Wednesday, November 30, 2011


Mr. Newman has been concentrating on his grand back catalogue for this past couple of releases, re-recording his classics as solo piano pieces, quite enjoyably.  He also did this concept on the road, presenting a few rare treats for lucky towns.

This live set comes from one of the great nations of Europe, in a show filmed for the BBC at an old London church now used for concerts.  The cozy audience was almost equaled in number by the BBC Concert Orchestra, who join in for about half the 22 songs.

I can't decide if I'm partial to the orchestrated songs, or Newman's own solo numbers.  For the most part, it's the uptempo cuts he handles on his own, often with his New Orleans-style piano, for favourites such as Mama Told Me Not To Come and It's Money That I Love.  But the orchestra sure does hammer home the poignancy on say, "Louisiana 1927" ("Six feet of water in the streets of Evangeline").

I've seen this church before on other DVD's, and it's a visual treat, with its old exposed brick and huge windows.  The show was recorded in daylight hours, which is even better as we have the trees and sky in the background.  Trust me, it's one of the details that makes the difference in a concert DVD.  For repeat enjoyment, you get the entire show on CD as well.

As celebrated and lucrative his soundtrack work is, none of that Toy Story stuff is here, which is smart.  You've Got A Friend In Me is not quite as high on the Irony Scale as Short People and Political Science ("Let's drop the big one, they'll be no-one left to blame us").

Listening to old Randy Newman is always rewarded, even new versions of it.  It's not like his voice has changed much.  Plus, it's never been overplayed on classic rock radio.  If it had been, we might be a healthier society.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


This single-disc version is a frustrating little sampler for the much bigger, three-CD,1-DVD version that nicely does the compilation job.  The trouble is, it's listing at $109 freaking dollars!  Jeez, somebody forgot to tell Der Stingler that the music industry has tanked.  You can't be charging those prices anymore, unless you're offering hard-cover books, unreleased concept albums, actual autographs and naked photos.  I guess Sting already has enough money, and he can damn well do whatever he wants.  Maybe he's part of the problem.  You know, the 1%.  Occupy Sting.

Anyway, Mr. Rich Rock Star has frustrated me by refusing to issue a decent Greatest Hits.  I don't want a boxed set (especially at that price), nor do I want all his albums, not even one.  Just gimme the best songs, that's about all I can take.  The trouble is, there's one that is half-Sting, half-Police, and of course that means duplicating all your Police tracks, because you probably already own those classics.  Then there's the Field Of Gold best of, which only takes us to 1994.  The Best Of 25 Years gives us just 8 hits, one previously unreleased song, and 3 live numbers from the DVD that comes with the big box.  Sigh.

It just makes little sense to me to stick out a disc that purports to be his best, yet there's no Englishman In New York, Love Is The Seventh Wave, I Hung My Head, I'm So Happy I Can't Stop Crying, it's a big list.  Obviously the answer is a two-disc set, and that's what you Europe!  I just want a blasted decent best of, is that so much to ask?  Every other artist, living or dead, has one, even those without actual hits.  And no, I am not paying a hundred bucks to get it.

Monday, November 28, 2011


Having just seen the reformed and fighting trim Diodes on their mini-tour of Southern Ontario, at the beloved This Ain't Hollywood in Hamilton on the final night of the swing, I can tell you the gang still has all the spirit that set them apart in the late 70's - early 80's.  Contemporaries of all the classic punks, the group played CBGB's in New York, hung with Blondie, The Ramones and Talking Heads, toured with U2 and Gary Numan, and were pretty much the poster band for scene in Toronto.  Such is the lasting esteem in which they are held, just weeks ago the group won a huge vote conducted by the Toronto Star to name the best Toronto band of all time.  It was a shocker.  Eat that, Rush!

Time to coincide with the mini-tour was the reissue of the band's third, and last, studio album.  Like all things Diodes, it had a shaky birth and existence, but now gets treated with due respect by their new label, Bongo Beat.  The master tapes had been lost in the shuffle label fights, and this had to be salvaged from a master used for cassettes and covered with Dolby.  But today's magic has saved the day, and six bonus tracks of demos, outtakes and a live number punch it up more.

Great current interviews and liner notes inform us that The Diodes had actually broken up for a few months before this album, after being dumped by CBS in 1979.  But, the corporate dummies neglected to realize that in the U.S., the label had just put out a collection that featured The Diodes infamous rockin' take of Paul Simon's Red Rubber Ball.  It became a minor hit, which led to calls for the group to hit the road and studio again.  The splintered bunch were cool with that, and had a bunch of songs too.  They also had their free agent status, since CBS had cut them loose.  They decided not to return to that company, because there were a couple of hotshot producers interested in them for their own new label.

Action/Reaction from 1980 gave the group a couple more decent-sized Toronto hits, Strange Time, and even bigger, Catwalker.  Like the other great punk bands of the day (Ramones, Teenage Head, etc.), much of the group's sound is undated, raw and snotty 60's-styled radio pop music.  This is the rejection of prog, singer-songwriter, southern rock, and the like, with the groups rolling back the clock to where the single was king and short, and mixing that with the similar-thinking Glam bands, Bowie, Dolls, Velvets, etc.  The songs had punch, noise, distortion, but also had lots of melody and smarts. 

I find they hold up better on stage now, but let's blame that on producers Willi Morrison and Ian Guenther, who were trying to get some kind of sound that doesn't hold up.  But The Diodes weren't the absolute best writers either, and the lyrics didn't exactly require too much analysis.  Or any.  Hard to beat the energy though.  The best bonus cut here is a ripping update of the Stones' Play With Fire, which goes double-speed one verse in, with classic punk-plucked bass, and a raw solo.  It seems old hat now, but in those days, a brilliant cover was all you needed to set yourself apart.  (One of the best moments here as well is when the song ends, and you here the audience at The Horseshoe pounding their draft glasses for the encore.  Man, I remember that!)

Best Toronto band of all time?  I dunno.  It's a good story of course, and I think it's marvelous that it's brought this band back to attention, and even introduced them to so many new and young people.  Action/Reaction has its charm, but it's very dated too, and not as skillfully made as most contemporary albums.  It's a cool and important time in Canadian music though, so check out The Diodes if they do more touring soon.

Sunday, November 27, 2011


I can't figure out whether she's bonkers or brilliant.  I'm leaning, as always, towards the latter, but maybe it's a bit of both, in a good way.  She's certainly uncompromising, that's for sure.  Here you get seven songs, the shortest just under seven minutes, the rest running up to thirteen-and-a-half.   She's one of the most critically-acclaimed female singers of the last three decades, but for much of the album she employs male singers.  And when she writes a song called 50 Words For Snow, it's exactly that, a singer listing 50 words for snow.  Even stranger though, is that some of those 50 words are actually phrases, some of which make little sense, and some seem to be from a completely made-up language.  Freaky.

These are odd things, and perhaps not what we want from favourite artists.  But Bush has grown and changed since Wuthering Heights and Cloudbusting and Hounds Of Love, and we might as well go along for the ride, because she's not going to make anything so easily digestible.  After all, this is somebody who composed and integrated part of James Joyce's Ulysses into one album.

So, we get a duet with Elton John, probably the most popular single artist of the rock era not named Elvis, and it's this incredible wordy number that's more like theater dialogue than a song.  Elsewhere, these dense, circular numbers start to hypnotize you.   At times you get lulled into enjoying them, and other times completely enthralled, wrapped up in where she's taking you.  I don't understand a blasted thing about this album's lyrics, I mean not a clue.  I haven't read any interviews with her in preparation, and certainly now I don't want to know, so I'm avoiding it.  At some point I'm sure my curiosity will get the better of me, but right now I'm happy letting it be some kind of mysterious, totally foreign work, because it's so cool.

Saturday, November 26, 2011


Wilson's critical flag continues to fly high, thanks to this month's release of the legendary SMiLE sessions.  He's still a big draw on the concert circuit, too.  I think the new albums probably only sell to the hard-core though.  The last one was him squeezing Gershwin (a huge influence on him) through the Wilson method, and now he takes a stab at another icon, the Mouse House.

