Friday, October 31, 2014


Following up a 2013 EP, Toronto's Emilia presents her first full album, E. Featuring smooth singing from the 22-year-old, there's some pop, jazz, a bit of club stuff, everything centered around her voice. She's at her best with piano ballads such as The City Misses You, a track that doesn't try to be anything too modern. It's actually the retro charms that appeal the most, such as Howard Moore's trumpet work after some nicely-plucked double-bass.

Even though she's a one-named singer, there aren't many diva moments here, she's no over-emoter. She's the writer too, and given the wide range of material and moods, there are lots of ways for her to proceed. Again, I like the softer side, Dizzy another piano track with the softest accompaniment, just letting her good pipes do the work. That kind of stuff never goes out of style.

Thursday, October 30, 2014


The return of Hamilton's semi-secret roots collective, bringing us more modern sounds in country and western music. These are seven solid and committed musicians, well-versed in folk, rock, and all the other vintage sounds, and they pack them into original, high-quality tunes. There's tons of interplay, from he-she vocals to assorted stringed things to real piano and organ, and no loops, beats or studio trickery.

The community vibe is heavy and healthy right across the album, the group's second after 2011's West Simcoe County. There's a respect here for the music, the members letting us know they feel honoured to be making these sounds, to be keeping the tradition going. Lead track Back Home (In The Valley) rings with pedal steel and a great Bakersfield groove, plus soulful harmonies from the great partnership of Brad Germain and Terra Lightfoot. That's followed up with a country-Gospel tune, I Might Do Everything Wrong, with a Revival Meeting flavour. Wandering Eye has some wild rockabilly crossed with saloon sounds, including a brilliant, brief piano break from Greg Brisco.

And so it goes, a different blend on each tune, written with care and love. There's lots of homage paid, but lots of little modern touches too, whether its some revved-up drums or an aggressive guitar part, just to remind us it's not all from the 60's. Some folks named Hudson, Manuel and Danko came out of these parts awhile back, and Dinner Belles show that lineage is strong.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014


The new jazz singers aren't even jazz singers, they are ex-pop stars crossing over, with little else to do.  Your average rock hero from twenty years ago might still have a record contract, but there's precious little interest from their company, and indeed, most of their fans, for new material.  Rod Stewart can sell four million copies of retro swill covers of show tunes, but he gets off his ass and writes his first new set of songs in decades, and nobody cares, let alone buys it.  So what to do, 80's all-stars?  Bryan Adams is trying to cover the 60's and 70's.  Annie Lennox wants to be a serious interpreter of the old classics that speak to her.

These are, of course, the same old classics that speak to everyone, from Summertime to Georgia On My Mind.   But Lennox is an accomplished singer, and her voice was always the highlight of any Eurythmics project (aside from a cow in a video).  So this does seem like a natural progression for her.  If anyone could make the transition, and keep it classy, it would be her.  She does have a good way of stretching out a note, such as the "you" in You Belong To Me (Jo Stafford's, rather than the Carly Simon tune).  While the temptation on these discs is to cover the great female vocalists, Lennox mixes it up, with Billie Holiday represented (Strange Fruit), but Ray Charles (Georgia On My Mind) and Screamin' Jay Hawkins (I Put A Spell On You) also included.  That's another good thing about Lennox, she doesn't like walls.  Her lovely September In The Rain is a treat, an emotional vocal for a sensitive song.  I'm pretty skeptical about these covers projects, but Lennox is one singer who can deliver sweet dreams with these standards.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014


Do I need to argue the merits of these two Zeppelin albums here?  They are well-known, and much debate exists about the benefits of these, albums four and five in the group's career, compared to the first three.  As bored as I am with Stairway, right up there with Sweet Home Alabama in the Great Overplayed Classic Rock Anthems of the '70's radio format, IV includes the great opening couplet of Black Dog and Rock And Roll, and Side 2 opens with Misty Mountain Hop, so it still packs awesomeness even when skipping the ubiquitous cut 4, Side 1.  As for Houses, I love all the acoustic work, and unlike so many others, find D'yer Mak'er quite enjoyable, actual ear candy from these serious blues-rockers.

