Friday, December 28, 2012


Now this is a rare thing:  An American Idol winner that I like.  Well, like may be too strong.  Let's say I don't hate him.  Since I don't follow the program, I can't comment on what's going on with the contestants but I have heard the many albums over the years, and wished I hadn't.  Phillips on the other hand has made a full, quality debut disc that shows all the marks of a complete talent rather than a manufactured one.  He's a songwriter, a strong singer, and has a progressive feel to his music, rather than the usual Idol pop or country-by-numbers.

However, he's hardly an innovator.  This is produced for the Mumford fans, or maybe the Avett Brothers followers, and he owes royalties to Dave Matthews for the loan of his voice.  Hit single Home is a bit more pop than the rest of his album, written for him as the finale song for Idol, but really isn't far from his own material.  There's more of a groove to his own songs, that hippie folk-rock with big beats.  Again, it's nothing new, but it's modern.  There are occasional jazz touches as well, including the song Drive Me, which adds a sax solo and a horn backing, and that's probably the biggest innovation.

The thing is, he's an Idol winner, and there's too much at stake for him to get the full freedom for his debut.  This is an immaculately produced set, and it doesn't stray far from the above-mentioned influences, plus the little touches found in the sound of Arcade Fire and Fleet Foxes.  But for once, I'm keen to hear how this guy develops, because it's possible he'll bring even more respectability to the Idol franchise.  Then again, he's already yesterday's news in that show's plans, and I'll be perfectly happy to keep ignoring them unless they find more like this guy.

Thursday, December 27, 2012


Movie-making kinda got me down a few years back, about the time everything switched to superheroes and major action films, and it became hard to find anything worth a fifty dollar night at the theatre.  Yes, there are still some good ones if you look hard, but I no longer follow the new releases with any great interest.  I say this only to explain that I don't know where Quentin Tarantino rates these days.  I haven't seen the reviews for this latest film, except that my kid liked it a lot.  That means there's a good chance I will as well.

I can tell you that Tarantino is one of great soundtrack makers.  He's actually created a genre of his own; he's not a composer but a collector and compiler, and what he does is strip-mine from all his favourite sources and influences.  The music is as much an influence on the film as the story is, and it's hard to say when it entered into his thoughts, and if it changed the direction of the script, or the mood of a scene.  That's how strongly music figures in his concept of films.

Tarantino's knowledge of soundtrack music is formidable, and he has a great sense of the sound of certain songs.  Think of his previous use of surf music, instrumental rock, Mexican sounds, vintage hits, you name it.  He seems to love something from most genres, and has an ability to mix seemingly disparate sources and have them blend into one film.  That's precisely what you get with this latest, Django Unchained.  Set in the 1800's, it pulses with modern hip-hop, Italian spaghetti Western music, soul, and a Jim Croce song.  Several of the cuts come from other movies, where they hit the obsessive Tarantino hard.  He recycles Morricone four times, two of them from the film Two Mules For Sister Sara.  He commissioned new songs, and grand ones, from John Legend, and a gem called Freedom by Anthony Hamilton and Elayna Boynton.  There's even a brand-new mash-up of James Brown's The Payback (originally a soundtrack song, natch) and 2Pac's Untouchable. 

Seriously, this guy is on fire with ideas.  There are few songs here I would normally play in any context, but when they are joined together on this collection, it's magic.  The only complaint I have is the now-overused tactic of taking bits of dialogue out of the film and putting them between songs.  They mean nothing if you haven't memorized the film, and I'm grooving on the tunes here.

Saturday, December 22, 2012


It's pretty rare when the bonus tracks are better than the album on a deluxe version, especially when the album is pretty good, too.  The Jam were big believers in the old-school idea of singles, and they liked issuing 45 RPM and 12-inch tracks that weren't on albums proper.  And, they put a lot of work into the b-sides, they didn't just toss on throwaways.  So when you get The Gift, plus all the A and B-sides, and then a whole pile of demos, this is indeed one deluxe package, made much better than the original album.  Single tracks  here include the excellent The Bitterest Pill, and the group's swansong, Beat Surrender.

This was the last Jam album, as Paul Weller famously pulled the plug on the group he'd lead since he was 14, at the height of their success.  He was tired of it, tired of rock music, and was moving into sophisticated soul.  A much smoother and bigger sound is featured here, along with plenty of horns, and you can follow along on this path with the nine demos presented here.  There's also some of the sleek, Euro-pop sounds that would move to the forefront on his next project, the anti-rock Style Council.  Deeply influenced by clubs and classic soul at the time, Weller even had the group try on some cover versions as b-sides.  Best of them is a take on Curtis Mayfield's Move On Up, with a falsetto he would use on much of his own music.  War, the Edwin Starr hit, was less successful, not gritty enough for such a major message song.  But it's great to have these studio versions right alongside the originals, showing where the influence came from.

It's an interesting moment in time for Weller, shifting away from the crunchy post-punk of The Jam.  Honestly, I always found The Style Council way too precious and high-concept, right down to the tailored image and clothes they presented.  Here, Weller still had the heavy beat of The Jam to consider and serve, and the soul sounds worked much better.  As deluxe editions go, this is one of the best ones I've heard, with none of the additional cuts spread over the two discs filler for completists.

Thursday, December 20, 2012


Sometimes you don't have to think too hard about an album to know it's a gem.  Case in point, Luke Jackson's.  I slapped the vinyl on the trusty turntable, and started listening in my usual manner, picking up the particulars, but perhaps missing the big picture a bit.  Meanwhile, my 19-year old walks in, asks "Whatcha listening to?", and in just a couple of seconds, makes up his mind.  "That's really good, huh?"  From the mouths of babes...

Jackson's album is not new.  It came out in 2008, but I missed that particular boat at the time.  Luckily, I met him recently in Toronto through a mutual friend, and he kindly sent along the vinyl.  180-gram vinyl pressings were pretty rare and pricey four years back, but he said he wanted done right, with the best possible sound.  That's because the whole project was that way, from the creation to the listener's ears.  Jackson got a chance to make his dream album, and went top-grade all the way.

Jackson is a transplanted Englishman, with an ear towards glorious pop.  He had struck up a correspondence with a musical hero from Sweden, Magnus Borjeson, who was playing in The Cardigans.  Plans were hatched, and soon Jackson found himself in Sweden, recording with Borjeson, and producer Christoffer Lundquist, formerly of Roxette.  That's hit-making pedigree right there.  But once again, Jackson was thinking big, and when he wanted to add orchestration, he again went to the top.  He sent the works-in-progress to renowned arranger Robert Kirby, the man who put the strings and magic into the seminal recordings of British folk icon Nick Drake, and who had gone on to a special career working with Elvis Costello, John Cale and others.  Kirby quickly accepted, and as it turned out, fell in love with the songs.  Kirby himself enthused, "This is one of the best albums I have ever had the honour to be let loose on".

Reviewers at the time of release agreed.  In a four-star rating, Mojo Magazine called it "one of those albums it's impossible not to love."  Blurt called it one of the most significant discoveries of the year.  From his Toronto base, and all across Europe came knowing accolades.  And the thing about great albums is they don't go out of style.  Four years on, it may be my first listen, but I love what the others heard then.  Whether it's the full-on pop explosion of upbeat numbers such as Come Tomorrow and Goodbye London, or the gentle and rich melodies of the orchestrated numbers such as A Little Voice and All I Can Do, Jackson's made a record, yes, a record, that lights up our senses.  There's fun and joy in places, nostalgia and melancholy, truths and even beauty.

While many of us have been getting used to vinyl again, or discovering it for the first time, ...And Then Some reminds me of how albums used to feel.  The 20-minute sides seem to rush through, not nearly enough, making you leap to the table to flip it over.  Unlike CD's, or downloads, this leaves me wanting more, wanting to play it again, not clicking buttons to find something else.  For pop-rock fans who love hooks, highs, and richness, with a flow between bright rockers and sweet softness, this should remind you of the high you got when you first tore off the shrink-wrap from your favourite albums.

