Sunday, September 30, 2012


If you think George Martin's career started and finished with The Beatles, this will be a big eye-opener for you.  The most successful music producer in history was a lot more than just the man behind the studio glass.  Would he have become famous, or even important, without the talented group that fell into his lap?  Hard to say, but he did do a whole lot of interesting things before Brian Epstein got in touch with him.  And don't forget, he didn't just produce them.  As the head of the comedy, light jazz, and Scottish country dancing label Parlophone, he had the ability to sign the Liverpool group.  After an audition, he said yes, where other record companies said no.  Luckily, they all worked well with each other.  So well, that Martin became an integral member of the studio group, feeding them ideas, arrangements, and new technology.

But its the years before that make this documentary work, as we find out about the young Cockney lad who went to war as part of a bomber crew, and who loved playing piano.  In a succession of strokes of luck, he landed a job at EMI, eventually given the weak sister Parlophone label to run.  Knowing he had to do something drastic to make it a success, he started to record comedy, including the legendary Goons, Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan.  Then there were the eccentrics he brought in, including Australian singer Rolf Harris.  The label was indeed growing, but rock 'n' roll was coming by then, and Martin was looking for a band for his label.  It's a great story.

It's also put together really well.  There's no narrator, and only brief on-screen script.  For the most part, it moves along with Martin speaking in interviews, and often with the interviewer with him.  Smartly, there are several; his son Giles starts things off, learning about his upbringing.  Python's Micheal Palin talks to him about the comedy albums.  Ringo and then Paul arrive, to chat about the war years.  It's marvelous to see how easily they chat, true friends loving the memories of their work together.  Cilla Black, Harris, Jeff Beck, and others pop up at appropriate times.

It's not a straight chronology though; at one point we skip ahead to see Martin talking to a group about hearing loss.  He's an officer of a major charity, due to his own partial deafness, and it is inspiring to see him working hard for it, and quite proudly, instead of bemoaning the sad irony of the loss of his legendary ears.  The most enjoyable part of the documentary is that it doesn't dwell on the well-known stories of the Beatle years.  For the most part, we get discussions of how Martin influenced the group, working in tandem, and truly re-inventing the job of record producer.

The documentary does trail off after the Beatle years, although there were plenty of successes, from Beck, America, solo McCartney, Jimmy Webb and more.  Of course, what could match the Beatle years?  What we do see is a very remarkable, and quite lovely man, seemingly grounded and much more than the man behind the glass.

Saturday, September 29, 2012


The one where Michael Stipe stops mumbling, and REM gets a Top Ten hit.  With the band now dead, the sumptuous reissue campaign continues, with album five receiving the now-standard two-disc treatment, with a deluxe box, postcards and a huge friggin' poster filling it up.  Ignore the finery, it's just for show, but enjoy the extra disc.  This time, there are no demo sessions; instead it's a full 80-minute live show from Holland, recorded two weeks after Document's release, and heavy on the new cuts.

Document was a heavier album, as the group confirms in quotes in the liner notes.  Not only did they try to get heavier as a basic rock band with guitar, lyrically they were bummed about the state of the U.S., with Reagan Republicans and high finance thieves running amok.  At the same time, a mighty sea change was happening in music, and the band found themselves at the leading edge.  Alternative was about to go mainstream, and the band was making its changes at the right time.  They felt it, and went for it, with Stipe's vocals now pushed to the front of the mix instead of buried just below understanding.  Led by The One I Love, suddenly the college band had crossed the threshold into stardom.

Overall, the original album is one of peaks and valleys, with tent-pole tunes Finest Worksong, It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine), and The One I Love standing out for their energy.  There are other strong ones that have stood the test of time, Exhuming McCarthy and Disturbance At The Heron House topping that list.  But others don't have the clout or the melody, and despite the more the confident lyrics of Welcome to The Occupation and Oddfellows Local 151, they haven't made anyone's mixtapes lately.

The live album is a grander snapshot of the upwardly mobile times for the group.  All of a sudden they were a group with hits, old favourites, and an excitement.  It's a group about to blow, and nothing's more exciting for an audience, you just know when you are there.  Certainly that evidence is here, especially in the inspired guitar of Peter Buck, the harmonies of Mike Mills, and the overall feeling they are going for it.  Stipe even explains the story behind Life And How To Live It, and the set is designed for peak moments and the introduction of the new songs.  The best moment comes at the end.  For a final song, we get a much softer version of So. Central Rain, toned down to be a benediction.  It's great to have these radical departures come out on deluxe editions, and it makes it worthwhile to upgrade.

Friday, September 28, 2012


Collett's in a mellow mood here, largely influenced by the economic collapse and the resulting Occupy Movement, with which he identifies.  He's stated for all that the album is primarily about loss, that of illusion, of faith in institutions such as banks and government, and specific hurts, like the loss of homes and jobs, as he's seen while on tour.  Now, that can lead to some down lyrics, certainly thoughtful ones, but he's done a good job in keeping a balance in the tunes, some rocking out, and the themes coming out as tough, and therefore rocking, as well as the sombre stuff.

