Monday, April 30, 2012
This album is made up of shows recorded at Massey Hall from 1998 to 2001 by the folks from Grant Avenue Studio in Hamilton. Such is the quality that not an overdub or fix has been made, not a change to the original mix. Kudos to the engineers, first. Then, of course, to the musicians, Lightfoot's long-serving and proficient group, plus Gord himself, daring what few have done over the years, releasing a truly live album. If there are shaky moments, they are few and far between. It is, however, the Lightfoot of 10-plus years ago, of stronger voice before his serious illness, but he still puts on a fine show these days. Why he sat on the tapes for so long is a question, but it's a strong and enjoyable set.
I like that it's not a greatest hits; there are lots of favourites for sure, but it's liberally blessed with lesser-known numbers and some of his then-recent and woefully overlooked numbers. As this has the chance to be a strong seller for Lightfoot, hopefully songs like A Painter Passing Through, Shadows and especially 1993's Restless will become better known. They certainly sit strongly among the best-known ones here, If You Could Read My Mind, Sundown, Carefree Highway, and of course, Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald and Canadian Railroad Trilogy. In fact, those numbers are such a part of our conscious, it's the lesser-known ones that proof most enjoyable here, showing how truly deep the man's songwriting catalogue is.
It galls me to know that in the U.S. and England, critics and music snobs have little time for Lightfoot. Well, screw 'em. This is our culture, our folk music.
Sunday, April 29, 2012
British singer Kiwanuka is certainly a throw-back, with his arrangements, vocals and mindset clearly on fine music from the 70's, 60's, even the 50's. But more importantly, this is the return of song craft to the best music being made today. Throw out the tired, alternative guitar rock from whoever is hot today, this is the reaction to years of beauty and melodic composition being ignored. There's nothing here that isn't pure and real, from the stunning, yearning vocals, to the tremendous blend of strings, woodwinds, horns and percussion. It's like Kiwanuka left the street in 2012, and walked through the door to Philadelphia International's studio in 1972, or caught up with the Capitol Records studio cats in L.A. late one night in '65 when they wanted to get into something a little more funky.
Now, I know millions of you love Adele, but this is much more special and true. Kiwanuka is the sole writer, provides all the guitar and bass and brilliant harmonies, and has a power over hearts and minds with his voice. I've never heard someone so calming. Listening to him is like taking a bath after a long, stressful day. It's the ultimate mellow album at times, but has so many beautiful moments even the most cynical will have to nod their heads and smile at the many deft touches. The unashamed retro number Bones sounds like a long-forgotten Nat King Cole side, with its jazzy guitar, call-and-response vocal choir, and rolling rhythm, complete with brushes on snare and clip-clop percussion. On other numbers, his mournful acoustic guitar is reminiscent of those early Leonard Cohen songs, there's that level of drama here too.
There's ten songs on the main album, each one a winner. The disc also comes with a bonus 5-track EP, songs recorded with another producer, Ethan Johns, featuring two quite different versions of songs from the album proper, and a further three that aren't on the original, and again, each one spectacular. There's lots of excitement in England for this disc, and I truly hope you get to check it out, I can't rave enough about it.
Monday, April 23, 2012
I should have sat this one out. Ian Anderson, apparantly not thrilled with the current state of the Tull brand, has graced us with a whole new episode of his most famous work. A sequel, a continuation, a revisitation, 40 years later, Thickasabrick 2.0. This is the story of Gerald Bostock, who we first met in the original, as Anderson answers the question, whatever happened to him?
Okay, hands up everybody who was wondering that. I know the original Thick pretty well, having obsessed over its cool newspaper album cover and stadium-friendly prog rock back in '72, and other than being a funny character in the newspaper, I can't rightly say I felt any connection to him in the album-length epic song, which, as the joke went, was a word-for-word copy of the poem the ten-year-old wrote that caused a local scandal, blah blah. Anyway, this is Anderson's way back into the story.