Do yourself a favour and order yourself a Christmas present: or go to

Monday, December 17, 2012


Missing that perfect new Christmas album this year?  The one you play over and over again, trimming the tree, the one you can't wait to  play when friends and family come over?  Look no further, I've got it.  It is, of course, the grand reunion of John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John...  Nah, I'm kidding.  Don't go there.  Instead, check out B.C.'s Reid Jamieson.  His holiday offering is called Songs For A Winter's Night, after the beloved Gordon Lightfoot song, covered here.  It's a collection of some well-known, but surprising choices, and a few of his own originals. 

Jamieson is finishing up a month of shows where he was once again the featured musical guest on Stuart MacLean's Vinyl Cafe tour, helping bring the Christmas spirit to folks from Toronto to Vancouver.  The  magic of his new collection is in the very different cover versions chosen, certainly not the usual set.  The theme is really more about winter and the season than Santa, and that opened up the songbook for some gems.  Bruce Cockburn's Coldest Night Of The Year fits for sure, as does Gene MacLellan's Snowbird.  Another smart move is the old classic, Canadian Sunset, popularized by the late Andy Williams, with its classic soft-jazz feel.  You might remember the song Winter Time, on Steve Miller's huge hit album Book Of Dreams, a completely different sound than you'd normally hear on a seasonal disc, with its quiet, atmospheric mood.  Originally a guitar-overdub piece, Jamieson makes it more of a relaxed ballad, bringing out the sweet melody.

It's his treatments that draw you in.  Recorded at his home studio, the album has a warm, personal feel, with Jamieson's calming, emotive vocals shining.  The best, and bravest recasting is found on Band Aid's Do They Know It's Christmas.  We've heard it a thousand times, but not like this, stripped of the bombastic gang approach, made mellow, so that we can focus on the lyric, which actually has the power of a strong protest song.  The job done on Tori Amos's Winter is strong too, and you'd certainly not recognize it from his acoustic reading.

The originals are in the same mood, and all are good additions.  Written with his wife and musical partner Carolyn Victoria Mill, who sings, plays, helped produce and chose the tracks, Sentimental Song opens the disc and sets the tone with its heart-warming melody and sweet-but-sad lyrics about memories of mom during the season.  Songs For  A Winter's Night accomplishes the three important goals for a grand Christmas album.  Everybody will like hearing it in your home, you'll like listening to it when you're alone, and you'll want to pull it back out next year.

Thursday, December 13, 2012


The A Very Special Christmas series has presented a lot of great Christmas collections over the years.  We've heard new songs recorded by major stars, and some rare b-sides and such made easily available, making over $100 million for the Special Olympics.  The very first collection in 1987 featured some of the biggest stars of the day, including Bruce Springsteen, Sting, U2, John Mellencamp, and The Pretenders.  There was usually a few people worth listening too, if you were a music junkie, mixed in with more mass-appeal folks like Whitney Houston, Bon Jovi, and Madonna.  No matter your tastes, you could usually hold your nose for the odd cut or two that didn't fit your style.  And there were always some special treats, like Run-DMC giving us Christmas In Hollis.

That mostly continued through the years, except that in those days it was very rare to hear new artists doing classic covers, such as U2 doing Phil Spector's Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).  Now, everybody has done it, and there's isn't a track out there that hasn't been beaten to death in the stampede of Christmas albums of the last two decades, in no small part due to the V. Special Christmas series.

For the 25th anniversary, they would have had the choice of doing an anthology of great tracks over the past releases, but they have already done that, plus all the original albums are still available.  So this does feature new stuff, but boy, has the pot been diluted.  These used to be CD's I'd be glad to play at least a couple of times over the holidays, but aside from a couple of tracks, there's not much to get excited about.  The compilers have eased into a middle-of-the-road format, similar to dozens of other compilations that will come out this year, and line the shelves from seasons past.  It's the adult contemporary crowd, including Amy Grant, Vince Gill, Rascal Flatts and Martina McBride from the country side, and in the pop world, the always-present Michael Buble, Christina Aguilera, and Jason Mraz.  There are names I've never run across, such as Wonder Girls, Graydon Sanders and Jono, and Francesca Battistelli, none of whom make me care that I don't know them, or even lead me to Google them.  Dave Matthews is about the hippest name (**clears throat**), with a live version of his Christmas Song from a 2010 concert.

I'll single out two songs which I liked.  The big number here is a new track from Train, and I must admit their Joy To The World is a different and cool take on the usual.  The one real piece of fun belongs to the always-entertaining Cheap Trick, who have re-made their classic I Want You To Want Me into I Want You For Christmas.  It's the only song that rocks, too.

It's too bad this is what has become of the Very Special Christmas series, but I have a feeling they know what they're doing.  They've certainly made a ton of money over the years for the good cause, and this is probably what will sell the most.  It's too bad it sounds likes almost every other Christmas compilation out there.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


1975 was a year of transition for The Who.  The previous major tour for the band had featured the latest Pete Townshend major work, Quadrophenia.  But it had failed to match, and replace, the rock opera Tommy as the band's set piece.  Disastrous live shows saw backing tapes fail, frustrating Townshend's ambitions for the drama on stage.  Inter-band tension was also building, Roger Daltry looking for more big rock songs to belt, and Keith Moon's life spiraling out of control, threatening to disable the effort at any moment. 

The compromise was a non-thematic album, Who By Numbers, a collection Daltry was allowed to select from the various numbers Townshend presented. Although a chart and sales success, it was not full of memorable songs, and when the band hit the road again, they found themselves repeating most of the old favourites.  And the old albatross was back; Tommy was a hit once again, thanks to the recent Ken Russell movie.  Now a whole new audience, especially in the U.S., were braying for Pinball Wizard and See Me, Feel Me.  Quadrophenia was scrapped, save for one lone tune, Drowned, and a mid-show set of Tommy highlights was back in its place.

Filmed with just two cameras at a Houston venue, the restorers have done yeoman's work on this nearly-two hour concert.  Long-time Who associate Jon Astley remixed the sound to fine results, and the less-than-industry standard visuals are made to work almost as well.  It's only one camera for the first few songs, one from the left, slightly above, and only able to zoom in at times.  It takes some desperate dissolves to get through.  Thankfully, the second cameraman arrives, and gets some better, straight-on shots to go with it.  But compared to today's 9 or 19-camera shoots, this is bare-bones.  Then again, so is the show.

It's the four guys, the songs the crowd knew then, and you know now:  Substitute, I Can't Explain, Behind Blue Eyes, Baba O'Riley.  The new album is dealt with near the start.  The radio hit Squeeze Box is tossed off as the light-weight piece it is, and two more numbers follow, with Who By Numbers not spoken of again in the show.  So far, so-so.  But then "Thomas" is introduced, and the old magic is back.  However sick they must have been of it, they never failed to pull it off, Daltry especially relishing his front man role, able to rivet attention with his powerhouse performance.  After that, they've got the crowd where they want, and knock it out of the park with more classics, including Summertime Blues, My Generation, Magic Bus and Won't Get Fooled Again.

After seeing this group doing concept tours so many times, it's interesting to watch them simply playing.  They are enjoying themselves, especially Moon the Loon.  On this night, he's on his game, and quite funny.  Yelling joke comments from behind the kit at the others, standing and demanding applause at his stool, even coming forward to invade Daltry's space and make song introductions, he's quite hilarious.  Sadly, he would barely be able to play within two years.  Having that one fixed camera on the left turns out to be a bonus for John Entwistle watchers too (if such a type exists).  He's happily in view for his big number, Boris The Spider, and I've never noticed how many harmonies he provided on the 60's songs especially.

There's no quintessential Who moments here; Townshend's theatrics are kept to windmill or two, and a couple of nice leaps.  Nobody trashes guitars or drums.  The sun doesn't rise during Listening To You.  There are a handful of rare live numbers, including Naked Eye, Roadrunner, However Much I Booze and Dreaming From The Waist.  Yet its excellent in itself, proof that night-in, night-out, The Who almost always delivered as one of the greatest live acts ever.

Sunday, December 9, 2012


This should be a pretty easy decision for you.  If you like the Great American Songbook disc, okay fine.  If you wish he still sang Maggie May, he doesn't here either.  It's the usual holiday songs, backed by an orchestra and produced by David Foster.  That's like adding sugar to your egg nog.  In case you are still holding out hope Stewart might inject a little soul into the proceedings, all there is is a decent duet with Cee Lo Green on the title cut, but it barely gets moving, a rote version of this overdone favourite.  Elsewhere, the guests keep showing up, including the ubiquitous Christmas elf Micheal Buble, Chris Botti, and Mary J. Blige. 