As a big statement, Reckon's subject matter is handled with a lot more subtlety than, say, Springsteen's latest.  I get a better sense of the characters and their personal hurt here than I do in the oddly-detached Wrecking Ball songs.  Maybe it's because Collett's closer to the age of the majority of the Occupy protesters.  But also, he just does a better job with the words.  I Wanna Rob A Bank pretty much sums up the feeling many have about wanting to get back at these money-grabbers, quoting lines of the times directly, such as "Where did the money go?"  And there are more songs that aren't overtly political or societal, but simply personal, although not necessarily in Collett's voice.  Miss Canada is about a woman forced to leave the East because of the lack of jobs, ending up like so many others in Fort McMurray, hardly the Promised Land:  "And when the wind blows and the Athabasca River flows/restless is all she knows."

There are songs to break the mood too.  King James Rag takes a bunch of familiar phrases from the Old Testament (eye of the needle, the fatted calf) and spins them into a quick ditty with a jaunty beat.  And the pace is surprisingly quick for a heavier album, with a couple of numbers under two minutes, and several more under three.  It's also a lighter-listening experience, with strings carrying a lot of the weight, and no murk in the production; the acoustic guitars are pure, no instruments were hurt in the filming of this story.

Act now, 'cause there's a big bonus to owning this one as well.  CD copies come with a complete second disc, called Essential Cuts, which is a best-of from his previous four albums, and also includes two previously-unreleased cuts.  And those who buy the vinyl of Reckon will get the compilation as a bonus digital download.  Nice.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


In which our boy returns, after a lengthy absence, 2005 for an album of new material, 2007 for the Dwight Sings Buck collection.  But is it with hat in hand?  Hell no, he hasn't changed, but maybe you have.  Cool as a cucumber, Yoakam does his Buck Owens twang, Elvis rockabilly, and hurtin' ballads just as strong as always.

No matter the music, Yoakam always finds or writes smarter-than-your-average-bear adult country, with mature, flawed romance often the theme:  "I've lusted for love but lust is so blind/and trust for a heart is a hard thing to find/But what's left of yours might help to heal mine."  He can also have fun and take the words way past the usual country barriers, such as the title cut, which isn't about pears at all.  Instead, it's about three pairs of glasses, that might refer to a broken family ("three pairs of shoeless feet"), but it's a partial glimpse of some life, and has a sleek modern production, more like an Elvis Costello song.  Waterfall is tune that points out that we don't need all of the contraptions and more money, we need more love of life to be happy:  "If I had a waterfall?we wouldn't wonder not at all/How much fun each day was gonna be."

Those are songs that set him apart, but its when he cuts loose on the basic stuff, you really get his value.  I appreciate all the Americana and No Depression folk that do alt-country, but how about, you know, real country guys that get it and do it well?  Hearing Yoakam romp through a cover of Dim Lights, Thick Smoke makes me long for Dave Dudley and all that stuff that used to rock country music from people you know that meant it.  Yoakam has always, and still, means it.

Monday, September 24, 2012


A 2005 concert recording, just now seeing the light of day, but with a difference.  This was a benefit for a historic community church in Toronto, 147 years old at the time, and facing a financial crisis.  A volunteer committee quickly came together, with everyone from the performers to the tech crew to the production staff donating their time.  It was a big success, the church survived and continues its strong community involvement to this day, with shelter and food programs among its works.  The release of the disc now will support these on-going efforts from the Kensington Market church.

There's a community tie to most of the performers as well, with the local and well-known folks that took part.  Molly Johnson, a downtown fixture, gives a topical reading of God Bless The Child, and another longtime resident, Jane Siberry does a combo spoken-word, two song set.  Performance players Theatre Gargantua started out performing in the church's artist spaces.  There was even an actual (former) parishioner, none other than Bruce Cockburn, and his 3-song set is a highlight here.  First, there's a rare reading of his earliest well-known number, Goin' To The Country, which is a grand treat.  2005 was right when Cockburn was showcasing his guitar chops on the all-instrumental Speechless album, so we get some of his nimbleness on King Kong Goes To Tallahassee.  The set is wrapped up by Tried And Tested, from his You've Never Seen Everything disc.

The other major artist here is Daniel Lanois, doing a one-off set with singer Lori Anna Reid.  She takes one song, proving herself a fine vocalist, and then she harmonizes with Lanois on two of his biggest numbers, The Maker and The Messenger.  These are always grand songs to hear, and with those numbers, and the Cockburn mini-set, its a nice hour of listening for any fan of these folk.

Sunday, September 23, 2012


This is an interesting double-disc set, sort of a catch-all collection that features some greatest hits, some unreleased stuff, a couple of rare ones, and a complete live album.  It's a very generous, two hour listen, and nicely sums up the group.  Some of it is great, some of it is okay, and there are even some clunkers.  Or as Randy Bachman himself puts it in the liner notes, "Gathered here are some of those best and not so best moments...".  This wasn't art, it was meats-and-potatoes rock, the amps at 11 and the guitars set to dumb.  When it worked, it worked perfectly, with Takin' Care Of Business and You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet two of the iconic rock songs of the 70's, requiring little thought to enjoy, as opposed to the prog rock and singer-songwriters getting all the press in Rolling Stone.  BTO played blue collar rock in a blue collar way, touring endlessly, pumping out albums, and being good old Canadian boys with no pretense or hope of being glamorous. 

