Thursday, October 31, 2013


Hey guys and ghouls, it's that bewitched day, and aside from your scratched-up copy of (Ghosts Of The Haunted House) from the 70's, what else do you have to play on Halloween?  There aren't too many record labels with enough nasty material in the catalogue to fill up a seasonal sampler for today, but there's one for sure.  Yep Roc Records has a trio of bands under contract that specialize in monstrous sounds, drenched in echo and chills.  They've put together this all-new collection of ghost stories, zombie walks and vampire blues, fun for the whole sick family.

The bands are notorious already; The Fleshtones, Southern Culture On The Skids, and Los Straitjackets.  Throw them all in a blender, and you get surf, garage, Mexican, fuzztone, psych, rockabilly, country boogie, wrestling and decadent fun.  The Fleshtones throw in a bunch of 60's fun, with (Sock It To Me Baby) In The House Of Sock, full of Farfisa organ, twangy guitar, and really let the monster out of the garage.  They have the best new cut too, Haunted Hipster ("You think you're cool, but you're dead, too.)  Instrumental gods Los Straitjackets do some great updates to favourite songs from the spooky world, with updated versions of movie cuts Theme From Halloween, Theme From Young Frankenstein, and even the Ghostbusters theme.  Think of that famous melody rocked out on lead guitar.  Southern Culture On The Skids go Marty Robbins-Western, with The Loneliest Ghost In Town.  See, something for all the trick-or-treaters on your list.

Of course, everything comes with the appropriate sound effects, either ghastly guitar howls or real ones, giving it all an extra bit of terror.  The piece de resistance is when all three get together for an update on Halloween's greatest hit, a brand-new version of The Monster Mash, only this time it's in Spanish, called Que Monstruos Son.  No doubt that's the encore number on the joint tour the groups are just finishing up.  Grab it now, it's a cool listen for garage-surf fans, and remember it for next year, to rock out those little devils who come to the door.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


Peter Gabriel's several-years-in-the-making project of cover versions has finally been finished, although not because of his delay this time.  The idea was for him to cover some of his favourite songs, and then the writers of those would cover one of his.  Gabriel finished his first, but some dilly-dallying by the others meant that he had to put out his covers first, three years back, as Scratch My Back.  Now we get part two, artists covering Gabriel, called And I'll Scratch Yours.  For those who didn't get the first album, you can also buy a deluxe package that includes both CD's.

Gabriel took great liberties when he covered the others, first deciding there would be no drums or guitars, and then making everything with an orchestra.  This actually had a dramatic and interesting effect on songs such as Paul Simon's Boy In The Bubble, Talking Heads' Listening Wind, and Arcade Fire's My Body Is A Cage.  These are dramatic reinterpretations, perhaps not bettering the originals but certainly giving us another, usually satisfying view of the song.

His fellow songsmiths didn't have to follow the same rules about the drums and guitars and orchestra, and some of their versions don't really change the songs all that much.  Arcade Fire give us a pretty recognizable Games Without Frontiers, and Elbow's Mercy Street is much the same, and less effective than Gabriel's original.  But most got the spirit of the project, and personalized the songs.  Poignantly, there's a Lou Reed number here, toughening up the prog-ish Solsbury Hill, a surprising choice from the late urban tough guy.  David Byrne does a suitably Byrne-esque number on I Don't Remember, amping up the paranoia and dance.  Regina Spektor sings Blood Of Eden straight and strong, and I like the plain treatment, focusing on the lyrics.  Biko is one of Gabriel's most respected songs, and Paul Simon, no stranger to South Africa, makes it modern folk.  Most surprising is Randy Newman's take on Big Time, which, without changing the lyrics, now sounds exactly like Randy Newman wrote it.

Two of hoped-for participants didn't come through.  Gabriel had covered Radiohead and Neil Young on Scratch My Back, but something stood in the way of their further involvement.  Subbing are Joseph Arthur, doing justice to Shock The Monkey, and a cool collaboration between Feist and Timber Timbre on Don't Give Up.  That more than makes up for Radiosnooze, but I would have killed to hear Crazy Horse tackle Sledgehammer.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013


Named after those tins of assorted chocolates you get at Christmas, this is Lowe's first foray in the novelty holiday market, and I couldn't wish for a better bloke to shake up the moribund festive scene.  In a year where the big Christmas releases feature Susan Boyle, Kelly Clarkson and the bearded wonders from Duck Dynasty, thanks be for a disc you might actually want to play when folks come over or trees get trimmed.  Since he's a retro guy already, Lowe fits right in with the glory days of holiday numbers, back when Nat King Cole and Bing would entertain us with cool Yule cuts.

