Wednesday, September 30, 2015
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: DAVE & PHIL ALVIN - LOST TIME
Common Ground was a tribute to Big Bill Broonzy, a shared love of the brothers and something easy to work on for a new beginning. This set is made of covers as well, but a more varied lot. The young Alvins met and mentored with Big Joe Turner, and do four of his numbers. There's a version of the Rising Sun Blues, the more traditional take on House of the Rising Sun, a fun cover of James Brown's Please, Please, Please, and the somewhat obscure old blues tune Papa's on the House Top.
On the more electric side, there's a strong boogie version of Otis Rush's Sit Down, Baby, Dave Alvin's guitar taking some stinging leads between the verses. Phil's vocals are a major part of the formula, with lots of comfort and passion. Both brothers know how to perform with intensity, but never to the point of histrionics. They also show a hitherto unexplored connection between folk, traditional, jump and electric blues: I believe it's called the groove. No more fights please, brothers.
Tuesday, September 29, 2015
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: DARLENE LOVE - INTRODUCING DARLENE LOVE
These late career comeback albums follow a formula of sorts. Using the Roy Orbison and Solomon Burke examples, you draft in a big-name producer (Miami Steve from the E Street Band here), and collect new or slightly-used tunes from famous stars. Here, The Boss pays tribute as a long-time fan with two compositions, as does Elvis Costello (a veteran of the Burke and Orbison albums as well). Since Love is a vet of '60's Brill Building songs, there's a Mann/Weil song, and a Jimmy Webb one as well. The producer drops in three as well. And although he doesn't write any, Love fanboy Paul Shaffer drops down a killer organ solo on the gospel closer Jesus Is the Rock (That Keeps Me Rollin'). written by Van Zandt.
Everybody worked very, very hard on this, and you can tell all hands were keen to work with the icon. She's unquestionably on fire here, especially on the cuts that make her most comfortable, the gospel-styled ones, and big belters such as the Springsteen tracks. There's a brilliant remake of River Deep, Mountain High that equals the Ike and Tina Turner original as well. Van Zandt tries to do her proud, and comes up with some major productions and arrangements, especially with horns and strings. They aren't quite Wall-of-Sound, but people don't exactly mention Phil Spector's name a lot lately.
Sometimes in an effort to sound big, the productions come out a little too slick, more Classic Rock and simply classic. There are definitely songs to skip over here, odd choices of material from the likes of Joan Jett and Linda Perry, and Van Zandt's opener, Among The Believers, isn't the strongest cut. Even Costello's numbers don't work all that well. Forbidden Nights is an attempt to recreate an early '60's number, and sounds more like an exercise than inspiration. His Still Too Soon To Know is killed by the inclusion of Righteous Brother Bill Medley as a duet partner for Love, and his voice has certainly not weathered the years as well as hers.
Oh my goodness though, three cheers for Springsteen, who really came through with two new gems. The album is worth it for his songs alone, glorious grand epics that capture the spirit of his Born To Run - Darkness On The Edge Of Town days, when he and Van Zandt were attempting to bring this very sound to their own music. I count five really great songs, five pretty good, and four duds, so I'd say that's a good score for anyone, let alone a 74-year old.
Monday, September 28, 2015
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: MONKEYJUNK - MOON TURN RED
For their fourth, Ottawa's M-Junk grooves a bit more, rocks a bit more. Taking a cue from '70's bands, the band struts through a set of arena-sized numbers, lead singer Steve Marriner channeling his inner Paul Rodgers. Meanwhile Tony D gets to blast out saucy lines and even play guitar hero on numbers such as Show Me Yours, with its middle-section solo and funky little accents throughout. There's no time for a slow blues at this party.
The group plays homage to a Canadian guitar icon, covering David Wilcox's Hot Hot Papa, with the man himself sitting in for solos and a vocal verse, putting the fun in funk. To mix things up, there's a bit of reggae in Love Attack, with its universal empowerment lyrics classic Marley. Learn How To Live is the slow one, but still has a dark streak throughout it, no sappy love ballad. Marriner pours his heart into it, proving himself up for the job on this soul number with punch. But the core of the set are the album blues rock numbers, which sound like they could have come from your local FM station sometime after 10 PM back in 1976, when the DJ's could get heavier. Check out Live Another Day, with its twin guitar line, pounding drums from Matt Sobb, and tense delivery, it's exciting and dramatic and tough all over, like the bulk of the disc.
