Tuesday, July 31, 2012


As usual, Neil Young has polarized fans, and confused the casual listener with his latest release, Americana.  It's a disc of mainly old folk standards, done up in Crazy Horse arrangements.  We're talking Oh Susannah, Clementine and This Land Is Your Land, with that plodding Horse groove, and a few A-minor chords thrown in to make it menacing.  I gave it a thumbs up when it first arrived, as I found it an enjoyable listen, Young putting the darkness back in these songs which have lost some of their power from decades of over-familiarity.  And, it's better than having him write some weak stuff, as has happened in the past.

And now, you can have an enjoyable viewing too.  Young has embraced the Blu-ray like no other artist, ever since he discovered a very high-end audio system for it.  He actually prefers it even over good ol' vinyl, quite the statement from him.  Of course, it also offers the visual side, and Young's always up for films to go with his music.  The trouble with that is his spotty record as a director (under the name Bernard Shakey), and his willful non-compliance to standards for film making.  In other words, he's even nuttier with a camera.  However, this time he had a pretty good idea for something to put with the songs, and actually enhances the listening experience as well.

Each song is accompanied by a different video, based on a concept that's not new, but really fits well.  Young (and no doubt others) went into the vaults to find old black and white film footage from the early 1900's.  Some of it is real-life footage, and the rest is actual feature films, which Young cut up to suit his needs.  You might have seen the Oh Susannah video making the rounds, featuring a family living in a log cabin, the father playing a banjo and the little son dancing a jig to it.  Oh ya, then Dad gives the kid, who can't be more than eight, a smoke, which junior happily puffs on.  It's riveting.  The same happens for each song, the found footage roughly matching the story in the song.  Clementine, which is really a murder ballad, shows a guy in jail getting the cuffs on, that kind of thing.  Mostly, it's this rare and unvarnished footage that keeps your attention.

A lot of it is bizarre.  In the bonus material, Young (or staff) discovered an old film of a professional knife-thrower from perhaps the 30's, and we see her using her own very small girls as the targets in her act, missing them by inches or less with each throw.  Watching the wee girls smiling, giggling, and staying perfectly still is chilling.  Others use stock footage to illustrate the tune, such as coronation of Queen Elizabeth in the take of God Save The Queen, natch.  With the awesome sound, and the cool old movies, Young's given us a good reason to go Blu-ray over conventional CD.

Monday, July 30, 2012


A new making-of documentary, to coincide with last year's mammoth Floyd reissue campaign.  When the group members said it was time to give up so much control, and let everything out of the bag, well, they were good to their word.  Here all the surviving members and associates talk openly about their fears and fights surrounding the creation of this significant album, with as little ego as possible.  Plus, they let all the footage out, really giving the fans everything they could.  Given the stormy relationship within the band, and the closed nature of Roger Waters especially, this is more than anyone could have hoped for.

The making of this disc is itself a great story.  Pink Floyd were at a crossroads, and a crisis, after the success of Dark Side Of The Moon.  They were disillusioned with fame, success, and especially the music industry.  Plus, they had few songs, and no real drive.  A major show at Wembley Stadium had been savaged in the press, and they knew it was accurate.  Finally though, it started to come together in the studio, as a couple of themes emerged.  Have a Cigar picked up on the anger at the music biz.  Then there was Shine On You Crazy Diamond, Waters' tribute and thoughts about original leader Syd Barrett.  This is where the doc really succeeds, and wows.  The film goes back to tell the story of Syd, the acid casualty, with rare vintage performance footage and photos.  The band members speak lovingly of the man, and explain the heartbreak of what happened:  "Remember when you were young/You shone like the sun/Shine on you crazy diamond."  Make sure to check out the bonus material, to see Gilmour sing and play an amazing solo rendition.

It's a pity the members weren't interviewed together, but they probably spoke more honestly that way.  Also featured are lots of the other important characters at the time, including designer Storm Thorgerson, virtually a fifth member of the group, and singer Roy Harper, on his famous guest vocal on Have A Cigar.  Even the stuntman pictured on fire on the cover was found, to explain how he did the famous photo.  Boy, you could hate this album and still love watching the DVD, they've done such a great job telling its story.

