Monday, September 29, 2014
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: PIPER HAYES - AIN'T NOTHIN' LIKE...
It's acoustic-based pop, with a little folk and a bit more soul, and a lot emotion. Hayes digs deep to find the truths, how love has affected her and guides her life. She puts all that into her vocals, expressing for the most part a warmth that she has gained from these experiences. The four songs here come from her own life stories, and love experiences, but not all romantic ones; there's one that focuses on the love of a child, and another from a dream about being with all the right kind of people who understand you. Hayes is also a theatre performer, which explains her ability to connect, and her emphasis on communication, without tricks in the way.
The young Toronto singer-songwriter doesn't bother with any hip production or sounds, ironic lyrics or obscure references. On her debut studio work, a four-track E.P., it's singer-songwriter stuff about love, with basic instruments, and no effects, no layers of ambiance or loops. Just piano, drums, acoustic guitars, organ, a couple of horns, harmonica, and the singer. Hayes doesn't even have any echo or electronic presence on her voice that I can hear, it's about as clean as you're going to get, as little between you, the singer and the band as can be.
Thursday, September 25, 2014
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: JESSE WINCHESTER - A REASONABLE AMOUNT OF TROUBLE
The album opener, All That We Have Is Now, positively beams with a live-in-the-moment message, and could be the theme song for anyone 50-plus, Winchester stating the whole thing has been such fun. Closing song Just So Much is much more melancholy, as he finally gets to what he's worrying about, his own fate. Here he questions God about eternity, but then realizes he needs to make peace with the present instead of worrying about a next life: "Why won't he tell me what it's about/give me some answers, clear up my doubt/But there is just so much, only so much that the Lord can do."
It's incredibly touching, but that's with the knowledge of his passing looming over the album. Winchester might have written any of these without the illness of his last few years, he's always been capable of touching hearts, and searching his own. The album isn't really meant to be sad or heavy, there are even fun covers here such as the old Cascades hit, Rhythm Of The Rain. Nor is it a statement like Warren Zevon's final work, The Wind, or a cathartic need to record, like Johnny Cash's American V and VI albums. Winchester was writing and recording what he was thinking and feeling, same as always. He didn't leave a message, he left a present.
Wednesday, September 24, 2014
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: JONI MITCHELL - HEJIRA (Vinyl)
Hejira was one of five Mitchell albums to be voted in the 2007 book The Top 100 Canadian Albums (Goose Lane), compiled from a poll of over 500 Canadian music professionals. It finished at #52, following Blue at #2, Court and Spark at 18, Ladies of the Canyon at #81 and The Hissing of Summer Lawns at #88. Here's what I wrote in that book:
In three years, Joni Mitchell recorded three albums - each a major accomplishment - in completely different styles. The leaps from Court and Spark to The Hissing of Summer Lawns to Hejira are radical and fully realized. On Hejira, she focuses on more complete story-songs; musically, she graduates to work with a major collaborator.
Jaco Pastorius was a young and already influential bass player, part of the jazz-fusion group Weather Report. His fluid playing could dominate a song. He wasn't there to keep the bottom end - Pastorius's bass was a moaning counterpoint to the melody, and working with him meant Mitchell had crossed a line into more advanced modern jazz. His four appearances here began a studio and concert partnership that completely altered Mitchell's music for the rest of the seventies.
Hejira is a traveling album, its characters restless and on the move. The protagonist of Black Crow is even trapped in travel, locked into a cycle of ferry to highway to plane to train, unsure if there's a home and peace to find. Amelia makes an icon of that mysterious lost pilot, Amelia Earhart. In this tale, the pilot doesn't crash, she ascends, swallowed by the sky, and the singer dreams of joining her. Was it a suicidal thought? We are told it was just a false alarm.
For the first time since Blue, Mitchell settles into a musical mood for the whole album. Given the lyrics, it's no surprise it's melancholy. Yet each song has power instead of sadness, and the characters have dignity. Coyote, Amelia, the ancient bluesman Furry Lewis, Sharon - they are all heroes, and people on the journey. As much as the singer longs to get home, the trip offers some wonderful stories.