Then there are the bonus cuts.  These are for all you fans out there who have been wondering for years what The Rain Song would sound like without piano.  Hands?  Bueller?  How about No Quarter without the vocal track and some John Paul Jones keyboard overdubs?  A different mix of Stairway that sounds pretty much identical?  Maybe I don't know the songs well enough that I'm missing the subtle differences, but the fact is, these are the same basic tracks, not different recordings on different days.  All that is changed is some fader levels and overdub parts.  And there's no controversy over levels and layers, not like say, the Nirvana In Utero sessions.

When first announced, there was some buzz about the "fabled, alternate Stairway to Heaven mixed at the Sunset Sound Studio in Los Angeles."  Mixes can make a huge difference in a song, when choices are made to bury certain elements, increase the volume of others, let more echo be heard, and then you can get into any amount of messing about with studio effects.  The less elements you have, the less you can do, although sometimes it can seem quite drastic if you eliminate well-known parts or include something that was mixed out of the famous version.  I'd have to say this alternate mix includes only subtle differences at best, with the electric piano a little louder at one point, a drum roll more present, that kind of thing.  The vocal-less mixes on the sets are included to showcase the guitar and sometimes mandolin overdubs that were done, but again, Page and Co. were very economical in the studio, and either all the truly different things were thrown out or erased, he won't issue, or there just weren't any.

Here's the issue though.  If there weren't bonus cuts, they couldn't do the more expensive Super Deluxe boxes, or even 2-disc deluxe versions.  The real prize here is the remastered sound, but will consumers shell out for just upgraded sound?  Not so much.  Any decent outtakes were supposedly used on Coda and previous boxed sets, what there were, and there's been a BBC Sessions collection.  I'd much rather have live tracks, but Page has been picky with that.  There's a lot of live stuff out there now, I suppose.  So what else can you do?  Let some re-mixer come in and add a rapper?  Get Page to record new banjo parts?  Enjoy the main albums, they are classics after all.  And for heaven's sake, listen to them on a stereo, not your computer.

Monday, October 27, 2014


Two more in the big McCartney release program, that is seeing his 70's albums put out in 2-CD and 2-CD/DVD deluxe versions, with appropriate bonus content. This is McCartney's high point with Wings, when he was touring the world and hitting number one with his singles and albums. He had become so big, there was only one band that was bigger, his last one.

After Band On The Run, it seemed like McCartney might also be able to return to Beatles-quality songwriting as well. But Venus And Mars and Speed Of Sound were not to that level of quality. It seemed instead to convince him that his increasingly cartoonish songwriting was imaginative. While Band On The Run and Jet had somewhat interesting story lines, now we were getting actual cartoons such as Magneto And Titanium Man, corny tales about going to the rock show, and of course, silly love songs. Most of these songs were catchy as all get out, but ear worms as well, annoying in their repetitive nature, like Let 'Em In. Now, the combo of Venus And Mars/Rock Show does sound great, the latter one of the best rockers he's ever done, but man, the lyrics just do not hold up under scrutiny. Can you still enjoy these discs? Well, I do, having grown up with them, and musically there are so many fine moments, but if you can sit through Linda's vocal on Cook Of The House more than once, you've been brainwashed.

The bonus audio discs are better here than on most deluxe editions, with some brand-new and very different material from sessions around the albums. For Venus And Mars, we get a jam-packed, 14-song collection from all sorts of different sources. It reminds me, in the best way, of one of those classic 70's bootlegs that mixed and matched rare material. This includes the non-album single tracks Junior's Farm and Sally G, the Country Hams single Walking In The Park With Eloise and Bridge On The River Suite (a Nashville recording, not promoted as a McCartney product and soon deleted), the New Orleans number My Carnival, and a different mix of the Ram-era cut Hey Diddle. Better are the new finds, including an early version of Rock Show, and McCartney's version of the song he'd written and produced for Peggy Lee in 1974, Let's Love.

