads his specialty here, Can't Help Falling In Love and It's Now Or Never, plus My Happiness and I Forgot To Remember To Forget.  His Johnny is on the spot as well, on a couple of the big hits, Ring Of Fire and I Walk The Line.  There are actually more obscure numbers than famous ones though, which is the real joy of this set.  Dixie Fried is a little-known Carl Perkins track that is a gem, and since Isaak isn't mimicking here, he lets loose.  But even when he is doing essentially an imitation, it's so top-drawer, you don't want him to even begin to mess with the arrangement or vocal style.  A case in point is Great Balls Of Fire, where he actually does as great a version as The Killer.

And props galore to the band, Isaak's usual bunch, some of whom you know well from his old TV show.  These guys are as expert at the sound as Isaak.  And did they ever get the ambiance right.  That famous slap-back echo is here, and the parts are perfect, the drums, guitar and bass all sounding like they could have been sampled from original records.  For Heaven's sake, get the deluxe edition; you get another 11 tracks on a second CD, a lot more of a good thing, for only two bucks more.

It's really the project of Isaak's career in some ways.  As much as I like Wicked Game and most of his albums, he has always been a man out of time, like someone mistakenly dropped in our midst by really cool aliens, or maybe the first of Jerry Lee's illegitimate kids.  It turns out he's actually been sent to remind us where it all started, and to never forget.

Monday, October 17, 2011


Levasseur gets a bit more uptown on this sophisticated and funky disc.  Polish is sometimes a dirty word, but not when it means professional and smart, and that's what rolls off this disc.  Mostly self-written with three choice covers, she's belting out the R'n'B with gusto, and not afraid to make a big deal about it.  Horns, harmonica, whatever is needed.  Even the slow stuff, like the great revamp of Randy Newman's biting God's Song, is an opportunity to sing from down deep, along with her own soulful accordian.  Feel Good Time is a classic 70's slow groove, something Bill Withers would have sunk his teeth into.

The disc was recorded with four different bands in multiple sessions, which brings a variety of players and styles to the table.  Canadian blues favourites MonkeyJunk handle four of the cuts, solid blues pros.  David Baxter produced three tracks with an ad hoc bunch of his and Levasseur's Toronto pals, including harp expert Paul Reddick.  Baxter handles the elegant pop number Do Run, that moves her into a classy ballad style.  Raoul and the Big Time take three cuts, and the last two belong to Wroxton Allstars, the nom-de-disc of Ben and Ken Whitely, along with drumming stalwart Bucky Berger.  With different bands, studios and producers, it's surprising that the disc comes together so well and expertly.

More big kudos go out to the smart and fine cover of Neil Young's Walk On.  She works it with a bit of a reggae beat, and MonkeyJunk's Steve Marriner plays a great call-and-response harp line, doing a pretty major reworking of the song.  It's also one which many younger folk won't know as a Neil number, and I'm betting they'd still love it.  An excellent disc from a roots 'n' blues favourite in Canada.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


Shamefully, the group is often overlooked in the ranks of British Invasion bands, but when you add up the hits, they score much higher than the Freddies and Gerry's, and there's no question the talent level was higher as well. This DVD is part of a strong and on-going series on Invasion groups, that showed promise with last year's first four, including a bang-up Dusty Springfield documentary. The Hollies one is the best so far, clocking in at two hours, and including every song used in its entire original length in the bonus features.

There was lots of lip-synching in those days, or groups singing live over pre-recorded tracks. Thankfully, the producers here have found plenty of full live performances, from sources all over Europe and North America. That alone is historically important and collectable for fans. They've also done a great job with the overall story-telling, allowing the group members to take it from the start to the practical end in the mid-70's, and ignoring the occasional reunion. There are subtle but important touches, as when Allen Clarke and Graham Nash explain they were obsessed with harmonies, but it was the addition of the third voice, Tony Hicks, that made the group special. Every important group member of the early days takes part, with candid but loving thoughts on amazing times from almost 50 years ago. There's lots of praise and talk of friendship, and no bitterness. They do talk about the tough times, the fights, but it's with some sober second thoughts, and a lot more maturity. If there's any enmity toward Nash now for quitting the group in 1968, its overshadowed by the ability to look at the situation now and see his side of the story.