Tuesday, September 23, 2014
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: ADAM COHEN - WE GO HOME
I think it's all okay. Adam Cohen's a lot younger of course, and more of a pop guy than his father ever was. There are plenty of touches you're not going to hear in a Leonard album, such as the driving drums and hand claps of We Go Home, leading into a chorus of voices that is much more Arcade Fire. Adam has the family voice, but a bit better and stronger, and when he's doing his Leonard style, it's 1971, not from The Future. And if you judge this by the songwriting, he really is a fine and tight songwriter, and he'd certainly have people gushing over his tracks if we'd never heard of his father.
He does go overboard. For instance, "So Much To Learn" goes "You gotta carry your father's name," certainly a normal statement from anyone else, but he knows what everyone will think. If it's not obvious enough, "Uniform" begins "They tried to take Manhattan," and then in "Love Is", he sings "Love is a line from Hallelujah...". I just don't know what to say about that. I can say I really like this album though, it's his best yet, and I guess we should just sit back and enjoy any release from the company of L. Cohen and Son.
Monday, September 22, 2014
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: BRIAN SETZER - ROCKABILLY RIOT! ALL ORIGINAL
Setzer then mixes it up with more picking, on the semi-autobiographical Rockabilly Blues, and some fun novelty numbers. That's part of the genre, having some fun, making some puns, keeping it light in the lyrics but crazy in the playing. Vinyl Records is a perfect update for today, about a woman who has to have her music the classic way: "She plays vinyl records/45 RPM/Vinyl records/She drops down the needle and spins them again." Stiletto Cool is about a dangerous femme fatale, straight out of film noire. The best pun is I Should'a Had a V-8, not the juice but the car, because a V-6 doesn't cut it. Sprinkle in a couple of slower cuts, and lots and lots of fireworks from the guitar, and this is everything you want from rockabilly, something that just won't die, and here's why.
Friday, September 19, 2014
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS - BRILL BRUISERS
There's even a nice, big old tour this fall, although a crack has happened in the ranks since the album came out at the end of August. Drummer Kurt Dahle has split, and that's a shame, as his powerhouse percussion is one of the driving forces on the album. He's the kind of player you can concentrate on, picking out great individual performances within the whole. His work on Brill Bruisers is the source of much of the energy. As usual, this is an aural delight, music infused with a ton of motivation, an antidote to crabbiness. Newman delights in pop arrangements, and creates such great parts for himself, Neko Case and the rest. Hearing his stunning and fun tracks, such as Champions Of Red Wine, with 70's synth lines and ELO effects, and Case just as smooth as can be on the verses, is such a pleasure, as they are just so joyous. Bejar does himself proud as well on this three cuts, including the lead single, War On The East Coast, with a little more edge and some subtle Joy Division moments in there. But it's still plenty poppy, with Dahle's dynamite pounding and more synth. It's quite breathless at the end. So thanks again gang, I know you have other things to do, but your continued work is greatly appreciated.
Thursday, September 18, 2014
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: THE TEA PARTY - THE OCEAN AT THE END
The band always had a Middle-Eastern influence, too much at times, as it overshadowed the rest of the story. That's been pushed way down for this album, in favour of rock, lots of rock. You have Jeff Martin's deep vocals, Jeff Burrows' great (rock) rhythms and explosive playing, and Stuart Chatwood's keyboard and bass textures. The music is never three chords of simplicity; they are still making complex, layered structures, but the music punches all the way through. I don't remember Martin sounding so devilish before, but maybe that's the hellfire that rears up behind him in places. There are gentler moments as well, including a faithful remake of Daniel Lanois' The Maker. But The Black Sea, well, that's near-Death Metal. And bonus points for getting Ian Anderson (Tull, you know) to the flute honours on the title cut. A surprisingly welcome return.
Monday, September 15, 2014
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: ROBYN HITCHCOCK - THE MAN UPSTAIRS
The idea here was warm and woody, with lots of up-close atmosphere. Working on the project was the illustrious Joe Boyd, he of Nick Drake on the folk side, but the early producer of another of Hitchcock's heroes, Syd Barrett and the very early Pink Floyd. He brings Hitchcock right into your head, the guitar/cello combo providing the right mellow mood, Robyn dishing up some thoughts on aging gracefully, and how the mysteries of life continue on, nothing seeming any clearer despite the advancing age. Actually quite a bit of the tales come from covers this time, Hitchcock choosing to re-interpret a few add choices at acoustic numbers. The disc opens with The Psychedelic Furs' number The Ghost In You, always a lovely song that loses nothing relieved of its 80's production. The Doors' Crystal Ship is another success, the Morrison bombast replaced by piano and a sensitive reading by Hitchcock: "Before you slip into unconsciousness, I'd like to have another kiss, another flashing chance at bliss." Hitchcock describes this as an album with a lot of autumn on it, with nostalgia and middle-age. Better to embrace it then, as he has done here.