Saturday, July 28, 2012


The Beat, as they were properly called in England, had to become The English Beat over here, as the named was already taken by another band.  While we didn't really have a grasp of the whole 2 Tone scene in the U.K. (The Specials, Madness, The Selector), there were breakthroughs, and certainly a decent following in the New Wave crowd.  The group came together in the late 70's, in a cultural stew that saw punk and reggae appealing to some of the same fans.  Ska and rocksteady had been staples of the British charts for years, so white and Jamaican young people had some common ground there as well.  The multicultural mix of these groups helped spawn a brand-new, very danceable and credible sound.  At the band's peak, it was on the road in North America with Talking Heads, The Police and R.E.M., but broke up before making it big with that class.

The legacy is four years and three albums, plus assorted singles, 12-inch mixes, and radio shows, all nicely packaged up in a 5-CD box for us here.  Each of the proper albums is given its own disc, with the single sides and b-sides added on.  There's a complete disc of just 12-inch mixes of the British hits, a necessity in the clubs back then.  The final disc is made up of three different BBC Peel sessions, plus four cuts from a live show in Boston.  There's no out-takes, demos or hidden gems, but none are needed either, nothing that will dilute the legacy. 

The debut, I Just Can't Stop It, is the home of the hits, college radio staples and still buzzing with excitement and pulsing with rhythm.  Twist And Crawl is announced by a booming bass groove that opened up the dance floor for alternative fans.  Then there was Mirror In The Bathroom, still a touchstone song 30 years later, self-obsession tackled in a brilliant lyric.  Debut single Tears Of A Clown is added to the disc (as it was on the original North American pressing), pointing out the strong connection Motown had to Britain, and an instant hit back in London.  The ability to move between the pop and the political was another of the album's strengths, as the group made one of the first (and best) anti-Thatcher statements, Stand Down Margaret.  They represented the real bright new tomorrow, if it was going to be possible, standing firm with Rock Against Racism, searching for a voice for agitating youth culture.  The album was full of stand-out tracks, including Best Friend, Hands Off..She's Mine, and the ultimate great cover version, the Andy Williams hit Can't Get Used To Losing You. 

The production was a key to the success, with veteran BBC engineer Bob Sargeant behind the board.  The echo on Saxa's sax, and the huge presence of the bass were the hallmarks, and no wonder the band stuck with him through their career.

Wha'ppen? was the difficult second album, as the group opened up their sound to more influences, other shades of reggae, even calypso, and slowed down the pace.  There weren't too many great hits, the best of their work having gone to the debut, but slow burners Doors Of Your Heart and Too Nice To Talk To are highlights.  In the ever-changing English pop world, 2 Tone had lost its place in the Top 10 by album three, 1982's Special Beat Service, but it's nearly as strong as the debut, and by this time the U.S. and especially Canada had opened up to the band.  The songs are more sophisticated, but retain the core sound of the group.  I Confess, Jeanette, and especially Save It For Later have deft lyrics and joyous melodies, plus lots of special touches, whether it's well-placed sax solos or thundering bottom-end.  But the separation of the two core strengths of the band was also on display, with the more Jamaican songs, Spar Wid Me and Ackee 1-2-3, distinct from the other material.

The changing tides of English pop moved way too quickly then, and the band split after Special Beat Service.  Literally split, with some forming General Public, and others Fine Young Cannibals.  Various reunions continue, and it's quite a good show I hear.  Well, with this many tremendous songs from just three albums, no wonder.

Thursday, July 26, 2012


What the holy heck happened to Grace Potter?  This ain't the rockin' blues powerhouse set we saw her doing a couple of years back, jumping between Hammond organ and Flying V.  This is, gosh, 80's rock at times, right down to the synth and drum sounds, Prince and The Motels and whoever else.  No Joplin comparisons this time out, she's cooing instead of belting.

Now, don't get me wrong, some of this is quite fine, such as the sultry Parachute, a mid-tempo groove with a great vocal.  Timekeeper is a slow-burn ballad, with some guts in the chorus, and a fine lyric about drummer lust.  But Stars is overdone, and might as well be a failed Journey number.  I keep waiting for some funky, loose workout like Paris (Ooh La La) but everything here is tight, stylized, and produced rather than spontaneous.  Live, the song Turntable would have a lot of power, but with its precise beat, it's virtually disco here, and I say that in the old, late 70's, "disco sucks" spirit.

Actually, I can hear all this stuff as good concert material, because it does still have her fire, and it certainly has a groove.  I don't think it's a try at more commercial success either.  I just believe its over-the-top production went over the line.  Also, it's one of the worst album covers ever.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


Sophisticated, smart, and catchy as all-get-out, Royal Wood has put together his most elegant album with We Were Born To Glory.  Always adept at crafting a moving melody, Wood scores big with a bunch of high-end, hook-heavy and up-tempo gems at the start of the disc, before moving into some moving, and glossy ballads.  Lead track The Thick Of It sets the tone, showcasing his sweet harmonies and joyous pop moves, including a Byrds guitar riff and even a whistled solo.