The bonus disc for Speed Of Song is much shorter, just seven tracks and 21 minutes, but once again there are fun finds, including a version of Beware My Love with John Bonham on drums, and Must Do Something About It with a McCartney vocal instead of drummer Joe English, who was featured on the album. As for the DVD's included in the Deluxe Editions, forget them, they are completely useless. They consist mostly of footage following the band around various spots as they tour in 1976, or head to record in different locales. There are no good interview bits, or any live music bits that add anything substantial to his catalogue, and mostly this is just Paul and Linda mugging for the camera, trying to be funny but coming across as smug. McCartney never seemed to have his guard down. I haven't seen the hard-bound books with lots of detail and new McCartney interviews included in the Deluxe versions, but the DVD's certainly shouldn't be considered any kind of a draw. Too bad, as the bonus audio is first-rate.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: NOW 25 TOP HITS OF THE 1970's/1980's/1990's

Well, what do you know? It was the '90's that sucked for music, not the '80's after all. At least, that's if you go by the tracks included on this series of double CD's. I'd like to be at the meeting sometime when they select tracks for these things. Also, I'd love to know who the target audience is, and why they keep using the same songs over and over. Anyway, the 90's collection really does suck: Vanilla Ice, followed by Hanson, the worst Spice Girls song (Wannabe), the song that seemingly must be included on every 90's set (All Star, Smash Mouth), and Achy Breaky Heart. 25 cuts included, I'd keep maybe five of them.

In comparison, the 80's set comes off like 1966, full of hits. There's a find mix of R.E.M.'s The One I Love into Tainted Love into Split Enz's I Got You. The 80's New Music hits come off nicely on disc one, with Simple Minds, Tears For Fears, The Fixx and The Human League all doing there thing. There are very few gawd-awful cuts, although Whitesnake's Here I Go Again and Culture Club's Do You Really Want To Hurt Me need to be buried somewhere safe.

The 70's, how do you mess up the 70's? Here's how: You follow The Band's Up On Cripple Creek with Love Will Keep Us Together by Captain & Tennille. This perhaps the worst song pairing I have ever heard on a collection. I now have an aural example of "from the sublime to the ridiculous." Other duds included here are the theme from Rocky, Gonna Fly Now, not something you ever need to hear, and Kool & the Gang's Ladies Night, Other than that, it's a pretty good collection but still, totally ruined by that opening salvo of The Band/Captain & Tennille. For shame.

Friday, October 24, 2014


If the Stones could do it and The Beach Boys could do it, I guess Pete Townshend figured he had to do something to honour fifty years of The Who.  Roger Daltry no doubt had little problem with it, he seems happy to give fans old and new something to enjoy each year.  So a tour is coming, along with this collection, yet another in a very long list of best-of's, boxes and re-packages.  As the group has done in the past, a new song is included to tempt the fans who must have it all, and this boasts tracks from every period.  That isn't a great boast of course, as it means including newer stuff at the expense of classics.  It's hard to find anything to like about It's Hard, for instance, but the title cut is dutifully included.  That means we only get two songs from Quadrophenia, and three from Tommy.   And once again the dire Eminence Front is chosen for a best-of, another It's Hard cut that the group has long pretended was popular.  I get that the compilers were trying to include all the singles, but they left off Long Live Rock, a song ten times better.

Still, most everything is here, and if you need a best-of, the two-disc version of this is as good as any they've released.  I'd go with that over the single disc, as there are some interesting cuts included that are rarely heard.  Postcard comes from Odds and Sods (like Long Live Rock), and unless you don't have that set, it's a fun little number sung by John Entwistle that barely sounds like the band.  Join Together and Relay were singles released between Who's Next and Quadrophenia, neither of them big hits and never played on radio these days.  Then there's the obscure 1968 single Dogs, basically about people who like greyhound racing, including some spoken-word stuff, very odd and not a hit.  It slows down the hit-after-hit pace, but it's fun to have something different to hear from the band.

The new cut here, Be Lucky, is supposed to be the first taste of an upcoming album, to be released sometime in 2015.  It has some great Daltry vocals in the verses, but an annoying chorus, and has something to do with the band AC/DC.  It's a bit of a meandering mess really, totally Townshend's fault, Roger's doing his job.  Doesn't bode well for anything new.  As for everything else here, well, it's one of the great canons in rock, ain't it?  Call it a bargain.