You get that oft-told tale, how the fairly-progressive King Midas In Reverse failed on the charts, and the group was told to get back to simple stuff for the kids, so eventually Nash got fed up and left. It's a pivotal moment in rock history, leading to CSN. But if overshadows The Hollies hits before and after too often, and we get an ear-and-eyeful of them to remind us. Dig the driving bass on On A Carousel, the intricate arrangement on I Can't Let Go, and of course the vocal power on Bus Stop. Plus, not too many 60's groups were able to survive into the 70's, yet The Hollies did so with even bigger U.S. hits, Long Cool Woman and The Air That I Breathe. In these days of scandal-to-scandal coverage of pop stars, it's refreshing to watch a two-hour movie that shows the progression of a group, concentrating on the music. Nobody got busted or shot in this film, and I liked that better.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


Interesting, in every positive sense of the word.  Everett, a B.C. transplant living in Toronto, is a living crash course in different styles, sounds and times.  We'll get to her fascinating voice in a moment, but you should also know she is a classically-trained violinist, and played and sang in a Klezmer band for six years and a bluegrass group for two.  What you'll hear on this six-track EP is music that touches time periods and genres all over the decades, including jazz, torch songs, a touch of Paris, 50's popular, 60's pop, and a hint of her former bands.

Now, the pipes.  Everett has one of those charming, lilting voices that cheers you up, and hints at all kinds of fun.  It's what grabs you immediately and sets the tone that this is going to be something different.  In her case, it's the ability to touch on music your mother should know, and somehow make it sound chic and today.

Everett is also the songwriter, so we're looking at the complete package here.  Gloriously, she has word skills too.  Put Your Hands On Me is a cool tune of desire, again with that playfulness.  The one cover is a remake of a song we all know, but she turns Happy Together on its head, returning it to its love song birth, and dumping The Turtles' big brassy theatrics.  It's too bad the one misstep is the focus song here, leading off the EP and getting the video and airplay treatment.  YoYo, the title cut, is a goof, a tune about loving an old, cracked YoYo and not wanting to get rid of it

Monday, October 10, 2011


Continuing on with the massive reissue program of each Pink Floyd studio album, we now come to the most maligned, least understood period of the group's existence.  Not that I'm going to challenge that.  That these albums (aside from Meddle) got released at all, let alone became hits in various countries, speaks volumes of the initial interest in the group from the Syd Barrett days.  Even the band members can't stand them now, both Gilmour and Waters routinely savaging Ummagumma and Atom Heart Mother when asked to comment.

Barrett was supposedly the drug casualty, but it's hard not to wonder about the rest of them.  It wasn't so much weirdness at work, which has its own merits, as it was obstinate oddness.  Faced with daunting prospect of writing and signing songs, after their leader proved too unstable, the rest of them all had a try, democratically sharing the blame in most cases.  Required to "write", the members would come up with various bits, and try to string them together.  At one point, in desperation, they tried an experiment where they recorded their parts without hearing what the others were playing, whether it was tempo or key, and attempting to piece them together later.  Those remain unreleased, but when you hear what was allowed out, it's hard to imagine why.

More was a soundtrack for the French director Barbet Schroeder, and was no doubt a welcome artistic move for a group still looking for leadership.  Roger Waters came up with most of the lyrics, but was still uncomfortable singing, so David Gilmour was the lead vocalist.  The vocal pieces are mostly folkie little numbers, with just horrid poesy, some river-daughter thing, with a willow weeping in the river, which somehow zips on up to Cirrus Minor.  There is a nice number called Cymbaline, but the best thing about this disc is that it isn't completely confusing.

Nor is Ummagumma.  That's because the whole first two sides of this double is live, where we are treated to highlights from the band's early days, including the still-rockin' Astronomy Domine.  For the next two sides, each group member was assigned roughly 10 minutes to fill, and that's when it did get confusing.  Richard Wright's attempts at a mini-symphony, Sysyphus, is a mess.  Waters is up next, with a not-bad piece from his pastoral phase, and then the hilarious"Several Species of Small Fury Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving with a Pict".  It is genuinely batty and wonderful, a sound effects piece much better than anything John and Yoko were doing.  Methinks this went a long way to improving the group's cool factor with college kids, and coming from the glummest man in rock come The Wall, it's still unexpected.  Oh that the others could be this playful.  The rest is just dumb and dumber.

The best thing about Atom Heart Mother is the cow on the cover.