You have many different composers and styles to choose from when you enter the Disney world, from decades of hugely popular songs.  Wilson goes from When You Wish Upon A Star up to recent stuff from Randy Newman and Elton John, with varied results.  The hard truth is that this once-tremendous singer has lost much of the pretty and most of his range through his dark years of abuse, and his age, of course.  So when he's trying to hit the notes in a number such as Can You Feel The Love Tonight, it's kinda painful.  His crack band can handle all the Beach Boys-styled parts, but it just points out the problem with Brian's singing.  Ditto You've Got A Friend In Me, Colors Of The Wind, the nice stuff.

Where his voice does work well is on the older, and more fun numbers.  Not only does the vocal not matter as much, these iconic songs allow him to have more fun with the production and arrangements, his true and undiminished talent now.  He has the group get going on a medley of Heigh-Ho/Whistle While you Work/Yo Ho (A Pirate's Life For Me) that is a barrel of fun, especially when they start playing toy instruments and making workshop sounds.  One voice Wilson can still do is a child-like one, so The Bare Necessities captures the lightheartedness of the film and original.  And Kiss The Girl from The Little Mermaid comes across well recast as an early 60's number, something Wilson knows very well.

In the end though, it's a concept that smells more of brand marketing in a board room than a musical bare necessity.  Disney signed Wilson to its label, crunched the numbers, figured out that it could turn a profit, and get a little status from having him on board.  I'm not really sure what Brian's reasons are, other than it's another opportunity to be in the studio, which must be so rewarding for him.  So, smile for Wilson about this, but there's no real reason to buy it.

Friday, November 25, 2011


Pete Townshend's famous rock opera?  Why, Tommy, of course.  Townshend's best rock opera?  I'm going with Quadrophenia.  For all the beloved bluster for the deaf, dumb and blind boy, song-by-song, the tale of messed-up Mod Jimmy, trying to figure out his place in the culture clash that was 60's England, is a far more credible listen, and probably a more cohesive story.  Although an icon for the fans, Townshend always felt himself an outsider to Mod culture, but his proximity and status made him a perfect biographer, hung up as he was on the complexities of youth as they changed British society, one pill and one punch at a time.

As with Tommy, it is necessary to separate the Quadrophenia album experience from its latter incarnation as a movie, a tour, a soundtrack, and another of Townshend and Daltry's retirement hedge funds.  Just take this new reissue of the music, in its two-CD deluxe version, or the 5-CD, hardbound book and memorabilia-stuffed box set, with tons more demos and a new 5.1 mix.  There is a natural flow between the songs that makes you want to move along in the story, a feeling of beginning and end, a sense of the confusion and depression and the bottled anger Jimmy feels.  You enter the drab and gray world of cobblestones and clouds and cool, cool, rain, Jimmy searching for the real me.  Although their aren't a lot of famous individual tracks from the album (really, only Love Reign O'er Me and 5:15 get that status), almost each one has epic moments, as they tumble by:  Cut My Hair, The Punk And The Godfather, The Dirty Jobs.  I never remember the titles, but as soon as they role, I perk up, and go, oh, that one!

You'll have to be quite the little Who fanatic, or a deep-pocketed music nerd to go for the $130 Super Deluxe Limited Edition. Yes, that's what it's called, such a stupid name.  What you gain over the 2-disc set is 15 more demos, the 5.1 mix of only eight songs (weird), and all the extra ephemera.  I have to think $22 dollars will be the much more appealing option.  Quadrophenia is one of those albums that people don't often throw on, and you might not have even upgraded from your old vinyl, but I'd say it's ripe for rediscovery, Townshend on fire with the musical themes and melodies here, and certainly he was writing these amazing characters for Daltry and himself to inhabit.  The 11 demos on the 2-disc version show the intricate compositions and productions he was doing at his home studio, envisioning Daltry's wails, Moon's thunder, and the band's on-stage swagger.  Already fond of the early synthesizer, his patience and craftsmanship in building these near-studio quality demos is stunning, considering the limited technology of the time.  He had become quite the one man band, and although The Who versions are better, as always Townshend's demos prove great listening.  There are some significant differences from the final version, including lyrics and entire dropped sections.

Quadrophenia never became the same beloved piece as Tommy, largely I think because the subsequent tour was a minor disaster at times, with Townshend's beloved synths and such duplicated on backing tracks that inevitably failed at key moments.  So while the piece itself deserved to be heard in its entire rock opera production, it quickly got pared down to two or three songs among the rest of the hits, and not revived until recently, when The Two had to come up with some other reason to reunite again.  I can assure you I'm having a much better time with this disc than I have with any version of Tommy over the years.

Thursday, November 24, 2011


Back for another go-round, Arden certainly doesn't have to do covers, but says she was asked and convinced by producer Bob Rock.  Must have been a paycheque deal, I can't really see why either would be desperate to do it.  However, let's mark it on it's artistic merits and interest value, instead of getting all snippy.  See, I have to have these conversations with myself all the time.  Glad you could join me.

Arden's interesting personality comes out in this covers set, as it did on the first.  You get the usual suspects, a couple too many in fact (Love Hurts, You Don't Own Me, the must-have Fleetwood Mac song), and the quirky old chestnuts with some of her personality injected (Que Sera Sera, This Girl's In Love With You, Is That All There Is?).   But then somebody, one hopes Jann herself, reached a little deeper in the data banks, and came up with some surprises.  As an old Top 40 fan, I tip my hat to the Motels' Only The Lonely, and Dorothy Moore's Misty Blue.  The real head-scratcher is a cover of The Smiths' Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me, which opens the disc.  She doesn't make it her own, and it stands out in its relative obscurity, so it must be that she really just loves it.  More satisfying is a cover of one of her own songs, written and recorded (but not yet released) for her pals in SheDAISY, who also sing backup here.  It's a fine story-song, and did deserve to find a home on one of Arden's own discs.

I just wish it wasn't this one.  As much as I enjoy a good covers set, and as much as I like a lot of her choices here, its the producer I have a beef with.  Rock's recorded this in way too glossy a setting, with all smooth sides and no edge.  It's a squeaky-clean sound, and even sounds like it's been put through a processor set to "cotton candy".  I am no great technical whiz, but something's unreal about the effect, and I've never felt that way before about any of her discs.  In the end, this makes the disc music for fans of polyester. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


And so we bid adieu to R.E.M., a band which tried so hard to remain relevant, or at least tried to keep themselves interested.  But despite every attempt, they couldn't beat back the inevitable, and as predicted, never overcame the loss of drummer Bill Berry.  He didn't so much mess up the mix when he left, as he did let the air out of the thing.  They tried everything, it seemed;  they recorded a lot, they took big breaks, they played lots live, they stopped touring, they tried a new sound, they went back to their earlier sound.  They were soft sometimes, and loud others, and defiant over the dwindling status until the very end.  Yet their legacy will be so easy to write; with Berry they amassed an impressive string of artistic triumphs, but without him, hits and passion dried up.  The albums, while initially seeming to hold some magic, inevitably paled to the past, and a series of bland titles (Up, Reveal, Accelerate) hid groups of songs where nothing stood out to sit with the old numbers.

Nowhere is that more obvious that this new double-disc best-of.  Once we get past New Adventures In Hi-Fi, and Berry's departure, the best cuts are either an old number revived for a previous hits compilation (Bad Day) or Peter Buck's Brian Wilson tribute (At My Most Beautiful).  And if you can name any other tracks from their later albums, kudos my friend, you're one of the rare fans.

So now that the retirement is official, we can all breath properly again, and pay homage to the first half of the band's career, without feeling guilty and disloyal.  Two-thirds of the tracks come from those days, and it's so easy to pick 'em, they fall off the discs like the biggest, juiciest apples.  Radio Free Europe, Driver 8, Fall One Me, It's The End Of The World As We Know It, The One I Love, Stand, Losing My Religion, Shiny Happy People, Everybody Hurts, Man On The Moon, What's The Frequency, Kenneth?, what a streak.  Like The Rolling Stones, we don't think of them as a singles band, but they sure knew how to make 'em. Maybe that's what happened to this band in the end, they just lost the ability to distill it in three minutes.