The hits keep coming, with the urgent The Fire Did Go driving along with a desperate drum beat, Wood wondering how to get back to the spark at the start of a love.  Chiming piano introduces Not Giving Up, Wood pledging to fight the good fight, "With every flame of my desire/I'm not giving up on you."  It's all radiant, with the glory of Rufus Wainwright and the emotional depth of Ron Sexsmith. 

Our boy has the voice, too.  Listen to string ballad Will We Ever Learn, bound to melt the hardest heart.  What a joy to open my email yesterday and see Wood's fall tour includes a stop in my fair city, although we all must wait until late fall, after some festival dates and a European jaunt.  If you want to mark your calender now, here are the shows:

The Glory Tour:

Oct 15 - Winnipeg, MB @ West End Cultural Centre
Oct 16 - Regina, SK @ The Exchange
Oct 17 - Prince Albert, SK @ EA Rawlinson Centre for the Arts
Oct 18 - Saskatoon, SK @ Broadway Theatre
Oct 20 - Vancouver, BC @ Rio Theatre
Oct 21 - Victoria, BC @ St. Ane Theatre
Oct 23 - Nelson, BC @ Royal on Baker
Oct 24 - Canmore, AB @ Communitea Cafe
Oct 25 - Calgary, AB @ Hillhurst Church
Oct 26 - Edmonton, AB @ Myer Horowitz Theatre
Nov 7 – Hamilton, ON @ Studio Theatre
Nov 8 – London, ON @ Aeolian Hall
Nov 10 – Toronto, ON @ Winter Garden Theatre
Nov 22 - Port Hawkesbury, NS @ Shannon Studio
Nov 23 - Hunter River, PE @ Harmony House
Nov 24 -Margaretsville, NS @ Evergreen Theatre
Nov 25 - Halifax, NS @ St. Matthews Church
Nov 26 - Fredericton, NB @ The Capital Complex
Dec 7 - Kingston, ON @ Chalmers Church
Dec 8 - Peterborough, ON @ Market Hall
Dec 9 - Montreal, QC @ Petit Campus

Saturday, July 21, 2012


There's Nashville country, that's the over-produced, hat-wearing, sappy, pop-flavoured stuff that sounds more like Fleetwood Mac than Hank Williams.  There's alt-country, which is basically country for rock fans, with bands and fans that worship Gram Parsons and electric guitars.  There's Outlaw country, the Waylon-Willie-Merle stuff that hasn't changed much since the '70's.  There's classic country, which can mean anything from the Carter Family to the countrypolitan stuff of the 60's and 70's, the George Jones-Loretta Lynn-Tammy Wynette style.  Then there's old-timey and Bluegrass, which can go from Bill Monroe to Alison Krauss.  Roots-songwriter country can feature cowboys like Ian Tyson and Corb Lund, or craftspeople like Rosanne Cash and Guy Clark.  And then there's Johnny Cash.  There's probably a couple more genres I'm missing.  Anyway, it's all splintered and confusing, and causes great ire depending on which you prefer.

So then there's Brandi Carlile, who straddles more than one fence.  Carlile writes most of her songs with brothers and bandmates Tim and Phil Hanseroth, and it feels like these are basically her own words and feelings.  It's quite polished, expensive-sounding, but seems real and heartfelt.  She bounces around the place, from the sweet string-piano parlour tune Heart's Content, to the big pop of Rise Again and even some, you know, country-sounding songs.  Even her voice is enigmatic, pure, rich and big, like a belting Bonnie Raitt, but with just the slightest hint of a rural drawl.

The polished side seems to annoy the No Depression crowd, who find lots to like in her other styles.  So she doesn't score that well in the cool club, although you'll still find her on the NPR playlist in the States.  But mainstream country hasn't fallen too hard for her either, and instead of being on the road with Dierks Bentley, she tours with the likes of Dave Matthews Band and Ray LaMontagne.  Her last album was live with an orchestra, covering Elton John, Simon and Garfunkel and, ulp, yet another Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen.  What IS she?

In the end, it doesn't matter a toss.  You can like her or ignore.  I vote to like her, she has a great voice and lots of ideas.  She doesn't fit into the standard styles of country, or anything else for that matter, and perhaps that's the best part of her work, just doing what she wants.