Being no slouch with a handy rhyme, Lowe cooked up some new, yet old-fashioned numbers for this, with his usual humour and flair.  Christmas At The Airport is the story of someone locked in the terminal after his flight was cancelled by snow ("I'm doing Santa's sleigh ride on the baggage carousel").  I Was Born In Bethlehem is a retelling of the Christmas story, except from the Saviour's point of view.  Lowe's always cheeky.  Who else would recast Silent Night as a ska number?  And it works, just great.  Hepcat jazz fans will enjoy Ron Sexsmith's cut Hooves On The Roof, written especially for the album.  And how about the traditional Rise Up Shepherd, with bongos and sitar?

There's an easy-breezy feel across the disc, which will make it a fun listen for your holiday guests.  Most of the cuts have that cheesy home organ sound you might remember from your parents' living room, and if this doesn't bring back the heyday of the Holiday, then you must be the Grinch.  "Mom's gonna get that doo-dad she's been craving, and Dad's going to get his customary tie."  Lowe's captured the spirit of the great Christmas albums of the past.

Monday, October 28, 2013


As promised, here's the full video for the new Blue Rodeo single,  Mattawa / New Morning Sun.  The unique double-single is featured in this short film by director Chris Mills, who came up with the concept that included music from both songs, and captured the feel of the entire new album, In Our Nature.  Recorded at Greg Keelor's rural farm, the same spot where the group made its iconic and best-loved album Five Days In July, the album goes on sale Tuesday, Oct. 29.  The video is being launched today.  Have a look!

Saturday, October 26, 2013


One of the great modern folk voices, Thompson was always in the shadow of her ex-husband Richard, partially because on their shared 70's albums he did much of the writing, playing and some of the singing, while she only sang and wrote a bit  Later, her output slowed to a trickle, a vocal paralysis to blame for some of that, while his recordings and reputation increased.  None of this changes the fact she's a grand performer, and always puts together a heartfelt and terrific set of songs, often laced with irony and sadness.

Thompson also surrounds herself with class-A companions, somewhat easier these days as her family has matured in the business.  Her most frequent collaborator is her son Teddy, who features strongly on the album, co-writing with her, performing, bringing in a new melodic and upbeat approach, especially on the cut As Fast As My Feet, as fun and poppy as she'll ever get.  Thompson's other kids are here, Kami and Muna, and even a grandchild, plus Richard and one of his sons too.  Also on board is our own Ron Sexsmith, and the daughter of Levon, Amy Helm.

Fans will be thrilled with the reunion with Richard, on opening cut Love's For Babies And Fools, which features just his acoustic guitar playing.  It's a return to their classic sound, and there's no denying the delicious humour in this anti-love song, as Linda sings “I care only for myself / Love’s for babies and for fools”.  Elsewhere there's everything from ancient-sounding folk to grand harmonies, a fine full album.

Friday, October 25, 2013


Here's part two of our countdown to the new Blue Rodeo album, called In Our Nature, out Tuesday, Oct. 29. Earlier in the week, you could stream the whole album on this site. Now, here's a sneak peak at the brand new video for the first single from the album, also coming out next week. Actually it's for a couple of songs, New Morning Sun and Mattawa. And in fact, filmmaker Chris Mills came up with a unique concept that incorporated most of the music from the album into the video. He explains how that came about: "After spending close time with the band, shooting and rehearsing all these great songs," says Mills, "The idea developed to try to make a video that encapsulated the feel for the ALBUM rather than just the songs. I shared this with the team, and was encouraged to "run with it". "Thankfully, the support and resources were in a place to help me expand and evolve the project, and so, we now have a "music video" style project, which condenses two songs and a few of the narrative elements which THEN ties back into a completely separate, (much longer) ALBUM FILM, which uses mood, performance, a bit of imagination, and a mixture of real life and story elements to try to reflect the great spirit of these sessions, and to deliver a "sampler plate" of this well-crafted album." "I hope that, like me, this sampler will leave you hungry for more, and help remind people that, although loving music one or two songs at a time is awesome, there are also great rewards that come from the experience of taking part in some of the relationships that a collection of songs have with one another." Hear, hear! We agree wholeheartedly with those sentiments. You're going to have a chance to watch the whole film on Monday at this site, but for now, check out this teaser video:

Thursday, October 24, 2013


Muscle Shoals is a town in Alabama that spawned not one, but two major recording studios, responsible for the stuff of legend.  Now a new documentary is making the rounds, and while I hadn't had the chance to catch it yet, I'm told it is one of the very best of its kind, a fascinating history that includes some of the giants of modern music.  Everybody from The Rolling Stones to Aretha Franklin to Paul Simon to Lynyrd Skynyrd made some of their biggest hits in the town, and some pretty exciting stories are told by these folks in the film.