It's a great story, and told really well in the lengthy liner notes supplied by Bachman biographer John Einarson, also one of the compilers of the set.  Every similar retrospective should have such extensive booklets, it's one of things that makes physical copies of discs still desirable to music fans.  Bachman had famously quit The Guess Who at the peak of the group's success, as American Woman topped the charts, wanting a new musical direction.  At first he tried it with the new fad of country rock, but the group Brave Belt never caught on.  That band morphed into BTO when Fred Turner joined and helped them rock out, with his booming voice suitable for nothing less.  Then Bachman's work ethic and pop instincts kicked in, and against the odds the group rose to the top, becoming one of the biggest-selling yet under-praised bands in the world.

The two big hits are the ones that get all the attention from classic rock radio since then, but there are actually a handful of fine ones, including Let It Ride, Hey You, and Lookin' Out For #1.  That last one showcased Bachman's actual full talent, as he got to play some of his beloved jazz licks, his true favourite music.  But Turner-fronted hard rockers Not Fragile and Four Wheel Drive had more of an impact with the kids.  The non-hit tracks on the first disc include a Brave Belt number, Never Coming Home, showing the Creedence boogie they were attempting.  Then there's a very odd interpretation of The Box Tops hit, The Letter, which is changed into CSNY's Southern Man for some reason.  There are also a few cuts from various 80's attempts to bring the band back, of varying quality, the best of them being a cover of the classic Wooly Bully, which might have been a hit except it's from a movie soundtrack no-one has ever heard of (American Boyfriends, 1989).  Oh, it was a Canadian film, that's why. 

Disc two is, um, gosh.  Well.  The most important thing I can say about it is that this is the first appearance on CD of the Live In Japan album.  And, there are two previously unreleased cut added to it.  Oddly, for a band that made their name by touring and thrilling fans with their live show, it's not a very good show.  Much of the problem seems to be in its lengthy cuts and instrumental parts, which may very well have worked for the live crowds, but not at home.  It also includes the dreaded drum solo.  I mean, really.  "Hey, you should check out this new live album, it has an amazing drum solo on it," said no one ever.  Plus, shouted out to the Japanese audience, most of whom wouldn't have understood a word, is the dumbest stage slogan in rock:   "Wherever you go, whatever you do, do it in Four Wheel Drive".  It is nice to hear Blue Collar in the set list, and Bachman does get to show off some of his gorgeous jazz playing, but really it's a one-listen item even for the biggest fans.

Most of the essential BTO songs are here, so if you are just looking to get the hits, this does the trick.  If you want to dig deeper it does that, too.  Mostly though, I recommend this because it's a well-thought out collection, of a historically important Canadian group.

Saturday, September 22, 2012


Good timing on this one.  Parker has just announced he's back with The Rumour for the first time since 1981, has recorded a new album, and will be doing a big U.S. tour with them this fall.  GP and The Rumour were one of the most explosive live acts of the late 70's, a R 'n' B-rock unit that spat out Parker's unique blend of vintage soul, Van Morrison and angry England.  But Parker moved a bit more into jagged rock in the 80's, and the troupe split after The Up Escalator album.  Fabulously, it's the complete original band reforming, and I can't wait to hear the results.

Meanwhile, this is a tasty double-DVD package (also available on CD), from the venerable German TV show Rockpalast, part of a new series of releases from the show's vault.  Those blessed folks would record the whole live show, and broadcast it across Europe.  Compare that to TV in North America, where concert shows usually had two or three songs per act, edited.  There are already several Rockpalast shows out, and I'll review more of them in the days ahead.  But this baby was top of the pile for me.  There are two shows, from 1978 and 1980.  And what a difference between the two.  The earlier one showcases the group in its pure R 'n' B phase, songs from the Howlin' Wind and Heat Treatment albums, complete with a four-man horn section.  The latter show sees all but one song from The Up Escalator played, along with a handful of Squeezing Out Sparks numbers, and little from the earlier discs, with the emphasis on punchy choruses and sharp guitars.

It's interesting to watch Parker as a front man in these days, with his big sunglasses barely hiding the piercing glare from his eyes.  He means business, and is deadly serious about these songs.  This is love as the most important thing in the world, worth fighting for, and often a nasty piece of work.  As he sings, "Nobody hurts you harder than yourself".  Even when the tunes themselves are relatively happy, such as Heat Treatment, the band tears into them like they're fighting for their jobs.  They were going to conquer the audience with this music, no matter what was currently in style.  The 1980 show is longer, as Parker had had a hit with Squeezing Out Sparks, affording him an 82-minute set, and a cheering crowd.  The group and horns have to win over the first audience, but it doesn't take them long, and the 60-minute show zips by.  While it's all grand, I'm most impressed by the 1980 set, because it shows just how strong The Up Escalator tracks were.  Sadly, the album tanked, his upward momentum stalled, and name-brand stardom eluded Parker.  Wait though, maybe not so sadly; for my money, his albums have been consistently excellent, although low-key over the past decade.  Maybe fame would have changed that, and what's truly important is the art.  Anyway, lots of it here.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


Are they for real?  I always have a weird feeling about contest winners, but in this case I gotta say they deserve it all and more.  Having seen the furry fellows in concert, I can attest to their energy and talent, and they continue to do exactly what you've come to expect.  That is, lots of sounds that reek of the 70's (the better-smelling parts) yet keeping a lot of their own unique charm.

