I know people get sick of each other in bands, and goals change and opportunities knock for some and not others. But it just seems its almost never a good idea to break up. Take a couple of years off, that's the answer, I think. The Mavericks split in 2004, with lead singer Raul Malo working for a solo career that never took off. This was a band ripe for a reunion.And it's a super one. Malo's solo discs were all too wimpy, as he concentrated on selling his admirable pipes. But the key to The Mavericks, for me, was always the sharp guitar and good-time accordion sound. They were, and are, best as a party band, with the Florida/Cuban influence up against the Tex-Mex flavours. Malo, who's been writing all these ballads and doing Christmas songs, has caught fire again for this one, which jumps from cut to uptempo cut.
Saturday, March 30, 2013
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: THE MAVERICKS - IN TIME
Friday, March 29, 2013
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: MOTOWN THE MUSICAL - CLASSIC SONGS THAT INSPIRED THE BROADWAY SHOW
It's shocking it took this long for the Motown story to be made into a Broadway show, but it's in previews now, no doubt about to become the next smash and run for ten years. Of course, Motown itself never passes up an opportunity to release a tie-in best-of, once again putting together a collection of perhaps the most reissued music of all time.This two-disc set is awfully good of course, as it's a 40-track waltz through the great hits of the 60's and 70's. And even at that, it contains only a fraction of the songs that could have been used. It's heavy on The Supremes and Diana Ross solo, and stays mostly with the biggest stars: Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Four Tops, Smokey with and without The Miracles. I played a game, where I didn't look at the track list before, and had to see how fast I could name each tune. It's pretty easy when it goes: You've Really Got A Hold On Me, Do You Love Me, My Guy, Where Did Our Love Go, Stop! In The Name Of Love.
Monday, March 25, 2013
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: ORIGINAL MOTION PICTURE SOUNDTRACK - THE SAPPHIRES
I can just imagine the production meeting where they're going over material to do include. "Nope, can't do Mustang Sally, it was in The Commitments." "How about I Heard It Through The Grapevine?" "No, it's been used in tons of other movies." "How about Gladys Knight's version of Grapevine?" "PERFECT!!!" It's the same formula for much of the soundtrack, have the talented artists perform new versions of the old faves, in faithful but punched-up productions. Jessica Mauboy handles the bulk of these, including Land Of A Thousand Dances by Wilson Pickett (featured so prominently in The ..umm... Commitments), The Four Tops' I Can't Help Myself, and The Staple Singers' I'll Take You There.
The difference with this soundtrack is that it's longer (17 cuts), has some newly-written tracks, and even original covers. There are two from Sam and Dave, the standard hits Soul Man and Hold On! I'm Comin', and Movieland's official anthem of the Vietnam war , Creedence's Run Through The Jungle. Given the previous success of this kind of film, and of Australian pop music-based movies (Muriel's Wedding, Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert), this could be one of this larger cult favourites, which could mean lots of soundtrack sales. Of course, I'm recommending you just buy Motown and Stax compilations.
Sunday, March 24, 2013
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: LEGATO VIPERS - QUICK SLUG
Yet Canada, with its very limited surfing spots, still manages to have a few practitioners around, and it may be even be growing. The Sadies still hold a candle for surf, and never fail to play some live each show, so there's been exposure that way, and of course back to Shadowy Men On A Shadowy Planet. Now comes Ontario's Legato Vipers, made up of veterans from other groups with a shared love of twang and reverb and instrumentals. The band includes guitarists Mike Brooks (Bry Webb & the Providers), and Jordan Howard (The Acorn), bassist Tyler Belluz (Del Bel) and drummer AJ Johnson (Cuff the Duke).
Legato Vipers follow the surf rules, even it it means not living up to their name, as there are far more staccato notes being played, those short, sharp runs of hot guitar. Of course, everything is soaked in echo and reverb, and there are no vocals. The eight song EP totals only 14 minutes and 39 seconds. Again, that's exactly what you do in surf, find a memorable lick, the lead guitar makes it the melody, you play it, find a nice ending, and get out. There's a good mix of rough stuff and pretty sunset music, which is just slightly slower and more dreamy. On the faster numbers, there's menace, the guitar's single-note solos spitting out the melodies, in a dark and dangerous mood. Surf is as close to musical film noir as there is, at least in the instrumental category.