What happened in 1971 was an even bigger surprise.  They got good all of a sudden.  Mostly, they got their instrumental power back, coming up with themes that were memorable and powerful.  Lyrically, Meddle doesn't get much better, but it's sounds impressive, which is half the battle.  Also, Waters finds that whispered singing style what would serve him so well, a world-weary quality which added to the mystery.  Add some synth and Gilmour's guitar work, and this was the sound of the future.  If this had been the only album that preceeded Dark Side Of The Moon, it's success, both in quality and with the public, would not have been so shocking.  But there were so many examples of their failed experiments on the other discs, this still seems like they just got luck.

One more soundtrack for Schroeder was next, 1972's Obscured By Clouds album, for the movie La Vallee.  It was, like More, more bland than anything else, and a disappointing successor to Meddle.  However, they were already hard at work on the true follow-up, and playing songs from Dark Side Of the Moon in concert. This very strange band was about to become one of the biggest groups in the world.

Sunday, October 9, 2011


This is a cool blend of melodic jazz and World sounds, by very effective three piece.  Montreal-born St-Laurent is the guitar whiz, but equal props have to go to other members.  Jordan O'Connor adds a major vibe with his bowed bass, and roots the group in some blues.  Percussionist Michel DeQuevedo makes it a whole new deal, with highly individual playing, often on bongos, part of his mixed drum kit.  The Mexican transplant's Latin grooves fit seamlessly into the African-influenced playing from St-Laurent.

What's most enjoyable about this disc is the wide variety of styles featured in the nine tracks.  That's helped by two guest vocal pieces, one African and one English, and St-Laurent's ability to cycle through quite a few melodic phrases in some of the longer pieces, while never losing our attention.  He's a fluid and enjoyable player, clean as a whistle and this is very warm, fun music.  It's very busy too, but with just the three musicians, it's enjoyable to hear them riffing, and never tedious.

Saturday, October 8, 2011


Everybody's talking Pink Floyd again, as a well-timed and coordinated reissue program sees all their albums remastered, and special editions anticipating your every need.  You can now buy each disc in a basic version with the original tracks and a nice new booklet, and some come as 2-CD Experience editions, and then there are the Immersion multi-disc sets for Dark Side Of The Moon, WIsh You Were Here, and coming next spring, The Wall.  Those puppies have $100-plus price tags, and feature video and audio mixes, live concerts, outtakes, grand books, you name it.  Or you can get all 14 basic studio discs in one boxed set called The Discovery Box.  That's a lot of Floyd, and some tough choices to make.  I'll review them in bits and pieces, instead of trying to sum them all up in one brilliant, Grammy and Pulitzer-winning piece of music journalism.  Some day though, mark my golden words.

You don't have any choices with the band's first couple of releases.  No bonus tracks or live material, not even the mono mixes that have been out before.  These are the discs of the Syd Barrett days, and only The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn had his full participation  Saucerful sees Barrett on only four tracks, as he was famously replaced by Dave Gilmour during this time, already an erratic shell of his former self.  If you have never paid attention to the first blush of Pink Floyd, and know them for The Wall and such, this ain't that.  In fact, it's not really like anything you know.  Supposedly a blues band (hah!), the art college kids came along in a London that was exploding with avant-garde thought, and imported hippie culture.  Barrett was writing strange and silly lyrics about gnomes and scarecrows, and the rest of them got all excited about experimental and spacey sounds.  They were loud, loony, and had a psychedelic light show.  It's also quite possible drugs were involved, but I wasn't there.  At times, as you can imagine, this was drivel, and some of it got recorded.  There's a reason why these aren't mentioned in the best all-time lists.  But there are also some truly transcendent numbers, including Piper opener Astronomy Domine, and the instrumental blaster Interstellar Overdrive.

For Saucerful, Floyd found themselves leaderless, and everyone had to pitch in, Roger Waters far from in control then, and Gilmour still the substitute.  Richard Wright and Nick Mason found themselves singing and writing.  Luckily the group did come up with a couple more space numbers, Waters' Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun, and the instrumental title cut.  Only one Barrett song made the final cut, the minor Jugband Blues.

I get the idea of keeping all the albums in their original state for these basic editions, but unfortunately it actually hurts the legacy of the group.  As was the standard of the day, singles were kept off of British albums, which means several strong A and B-sides of this period don't get included.  This means their first two 45's, Arnold Layne and See Emily Play aren't on Piper, which means you don't get the full understanding of what Syd Barrett was about, Emily being his best song with Floyd.  Also, a golden opportunity was missed to celebrate Barrett's contributions, something supposedly important to the group.  All the extra attention for this reissue blitz is being put on the big albums, but it might have be nice to tart up the little guys a bit.