Stewart also commits sacrilege, doing one of those duets with the deceased, grafting on some Ella Fitzgerald vocals to What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?  This really must stop, and fast; there's no reason for it, and it's basically grave-robbing.  He obviously thinks he's in the same class as a singer, and that isn't the case.  Oops, guess I'm showing which Rod I like better.  The only present here is a download code for a track from his next album coming in the spring.  It says it's going to be a ROCK album (the italics are theirs).  I guess I'm not the only one demanding an end to this syrup.  I couldn't bear to listen though, I'd rather live with the hope and hear the whole album, than be disappointed early.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


Some people make Christmas albums just for fun, because they like the songs and season.  Others do it, sadly, because there's always a market.  Some want to rise to the heights of the best, say Bing Crosby or Phil Spector's Christmas album.  For veteran axeman Gogo, he saw it as a challenge.  At first, he admits he didn't think much of the idea, but then warmed to the idea of finding a bunch of great blues songs in the spirit.  Also, as he'd never made a pure blues album, it seemed a good opportunity to stretch that way.

Putting together a dream team of his favourite West Coast players, Gogo went deep into the vaults for blues numbers both well-known and obscure.  Plus he added a couple of his originals to truly make it a challenge.  What you get is a classic blues album, Christmas or not.  There are stinging leads, as he bends into the cuts.  Also featuring are veteran piano man David Vest, providing the Charles Brown licks, and the up-and-coming harp player Shawn Hall, who's been dazzling the blues community with his new band The Harpoonist & The Axe Murderer.

Gogo draws on his own life for Let's Get A Real Tree.  He actually does live on a Christmas tree farm, as he says in the spoken word intro.  From there, it's an admission that despite his left-coast P.C. leanings, from recycling to keeping the toilet seat down, he has to have the real deal instead of the more environmentally-friendly reusable decoration:  "Don't be a hippie, let's get a real tree."  The other original takes him down south for some gumbo instead of turkey, on the funky Christmas On The Bayou.  As for the covers, there's a nice take on Brown's annual favourite Please Come Home For Christmas, far more bluesy than the bland Eagles version.  Things really rock on the Leiber/Stoller number for Elvis, Santa Claus Is Back In Town.  This one's for Gogo to show off his string style, playing killer solos between every line, and then scorching his way through twelve bars in the middle.  Hall gets to show off his tricks on the version of Little Drummer Boy, certainly the first time it's become a blues harp instrumental.

Of all the various genres, I think I like blues Christmas albums the best.  Every year a couple come out that join my collection of favourite holiday albums, and this one joins that elite club for 2012.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


The Burlington, Ontario band's first album, 1981's Stick Figure Neighbourhood, was a breakthrough, but the followup made them rare Canadian stars from the New Wave world.  Arias & Symphonies is a rare gem from that time, a synth album that rocked, danced, and had good to great tunes.  Now 30, it's nice to see classic Canadiana getting the deluxe anniversary treatment usually reserved for international star CD's.

In fact, the album did get some international respect, and certainly strong reviews in the U.S. and Europe.  Here was a troupe that could hold its own in the synth boom, and a degree catchier than albums of the day from OMD and Simple Minds, groups that had yet figured out how to bring in enough beats and hooks to fully integrate the keyboards and drum machines.  The Spoons were a more complete band, with Gord Deppe handling guitar and vocals, Sandy Horne bass and some singing, Derrick Ross providing both real and programmed beats, and Rob Preuss playing all those swoops.  So you'd have a track like South American Vacation which opens with a drum machine, a synth keyboard joining in, and then things get going with guitar and bass turning it into a rock song.  Deppe had just the right kind of slightly-worldly voice that made it all modern.

A good reason the album sounds so sparkling today is the production of John Punter, a vet of Roxy Music and Japan, no stranger to taking cutting-edge sounds and finding that bit of Top 40 in them.  That's what happened with Nova Heart, still arguably the group's best-loved number.  It was groundbreaking in its time, getting what would soon to be called alternative music on radio across Canada, enough to land them a gold album.  Remember, this was at a time when The Police couldn't get played on some squarer stations. 

I won't lie, like most early 80's synth music, Arias is dated in lots of places.  But when Deppe's guitar solo rips apart A Girl In Two Pieces, and then he starts off Walk The Plank with some angular, metallic riffs, it proves this is a lot more interesting than most of the peer music from then.  The bonus cuts included here make that even more obvious, with a six-song live set proving they were far more than a studio group, and a new mix of Nova Heart showing it's still perfect for club nights.  Happy B-day Spoons.

Monday, December 3, 2012


Trent Severn is above all else, Canadian.  The trio takes its name from a waterway in Southern Ontario, the area common to them all, and was formed by three friends determined to "write songs that touch the hearts and tell the stories of our Canadian friends, neighbours and legends."  That's quite the manifesto, but certainly one that should raise a little national pride, not a bad thing in the music community.

The group is made up of some surprising folks, best known for quality pop than the roots-folk presented here.  Emm Gryner has Juno nominations, her own record label to put out her thinking-person's albums, and a year in David Bowie's band on her resume.  Dayna Manning has three of her own albums of strong singer-songwriter stuff, and Laura Bates is an in-demand modern fiddler.  But when they got together, they chucked that aside for a new-found interest in harmonizing together, and playing basic instruments such as banjo, fiddle and bass.  And lots and lots of harmony.  It really is a vocal group first, and they do indeed have a blend.

Lead track Snowy Soul spells it out pretty well.  Their voices ring out, with a CSN-inspired blend.  The Tragically Hip are playing on a stereo, and the song is about the far north, about someone who wants to get back there, "When Churchill feels like Memphis, you know you're a cold rolling stone."  It's a potent mix, their vocals soaring high and clear, like chimes.  Elsewhere, there's more of a folksy sound, with Appalachian and mountain music as an influence.  This is a bit odd at times, given the Canadian background of the members, and the purpose of the group, and feels for a time like they've joined all those other post-O Brother bands.  For a precarious moment, comparisons to Alison Krauss come to mind.

Thankfully though, the group return to folk more suited to this side of the border, and we can bask in all the Northern reflections.  It's impressive and clever how much they cram in, from references to Hinterland's Who's Who, to Brian Mulroney and Free Trade, to Crown Royal and the Black Donnellys.  Best of all is Bluenose On A Dime, about moving from L.A. to Montreal, and discovering Kate McGarrigle is your new neighbour:  "Everything just got better/Living in an NHL sweater all the time/Bluenose on a dime and you were mine." 

The members of Trent Severn didn't have to do this, and didn't have to be so blatantly Canadian.  It's usually against our nature to be so obvious, unless you're Stompin' Tom.  It feels a little weird at first, but pretty quickly it feels just right.

Monday, November 26, 2012


This is the soundtrack to a new, critically-acclaimed film about a man with bipolar disorder, and the woman he meets struggling with her own problems.  The title may be awkward, but the music is first-class, that great mix of old and new, obscure and better-known names.  Hot new group Alabama Shakes are here, with a terrific track, Always Alright, a live and YouTube favourite not on their debut album, making its first available appearance here.  Another major new track is Buffalo, by the hot British act Alt-J, who recently grabbed the U.K.'s Mercury Prize for their first album.  Here, they are backed by the female vocal trio Mountain Man, most recently Feist's backing vocalists on tour.  It's a charming, light-folk influenced number, with lots of mystery and modern effects behind.

Often the trick to a good soundtrack is staying away from overused cuts, and going deeper into the catalogues of great musicians for forgotten gems.  The only really well-known one here is Stevie Wonder's Ma Cherie Amour, which is certainly not his most played cut at least.  But elsewhere, there are lots of surprises.  Most today will only know Dave Brubeck for Take Five, but here we get two more excellent numbers from his Quartet, Unsquare Dance (excellent title, eh?), and Maria.  Same goes for Les Paul and Mary Ford, who usually only get How High The Moon heard.  The Moon Of Manakoora is another example of the duo's great chemistry, and Paul's unbelievable early production inventions.  And obscure Bob Dylan, is it possible?  Well, only the bigger fans have heard the version of Girl From The North Country that he did as a duet with Johnny Cash, and included on the Nashville Skyline album.