You can't go wrong with a soundtrack from the movie either.  The only thing that could be a problem is a licensing issue, which probably explains the lack of Wild Horses or Brown Sugar from the collection, but who doesn't have those?  There is more than enough to last an hour, and really, this could so easily be a gigantic box set.  The earlier music comes from producer Rick Hall, who recorded the soul singer Arthur Alexander in the early 60's.  Alexander was beloved by The Beatles and The Stones, who both covered his stuff, and his You Better Move On was a big enough hit that Hall could afford to build FAME Studios.  His next hit was Steal Away by Jimmy Hughes, which cemented the reputation for the new place.  Both Steal Away and You Better Move On are included on the soundtrack.  Stars started knocking on the door, and the hits included here are When A Man Loves A Woman, by Percy Sledge, Tell Mama by Etta James and I Never Loved A Man by Aretha Franklin. 

Like any good studio of that time, the house band was critical.  Barry Beckett (keyboards), Roger Hawkins (drums), Jimmy Johnson (guitar) and David Hood (bass) were known as The Swampers, and split in 1969 to set up the Muscle Shoals studio, with Cher as the first guest.  The Stones followed soon after, and then it was another hit cavalcade, with The Staple Singers doing I'll Take You There, Paul Simon making Kodachrome, and Lynyrd Skynyrd putting down the original Free Bird.  Add a few wild cards to the lineup, such as Jimmy Cliff's Sitting In Limbo, and Wilson Pickett's Hey Jude with Duane Allman sitting in, and you have a heck of a collection.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


Having seen two dynamic, energetic performances by The Avett Brothers at the last two Harvest Jazz and Blues Festivals in Fredericton, plus viewed a recent DVD of an older set, I remain awed but a little winded.  The group very purposefully puts a tremendous amount of effort into their performances, including exaggerated gestures and lots of banging about on acoustic instruments.  Subtlety, thy name is not Avett.  I understand this is to make it a memorable performance for the crowd, and I'll give 'em that.  The trouble is, sometimes I find it over the top, especially since they are doing, you know, acoustic music and therefore you'd expect a broader range of dynamics.

The thing is, that's what they deliver on their albums.  Even though they have been bigger as a live band, especially on the festival circuit, the albums have been doing just fine of late, and this is the group's second in a year, following the 2012 release of The Carpenter, which hit #4 on the charts, and earned them a Grammy nomination.  The albums come close together because the songs came out of the same large pot of writing, enough good ones to keep the faucet running full blast.  There are some contrasts though; a little more banjo, Scott Avett's preferred axe these days, and an overall calmer, rootsier set of material than The Carpenter.  It's certainly much less about volume and belting out the tunes than the live show.  Here the emphasis is on the words and singing, the instruments colouring instead of driving the material.  And when you do get a chance to listen, to take a breath, the quality comes out.  After four years of hearing I and Love and You as a big sing-along, it's good to realize there are interesting words and stories in there, lovely melodies, and emotive voices.

Another interesting moment comes on Souls Like The Wheels, which actually was recorded live, and is one of the rare times in the group's show where they do quiet right down.  It's played just on acoustic by Seth Avett, gently picked, with a perfect pretty vocal.  The audience gamely tries to keep quiet, and only a few stray hoots can be heard, from a crowd used to cheering most of the two hours.  It's so much more powerful than another explosive folkie number.  The deluxe version of the new disc also comes with four demo versions of new cuts, and darned if I don't like them a little better than the full productions, the rawness and the simpler instrumentation again allowing us to hear even more of the actual songs.  Anyway, the group is sitting pretty, with the album highlighting the songs, the tour letting them be the big performers they want to be. Feel free to add your own fist-pumps if you miss the live energy.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013


Thanks to our pals at Warner Music Canada, we're able to offer this sneak peak at the new Blue Rodeo album, In Our Nature, coming out next Tuesday, Oct. 29. It's the 13th album by the band, and was recorded at Greg Keelor's rural Ontario farmhouse, the same spot the group made its most beloved collection, Five Days In July. The core group of Jim Cuddy, Keelor, bassist Bazil Donovan, drummer Glenn Milchem and multi-instrumentalist Bob Egan was joined by more recent recruits keyboardist Michael Boguski and guitarist Colin Cripps, so the whole touring band features on the tracks. Take a listen, get excited, it's always a joy when a new Blue Rodeo album arrives.

Monday, October 21, 2013


Two different celebrations here, marked by two themed discs, both with a similar premise.  Willie's turned 80, and this year has already featured one new recording, Let's Face The Music And Dance, where Nelson went back to his roots and recorded standards from jazz to popular from the 30's and 40's.    Meanwhile, The Skydiggers have been celebrating 25 years, and have been even more ambitious.  The group have been issuing a new disc every three months in 2013, one for each season, and after a live collection and a covers album, have come up with a unique idea, something like Willie's.  Each of them decided to work with women singers on their own new one.  The major difference is that Willie's doing duets, while Skydiggers hand the mic. over to their friends.