Thursday, October 6, 2011


I like how you don't have to live in the same town anymore if you're in a band.  At least Cuff is doing it, with Dale Murray happily hanging in Nova Scotia, joining the group when gigs are happening or there's recording to do.  All it takes is some flexibility, and given Murray's versatility on stringed instruments and vocals, I'm sure the rest of the Toronto-base band are happy to compromise when needed.  That's my little aside, to get in a plug for the Maritimer, which is kinda what I do, being a cheerleader and all.

Now, on to the review proper, and we're certainly in a purple patch as far as Cuff's career is going.  2009's Way Down Here was an attention-grabbing breakthrough, and now the group is releasing the first of two connected albums, the second coming soon, after a major tour.  Singer/songwriter Wayne Petti has announced it's a big concept, about losing someone from your life, and the changes, confusion and loneliness that brings.  Gradually you deal with it, and then new opportunities arise.  The good stuff is going to come on the next disc, the high Petti calls it, while this is the low, where you're wondering if it's all worth it.

Woo-hoo!  Happy stuff, huh?  The good news is you don't have to hear the album on that level at all.  I even knew the concept, and didn't feel it at all, because the music and singing is so good, and the lyrics are somewhat obscure.  While it's produced by Greg Keelor, like Way Down Here, and the group is firm friends with the Blue Rodeo gang, opening shows and sharing the stage, they are actually more like The Sadies.  You don't find Cuddy-like sentimental ballads, but rather 60's fired guitar country, the legacy of twangy instrumentals and The Byrds of that decade.  There are some longer workouts, spacey licks, cool pedal steel, and fine guitar picking.  Plus Petti is a top-notch singer, with a weary-but-wise quality.  Yes, there's more of a frown than a smile in the mood of the songs, but given the excellence of the performance, I come away pretty stoked.  I'm a little sorry I'm not paying attention to the carefully-planned theme of the disc, but maybe I'll get to it someday.  I'm having too good a time for sadness right now.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


Anyone expecting another fun little ditty that will land Leslie on Sesame Street singing with Muppets better look elsewhere.  Oh, unless the show has added a new character, Moody the Muppet, who mopes around the street followed by a string section.  Seemingly determined to not travel that path again, there is nothing frivolous like 1,2,3,4 here, and not really any basic pop songs either, in the catchy definition.  Instead, its a disc of mood and intensity, sound-shaping and vocalizing, sadness, reflection and artistic creation.

These are all good things, but something is also missing.  Part of Feist's charm has been that sense of fun, intelligent fun, not the trashy-campy crap of so many wanna-be divas, but the joyous fun of someone getting to do this for a living, singing and entertaining and writing with your pals.  This album is, simply put, mostly serious, the words dense poetry of natural images and passionate people.  The opening track, The Bad In Each Other, is a good example of this:  "Then a good man and a good woman will bring out the worst in each other."  There's no colourful group-dancing video for this one.

Of course, who's to say Feist has to include some levity in her work, or give us a break in the flow of the album?  There is lots of merit in this style, from her and others.  Being a mellow, Pet Sounds-kind-of-guy myself, I can certainly take 40 minutes of down and in fact Metals does have its upbeat moments.  No, my main complaint is in the recording and production.  The overall sound scheme, as designed by Feist and her co-producers (Chili Gonzalez, Mocky, Valgeir Sigurdsson), muddies her vocals to the point you are straining to catch her words.  It's better with earbuds I suppose, but it's as if she is off-mic slightly, and not enunciating.  The note is there, the style, but not the substance.  And it is a choice, a technique that was chosen, and to my ears, ill-advised.  Yes, the sound of her voice, the quality is important, but if you're telling a story, why make it hard for the audience to hear?  I am fully ready to admit this may just be a personal problem I have, and heck, maybe I'm losing some hearing from years of standing by the speaker columns in bars. But I will be interested in the long-term reaction to this album, as I advance my pet theory.  What can I tell ya?  I found Metal beautiful, melancholy and really hard to understand.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


Kid Cohen has skirted success with his past releases, going back to 1998's debut, self-titled album, a French-language one in 2004, and another leading the band Low Millions that same year.  To my ears, he's always sounded like a way-too-mainstream version of his father.