Thursday, October 23, 2014


Prince was always, what's the polite word, idiosyncratic? Even at his most commercial in the 80's, he was an enigmatic wonder. Back then you could pretty much figure out what he was singing about, whether raspberry berets or crying doves. It just got wacky after awhile. I don't know what the sun looks like in his paisley-purple universe, but I'm guessing it ain't yellow.

Here's the thing; don't even hope for a normal lyric anymore. There are no easy to understand songs here, verse-verse-chorus-solo, no way. What is on these two discs is fabulous though, wildly inventive and super-sounding. And there is grand rock and funk and roll too, real Prince flights of fancy with awesome guitar. There is also some of the most advanced studio trickery going on as well, audio manipulation and general messing-about that proves the master is still at the controls. So dive in.

The two new albums are wildly different. If you are less adventurous and want your rock/funk Prince, it's the 3rdEyeGirl album you need, Prince's new all-women trio, all fabulous players and singers. For the most part, this is the basic stuff, grand though. Prince shares the spotlight nicely, giving lead vocals on several cuts to the others, such as the funkified Boytrouble, and the lovely Whitecaps. When Prince is singing, he gets the benefits of excellent backing vocals. This is my favourite Prince album in a long time.

The one credited to just him, Art Official Age, is a lot more challenging, but quite rewarding as well. Working with 3rdEyeGirl and producer Joshua Welton, this set is Prince being playful, taking the songs and turning them inside-out in the studio. Most here have his vocals sped up or slowed down, sometimes to the point of the Chipmunk effect, and other times so low you can't tell its him, or even human. The songs are space-age, cut-up and reassembled. It's actually quite a striking feat, and Prince shows how these techniques can make excellent music too. I much prefer the band album, just because I like things traditional, but it's easy to marvel at his experimental side as well.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


There are deluxe editions and box sets and such, but sometimes it's better to have a classic album reissued as simply as possible, to hear just the magic the way it was originally. There are demos and alternate versions of Big Star tracks around, but leave them on the other sets, here's the first, wonderful album on its own.

This is the band when everything was still possible. The quartet knew they had a bunch of brilliant songs, and with any luck at all, they'd have a hit album. Alex Chilton was a young veteran, and had picked up tons of tricks and knowledge as the singer in The Box Tops, touring and being friends with smart music-makers. Chris Bell was a songwriter and studio fiend, with great ideas and the ability to get those sounds onto tape. The fact these songs from the early '70's still sound perfect says it all.

This album is a celebration of rock and roll's power. Not power chords or hippy ideals or us against the man; it's the power we all got from hearing music which spoke to us as kids, separated us from our parents, and gave us freedom. There's a reason That 70's Show used In The Street as its theme. Look at the faces of the actors goofing around in the car, it's that power and feeling. Then listen to the defiance in Thirteen, as the singer and his girlfriend bond over a Rolling Stones song and defying parental authority. The whole album is wonderful though, made with love and hope, and slowly, it came to the acclaim it deserved.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


I suppose it says a lot that even Bryan Adams is asked to make a covers record.  We know he was asked, because he tells us in the liner notes; veteran producer and Vancouver pal David Foster (they worked on Tears Are Not Enough back in '85) is now head of Verve Records, and requested Adams do this set.  Foster even set the rules, requesting Top 10 U.S. hits from the rock era.  In other words, Foster had a concept that he felt could sell some records, not an easy thing for these veteran rockers these days.  You can figure out the thinking on this:  "Rod Stewart has the Great American Songbook covered, Bryan can do the '70's, and we can have different volumes of it if it takes off."