The Vipers are pretty serious about this one. The EP is just part of the assault, with a series of videos, a full Eastern tour that just wrapped, and a bunch of tie-in merchandise that makes the website fun. A Legato Vipers flask? Quick slug, get it? I'll drink to that, plus you get the download with it.
Saturday, March 23, 2013
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: THE GRAPES OF WRATH - HIGH ROAD
So let's be happy that the trio of Kevin Kane, Tom Hooper and Chris Hooper have put it back together, in a natural way, for the first time since 1992. The reunion has been developing slowly, and hype-free (it's Canada, after all), after a 2010 stage appearance, and then a serious return to writing and recording. Make note of what's not there; this wasn't an attempt to grab some cash with live shows, and a forced album to follow. Instead, they decided if they were a band again, they should be making solid new music.
That's the very good news here, as this is a solid, well-made and performed album full of strong new songs. Everybody is back with their A-games, and for TGOW that means great melodies, lots of harmonies, smart chord and key changes, memorable choruses and thoughtful lyrics. Smart stuff that fans of the old idea of three-minute hit singles will enjoy. I'm Lost (I Miss You) comes across as a missing 10 CC gem. Make It OK is a White Album-style rocker. Lead single Good To See You, first issued last fall as a new addition for the group's Singles compilation, is pure jangly nostalgia, light and breezy. There's actually a lot of sunshine pop here, albeit with a distinctive Canadian flare at times. Mexico is the song for those with winter depression, the lyrics about leaving the snow and three months of darkness and heading to Cancun.
Beloved by their fans, especially way out in their B.C. homeland, The Grapes Of Wrath hasn't received enough acclaim in the twenty years since their last album. Hopefully, this remind everybody that together, they make some of the best-sounding music no matter the decade.
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: MADELEINE PEYROUX - THE BLUE ROOM
My biggest problem with some of the songs is that with her particular drawl, getting behind the notes, and the lusher strings Klein adds, it takes on a lounge feel. The slower version of The Everly's Bye Bye Love sounds like a Burl Ives or Eddy Arnold version, with none of the original track's spriteliness. All the older numbers, from Take These Chains From My Heart to You Don't Know Me, are too laid-back, even with the quality of all the voices, arrangement and players.
Better are the newer songs chosen to update the Charles idea. They are all familiar, but these are very interesting takes on them, and since they aren't numbers that have been covered all that often, they are more fresh. Gentle On My Mind takes on a sadder town, and she's right, it is a more serious number than the good-time Glen Campbell version. Bird On A Wire works very well, thanks to a great string arrangement, and her best vocal on the disc. The killer though, and the song that made me reconsider what I was hearing, is Warren Zevon's Desperadoes Under The Eaves, which closes the disc. Her haunted take is perfect for this impeccable song, and since it's set in a sleazy bar, Peyroux's voice fits perfectly, three cocktails too many. So I'm split down the middle on this one.
Sunday, March 17, 2013
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: GARY ALLAN - SET YOU FREE
Maybe it's because he's earned the stripes over the years to produce himself, and insists on the best quality, and won't cross the cheesy line. Maybe he's accepted he's more modern than retro, and as much as Haggard is hip and Cash is cool, he knows he isn't them. Whatever, he's a talented dude who doesn't pander, doesn't sing or write songs about heartland and farms and trucks, but instead sticks to bad break-ups and booze. A quick check of the lyrics confirms that, yes, every one of the twelve cuts is about breaking up with somebody, with the exception of the last, where everything's great and she's the best thing ever for him. But the rest of the time, either he's doing the dumping (Tough Goodbye), or he's dying from a broken heart (It Ain't The Whiskey). And he's drinking enough to fix the provincial deficit here, with the booze flow depending on the severity of his broken heart. Finally the two themes merge in the perfect Hungover Heart: "Don't get strung out on a woman/'Cause comin' down is the hardest part/When she walks away and leaves you/With a hungover heart."
As for the music, Allan's a good singer, even with that aw-shucks vocal hiccup that seems to be pre-programmed into all Nashville microphones. It has the big, brilliant sound, thanks to A-list session guys such as Dan Dugmore, Michael Rhodes and Chad Cromwell. But there's that extra something in every track, whether it's a smart ending, or a smooth move like all the instruments dropping out for a chorus in One More Time. He's been producing quality albums and singles since 1996, and it continues to pay off; Every Storm (Runs Out Of Rain) from this album hit #1, his first chart-topper in nine years. Best of all, he doesn't wear a hat. That's a good reason to like him right there.