There are several excellent choices by surprising names.  Eagles of Death Metal, Josh Homme's humourously-named other band, do the best one, Now I'm A Fool, an acoustic-driven number from 2008 that's more Eagles than Death Metal.  Ambrosia Parsley & the Elegant Too contribute Goodnight Moon, kinda like latter-day Leonard Cohen stuff, with more zip.  And CrabCorps, so under-the-radar they don't even have a Wikipedia entry (that's saying something - even I have a Wikipedia bio, somehow), do a too-cool, slowed-down, serious version of The Monster Mash.  Really.  Anyway, this was a really fine listen, from start to finish, and if you have more than two or three of these songs in your collection already, well, you're a better record collector than most.

Sunday, November 25, 2012


It's pretty telling when even the liner notes admit there have been way too many CCR hits packages.  I have no good way to count them, but every base has been covered:  greatest hits, best of, box sets, deluxe ones, cheap ones, packaged in cheesy tin boxes, TV-only collections, best of John Fogerty (featuring live versions of CCR numbers), and every one of them including the same dozen or so hits.

Ah, but what hits they are:  Down On The Corner, Fortunate Son, Travelin' Band, Lodi, Who'll Stop The Rain, everything from giddy celebrations of rock n' roll and youth, to sharp social and political
criticism, all in the Top 40 in about a three-year stretch.  Those same liner notes try to clumsily make a comparison between CCR and The Beatles.  But that's just silly.  Instead, how about seeing Fogerty as the white Marvin Gaye or Curtis Mayfield of the day, making great grooves while using the platform to speak out and be counted.

At least they did try to make this set different.  It's a well-priced, three-disc collection.  The first two take a novel approach, mixing all the hits with the deep cuts from the Creedence albums.  For the most part, only the baby boomers know the full albums such as Willy and the Poor Boys and Cosmo's Factory.  Everyone since has been brought up on the  greatest hits albums.  So rarely-heard numbers are here:  Wrote A Song For Everyone, Commotion, Pagan Baby.  The trouble is, the quality varies.  Fogarty was pushing head-long at a time when record companies still demanded as much as possible, two or three albums a year.  There's a big drop-off between the A and B material.

What truly makes this a different collection though, is disc three.  It's all live, all from the heyday, and proves what a potent concert act they were.  The other three members weren't place holders on stage, and this was a well-oiled machine that could crank it up.  Fogarty, then as now, was a great front man, thrilled to sing you the tales, and he and his brother Tom were a mean guitar duo.  To make this mini-concert, the compilers have pulled tracks from a number of sources.  Sadly, all of them were previously released, but in packages most won't own.  There are several of the bonus tracks from the 40th anniversary reissues of the original discs, as well as a few from the often out-of-print The Concert album.  Whoever made the mix of these tracks did a great job, as it flows really well, and seems like it could be one great night.  It does bug me that no unreleased live material was sourced out, or allowed by the powers-that-be.  You know it's out there being held back for another time, as a further incentive to buy the same hits again.

Friday, November 23, 2012


Ah, one of the most famous live albums of all time, The Who - Live at ...hey, what the Hull?  This isn't Leeds, but it's darn close.  In fact, it's the very next night, after the legendary recording that sealed The Who's reputation as one of the great live acts of all time, and proved that Tommy was no fluke, as it sold a ton.  It turns out both Leeds and Hull were fully recorded, but there were problems with the Hull tapes, so they were shelved and forgotten.

That was in 1970, when the technology was basic.  But when the vaults were scoured decades later, the Hull tapes were deemed worthy of saving.  However, it has to be one of the most demanding restorations ever attempted.  The big problem was that there was no bass for the first few songs, it was simply unplugged from the mix.  The solution was remarkable;  John Entwistle's playing from the Leeds show was flown in, note by note, and placed on the missing tracks with ProTools accuracy.  Would you know it if they hadn't admitted it?  No way.  You can't tell at all.  Man, that technology, eh?  Lots of other flaws were fixed as well, clicks and pops and even a 20-second gap when reels were being changed.  They simply plopped in the missing bit from the Leeds show again.  Any more than that, and you might cry foul, but 20 seconds, I can live with.  That doesn't mean the set is perfect.  Unlike most live albums, there's been no studio overdubbing, no parts re-done to correct mistakes.  The errors are here, from flubbed vocals to less-than-perfect playing.  But there sure isn't much of it.  This is The Who in their very prime, constantly touring, still in physical shape (looking at you, Keith Moon), and just a great rock band.

What you get here is the whole concert, including the entire Tommy performance, nearly two hours.  The only major editorial move is shifting Tommy onto the second disc, a little out of sequence, as closer My Generation now ends disc one instead.  For those of you who haven't upgraded your Live At Leeds from the original vinyl, and it's famous six songs, that CD has come out as a deluxe version as well, with the entire concert.  There's absolutely nothing different in the set list between Hull and Leeds, except Leeds got one more encore, Magic Bus, because they were a much better audience.  Indeed, the Hull crowd are barely noticeable, partly because there was only one mic. recording them, and partly because they weren't a great crowd, according to those there.

The band, however, are smoking.  Hearing them cruise through the hits set in the first half of the concert, linking several tracks together including Happy Jack, I'm A Boy and A Quick One, While He's Away proves how tight they were on this material.  Then, the raw awesomeness of Summertime Blues and Shakin' All Over lets you know Leeds wasn't a one-night deal, they were incendiary most every night.  If you don't have a full, early Tommy performance in your collection, you won't go wrong with this one; the band truly pull off a 50-minute rock opera, with each member, but especially Roger Daltry, rising to the challenge of playing a role in a grand production, something bigger than any other rock concert to that point.

Here's my recommendation on this;  If you have any of the Deluxe Leeds shows, with the full two-hour set, this is repetitive, and you'll get all you need from Leeds.  If you just have a regular Leeds, or none at all, this will do just grand to get you a full, vintage Who show, especially with the Tommy disc, really a must for any Who fan.  If you're a nutty Who fan, I can tell you, hey, this is almost as good as Leeds, you'd best get it as well.

Thursday, November 22, 2012


Two pieces of great news here.  First, this isn't just the normal stick-out-a-greatest hits-every-five-years collection.  There's a darn good reason.  The band has reunited, and will release their first album of new music early next year.  The second bit is that there's already new music in the can, and two tracks, both grand, are included here.  Such is the quality, that the appealing and poppy Good To See You (an appropriate return song) leads off the disc, and I had to check to make sure it wasn't one of their hits I couldn't remember from back in the day.

Back when I wrote the Top 100 Canadian Singles, I think I got more complaints that The Grapes weren't included than any other band or artist.  Of course, the jury for the book came close to voting them in, with a couple of songs "bubbling under", in the top 110.  That shows how much their fans love them, and how arbitrary list books are, but you bet they deserve a ton of respect.  Through the 80's and early 90's they released a unchecked string of bright and smart pop tracks, some sweet as could be, some edgy and tough, some acoustic and quiet.  You May Be Right might be my favourite, with its Beatles/Badfinger magic and mystery, the bass upfront, clean and clear, a swirling organ, the guitars slightly gritty, a real gem in total.  There are plenty of memorable ones, on par with that one:  Peace Of Mind, All The Things I Wasn't, I Am Here, but it's the combined clout of the 15 old ones here that proves what a substantial body of work they made.

The earliest numbers, such as Misunderstanding, have a slightly dated feel to them, mid-80's post-punk, anglophile production.  But soon the group had embraced the glory of three minute perfection, the time-honoured beauty of chiming guitars and hook upon hook.  Like fellow B.C.'ers The Odds, they conquered the form, and that's what makes Singles such as joy, if you are indeed a singles fan.  Best of all, Good To See You, shows Kevin Kane and the Hooper brothers, Tom and Chris, still know exactly how to do it.  Welcome back.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


Jackson's a strong roots songwriter from Kitchener, with five previous albums to her credit, and a growing body of high-quality, emotional and open tunes.  I was first introduced to her on her last album, Coming Down, in 2010, which saw her stretching past her folk and alt-country past, with more band sounds and rock touches.  She's striking a better blend here, with a more diverse set of songs.  She keeps a few rockers around, such as Truth I Know, with it's quick-time beat and raw guitar solo, plus a reggae break-down mid-way through.  But there's a return to heartbreak acoustic, and a good bit of it. 