Friday, September 25, 2015
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: THE STANFIELDS - MODEM OPERANDI
It's a surprising start to the group's fourth album, at least for those expecting something recognizable as Maritime and roots. But bigger fans know to expect contradictions and sharp left turns from The Stanfields, a band always willing to take the road less traveled, especially if its rocky. And as much as they can rant and roar a good bouzouki tune, this one's leaning even heavier towards electric and pounding tunes, after 2013's acoustic outing, For King and Country. First single Fight Song sounds like a Saturday night theme for soccer hooligans, Metallica via Dublin: "This is our house, are you ready for the fisticuffs?" And later, "This is our house, take your medicine and fly the fiddle and fuck away from wence you came, hot time in the old town tonight."
While the band uses the F-bomb, we don't mention the C-word here. That's Celtic, of course. They aren't going to meet anyone's definition of that, but you can pick out the heritage moments. The settings are familiar, like the waterfront in Sunday Warships, but this about current culture, how traditional values are being undermined, and how people are making do in this era: "I spend my waking hours pixelated and engrossed." The computer is the main character, as it has become for most of us. Will The Circuit Be Unbroken is their song for the new folk music, "in the sky drones, in the sky." This is hard-drive music.
This is the last flourish for the old band; Jason Wright and Gene Harris moved on after recording the album, and new players Dillan Tate and Calen Kinney are already on the road. Who knows what to expect next? With The Stanfields, all you can do is plan for a surprise.
Thursday, September 24, 2015
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: MIKE EVIN - LIFE AS A LOVER
"I guess it started when I was a kid and I loved Motown," Evin explains, at home in Toronto. "I loved a lot of '50's and '60's music, I just loved listening to oldies radio. It started with Motown and then I discovered Stax, kinda branched out from there into the world of soul music. Then I took a History of Rock and Roll class when I was in university, and discovered r'n'b music from the '40's and '50's, and the folk and blues world. I remember very specifically when I discovered this CD at the library, it was this generic pre-war blues compilation. That was when I first heard Mississippi John Hurt, Robert Johnson, Bessie Smith, Blind Willie Johnson, Blind Lemon Jefferson, all those guys, all on that one CD, and it just blew me away. I love going back and back, and getting into the roots of the music I love."
Armed with all that education and influence, Evin has built up a career making classic pop music, the kind you'd find in a second-hand store. His music is fun, the spirit joyful, the hooks ridiculously plentiful. If you're going to title a song Al Green, you had better live up to the title, and Evin's sure does. "Someday I wanna be in love and sing like Al Green," goes the hook line, over big piano chords and lots of oo-oo-oo's. It's the single from his new Life As A Lover collection, which is positively swimming in all those good-feeling songs, words and melodies.
Evin says he's always aspired to make music like the classic pop hits. "When I hear a song with a great melody, it really blows my mind," he says. "I'm blown away and inspired, partly to write my own melody like that, but also when you see a great piece of art that comes from some place higher and beautiful, that seems to be one of the things I love about music."
One of the big differences between Evin and the bulk of modern songwriters is his instrument of choice. He's one of the rare breed composing and performing at the piano. That gives him a leg-up on someone writing on guitar or with loops and beats, at least when it comes to crafting a pleasing tune. "It's not a coincidence that most of the classic Tin Pan Alley songs, the classic melody songs were written on piano," he agrees. "There's something about the old-fashioned melodies that can be written on piano, it's more extensive, you know?"