Saturday, March 16, 2013
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: NICK CAVE & the BAD SEEDS - PUSH THE SKY AWAY
It's also Cave the poet, presenting a series of fever dreams, dark tales but none really heavy on the narrative. It's darn hard to figure what the songs are about, certainly not like his nasty murder ballads or explorations of Biblical characters. He's being a lot less literal, taking us to imaginary times and places. There's a riverside, where the girls come from the Capital, to dance in front of the boys in some sort of mating ritual, in Water's Edge. Jubilee Street is a bad boulevard, where a shady woman is taken out by the Russians, which puts the narrator in trouble, because he's in her book on every page. In another song, Mermaids exist, as proof of God. And who better to tackle the so-called God Particle, as Cave writes the Higgs Boson Blues, heading to Geneva, running into Robert Johnson and the Devil, finding out what it all means.
There's the usual shock lines; he's walking down the street, "with a foetus on a leash". Some is just fun, such as "Hannah Montana does the African Savannah, as the simulated rainy season begins/She curses the cue at the Zulu/and moves on to the Amazonia". Sometimes he gets a little too old-school Dylan, filling up the scenes with things like a mummified cat, and Higgs Boson Blues sounds like an update of a track from Neil Young's On The Beach. But mostly it's our favourite creepy philosopher, taking us through his subconscious, the softer sounds actually making it more unsettling than some of his noisiest work.
Thursday, March 14, 2013
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: SOUND CITY - REAL TO REEL
Grohl bought the unique Neve recording console when the studio closed in 2011, and set it up in his own space. For this album, the idea was to collect people in different small units to create new songs on the spot, more or less, and have them sound great. Okay, that was accomplished. I can't argue with the audio, it does sound great. The guest list is impressive as well. You have Trent Reznor, Josh Homme, all the Foos, Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick, session legend Jim Keltner, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and even Stevie Nicks, a Sound City veteran. And now we know what Paul McCartney was doing with the remnants of Nirvana at the 12.12.12 show, as that track appears here.
Unfortunately, one crucial bit is missing from the project's plan. I guess it was assumed that with the talent gathered, and the gear being used, great music would follow. Well, the muse didn't play along. For the most part, these aren't special songs. They are forced attempts at moving forward with an idea, because they have to, there's a need to get it done, and fast. The McCartney song is a perfect example. The lyrics are just trite lines that you throw out to fill a hole. The music amounts to them all deciding to play something heavy, but with no melody. It's lame. Sometimes there are sparks of something, such as the Stevie Nicks number You Can't Fix This, which almost has a story that makes sense, and Nicks sounds pretty interesting with a harder group behind her (the Foo Fighters). Reznor, Homme and Grohl team up for the final, and best cut on the disc, Mantra, which has some subtlety to it, not just an exercise in recording volume. But really, if what I hear about the film is correct, that it is a very good documentary, then this album won't come close to doing it justice.
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: GEORGE MEANWELL - THE EASY STRAIGHT
Meanwell gathered a small group of friends and favourite players to collaborate on these ten songs. There's Anna Atkinson on violin and accordion, Eric St-Laurent on guitar, Michael McCLennan playing bass, Ian Harper handling reeds, Graham Hargrove doing percussion, and Meanwell covering guitar, banjo, cello, concertina, and lead vocals. The idea was to find the ultimate way to capture a performance, and it was decided it would be done live, in a fine-sounding space, recording both audio and video. So we get the songs on CD and DVD, as they happened. The musicians were up for the task. Each number has its own flavour, whether it's the casual jazz of Song Of Innocence, with its sweet clarinet, from an innocent time, or the folk country of Waiting, St-Laurent whipping out a great acoustic solo. It doesn't serve is a haunting blues, where slide guitar, bass, cello and violin weave around each other.
He's quite a cat, really. This is a guy who can tread the boards with the Quartetto for ten years, create his own music for the Stratford Theatre stage, but also work in the folk world, and write poetic but universal lyrics, which are easy to relate to. There's no confusion or conflict between highbrow or common styles here, it's all one, one for all listeners.