Ironically, the best tune here is a new one, which Adams must have had to negotiate as part of the deal.  She Knows Me is a co-write with his long-standing partner Jim Vallance, a classic Adams mid-tempo number, solid if not spectacular, and would make a fine single if there was still such a system.  So it's not like Adams has to go the covers route, and I'd be interested in a full album with Vallance again.  But he'd probably have to self-finance that, and this was the deal on offer.  It's a strange mix of tunes, and it doesn't even follow the rules.  The opening cut is a cover of The Beatles' Any Time At All, a great song but never a single, let alone Top 10.  Oh well, he does a good job on it.  The mixed bag of cuts continues with everything from Ray Charles' I Can't Stop Loving You to CCR's Down On The Corner to The Beach Boys' God Only Knows.

It all comes down to which songs suit Adams' raspy voice best, and oddly, he doesn't seem to have a good handle on that.  He does well with rock numbers such as Rock And Roll Music, and the old Eddie Cochrane number C'mon Everybody.  Medium-paced ones work too, such as Dylan's Lay Lady Lay and Sunny by Bobby Hebb.  But he has to strain on the slow ones, and it's a little painful to sit through the Ray Charles and Beach Boys numbers, plus Kris Kristofferson's Help Me Make It Through The Night.  Only once does he truly take a sad song and make it better, his cover of The Associations' Never My Love.  It was always a wimpy number from that group, but Adams gives it some well-deserved guts, as it is a good song at heart.

Bryan Adams has always been a pretty good singer, with an easily-identifiable voice.  He'll need a stronger song selection than this to inspire enough buyers to make this a worthwhile project.

Saturday, October 18, 2014


Never underestimate nostalgia. Even though the Marvel movie takes place in outer space, they managed to connect the film to 70's Earth, and use all these classics. Whenever that magic happens in a film, such as The Big Chill or American Graffiti, you'll have a hit soundtrack on your hands. The mix tape-themed disc has gone to #1 in both Canada and the U.S., filled with fun, mostly well-chosen cuts.

The mix starts with the beloved "Ooga-chaka, ooga-chaka" of Blue Swede's Hooked On A Feeling, guaranteed to bring a smile to those old enough to remember, and a giggle from the kids, laughing at those silly old songs. They should hopefully be blown away by the next number, power-pop giants The Raspberries' Go All The Way. And that's the back-and-forth of the set, from fun pop to more serious rock and soul. The marvelous Five Stairsteps' hit O-O-H Child is one of the cool vocal gems from the soul side, along with Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell's original version of Ain't No Mountain High Enough (a 60's cut, but no matter). More Motown fun comes from I Want You Back, one of the truly great Jackson 5 cuts. Bowie's Moonage Daydream helps toughen things up, as does the non-hit but still cool Cherry Bomb from The Runaways.

There's only one annoying cut on the whole disc, and really they should have known better. Rupert Holmes' Escape (The Pina Colada Song) is not only bad, it's offensive. Boo. Norman Greenbaum's Spirit In The Sky is the only track I'd say is overused in compilations, so we probably could have done without that, too. But overall, it is a pretty good, if not a truly awesome mix.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014


I find blues albums sound best driving around in my car, so that's where I started with JW's latest.  It's rare an album SOUNDS so good that I can't focus on the rest of it at first, but I was quite simply blown away by the overall aural experience.  All the tones, the mix, the soundscape that the team creates, from artist to band to producer to engineer to mastering engineer, all that stuff we mortals only vaguely comprehend, it all works here.  Just to insure I wasn't simply on a caffeine high (that happens a lot), the disc moved from my car to home system to work computer, and each time it was the sound that leaped out first.

That's a great start, but would also be kinda frustrating if the material didn't hold up.  After all the initial listens, I got to the point where the songs came through, and of course, Jones came through.  The Ottawa native has been one of the country's very top artists since his arrival in 2000, and its been a joy to watch his confidence and art grow with each release.  This one puts him up another significant notch though.  Now signed to the respected U.S. blues label and industry leader Blind Pig, Jones worked with producer Tom Hambridge on this album.  The Grammy-winning drummer and songwriter was the producer for the last couple of highly-successful Buddy Guy albums, produced Susan Tedeschi's breakthrough album, and has dozens of equally-impressive writing and production credits.  Lets just say given the dynamic sound I've tried to describe above, it was an inspired choice for Jones.  Plus, if you work with Hambridge, you have access to his pen as well.  Belmont Boulevard features of mix of Jones' originals, Hambridge cuts, some new co-writes, and an older Guy number, What's Inside Of You, where Jones shows his sharp and stinging guitar prowess.  Hambridge brought a new, funky number written with Colin Linden, Love Times Ten, a tight tune that shows off Jones' frontman skills.