Thursday, September 11, 2014
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: ROBERT PLANT & the SENSATIONAL SPACE SHIFTERS - LULLABY AND .... THE CEASELESS ROAR
With a suitable amount of mysterioso-echo on his vocals, Plant wanders through some parishes, shires and mountain passes, searching for great beauties, with "red hair, raven hair, gold like the sun." Sometimes it's a little too precious, such as Embrace Another Fall, with its Welsh verse sung by some mythical Princess, making it seem like the next theme song for Part 3 of The Hobbit. Plus, there's a lot of little parts flying in and out of most of the songs, which can get a bit overwhelming sometimes, but if you're in the mood, it can also be a grand sonic journey.
Of special note is the least-adorned number, called Somebody There. Seems our boy and band had one regular old rock song to present, kind of an orphan from the rest of the material, a grand mid-tempo piece with a sweet chorus and rich guitar throughout. Man, that one would have made a heck of a late 70's Zeppelin single.
Wednesday, September 10, 2014
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: RYAN ADAMS - (s/t)
Of course, we knew he'd be back, and probably grouchy and difficult as usual. But as ...what? He'd broken up The Cardinals in 2009, and who knew what he'd want to explore on a return. Could it be punk or metal-influenced, or alt-this or Americana-that? Would it be a band album like he did with The Cardinals, or an acoustic one? Surprisingly, its the one I really didn't think he would make. It's the accessible one. In fact, this is a sound that should be very familiar to lots of folks, not so much from Adams but from many others. Lots call it heartland rock, meat-and-potatoes (mostly) electric guitar music. At its most obvious its Mellencamp, at its most mythic its Springsteen, and at its most poetic, Emmylou Harris. Adams shows some of all three of those traits, leaning a little darker as usual, world-weary.
I'm concerned about the lean to the mainstream, but it could be as simple as Adams truly feeling he has to reintroduce himself. Certainly lots of folks have dropped off the train in the years since Heartbreaker. At the same time, there are several really strong numbers here, if a little less ambitious that some previous incarnations of himself. Digging into the lyrics, there's some dark stuff, and a lot of "can't's": I can't sleep, I can't talk, I can't go home. Put a big beat and big guitar chords along with that, and you have some emotional wallop. The cut Trouble sounds like the kind that can please a lot of folks, starting with a Petty-ish guitar riff, and then coming in with "Trouble, I can hear the clock tick in the room." Claustrophobia is certainly a reoccurring feeling here. Adams doesn't limit himself though; there are a couple of acoustic strummers, including My Wrecking Ball, a pretty but sad love's over but still smouldering number. WIth a big concert tour scheduled for the fall, it seems Adams is ready to play again, and play ball a little too.
Tuesday, September 9, 2014
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: MOLLY JOHNSON - BECAUSE OF BILLIE
That she did, and of course did turn to jazz, releasing her first solo album in 2000. Her smoky vocals, filled with her distinct personality, quickly established her as one of the country's favourite vocalists, with jazz-pop numbers such as Diamond In My Hand bringing her a much larger audience than most jazz singers can claim. If there was a distinguished, and distinct jazz singer in the country, surely it was Johnson. Yet still, "For years, people would say, 'Oh you're just like Billie," Johnson says. "But I'm not. I'd tell them, 'I am because of Billie'. I get to do what I do because of what she did back then. That generation of people, like my parents, like her, fought for me to have this life. That's why I have called this record Because Of Billie. Because I'm nothing like her. I know my father, he loved me very much, as did my mother. Billie never had that, she never had any of the advantages I had. I've been saying I'm because of Billie for two decades, I'm everything she couldn't be."