The funny thing is, for all the "gee, doesn't that sound like...." moments, the loyal mutts never settle into one retro groove.  Feeling Good starts off with a T. Rex stomp and Bolan boogie riff, but the chorus has Sheepdogs harmonies and an Edgar Winter moment in the instrumental.  Never Gonna Get My Love could be a George Harrison song in parts, except Ewan Currie sounds nothing like him, and the bottom end on the bridge is a lot harder than George ever went.  But the harmonies sure sound like Jeff Lynne was involved.  Javelina! is an instrumental that begins in Allman Bros. territory with a hint of Santana, and then switches to a fusion thing before coming back to the start.

The song craft is a bit more experimental this time out, although still back in the Me Decade.  Is Your Dream Worth Dying For? is adept pop, with a sweet start, all Badfinger/Todd Rundgren, but with a very heavy guitar break, and about five different parts.  None of the songs are basic verse-chorus-verse; they seem to delight in tangents, and that makes it a lot more entertaining.  Look, sorry about all the name-dropping, and believe me, I'm not a fan of the "they sound like this act" school of review, but hopefully with all the different names getting thrown around, you'll know the canine quartet are about playing what they think is the best, mixing it all up, and coming up with a new way to present it.  Zeppelin, Doobie Brothers, Jeff Beck, Traffic, Canned Heat, Guess Who, etc., etc.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


What I like most about this album is what they didn't do, or settle for.  With two talented singers and performers, Whitehorse could be yet another acoustic-Americana duo, doing modern folk and roots.  Well, that's there, but it's all shot through with gutsy guitar and sonic experiments.  Luke Doucet doesn't shy away from putting down a nasty, noisy line smack-dab in the middle of sweet harmonies with Melissa McClelland.  The drums boom, aren't being tapped.

McClelland's no chipper customer either, at least not primarily.  Cold July brings down the normally-happiest month of the year, wobbly piano behind a languid vocal.  Continuing with the monthly theme, Out Like A Lion switches things on that old March proverb, because she's contrary.  So's Doucet's distorted and mangled solo, the duo just refusing to let this all be pretty, which it could easily be.  Mexico Texaco is probably too slow to gather any airplay, but I love it, it's a dark road story, all close harmonies and claustrophobia.  "Why can't I take this car and drive it to Mexico/We'll rob a Texaco outside of Santa Fe/where we'll run out of gas."  Somebody phone David Lynch, his next screenplay is written.

Now, this isn't to say these songs aren't catchy.  There are plenty of bright moments and cool harmonies, and what makes it even better is how interesting each one is, with a smart story and surprising additions to the standard sounds.  Also, each one has something rarely heard these days; intrigue.


Imagine having to make an album that you already knew would be considered not as good as its predecessor even before anyone had heard a note?  I mean, how could you follow up the biggest-selling album in history?  Thriller was not just a smash hit, it was largely a critical one as well, and a social one:  it had integrated MTV after all, and the videos created had also placed Jackson at the top of that art form as well.  Most of the bizarre behavior hadn't happened yet, or at least was only chuckle-inducing.  The world was watching intently to see how Jackson could possibly top himself.

Bad turned out to be a very serious attempt by Jackson to prove himself again, to reach yet another record.  There was no cartoon material, such as Thriller's title track.  Instead, he wanted to tackle heavier themes, more in line with Billy Jean, and a good love song would be as light as he would get.  This would be a grown-up disc.  Of course, it would groove as well.  Jackson must have figured he had the kids already, and he'd show everybody else who's bad.

Jackson was also all about hype and drawing attention to himself, and perhaps this worked against the album a bit.  Media stories and pre-internet chatter focused on his look, the biker-chic leather and silver clothes, and his now-obviously lighter skin.  More ink was spent describing the videos than discussing the songs.  See, I'm at it again!  Three paragraphs in, and not a mention of a song on the disc.  Jackson was now selling records because he was famous, always a dicey idea.

Chart records seemed to matter more than the music.  There were five straight #1 singles, but by the forgettable Dirty Diana, a large part of the throng that had bought Thriller had lost interest.  Track-for-track, it didn't have the staying power of Thriller.  Not to say Bad doesn't have its moments.  Lead single I Just Can't Stop Loving You is a fine love ballad.  The Way You Make Me Feel is a great dance track, something at which Jackson continued to excel.  As a big social number, Man In The Mirror is a pretty intelligent way to talk to the masses, and Jackson knew his songs would be scrutinized, and would also affect the way many of his young fans would think.  That alone is big stuff to carry on your shoulders.  No wonder he ended the album with Leave Me Alone, addressing the non-stop paparazzi campaign aimed at him.  But secondary singles (Smooth Criminal) and album cuts (Liberian GIrl, Speed Demon) didn't ignite.