I suppose you could try to follow the narrative, but that was the cool thing about the original, you didn't have to, the music was great, the lyrics interesting, and the sound fresh. There's not a new riff or new sound on this update, the same old trick of organ and lead guitar matching each other's solos, and while that might be cool if the song quality was there, instead it sounds a desperate attempt to find where the few million that bought the original are, rather than a sincere interest in what happened to poor Gerald.
And if you try to follow the concept, good luck. Anderson explains that there are several different scenarios here, all plausible futures for the precocious Gerald. Some include an awful early life, with an abusing headmaster, obnoxious cliched upperclass twit friends, there's something about bankers, and he eventually becomes a politician and very wealthy. I have absolutely no idea if he's the thick one, or if it's modern British society. Other stereotypical villains appear, including money-grubbing televangalists, and even Starbucks gets a nudge. Meanwhile Anderson does a wink-wink for old fans, dropping old song titles A Passion Play and Locomotive Breath into the muddle. All this is done with a voice almost unrecognizable, with much of its old devious power gone.
Sunday, April 22, 2012
Now, I'm going to take issue with a couple of tracks here, but for the most part it's a typical, excellent work by Burnett. He's gathered the new breed of folk-inspired performers, and written and produced new works with them. You'll always get an evocative number with him, and the artists must just drool to work with him. He always finds excellent female singers as well, and here you get The Secret Sisters, Neko Case, Miranda Lambert and Pistol Annies, and Birdy. New faves The Civil Wars sound great, their acoustic-and-harmony sound putty in his hands. And the relative veterans have their games moved up a notch; The Decemberists and The Low Anthem benefiting. But now Burnett is just showing off; to prove he can make a great song with anyone, here he shows that both Taylor Swift and Maroon 5 can not only be listenable, these two provide two of the best, if not the best, songs on the release.
That statement is made even more surprising considering that Arcade Fire are supposed to be providing that, with a new track written with Burnett leads off the release. It actually turns out to be a huge disappointment, as the moody number, sung by Regine, really has only atmosphere and no life. Perhaps, oh you millions who have seen the movie, you might be able to inform me of a specific need for the song for a particular scene; if not, it's a rare flub for both.
The other disconcerting track is the second featuring Swift. It's a big, dumb, typical Taylor Swift song called Eyes Open, and on liner note inspection, one finds absolutely no involvement from Burnett. It sounds like her people insisted if she was involved, there would be an opportunity for a big hit single on the collection, and the filmmakers probably thought that was a good idea, too. She's there to attract that demographic, Burnett's there for the art. He probably had to hold his nose about the song when he agreed to do the rest of the soundtrack, but in the end he made another masterful soundtrack, even with Taylor Swift on one of his own songs.
Saturday, April 21, 2012
Here's how it works: only independently-owned record stores can get RSD product. There's actually an organization, based in New England, which oversees the day, and monitors who gets what. If you are a true indie store, you're eligible to pick up hundreds of one-time only pressings, mostly on vinyl, from the very hip to the biggest stars. Today, you could get a Kate Bush picture disc, a pink vinyl copy of The Velvet Underground's Loaded, or the brand new release from Devo on LP. There were boxed sets of rare Stax b-sides, a cool 45 with Otis Redding doing Respect on one side, and Aretha Franklin's hit version on the other. Reggae fans were going to Lee "Scratch" Perry dubs and even Springsteen is now three years into releasing special singles for RSD, popping out one from his new album.
I hit my local indie, Backstreet Records in Fredericton, a satellite of the long-running store of the same name in Saint John. Now, I never think of the town as too much of a collector place, but I'm going to have to rethink that opinion. It turns out they were lined up in the morning for the opening, and lots of the special items were gone by the time I arrived in the early afternoon. So, I missed out on a vinyl EP by Leonard Cohen, Live In Fredericton, which really, I should have bought in Fredericton, duh. Hopefully they'll have some left elsewhere. I had to settle for a Paul McCartney reissue of his 1971 hit Another Day, never on LP, plus the latest Justin Townes Earle 45 with an inclusive b-side.