Nelson's, called To All The Girls, is the more predictable, with the line-up including lots of his friends and fellow country stars.  The album kicks things off with a nice, quiet ballad from Dolly Parton's pen, From Here To The Moon And Back, where each taking a verse and harmonizing on the chorus, Willie adding a pretty solo on Trigger.  These two are as comfortable as can be with each other after all these years.  Miranda Lambert comes in for the new Nashville crowd, helping Nelson update a Waylon track, She Was No Good For Me.  There are some old-fashioned tunes, lots of classic covers, and a few curveballs as well, both in song choices and guest stars.  Mavis Staples shows up for a wonderful take on Bill Withers' Grandma's Hands, and his daughter Paula features on a slowed-down version of the CCR cut Have You Ever Seen The Rain, which they first debuted on her album in 2010.  With a whopping 18 cuts, there's a lot of guests, a lot of styles, and all of them pretty darn satisfying.

The Skydiggers album is a less star-studded and track-stuffed affair, only eight cuts, but no less classy., called She Comes Into The Room.  Instead of going for big names, the group went with friends who they admired, status not the criteria.  They provided the band, and together the singers picked cuts from the group's large catalogue which fit the bill.  One of the most effective versions comes from young Toronto Ivy Mairi, who does a stripped-down version of the group's Feel You Closer, a Peter Cash tune that now has added power taken from a woman's point of view.  Long-time band friend Margo Timmins is always welcome on any stage or project, and here gets spooky on a more recent Andy Maize number, the title cut of their 2012 disc Northern Shore.  Other guests include Saidah Baba Tailbah, Angela Desveauz, Oh Susanna, Damhnait Doyle and the woman who started it all, Jessy Bell Smith.  She's been singing off and on for several years with the group, and does 1993's Ramblin' On  live at shows.   Hearing how she brings new meaning to the song, the band figured out this concept, and it wouldn't have the same without her.  As opposed to the Willie collection, this one is too small, another 3-4 cuts would have been great, but I love that they backed off, let the women take all the leads, and make it a unique idea.

Sunday, October 20, 2013


Tony's still dropping good work when he appears (I recommend the Zen Of Bennett DVD, an excellent doc about the making of his Duets project), and every few months  we seem to get a cool archive release as well.  This comes from the glory days of the Strip, back when the Rat Pack resided there, the top adult performers and TV and movie stars and sports idols all were there to be seen and keep the place glitzy.  Bennett hadn't been a regular there though, and 1964 was his first engagement, luckily captured then, the tapes untouched for decades.

Tony, joined of course by Ralph Sharon Trio, is backed by the house orchestra, in a slick, swinging set.  He's at the height of his powers, but we're not talking about someone who had to rise far, or who faded much over the years.  It's just that he's pretty darn close to the peak.  (I Left My Heart In) San Francisco had won the Grammy for Record of the Year in 1963, followed up by I Wanna Be Around, and The Good Life, cementing him as an equal to the greats, even Sinatra acknowledging him as his favourite.  So here's the time to hear him in the hottest town.

This being Vegas, maybe it is a little too slick.  The songs keep coming and coming, often a little too short and quick, not leaving him, or the group to stretch out.  The great phrasing is there of course, but much of the power doesn't really get put on display until the end, when Bennett does take his time.   These are of course, the big numbers:  Chicago, San Francisco, I Wanna Be Around.  But that's Vegas, get 'em in, give them a good time, a decent prime rib, a few drinks and back at the tables.  Some of the show biz is pretty interesting though.  In the middle of the set, out come guest Milton Berle, Danny Thomas and Mickey Rooney, with a few jokes and lots of praise for Tony, how cool it all seemed.  As good a performance as this is, it's just as fun to have this hunk of history preserved.

Thursday, October 17, 2013


The next time I start complaining about all the modern country performers that don't really play country, aren't really from the country, and just sing a bunch of cliches about trucks and cows and old-fashioned values, remind me about Brett Kissel.  When Kissel sings about working on a farm, he's telling the truth.  He's worked on a farm since he was a child, still does when he gets the chance. That's not too often these days.  He's very busy with his country career.  Reached at his house in Edmonton, Kissel had to stop packing in order to chat.  He's sold the home, and he and his wife are moving full-time to Nashville, to keep up with the songwriting and demands that are now coming his way.

The young Alberta singer-songwriter has just exploded onto the national charts with his album, Started With A Song.  At just 23, most performers are just figuring out what they want to be.  Not Kissel.  He's been working towards this almost his whole life.  "The start for  me in country was when I learned to walk and talk," he explains.  "It was played exclusively at our home, I don't remember anything else.  The radio station very much centered on country, a lot of classics.  And my grandparents had an extensive collection.  I'd hear Charlie Pride or Johnny Cash, and at four years old, I thought that was new country!  The first song I played was I Walk The Line, and at 8, I was trying to pick Tennessee Flat-Top Box.  I would switch the lyrics to "In a north Alberta town".