The new Jones songs show how he's advanced as a writer.  Thank You turns the tables on the woman-done-me-wrong blues cliches, where the singer admits she was doing him a favour, that the love was gone.  Blue Jean Jacket celebrates that coat we all loved and had our best moments in.  What Would Jimmie Do? tells about a blues hero who does it with style and commitment and all the right motives, and for Jones, that's Jimmy Vaughn.  These are all original, strong ideas, something of a rare commodity in blues writing.  And for those who just want guitar and more guitar, his Magic West Side Boogie brings the instrumental fireworks, just bass, drums and one long sizzling, echo-drenched lead.  A-level stuff across the board from Jones, but what sound!  Just lean back and listen.

Monday, October 6, 2014


It is a great time to be a Bowie fan, and really, who didn't think that train had run its course?  But as 2013's wonderful The Next Day album showed, he always has the ability to surprise with his next move.  And there is one, with a new best-of, Nothing Has Changed coming in November, which includes a brand-new track.  And there's also more worthwhile stuff just out, which should be attractive to both collectors and more casual fans.

Sound + Vision is a box set that first came out way back in 1989, and was quite a hit, selling a quarter-million copies, at a time when those things were still always expensive.  It had a fan's bonanza of tracks, including the original demo version of Space Oddity, and a previously-unknown cover of Bruce Springsteen's It's Hard To Be A Saint In The City.  Bowie by this time own the rights to his back catalogue, and would contract them out for a few years, then go elsewhere.  In 2003, after being unavailable for a few years, Sound + Vision returned with a new deal at EMI Music, and a newly-expanded track list.  It was now four discs long, and included tracks post 1980, again with several rarities.  Then the same thing happened, Bowie pulled the set from the stores as he worked on another reissue plan.

It is here again, this time with no changes from the 2003 edition, except for a major one in size.  Instead of the fancy box, it now comes slimmed down into a basic bulky CD case, housing the four discs and a decent booklet.  This is not a bad thing, as it is now available for $40, which is about half of what it cost way back in 1989, and now has almost twice the music.  The first two-and-a-half discs hold up remarkably well, being the glory years and all, and I especially like how the live tracks are used.  Instead of giving us the usual studio versions of songs such as Ziggy Stardust, Suffragette City and Station To Station, which most fans would own elsewhere, there are live sections built in every few tracks, which also include concert favourites such as White Light/White Heat and Watch That Man.  Now, post-1980 is always a rock road for any fan.  Many find the overt commercial numbers Modern Love and Loving The Alien lesser fare.  But the controversial Tin Machine has many more detractors, and with six tracks from two albums included here, it seems a desperate attempt to say the music was ahead of its time and we should like it now.  We shouldn't.  Tracks from Earthling and Black Tie, White Noise also fail to bring a better rep for those albums.  The box ends there, too bad as there are grand songs to be found on under-appreciated albums such as Heathen (2002) and Reality (2003).  And while the new best-of will include this era, and last year's comeback, I'd rather have it all housed in one place, maybe as a five-disc box.  But of course, it's price that really attracts here, and keeping it unchanged but under forty bucks is a great deal

Also out now is the latest in the wonderful picture disc campaign of original singles, each coming out on the 40th anniversary of its first release.  We are now up to 1974's David Live album, with the single Knock On Wood, a cover of the Eddie Floyd 60's soul hit.  Anyone who owns David Live will have this, and its B-side, Rock 'n' Roll With Me, but the point is more the beautiful photos on the disc, actual collector's pieces in my opinion, worthy of a bookshelf.  I am a bit miffed that there isn't a previously-unreleased B-side, or something a little rare, as earlier singles in the series had included, so hopefully that will change back in the months ahead.  Still, an excellent addition to my growing Bowie section.