Now 39, something's clicked in his head, regarding the overriding influence on his life, dear old dad.  It's one thing to have a parent who is successful, and follow in their footsteps, but quite another with that person is iconic.  Harper Simon, Julian Lennon, Dhani Harrison, Jakob Dylan, it's impossible to escape the shadow, so as Dylan the Younger showed, you gotta do what you want, and persevere. 

Cohen, it seems, is done with fighting fate.  He's as big a fan of Dad as you and I, and has the added benefit of having the guy around anytime he wants, to help explain this writing and singing thing.  Adam admits he seeks his father's help and loves it, and now is also happy to say he's deliberately choosing to emulate him.  Specifically, he wants to sound like early Cohen, and has been trying to convince his father to return to that old nylon-string sound he used on his first view albums.  In a recent interview with England's The Telegraph he said:  "I have basically made this record because he wouldn’t. I had been begging my father to make a record more reminiscent of his older work, when he was writing on a nylon string guitar. There’s a particular record I have been studying my whole life, New Skin For Old Ceremonies. I think, in a lot of people’s mind’s eye, that is the era they really identify with Leonard Cohen. But when I try to tell him this, I don’t think he likes it very much, and he so vehemently has declined that I sort of said ’F*** it, if you’re not gonna do it, I will."

Brilliant, I say.  And I have to tell you, this is by far the best work Adam Cohen has ever done.  And, it's a lot better than most of the last couple of albums by his father, too.  Time might change that opinion, but there's really nothing memorable on Leonard's Ten Recent Songs, for instance.  Yet Like A Man has some striking songs, including the title track, a classic family-style lyric, admitting the failures of his gender and his desire to be better.  It's the nylon string, stand-up bass sound, but with a nice twist, as a string section pops up for the bridge.  You can hear his father in his voice for sure, but it's not ridiculously similar, and he's actually a better singer, more tuneful, although with Leonard it's the phrasing and sexuality, so there's no real attempt to copy on Adam's part, he's just stuck with a similarly-shaped throat, thanks to shared DNA.

Is he the equal of his father?  No, of course not, just the legacy won't allow that.  But there's an awful lot of talent that finally bubbled to the top here, and a darn fine disc has come out of it.  And in case you've missed the point, and think he doesn't know how he's walking in his father's footsteps, he even drops this laugh-line into the cut Beautiful:  "So long Willie Shakespeare, so long Marianne."  Oh, and if the backing vocals sound familiar?  One Jennifer Warnes, who did that job so perfectly through the 70's and 80's in the family business.  I'm beginning to think the old man had better rethink his son's advice, he's getting beat at his own game.

Monday, October 3, 2011


It's a return to action for Montreal's Robitaille, and a return home, after a sojourn to NYC ended in folded record label and lost CD.  Considered a star on the rise back a decade ago, there's everything here to suggest he could slide back into that role now that he's back in familiar haunts.  Robitaille's tunes fall deliciously inbetween folk and rock, acoustic strummers but with obvious edge.  There's a little bit of Velvets-era Lou Reed to it, some Jonathan Richman, and a large dash of Cohen.

JF has a fine way with the words too, both in the enunciation and in the composition.  There are lots of excellent choices, uncommon and important-sounding lines, delivered with emphasis on the key words.  This might seem like an odd thing to point out, but I think it's the main reason I like the guy.  He's delivering the songs in a way that wins me over, and gives each song added strength.  It's especially effective on the acoustic numbers, when it's just JF and his guitar and maybe a bass and a harmony.  There's power in the quiet, like those old Simon and Garfunkel songs about their exotic lovers.

Maybe it was the time in New York, but there is a distinct NYC late-60's sound to Calender.  It has that Columbia Records production feel, the Tom Wilson and John Simon sound, the voice prominent and the backing sparse.  You'll wonder about these mystery women he's singing to, you'll picture them, you'll feel the sadness, and be thankful you were given this bird's-eye view of their stories.

Sunday, October 2, 2011


Coming in 2012 is the 100th anniversary of Woody Guthrie's birth, and the party is getting started a little early.    You'll recall back in 1998 when his daughter, Nora Guthrie, announced the discovery of a treasure of Woody's words, completed but unpublished (and unrecorded) songs.  Since there was no record of the melodies, the heirs presented musicians Billy Bragg and Wilco the lyrics, entrusting them to compose and record in his spirit, if not in his exact style.  There were two volumes recorded, with successful and enjoyable results.