This anniversary edition contains a complete second disc of demos cuts, remixes, and for those linguists, Spanish and French versions of I Just Can't Stop Loving You.  Those are surplus, but the remixes of Bad are pretty good, probably micro-managed by Micheal although Afrojack was supposed to be in charge.  The bulk of the disc is made up of eight polished demos, six of them previously unheard, and none of them on the album.  The way Jackson made demos was how most people made final masters, so these are almost-complete new songs.  Yet the lyric concepts weren't there, and he knew it;  these were made really well, but made to be taken to a further collaborative stage, with producer Quincy Jones for instance, to discuss, and in some cases, stay on the shelf for now, or even completely reject.  The big find is called Song Groove, but is also known as Abortion Papers.  Jackson was trying to take on another controversial subject in the same way he'd done with Billy Jean, keeping the beat without taking sides or preaching.  He had the storyline, and the music, just not the final lyrics.  Its an interesting way to hear works-in-progress, and there's some good music here, but without the final words, they leave you empty.  I can't see people playing these more than a couple of times.  I'd rather hear an acoustic guitar demo of something, but that's not the way Jackson worked.

In the end, Jackson tried very very hard to come up with the songs, the videos, the image, everything.  But guess what?  Bad wasn't as good as Thriller, and you can't follow-up the biggest-selling album in history.  Jackson was perceived as trying to do just that, and hyping it up when it wasn't as big.  Ultimately, that hurt.

Sunday, September 16, 2012


It surprises me that so many indie artists are into Fleetwood Mac, given the monumental popular success and excess the band was responsible for in the late 70's.  Multi-millions in sales were matched with exorbitant recording costs, months in the studio, and rich rock star behavior.  Yet here we have a whole team of hipsters lined up to pay tribute.  It's also at least the eighth such tribute album released in the past couple of decades.

What's cool with this disc is that it's not just the modern folks here, but some veterans too.  They also tackle the early, bluesy days of  the pre-Buckingham and Nicks version of the group, with Peter Green and Bob Welch tracks showing up.  Lots of women too, but for some reason the Stevie Nicks tracks are favoured over the Christine McVie ones.   The old school is led by a grand and dirty take on Oh Well by Z.Z. Top's Billy Gibbons, for my bucks the best cut of the 17 on the disc.  MGMT turn Bob Welch's Future Games into something electronic, with lesser results.  Lee Ranaldo and J Mascis try to turn Albatross into guitar noise, which really doesn't work.

And so it goes once we get to the hit-making days, some cool interpretations, some experiments that don't work.  Antony does a beautiful Landslide, as always his voice sublime when he finds a strong melody.  The New Pornographers do a fun pop/alt production on Think About Me, proving that at heart, the group is old-school Top 40 inspired.  Marianne Faithfull is somehow sounding younger and less growly on Angel.  The Kills kill Dreams, making it an ugly thing, and The Crystal Ark wants to be weird on Tusk, but fail to realize you can't out-weird Lindsey Buckingham.  So, a few highlights, a couple of clunkers, some space fillers, your basic tribute album.

Saturday, September 15, 2012


Is it time for a critical rethink of Glass Tiger?  Well, I don't wanna go too overboard, but I did appreciate these 80's hits a bit more now that I haven't heard them in awhile.  Top 40 staples for a few years, the group did come up with a healthy string of numbers, more than just the high water mark of Don't Forget Me (When I'm Gone).  My Song, with The Chieftains, is one of the better ones, Someday is a healthy ballad (also a Top 10 U.S. hit, as was Don't Forget Me).  My Town is one of the better Rod Stewart cameos around, and showed the group had some significant clout.  Don't forget the group's debut album was produced by Jim Vallance, and there was that sneaky is it or isn't it guest line from Bryan Adams.

The group is back again, touring through the land, and plugging a new single featured here, I Take It Back, a pretty good Alan Frew song, who still sounds exactly the same.  The other new cut here is a serviceable cover of The Beatles' You've Got To Hide Your Love Away.  As with almost everything recorded in the 80's, these tracks sound like it, the very glossy production of the era dating them.  If you can get your anti-80's filter working, there's more here than I remembered.

Thursday, September 13, 2012


Hey, nice set here celebrating the little label that became a major.  Started by trumpeter Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss to release Alpert's instrumentals, the cash flow came quickly in the 60's thanks to monster Mom and Dad hits by Herb such as The Lonely Bull.  His albums were huge sellers, Top 10 for months.  That let the new moguls move into rock, jazz, whatever, and even take lots of chances, which is a rare thing these days.

A triple set, disc one is called AM to FM, and features lots of major hits, many in the easy-listening category:  The Carpenters' Close To You, Rita Coolidge's Higher and Higher, Human League's Don't You Want Me, up to Sheryl Crow's All I Wanna Do.  Disc two is A Mission To Rock, and you'll find classics, grand experiments that worked, and stuff that sold buckets, critics be damned.  The Police and Squeeze were both British imports, the former going over great guns in North America, while the latter were certainly cult faves at least, and an example of an important risk that brought great music.  Moss heard all the buzz about Gram Parsons, and signed up the Flying Burrito Brothers; while they never made much money (if any), we can thank A&M for that cosmic country legacy still being felt.  Soundgarden is here too.  So is Peter Frampton.  That one must have filled the coffers for years.  Disc three is a catch-all, called Soul, Jazz and More, and might just as easily be termed African-American music, with Janet Jackson, L.T.D., Billy Preston (Will It Go Round In Circles -yes!), Aaron Neville, plus Jobim and Mangione, following founder Herb's style.

