Friday, August 30, 2013


Toronto's Palmer has been at the game for a bit, but this is his debut recording.  He knows the blues scene though, as many of the guitarist/singer's originals feature comments on playing the game for the love, and sometimes the money.  Blues in EH is a lighthearted reminder that we play it Canada, too.  Twelve Bar Addiction explains that once bitten, you're always scratching the blues itch.

One Take... was recorded quickly with a top-notch crew, but it doesn't sound like it.  In two days the group laid down 10 tracks off the studio floor, including eight originals, but they sound fully rehearsed and confident.  Palmer's vocals are a highlight, more like a veteran roots songwriter than a typical blues moaner, and that gives the collection a more relaxed feel.  There's a swing to it as well, as the group goes through a variety of styles, from the country picking of Flea's Blues to jump blues and a touch of jazz, through to Gospel funk on closer That's All.  With strong keys from Denis Keldie, nice harmonies and duets with Jenn Kee, and solid contributions from the rhythm section, this one has shades of the old Downchild sound, that kind of charm and warmth.

Friday, August 23, 2013


If you think the Fleetwood Mac show of the Rumours-era band was a soap opera, heck that was nothing.  That was just a lot of coke and couples busting up, normal rock star stuff.  The Mac of 1969, now that was nuts.  You had two guys going on about making records about God, one battling schizophrenia, the other who quit to join a cult.  Then there was a third guitarist so wild he had to be fired from the band.  Too crazy for Fleetwood Mac?  That's pretty amazing, for a band that specialized in having guitar players quit.  It says a lot that Mick Fleetwood was the most normal, together guy in the band at this time.

Then Play On was the band's third album, and they were already stars in England, plus making inroads in the U.S.  They were a blues group, but like others of the day, starting to move in new directions.  Known for their two strong guitarists, ex-Mayall man Peter Green, and the wacky Elmore James freak Jeremy Spencer, they'd also just added a third axe, young Danny Kirwan, and this was to be his first LP with the group.  The triple-guitar thing was a gas onstage, but Spencer was totally linked to Elmore covers and old rock 'n' roll, and didn't get where Green was going.  So, amazingly, he doesn't even play on this album.  It's a four-piece, with Green and Kirwan writing and singing all the tunes.

It's a gem too, but not a total blues album at all.  While there are blues workouts to be sure, including the raw and fun Rattleshake Snake, both Green and Kirwan had modern and mellow rock concerns, ballad numbers, folk touches, and no strict adherence to the 12-bar form.  There are jams and larks too, instrumental pieces that see the four-piece group thunder out.  It's every bit as broad as Blind Faith or Jethro Tull, with British Blues having grown by leaps and bounds into new sounds in just a couple of years, Fleetwood Mac at the forefront.

This new version of the LP is long overdue, as it cleans up a bunch of problems long-associated with the release.  First off, it's been remastered, yahoo for the best-ever sound.  The track list has been restored to the proper original U.K. running order, all the tunes left off North American versions (there were a couple) restored in the right order.  And it features the two famous singles of that time, Oh Well, parts 1 and 2, and The Green Manalishi, plus its lovely instrumental b-side World In Harmony.  Oh Well and Manalishi are certainly two of the great Green tracks, with the first now considered a blues classic for good reason, while the second is a mysterious, heavy number that was his swan song from the band.  Green was at his peak, Kirwan proved an excellent second writer, singer and guitarist, Spencer was still killing it on live dates, but it was not to last.  Too bad, as this, with its bonus cuts, is one of the great late 60's albums.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013


From the Toronto folk circles comes the debut full-length from Tanya Semple, who goes by the old-timey name that suggests something Amish.  But she's far more worldly in the words, and her tunes get some sonic upgrades as well.  The Hempen Jig, basically a Euro-cabaret melody, gets tough with some dramatic, distorted electric guitar and cello, well singing, "Remember, it's only flesh and bone, so go ahead, take my body."  Not Amish.

Elsewhere, things are a little more plain, such as on Platonic Lover, a tune played on a slightly rickety upright piano, its biographer tone and vocal reminiscent of Julie Doiron.  Your Name is more upbeat, almost pop, but with the simplest of bands, the same piano, splashy natural drums and handclaps.  There's even a lullaby of sorts, Grand Escape, with its gentle acoustic joined by the mellow cello.

The best attraction here is this interesting writer, singer, and personality.  Semple's stories are slightly mystical, not so much in words as in atmosphere and delivery.  There's a charm on the more toe-tapping numbers, and a hypnotic effect on the ballads.  It doesn't take long to become enamored with her voice, and the lyrics keep giving:  "We hadn't even spoken, but that's what dancing's for."  Not Amish, no.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013


Unfortunately I missed Vince Gill on a recent trip to my locale (lousy kids and their lousy needs to be driven to the lousy beach on the lousy ocean in the beautiful, lousy summer).  However, I can soak up the sounds on this new collection, certainly one of the most enjoyable of his long career.  Here Gill teams up with one of the best pedal steel players of all time, multi-award winner Paul Franklin, who has played on tons of country releases, as well as cuts for Mark Knopfler, Sting and, ah, Megadeth.  This set is special, a tribute to the two towers of the Bakersfield sound, Merle Haggard and Buck Owens.