Here's the scene:  The Checkerboard Lounge in Chicago, owned by Buddy Guy, in 1981.  Muddy Waters is doing a rare gig back in the South Side, where he came to fame with his electric version of Delta blues in the 50's.  Everybody wants to be in the small club that night, and as fate would have it, The Rolling Stones were in the area on their tour.  Let the games begin!

Here's what it's not:  The DVD isn't a full night of Muddy fronting the Stones.  It's a Muddy set, with want amounts to a stage invasion of musicians.  Not all the Stones are there, but Mick, Keith, Ronnie and pianist Ian Stewart are.  Or rather, they arrive four songs in, they and their entourage commandeering the front table, immediately commanding the attention of the cameras there to capture the night (and you knew they were coming).  Muddy doesn't mind being momentarily upstaged by their arrival, he knows the score, and knows they're coming on stage soon.  It's all cool.

Mick stays up for four songs, Keith and Ronnie get called up shortly after Mick, and stay there the whole night, playing some decent riffs.  But midway through the set, it gets way too crowded, when Muddy invites three more blues men on stage:  Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, and Chicago mainstay Lefty Dizz.  There's way too many front men fighting for the mic now, so Mick skips out, and Muddy takes a seat too, beaming from the front row as his disciples entertain him.

The highlight of the show is the time when Muddy and Mick are sparring.  By then they were old friends, and Waters surely knew the younger Brit idolized him.  Clearly enjoying themselves, both goad each other on, accenting and repeating each other's lines.  By the time they get to Mannish Boy, Muddy's so pumped he jumps up and strolls the stage, all of a sudden 30 years younger.  Two years after this night, he was gone.

The rest feels like a denouement, and although Ron, Keith and Ian stay on stage, it's really an unrehearsed jam set that features Guy, Wells and Dizz as singers.  This probably isn't the best way to get introduced to Lefty Dizz, who was beloved on Chicago club scene and a dynamic showman, but here seems like an unknown interloper in a crowd of kings.  However, all the Chicago cats thought he was an equal, such was his status.  Most of us, however, are here for the Stones.  Mick and Muddy come up for one more, and clown around on Waters' Champagne And Reefer, before the night is done for them and us.

So it's not a stunning night of music, more a historic meeting for stargazers.  But it looks like a great party, and it would have been amazing to be there.  Thank goodness someone thought to hire the camera crew, and it's good the Stones are loosening up on archive stuff like this.  It may not be everyone's best night, but it's a fun watch for sure.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


Fisher's as stripped down as can be here, an acoustic album with uke, mandolin, double bass, woody percussion and banjo, nothing electric.  It fits his singalong, catchy numbers just fine, of which there are five originals.  The rest are covers of famous songwriters he loves, although they are somewhat obscure numbers.  And all but two are Canadian writers, which is a classy move.  Lightfoot is here, but its a very early, 1966 single Spin Spin.  The youngster shows great taste, and fine knowledge of past masters, including songs by Gene MacLellan (If It's Alright With You) and Murray McLauchlan (Highway One).  There's room for later stuff too, including a Ron "Lowest Of The Low" Hawkins number.  The closest thing to a known hit is one from Quebec, from the mercurial Jean Leloup, his I Lost My Baby.  Even his John Hiatt cover is a hardly-heard gem, Gone.

They are all favourites of his, taken from his live show, and Fisher wanted to capture the feeling of what he does night after night on the road.  A veteran yet still a relative kid, he's obviously taken with the folk and singer-songwriter traditions, and living up to those ideals.  The first time I ever met him, he was biking his way across North America, choosing to promote his first album in the healthiest way possible.  It's great to see he's still living that way; one of the new tunes here is Built To Last, espousing the joys of two-wheels-good, in a metaphor for rolling through life.

Sitting your own tunes on a disc surrounded by such first-class names is a gamble.  It can point out the weaknesses in a lesser writer.  That ain't Fisher.  Not only do his own songs live up to the quality of the others, he also makes the covers his own, keeping a relaxed and confident pace through the disc.  And with the somewhat unfamiliar list of songs here, I bet lots couldn't tell the difference between his and theirs.

Monday, July 16, 2012


But for a bad business move, Jimmy Cliff might be considered reggae's biggest star.  After all, he was the one breaking through in the early 70's, thanks to British hits Wonderful World, Beautiful People, his anti-war Viet Nam, which Bob Dylan called the best protest song ever written, and a smash cover of Cat Stevens' Wild World.  Then came his biggest of all, a starring role in the hit film The Harder They Come, which brought the sounds of reggae around the world.  But Cliff was upset with Island boss Chris Blackwell, who had brought him to England in the first place, and thought he was favouring Bob Marley over him, spending more on promotion.  So he jumped ship for another label, and watched as Marley leaped ahead, ironically enjoying even more of Blackwell's promotion, now that Cliff was out of the picture.