The other aural component most noticed in Evin's songs is the positive vibe. Almost everybody finds joy in the songs, and it's an uplifting experience listening to the album. Evin says he's just trying to cheer himself up. "You're writing partly for yourself, it's a form of therapy, it's a way to work out things in your life," he explains. "Like everyone, I go through many moments in life, day-to-day stuff where you get discouraged, just have a down day. It comes out in my songwriting where I'm trying to lift myself up, as well as other people. I'm trying to look at the positive side. I think people can look at my music just from one side, and say "Oh it's so fun, it's so upbeat, why don't you get more serious? Do something with a bit more depth?" But my friend (musician) Matt Epp, he said something really cool. He said to create something that has that joy in it, you're acknowledging all of the darker stuff. We know the dark stuff is there, but to get at the joy we're trying to lift ourselves a bit higher."
If you're in the mood for some lifting, Evin is about to tour the Maritimes. Friday, Sept. 25, he's in St. Andrews, NB at Salty Towers. There's a house concert in Moncton on Saturday night with his friend Andy Creeggan (ex-BNL), with details on Evin's website. Sunday, Sept. 27, he reaches Mahone Bay in Nova Scotia at Buchanan's Music Centre, and Wednesday, Sept. 30 he's at The Company House in Halifax. On Oct. 1, he's at the Windsor Castle Bar on the UNB campus in Fredericton, before heading back through Quebec for more dates.
Wednesday, September 23, 2015
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: DAVE RAWLINGS MACHINE - NASHVILLE OBSOLETE
Working with Gillian Welch (natch) and a small group of guests, Rawlings takes the lead vocals on these band recordings, but there's more that makes these different from a Welch-fronted release. The songs have a darker edge, with mystery and a Southern gothic feel. While there's fiddle on some, other major tracks such as Short Haired Woman Blues make full use of a string section, making it a full drama. The Trip, the opus of the bunch, sees Rawlings half-speaking the words, in the easy-going but poignant way Loudon Wainwright III leads you into a song. His are more personal though; Rawlins has some nastier family dirt to dig through: "Ah, but what's a bullet hole or two between friends?" The slow-paced cowboy tune gives it some high-lonesome flavour, but it's just as powerful as Desolation Row once you follow the story.
It gets bleaker. If you like Neil Young's Ditch Trilogy, Bodysnatchers could have come from On The Beach, if you moved it from L.A. to the Mississippi. Cinematic and allegorical, there's a rich listen here, certainly a full companion to any Welch album.
Tuesday, September 22, 2015
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: GARY CLARK JR. - THE STORY OF SONNY BOY SLIM
The licks are fewer than on his debut and subsequent live albums, the story-telling now more the focus. It's a look at a society that needs healing, with acknowledgements of pain, politics and racism causing endless stress. But overall the message is positive, Clark promising hope will get you through. It's a big statement, but the individual songs are broken up into well-focused slices of life. Then he slices and dices all the musical influences running through his fingers, making it quite an accomplished set. Despite being touted as part of the future of the blues, he can't and won't be stuck in any genre, and this album shows he'll be someone to follow for a long time, and for more than his guitar.
Monday, September 21, 2015
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: BEN CAPLAN - BIRDS WITH BROKEN WINGS
You can forgive Caplan for taking four years to follow up his debut album. In that time, he's performed over a thousand shows, many of them in Europe where he has a devoted fan base as well. All those nights of roaring above the crowds and commanding attention has served him well. This is a confident, exciting set of tunes, with Caplan exploring a wide range of sounds.
With him is producer Socalled, another klezmer-head, plus a man not afraid to try it all. The duo piled on another thirty-five musicians on the tracks, trying out every player and instrument they could find in Montreal, looking for the coolest bit, everything from cimbalom to darbouka to concert harp. Then in hip-hop fashion, parts would drop in and drop out just as fast. So, it's a cool listen.
But its the songs that matter in the end, and Caplan had the goods ready. A philosopher at heart, he's not afraid to enter the dark side and look at our worst traits. He doesn't point fingers, but rather observes obvious foolishness such as pollution, and wonders why we all sit back and let it happen.
It's not all edgy though; Night Like Tonight sees Caplan in crooner territory, with a beautiful arrangement and a surprisingly lovely vocal. It's a surprise in an album full of them, a major production and a full slate of strong writing and performing.