Gill believes these cuts come from country's most important era, and while there's some argument to be made for earlier songs, certainly nothing better has come along since.  Hag and Owens were both tremendous writers and singers, and were able to conjure stories of intense, personal issues.  Owens' Together Again turned the trick of heartache on its tale; the couple is back together, but the lyrics and sad notes tell us about the hell he just went through, separated from the one he needs most.  Haggard's The Bottle Let Me Down is the ultimate country drinking song, where the booze is poured to forget a lover, until the night comes when not even that can keep her memory away.  Another Haggard gem, Holding Things Together, is a weeper on another whole scale, our singer trying to keep the family home going with his wife gone, the reason unstated.  Just try not to get choked up when she misses her daughter's birthday, but the situation is saved because the father mailed a package days before with the mother's signature faked on it.

Gill and Franklin stretch that number out to six minutes, with room for a long, sad guitar solo from Vince.  The vocals were only one side of the excitement he felt for the project, as he also got to exercise his superb lead guitar skills on everything.  The Bakersfield sound has become pretty much as important as the Nashville style of the same time, its fiddle and steel, plus twangy guitar heard later in Outlaw country, and from acolytes Dwight Yoakam and half of Austin.  Gill and Franklin don't try to update it or add their own touches; it's pretty much perfect as is.  They both can play the heck out of it, and Gill doesn't oversing either, which is important.  His voice is so naturally fine, he could sweeten it too much, but instead he channels the Okie in him, which works just fine, if you know your California history.  Yup, this is the stuff.

Friday, August 16, 2013


Mr. Mayer returns quite quickly after last year's Born And Raised album, and throat surgery too.  Sounds like it all worked out well for the pipes, and this is more good-humoured mellow stuff.  It may be his most lighthearted work in fact, breezy and cool.  Even his rumoured payback song to ex Taylor Swift, the single Paper Doll, is a gentle number with at best, gentle swipes, chiding her only for being a clothes-horse, more fashion than soul.  His collaboration with his current (at least I think they are still current, who knows with him) squeeze, Katy Perry on Who Do You Love, is a semi-funky but soft ballad, with tender, Clapton-esque touches.

More and more, Mayer seems to have adopted the Clapton path, occasionally breaking out the blues stuff with his trio, but saving the solo albums for radio fans.  The guitar licks here are all tasteful, and he's even covered E.C.'s favourite, J.J. Cale, on a version of Call Me The Breeze.  It's about the most upbeat thing here, still only a shuffle.  Do we really need a younger Clapton?  Well, why not I suppose, there's no denying these are catchy little numbers.  It leaves one wondering where the big songs are though, with everything ear-pleasing but hardly epic.

He has a shot at country (You're No One 'Til Someone Let's You Down), a couple of acoustic folk numbers, and two different songs called Wildfire, one a hand-clap summer party number, the other a quiet, short ballad sung by buddy Frank Ocean.  The first version, which opens the album, is the best thing here, with an infectious beat and sweet guitar, and will certainly have the amphitheaters groovin', but still in a restrained way.  It seems Paradise Valley is a quiet spot, filled with nature.  I think he needs to drive into the city a bit more.

Thursday, August 15, 2013


Hawthorne continues his exploration of vintage soul, but this time he's moved ahead in time, from the late 60's - early 70's to the late part of the decade, and into the 80's and beyond.  The beats picked up, thanks to disco, and so did the sex talk.  Hawthorne follows suit, and this one's all about seduction and such, like he was hanging with the early Prince, cruising the Purple Rain dance clubs.

Previously a champion of his Michigan home sound of Motown on his stunning first two albums, now Hawthorne feels free to go further, and follow soul to its next editions.  If that includes melding it with rap (Crime), he's up for that, and ready to drop some cut-up atmosphere along the way too.  But as experimental as he feels, it never gets too far from the pop charts, and if you hear hints of Steely Dan on The Stars Are Ours, you'll get that the guy is a lover of high-quality hooks.

No matter how far he goes into the funky sex machine, it his voice that captivates.  Hawthorne's a great soul singer, and it's a joy to hear him through each change of pace here.  Far more than a retro stylist, this is intricately crafted, insanely catchy and definitely feel-good.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


Surprisingly this is album number eight from the B.C. roots-rocker, who always feels like he's brand new and exciting.  Maybe that's because he doesn't get out East much, but it does surprise me he continues to fly a under the radar.  The guy has the writing chops for sure, has been more consistent then, say, Sam Roberts, and easily sits comfortably on a CD shelve between Steve Earle and Ryan Adams.

Teaming up with Los Lobos keysman Steve Berlin as producer, this album is perhaps a bit more polished, pro and tight than others in the catalogue, and really, there's nothing wrong with that in Stagger's case.  After all, it's not like they've trip-hop or anything, it's just got bigger and clearer.  A song like Have A Heart has a strong edge, and Berlin has brought that out with distortion and guitar effects, and a gutsier production.  The beaten-down everyman of Mister is certainly an anti-hero of Americana proportions, and that's the appropriate sound that tune is given.