Yet Cliff's contributions have been many, although never quite as political or controversial as Marley.  He leaned towards the pop side more, and was always more at home with the commercial influences of 60's U.S. soul music, and his roots in ska and rock steady, the precursors of reggae.  Not to say he never went that harder route, just not all the time.

This is a welcome return to Cliff's best sounds, and certainly his best work since the 70's.  It's a surprising production by Tim Armstrong of Rancid, a big reggae fan.  The goal was simple, to return to the classic sounds of Cliff's late 60's - early 70's heyday, and that's exactly what they've done.  Cliff hasn't lost a bit of his voice, and wanted this bad.  His lyrics are direct and captivating, full of the more subtle messages which mark his best work.  The cut Reggae Music is a highlight, as he tells his life story, from the music side, and his commitment to human rights.  Children's Bread is another strong one, chastising those who starve the youngest for their own profit.  Cliff wrote 'em all here, except for a cover of Rancid's Ruby Soho, and an inspired choice, The Clash's best reggae number, Guns Of Brixton.  Not only is it a great song, and an excellent version, Cliff's character in The Harder They Come, Ivanhoe, is name-checked, so it's downright perfect, bringing it all full circle.

The music is great throughout, thanks to Armstrong's core studio group.  It's not punk'ed up at all, but the original sounds of ska, rock steady, and the right soul and pop touches.  Considering that nobody really does reggae right anymore, and most Jamaican output the last 20 years has sucked as they chased dance hall hits, and whatever, this is the best new reggae album in decades, methinks.

Sunday, July 15, 2012


The latest upgrade in The Beatles catalog is the 1968 curiosity that remains one of their more debatable projects.  Stuck owing one more film after A Hard Day's Night and Help!, there was no decent script, and no great desire to do another one.  The answer came from the same American company making the silly but profitable cartoon TV series, offering a full-length movie with not too much needed from the Fabs.  They did what they had to, which was come up with some of their silliest songs (Hey Bulldog, It's All Too Much), handed over some old ones (Eleanor Rigby, Sgt. Pepper), and filmed a very short live-action piece for the ending.  The rest was handled by a mixed group of British and U.S. producers, writers, animators and voice actors.

This new issue is the first version to make it to Blu-ray, and it's a top job, with the brilliant colours of the pop-art drawings never looking better.  The soundtrack sounds great in 5.1 audio as well, and you purists can even switch over to mono.  There are some cool bonuses, including some original storyboards, even a couple that weren't used in the end.  There's some commentary and interviews with people who made the movie, and all housed in an attractive package.  Altogether, everything that can be done to spruce up a 42-year old movie has been done. 

What they can't do is make it better, and time hasn't been kind to the silliness inside.  Well, not that it was ever a huge favourite.  While the animation is a treat, the story is a muddle, part childish whimsy (the Blue Meanies have always been the best thing here) and the rest aren't-we-clever 60's hipness.  It might have helped if the several writers had managed to get the four personalities of The Beatles right, but apart from British accents and mod clothes, they could be any sarcastic group.  Ringo's voice actor does a decent job, but the guy doing George isn't close.  And the worst thing about it is that it's kinda creepy.  Laughs, even chuckles are few, and outnumbered by the weird moments.

Still, they price these things now so reasonably, it's almost worth it for the Blu-ray quality, bonuses and the reminder of what it was like.  And Eleanor Rigby sure sounds good coming out of all those speakers.

Thursday, July 12, 2012


And... open up the floodgates!  Great news for George Harrison fans, as a new collection of unreleased tracks has appeared, and it comes with the promise of much more.  This is the companion disc to the recent Martin Scorsese documentary, Living In The Material World, and some of it was heard in the background of the film.  Along with its recent DVD release, and the Christmas-time publication of a coffee table book to supplement the movie, we get this 10-track set of all previously unreleased music.