Long swallowed up by the mighty corporations, A&M is just a tiny part of Universal these days, but for awhile in the 70's, it certainly meant something.  Mostly, it meant money, because if they signed you, there was a darn good chance they would find a way to break you big.  Just ask Bryan Adams.  He's here with Run To You.  So is a track off the first album I ever bought, Humble Pie's Thirty Days In The Hole, from Smokin'.  Joe Jackson, Joe Cocker, Joan Baez, Captain & Tenille, no matter your tastes, you probably own A&M records, and quite a few of them.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


The return of the gravelly-voiced bluesman, or the New Dylan, the one who emerged in 1997 with Time Out Of Mind, but really solidified the new style with 2001's "Love and Theft".  As with album, and the subsequent ones, Dylan produces himself under the Jack Frost alias, and features his touring band plus a special guest or two.  For the most part, the music and lyrics sound as if they come from a time before the mid-60's, the music he loves the most.

Duquesne Whistle, the lead track and first single, shuffles along at a pleasing pace, a happy groove that gives the impression this could be a (gasp!) good mood album.  Soon After Midnight is a country love ballad, in the Patsy Cline school, with a few simple rhymes of that time:  "I'm searching for phrases/to sing your praises/I need to tell someone".  Of course, he can't let it all be sweet, as a girl named Honey steals his money, Charlotte is a harlot, and Two-Timing Slim has his corpse dragged through the mud.  Even with that, it still feels upbeat.

Narrow Way is an electric blues, and it sounds like all those years of playing Highway 61 Revisited on the road has Dylan and the band happy to do back in that groove.  Hey, nothing wrong with that, it was a damn good blues back in '65, and it is quite impressive he can still write in that style when he feels like it.  There's been about a billion people asking him to do just that for forty years.

Early Roman Kings is another blues shuffle, the Muddy Waters-Mannish boy form, with Dylan's keyboard mimicked by Los Lobos' David Hidalgo on accordion, a guy who's become a regular on recent albums.  This one has another classic lyric, with some slick gangster types:  "They're lecherous and treacherous, hell-bent for leather...sluggers and muggers/wearing fancy gold rings/all the women going crazy/for the Early Roman Kings".  These last two are going to be great in concert.

It's not a perfect album;  Tin Angel is a love triangle gone very bad story, with Romeo and Juliet results, but at nine minutes and no melodic shifts, it becomes a dirge.  Title track Tempest will be the source of much debate, with its Titanic story, an appearance by Leonardo DiCaprio, and almost 14-minute length.  I just have one question about it:  Why?  It doth perplex me.

It also amazes me, and brings me great joy, this latest Dylan.  How does he keep coming up with these fascinating albums, which defy almost every convention, yet still sound and feel so great?  You can pick 'em apart, starting with his voice, accuse him of anything from laziness to plagiarism to craziness, but nobody else sounds anything like this in total.  Once you're hooked to this Grey Power era of Dylan, it can be as rewarding as his prime.

Monday, September 10, 2012


Art gets the bum rap, huh?  Paul did all the writing, played guitar, sang, and kept having solo hits.  Art just sang.  Woah there.  So what's so bad about being a great singer?  Beautiful pipes, you have to admit.  Now, he is a bit of a mellow fellow, and rarely rocked, let alone rolled.  Still, if you're in the mood, and can chill, Art's done a lot of fine work over the years.

This two-disc career retrospective is the first one that captures most of his highlights.  There's only a few from the S&G years, the ones that truly show his stuff, such as the original 1964 version of The Sound Of Silence, before producer Tom Wilson gave it the folk-rock treatment by overdubbed drums and such.  It's book-ended with perhaps his greatest vocal, Bridge Over Troubled Water, sung so perfectly even Lemmy from Motorhead must love it.  But it's the 70's where you might find a few surprises that charm you.  Albums Angel Clare, Breakaway and Watermark all hold interesting cuts from strong adult pop writers including Jimmy Webb, Bruce Johnston, and Gallagher-Lyle.  After Glen Campbell, Garfunkel may be Webb's best interpreter, with five cuts here (although not the excellent Crying In My Sleep, for some reason).  Garfunkel picked the songs himself, and thankfully he did collect the duet and trio singles of the era:  My Little Town, with Simon, (What a) Wonderful World with Simon and James Taylor, and Crying In The Rain, with Taylor.