For the buyer, this set offers three final attempts, recorded this year in aborted sessions for another ill-conceived album.  And once again, none of them has any energy or spark to burn them to your memory.  It's as strong a two-disc set as you'll get otherwise, with all the must-own's here, and for the first time, the early I.R.S. years are compiled alongside the Warner material.  A rare song or two might have sweetened the pot, but that would have meant further reductions from the latter part of the career, perhaps an even bigger embarrassment  for the band.  They probably should have either packed it in earlier, or embraced live touring as their future, but at least they tried.  What each member does next should proof very interesting.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


Seger doesn't get quite the props he deserves, considering the decent quality of many of his hits, and his strong live act, which made him a Detroit legend.  Like Peter Frampton and Springsteen, he toured and toured and toured again, conquering one market at a time, until the rest fell like dominoes by the mid-70's.  As for his hometown, he was a god.  Those with long memories might also recall a time when "play Bob Seger" was yelled at bar bands as often as "Free Bird". 

It all went south when he sold out with that Like A Rock hit, which was pounded into the airwaves as a Chevy ad.  Of course, it's a match made in Motor City, but it was still a time when that wasn't considered cool.  Neither was the disco-funk of Shakedown, from the Beverly Hills Cop II soundtrack.  It might have given him a #1, but it also killed what was left of his core audience. 

Listening through this double-disc does provide lots of highlights though.  I always liked Mainstreet and Night Moves, and Rock And Roll Never Forgets is one of the best songs about the rebels growing up, with "sweet sixteen's turned thirty-one".  Some of them were played so constantly, it's permanently ruined the effect, but there's a reason Old Time Rock And Roll, and Against The Wind were monsters.  The compilers gave us a good look at the live show too, with versions of Travelin' Man and Beautiful Loser that show how he owned the hockey rink.

This set is part of the comeback that's been coordinated this year, with a major touring schedule, and a couple of new singles that have found a certain audience  Tellingly, they are covers, Tom Waits' much-heard Downtown Train, and an old Little Richard romp, Hey Hey Hey Hey.  Both are here of course, but neither feel right, and we're left to wonder if rock and roll did actually forget Seger, or simply gave him the boot.

Monday, November 21, 2011


So, I am home and it is over.  It's been another fun-filled trip to Hamilton for the annual Hamilton Music Awards, and as always, after four such trips, I marvel at how connected I feel to the city's music scene and the dozens of friends I have made there.  The culmination of the conference was Sunday night's awards show, and the after-parties that continued long into Monday morn.  On a night bittersweet due to the Tiger Cat's disappointing loss to Winnipeg, it gave several hundred music fans a reason to be cheerful, and a lot of great live music.

Oh, and I got a job offer.  Co-host of the awards show, along with comic Shelley Marshall, was local rock godfather Tom Wilson.  Wilson and I have squared off at this gig each time, mostly over his mangling of the pronunciation of my last name.  I've had to resort to using him as a comedy punching bag, leaving him staggering and acknowledging my superior abilities.  Last night, he simply gave in to the inevitable, and told his band mate in Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, Colin Linden, that he wants me to join the group, complete with my own Nudie Suit to match the trio's.  I'll act as some sort of MC, I guess.  I appreciate Tom's offer, but judging from Colin's facial expression and lack of enthusiasm, I'm guessing there's going to have to be a band meeting about this.

Blackie did perform at the Awards last night (without me), as did others from the cream of Hamilton's music scene.  Doing his first big hit, Painted Ladies, was Hamilton native, and Lifetime Achievement Award winner, Ian Thomas.  On hand to help present the award was his great friend, and colleague from Lunch At Allen's, Murray McLauchlan.  That allowed me to have a catch-up with Denise Donlan, who is married to McLauchlan, who was one of the contributors to The Top 100 Canadian Singles book.  She's been one of the major players in Canadian music, in her executive positions with MuchMusic, Sony Music and CBC Radio.  One of the artists she helped while with Sony was Jeremy Fisher, who also wowed the crowd with his live performance.  The sidelines were also filled with presenters and musicians straining to get looks at new acts with big buzz, hard rockers Monster Truck, and alt-country comers The Dinner Belles.

I particularly enjoyed another friend getting an award.  Each year the HMA's honours someone from behind the scenes in the music industry who hails from Hamilton, who has made a major contribution over their career.  This time it went to music executive Kim Cooke, who I first met during his time with Warner Music.  In his 24 years at the label he signed up several major acts in the country such as The Odds, Great Big Sea, Sarah Slean and Colin James.  Since he left that company, he's worked with Maple Music, and now has his own label, Pheromone Records, where Slean and The Odds showed their loyalty by rejoining him.  He also just opened up Revolution Recording in Toronto, a new glowing and shiny studio that's the buzz of the tech side of things.  Most importantly, he's a gem of a guy.

As for the trophies, it was Fisher who took the night, with three awards, including Album Of The Year, Male Vocalist, and Songwriter, all for his latest album, Flood.  The Dinner Belles took Best New Group, and Alternative Country Recording of the Year, and the group's keyboard player, Greg Brisco, took the honour for that instrument.  Blues singer Rita Chiarelli, took Female Artist and Best Blues.  Monster Truck grabbed Rock Recording of the Year.

If you have a desperate desire to see me hand out two of the awards, as well as display some of the scintillating wit that has so captivated Tom Wilson, the awards show is televised in a couple of weeks.  You might also like to catch some of the excellent music performances.  It's going to be on CHCH TV, which is available across the country to Bell Satellite viewers, since I get it here in Fredericton.  It's going to air Saturday, Dec. 10 at 7 PM Eastern time. 

Sunday, November 20, 2011


Hamilton Live.  Some graying punk rock, some energetic speed metal, old-fashioned hard stuff from teenagers, a beloved roots rock band, some classic alt-country sounds.  You can see it all in the Hamilton scene, just bouncing around from club to club on any given night.  That's what the Hamilton Music Awards has showcased for us, this week.  Here are some of my scattered memories, caught between cab rides and award presentations.

Last night featured the highlight concert of the awards, by Blackie and the Rodeo Kings.  The group doesn't really have a home town, as the members come from different areas of the country, but in a way Hamilton would be its spiritual centre.  Tom Wilson is indeed from here, still lives here, and was certainly in a great mood, dropping old and new city references, and memories of seeing Lighthouse as a kid in the very hall he was playing last night.  The band was in great form, with Colin Lindon ripping off some amazing solos on guitar, Stephen Fearing showing off his excellent pipes as one of the truly underrated singers in the country, and Wilson...  well, Wilson owned the building of course.  His Lean On Your Peers was the highlight, his tribute to the hardcore Hamilton heroes, known ones and unknown, some passed on, but still with plenty of spirit felt in the city.  Mentions of Frankie Venom and Tim Gibbons bring cheers in this place.  They were allowed off the stage after five encore songs. 

After that it was over to This Ain't Hollywood, given the Top Venue award earlier at the Industry Awards portion of the weekend.  The show featured a return to the city of an old favourite, The Diodes.  Hamilton loves this 70's-80's band, especially since they are now doing some short tours, with the promise of more to come.  It's been a banner year or so for the Toronto group.  In my book The Top 100 Canadian Singles, the band grabbed a surprising #23 appearance with Tired Of Waking Up Tired, as voted on by 800 music pros and nuts across the country.  Then this summer, the Toronto Star ran a poll/competition for readers to pick the best Toronto band of all time, and shockingly, the group won the whole thing.  They are clearly on a buzz from that, and played this mini-tour to great success.  It's the original lineup, with two of the members coming back to Canada as they have lived in England for many years.  Opening with their famous cover of Paul Simon's Red Rubber Ball, the band ripped through their catalogue, including numbers from the just-reissued album Action/Reaction, which I'll review in the next few days.

You can also expect reviews of other Hamilton artists I've seen this week, including Michele Titian and The Dinner Belles.  Hamilton Music Week ends tonight with the Awards handed out, which I'll report on after.