Tuesday, March 12, 2013
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: DAVID BOWIE - THE NEXT DAY
After several listens now, I'm thrilled with this Bowie. It's a rock album, a guitar album, featuring compact songs, interesting lyrics and great, classic Bowie vocals. He hasn't lost a step, and this has to count as a terrific comeback, certainly much more than I expected. There are some great anthems, and memorable choruses, and every tune crackles with energy. There's so much guitar, it seems like Bowie has been itching to make exciting, powerful music again. Leads rip through each number, mostly by Gerry Leonard and old hand Earl Slick, with that old Bowie signature, heavy on the effects pedals and non-standard sounds and notes, harkening back to the days of Robert Fripp and Adrian Belew contributions.
He's also walking the fine line between popular and experimental, certainly leaning towards the melodic, but still with enough edge to satisfy those who want Bowie to be progressive. It's not the mass-appeal of the early 80's Let's Dance and Blue Jean days, and won't see him back on radio playlists, but that's good too. That was too clean. This is artistic, top to bottom.
Fans of the really old stuff will get a kick out of two stand-out cuts. Valentine's Day could be an out-take from Aladdin Sane, with its sha-la-la backing vocals, twangy guitar, lyrics about scrawny hands and icy hearts, and the man sounding like, yup, Ziggy. You Feel So Lonely You Could Die, one of the few slower tempos, has the big drama of a Diamond Dogs number, with Bowie now in his lower, impassioned voice, piano and strings and soul singers behind him, doomsday lyrics such as "buildings crammed with people/landscape filled with wrath". It's funny, I was willing to let Bowie go gracefully into his retirement. He'd done enough great music. Now I want more, and quickly. And please, oh please, tour. This album would sound great live.
Thursday, March 7, 2013
STOMPIN' TOM AND THE ECMA'S
That's what Atlantic Canadian's musicians, or at least the greater part of them, do and do well. All that he wrote and did was with great respect, and love of the people and the places. He was a role model for generations of musicians.
Tom's East Coast roots are well-documented, especially in his two fine autobiographies, which I heartily recommend. Let's recap the highlights, though. He was born in Saint John, N.B., and spent the first nine years of his life in the city, growing up hard in the streets, with his unwed, teenage mother. Eventually he was placed with a family in Skinner's Pond, P.E.I., and later hit the road as a teenager, hitch-hiking and learning to play music. While he lived elsewhere, he returned to the Maritimes for his first hit, Bud The Spud in 1970. After that, almost every album included a song about one place or another in Atlantic Canada, and although he lived the majority of his life in Ontario, he'd always be thought of as a Maritimer.
It was St. Thomas University in Fredericton that gave him his first honorary degree, which was a source of great pride for him. He even named his next album Dr. Stompin' Tom, Eh? And when the East Coast Music Association bestowed a lifetime achievement award on him in 1993, he turned the tables on the board of directors. He asked that instead, they create a new award, and give it out each year to the unsung heroes in the local music world. The champion of the underdog wanted to see those people recognized. To this day, the Association gives out the Stompin' Tom Award yearly, to a deserving person from each Atlantic province.
You'll read and hear lots praise for Connors in the next few days from every corner of the country. I can tell you about the teacher in Yellowknife who plays her kids a recording of Tom's Name The Capitols, so they will sing along and learn the capitol city of each province and territory. You'll hear the stories about him packing the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto in the late 60's, his boot pounding the stompin' board so hard you could smell burnt sawdust in the air. People around your office will be singing the theme song for P.E.I. Tourism, "For information on vacations, phone the land of fun, 8-double-zero, five-six-five, seven-four-two-one." The East Coast Music Awards has stated that there will be a tribute at the Awards show, and the Industry brunch event. And I'm looking forward to the late-night hotel room parties, where I guarantee you the musicians will be jamming to Big Joe Mufferaw, The Hockey Song, Ketchup Song, Sudbury Saturday Night, Tillsonburg, Moon-Man Newfie, The Bug Song and of course, Bud The Spud. Why? 'Cause he's from Prince Edward Island. And New Brunswick.