It's mostly demos, rough studio versions of the songs as Harrison sketched out the tune, either solo or with a couple of players.  For this first volume, they've grabbed many of the big ones, including My Sweet Lord, All Things Must Pass, and Run Of The Mill.  There's actually six cuts here from the All Things Must Pass album, his most popular.  But it was also his first post-Beatles album too, so it looks like there's plenty to come from the rest.  No doubt collectors are happy about a couple of cover versions as well, songs that didn't appear on his regular albums.  We hear him tackle Dylan's Mama You've Been On My Mind, and also the old Everly Brothers classic Let It Be Me, George singing both harmony parts.

Demos can sometimes be a bit of a letdown, either unpolished and dull, or quite similar to the finished versions.  Here, Harrison has yet to meet Phil Spector's Wall Of Sound, as recorded on the finished All Things Must Pass album.  Stripped down, we discover he's just as strong without all the extra players and parts.  Everything is pretty much there that makes the songs on that album so special; his acoustic guitar, a little slide, that mellow voice, and especially strong lyrics at this point.  Some of these are songs he been storing for the last two years in The Beatles, unable to get this sudden flurry of great tunes onto the later albums packed with Lennon and McCartney tracks.  They were probably polished to perfection as acoustic numbers, as Harrison waited for his chance to get them to the public.

There's no word yet on when the next volume will come, but Olivia Harrison has promised it, and according to both her and producer Giles Martin (son of George), there is lots more to come.

Sunday, July 8, 2012


If Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, and Leonard Cohen can release albums with ruminations on growing old, Wainwright can too.  Of course, he takes the concept, and beats death to death, with his usual aplomb and lack of subtlety.  You get it all here, from memories of childhood to becoming a ghost, and all that's in between.  He makes no bones about it either, he's old, getting older fast, and he doesn't like it.

He'll make you laugh, and if you're over fifty, he'll make you scared, too, as he reminds you that you have more past than future now.  The whole thing seems to have come about from the realization that he's now older (64) than the age at which his father died.  The album opens with his life story in four verses and a chorus, in typically blunt fashion ("I took a wife, we had some kids/Screwed that up and went on the skids").  All four of his kids, and two of the three women he married (Kate McGarrigle had recently died) join in on the vocals.  It's simply audacious, and works perfectly.  There are some poignant songs along the way, including In C, about the Great Unknown that we all battle in live, the one that somehow broke apart his parents, and his own first marriage.  I guess Kate's death weighed on Wainwright as well, because that marriage, and kids Martha and Rufus get several mentions here (although that's true about several of his songs since the 70's).  In tribute, he includes the one song the couple wrote together, back in 1975, Over The Hill, almost as if they predicted this album all those years ago.

The sequencing of the album deserves special mention, as the flow of the songs helps keep the collection from being overly sad, or too silly.  When a song hits you particularly hard, or makes you think, you can be sure the next one will lighten the mood.  Included is a number about every one of the many, many medicines he's familiar with, from an arsenal of antidepressants to heat pads and baby Aspirin.  Most silly is a duet with the one and only Dame Edna Everage, but who better to coo a British music hall number with, especially one called I Remember Sex?

It's all quite powerful  He reads a piece written by his father in 1981, a brilliant essay about relationships between parents and grown children, and their past complicated any current friendship.  That is followed by a duet with Rufus, about how hard it is for father and son to change, and that battleground.  Whew.  Every moment of Wainwright's life is fair game for his material, and he never comes out looking great, and often, not very good at all.  But you can't help loving the flawed man.


Hey, zombies are hot right now, aren't they?  Well, these guys won't rip your face off, but they are more popular than they've been in years.  Celebrating 50 years since their formation, the group recorded this live DVD-CD combo at a new British venue called Metropolis Studios.  The small hall is set up specifically for live recordings, with a small, 120-person invited audience.  The 2011 recording is one of several being released in similar sets, invited 60's and 70's U.K. favourites still treading the boards.  Other releases include Bill Nelson, Barclay James Harvest, Caravan and Roy Harper.  Although these groups might have a few fans over here, clearly the biggest name is The Zombies.

The original, 60's incarnation of the group had a funny career, very much hit-or-miss.  Most people will know big hits Time Of The Season and She's Not There, and some will at least recognize Tell Her No.  But almost everything else the group put out through the mid-60's was a flop, here and at home.  Keyboard player and songwriter Rod Argent had a huge hit with Hold Your Head Up in the 70's, and lead singer Colin Blunstone managed a few British Top 40's, but that was it for years.  Then, a new generation of musicians, including Paul Weller, started talking about the group's final album, Odessey (sic.) & Oracle (the group was at such a low point, the graphic designer misspelled the title, and nobody bothered to change it).  Critics started listening too, and it became regarded as a classic.  With the band hip again, a long-lasting reformation has occurred, although only Argent and Blunstone remain from the originals.