Friday, November 18, 2011


So the next big event at the Hamilton Music Awards is the Rising Star Search.  It's the second year for the competition, and like last year, I'm going to be the MC.  To say it's already a success is an understatement.  Last year, 16 groups were chosen, from a ton of applicants, from early high school students to somewhat established groups in their 20's, all hoping to grab top honours.  For good reason, as the prize package alone is worth it.  It includes, most importantly, an autographed copy of The Top 100 Canadian Singles!  A-ha-ha.
No, the real prize is the combination of goods and services that any young band needs, from photo sessions to studio time.  As mentioned yesterday, runners-up Weekend Riot Club turned their prize into a 3-track debut disc, which just came out.  The winners from last year went even further.  They are Dawn and Marra, a young folk duo both in their teens, and already becoming established.  Although it wasn't even part of the prize package, they scored a coveted opening slot on the big Harvest Picnic show near Hamilton this summer, with the likes of Daniel Lanois, Emmy Lou Harris, Ray Lamontagne, Gord Downie, Sarah Harmer and more sharing the bill with them.  I got a chance to see them play this year at the conference, and you can tell they have grown in confidence and experience.
They also used their win to record a first disc, which I reviewed back in June of this year.  Since it's Hamilton week, it's the perfect time to revisit that disc, as I present the Best Of Bob and Hamilton (really just an excuse for me to write less this week as a run around watching Hamilton bands at the conference).  Here's that original review:

The winner of the Rising Star Search were a duo, two young women from nearby Dundas, 18 and 16, named Dawn and Marra.  It was quickly obvious, even with just two songs allowed, that these two had a spark, and a desire to perform.  I'm not talking about the "look-at-me" narcissism you see on Idol shows, or among high school class clowns.  These two wanted to share what they do.  What really impressed most people was that they also wrote their own songs, already.  You can be a great singer, a fine musician, but add songwriting to that mix, and you've turned a corner.  That's the thing about music -- somebody has to write it.  Fine voices, good arrangements, harmonies, confidence playing just by themselves, Dawn and Marra has everything you'd want to see in a professional duo at club, and here they were just starting out.

Fast-forward to, well, today, half a year later, and I have the new, and first Dawn and Marra album, Never Ask Me Why.  Using the buzz and support from the Hamilton Music Awards, they've done exactly what you'd hope they would:  made a strong debut album, played almost every weekend since, and staked out an immediate future in music.  The disc is all original, ten cuts, done in their singer-songwriter style. Marra Koren sings lead and harmony, and handles bass duties, while Dawn Larsh writes the bulk of the songs, also sings lead and harmonies, and plays guitar and ukulele. Quite good ukulele in fact, there's a couple of cool numbers with that as the base instrument, a different sound for sure.

Dawn and Marra are still learning, and there's an awkwardness at times with the lyrics, or times when they still sound like teens.  But mostly on this disc, and live, they're showing their strengths in performing and writing.  Already they stand out.

Thursday, November 17, 2011


The Hamilton Music Awards and Conference is off and running with a successful first day.  Most music conferences are for the artists and the industry, and fair enough.  You expect that, for them to work on their careers, networking and such.  The HMA's have taken a different approach.  The conference is actually for students interested in the music world as a career.

High school and college students get to come to workshops and seminars in a variety of topics about jobs on the stage and behind the scenes.  You can get in-depth with the world of a pro bass player, hear how to become a producer, or find out what music companies are looking for from songwriters these days. This year the stars heard from stars such as George Pettit of Alexisonfire, Juno nominee Emm Gryner, and Christopher "Black Velvet" Ward. 

One of the people on stage was locally-raised Canadian music star Ian Thomas, recipient of this year's lifetime achievement award.  Thomas first hit in the late 1960's with the group Tranquility Base.  In 1973 came his breakthrough with the smash Painted Ladies, a Cancon classic.  That turned into a long and stable career, with performing (Lunch At Allen's), songwriting (for Santana, Chicago, America, etc.) and voice work.  The talented actor and mimic had the young audience giggling away at the revelation that he was Snap, of Snap, Crackle and Pop fame, from the Rice Crispie commercials.

I also caught up with a group I had first met last year, participating at the Rising Star Challenge.  Weekend Riot Club did really well at the competition, coming in second out of 16 acts chosen to showcase.  For that, they received a significant prize package, which included studio time at the famous Hamilton recording centre, Grant Avenue, founded by local Daniel Lanois.  It was a blast to come back a year later and find out what they had done with it. 

I got to hear the results in a forum where young musicians brought their demo and finished recordings to be heard by media professionals.  That group including reps from music publishing, A&R for a major label, and a top engineer/producer and now-label exec.  In an honest and sometimes brutal critique session, the musicians got some strong first impressions and tips from the talent scouts.  They all agreed that the top music they heard that hour belonged to Weekend Riot Club.

The band has turned the three Grant Avenue tracks into a 3-song EP called Rubber Bullets, and it's available now on iTunes, and in local stores.  It's rockin' stuff, and Melissa Marchese is a strong and feisty singer.  Along with writer Mike Chetcuti, the duo is working hard to establish the group identity, polish the sound and shows, and get the word out.  Just a year old as a group, the label reps were complementary about their progress, and I was pretty thrilled with the development they've shown in the time since last year's awards.  It just goes to show that in the end, hard work wins.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


Hi, it's travel day, that means I'm heading to Hamilton and arrive in the Hammer this evening, ready get the actual Hamilton Music Awards going.  Day one, Thursday, is the annual conference, which is where the industry comes to town to pass on knowledge and expertise to interested young people.  It's unique I believe.  It's a day-long event for high school and college students, where they can learn from industry pros and musicians what they could possibly do in the music business.  I'm MC'ing the whole day, so I gotta get prepped! 

What with the travel and the prep time, I'd better not spend too much time reviewing and writing, so I thought I'd do the class thing, a rerun.  But it's a Hamilton artist, so that's fair, and it's somebody nominated for awards on Sunday, plus it's somebody you really should know better.  Sharon Musgrave is up for three awards:  Female Artist, Female Vocalist, and Soul/R'n'B Recording of the Year.  Here is my original review of her disc as it first appeared at launch time back in February.


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

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

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

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Hamilton Week continues, as we count down to the start of the annual Hamilton Music Awards and Conference.  It begins Thursday in the city affectionately known as The Hammer.  Readers will no doubt be puzzled by this Maritimer's fondness for the Ontario steel town, and for explanation I direct you to yesterday's column, which gives a brief history of my involvement, and keen interest in the music scene.

What I've noticed is that you'll find something for everyone in Hamilton, and it's a very supportive musical community.  It's not uncommon to see a table with a greying punk from the 1970's, a classical string player, a jazz hand, and a soul singer, shooting the breeze.  They'll play on each others records, and they have each others backs.  Everyone knows it's a hard road, being a working musician, especially when it's difficult to grab the nation's interest from their area (Toronto media indifference is my theory).  So, hard work makes for better musicians, and it happens in each genre.

Today, we look at the blues, and it doesn't surprise me it's popular there.  Like the Maritimes, Hamilton can be a gritty spot, with its industrial core.  This blue collar aspect reminds me of places such as Sydney, NS and Saint John, NB, where industry rules.  Bars are still bars in Hamilton, and there are several good ones I like, which feature live music, pub fare and put-a-pitcher-in-front-of-me service.  I'll take that on Friday night, thanks.

From the blues scene of the city comes Steve Strongman, who has it all.  He can sit himself done and play solo, wailing away, or get up with an electric band, and rip you a new one.  Strongman is one of the country's best guitar players.  I know, I know, everybody says their hotshot local is one of th country's best, but in this case, he currently has the proof in hand.  He's been nominated for a Maple Blues Award for best guitar player of the year.  This puts him in the top five, and it's no half-baked system saying that.  The nominations come from a panel of over 50 blues writers, critics, broadcasters, festival organizers, that kind of quality, and from right across the country.  So to get past all the warring factions and home town supporters, you have to have some pretty serious credibility.  Those awards are coming out January 16th in Toronto by the way.

Strongman's ready to drop an acoustic blues album on us at any point, but for now is enjoying the guitar attention with his most recent electric disc, Blues In Colour.  On that album, you get a full display of what the guy can do, as the main player in a small band setting.  He has a fabulous clean tone, and his work has a lot of 40's and 50's feel to it, uptempo and moving.  This is when the jook joint stuff started coming into the Chicago clubs, and electricity turned on all the players, when B.B. ruled the roost with class.  That's how i think of Strongman, somebody who can pull off those sweet-sounding solos.  Elsewhere on the disc, he slows it down, making the thing cry, and he adds a mean slide to some modern sounds too.  Add in a good, high-pitched voice with a bit of urgency, and Strongman, to me is the complete package.  Well, that plus a great blues name.  He's always a highlight to hear on my visits, and he's building a strong national reputation as well.  Mention him to your local festival.