The 80's weren't kind to Art, and he has to dig deep to find much from those days, and a truly awful version of When A Man Loves A Woman from 1988 shows that he's way too white to handle soul.  But then a funny thing happens with the latest works featured.  In 2002 Garfunkel started working with producer/singer/writer Maia Sharp, who has also written for Bonnie Raitt, Keb' Mo', The Dixie Chicks and others.  Two cuts from then, and two brand-new ones are all strong, and even have a groove to them.  Geez, 70 years old and Art's getting funky.  If you have a soft side, this is about three-quarters fine and dandy, and a worthy overview.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Tribute To Cline A Perfect Night Of Music

Treasa Levasseur
Heather Morgan
Sometimes you see a great show where all the music is performed well.  Other times, a concert works because the songs themselves make you happy.  And sometimes it's the overall feeling of the event that makes it an exciting night.  Then there are the rare times when all of this happens together, which is what made the 7th Annual Patsy Cline Birthday Show in Toronto such a special night for me.  Or, as performer Danny Marks pointed out, simply and correctly, "What great music, and what a great cause."

The Cline tribute is held each year, for charity.  Artscan Circle is the recipient, a collective that links creative artists with Indigenous youth at risk.  Performers travel to isolated communities to encourage self-esteem there by helping explore the arts.

The annual birthday party was conceived by, and continues to be hosted by Toronto roots singer-songwriter Heather Morgan.  Obviously a big Cline fan, each year she assembles a crack band, and a host of singers, some returning friends and others newcomers.  Morgan herself is a delight onstage, a host able to bring that old-time entertainment talk to the proceedings, and a lighthearted, good-time mood that would stay throughout the night.  Plus, she's one heck of a belter, especially on the big notes.  Joining her in the house band were leader and guitarist Steve Briggs, who chimed in with vintage licks all night, along with Nichol Robertson also on guitar.  Veteran stand-up bassist Dennis Pendrith boomed in his presence, and former Blue Rodeo keys player James Gray and drummer Ted Hawkins were also superb harmony singers.

On vocals, it was highlight after highlight.  Toronto favourite Treasa Levasseur showed how big a part the blues played in Cline's ballads, and surprised more than a few with the power in her voice.  Marks, as always, was vintage cool, and one observer remarked how much true rock and roll was in that era's music, as opposed to anything today.  Hamilton's Lori Yates was definitely channeling the era of twang, clowning with Morgan before reaching deep for a forceful pair of tunes.

Russell deCarle of Prairie Oyster fame brought lots of charisma to his songs, not straying far from his Western roots, and adding some Porter Wagoner cool to the stage.  But it was his duets with the mercurial Mary Margaret O'Hara that was the wild card of the night.  She was as hilarious as ever, clearly having a ton of tun doing her vocal trills around deCarle's straight-man parts.  O'Hara just couldn't keep from signing, and could be heard adding embellishments from off-stage during other performers' songs.  Finally, she just had to get up again, and raided the stage to join Laura Hubert (ex-Leslie Spit Treeo) on her two numbers.

 The true surprise of the night came from the youngest performer.  Word had gone around that 12-year old Samantha Windover had wowed the crowd at Mariposa this year, doing Cline numbers at an open mic session, and getting an improbable invite to do a full set at the festival.  Now 13, she appeared nervous walking to the stage, and shushing noises quiet the crowd for her.  The familiar opening notes of Crazy were played, and as soon as she opened her mouth, the audience was blown away.  Looks of joy came from every table, and no one, 13 or 33, has ever sounded that much like Cline, to my ears.  It was the record we all know, come alive.  With a follow-up of Walkin' After Midnight, the crowd of Cline fans was in heaven.

Toronto's Lula Lounge was the perfect venue, with its retro supper-club layout, table seating, and different levels, and all that was missing was the cigarette smoke and Mad Men extras.  Several performers, such as Kathryn Rose (another stand-out), took special care to do their hair and clothes in period style, as did some of the crowd.  But there were no real rules or dress codes or hang-ups.  Again, to paraphrase Marks, great music, excellent performances, a worthy cause, it was a tremendous night out, and mark next year's birthday party on your calender.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

New Soundtrack Work, Upcoming Releases Highlight Busy Months For Emmylou

Emmylou Harris has entered into a stretch of work that sees three releases out in the coming months, plus the promise of a landmark tour as well, and some special one-off performances of classic material.  Out right now is the soundtrack to the new movie Lawless, on which Harris is a guest vocalist.  As well she just performed at Daniel Lanois' Greenbelt Harvest Picnic in Dundas, Ontario, doing a rare set of tunes from her classic 1995 album Wrecking Ball, which Lanois produced.

The Wrecking Ball performance on Sept. 1 was the second time Harris had teamed up with Lanois and his band to revisit the disc, having performed it last year at the inaugural Picnic.  This time, there were extra hands on board that made it even more special:  drummer Brian Blade had played on those 1995 sessions, as had Lanois associate Malcolm Burn, who went on to produce the next two Harris albums after Wrecking Ball.  The performance had the feeling of a family reunion, and Harris was clearly pleased to revisit the tracks.  "It's just such a wonderful chance to do these songs with Dan, it's a totally different thing," she said after the show  "He's so unique, he has a totally different sound.  All musicians are unique, they have their own thumb print.  But he's got a big thumb," she added, laughing.