Of course, since they were pretty much faceless anyway, it doesn't matter that we only have a two-fifths reunion, especially with Blunstone's voice and Argent's keys the signature sounds.  And neither has lost a step.  This small venue/studio is obviously a great space, as the band sounds wonderful, and the harmonies especially are brilliant.  These lads are very well-preserved too, and there's a regal charm to it all, Blunstone a soft-spoken, sweet-singing type, the antithesis of the gnarled Rolling Stones.  I don't know how many re-takes they might have done, but it's note-perfect, vocally and instrumentally, from start to finish.

Diving deep into the 60's albums, the centerpiece of the shows is a six-song suite of Odessey tracks, baroque-pop with an R 'n' B edge, somewhere between The Small Faces and The Troggs.  It's dated a bit certainly, A Rose For Emily twee British musical hall at its root, but Beechwood Park is a pop gem, I Want Her, She Wants Me is tougher stuff, and of course Time Of The Season is a powerhouse.  Elsewhere, the group chooses to dip into the solo years to fill out the set, with several of Blunstone's U.K. hits, including the strong and faithful Motown cover What Becomes Of the Broken Hearted.  Argent gets his due too, with Hold Your Head Up still a great rave.

Yet the problem the band had in the 60's remains.  Their catalogue is still too thin, without the requisite number of quality hits to fill up 90 minutes.  A couple of brand-new tracks from a well-received 2011 album are good additions, especially I Do Believe, an Argent composition that sounds like it could have been a lost 1967 outtake.  Yet it still feels like we're all waiting for She's Not There, the inevitable highlight.  They do make the very best of what they have though.

Thursday, July 5, 2012


Well, as you can read, I already have my own blog.  But now, another blog has done me the honour of featuring me in its latest post.  It's a new site devoted to the hobby and passion of record collecting, especially in these here Maritime provinces, where I live.

It's called Maritime Vinyl, and has lots of fun and informative posts already, in just six-plus months of existence.  You can find out how to set up your turntable, for instance, for all you who are new to vinyl, or old folks like me who forgot after the digital decades.  There's a primer on how to tell original Beatles albums from later pressings, something that will help you avoid a $50 dollar mistake at the flea market.  And, there are features on record collectors in the region, and that's where I come in.  Maritime Vinyl gives me a nice plug for the Top 100 Canadian Singles and Albums books, and grills me on my pathetic lifelong addiction to Beach Boys collecting.  And there are photos!  See my basement! Check out my Australian Fun Fun Fun E.P.

And, check out the blog, it's a cool place to check in for the growing number of vinyl enthusiasts.  Here's the linkage:


Tuesday, July 3, 2012


One of the few actual stars in jazz these days, a name many recognize, and lots actually buy, plus she still has peer respect in the notoriously tight community.  Her latest sees her in excellent form, and even doing all original material, except for one.  It's a different album to be sure; there is a lot of guitar here, with two instrumentals, and there's an Italian feel through the whole disc.  That's because it features the guitarist Fabrizio Sotti, as co-producer, often co-writer, and the composer and only performer on those instrumentals.  Such is the collaboration that Sotti's name appears on the cover as well, given a "featuring" credit.

The songs were recorded in Florence, Italy, using local players, and the touches of the area, including accordion on most of the numbers.  Sotti's acoustic is the dominate instrument, and Wilson's voice rises to the occasion, her natural warmth a fine mix with the softness of the Italian musicians.  Of course, as we are in Italy, the songs are romantic, but not lush; Wilson's words never fall into the trap of being dramatic.  Smartly, it is a mix of her modern, North American style, and the Italian way.

The two linking instrumentals are a great idea, especially for a vocalist's album, and helps enhance the travelogue feel of the disc.  Also, that chestnut O Sole Mio (you know, what Elvis sang as It's Now Or Never), perhaps the best-known traditional Italian song is trotted out, but instead of the bombast often used by the dramatic Italians (and the imitators), Wilson keeps it cool and moody.  It's a very smart departure for Wilson, and a soothing treat.

Monday, July 2, 2012


A captivating and powerful album, but completely opposite of the cliched Smith caricature from her art/punk beginnings, and that memorable Gilda Radner spoof, Candy Slice.  This is a hushed, beautiful series of emotional and lovely tunes for the most part, including some of the most beguiling vocals of her long career.  It's also a stunning artistic achievement, Smith combining a variety of influences, including painting, film, literature, nature, grief, loss, and Johnny Depp (guesting on drums and guitar on one track, I kid you not).