Sunday, September 20, 2015
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: KEITH RICHARDS - CROSSEYED HEART
Saying it's better than a Stones album from the past thirty years isn't really saying much of course, but there are moments here. It starts sluggishly, with a creaky acoustic blues, basically a re-write of Key To the Highway called Crosseyed Heart, and then a couple of by-the-books Keith numbers that show up as filler on all his works. But then things get going, and the middle of the album is a pretty cool listen.
Robbed Blind is a different kind of song for Richards, a narrative tale that feels like a musical mob story. Trouble is the first of the riff songs that really works, with a infectious chorus and the kind of groove you expect from him. The reggae number works well too, and there's a strong co-write/duet with Norah Jones, where Richards is able to hold his own, sounding better than you'd think or hope.
On the weak side, there's a pointless cover of Goodnight Irene, and a couple more of those Keith-by-numbers cuts, but overall there's both life here, and quality. Richards proves he can rise above the parody status he often invites.
Oh, just a question: What's a crosseyed heart?
Wednesday, September 16, 2015
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: OTIS REDDING - OTIS BLUE/OTIS REDDING SINGS SOUL (
In the mid-'60's, pre-Pepper, the pop album was still a slap-dash affair, for the most part. A few big thinkers such as Dylan were putting together a full effort over 40 minutes, but usually an album for most bands was the new single, the next single, a few covers and maybe an instrumental or two.
That was roughly the plan for Otis Redding when he entered the studio to record his third album in 1965. But the results were far from filler. The talent level was so high, there could be no lesser material included. You had the great engineer Tom Dowd behind the board, and the legendary house band of Stax Records, which included all the members of Booker T. and the MG's, plus Isaac Hayes on keyboards, and the Stax horns.
Then there was Redding himself, now fully aware of the vocal talents he possessed. Yes, they would record covers that session, but anything he handled would become soul gold, such as his incendiary version of the new Rolling Stones hit Satisfaction, or his take on the recent Motown chart topper My Girl. He was proving he could do anyone's material, and make it his own, even the late, great Sam Cooke, as he brought his own chills to a trio of his songs, notably Change Gonna Come (sic).
He was writing too. Not just trial cuts, this is the home of the brilliant I've Been Loving You Too Long, a tour-de-force soul weeper, Redding's voice crying out among the horns. Plus, another classic, the original Respect, quite different than Aretha's later cover but perfect for his huffing and puffing delivery. It is, from start to finish, one of the very best soul records of all time, and on par as a collection with such great concept albums as Sinatra's In The Wee Small Hours and Pet Sounds.
This 50th anniversary set is a reissue of a previous deluxe edition, and comes as a double CD. Disc one has the original album in mono, while disc two features stereo. There are also several bonus cuts on each, collecting all the existing studio and live tracks associated with the set, including single b-sides, an alternate version of Respect, several concert tracks from
Friday, September 11, 2015
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: BRETT KISSEL - PICK ME UP
Good timing for the rising Alberta country star. He releases his second major-label album today, Sept. 11, at the same time he's at the CCMA Awards in Halifax, as one of the leading lights. He's up for four awards, including Male Vocalist and Single of the Year, capping off a couple of stellar years that has seen him win over a national audience on radio, video and in concert as a headliner.
Maybe he's been too busy. What Kissel has going for him over most country newcomers is legitimacy. He's actually from the country, actually from a cattle ranch, and has actually been singing and loving real country music since he was very young. I want to hear more of him, his thoughts and stories, and unfortunately, there's not much of his writing here. Only three of the ten cuts feature him among the co-writers, the rest coming from the usual big songwriting factories that make artists sound the same as the next hat on the radio.
Kissel has hit chops all over his material, including the current and climbing single Airwaves, an old-school number that celebrates the magic of radio. It may be slightly retro, but Kissel is helping the sound move away from the contentious bro country trend, back to more of a '90's feel. In one of his own numbers, Cool With That, he even mentions a George Strait mixtape. I don't think jean shorts and pick-up trucks appear anywhere. However, on Feet Back on The Ground, both mom and apple pie show up, a bit too cliche.