That north Alberta town wasn't even a town, it was a cattle farm. "It's a small farming community called Flat Lake.  Nobody knows where the hell it is.  St. Paul is close, Bonneville is close.  It's a working family farm, my parents still work it.  It's a fifth-generation farm.  I still try to get out there as much as I can, to help when its busy season.  When I grew up, before school, after school, every day I did the farm chores."

As much as he liked the farm life, music was his calling, and at 12 years old he put out his first album, with a couple more to come in his teens.  He became a local star, and wanted to work on getting his music out to a bigger audience.  Started With A Song was done on his own time, and his own dime, and pitched around to national labels.  Remember, this is a time when most major labels have stopped gambling on new music.  But Kissel impressed them all, and he was impressed with Warner Canada, so a deal was signed for Kissel and his ready-made package of hits.

So far, so great.  The first single, the title cut, made it to #1 on the CMT video charts, and was the most-played Canadian track at country radio.  Single #2, Raise Your Glass, has just come out, as has the album.  Kissel hasn't stopped working long enough to savour it, but he's happy the plans are working:  "I'm extremely pleased.  We're always looking to the next single, but when I look back at how well it's been received, and sold, I'm really proud.  It's better than I'd expected.  I was excited about getting signed, and recording, but seeing the song climb, and make it to number one, it was an incredible feeling."

He keeps racking up some incredible experiences, as he makes his way in the country world.  A chance meeting with the NFL Pro-Bowl players led to a connection made with the quarterback of the Tennessee Titans at the time, who happened to write country songs himself.  So they co-wrote one, Long Hot Summer, which is a bonus track on the deluxe edition of the CD.  "Kerry Collins, that was one of the coolest experiences," laughs Kissel, "250 pounds, 6;5", definitely not the normal co-writer.  But here he is coming up with great lines, picking mean guitar.  We wrote at his house in Tennessee.  I couldn't wait to get on the phone and tell my friends about that one."

That's pretty cool for Flat Lake.  Or Nashville for that matter.  Anywhere.  You can't make this stuff up, and Kissel hasn't, not a word of it, all his experiences are real, all his stories in his songs are true, and that's what this actual country kid is most proud of.   "It was most important to record an album that was true to me and what I believe in.  I wanted it to have radio success, and contemporary feel, but it really excited me that it came as a package, it was true. My number one priority was to come up with a group of songs that told my story.  And as long as I can write songs, and chase cows with my father and brother every once in awhile, I'm a happy guy."

Wednesday, October 16, 2013


The Beach Boys have a perfectly good box set called Good Vibrations:  30 Years Of The Beach Boys that came out in 1993.  It's so good in fact, that no less than Tom Petty declared it his all-time desert island disc, the music he couldn't live without.  It's not like the band has made a lot of music since then to update the set, and the core music, the surf hits, Pet Sounds, the nifty artistic years of the late 60's - early 70's, it's all repeated.  So, why another set?

First off, it's bigger and better, thanks to the size.  This one is six CD's, almost eight hours of music.  While the basics remain the same over the first four discs, there's pretty much two whole CD's of previously unreleased material here.  Considering that the vaults have been mined several times, for the first box, for the Pet Sounds box, the Smile Sessions box, the bonus cuts on reissue CD's, and the many compilations over the years, it just goes to show how much quality work the group did.  And the compilers aren't even stretching things out, there are plenty of songs missing from this new set, failed singles or favoured album tracks, that easily could have made the cut. 

Another reason for the new box is for the improved sound.  Over the past twenty years, a ton of sonic work has been done on the Beach Boys catalogue, upgrading it with superior technology, remixing lots of original mono takes into stereo, and even discovering long-lost master tapes.  And of course, there's the monumental release of the Smile Sessions two years ago, with all those tracks now available.  Although there were several Smile songs on the old box set, now they are all available to choose from, with the new upgrade mixes. 

Lastly, it's 50 freakin' years were celebrating here, why not do it up right?  And they have for the most part.  Visually, it's fun fun fun, as the collection is housed in a big book designed to look like a high school yearbook, right done to the faux-leather cover and the replica "student" signatures from the band on the inside.  There are little phony ads from The City Of Hawthorne, Ca., and the Fosters Freeze restaurant, where the guys hung out back in the school days.  It's a wonderful concept for the quintessential 60's band, and it holds up the whole way through the lengthy book.  In fact, if this was a book, you'd be paying $35 bucks for it alone.  It's full of previously-unpublished photos, and as a long-time fan, they have done a tremendous job showing us images we've never seen before.  The only problem is the info itself, there's not much new in it, but I guess it's just such a familiar story that all they can do is tell it again.