Alt-country though?  No, although there are a couple of examples of it.  Miss Sinaloa qualifies, a sad acoustic song about the evil that men do, intense and striking, an extremely effective lyric.  But elsewhere, Yellow Moon is a centerpiece song, with a weeping pedal steel and acoustic bass.  It has a campfire, Western feel, just a hint of Tex-Mex.  Spare A Little Rain has more of a jazz feel, the acoustic bass this time teamed with congas, sweetened by electric piano.

With so much music coming from her in a decade of recording, Jackson obviously has lots sounds she wants to explore.  Good on her, I say, there's no point sitting on a style or sound if you've got the interest and the goods to mix it up.  And when all the results come out this well, listeners will have no problem following along.  After all, it's all connected by fine writing, some soul-deep stuff.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


Well, you had to be there of course, but not many of us could be.  One time only, at the O2 Arena in London, December 10, 2007.  It was the reunion everyone had hoped for, with the only drummer that made sense, Jason Bonham, son of the late Bonzo.  Could it be anything but brilliant?  It had to be, they couldn't go down in flames, it was a matter of pride.  These cocky old soldiers were probably never worried about it, they just knew it was only a matter of practice, and getting young Jason up to snuff.  It wouldn't be a rush job, like the flat performance at Live Aid, with Phil Collins sitting in.  This was about legacy; it counted.

It came off so well, that everybody but Robert Plant was up for more.  Plant scotched that, quite rightly as it turned out, since he's had a rich and rejuvenated career since, making the best solo albums of his life.  So this becomes, quite possibly, the final word on the group, other than whatever out-takes and live shows will trickle out later.  It is a fitting and fine ending, if that's what it's to be.  They go out with pride, aging gracefully, sounding strong.

Time has treated them all well, and perhaps they learned to treat their bodies better after John Bonham's death.  The first thing you notice on the video is just how healthy and youthful they seem.  This is confirmed with the first notes, an almost effortless lift-off into Good Times Bad Times.  Now, there won't be any athleticism here, aside from younger Jason's pounding, they aren't doing Springsteen races on the stage.  It's all about the famous material, and the powerful way this combo delivers it. Even with Jason on board, the songs remain the same.

Well, not quite of course.  Plant can't reach the higher range, and saves his voice instead of ripping those famous roars.  This means Black Dog's "gonna make you sweat, gonna make you groove" descends the scale rather than going into falsetto.  Page still spits out the best full-bodied chords in the business, but his solos weren't special.  Bonham performed well, added some great vocals, but kept it safe.  The opening salvo of Good Times Bad Times, Ramble On, and Black Dog is a good re-introduction to their power, and then they settle in for some haunted blues, referencing the group's influences from the Mississippi Delta, with In My Time Of Dying, Trampled Under Foot, and Nobody's Fault But Mine.

Just when things start to drift a little, it's time for the hits, and the last 45 minutes is where it all comes back, and you realize just how much power they could tap into.  Dazed And Confused ups the intensity dramatically, then they pull out their most famous number, Stairway To Heaven.  It's a funny song, in that has proven disappointing live in the past, and requires a dramatic flair to make it truly work to its potential.  They don't really go for it, none of the shrieking vocals or guitar whoops that would take it to that peak, but it has to be done.  By moving it to a surprisingly early place in the show, it works to keep the momentum going.  The dramatic excitement is left to favourites Misty Mountain Hop, and best of the night, Kashmir.  One major change since the band's 70's heyday has been the keyboards and sound quality available, so John Paul Jones' huge synth stabs really make this a momentous number. 

The encores are a relief to all.  By now Bonham especially knows it's been a triumph, as does the audience, so everyone can relax and enjoy two warhorses, Whole Lotta Love and Rock And Roll.  Honestly, it would have been great to have this energy right through the show, and maybe the set list could have used some tweaking to liven the pace in the middle.  But as an event, a one-off, you have to embrace the good, and hope there's not much bad.  It's all good, some great, and it's going to make any fan happy.

Monday, November 19, 2012


Friggin' kids.  Jake Bugg is 18.  He just had the number one album in England.  And he's not Bieber.  Or Drake.  Or some Britain's Got Talent junior Susan Boyle.  No, bloody Jake's a real rocker, and the album's great.  In fact, I've not heard anything quite like it.  He's invented his own sound, written his own tunes, and somehow completely by-passed the stigma of being under 20.  If I didn't know beforehand, I would never have guessed his age from this mature disc.

What we have here is a guy who is part busker, part old-school rocker, part classic Brit attitude-singer.  Using classic skiffle strumming and a rockabilly beat, Bugg riffs away on opener Lightning Bolt, spitting out words like Buddy Holly on a hangover.  Next comes Two Fingers, a coming-of-age pronouncement, as snotty and confident as a T. Rex hit:  "I hold two fingers up to yesterday, light a cigarette and smoke it all away, I got out, I got out, I'm alive, and I'm here to stay."  It's no wonder he's found a fan in Noel Gallagher, who trumpets his talents, and invited Bugg to open his recent North American dates.

Taste It is another one with the rockabilly groove, short and sharp, with old-fashioned chord changes that somehow sound fresh and exciting in their raw presentation.  Other cuts mix 60's Top 10 with 90's Britpop, Bugg not adverse to making songs touch on all the best of Britain.  The folk sound comes through elsewhere, with it's Donovan strum and Dylan harmonica.  And Country Song could be right from the 1965 folk circuit, just Bugg and his acoustic.  Broken is tender and beautiful, yet another side of this remarkable young man, his heart on the line.  Then it's back to the raucous sound, Trouble Town his most rough-edged Dylan-inspired number.

Meanwhile, ten million other 18-year-olds are in the basement playing the new Halo.  Just sayin'.

Sunday, November 18, 2012


You know what's a great song?  Smoke On The Water.  Oh, you knew that?  And you''re sick of it?  Sorry, guess I'm a little behind the times.  Not being a loud fan, I didn't get burned out on this particular classic album.  And now that there's so many louder groups, it's kinda more classic rock anyway, so it's like comfy old furniture.  Perfectly fitting for a tribute disc, too.

The great thing about these Purple songs is that they are so well-constructed, they can stand up to the tribute versions, as long as you don't mess with them too much.  There's not much fooling around hear, except one notable exception:  That's what you get when you invite The Flaming Lips to the party, especially to do the iconic Smoke.  Wayne Coyne speaks the lines instead of sings them, and that's just the start.  Don't freak though; it's the second version on the disc.  Carlos Santana and Jacoby Shaddix (Papa Roach) handle it well as the opener on the disc, Carlos particularly excited and, umm, smokin'.  Roach sounds the part.

Chickenfoot handle Highway Star, another classic, in a live version, with the guitars at full blast, but they don't change much.  Instead, a bonus version of the cut with Steve Vai, Chad Smith (Chili Peppers) and Glenn Hughes (latter versions of Purple) is included, and much more satisfying, Vai especially fiery, no surprise.  Elsewhere, Hughes and Smith contribute a decent version of the lesser cut, Maybe I'm A Leo.  Other big names aren't so successful;  Metallica's take on the b-side When A Blind Man Cries is lifeless, perhaps more to do with the inferior track.  But the ballyhooed super group of the event, called Kings of Chaos, come off great.  The quartet features Matt Sorum, Joe Elliot, Steve Stevens and Duff McKagan, and they make a grand noise on Never Before.  As for the other big album track, Space Truckin', it's left to stalwarts Iron Maiden, and they wisely just grind through it.

Perhaps the best guitar solos on the disc (this is a metal album, of course) come from Joe Bonamassa, who teams up with Jimmy Barnes for Lazy, and Joe goes for it.  That's really the thing to do;  don't mess with success, just do more of it.  Interestingly, I'd like to hear the original album again.  That Smoke On The Water, that's a pretty good song, you know?

Thursday, November 15, 2012


Kyp Harness is the kind of guy you want to follow down the street writing down everything he says, in case he drops a great line he won't be using.  Words and ideas seem to swirl from him, almost fully formed straight from mind to disc.  I'm sure there's some editing and lots of thought put into it, but there's a stream-of-conscious feel to his performance, a sense of immediacy and adventure, and you get the feeling he doesn't quite know where its going but something's going to happen.  You like fine writing?  Kyp's your guy.