Monday, November 14, 2011


I am hitting the road again, on another musical adventure.  One of the best parts of my gig is getting invites to the various music conventions and award shows in the country.  Some I attend as a reporter, and file stories for CBC.  Others I asked to come and actively participate, as a guest speaker, panelist, or MC.  It's all good.

One that has become a highlight for me is the annual Hamilton Music Awards.  This will be the fourth I've attended over five years, and only illness prevented me from going that other time.  It started in 2007, with the publication of my first book, The Top 100 Canadian Albums.  There were quite a number of Hamiltonians in that list, including Daniel Lanois, Teenage Head, Crowbar and King Biscuit Boy.  The organizer thought I'd fit in.  Since then, It's been a blast getting to know the area, and its many exciting musicians.

Because Hamilton is so close to Toronto, it is often forgoten in the major media.  Its own outlets do a fine job, but generally Toronto reporters won't venture forth to cover issues from that city's perspective.  Given that the population base of the Hamilton-Burlington area is edging towards a million people, that's a big chunk of Canada going unreflected.  This certainly happens to the music community there, and that's why I feel like I've been charged with some sort of mission  to help get the word out.  I'm happy to do it.

So, I head to Hamilton Wednesday, and will no doubt get more new CD's to hear once I arrive.  Until then, I'll focus on the some recent Hamilton releases.  The Arkells are actually having no trouble getting the word out to the rest of the country, which is great news of late for the rock scene there.  The young band won a Juno for their debut disc, Jackson Square.  You can't get more Hamilton than that, by the way, Jackson Square is the big mall right in the middle of the downtown, connected to the market, and boasting the usual huge food court/hang-out.  It was definitely a message sent out by the proud Hammer residents.  The new disc, Michigan Left, named after a highway sign no doubt, features lots of local references as well, from the Escarpment to the 403.

The album feels like a car drive, constant movement, bouncing around southern Ontario from Windsor to Toronto.  Each song has some sort of travel or trip in it, such as a bus stop. That makes sense to me, it's an area where people plan their day around the drives they need to make, the possibility of traffic jams, and the huge areas around them they have to negotiate.  The group gets into that headspace, plus the all-consuming job is always there, too.  Blue collar is mentioned, evening shifts, going for coffee.  In other words, this ain't pretty, it's gritty, just like Hamilton.

The Arkells are young, and I like the fact they don't simply sling loud guitar music.  They've made an effort to write strong, thoughtful, melodic songs.  There are several that are bright, up, and joyful, celebrating the real-life situations described in the lyrics.  It's downright feel-good, something I've found missing in your basic rock band of late.  And back to the lyrics, it's not just the settings and descriptions I like, there are good lines too; "This campfire won't last forever, the Hip have only wrote so many songs."  Bahhahhhahhahah.  Classic Canadian reference there.

So, Hamilton Week begins here on the Top 100 Canadian blog.  Join me for more as I head to the Hammer, culminating in the Awards themselves Sunday night.

Sunday, November 13, 2011


Adams has been roasted for years for putting out too much music, recording enough tracks each year to release boxed sets, let alone a couple of albums.  Since his Heartbreaker CD came out to great acclaim in 2000, he's put out an average of a disc a year, plus if you dig a little bit there are other sets and songs on various spots.  According to the man himself, he can write four or five songs a day.  According to critics and even fans, he needs to stop and work harder on a few of them, and let others fizzle out.

Whether you think he's a singular talent who should be allowed to follow his muse, or a spoiled brat who would rather shoot himself in the foot than take advice is another good debate.  There's currently a big on-line fight happening over an incident between Adams, Neil Finn and Janis Ian on a TV show in England, and once again, he isn't looking too mature.  All this has nothing to do with the songs and albums, but it does point to the confusion fans have felt.  The most common phrase heard from listeners is, "it's no Heartbreaker".

I've actually never heard a Ryan Adams album I didn't like, and usually I like them a lot.  Often they aren't particularly memorable, and I rarely grab them from the collection.  There are no key songs I'd point to that exist on any albums past Heartbreaker, but no junk either.  I like the sounds of his ballads, I like the craftsmanship, I like it when he gets rockin' with the Cardinals.  I guess that all he's missing are over-the-top excellent ones.

On this new one, it's a non-Cardinals album, which signals singer-songwriter fare.  Sure enough, here come the sad ballads, and if Adams really does knock off four a day, he sure can come up with lots of good lines.  The title cut is immediately swathed in sorrow from the start, as we find out about a guy who "As he stared past the fire/The hunger to leave, well it gnawed/His poor heart alive."  You can't argue with the quality there.  Norah Jones turns up on piano and/or vocals on a few cuts, and these are mellow highlights, heart-tugging like all the others.

Like ALL the others.  For whatever reason, Adams insists on compiling songs that are too similar.  I mean, why can't the Cardinals play on other tracks?  Why do they have to be a band you belong to, rather that a band you lead?  Why can't you try to chill out?  Yes, you're an artist, but at some point each artist has to acknowledge the existence and influence of the audience on their work, whether its considering their wants, or acting a little more respectful on a TV show.

Saturday, November 12, 2011


Now, you could describe in great detail all the sources for these classic blues numbers Robillard has chosen to cover, from the pens of the famous (Hooker), the brilliant (Bartholomew) and the obscure (Sugar Boy Crawford),  You could go through the process he employs to recreate the sound and the vibe of these raw, rich original singles from that purple patch of electric blues in the 40's, 50's and 60's, the live-from-the-floor, straight to 2-inch tape.  You could discuss these musicians in the band who know how to do vintage.  Or you could get all guitar-crazed, and go through the makes and models and years and tube amps that Duke finds to get just that tone from the original.  These would be important discussions for those folks who revere and understand, like Robillard himself.

But here's the deal; you don't need to concern yourself with it.  What is important is that this is better played and performed, better written and chosen, and simply more inspired and enjoyable than 95 per cent (or more) of anything else coming out today.  It's a bunch of veterans, playing guitar-bass-drums-keys-sax, with ultimate feel and love for sizzling blues sounds.  And, bonus!  They know how to make them!  I don't care HOW they make them, I know I can't, and neither can all those other bands that say they can.  Most of them are trying to play those licks, and pulling it off half the time.  Robillard, for instance, does them at ease, but then ads even a little more magic, something elongated, or slightly rearranged, just to show there's still more fun and experience to add to the blues, that it is, under his and other hands, still living.

Do Unto Others may be the best number here, the Dave Bartholomew number known from the Pee Wee Crayton version in 1954.  Robillard's solos rip, and each one ends with a subtle slide up the string to a little *ping* ending, just as cool and tasteful as can be.  But wait now, Sax Gordon's wail on the next track, Jimmy McCracklin's It's Alright, is remarkably dirty and fluid at the same time, and Duke's teasing us with tales of his baby, a song I know I've never heard before.  Meanwhile, downtown tonight in your hometown, the usual suspects are once again, covering the same Robert Johnson tracks Eric Clapton turned into cliches in 1967.

I don't want to be too mean here to any other blues players.  Rather, I'd like prefer to challenge your listening habits, mostly because I think Duke Robillard and his band are so very, very excellent.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


Coming together like Arcade Fire mingling with Fleet Foxes, this new Montreal group  takes the epic sound of the former and adds the acoustic, harmony-drenched anthems of the latter.  Woodshedding for six months resulted in this debut album, expanding the boundaries of today's folk music.  It's funny, new bands used to get together for months in garages, getting to know each other with their electrics and amps.  Now, it's more likely they are in (metaphorical) barns and old churches, trying out cellos and different keyboard sounds and how their voices blend with echo and effects.  Helping out all over the album are members of the red-hot Barr Brothers.

The words are a lot better, that's for sure.  F & the H present a sweeping series of songs which tackle a lot of regret, leaving, and sad observation:  "We were stuck in traffic for most of our lives".  There's no bitterness here, more acknowledgement, and we get to feel more mellow than down, largely thanks to the beauty of the melodies and instruments.  The wonderfully-recorded songs feature glowing voices, ringing pianos, and shimmering strings.  It's like the mixing board had buttons they could push that said "gentle", "bright" and "beautiful".