Like most stores involved, there was live music as well, with the local indie scene well represented, and a couple of touring acts in town for shows tonight including Octoberman. I caught a set by locals Motherhood (pictured), a trio that featured some melodic quiet parts to some all-out noise, with ambitious arrangements, nifty boy-girl vocals, and some pretty intricate drumming, I thought. Spotted in the crowd were young CBC hipsters Matt McCann and Matt Bingley, the latter a couple of hundred bucks lighter in the wallet. Way to go, Matt. As for those thinking, gee, I should have gone to support the stores, RSD is just a promotion, albeit a great one. Go anytime. There's life in music, especially if you want to get back into the physical fun of owning neat stuff. There are still quite a few of the RSD records left, too. Just no Leonard Cohen.
Friday, April 20, 2012
Or, you can do what most of the world has done, and simply buy Legend, the ever-selling greatest hits, and it is a masterful package. Most North Americans know him from that, and the classics on it. So, how do you sell a new soundtrack collection, without it duplicating those tracks too much, and making it different enough for even the completists? It's hard, but I think they've done a pretty decent job here, coming up with a set of songs that may tempt those Legend-owners into grabbing this after they see the film.
It starts, as it should, in the early days of The Wailers, still an equal partnership with Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer, and a nice set of cool stuff, including Simmer Down, Small Axe and Stir It Up. Then it's a jump to the 70's. Now, purists will go raving about all the great, pre-Island music that just got leaped over, but really, the story line does pick up at that point, as Marley discovers England and vice-versa. Now we're getting into the meat, and it's Concrete Jungle, Natty Dread and a live Trenchtown Rock, from the famous Roxy concert. The set makes good use of live versions, as I'm sure the movie does as well, and the plethora of recordings available makes for a great pacing break between the studio cuts, plus helps out in that alternative-to-Legend quest.
Not everything works. In the desire to get away from the Big 12 or so hits, the plumbing of some less-than-familiar work hits snags, with a couple of minor and dumb choices. The track Work, for instance, is assuredly on no-one's mix tape, and a disco-dub mix of Exodus is a waste of space, made especially annoying as it is immediately followed by the sublime, live at the Lyceum version of No Woman, No Cry. Some cuts are historical, part of the film's progression, especially the live Jammin', not a great version, either in fidelity or performance, but hugely important as it comes from the One Love Peace Concert when Marley got the vicious political rivals Michael Manley and Edward Seaga to come on stage and clasp hands in the middle of the song.
There are the obvious ones of course, as you can't do a proper documentary of Marley without One Love, I Shot The Sheriff, War and Three Little Birds. But full marks have to go to whoever thought of ending it on the somewhat obscure High Tide or Low Tide, a beautiful number sung by the Wailers trio and found tucked onto the Songs Of Freedom box set. Here, it's a killer, it's water metaphor a classic, Biblical reference. Goes right to the soul, it does. Even if you do have a bunch of Bob Marley already, I can assure you this will give you a couple of hours of needed bliss,with only a couple of tracks to skip.
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: ELVIS COSTELLO & THE IMPOSTERS - THE RETURN OF THE SPECTACULAR SPINNING SONGBOOK!!!
Rather than simply stick with that, Costello has also populated the affair with characters based on old carny types, chief among them his alter-ego, Napolean Dynamite, the M.C. for the night. There's also a go-go dancer, a mysterious usher, and references to other members of the touring team. Largely it's stilly, and Costello's British humour has always been a bit obscure, but the site of him being jovial in a top hat is different at least. Once onstage, guests get to sit in the society lounge and sip drinks while their song is performed just a couple of feet from them.
Recorded in Los Angeles, at one gig, there are some ringers in the audience, obvious as Sandra Oh gets to come on stage, and there's some ringers in the dressing room too, as The Bangles come out for a couple of tunes, just like they did 25 years ago for the last Spinning Songbook show in that city. But the real thrill is getting up close and personal with the always-exciting Imposters band.
The randomness of the wheel makes for some odd sequences, such as the hard-charging Clubland leading into the lush ballad God Give Me Strength. And there might be a few too many favourites on there; I could have done without Radio Radio, Peace, Love And Understanding or Alison, in order to hear some of the oddball choices listed on the wheel. But rules are rules, and since the concert was recorded in one night in L.A., without any overdubs, it is what it is.