It's one of those discs that wears really well too, each tune sinking in better with each listen, so you greet them with warm thoughts.  From the nasty punch of Cities On Fire to tender Break My Heart, Stagger shows he has several different sides and styles, all of them strong.

Sunday, August 11, 2013


The string of excellent Lynn Miles albums continues, like a pitcher who never loses a game.  A classic, grade-A songwriter, there's an emotional punch in every song, at least one line to send you spinning.  Lead track More is loaded with killer couplets:  "I want the whole bottle/not just a shot/don't want a little/want a lot".  You just wait for the next line that floors you, and she never fails to come up with one.

Sliding between folk, country, bluegrass and a little bit of electric, the delicate backing is perfect to point your attention to her voice and lyrics.  I'll take that combo of mandolin, twangy guitar, aching vocals and lots of harmony any time.  Moving easily from style to style keeps our interest from flagging, and again, lets the stories and lyrics shine.  How To Be Alone is classic country, with verses that would do Haggard or Jones proud:  "Nobody ever calls, nobody's dropping by/they were all your friends, so they don't even try."  My Road is one of the best descriptions of the touring musician's life you'll find:  "Wallflowers and pool halls, hard truths and drunken phone calls, old regrets and platitudes, gravel driveways and hometown news."

I find Miles helps us see the balance in life, that the moments to treasure can make up for the lows and sorrows.  As she sings in Million Brilliant, "It's alright we're in it for the long haul/It's alright we can see the beautiful sadness of it all."

Thursday, August 8, 2013


At first I assumed by the different spelling of the name Daughn, this would be by a woman.  But seconds into the first track, and the unveiling of the sub-Nick Cave croon, Daughn's a dude.  Anybody who sings in a deep baritone is probably headed down to the wrong side of the tracks, looking to reflect the nasty, seamy bits of life, with a literary bent and occasional romantic view, and that's Gibson's gig for the most part.  But there's also a lot more happening on the music side than the usual bleak rock you'll find.  He ain't no updated Velvet Underground then.

The Pennsylvanian has a varied background, and his debut from last year was built on samples, but this time the programming is augmented by lots of live instruments, including plenty of guitar.  And while the low tones of the singer are the dominate feature, the wide range of music is quite a surprise.  There is dramatic stuff, starting with lead track The Sound Of Law, which begins "My daddy was a beast", drums at machine-gun time and everything fed through the echo-mystery setting.  The finger-snap beat of Phantom Rider accompanies a chapter in the life of two ne'er-do-well's, no doubt up to no good, traveling with a very bad spirit ready to do very bad things.  That number, and follower Mad Ocean recall darker 80's synth days of OMD and such, although I can't recall anybody sampling bagpipes then.  Through everything, there's a country spokesman dying to get out, the American flavour to all of this.  Towards the end, a couple of quite lovely ballads wrap things up, when you realize that Gibson actually has quite a lovely voice when the softer sounds let him emote.  What could be just a modern take on murder ballads ends up a surprisingly creative and musical set.

Monday, August 5, 2013


Nothing like a well-done deluxe edition, and this one uncovers a full second disc of previously-unreleased material.  Good stuff, too.  That right there tells you it's worth the upgrade.  And the better bonus is that this is an album you may not have checked out in awhile, and it holds up very well.

Brothers And Sisters came out when the band were still reeling from the loss of their founder and leader Duane Allman.  They had cobbled together the Eat A Peach set from various live and studio sources, but this was going to be the first one completely done with Duane involvement.  Their second tragedy struck when bass player Berry Oakley was killed the same way, in the same area, after a motorcycle crash.  Just a couple of cuts had been recorded, so once again they had to regroup, bringing in Lamar Williams.  But the major music change had happened when Allman had been replaced not with another guitar player, but rather with a piano guy, Chuck Leavell.  It was a much different sound for the group, with piano leads and fills, if anything a tighter sound than the Duane years, more song-oriented.

Dickie Betts stepped up to the plate to contribute four of the seven songs here, including the group's biggest-ever hit, Ramblin' Man.  His instrumental Jessica was another show-stopper, as he proved his worth as the new lead guitar player.  Gregg Allman was delivering as well, his Wasted Words a rough-edged blues that showed the group hadn't lost their bite.  Allman's growling vocals and organ were another unique feature of the group, strengths they could turn to after losing so much.  They were rewarded with a number one album.

The second disc is a bit different than most bonus bonanzas, being made up mostly of studio rehearsal cuts, some with Oakley and some with Williams.  Some of these were meant to warm up the cuts they'd be recording, others were rehearsals for stuff they'd take on the road, and a couple were jams for fun.  So we get an early, no-vocals version of album standout Southbound, but with Oakley on it, done just before his death, the song later fully recorded with Williams.  A couple of old live favourites are run through for the benefit of Leavell, who would soon have to do them on the road.  There's also a true out-take from the album, an Allman number called Early Morning Blues, dropped at the last minute from the album proper.  I hadn't heard this set in at least 20 years, so this was a grand way to get back into it, a better album than I remembered.  A four-CD box is also available, featuring a full two-disc concert from 1973.