It seems the faucet was running full blast lately.  This one is two, two, two albums in one.  It's not just a double; each disc has its own name, and own style.  The first, The Wrong Way, is more of a band album.  Can A Poor Man Get A Fair Trial? is a bunch of acoustic tales; murder ballads, shaggy dog stories, mysteries, all done in the folk tradition.  It's wickedly funny, a little spooky, and captivating straight through.  The band songs are more concise, and sentimental, with more images and poetry.  His way with language always shines through; in Autumn Leaves, he sings "Blow autumn leaves, blow autumn breeze, let your ghostly dance entrance me once again", but it's a song about tears for old friends and memories.  Despite the sadness of life's happenings to some of those people, "there's a summer sun inside, telling me the pleasure's worth the pain."

The first, band disc is recorded in a stripped-down, alt-indie state, with flat drums keeping the rhythm going, and a 60's garage feel on the rockers.  His voice is not his great asset, and like many fine writers, you have to forgive the lack of polish, and instead learn to love the idiosyncrasy of his delivery.  And I'm not sure anyone else could "do" Kyp Harness songs, at least not with the same impact.  His personality, phrasing, language, it's all part of the power of the songs.  I want to quote from every cut here, because I keep discovering lines that make me gasp.  Both these albums deserve repeated, frequent spins.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


The King is alive!  Well, Elvis has never left us, thanks to all the reissues.  And really, nobody does them better.  Elvis albums were notoriously spotty and tossed out with no regard to a legacy, and that's certainly what's being done in the on-going Legacy reissues.  This time, the 1972 Madison Square Gardens concert is fixed up in a decent package.  Or rather, concerts, as this was a 3-day run in the prestigious venue.  Originally, there was the big-selling As Recorded At Madison Square Garden, released back in the day.  Then an afternoon matinee came out in 1977.  Both the complete shows are now included here in this two-disc set.

Yes, the set list is pretty similar, but there is a different energy to the shows.  The evening set is more manic, and a bit shorter.  The afternoon one is more relaxed, and includes a couple of better songs while dropping the ridiculous, overblown version of The Impossible Dream.  Elvis always erred on the side of cheese over class.  And considering the huge amount of classics he had to choose from, it's surprising how much time he spent on covering other people's hits.  The basic show started with numbers that were his latest favourites by others; Proud Mary, Never Been To Spain, Polk Salad Annie.  Finally, he started tossing out the early hits:  Love Me, All Shook Up, Heartbreak Hotel, Don't Be Cruel, Love Me Tender.  A peak is reached with Suspicious Minds, and the band, especially the backing singers, really pour it on for this later hit.  By this time, his version of An American Trilogy had become a major showpiece, but the irony of Mickey Newbury's medley is missing in Elvis' jingoistic interpretation, as he makes The Battle Hymn Of The Republic a bombastic, flag-waving spectacle.

Then it's back to favourite covers, Funny How Time Slips Away, and I Can't Stop Loving You, before he closing it with Can't Help Falling In Love, and off they go.  Just about an hour, and then the famous announcement, "Elvis has left the building."  Yup, they really did say that.

In 1972, Elvis was still a dynamic performer, and there are none of the embarrassing moments here, the rambling chatter to the audience, the karate moves, the insults thrown at band members, crimes that would appear more frequently on further tours.  Playing the Garden was a huge deal, away from the safety of the Vegas strip, under intense media scrutiny.  He pulled it off with showbiz intensity, and it was probably quite a show.  It doesn't quite translate on disc;  the band is going at breakneck pace at times, Elvis' tempo of choice for the oldies.  Again, subtlety wasn't his thing.  But this is a fantastic band who manage it all, with leader and guitar legend James Burton spitting out some great licks when he gets the chance.  Like all things Elvis, this could have been so much better with not too much work, but the talent is still there to hear.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


Jesse Cook is kicking off the Canadian leg of his world tour for his latest release, The Blue Guitar Sessions, opening up in New Brunswick this week.  The first three dates are in Saint John at the Imperial Theatre, Wednesday the 14th, Moncton at the Capitol on Thursday, and Fredericton at The Playhouse on Friday the 16th.  With him is special guest Emma-Lee, who's fine Backseat Heroine came out earlier this year.  It's a good partnership for the pair;  Emma-Lee was a guest vocalist on the Blue Guitar Sessions disc, and she confirms she'll get to reprise her singing role each night on the tour, doing that spooky Screamin' Jay Hawkins hit, I Put A Spell On You.

Emma-Lee says she's excited to get a chance to finally sing on the road with Cook: "This will be the first of any of the shows on the tour for me.  Earlier this year we shot a TV show for PBS, but this is the first time I'll be on tour with him."  Cook often has a star or two show up on his discs to sing a track, as he's not a vocalist himself.  In the past, guests have included Holly Cole, Danny Wilde and Melissa McClelland.  At first, she says, she wasn't a guest, she was just helping out:  "He started out by him asking me to demo some songs for his new album, and then he ended up asking me to perform on the disc too.  It was an interesting challenge for me, my new album branched out from jazz, and I had sung mostly jazz on the first album, but had added much more to the new one.  So I get to dip back into jazz with this."

Backseat Heroine does indeed break from jazz, with a broad range of pop, even louder rock, along with a few ballads to showcase her strong ballads.  For Emma-Lee, the decision to do more than the jazz numbers came from necessity, spending so much time on the road:  "Even though I write my songs, I'm mostly a singer. That's what I do all the time, night after night.  After i toured the first record, which was more jazzy pop and had some ballads on it, I realized I had a lot more fun doing more uptempo things. And even though the album you record is important, most of the work you do is done every night on tour, and I wanted to be excited when I look down at the set list each night."

Cook's album is quite a radical departure for him.  He's left much of his usual rumba flamenco flair behind, opting instead for an intimate, less adorned series of songs.  Inspired by the personal qualities that made Adele's 21 album so striking, he deliberately sought a simplicity that wasn't in his work before.  The result is more reflective series of songs that let the listener hear the emotion in the playing, leaving the fast and the furious licks out of the picture.  The Latin mood is still largely there, but we're drawn into the delicacy and musicality of the playing and melodies.  Mood is everything here, and his usual stalwart players are also asked to concentrate on the depth of the sounds, rather than the volume.  It's an interesting side to Cook, as he puts a spell on us.

You can find all the tour info at

Monday, November 12, 2012


Help me, I think I'm falling in love again.  This ten-disc box compiling all of Mitchell's original studio albums in the 60's and 70's has me reliving some great moments, and I don't just mean Blue.  In fact, I've listened to that too much to get blown away again.  While it's arguably her best, that's not a sure thing, and some great leaps can be found over the course of eleven years and ten albums.  It's tough to think of anyone who did so much experimentation, and changed styles so radically.  That's if you compare 68's folk disc Song To A Seagull to 79's jazz album Mingus.  It's more fun to follow the development from disc to disc, where it all makes sense.

Some of these albums are just plain terrific art.  Let's put Blue, Court And Spark and Hejira down as the ones you can't argue with.  Ladies Of the Canyon comes close.  Three more fascinating, transitional ones are For The Roses, The Hissing of Summer Lawns, and Don Juan's Reckless Daughter.  Song To A Seagull has its moments, but not many, and is helplessly dated in coffee shop times.  Clouds is developmental, a mark above Seagull but not there yet.  Mingus is a great experiment, but a challenging listen.

I don't know if I even need to talk about Blue.  Has so much ever been said with just a piano, voice and dulcimer?  Not a week goes by without some very good friend of mine on Facebook posts "I could drink a case of you darling and still be on my feet" as their status.  In about two weeks, we'll start hearing any of dozens of versions River in the malls:  "It's coming on Christmas....".  Her voice soars to notes unheard in songs of the time, and she moves between moments of great joy (Carey), sadness (Little Green), confusion,  deep emotion, and everything in between.  It's an album that changes your life when you hear it.  'Nuff said.