Sunday, October 5, 2014


Previously available only by mail order, the vaults of Midnight Special hold some pretty special performances. Now a six-DVD package picks some of the best moments, plus adds a few interviews and featurettes about the 70's late-night TV show.

Burt Sugarman created the show in 1972, looking for something to fill the midnight slot on Friday nights. Only kids would be watching TV then, his thinking went, so on came the rock and roll singers. Now, Burt wasn't the hippest cat, and his tastes went more to the Top 40 and showbiz side. But he didn't discriminate either, and if you were hitting the charts, you could make the show. So you could have Aerosmith singing Dream On one week, and Rupert Holmes doing the Pina Colada Song the next.

The hosting was just as scattered, with Wolfman Jack along for much of the series, doing his famous, corny act. There were also performer-hosts, from Helen Reddy's ready-for-Vegas approach, to Curtis Mayfield's casually cool presence. We don't get complete shows; instead, there are three or four performances from each one featured here, a piecemeal approach that makes me worry about what wasn't included from say, Tom Petty the night we get a great American Girl and Listen To Her Heart. Really though, in order to get this done to a manageable amount, from the hundreds and hundreds of shows means there is a ton of great footage back in the vaults.

Highlights here include the young Linda Ronstadt doing a powerhouse live vocal on Long Long Time, The Doobie Brothers appearing when Jesus Is Just Alright and Listen To The Music were new, our boy Gord Lightfoot with Sundown and If You Could Read My Mind, and Marvin Gaye's What's Going On and Let's Get It On. There are plenty of one-and-two-hit wonders, such as Redbone, Dobie Gray and Stories. And even the kitsch is fun to watch, including Reddy, Olivia Newton-John and the fabulous Village People. Remembering watching this show through the 70's, there was always something you could enjoy each week. I do hope there's more coming.

Friday, October 3, 2014


You can tell Cohen is enjoying being a pop star at 80, putting out albums now at the same rate as when he started back in the late 60's.  There seems to be no late-life desperation to complete his work, or stubbornness to concede, like Dylan.  After spending most of his life pulled between the spiritual and physical, it seems he has found his true pleasure in continuing to create, and knowing it's being appreciated at whatever speed he puts it out.

I guess my only concern is whether he's compromising at all, by being so quick to record.  This is a guy who laboured over lyrics for years, and was pretty particular about his tunes as well.  Famous Blue Raincoat, for instance, had its music completed before he started the words.  Now it's paint-by-number Cohen, a gospel song here, a keyboard there, his aged, wise voice delivering the goods, answered by the harmonies of the two women singing back-up.  It is a winning formula, I haven't tired of it, but we might not get a last burst of brilliance, a final Hallelujah as it were.  Cohen's certainly willing to give us solid work though, and even reference his past for fun.  You Got Me Singing includes the winking, "You got me singing the Hallelujah song."

There are more in-jokes at his own expense, harkening back to when he sang, "I was born with the gift of a golden voice," that makes us all laugh in concert.  This time, when he's listing all the awful things in the world, he sings "There's torture and there's killing/There's all my bad reviews," in Almost Like The Blues.  He tears down the 'fourth wall' in the song Slow, with its tortoise-level pace, as he tells us "I'm slowing down the tune/I never liked it fast."  There's the Biblical metaphor of Born In Chains, which is probably the closest to a major Cohen number on this set.  It was the original version of the song I Can't Forget, from 1988's I'm Your Man.  He uses the Biblical theme of escape from bondage in Egypt to sing about his personal escape and fulfillment.  Is Cohen satisfied and happy?  It seems so.  And we are getting very, very good songs out of it.  Maybe not another Hallelujah, but count your blessings.

Thursday, October 2, 2014


Beatles, eh?  When they were good, they were the very, very best.  When they weren't, oh the stuff they'd pass on to the public.  Apart from the odd B-side though, you can find all the shaky stuff in the solo work, not in the band work.  So it's buyer beware for all four, and if you don't know the difference between, oh, Band On The Run and Back To The Egg, or Imagine and Sometime In New York City, you should do your homework before purchasing.