The previously-unreleased material is always the most exciting, and its in great supply here.  Much of disc 5 is devoted to live material, going as far back as 1965, for a version of Del Shannon's Runaway, a concert favourite sung by Al Jardine.  Instead of trotting out rote versions of the hits, these are rarer live performances through the years, including Brian Wilson singing The Box Top's The Letter, the lovely Friends from 1968, a totally rearranged, R'n'B version of Help Me, Rhonda, sung by Dennis Wilson instead of Jardine, and a rare live trip into the Smile sessions, Vegetables and Wonderful.

Disc 6 is almost all completely new, or at least versions that are new.  Some of it is made from technology tricks;  stripping the music off of existing tracks, we here the tremendous Beach Boys vocals on their own, a cappella, for Dennis's 1970 cut Slip On Through, and Brian and Carl singing the fascinating This Whole World.  There's the original backing track Brian recorded for the song Guess I'm Dumb, which he ended up giving to touring Beach Boy Glen Campbell for a single.  It's gorgeous on its own, sans vocal.  There are several works-in-progress by Brian, and some by Dennis, that were never completed, all interesting.  Then there's the recent discovery of a trio of BBC Radio recordings from 1964, live in the studio, during the group's first visit to England.  All these add up to over two hours of exciting, new-to-us music, something fans never tire of.

The usual complaint about constant repackaging of the same music is that record companies are getting us to pay over and over for the same songs.  And yes, any big fan will have roughly two-thirds of these tracks already.  But you know what?  It's damn fun to get these collections, and they are made even sweeter with so much more to discover, to look at, to own.  It may cost over a hundred bucks, but I'll bet any fan will easily get at least, what, 20 or 30 hours of pleasure out of this.  That's a great bargain.  This is a wonderful collection.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


The new film CBGB, about the legendary home of punk in NYC is getting pummeled by critics and fans, mostly for its dull presentation of such fabulous subject matter.   Apparently the music scenes especially are lifeless, and the musicians, including The Ramones, Blondie, Patti Smith, etc., mere caricatures.  Well, too bad.  But there's this nifty soundtrack.

Some thought has gone into it, and instead of just making it a best-of CBGB's music, the collection includes music by the groups of the 60's and 70's that paved the way to punk, spiritual forefathers such as MC5, The Velvet Underground and The Stooges.  And The Count Five's 1965 garage classic Psychotic Reaction?  Turns out it was on the actual jukebox at the club, and shows up in the background in one scene in the movie.  Points for both historical accuracy, and a cool tune.

The majority of the 20 cuts here do come from the denizens of the bar, at least the 70's version of it.  You get Television, The Dead Boys, Blondie, Richard Hell, and even the hilarious Dictators, with a nice rare number, the original demo of their cover of California Sun.  But there are problems too, licensing ones no doubt. There's no Patti Smith cut, and even worse, no Ramones.  There is a solo Joey cut, I Got Knocked Down, which is great, but having no true Ramones cut on a CBGB's collection is like having no Babe Ruth in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

I know why Roxanne is included, as CBGB's was the first place The Police played in the U.S., but it sure doesn't fit the club's image.  And starting with the very polished Life During Wartime by Talking Heads just doesn't work for me.  They would have been doing Psycho Killer during this time, and it was picked simply because of the line "This ain't no Mudd Club, no CBGB's...".  So, it isn't the perfect soundtrack, but it's still a darn good mix CD.

Sunday, October 13, 2013


Nobody nailed MTV's Unplugged show better than Clapton.  His 1992 appearance wasn't just for TV's sake.  The album went to #1, sold over 12 million copies, gave him a hit single (#1 in Canada) with the reworked Layla, and firmed up his image as the sauve and smooth singer, as well as appeased his old blues fans. It was all things to all people, giving him mass appeal as well as helping restore his credibility.  Not bad for a night's work.
This expanded deluxe edition comes with lots of extras, packaging up the original DVD of the show, plus the full TV rehearsal from earlier in the day, quite interesting really with its casual, behind-the-scenes view.  There's also a second CD of the out-takes from the performance.  As with all taped TV shows, something goes wrong at some point, so there are a couple of takes of Walkin' Blues and Running On Faith, a version of Worried Life Blues that were dropped from the broadcast and CD, and most surprisingly, two songs that wouldn't be released for another six years, on the Pilgrim album, takes of My Father's Eyes and Circus.  Both are fine performances, so he must have decided not to give away too much on the live disc.
For my money, the album has always felt a little too slick, with Ray Cooper's precise percussion, backing vocals, and all too many musicians up there.  I'd rather it be a little more raw, and a little more fire on display. Even the covers of classic blues, the Robert Johnson and Big Bill Broonzy numbers are handled with conservative technique rather than any daring.  However, there's no denying the marvel of Clapton's acoustic guitar work here, and in 1992, it had been a long time since he'd done anything this close to the blues for a new album.  Plus, admit it, that version of Layla, completely rearranged, is always cool to hear.