It's Court And Spark that always makes me feel best.  The one-two punch of Help Me and Free Man In Paris, Mitchell proving how she could write brilliant songs and still make them pop hits.  Fully integrating the jazz-rock L.A. Express into her songs, this may be her most commercial album, but it is also rich with tremendous melodies, and fantastic song settings.  Whether we're sitting in the lounge of the Empire Hotel, or feeling out of place at people's parties, Mitchell takes us away to grand spots.

Then there's Hejira, which never fails to amaze me, although I don't go there that often, not sure why.  Coyote is yet another of her fascinating characters, but the stunner for me is Amelia, an epic for sure, so melancholy, as she examines the pain that goes along with flying to great heights.  Likewise the dialogue in Song For Sharon; Mitchell may reveal more about herself in this album than in the previous, confessional folk ones.

What's good about having the box, having all the albums, is that you can approach each one knowing what come before, and where she is going next.  For The Roses's individual songs, other than the obvious You Turn Me On, I'm A Radio, are not as accessible as Blue or Court And Spark.  But map the progress, as she starts to incorporate the horn and woodwind blend into the arrangements, and starts making her voice a powerful backing instrument as well.  The dulcimer is out, she is learning fantastic chords, and it's going to come together quickly, just not quite there for Roses.  The demands of The Hissing Of Summer Lawns similarly pay off in Hejira, as we know better understand how she has moved past the constraints of three minute songs.

There's no special features, ephemera, or bonus tracks here, not a boxed set extra at all, just slim-sleeved reproductions of the original album art.  This isn't for the collector, it's for the fan, and for those who want to discover the parts they've missed.  That's kept the cost way down, in the $65 dollar range the places I checked.  Value for money?  Oh, no argument here.

Sunday, November 11, 2012


The Do Good Assassins do country, and they do rock, and do both very good indeed.  So good, the group couldn't make a decision on what kind of band it would be, so you get both.  In this unique double-album combo, disc one is the rock one, disc two the country.  I don't like to use "unique" much, because not much truly is, but I'm having a hard time remembering another two-disc album so evenly split between genres.

The Assassins are a new name, but surely most of us know the name Ron Hawkins, the other Ron Hawkins, the man behind Lowest Of The Low.  With a couple of acclaimed solo discs behind him, as well as happily-received reunion gigs with the old band, Hawkins has the bug to be part of a group again.  He sings most of the leads here, as well as writes or co-writes it all, but there's clearly a spark for him being part of a gang.  Neither the rock or country sides are reinventing the wheel, nor do they harken back to Lowest Of The Low much, but its all fun and good and has his usual flair with the words.

The rock side sees the group try on a bunch of hats, mostly tight guitar tunes, from a Stones strut to some pop New Wave stuff, vintage 1979.  With some cool co-vocals from Steve Singh, there's a touch of Squeeze to those ones, with tougher guitars.  Watch out for those great lines:  On Home Sweet Home, Hawkins tells us "It takes a village to raise a child/It takes a city to bury him alive."

The band don't sound as convincing as a country unit, although the songs are just as strong.  It seems more that the country style was placed on them, rather than something that comes naturally.  And it's not really all country, either; Swing Low is a slow, thoughtful number with a cello, for instance.  But one shouldn't quibble with the concept too much when the material is strong.  Little Volcano is a solo songwriter ballad which highlights Hawkins' emotionally intense lyrics, and if it has to be shoe-horned onto a disc called country, so be it.  The Do Good Assassins have several sides, always the mark of a killer band - Ha!  Hope I'm the first to use that pun.

Saturday, November 10, 2012


Happy 40th to Tull's most famous, and least understood work.  A huge hit at the time, a number one album, few people got the point that it was a joke, a send-up of concept albums.  Ian Anderson was annoyed by critics calling the previous Aqualung a concept piece, and wasn't too keen on being lumped into the then-hot prog genre in England as well.  So he made this album-long piece to mock both ideas, with his typical humour.  The trouble was, that was missed by folks who loved it, and Tull became one of the biggest draws on the planet.

The thing is, it is pretty good.  Unlike almost all concept discs, and also unlike most lengthy rock pieces, this thing hangs together, largely because it is fun music.  It changes often, has sprightly moments and big rock sounds, interesting lyrics and feels like a trip.  Plus, there's that great newspaper on the cover (now the CD booklet of course) that gave me hours of entertainment as a kid, trying to figure it all out.  True, the disc does start to drift some on the original Side 2, but it all comes back around soon enough.  For my bucks, Side 1 was right up there with anything else in the early 70's, for entertainment.

This anniversary edition is the second such deluxe reissue, following the 25th anniversary one in '97.  This time, it's an audio-visual explosion.  Great work has gone into improving the sound for the latest systems, and creating a gorgeous little box with 100 pages for me to thumb.  There's the basic CD, now remixed, although not drastically.  But the DVD is the thing, with it taken to audiophile bliss with new mixes done in DTS and Surround Sound, a new high-bit stereo mix, and the original mix thrown on for good measure as well.  Crank up the Blu-ray.  While you're listening, you can read along in the reproduction of the classic St. Cleve Chronicle paper, now finally big enough to see without squinting, as previous CD booklets were way too small a font.  Also, there's a huge history of the project in essay form, along with dozens of photos, heck, even the lyrics in German, if one needs them to impress visitors from Bonn.

But I can't give my old anniversary version to my kid, because the bonus tracks on that one aren't featured here, something that frustrates me.  The '97 version had a live 12-minute version from 1978, and a 16-minute interview with Anderson and two others of the band.  These could have easily fit on the 40th reissue, or even something completely different to further spice things up.  As it is, only audio heads are going to get really excited about this release.

Friday, November 9, 2012


Ah, yet another Anniversary Edition of a classic album, 25 years on for Gabriel's So, the album that made him a big star.  I mean big, as in multi-millions sold, instead of the few hundred thousand he'd been doing before.  Quite simply, he went for it.  He, co-producer Daniel Lanois, and a small group holed up for an entire year to make it, bringing in pop tricks and lots of hooks to a couple of crucial tracks (Sledgehammer, Big Time), and cool guests (Kate Bush, Laurie Anderson) to keep his hip cred.  It was a perfect marriage of alternative, arty, and modern.  Oh, and then Gabriel did what had to be done to have a hit at the time;  he made one of the best videos ever for Sledgehammer, and the deal was sealed.

What you get depends on what you buy.  I have the three-disc version to review, which features the original album in a new remaster, plus a full live show from 1987 in Athens on the other two platters.  There's no radical new parts discovered in the mix, but it does sound brighter and richer than those dull 80's CD's.  At first I was a little bummed that the bonus for this version was the live show, because of what the Special Edition has to offer (see below), and also because I already have five Gabriel concerts on disc or DVD.  Later DVD shows are simply excellent, and the visuals are a big part of it (crazy light suits and a big bubble he rolls around in).  But I have to admit this is one grand live show.  Split between the new songs and old Gabriel faves from his first four solo albums, his command of the stage is epic.  This was before such stalwarts as Biko, Games Without Frontiers and Solsbury Hill had become old hat, and there's still an audience thrill as they appear.  Games especially is a revelation, thanks to a drastic remodeling for this tour.  True, there's no Kate Bush for Don't Give Up, but Gabriel does a good job covering both parts.

Now kids, here comes the bummer.  It's not what's here, but what's not.  The Deluxe Box Set, has a lot more goodies.  First off, the concert IS a DVD in this version.  Then there are bonus cuts galore.  There's a disc called So DNA, which edits together early demos, and the many versions of the tracks as they progressed over the years.  Then you get the original as a half-speed master pressing on vinyl.  Plus, there's a 12-inch single with two completely unreleased cuts from the session, and an alternate piano version of Don't Give Up.  Wait there's more.  That excellent series, Classic Albums, featured So at one point, so you get that on DVD.  And, a 24-bit digital download of the remaster, plus the unreleased trio of cuts.  Oh, and the 60-page hardcover book.  Buggers.  The price is decent at least, just under a hundred bucks where I checked, which is good for four CD's, two DVD's, two pieces of vinyl and the other stuff.  The three-disc set is only $25 though, so... So.

Thursday, November 8, 2012


Let's get right to the problem.  It isn't the ridiculous length of some of the songs, clocking in as long as 27 minutes.  Nor is it the endless jams, as Crazy Horse find a groove and sit on it until Neil decides to stop.  What makes this album pretty much pointless is the words.  The lyrics.  They suck.  From start to finish, there isn't a set of words that deserve to be recorded.