The group is in the East right now to promote Residents, and let people check them out.  You'll find them appearing with Paper Beat Scissors at:

Nov. 10 Baba's Lounge, Charlottetown
Nov. 11 Cafe Aberdeen, Moncton
Nov. 12 Wilser's Room, Fredericton

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


The whole Attack In Black scene has developed into a treasure trove of solo and side projects.  You have Daniel Romano doing his excellent, old-time folk ballads on his own or with Fred Squire and Julie Doiron.  Romano and his brother Ian has started up the You've Changed label, for side projects and friends such as Shotgun Jimmie.  Baby Eagle is part of that, too, a/k/a Steve Lambke of Constantines.  Guitarist Spencer Burton calls his solo guise Grey Kingdom, and bass player Ian Kehoe has now become Marine Dreams.

It's Kehoe with the new disc, and like the others in the family tree, it's different than the sum of the parts of Attack In Black, a heavier rock act.  While it's not as hushed as Daniel's folk music, it's not going to be put in the punk racks.  Since Kehoe was the lyric writer for the group, it's been no problem for him to develop solo material, and he hasn't had to move that far away to find his own voice.  In fact, it's the same old set of friends helping out here, including all three AIB former band mates, Lambke and Paul Henderson, ex-Shotgun and Jaybird, and part of the ongoing Sackville, NB connection the group members have established.  In fact Kehoe and Lambke now call the town on the marsh home.

Ranging from the heavy riffs and downs of Sudden Dark Truths to the jangly strums of Visions, Kehoe's made a cool guitar album.  While there are moments of pleasing pop, it never gets too conventional, with one or more parts, including the vocals, often put through the indie low-fi filter.  Even mid-song, instruments and elements can switch from murky to clear.  I'm sure it's nowhere near this simple these day in the studio, but it's like you can set a switch, and click it on and off at will, low-fi to high-fi.  The sonic palette is pretty full here to, not a lot of space available, most of the space in your head between the earbuds filled up with guitars and drums.

Kehoe's touring Marine Dreams right now, along with buddy Baby Eagle.  They play:

Wednesday, Nov. 9  Cedar Tree Cafe, Fredericton
Friday, Nov. 11 Gus' Pub, Halifax
Saturday, Nov. 12 Struts Gallery, Sackville, NB

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


This is the latest in the stash of Cash found after his passing, and curated by his son John Carter. This time, the them is live concerts, and the selections go from 1956 to 1979, snippets and greater chunks which give us a feel for the show he put on. Since he was an old-time performer, who grew up in a time when musicians catered to the audience, Cash always had a somewhat-scripted and well-rehearsed gig to present, even if it was a one-time only special evening. And although he was practised, it felt spontaneous and he had genuine affection and connection to the audience.
For most star performers, the big concerts of their lives happened in front of tens of thousands of people, or at legendary venues. Cash though found his moments in odd places, with select crowds, most famously in prisons. Here we get historic shows that may not be the best-recorded ones (hence the bootleg in the title) but are of signifigance for the event or the songs. His Folsom Prison and San Quentin recordings are already completely documented, but here we get another example from of all places, Sweden, in 1972. It turns out Sunday Morning Coming Down was something they understood all too well there, too. John Carter's ears are sharp, for sure. He grabs an excellent version of City Of New Orleans from a one-off set in front of a bunch of music industry suits at the CBS convention in 1973, showing Cash could wow even them whenever he wanted.

The oldest set here is a not-bad fidelity recording from a radio show called the Big "D" Jamboree in '56, the original Tennessee Two of Luther Perkins on guitar and Marshall Grant on bass showing us where the Sun Records sound came from. The still-new group does their single, I Walk The Line and Get Rhythm, and we hear a classic at its birth, songs that never needed to change. Next up is a 1962 rural show at an outdoors country stage in Maryland, and it's fascinating to hear the difference between country and rock and soul shows of the era; Cash is still doing a folksy, downhome routine, the audience members walking up to the stage to request favourites, the band and he trying comedy and impressions inbetween the numbers. The quality here is weak, but I don't know if I've ever heard a show quite like this, so the value far outweighs the listening issues.

By 1969, Cash was a kind of evangelist, but for humanity more than religion or country music. He straddled musical genres, politics and generation gaps. His admirers were kids and their parents, southerners and northerners, conservatives and liberals. When he appeared in Viet Nam for the troops, he could haul out a piece of patriotism such as Remember The Alamo, but follow it with Cocaine Blues, getting the soldiers revved up. Then, he and his fine-tuned roadshow (Carter Family, Statler Brothers, Carl Perkins) gave them big hits (Ring Of Fire, Jackson) and a stunning gospel finale of Daddy Sang Bass.

The centerpiece here is what might, at first, seem lame. In 1970, Cash was invited to perform at The White House, a tribute paid to such greats at the time as Duke Ellington. Not many could survive being tarred with the Richard Nixon approval. The Guess Who, for instance, lost much of their hip credibility in the U.S. by accepting an invitation. But the small-town boy from poverty recognized the importance, and even brought his dad along. Of course, he also grabbed the opportunity to do a little preaching, with pointed messages to the President and that part of the public. Addressing the growing rift between The White House and youth culture, Cash offered What Is Truth, asking for open minds from older Americans.
Johnny Cash did thousands of shows, and most were largely the same. This kind of cherry-picking is exactly the way to go, and hopefully there are more bootlegs to come.

Monday, November 7, 2011


Syd Barrett might have been crazy, but at least he was concise. You can't say that about the rest of Pink Floyd. I imagine if somehow he could have kept his hands out of the candy jar, he wouldn't have been serving up 20-minute album sides, as his pals did, passing interminably-long guitar solos and plodding synth lines as grand creations. But that's what passed for high art in 1975, and apparently still does in some quarters. Wish You Were Here still gets great props and poll numbers in the great album magazines. But sensible pruning would have revealed that disc to be about a sides' worth of decent tunes, no more. Syd, still alive in '75, no doubt wished he wasn't there for his infamous appearance at a mixing session for Shine On You Crazy Diamond, the song ostensibly about him. The group members notoriously didn't recognize him, head-shaven and a couple of stone in excess of a decent lorry-load. Supposedly they felt awful about what Syd had become, but to my ears they could have equally been embarrassed about what they had become without him.

I was never a huge Pink Floyd fan, but this recent reissue program called Why Pink Floyd? has had me asking the same question, and not coming up with a good answer.  I've now sat through the entirety of their album catalogue, and it's only confirmed they had four good albums, and a whole lot of mind-numbingly boring albums that went on for hours before a song with a tune would rear its head and jostle me out of my stupor.  That's the career in a nutshell, and it accurately describes the Wish You Were Here disc, too.  Roger Waters, desperately searching for a concept, since by 1975 they were a concept band, and he was the main writer, had some material written, but wanted it all to link.  This is the album that's supposed to be about Syd and the sense of absence that brought, but that's only part of it, and made for good copy and myth-making for fans.  You'll find it in the ridiculously long parts of Shine On You Crazy Diamond that open and close the disc, as well as the much more enjoyable Wish You Were Here.  The other lyrical concept is about the evil record industry, which it is, of course, but somehow these complaints, coming from a band that was allowed to record and release Atom Heart Mother, seem awfully whiny.  Of course a bunch of suits are hovering around counting the money you made from Money.  You should have been thanking them for continuing to take a chance on you for six years before that.

Anyway, that's just another rant, a little bit directed at the content, but I actually do think Have A Cigar is one of the best depictions of music moguls ("By the way, which one's Pink"?) you can find, and a good song to boot.  It's just that somebody really should have taken a razor blade to Shine On.  Out Nov. 8th are two special versions of the disc, a two-CD Experience edition, and the 5-disc Behemoth Monstrosity Gargantua, which includes no more new music, but rather endless DVD, 5.1, and other mixes, and for the live of me I can't figure out why they take three more pieces of media, but they do.  How many ways do you want to hear this thing?  Stick with the 2-disc, as it actually has quality on it from start to finish, and is historically important.  You get the three songs the band had written in 1974 and were playing live in concert:  Shine On, Raving And Drooling, and You've Got To Be Crazy (I guess it was the crazy concept they were working on).  The latter two were chucked out after Waters came up with the other concept for the album, and they ended up being renamed and used on the Animals disc.  There's also a famous wine glass-rubbing experiment that was used for a loop on the eventual album, and two cool album out-takes.  First, a version of Have A Cigar as sung by Waters instead of guest vocalist Roy Harper, which I prefer to the released cut.  Waters had felt he couldn't hit the notes with his range, but it sounds like a more natural version to me than Harper's well-known take.  And, there's the often-reported take of Wish You Were Here, with jazz great Stephane Grappelli doing a violin solo.  It had been rumoured that tape was gone, but here it is finally.  It's obvious there was no point to having the solo, and it was wisely scrapped, but it's exactly the kind of thing you want on these bonus discs.