However, on that song, Kissel shows how well he does on the emotional numbers, the topic being a son coming to appreciate his mother after trying desperately to get away in his younger days. There's a solid balance between the good time numbers and more thoughtful ones, again showing he has more depth than many others. Next time, hopefully he'll get to show more.
Wednesday, September 9, 2015
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: THE BEATLES FEATURING TONY SHERIDAN - IN THE BEGINNING
This is the same old stuff that has been repackaged a dozen ways over the years, the tracks recorded in Hamburg with singer Tony Sheridan in 1961. The Beatles, then featuring Pete Best on drums, were asked to be the band for sessions involving the Elvis-style singer, a friend of theirs from the seedy clubs. The band even got to do two cuts on their own, Ain't She Sweet featuring Lennon on vocals, and the instrumental Cry For A Shadow, written by Harrison and Lennon.
Starting in 1964 after the Ed Sullivan Show explosion, these tracks were issued over and over in various combinations, and Ain't She Sweet even became a minor hit at the height of Beatlemania. This is a straight reissue of one of the best-known versions of the tracks, a 1970 album collection. The record label which by then had control of the tracks, Polydor, realized there could be significant sales if they were repackaged in a decent way, so there's a pretty good cover, and liner note reminiscing from Sheridan.
Still, there was barely an album here, just eight tracks featuring The Beatles, six of them as merely backing boys to Sheridan. Four more cuts padded out the set, credited to Sheridan and The Beat Brothers, who were merely whatever other players he used on later sessions. Sheridan was at best a bar singer, and while the band showed some spark and professionalism, there was little to indicate what would happen a couple of years later.
I guess if you're into the full history of The Beatles, you need these tracks, but I can't see them getting a lot of play, and I doubt there are any Tony Sheridan fans around, aside from some seniors in Hamburg. It's a nice job on the reissue of the original, that's about all to praise here.
Tuesday, September 8, 2015
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: FACES - 1970 - 1975: You Can Make Me Dance, Sing, Or Anything...
It finally happened this past weekend, a Faces reunion. It's long been promised, and even Rod Stewart said it was definitely coming when he played PEI in July. It was just a one-off thing apparently, seven songs at a cancer benefit, but who knows, certainly there's lots of interest for a tour. It's just too bad it came too late for keyboardist Ian McLagan, who died last December, and of course Ronnie Lane has been gone since '97. I guess Rod finally figured he'd better stop delaying. The other two have long been open to anything.
The gig came at the same time as the release of this brand-new Faces box set, a collection of the four studio albums they issued in the '70's, plus a separate disc of various non-album singles and b-sides from along the way. Although vinyl is probably the coolest version of the box, the CD package features bonus cuts on each original album, including out-takes, live versions, BBC recordings and different takes, so it's a little more beefy than the LP set.
The first album, First Step, was still credited to Small Faces in North America, so that consumers would know those was a continuation of the hit-making British group. What a make-over. Small Faces had actually disbanded after Steve Marriott quit, but getting in the duo of Ron Wood and Rod Stewart fresh from the Jeff Beck Group was a great coup. The pair proved strong songwriters and Stewart's rasp and blues swagger was by then fully developed. Wood was finally able to let loose on guitar after being on bass for Beck, and was ready to go wild on slide. First Step showed much potential, and included the blues flight of Flying, the rollicking Three Button Hand Me Down and Ronnie Lane's folksy charm in Stone.
The Faces kept getting better with each album, a rare thing. 1971's Long Player gave nod to the growing reputation they had as a terrific concert band with two live tracks, including a version of Paul McCartney's recent Maybe I'm Amazed, featuring Lane and Stewart as co-lead singers. It was an embarrassment of riches, with Lane contributing his more bucolic, easy-going numbers in the middle of Stewart and Wood's rough-and-tumble numbers such as Bad 'n' Ruin.
A Nod Is As Good As A Wink ... To A Blind Horse came quickly after in late '71, By now the band had it down cold, and classic songs were coming from them. Stay With Me is one of the great party-rockers of all time, and Lane's Debris a matching one of beauty. Miss Judy's Farm and You're So Rude continued the good times. But all was not well; Stewart was becoming a much bigger star as a solo artist (Maggie May, etc.) and Lane was chafing to record more of his own material.