Young has said that he released Americana, his disc earlier this year made up of old folk songs, because he didn't have any songs to record with Crazy Horse at first.  Then, as those sessions progressed, this batch appeared to him.  Perhaps he was grasping at straws.  More and more over the last two decades, lyrics have either become less important to him, or his ability to write has diminished.  Greendale was just dumb, no matter how heartfelt.  His songs inspired by his work with the Link-Volt experimental car were barely better.  Even the better albums, such as Prairie Wind, contain ghastly clunkers that no rookie groups would be allowed to get away with. 

I'm sure these phrases mean something to him, but too often they just seem to drop out of his conscious and into the mic, without any attempt to better them.  In an attempt to fill up the gaps in the 27-minute Driftin' Back, he attempts to create verses from lines such as "I used to dig Picasso" and "Gonna get a hip hop haircut".  Now, one can argue that lyrics can be improvised as well, but that's all fine and good for a live performance.  If your improvisation is crap, you probably don't release it, you use a better take.  And when he is trying to make what would be considered a basic verse-chorus-verse song, such as Twisted Road, he's again got nothing to say:  "Walkin with the Devil on a twisted road/Listenin to The Dead on the radio".  In an attempt to explain the songs, Young has placed a brief, one-line note before the lyrics in the booklet.  In the case of Twisted Road, he writes "Somewhere ahead, your friends reach out with their memories."  That's a pretty big concept for a lyric that's so banal.  He should actually try to write something that lives up to that concept.

The reason I'm focusing on the words so much is that I really, really want Young to deliver a good album.  I know he doesn't care, or at least claims he doesn't, but I'm writing more as a fan than a critic.  I like hearing the Horse with him, especially the nifty harmonies and gang vocals they now use.  The one song I think comes closest to a solid work, She's Always Dancing, takes me back to the magic of Like A Hurricane or Cortez the Killer, lengthy story-songs that brought us into a mysterious dream-state.  I don't think Young is far off from these heady days at any time.  I just think he needs to try harder, stop with the foolish hard-headed, stubborn, and, to be blunt, childish habits he's developed, and work a little for his art.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


The nice thing about not having released a new album in over three decades is that there are few expectations.  The Scenics can do anything they want, and do on this new album.  There's lots of everything but normal here, lots of interesting and experimental sounds that place them in their late-70's Toronto punk scene roots, but expand that with lots more inventive approaches.

The Scenics were pretty unheralded back in their first incarnation, and split up in '82 with one album behind them.  But fast-forward to the 2000's, and leader Andy Meyers started digging through the vaults, discovering hours of cool material.  A live album, called How Does It Feel To Be Loved came out in 2008, all covers of classic Velvet Underground songs, that made lots of waves and renewed interest in the group.  Then Meyers brought out Sunshine World, unreleased late 70's tracks, and it proved that people had missed out on the group back then.  Now reformed, the group has been doing live shows, and now comes this new one.

From sweet and soft to loud and snotty, The Scenics run the gamut of the real alternative music.  No Sleep is original punk, a crazed cross between a lost rockabilly classic and a car crash, Meyers and co-guitarist Ken Badger doing very nasty things on six strings.  They sound like that guitar solo Marty McFly tried in Back To The Future.  But Growing Pains is has a gentle touch, a crooning vocal yet ragged edges.  It's a hymn for the street underdog.  The two guitarists play a mix of skewed and beautiful sounds throughout, often one noisy and the other jangly, and it's oddly comforting mix, a controlled out-of-control sound if you get my drift.

Occasional pop moments spring up in the songs, little bits of harmonies or nice changes, but never enough to let a song become easily digested.  I mean that in a good way of course, as following the deviant plot points is a big part of the fun here.  So is the somewhat surrealistic poetry in most of the songs, strange trips to somewhere, like in Miami, where "This city is the biggest thrill/I don't understand you."  Obviously, this is going to appeal to those fans of The Velvets and Television, but luckily for The Scenics, there are a lot more of them around now then there were back in the late 70's.

Monday, November 5, 2012


Cochran was a songwriting superstar in Nashville, penning Patsy Cline's I Fall To Pieces and She's Got You, A Little Bitty Tear and It's Just My Funny Way Of Laughin' for Burl Ives, and both Ray Price and Eddie Arnold had huge hits with Make The World Go Away.  That's just some of the dozens of numbers he had go to the charts.  Also, he's the guy who saw a young Willie Nelson perform, and got him a Nashville deal.  Cochran kept writing right up until his death in 2010, with George Strait, Merle Haggard and more benefiting.
Jamey Johnson's had some hits of his own since coming on the Nashville scene in 2005, and written Top 10's for Strait and Trace Adkins as well.  Unlike most Nashvillians, he's kept some of the outlaw spirit around, and prefers old-time to modern country.  He also became great friends to Cochran and was with him when he died.  According to Cochran's widow, the old master loved Johnson and his music.  When Johnson put the word out he was doing this tribute, three generations of Cochran friends and fans asked to be part of it.

Cochran was a master of the country ballad, and many of his best show up here.  Alison Krauss does a sublime Make The World Go Away, and Merle Haggard does justice to I Fall To Pieces.  Of course, Emmylou Harris is a gem for Don't Touch Me, and Elvis Costello is a much, much better country singer these days than when he first attempted the genre back in the 80's, so his duet with Johnson on She'll Be Back is another highlight.

The material is all A-1, including A-11, a classic "don't play that number on the jukebox, it was our song" number, maybe the first of that style.  Cochran took this material seriously his whole career, and according to friend Haggard, wanted to be known as the Hemingway of American country, which he seems to have become.  The only knock on the album is that there are perhaps a few too many of the old-guard outlaws as guests, including Willie, Hag, Leon Russell, Kristofferson, Bobby Bare and Ray Price.  Johnson himself has a similar voice, so it gets a little croaky towards the end, but there's not a one who doesn't deserve to be there.  It's a fine tribute to a giant writer, the Nashville equivalent of a Bacharach or Smokey Robinson.

Saturday, November 3, 2012


What more do you want from Colin Linden?  He's a member of the beloved roots group Blackie & the Rodeo Kings, the producer of dozens of the best-sounding albums around (Bruce Cockburn, Colin James, etc.), and super-producer T-Bone "O Brother Where Art Thou?" Burnett's right-hand man on that and other projects.  Somehow, he still manages to continue a successful, Juno-winning solo career in there as well.  Okay, so it did take him two years to get this concert recording released, but he probably couldn't find the time to listen to it.

Linden leads as tight a combo as can be found, with fellow Canucks John Dymond on bass, and Gary Craig on drums, and for this date, an actual legend on keys, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member Spooner Oldham (Neil Young, Bob Dylan).  Oldham's presence tells you all you need to know about Linden's rep as a player, and his heavyweight connections south of the border.  Of course, that's backed up by the recordings here.

Listening through, it struck me about the third time through that these songs, recorded in just one night at a club in Nashville, aren't just great versions.  They are pretty much perfect takes, flawless, worthy of putting on a studio album.  Whether it's his electric slide playing, or acoustic picking, the guy is note-perfect.  Plus, it's never just rhythm chords, its complicated fills, playing around the other musicians and his own vocals, stuff only the best can do.  And then, THEN...there are the solos.  Linden's not about flash, he's about tone, groove, and serving the tempo and melody of the song.  You never get the feeling he's trying to impress you, but instead he's trying to make the song as good as it can be.

We get some Linden favourites here, including the must-play Remedy, the song he wrote for The Band, and a couple of fine tribute tunes from his 2008 From The Water disc.  John Lennon In New Orleans is a nifty, fictional tale of what might have happened if Lennon showed up for a lost weekend unrecognized in the Crescent City.  Smoke 'Em All is for his friend Richard Bell, the Toronto keyboard player who worked with Ronnie Hawkins, Janis Joplin, and was with Blackie when he died in 2007.  The power of his lyric comes across even better in the live version, with the great lines "Left hand like thunder right hand of gold/Tough like Chuvalo with Ray Charles soul".  The Americans probably didn't get the reference to the Canadian boxer, but its perfect for Bell and Linden, two other greats.