Visually, it's a lot more fun that the usual concert DVD's, with the go-go girl, the guests coming up from the crowd, the MC routine, and lots of great close-ups of the Imposters in action, certainly one of the more interesting groups. Powerful, too. Watching them go at it should be a lesson to younger bands on how to play with great energy and volume. These guys are still putting most so-called rockers to shame. There are some slight glitches, a bit of feedback here, a bass line flub there, but by giving us just one show, it really does feel a lot more like were there. Highlights include the bitter (naturally, it's Costello) I Hope You're Happy Now, the fun, recent vaudevillian Slow Drag With Josephine, and cool covers of the Stones' Out Of Time and Nick Lowe's Heart Of The City.
Tuesday, April 10, 2012
Called "I've Got A Crush On You", it comes out on April 17th, and expect a full review then, but it's nice to have a preview, too. Here's a video that gives you a tease and explanation:
Monday, April 9, 2012
Goldman has had career stops and starts since her debut disc in 2000, most notably caused by an accident in 2004 that took her two years from which to recover. Grand things were happening, but so was a restlessness that saw her return to university in Boston. This group of songs comes from that experience, and all that went with it; starting over, being a fish out of water, feeling alone, learning to adapt, missing certain people, and questioning decisions. The scenes are vividly painted in a few sentences, whether it's the students she observes around her in the Ivy League, or hitting the road back in the music world. The search for home, or at least, the feeling of home, connects it all. Is it a town that will provide it, or the road, or maybe a lover? The answer doesn't come, but she gets to chronicle the changes, for herself and us.
Or maybe she did figure out at least part of it. Going back to school at 39, starting over, moving back and forth, being restless, she says she realizes she is the Gypsy Girl. And for all you people who never quite feel settled, dive in.
Sunday, April 8, 2012
For this second album, the group has now coalesced into a solid four-piece unit, rather than the several collaborators who made up the first disc, Say Us. Boasting three like-minded composers throwing ideas around, plus the usual Artsy-Craftsy pals such as Jason Collett and Afie Jurvanen (Bahamas), you can see why the ideas keep coming. Well, keep 'em coming, kids, it is a bunch of fun. But amidst all the pomp and splendor and harmonies and hooks and cliches, there's one obvious influence, and that's Queen. Almost every song has something straight out of the Mercury and May circus. And not that's there's anything wrong with that, I just can't figure out why that never makes it in the write-ups. Lord knows they get compared to every other 70's group, plus all the recent retro bands, too.
I guess that's part of the fun, you get to play spot-the-reference if you're a music nerd (guilty, I suppose) or if you don't give a shit (which is smarter), you can enjoys all these time-honoured tricks all mashed up into a new stew. Ahh, falsettos mirroring string parts, many-multitracked voices, crazy toyshop breakdown in the middle of a song, pop-opera, and it just keeps coming and coming. I love it all, and there's no point in dissecting each song, it would just turn into a "this is like this" review. It's better to say a great amount of work, cleverness and inspiration went into it, and the results are a blast.
One final note though. The cut Hello, Tender Love is the best Wings song I've ever heard.
Saturday, April 7, 2012
This is unfortunate, because for the most part, her albums have remained compelling and are performed marvelously. O'Connor has such power in her voice, an ability to sing directly to you. Imagine the effect she would have if she used those powers for good, not, umm, bizarre.
Is that too strong? There would certainly be some who appreciate much of what she has said over the years, and say we are bizarre for not listening to her. Fair enough. Of course, I'm not the one telling the world I've joined PlentyOfFish on my website (you can just imagine the fans who would answer her there), or writing public letters to Bob Dylan on the site, too. Ya, I'm going with bizarre.
This is the first album of the past few that isn't a concept one. These have ranged from Irish folk to Reggae/Rastafari to theological. A good collection of her pop material would probably help bring back a few old friends. Unless, of course, there were distractions, and of course, there are. She takes swipes at some of her favourite targets, including the Vatican, and, reportedly, one aimed at fellow Irish star Bono (VIP). She gets highly personal, recalling the details of her child's parentage, in what is actually an incredibly powerful song. This is very challenging to listen to, sort of like a musical version of somebody's therapy session.