Tuesday, March 5, 2013
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: RYAN COOK - WRESTLING WITH DEMONS
Where Cook is modern is in the lyrics. Here's a guy that can put wrestler/actor Andre The Giant into one song, and write an entire number about cyber-stalking called Facebook Waltz. He can write a mean love song, with Silver Medal Blues about finishing second place in romance. He also has a comedy flare, which comes out in several songs, sometimes in satire. Lulu Lemon is about the yoga pants trend, with a few too many double entendre's and even an auto-tuned vocal section, mocking that trend. More successful is Children Of The Corn, which takes on genetically-modified food rather brilliantly. I can't imagine George Jones doing that, but that's the irony of country music these days, the classic stuff is now enjoyed by the exact opposite of the stereotypical redneck.
Humour aside, there are several numbers here that are perfectly straight and true, including the lovely Like Old Guitars, a touching ballad. Will You Take Me Back To Tulsa? pretty much describes the problem of being true to country these days, as our hero admits playing country music won't pay the bills, while the patrons of the bar shout out requests to him for Rascal Flatts songs. The trouble is, the song sounds like a hit single to me. At least, in an alternate, fair universe.
Monday, March 4, 2013
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: RACHEL ZEFFIRA - THE DESERTERS
Except, it isn't that awful Three Tenors or whatever, doing operatic versions of Tin Pan Alley songs in tuxedos. Zeffira is breaking interesting new ground. Classically trained, she also comes from the indie alternative world. Her compositions are pop songs that she's decided to put strings on. Instead, they've been arranged for orchestral players right from the start, with no rock instruments to be heard, no acoustic guitars, and any percussion is part of the score, not for time-keeping. Each song is vocal, she has intriguing, mysterious stories to tell, and the melodies are quite modern and edgy. Her voice has a bit of a choir soloist sound to it, but it's coming from a foggy place, a dream scape. There's no mistaking this for anything but 21st century music.
The song are beautiful, and surprisingly edgy. Zeffira understands the layers of ambiance that mean as much to the sound as the instruments, and has a few tricks of her own, too. I like that church organ that takes up a groove in one song. I can't say I've heard anyone quite like her, and if she can lead others to more orchestration, lead on.
Sunday, March 3, 2013
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: JAY AYMAR - OVERTIME
So, it gives me great pleasure to say this is a folk record. Aymar is a hard-touring, no frills performer, have acoustic guitar, will come to your town guy. He's been here, he's been there, he's been everywhere. In fact, the title track of the disc, Overtime, is his version of This Land Is Your Land, a shaggy dog story of his touring life, starting in Newfoundland and ending in B.C. He's played them all. And of course, that alone inspires a bunch of songs, whether they are reflecting on the state of things he's witnessed, or stories he's picked up from the road. And, being a talker, he gets to sit and chat with folks (as in Folk), and find out what they're thinking.
There's a mix of classic themes here, from the rural tragedy of That Old Ravine (mom died in the creek), to Three Love Stories, a Prine-esque look at three later-in-life couples who get together for a little mature romance. In the grandest tradition of folk, there's political commentary as well. Your Precious War has the reality of life for the soldier when they return home, while King Of The World is sung in the voice of Bush Junior. Producer David Baxter keeps things simple, with the basic accompaniment letting the lyrics tell the story in each number. See, that's folk, in my view, music from the people, to make you dance a bit and make you think too.
Saturday, March 2, 2013
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: JUSTIN RUTLEDGE - VALLEYHEART
The words are stirring, too. Kapuskasing Coffee, well, right there, that has a fine ring to it in the title, and the opening line of "Sometimes I find that I get too sentimental when I think of you" is a killer opening. Then when he hits us with "Sometimes it helps to play some heavy heavy metal" as the cure, it's such at odds with the delicate tune we're hearing, it's a brilliant touch.
Now is a fine time to bring up another strength on the album. There's already one terrific singer here, but it's doubly grand when Carina Round joins in on harmonies. She's featured on Kapuskasing Coffee and most of the other tracks, the perfect compliment to Rutledge, with a voice similar to Sarah McLachlan. Then add in the rhythm section of Bazil Donovan (Blue Rodeo) and Blake Manning (The Heartbroken), keys from Steve O'Connor (Jim Cuddy Band), and Kendel Carson's fiddle, and a Doug Paisley guitar solo, wow, everything, everybody sounds great on this rich disc.
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