Saturday, October 12, 2013


Paul Simon has been making music for six decades, seven if you count his 1957 minor hit Hey Schoolgirl, made with Art Garfunkel as Tom and Jerry.  Although not really prolific, almost all of what he's made has been exemplary, aside from the odd Broadway or film diversion.  So try boiling all that into one single CD collection.
You can't and that's what's frustrating about this release.  It's packaged as the first-ever Simon best-of to cover both S&G and his solo career, but that is folly.  The notes admit as much, and advise it can only serve as a primer.  Take the Simon and Garfunkel years, for instance.  There's only six cuts from them, and since someone has elevated The Only Living Boy In New York to hit status, that means no Mrs. Robinson, no Homeward Bound, or Scarborough Fair or I Am A Rock.  The remaining 14 cuts are for his solo career, but rushing through at an average of one an album just scratches the surface. 
It's actually gets even sillier when you discover that this is the 8th best-of set released by Simon over the years, all juggling the track listing as another new album comes out.  The better ones are double-CD sets which allow for, say, four cuts from Graceland.  But who doesn't, or shouldn't, own that album?  Here's my solution:  get 'em all, except The Capeman, they all cost less than ten bucks now in most places, love them, and make your own mixtape of your favourites.

Thursday, October 10, 2013


Lots of buzz about this one, and for good reason.  It's a stirring collaboration, the sting of Costello and the beats n' funk of The Roots.  Much has been made about the way it came about, midwifed as it were on the Jimmy Fallon show, where The Roots reside as house band, and Costello was the dream guest of the program.  After hitting it off, The Roots made the approach, as they were all huge fans, and Costello was certainly enjoying their pluck.  At first, it was suggested they update some of EC's older tracks with the band providing a new groove.  Soon though, they were making enough to create a whole concept.

There are still some leftovers from the initial remake/remix idea to give us an understanding of what they conceived.  You'll hear snatches of lyrics from previous Costello numbers Hurry Down Doomsday, Bedlam, and most obviously, Pills and Soap, which has been borrowed wholesale and re-christened Stick Out Your Tongue.  I wouldn't have been put off by hearing a whole album of such, as Costello's stuff does lend itself to The Roots' slinky, funky grooves.  Bandleader ?uestlove is featured as prominently as Costello, his tightly-wound, popping drums mixed way up in the mix, the key to the whole sound.  Everything else aside from the vocals is in the background, almost behind an aural curtain, no guitar solos or long horn breaks, the groove is gonna get ya, or nothing will at all.  Still, the devil's in the details, as the subtle instrumental blends in back are just as compelling when you do pay attention, such as the mix of synth and strings doing dramatic things on the title cut.

The devil is indeed all around this collection, as the songs are largely about the nasty plight we're in these days.  Pins, grenades, gunpowder and tripwires abound, desperation seems the mood of the day, and betrayal, Costello's old stand-by, is just a given now.  The advise here is "Wise up, when you gonna rise up?"  Costello's never been one to placate the listener, he's always best when his glass is half-empty, and as he's done since his Spike days, relishes playing the devil himself.  It's one of his best roles.  Never shy to collaborate, previous unions with country, jazz and classical folks have brought mixed results, but this time he's found his musical kin, and made as bold and rewarding statement as we've heard from anyone in years.  State of the world, and the state of music.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013


Toronto's Ortega is sure putting them out at a fine rate, her third album in three years, and another corker.  Her country-rockabilly sound, her compelling voice, her excellent songwriting, it all gets better each time, too.  Living in Nashville has brought out a competitive fire in her, and several songs here, including the title track, are about struggling to make it in the dog-eat-songwriter scene there.  Singing for the nobody's, the ones with "a busted string and a broken guitar",  hoping for the break, she sees herself more akin to them than the big names, "like an old tin star, beat up and rusty/lost in the shining stars of Nashville, Tennessee."

That's one of the tear-jerkes, and she does a fine job at them, but where she really soars are the rockabilly numbers.  Ortega has a hitch in her voice, a delightful one, and when she leans back to really belt into a song, it's breath-taking.  Think Dolly Parton sounding just a little less perky, a little more indie.  Opening track Hard As This is a great tell-him-off song, mad at a lover for messing with her heart:  "If you need time, here's a clock/you can sit alone at night and listen to it tick and tock/If it stops, wind it up/I'll be somewhere givin' up on you."  Gypsy Child is a bit of biography, tracing a singer moving from Toronto to Nashville, her voice soaring over a delicious twangy guitar.  All These Cats is the raunchiest of them all, about the haters trying to run her out of the singer game, which she answers with all the power of Wanda Jackson, advising them "I ain't gonna look, I ain't gonna listen, I'm just gonna continue on my mission."  Please do, three great albums in three years, that's my kind of singer.