For all that, her ability to present a song's lyrics in a most arresting yet beautiful way is peerless. Maybe, to get to that level of strength, she has to lay bare her emotions, her theories, rants, and raves. I guess sometimes art has to be controversial and a little crazy. Or a lot.
Friday, April 6, 2012
Written collectively and solo, the duo come up with those honest relationship tales that strike you immediately. There's lots of tension, lots of tenderness and lots of questioning, trying to figure out this big ol' love thing. Both are superb singers, she with a clear, spring-water purity, he with a twangy charm. The highs are the moments when the harmonies hit, whether one line in a verse, or joining together on the bridges and choruses.
Both are also solid string players, and provide all the acoustic and electric guitars, with Chris bringing in some nasty resonator, and Eleanor adding violin to many of the tunes. Musically, it leans further to the rock side of roots genre, with a firm bass and drums backing throughout, similar to The Jayhawks and such, although on the soaring, mellow title cut, the acoustics take the focus, and Whitmore sings to the heavens, taking us back to her Texas roots. It's great to know there's more excellent alt-country coming onto the scene, and even better to hear those two singing together, making harmonies to die for.
Wednesday, April 4, 2012
Uptempo, it ain't, aside for a trio of premiere cuts, New Wild Everywhere, Changes With The Wind, and the first single, Easy Come Easy Go. Tony Decker has never been a rocker, but he could be if he wanted, and Lost Channels led me to thinking alt-country should be his direction. Well, you can't foist your own opinions on an artist, and Decker is simply forging ahead with his brand of pastoral, only occasionally letting the tiger out. So, when you hear Easy Come Easy Go spinning on Radio 2, know that there's a lot more talk of luminous veils and the like over the rest of the disc.
So, we shall all mellow out and bask in the reflective, elemental lyrics (as in the natural elements), and take pleasure in the subtle truths and sumptuous melodies. There's beauty galore, in the rich strings, the soft and twangy guitars, and of course, Dekker's warm breath of a voice. Newcomer Miranda Mulholland adds some sweetheart harmonies and much of the violin, and Erik Arnesen's banjo is a mainstay. If New Age wasn't such a reviled term, I'd call it New Age roots or something. It's certainly modern and dreamy at times.
It's still a shock to the system when the decidedly uptempo and positively jaunty Easy Come Easy Go hits your ears halfway through. It sounds like The Jayhawks, or early Wilco, both greatly respected in this column. It does make me wonder what would happen if somebody slipped kick-ass pills in Dekker's herbal tea, but hey, I can live with a couple of hits of this stuff, and the rest of the album filled with such grace. The deluxe two-CD edition has a bonus seven-track set of demos and acoustic versions. Buy it, it's only two bucks more.
Sunday, April 1, 2012
So, we get five M&P tunes, and seven Beach Boys, and for the most part, it's The Mamas & The Papas tracks that sound the best. Maybe that's because they were originally sung by women, and the gender problem of songs such as Don't Worry Baby and Fun, Fun, Fun don't come up. I also think their particular vocal blend (pretty sugary-sweet) sound better on those. The best are the lesser-known tunes, Dedicated To The One I Love, Twelve Thirty, and Got A Feelin', which all feature killer vocal arrangements, and don't sound as dated as California Dreamin'.
Most of The Beach Boys are just too glossy, and the production way too slick. Of course, how do you match the peerless vocals and studio creations found on Don't Worry Baby, God Only Knows, and Wouldn't It Be Nice? They do better on I Can Hear Music, thanks to strong vocals, but really pull a surprise on Good Vibrations. That could have been a complete disaster, but instead, they did something that, as far as I know (which is a lot when it comes to The Beach Boys), nobody has done before: a complete a cappella version of the tune, which actually sounds great. Now, it wasn't accomplished without overdubs and (ga..) robo-AutoTune, but it's still cool nonetheless. Honestly, I'm pretty surprised I like half this album.