Also newly released is yet another in a long string of compilations by the band, this one called A Foot In The Door - The Best Of Pink Floyd.  Now, being as that's about as far as I want to get inside the Pink Floyd playhouse, this is the one I'd hoped would have the truly best and brightest.  However, it sticks with the usual suspects, concentrates on Dark Side, Wish, and The Wall, and misses both interesting cuts off, say, Meddle, and non-LP singles such as Arnold Layne.  Being as the reissue campaign has few rare cuts, and there are plenty scattered in the Floyd discography, it would have been nice to see some of them show up somewhere (like the Dave Gilmour-only re-recording of Money, for instance).  The two-disc best of, Echoes, from a decade back remains a better collection, and actually requires less pruning.  Man, I find this group way too frustrating to enjoy.

Sunday, November 6, 2011


Blue-eyed soul lives!  I got a great new album by Darryl Hall lately, and then there's this guy, who's turning into the poster boy for 70's sweetness.  This is Hawthorne's second disc, and is killing me just like his 2009 debut did.  The guy lives for the great stuff, the Motown and Philly and Chicago 70's numbers, before disco and funk moved in.  You'll hear Curtis Mayfield, Spinners, Isaac Hayes, Holland-Dozier-Holland, Smokey Robinson, even a little bedroom Barry White.  It's not all slavish devotion to the era though; he can also drop some hop in there, and not too many white boys from Ann Arbor, Michigan get to duet with Snoop Dogg, but there's the man himself doin' in Doggy style on Can't Stop.

The Michigan thing obviously means a lot to him.  A Long Time is a message of hope to Detroit, and the dire situation the city finds itself in these days.  Hawthorne sings about how Henry Ford and Berry Gordy brought success and pride to the city before, and that somehow it will get that back.  Hawthorne writes everything here, plays lots of the instruments, and produces as well.  The guy's a giant.  Another cool cameo, and a bit more telling than the Snoop duet, comes from guitar giant Dennis Coffey.  The one-time Motown Funk Brother played on smash hits for the Temptations and many others, and had his own million-seller with Scorpio.  He loans his signature feel to a couple of numbers.

I like how Hawthorne bounces around the soul spectrum, not settling on one style, but offering it up like a buffet.  About half the tracks feature him in falsetto, and I really can't decide vocal style I like better, so I'm glad to have both.  As a die-hard Motown and Philadelphia International fan, this stuff was made for me, but if you ever like a Spinners or Miracles or Amy Winehouse song for that matter, check this out.

Saturday, November 5, 2011


No overriding concept here, no songs from stage plays, or themed weirdness, it's just new, and great songs.  And what a delight.  Written and recorded quickly earlier this year, Waits goes through all his usual styles, and even comes up with a few new ones.  The disc is also more lighthearted than usual for him, not just bemused but also somewhat satisfied with humanity and times' passage. 

In the title cut, our eccentric friend is thrilled to find a co-conspirator, a lover, who is equal to the task in his escapades:  "You're the fly in my beer/you're the key that got're Mother Superior in only a bra."  Where he gets his Film Noir characters is a thing of mystery, and as much from his gut instincts as from his imagination.  And of course, he's still the best and main character in many of his songs.  Unlike Bob Dylan and Paul Simon, who have taken to dissecting mortality as they approach their ends, Waits downright embraces it.  "Satisfied" tells us exactly what he thinks about death, when he writes "I will be satisfied before I'm gone."  Then he makes a shout-out to the kids that wrote about Satisfaction way back in the 60's:  "Now Mr. Jagger and Mr. Richards/I will scratch where I've been itching/before I'm gone."  What makes it even better is that Mr. Richards is playing guitar on the track.

In fact, Richards shows up for several cuts, and even sings on one with Waits, the simple ballad Last Leaf, which is pretty much about being the last leaf on a tree in fall, and the metaphor is way too obvious to bother to analyze.  The two croak through it, and it's as perfect as you can imagine.  As usual, the sounds of the disc and the performance are just as important as the composition, and Waits pulls out his usual crazy-quilt collection of tin pans and squawks.  But in keeping with the lack of concept, the songs are more traditional, with melodies and verses and such, with the ballads being especially attractive in their melancholy.  Still, he comes up with more tricks that haven't been featured before.  Hell Broke Luce is about army vets, no doubt recent ones returning from the Middle East, as Waits chants his way through one of those marching songs soldiers do ("I had a good home but I left, right, left").  The song ends with disturbing reality:  "Now I'm home and I'm blind and I'm broke/what is next?"

Joining Richards are more individual players, filling sonic roles.  The great Marc Ribot is key on guitar, playing it like Waits sings.  The list also includes Flea, blues harp maestro Charlie Musselwhite, Los Lobos mainstay David Hidalgo on accordion and guitar, Texas Tornado Augie Meyers on keyboards, Les Claypool, and Waits' son Casey is now his main drummer.  If this reads like the cast of a circus freak movie, you got the right idea.

Thursday, November 3, 2011


I have absolutely no reason to be embarrassed about my affection for Hall & Oates.  First off, I am not alone, even among the trend-setters.  No less a source than the ultra-hip Herohill music blog did an entire H&O tribute mix featuring covers by indie favourites a few months back.  But they are bandwagon-jumpers, those youngsters.  I've been diggin' the duo since they landed early to mid-70's, when it was all blue-eyed soul, before Maneater.  But...I kinda like Maneater too.  Hall can sing, the both can write crazy hooks and do American soul music proud.  And it's Movember, and who rocks a 'stash better than Oates?

Now, I'm no loon on this matter, and other than a double CD best of, you won't find anything else by them in the voluminous music collection here.  I do think Hall's web TV show Live From Daryl's House is really well-done too, although it's hit-and-miss with the musical guest stars (check it out, YouTubers).  So that made me at least want to throw on this new disc from Hall just to see what he'd sound like today.

It turns out he sounds like a somewhat more respectable version of his old, hit-making self.  The 80's production values have been replaced by basic and conventional rock set-up.  But (and here's the brilliance, I believe), there's still a little hint of the 80's in there, every once in a while.  Talking To You has that little shimmer and splash of electric guitar and keyboards, a kind of signature sound you'll recognize immediately.  It's not overused, but it's that little reminder of who you are dealing with.  Of course, that voice is unmistakable, and still just as glorious.  Every so often, he rolls out a classic whoa-oh-whoa, one of the rare people who can sing those wordless fills, and not sound stupid.

Look, if this wasn't Daryl Hall, but some unknown chap, half the critics would be all over this as an example of somebody able to get that great, smooth Philly or Memphis soul sound, and blend in so many Top 40 hooks.  And the song Save Me sounds like great Allen Toussaint or Boz Scaggs.  Really though, we should be saying it sounds like great Daryl Hall, and no snickering when you say that!  Props are due.  Oh ya, celebrate Mr. Mustache too, wherever the hell he's gone.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


Ah, a label change, that explains yet another Paul Simon compilation, of which there many in the market place.  You have your boxed sets, and best-of's, featuring either Simon solo, or a combination of Simon and Garfunkel and Simon alone.  SIngles, doubles, 3 or more CD's, you decide.  No matter how much you might have liked his disc from this spring, So Beautiful Or So What, these days the real money is to be made from the catalog hits for these heritage artists, and when they go off to the highest bidder, there's inevitably a new best-of.

At least this one is solid and classy.  The double-disc is a thoughtful walk through the solo years, curated by none other than the man himself.  While it's sometimes a bad idea for the artist to do the choosing, as they often go for strange picks rather than fan favourites, Simon knows there has to be a certain level of big songs, and it's not like there's a shortage of them available.

The set starts off with the one temptation for hard-core fans who already own it all, a brand-new live version of The Sound Of Silence, recorded earlier this year, Simon showing he can still deliver quite a punch with this, his earliest hit.  With a bit of a different arrangement, and of course, no Art, it's a new look at a song that has held up remarkably well.  The other reason collectors might be doing a double-take on this set is the inclusion of a soundtrack song not found elsewhere, the quite lovely Father And Daughter, Simon's hymn to his own, from the 2002 movie The Wild Thornberrys.  But with only two of 32 tracks offering a hint of new, any long-time fan won't be rushing to the checkout with this.