Lane would get a much bigger share on the Ooh La La album of '73, thanks to Stewart's long periods away from the group. Although Stewart famously dismissed the album, it is the equal to, if not better than A Nod..., thanks to the strength of Lane's songs and the engine that was the McLagan-Jones-Woods-Lane combo. Silicone Grown and Cindy Incidentally were smart and sassy, perfect for Stewart when he finally showed up for the sessions, and Lane's charming title cut something from the very top of his game.
That was it for Lane though, he wasn't going to wait around to be in Stewart's backing band, as the concerts were becoming. After he left to go solo, the band went on with Tetsu Yamauchi from Free joining, but only a live album and a couple of more singles would follow. Finally after much will they/won't they talk, Ron Wood gave up on his partner and joined up with The Rolling Stones, a painful and unsatisfying end.
The final disc wraps up those stray singles and b-sides, most of them quite good, including the studio version of Maybe I'm Amazed, a live take on The Temptations' I Wish It Would Rain, and the raucous Pool Hall Richard. In the small complaints department, I certainly think they could have included the 1974 live album Coast to Coast: Overture and Beginners, to make this truly complete. Don't expect a detailed history either, the skimpy booklet only has the track listings and credits. But if this reunion talk gets you interested, or reminds you of those days, you can't go wrong here.
Wednesday, September 2, 2015
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: LINDA RONSTADT - JUST ONE LOOK
Not a greatest hits, not a best-of, this two-disc set is subtitled Classic Linda Ronstadt, which leaves it wide open. What it is primarily is a set of her country-rock and pop hits, leaving out excursions into jazz vocal standards, Gilbert & Sullivan and soundtrack schmaltz. So for the most part, it's the hits you know, at least on disc one: Tumbling Dice, You're No Good, It's So Easy.
The funny thing about disc two is that it concentrates on her later pop albums, which didn't have that many hits. So there's three from Mad Love, five from Get Closer and four from Winter Light. While it's nice to see some focus placed on good album cuts such as her version of the McGarrigles' Heartbeat Accelerating, the collection really slows down as the hits dry up.
The other issue is the focus on the latter albums on disc two means there's not enough room to fit all the fine stuff from the 70's on disc one. As always, there's the token appearance of Different Drum from her Stone Poneys days in the late '60's, but her earliest solo work, while she was at her most country, is barely touched, nothing else pre-1973. There's no Long Long Time, no Rock Me On The Water, no Silver Threads and Golden Needles. Heck, When Will I Be Loved isn't even here, a #2 hit. You know what? A think a four-disc box set was in order.
Tuesday, September 1, 2015
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: DALANNAH AND OWEN - BEEN AROUND A WHILE
This is an interesting one, certainly one-of-a-kind. Both the musicians here are accomplished, and do their thing, but there's no one else at all for the entire album. Dalannah Gail Bowen has been singing since the '60's, and has recently been singing up a storm now that she's hit 70. On bass, owen Owen OWEN is one of most respected players on the West Coast, and here the pair do something to blues that's brave and different, in a field that is way too often dominated by the same old same old.
With Owen's plucking, grooves and occasional solos, Bowen stretches her pipes through a set of strong originals and classics. She's a full-throated singer, with lots of power, and the chops to sing all around the melody, like a jazz soloist. With the bass line doing much the same thing, this is all about listening to two strong talents finding the possibilities in each song.
It takes a while to get used to the concept. The first listen is interesting, the second you start to appreciate it, and by the third, once your ears are attuned, you can really enjoy the parts. Bowen's vocal on Marvin Gaye's Inner City Blues makes the song far more powerful than the original, at least as a protest song. The pair's own Heaven's Right Here swings mightily, both locked into a groove, proving they don't need anybody else. The covers of Come On In My Kitchen and Walking Blues are so far from the originals that these overdone chestnuts somehow sound new again. I was a doubter at first, but was quickly sold on this concept.
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