Johnson's album is made up of 14 tracks long associated with Holiday, including Body and Soul, God Bless The Child, and Strange Fruit. Johnson also made sure to include songs written by Holiday, to show that she was a composer as well as an interpreter, such as Don't Explain and Fine and Mellow. The album was recorded quickly, live from the studio floor with her group, often in first takes, taking only four days to make the entire thing. Johnson says she wanted to capture that spark of creativity and excitement of working direct to tape. Plus, she relied on her own, and the group's, ability to switch on the needed intensity and emotion. "Most artists, I believe, are a bit bipolar," she explains, "And good artists can use that to their advantage. So you go in there, get dark, swing it, and get out. These are jazz guys, everybody comes to the session ready to go."
While she was ready to go in the studio, getting there took a lot longer. "People have been bugging me to make this record for a long time," she concedes. "But I always had the feeling Billie was getting ripped off (via whoever owned her publishing rights). And I didn't want to do it until I found out who had the copyright, and found out if they would donate some money to charity." It took her two years to track down the business side of venture, finding out that current publisher Casablanca was owned by the giant music corporation Universal, the very company she records for in Canada. The Canadian branch did some hard work for her, and Johnson was able to arrange for a portion of the sales to go to a deserving, and appropriate charity. "I chose the Boys and Girls Clubs, because I figured Billie didn't have a childhood. You're in jail when you're 14 with your mother for prostitution, it doesn't take rocket science to know she didn't have a childhood. But she wasn't a victim, she was a victim of her time. I didn't want to talk about this poor victim, I didn't believe she was. She was a strong woman, who was in tune with the civil rights movement. The Boys and Girls Clubs are all over North America, so wherever I am playing I can fundraise there, and the money can stay in that community."
Because Of Billie is Johnson's sixth studio album, and is available now on CD, vinyl and as a digital download.
Monday, September 8, 2014
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: NAOMI SHELTON & the GOSPEL QUEENS - COLD WORLD
We're discovering this, right? There's a reason vinyl is hot, it sounds better. And we're not just talking music where this happens. The convenience of microwave cooking was long ago shown to be inferior to ovens, despite its greater convenience. I'm no technophobe, but how much are we throwing out for no gain?
Here's what has inspired my rant: For the past few years, Daptone Records has been thrilling fans of vintage 60's soul sounds with recordings by Sharon Jones and Charles Bradley, among others. These collections have proven there is still a big interest in basic soul music, that there was absolutely no reason to drop it when other forms came along, such as disco and hip-hop. This is great music, whether it was made in Memphis in 1967 or New York in 2014. Why should I not love it now, like I did then?
The other great thing about Daptone is that it has never been a retro label. They aren't trying to recreate, they are advancing the music with new material. Their artists, musicians and producers are creating vibrant songs that stand up to the classics, and make me question whether I want to put on an Aretha record today, or a Sharon Jones.
The big name at Daptone is Naomi Shelton & the Gospel Queens. Where Bradley is from the James Brown-belting funk school, and Jones is Stax Records, Shelton brings the Gospel soul to the stage. The backing singers, the Gospel Queens, are the response to her call, with smooth and rich accompaniment, much like the I Three's provided for Bob Marley. Don't think this is a homage to Gospel, either. This is the real stuff, songs of sinners, songs of praise, songs from a cold, cold, world. Meanwhile, the tight, five-man group behind is driving along as crisply as the Hi Records group did for Al Green and Willie Mitchell.
Recording in glorious mono, Shelton puts her gritty voice to the front, the emphasis and volume key to getting the passion across. The band and the singers push this material just as hard as any R'&'B, with stabbing rhythms, Steve Cropper-inspired guitar licks and joyous funk. And those singers, such non-stop pleasure, first a line from Shelton, an "Oh lord" response from the trio, then a growl back from Shelton. This isn't pretty singing, this is gruff, tough, and life-and-eternal damnation important. But Shelton's there to lead you the right way, and everything is just exceptional.