As was mentioned at the time, there's more where that came from.  More lyrics, journals, stories and notes, more observations, political statements, love songs and foolishness.  With so many possibilities, this time Nora called on bassist Rob Wasserman, known with his excellence in collaboration and project work.  His Trios album still stands as one of the great concept pieces, teaming up disparate characters with great results.  Nora asked him to take away more unpublished scribblings, find some like-minded souls, and come up with interesting results.

Apparently it took quite awhile, as Wasserman admits he had to be pushed to finish, but he also loved the project.  Each piece features a different character from the rock, jazz or folk worlds.  I say character, because these are folks known for their idiosyncrasies.  Wasserman called on colleagues as diverse as Lou Reed, Ani DiFranco, Michael Franti, and the writer Studs Terkel.  Wasserman led the band, worked with each performer on choosing the material, composing, and recording.  No wonder it took significant time.  It is a unique set.

The words chosen weren't a random bunch.  Instead they were thematic, pieces by Guthrie about people he met, and from the 1940's.  It gives you a snapshot of the times, and of course since it's Woody Guthrie, it isn't the movie stars or politicians of the history books, or even the soldiers.  It's a New York voice too, Guthrie more settled than in his youth.  And he's there as well, of course.  The funniest number is one of desire:  "I need an awfully liberal woman/I need a social conscious woman/To ease my revolutionary mind."

At this point I have to inform the fans of the Bragg/Wilco discs that this one won't make you as happy.  Rather than the sympathetic lefty folk mixed with alt-country coolness, here we get a crash course in New Weird America.  Rage Against The Machine's Tom Morello is the one to tackle Woody's libido on Ease My Revolutionary Mind, while Franti does his hippie-jazz-rap on Union Love Juice, which starts "I am the meat and the flower of sex", Guthrie trying to do something James Joyce on the little peoples.  Terkel is on board to narrate a short story from the street, accompanied by Wasserman's bass and Don Heffington's drums.  Jackson Browne got handing a text that ran several chapters, and edited it down, but it was still an insane 15 minutes. 

Hats off to Guthrie and Wasserman;  this isn't a typical tribute filled with star names and bland covers, but rather a challenging and ultimately rewarding work of art.  We see a side of Guthrie we don't normally consider, and it's an addition to his legacy rather than just a reminder.

Saturday, October 1, 2011


As the first notes of Hide Your Colors come, its obvious The Jayhawks are back, and not in the usual lame reunion sense.  Those two voices, raised again, Gary Louris and Mark Olson, it is special.  Certainly they are among the very best harmony singers ever, and the only others on that list are siblings.  One of the very best moments on the accompanying DVD on the deluxe addition is in the documentary, where they explain how they do the harmonies, and how their voices blend.  It is certainly the magic of this band, what sets them above so many others.  When the two of them started doing these incredible vocals, partly in harmony and partly in unison, for Hollywood Town Hall, they went from unknowns to the next buzz band.

But then Olson quit after the next album, Tomorrow The Green Grass, to go live in the desert and be a solo guy.  Louris-led, The Jayhawks subsequent discs were actually pretty darn good, but once you lose a core member, it's never the same.  And it's impossible to go back.  Well, until now.  This blows all the theories.  After 15 years apart, you just assume there's no way they can put it back together.  It's really like Olson never left.  Song after song, everything is there, including top-rate material.  Again, watching the documentary, it's a shock to see how casually they take the craft.  They just do it, they write songs, they sing them like that, it's no big deal, if they want to do it, they do it.

Obviously if there was any animosity about the parting, it's long gone.  Olson and Louris have even recorded and toured together since, but after that duo disc didn't sit well with fans, with its folk feel, they figured they might as well do the Jayhawks thing again, they always liked it anyway.  Olson has long admitted he should have just taken a short break from the band anyway.  Of course, everyone is going to focus on his return, but the other part of the equation is the return of the best version of the band, with drummer Tim O'Reagan, bassist Marc Pearlman, and keyboard player Karen Grotberg.  She's the biggest surprise when you start listening closely, adding an important third harmony to many choruses.

I'm just going to dispense with the usual "solid return to form" statements, and instead opine that this is the equal of their very best work, and indeed, start-to-finish, might be their very best album.  About all that's missing is one overall amazing song, no Waiting For The Sun, Blue, or I'd Run Away, but several come close, and every cut is a keeper.  It's also a good idea to pick up the deluxe version, for the documentary, and four live videos, three new-in-the-studio ones, and a vintage 1985 recording of King Of Kings.  I also just noticed on their website you can download free band-approved bootlegs, so I'm going over there now.