Thursday, October 3, 2013


More and more horns are becoming major components of modern bands, and not just those with a retro sound.  Funk, soul and R'n'B bands have returned in a big way to the festival circuit, with the Dap-Tone Records bunch, Black Joe Lewis, even old vet Maceo Parker building audiences the last few years.  Trombone Shorty (aka Troy Andrews) leads the New Orleans end, a natural spot to have a new horn hero.  His TV appearances, including several on the popular Treme, haven't hurt matters.

With a bulging discography, Shorty has been highly active, and a bit scattered about his music.  He will, if needed, go old New Orleans school, but he's usually crossing funk with jazz, soul and a bit of hip-hop.  This latest disc doesn't make things any clearer, as he moves all over the map from track to track.  Long Weekend is disco-funk, right out of the Earth, Wind and Fire playbook.  But right after it, Fire And Brimstone is a nasty guitar groove, Kravitz with a great horn solo half-way through.  Sunrise throws another 180 turn at us, a mellow but lovely horn harmony instrumental, more smooth jazz than funk.  There's soul stuff as well, and lots and lots of vocal cuts, Shorty a decent enough singer, certainly it doesn't take away from the cuts.

It's certainly a different course than anyone else is following, but there's an awful lot of styles coming at you in a disc running under 40 minutes.  The one constant is his great horn sound (all played by him, btw).  On some cuts, such as the driving Dream On, I think he's coming close to his own signature blend, with rock, funk, real horns.  The closing instrumental, Shortyville, that's a grand one as well, where he finally lets all the horns take over.  Maybe he can just do too much.  There isn't a cut here I don't like, it just feels like there's four or five Shorty's battling it out.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013


First off, huge kudos to True North music for reissuing these and several other Canadian discs from the 70's and 80's this month.  They've been out of print for years and the musicians responsible deserve to have their work available.  Many collectors and fans have been calling for these and other Can Rock favourites to be re-released; there can't be a great deal of money in it, so there's a certain labour of love involved.

These Chilliwack albums come from the late 70's, when they were on the ill-fated Mushroom label.  The B.C. band had already had one chapter of success, hitting the charts and hearts earlier in the decade with hits Crazy Talk and Lonesome Mary.  After a lull, the group got a new head of steam in '77, with the Dreams, Dreams, Dreams release.  It's arguably the best full Chilliwack album.  There were pop hits, rockers, and lots of singer Bill Henderson's signature falsetto vocals.  Fly At Night, Baby Blue and California Girl all became Canadian hits, with the first getting them into the U.S. charts a well.  It was a unique sound, with acoustic guitars taking the lead and rhythm instead of electric, but still with a full rock sound.  Add the high vocals, and it was Rush meets pop.

That success was followed up quickly later in the year with another album, Lights From The Valley.  Personnel changes were happening, with multi-instrumentalist Brian MacLeod joining, and a goal of toughening up the sound chosen.  In hindsight, it was less successful.  The best move was covering the old Sutherland Brothers cut Arms Of Mary, perfect for that sweet falsetto.

1979's Breakdown In Paradise was aptly named.  Mushroom was collapsing, and the band was shedding members.  Communication Breakdown gave them a minor hit, but the record got buried by its label's problems.  That's what makes this even more important; here we have a major Canadian group, with music that hasn't been in the public for years, and barely got released in the first place. 

Chilliwack survived, and continues to this day.  There would be a hit almost immediately, their biggest yet, My Girl (Gone Gone Gone), a fine third act.  But without these albums, it's been years since we had the whole story.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013


Hard to imagine where jump blues would be without Roomful Of Blues.  45 years ago Duke Robillard started the group out of New England with a love of horn-led, uptempo fun, in direct contrast to the electric blues that had taken over.  In all the years since, the group has been the main flag bearer for the format.  Duke's long gone, with Chris Vachon now the leader, and dozens of musicians have filled the chairs over the years, but the style remains the same.  Combining the end of the Big Band era, the early R'n'B, some Kansas City jazz, and the first hints of rock n' roll, it still swings.

To celebrate 45 (why not?), the group recorded this live set at a Rhode Island club this past spring.  With a nod to its history, the set includes numbers from all over Roomful's past - some Grammy nominated ones, and cuts that this edition of the group had never played live.  Going back to 1979, they pluck out their rewired version of Hank Williams' Jambalaya, further connecting the dots by adding country and Cajun.  That points out of the beauty of this band's approach:  They don't just pay tribute to jump blues, they are a working, current band, bringing in other influences and adapting.  There is some heavy blues electric guitar from Vachon, they can do that too.  But horns, there's always gonna be horns.  And that's what I love about 'em.  14 cuts, an hour of precision, energy and excitement.  Roomful of Blues goes back decades, their music even further, but it out-grooves the vast majority of blues groups.