Mr. Harrison certainly laid some less-than fragrant platters for us to carefully tread around in his time.  And while a box set of The Apple Years sounds like a nice and proper thing, if you do purchase, you'll be getting the good, bad and in between from six albums and seven years.  Prior to the dissolution of the group, all but Paul used Apple for some solo experimentation, mostly dubious.  Harrison did do a decent job recording Indian and incidental music for the soundtrack to the movie Wonderwall, but unless you are a devotee of Indian or soundtrack music, you will need to open your ears quite a bit to enjoy the album.  Having said that, it's ten times better than Electronic Sound.  There, Harrison was just having a lark, experimenting with a synthesizer to see what it could do.  Apparently, it could do nothing but buzz and tweet.  Despite desperate efforts to claim it showed the way for today's electronica scene, Harrison himself always had the final say on the album, "It could be called avant garde, but a more apt description would be "Avant garde clue".

From the ridiculous to the sublime, Harrison was the Beatle to fare best right away from the split in 1970.  He had been stockpiling great songs for a couple of years, and when he got to put them all out at once, he had a bonanza.  There were so many, it made a tremendous double album.  The only problem with that was he put it out as a triple, with an album's worth of jams that, once again, didn't need to be heard by anyone, ever.  But the first two albums, wow.  All Things Must Pass is certainly one of the very best of the post-Beatles albums, with such gems as Wah-Wah, Isn't It A Pity, Let It Down, Beware Of Darkness, and the smash hit, and even bigger lawsuit, My Sweet Lord.  A deserved #1, and a must-own for any 60's-70's fan.  This is the same version as released for the 30th anniversary celebrations, complete with the five bonus tracks, which include a couple of working acoustic versions, and a new-for-then re-recording of My Sweet Lord, Harrison playing around with it to see what could happen.  It's alright, but doesn't beat the original.

The next album, Living In The Material World, was a decent one, home of the elegant hit Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth), and the title cut, which laid out his concern for a consumer society which had lost track of mindfulness.  But it also started to show the other side of spending so much time concentrating on your own spirituality;  you get a little self-centered.  Harrison's songwriting often strayed to his own concerns, and really, while we were all sad about how the Beatles ended, a song about lawsuits (Sue me, Sue You Blues) was just as much a downer for us as it was for him going through it.

The final two Apple albums, Dark Horse and Extra Texture, had plenty of issues, and only a few good songs between them.  Dark Horse was rushed because Harrison had to go out on tour, and it simply doesn't have enough quality cuts for a major writer.  Plus, half-way through the album, his voice became shot, thanks to all-day tour rehearsals.  So certain tracks, like the decent title cut, have this raspy vocal, which would wreck the subsequent tour as well.  Too many of the songs were basically Eastern chants done with Western pop, something Harrison fell back on too much.  And the sound was crap, and still is.  Remastering has done nothing to help certain numbers that sound as if they have been overdubbed too many times, leading to quality loss and a compressed muddle.  Extra Texture saw him return quickly to the studio after the tour, but again with mediocre material.  The big single was You.  Can you sing You?  I can't remember it, and I played it four hours ago.

Ten years ago (yes, ten), the first Harrison box came out, called The Dark Horse Years, another mixed bag of good and weak, but a fine-looking set.  Dhani Harrison and the team have made this one to match, the same enjoyable flip-top package and classy, expensive box.  The big collectors bonus here are the extra tracks on each CD (the same bonus cuts as on original reissues, but whatever) and a DVD.  The video doesn't have much new to offer, but it does collect a bunch of nifty items such as promo videos for Sue Me, Sue You Blues and Ding Dong, Ding Dong, the featurette done for the reissue of All Things Must Pass, and a live concert version of Give Me Love from Japan in 1991.  Just about 40 minutes, nice enough but not a make-or-break part of the set.  Here's the low-down:  If you are a completist, this does that, the stray b-sides are here, and it's a lovely little box for the mantle.  If you just want the regular albums, you will be much better off with the four proper studio albums, and if you have an old copy of The Best Of George Harrison, save yourself a fortune and just get All Things Must Pass.

so much time being the best you;  you get a little self-centered.  Harrison's