Wrecking Ball remains a highlight in Harris' career, a favourite for many fans, and certainly one of Harris's own picks.  "I think it's a watershed," she says of that album.  "I think I had been treading water, I think my records were good, I always put my best effort, and I worked with great people, but ...I was at a log jam, and I almost didn't know I had it until Dan came along and blew it up with that record.  All kinds of new rhythms and new melodies and stuff just came flooding through."

It turns out that the close musicians of this group, including Harris and Lanois, have decided to make these Wrecking Ball performances a semi-regular event.  "It's not a bad thing to just do that once a year," says Harris, "because it's so great to do those songs with Dan, and of course having Brian Blade there this year, who was so much a part of the record, and Malcolm!  So that's really nice, and we're going to do it in Nashville next month for a benefit for animal rescue we're working on.  So we do it, but for benefits, for the greater good."

Fans of the album will be thrilled to learn about the imminent release of a deluxe version of the album:  "It's actually going to be re-released, I hope pretty soon, with some extra tracks, alongside also the wonderful long-form video that (Dan's brother) Bob Lanois filmed, called Building The Wrecking Ball. So I think there's a package heading our way."

At this point, Harris isn't sure if that will come first, or another special disc, her newest recordings.  Harris has teamed up again with two people from the start of her solo career, singer-songwriter Rodney Crowell, and producer Brian Ahern.  Crowell came to fame after a couple of his cuts were chosen for Harris' debut disc, 1975's Pieces Of The Sky.  Crowell then joined her group The Hot Band, and eventually became a hit artist in his own right.  But he and Emmylou had always talked about doing a complete album of his songs.  "Rodney and I just finished a record, long awaited," Harris confirms.  "You think you have all the time in the world, and then one day I went, man, you know, if we're going to do this record, we gotta do it, you just never know how long you're going to be around.  It was on my bucket list, that record with Rodney, almost since the first day we met.  It's done now, and Brian Ahern produced it.  I think February is the date they're putting out there, but we'll see.  I really can't wait for it to come out, because I want to go out there and do some touring with him and sing some songs."

Meanwhile, Harris is a big part of a very cool CD soundtrack put together by the team of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis.  Cave's most recent script-writing project has been for the movie Lawless, which is set in the rural U.S. during the prohibition era, and follows some reckless bootleggers.  He and fellow Bad Seed Ellis also crafted the music, and it's a big step beyond the usual package of already-recorded tunes.  Cave selected a diverse group of singers, including Harris, bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley, and Seattle rocker Mark Lanegan, and wrote or selected an equally-mixed bunch of songs to fit the movie.  Harris is the singer on a couple of Cave/Ellis originals, the haunting Cosmonaut, and a recurring theme in the movie, Fire In The Blood.  She also gets to do Townes Van Zandt's Snake Song, and one by James Lyttle, So You'll Aim Towards The Sky.  Stanley is put to interesting use, singing on a Capt. Beefheart blues, Sure 'Nuff 'N Yes I Do, and also croaking to the Velvet Underground's White Light/White Heat.  Somehow Cave and Ellis make it all sound period and believable, rivaling the best of T Bone Burnett's soundtrack work.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


The inexhaustible supply of Marley releases continues with a whole new line.  Compilations, live sets and deluxe editions have been flooding the shelves for over a decade, and now it's that peculiar-to-Jamaica instrumental style, dub.  Dub's influence went far and wide, with DJ's riffing over instrumental beds the direct parent of rap, and the whole idea of the dance remix coming from it as well.  It's simple:  Take off the lead vocal, and mess with the mix as little or as much as desired.

Dub fans, since there are a few, will be thrilled with tracks from the Marley trove, and the promise of more.  For the most part, these are pretty much straight-ahead versions of well-known faves:  Is This Love, Three Little Birds, One Love/People Get Ready, and the nicely titled Lively Up Your Dub.  Where there is some remixing, it's usually adding echo or pumping up the bass.  I'm never quite clear on what I'm supposed to like about these dub tracks as opposed to the original.  At least it wold make good backyard party atmosphere music.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


This is the album that turned Diamond from a successful singer-songwriter into a superstar.  The double-live album was a smash around the world, and started his reputation as a master showman.

It's exactly the right time to hear him live.  1972 was when he was starting to experiment with with concept songs and albums, and hadn't gone too far down the path to preciousness (I'm not a fan of Jonathan Livingston Seagull).  He was still going for Top 40 hits and hip status, rather than Adult Contemporary and the Barbra Striesand crowd.  So we get a great run of classics:  Solitary Man, Cherry Cherry, Song Sung Blue, Cracklin' Rosie, Sweet Caroline, and Kentucky Woman among them.  A 36-piece string orchestra brings grand drama to the early 70's songs, but I prefer the stripped-down, rock band versions of the older hits.

The anniversary edition is a 2-hour double CD, lengthened by the discovery of three cuts edited out of the original album.  The highlight is a rare cover for Diamond, Randy Newman's I Think It's Going To Rain Today, the kind of melancholy and memorable number Diamond was trying to write by then.  It sits well with his I Am...I Said and Play Me.  Thankfully, Diamond has reclaimed his image in the last few years, and put You Don't Bring Me Flowers to rest.  This album shows what all the fuss was about.