Now I know I'm not supposed to review the liner notes, but it's a rare essay that can explain and enhance the listening experience.  Her notes on the journey that brought the album about are just as fascinating as the songs, and give you clear insight into what they're about.  Plus, it's just plain bizarre that the voyage began on the ill-fated Costa Concordia, albeit a couple of years before it infamously sank on Italy's coast.  Hearing how she and her band soak up rarefied situations that ooze art at its most creative, and turn it back into these inspired songs helps us understand just how committed they are to the process.  I digress, but really, I'd buy this CD just to get the booklet.

The lovely April Fool is a prime example of the soft and rich music that dominates Banga.  Electric piano is the dominate instrument, along with some gorgeous guitar filigrees courtesy of guest Tom Verlaine.  Smith coos her way through this story, inspired by 19th century Russian romantic writer Nikolai Gogol.  As high brow as that might be, just as lovely is This Is The Girl, written for Amy Winehouse after her passing.  Fuji-san is sent out as a letter of love and support to the people of Japan after the earthquake and tsunami, a prayer to their holy mountain for protection.

Sometimes the old raucous poet comes through, when Smith gets tough.  The title cut comes from another Russian writer, Mikhail Bulgakov, and this time his classic novel The Master And Margarita requires more vigour, even a barking dog.  It's all fascinating, with the only exception the lone cover on the disc, a very odd choice.  Wanting an environmental theme, she chose Neil Young's After The Gold Rush to close the album, but it's so different and familiar, it stands out like a sore thumb.  Everything else?  Peachy.


A 21-year old phenom from England, Sheeran has won a packet of awards in his homeland, based around the huge success of his hit The A Team, from his debut album.  It's about somebody abusing A-class drugs, a maudlin little number in the vein of James Morrison and James Blunt, an acoustic weeper.  But he's not all soft and sweet, and much of the disc features his folk updated with hip-hop pinnings, beats and dance hall speed rhyming.  It's hit-and-miss stuff, at least on the quality side of the equation.  While The A Team works wonderfully, and rings with truth and empathy, too many of the tracks feature some downright awful lyrics.

There's the unbelievable sappiness of Wake Me Up, which details the mundane moments in a relationship (playing video games, watching DVD's) like they are heart-stirring memories.  Unfortunately it strips the power from the next song, Small Bump, which seems to be about a baby lost prematurely.  Then there's The City, about moving to London, which opens with the horrible cliche "This city never sleeps/I hear the people walking by and it's late".  You Need Me, I Don't Need You, another Top 10 hit in England, is him bragging in rap mode about how he's a star already, and doesn't need hangers-on, critics, and the celebrity press.  Okay.  Well, let me just quietly rip you a new one about 21-year-olds pretending to be hip-hop tough when they're obviously just the flavour of the  moment.

It's too bad Sheeran doesn't have a fluff filter, and is enamoured with other people's sounds.  There's talent on display, but manipulation too, and while it will be lucrative times for everyone involved, ultimately interest will wain quickly.

Sunday, July 1, 2012


Jack White's one-time side project can be viewed now as a stepping-stone to his solo career.  At the time of this DVD (2008), The White Stripes were still supposedly a going concern, but no doubt White knew the days were dwindling.  Here he takes the stage with his playmates, a safe place to try out some moves, as the band was advertised as just for fun.  However, even though established songwriter Brendan Benson is on board, a frontman himself, as the DVD shows, it's clearly White's group.

It's also a significantly heavier sound than the two Raconteurs delivered.  Whereas those had the stronger influence of Benson's pop inclinations, here its White's electrics blues, and a 70's rock band influence that dominate, from the sludge-Zeppelin treatment of Intimate Secretary, and the electrified version of the old blues number Keep It Clean.  But you can also hear White taking advantage of the fact he was no longer playing with just a drummer.  Now, he was in a five-piece, including keyboards and another guitar, and the tune Old Enough, with its violin, sounds like 70's Townshend, around Who's Next.

Then there's the final encore number, already a centerpiece on the Consolers Of The Lonely album, a modern take on the murder ballad style, a mystery song that shows White's interest in the folk and old-time school.  This was an artist in transformation, even though it wasn't being talked about at the time, such was the hope that The White Stripes would continue.  Now that we have White's solo debut, Blunderbuss, I think most will be okay with White's continued movement, and The Raconteurs can certainly be seen as a valuable time in his career.  As such, this is a good document of the time.