Another nice touch is the inclusion of Aretha Franklin's version of Bridge Over Troubled Water, certainly a superior recording, and a smart way to tackle the S&G years.  If you haven't heard her take, Franklin hooks onto the gospel roots and does her expert thing.  I wish there were two or three more choices like that here; perhaps Peter Gabriel's recent slow version of The Boy In The Bubble, or maybe an original Peruvian version of El Condor Pasa.  But there are many hits and albums to get to I suppose, and Simon dives in with the obvious, and not-so obvious choices.

The 70's give us Mother And Child Reunion, Kodachrome, American Tune, and Still Crazy After All These Years, and Simon also finds room to include a couple of quieter moments, Tenderness and Peace Like A River, at the expense of crafted hits Slip Slidin' Away and Loves Me Like A Rock.  But no 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover?   A number one hit there, Bub.  Simon disposes of the 70's way too quickly, but I suppose he's giving equal weight to all his babies.  That's going to come back to haunt us on disc two.  But meanwhile, we've reached the 80's, and his two crucial albums.  Ya ya, Graceland, sure, but first, there was the frustrating failure of Hearts And Bones.  Three tracks are included here, and I say good on you, Paul, it was a misunderstood masterpiece, and deserves to be plugged at every turn.

Graceland, followed by The Rhythm Of The Saints, and we're cooking now.  But we've just started disc two, and you know what that means:  The Capeman Cometh.  Simon's Broadway flop has still not found an audience for its songs either, and the inevitable inclusion of two of them here won't change anyone's mind.  The albums slip by with the 90's and 00's, with Surprise and You're The One, all of higher quality, but strangely unable to stay with us.  The three cuts from So Beautiful Or So What, while equally appealing, seem destined to suffer the same fate.

I have no answers for this, other than perhaps Simon got too hung up on his nifty lyrics and neglected the tunes.  I mean, I don't have a clue what The Obvious Child is about, but it rocks and I like to sing along to it.  That's been missing for awhile in his music.  However, I did find some renewed interest in these later album cuts, and maybe we just need to live with them a few more years.  Except that friggin' Capeman thing.  It's time to give up on that one.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


Sometimes you know too much about your subject.  I know WAY too much about the making of, and myth of SMiLE.  It's one of those nerdy, record collector things that some people got into years ago, and I was one of them.  I can bore you to tears on this, especially if you don't buy into the "greatest album of all time" talk.  My mind was made up years ago, when I heard about these infamous unreleased sessions from 1966-67.  But if you have never heard of them, or heard the music before, gosh, it's going to be hard to give you a concise review.

I'll step back a little, and give you the legend, in summary.  Brian Wilson, leader of The Beach Boys, was on a streak in 1966, having put together his masterpiece album, Pet Sounds, and the world-wide hit Good Vibrations.  If those recordings had stunned listeners and his peers (The Beatles acknowledged his greatness at the time, as did most), now he was ready to blow minds.  Together with a far-out lyricist named Van Dyke Parks, he hit the studios with the best session musicians in L.A. to create his "teenage symphony to God".  SMiLE was a collection of compositions with a loose theme of America, encompassing history, environment, the elements, humour, and youth culture.  The music would continue in the style of composition he pioneered with Good Vibrations, recording interlocking sections and interchangeable parts.  That gem had taken six months to record, and featured many unused and abandoned ideas, as Wilson searched for the right order, composition, instruments, and lyrics.  Now that would be expanded to a whole album.

Recording began smoothly enough, but a variety of problems soon overtook the project.  There was some hostility among the members of the group, not an uncommon thing in their history.  There was Brian's already fragile mental health, which included undiagnosed major issues.  There was increasing drug use, which did not sit well with his mental state.  There was some very tense business going on with Capitol Records, including missing royalties and the band attempting to set up their own label.  Then, amidst all this tension, Parks flew the coop, as the sessions collapsed.

Rumours and tall tales came thick and fast.  The album had already been promised and publicized, and when it was replaced the the lowly Smiley Smile (which brother Carl Wilson accurately described as "a bunt instead of a grand slam"), everyone wondered what had happened to the real masterpiece.  It soon became obvious that something existed;  The Beach Boys would raid the tapes nearly every album over the next five years, as Brian withdrew into his house and abandoned his leadership.  The group would either rework or attempt to overdub the songs, usually with great results, as the songs themselves were quite excellent.

So eventually the hard-core fans figured out this SMiLE album did in fact exist, and in tantalizingly near-complete form.  The group even promised its release in 1972, but that didn't happen.  The word was that it couldn't be done without Brian, and Brian couldn't do it as he was no longer capable.  Over the years, not only legitimate songs appeared, but so did bootlegs, as unknown parties leaked their fragments and tapes, and collectors compiled more and more information.  I was privy to much of this material as early as 1978.  The more tapes that appeared, the closer the final form could be guessed.  More and more fans, especially musicians, became enamored with the myth and music.  I can remember trading tapes with Jay Ferguson of Sloan, for instance, back in the mid-90's.  With the explosion of the internet, all of a sudden everyone had access to the information, and the bootlegs.

In 2004, the unthinkable happened.  Brian Wilson, who for years had trembled at the mention of his abandoned masterpiece, actually had become mentally stable enough to tour and record again.  He was asked, and with the help of his touring band, actually tackled the long-delayed problem of completing SMiLE.  Even he had no idea what the final form would have been, as those decisions had not been made at the time, and he truly forgot some of the plans.  But with his groups, and Parks, he was able to put together an approximation, and he recorded a completely new version.  It was an artistic triumph.  And now there was only one thing left to do, revisit the master tapes and release them.

So, here it is, in all its fame and experimental greatness.  The producers, long-time Beach Boys archival associates, have put together different versions, depending on your level of interest.  Those with basic curiosity are directed to a two CD or two LP version (slightly different).  Us SMiLE nerds (now numbering tens of thousands) will be shelling out at least $120 for a five CD, 2-LP and 2-45 rpm set, with a hard-cover book, huge poster, bells, whistles and smiles.  Using the 2004 re-recording as a template, they have assembled the original versions into an album which might have been SMiLE.  It's as close as we'll ever get, and it's dynamite.  Then, over the other discs, you get all the other parts and sessions, which are just as fascinating as the completed songs.  There are abandoned themes and different instruments used, vocal attempts and failures, studio debates and false-takes, but each one features this incredible music coming at you.  So many groups have been borrowing and stealing the style through the decades since.  How can you tell?  Each time you hear a bass harmonica or a theremin or a cello or a banjo in a pop song, or some other combination of rare instruments, or of course, the famous harmonies, there's a good chance it's from a bunch of kids who spent hours listening to their copies of SMiLE fragments.  That's Cabin Essence, by the way, piano-cello-banjo-flute-harmonica.  Brilliance.

And now.. we have those fragments, not bootlegs and bad copies, but the real deal.  Probably all of the pieces, or at least the great majority.  At least all the substantially different parts are here, and if there are others there's little chance they'll be found now.  Listening to the complete boxed set, you get to sit in the control room while Wilson conducts his band-mates and the studio whizzes, and we hear the songs build up as they come together.  Who knows if Wilson would have continued, and created more music for his jigsaw puzzle, or if he could have completed it back then.  Who knows if it would have wiped out the competition, including Sgt. Pepper, if it had been released in the Summer Of Love.  Heck, it could have bombed, too.  Those arguments will continue, probably with even greater intensity now that everyone has access.  If you've never heard this stuff, a lot of you are about to be blown away.  Lots more will wonder what all the hype is about, and go back to their belief that the Stones or Zeppelin or Nirvana or Jay-Z made a lot better music.  For some of us, November 1, 2011, will be a date we'll always remember, when a dream was actually fulfilled.  That's the intensity with which life-long SMiLE fans are greeting this release.

But, back to my main job, which is to review this collection for you, with the assumption you've not heard it yet.  Here's what I can tell you:  If you like Good Vibrations, and want to hear two or five CD's worth of music that is a lot like it, that's what you'll find here.  As for myself, I'm going to be In My Room, SMiLing.