Friday, September 5, 2014
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: IGGY POP - ICON
However, being an icon doesn't necessarily mean you earned it from great music. Iggy's ups and downs have been many, and your opinion of him largely depends on whether you buy into the Stooges' legacy of nastiness. For those who do, it is the very essence of rock and roll, and the seed of punk. For those who find it too loud, miserable and demanding, there's the side presented here. These are the more ear-pleasing numbers, pop by Pop, taken from the time after Bowie cleaned him up, and some say, softened him up. The tracks begin in 1977, with the pair of Bowie-Berlin album the duo made, Lust For Life and The Idiot, responsible for four of the cuts out of eleven, Lust For Life, The Passenger, Nightclubbing and China Girl. There's not a bit wrong with anything there certainly, the original of China Girl a little tougher than the Bowie hit, but still basically a catchy love tune, with a slight edge. Jump to 1986, and another sort-of hit album for him, Blah Blah Blah, which gives us Real Wild Child (Wild One) and Cry For Love. The first is a cool cover of a 50's rocker, the second a formula tune, it could have been by anyone except for Iggy's distinctive growl. The rest of the cuts are less successful single attempts from under-performing albums, up to 2003's Skull Ring title track. Candy is a nice duet with Kate Pierson from B-52's, but smells of, "Hey you should do a duet with a woman, who could help sell this?" Cold Metal is cold comfort, he should have given it to Kiss, and taken his name off the credits.
Now don't get me wrong, I'm probably a bigger fan of more melodic Iggy than I am the Raw Power version. But this set is aimed at people who learned about him from Lust For Life and Nightclubbing being used on the Trainspotting soundtrack.
Tuesday, September 2, 2014
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: THE POSIES - FAILURE
Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow were out of Bellingham, Washington, right near the B.C. border, and away from the grunge scene of Seattle. Instead, they were power pop nuts, and wanted to make records that sounded like garage bands, British Invasion acts, and later craftpeople, The Raspberries and Big Star. The two of them had worked especially hard on a vocal blend, and sounded just like The Hollies in their harmonies. This was retro in the right way, and energetic and modern too.
With the golden voices sailing through each song, in came the hooks and studio craftwork. It really became obvious these guys could play on numbers such as I May Hate You Sometimes, with its intricate bassline. The only thing that gave away their ages was the sometimes-hammy lyrics. But this was just the start, and there would be lots more Posies down the road, as they toughened up, grew up, became half of Big Star when Alex Chilton agreed to come back, and they still remind people how glorious pop music can be when handled with care and smarts.
This deluxe edition adds a further eight tracks to the original 12, although all but one have been out before, on a previous reissue or a sampler album. There are demos, instrumentals and a live cut, all of which show the pair could do it alone with acoustics, and really came up with all this on their own, they weren't just studio creations. They made a couple of better albums, but this is probably the freshest.
Monday, September 1, 2014
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: SIMPLY SAUCER - BABY NOVA EP (vinyl)
The Hamilton group was the missing link between prog and punk, featuring a sound previously unknown. With a unique blend of glam, Detroit, art rock, New York and beyond, the band really had no scene in which to belong, eventually finding at least temporary shelter in Toronto's late 70's punk scene. Breaking up soon after, leader Edgar Breau laid down his electric and went into acoustic guitar music for decades. But the belated interest in Simply Saucer (Uncut magazine named one of the Cyborgs discs in its reissues of the year) led him to reform the band, and he now alternates between solo and Saucer projects.
This nifty EP, on fetching splatter vinyl, is an interesting project. The band has a certain influence on underground Detroit, and the feeling is mutual, with Iggy, MC5 and Mitch Ryder among Breau's biggest influences. The was group was asked by some pro fans to come record in the city in 2011, and happily accepted. What they did was find some classic Saucer that hadn't been properly recorded in-studio, and set up shop for a weekend to get off-the-floor flaming versions.
Low Profile is a very Stooge-like number, going back to 1976. Dance The Mutation, with its garage-band organ, has only been heard on vintage live recordings before. Baby Nova was going to be on the group's proposed first album, but money woes meant it never got recorded. It's doubtful Breau's insane guitar on this take could have been imaginable back then, so that's a bonus.
Side two features I Take It, a more mellow, haunting ballad at first, which explodes on the chorus, and definitely in The Kinds mode, Breau showing the softer voice that makes his solo work pleasing. It wraps up with Reckless Agitation, a number salvaged from their Toronto club days, a proper punk number which turns into a rave-up. Indie/underground fans will buy this for its fantastic cover and cool vinyl, and discover a blast over five cuts.
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