Saturday, October 31, 2015
Costello has penned what many reviews are calling one of the most entertaining rock bios, full of stories and observations from a performer on the cusp of the A-list but not really part of it. He also does a very smart tie-in here, with a two-disc best-of collection to go along with the read.
Knowing there would be interest from all corners of his fandom, casual observers to obsessive collectors (hi there), he shook things up on the track list a bit. Lots of the usual suspects are here, from Alison and Watching The Detectives to Indoor Fireworks and Shipbuilding, but there are plenty of deep cuts from lesser-known and later albums. Virtually every period of his career is covered, up to his last collaborative album with The Roots. Veronica, one of his best-known, is featured in its demo form here, to mix things up, and Stranger In The House, a country favourite, comes in the less-familiar duet version with George Jones.
The super-fan (hi again) will actually have all this if they bought all the deluxe editions and reissues, so there are even some previously-unreleased temptations. April 5th is a song written and performed with Kris Kristofferson and Rosanne Cash, an interesting collaboration but too earnest and self-conscious, like they know they should be creating great art. I Can't Turn It Off is a very early demo from his career, pre-recording deal, when he was known as D.P. Costello, called I Can't Turn It Off. It sounds like most of his other demos from that time, too many clever lines and not enough melody, still searching for his style, and a good inner editor.
Best of the new stuff is actually some out-takes from the book. Included at the end are three extra stories not included in the final pages of his bio, but recorded here in audio-book form. That includes a funny meeting with Paul McCartney about writing more songs together, and a brush-off of a guy Costello assumed was looking for an autograph, but who turned out to be L.A. music mogul Lou Adler, the Mama's & Papa's producer.
Anyway, there's lots of great music here, especially if you haven't kept up with every Costello period over the years. Can't wait to read the book.
Friday, October 30, 2015
There's also a horn section added to several cuts, which helps set this album far apart from the normal blues fare, dominated by so many guitar bands. Mayall's keyboard dominance on the cuts is wall-to-wall refreshing as he moves through several styles, from the solo stride of his own Crazy Lady to the classic 12-bar of Don Robey's Mother In Law Blues. Mayall penned five of the 12 songs here, and his choice of covers is impeccable. He steers clear of the usual suspects, and prides himself in finding more obscure works from Percy Mayfield, Lightnin' Hopkins and Lee Baker. Even his voice is holding up pretty well. Eric who? Fleetwood what?
Thursday, October 29, 2015
The T. Buckley Trio didn't have to travel far from Buckley's Calgary home to make this album, just an hour west to Banff. But it took them out of rat race and into an artist's dream, the Banff Centre for the Performing Arts, where they settled into a two-week residency. Given a creative space in mountains sparked the entire album, recorded right there by the trio, in a burst of inspiration and beauty.
On previous albums, it's been Buckley's game, but here the whole trio got to shine, with Tim Leacock and Derek Pulliam not only providing the usual acoustic charms on guitar and bass, but also taking turns singing lead, and writing tunes as well. As much as I enjoy Buckley's honey-coated pipes, it's fun to have the more rustic flavour of the others to break up the routine.
Leacock gets to reprise a number he co-wrote with the late, great Billy Cowsill when he played with him in the band The Co-Dependents, called Had It With You, a country-blues with lots of charm. Pulliam's Show Time In The City is old-time and charming, a jazzy little novelty number with humour. The group rearranges a couple of Canadian classics, Neil Young's Birds taken at a more brisk pace, and Lightfoot's Steel Rail Blues sounding like the classic folk song it truly is.
Oh, and just because it's what he does, Buckley knocks off a bunch of his usual roots killer cuts, with his ability to make 'em catchy and tuneful, and lyrically smart. Sure, there's something special in those Banff springs, but you have to bring your own magic there too.
Wednesday, October 28, 2015
Alan Doyle put out this strong collection earlier this year, and has been touring with his crack band, mixing the new stuff with his well-loved Great Big Sea shanties. Now it gets a boost to deluxe status, with the addition of three tracks, plus a video.
Doyle has formed a good bond with Barenaked Ladies over the years, and is currently touring with the band. Their lead singer, Ed Robertson, guested on the fun single 1,2,3,4 from this album originally, and now it gets a new mix for the tour, with Ed's part a little more prominent. It's a classic BNL suburban guy rap, so that's entertaining. Plus, a new video is included, which is a nice bonus.
The other cuts include a strong ballad, called I Am A Sailor, which easily could have been on the main album in the first place. But the big gem here is a live version of the previously unreleased Dream Of Home, a song written way back in 2010 for the Robin Hood movie, in which Doyle acted and contributed soundtrack songs. However, this number was dropped. He performs it a cappella in concert, and here we got a stirring version recorded in Halifax earlier this year.
And in case you missed my original review of the album, here it is again.
This is Doyle the songwriter, a modern Newfoundland sound he was largely responsible for creating and popularizing. So Let's Go features 10 original cuts, with that blend of old instruments and sounds, with full production and pop/rock attitude. No, no shanties, no donkey riding, no 1830's, it's all today, but unmistakably the classic voice and sound of the same Alan Doyle we've known for 22 years. There's lots of strumming of acoustic guitar, bouzouki and mandolin, plenty of accordion, big group backing vocals, hand claps and stomps. The biggest addition is the fiddle work of Kendel Carson, a key member of Doyle's new touring band. In all, a souped-up version of the trad pop GBS sound.
Sins Of Saturday Night, produced by and co-written with Gordie Sampson, has some new country hints with a big rock chorus, crafty enough to mix a sharp lead guitar with Carson's fiddle. The title cut has a happy whistling-and-mandolin chorus, which builds into a big celebration, sure to be a new concert favourite. It's quite impressive how rocking he can make a song built on a mandolin riff, like The Night Loves Us. And even an acoustic ballad, Laying Down To Perish, gets a major treatment, with martial drum beats, soaring whistles and what might be seagulls in behind. This will easily appeal to all who have followed GBS, and might very well interest a whole new generation in this Newfoundland hybrid.
Tuesday, October 27, 2015
Underneath all the oomph is a set of songs that could have come straight out of the '70's, when guitar bands were trying to stave off disco. There's no pretense here, it's meat-and-potatoes rock, the message straightforward, musically and lyrically. "I've got you like a wounded animal" isn't a complicated theme for a song, but you don't want philosophy when your head is bobbing too fast to think. So the basic concept is simple, a rock quarter with two guitars, bass and drums, but who knew something this loud could be this catchy?
Monday, October 26, 2015
In an eclectic career that's always been somewhat under the radar, Lauderdale has moved back and forth in American roots music, from bluegrass to power pop. He's an A-list sideman for folks as diverse as Elvis Costello to Ralph Stanley, and a prime songwriter found on the finer Nashville releases.
It's only 212 miles between Nashville and Memphis, but they are worlds apart for many music fans. Here Lauderdale proves they are a lot closer than you'd think. The first disc here was recorded at Royal Studios, where much of the beloved Hi Records material was made by Al Green, Willie Mitchell, Ann Peebles and the like. Lauderdale worked with Mitchell's son Boo, who now runs the studio, original Hi Records players Charles and Leroy Hodges, the great session men Spooner Oldham and David Hood, and North Mississippi Allstars Luther and Cody Dickinson. This is a couple of generations of Memphis music history, nothing to trifle with.
If anyone can rise to that level, it's Lauderdale, who delivers a set of instant soul classics. Vocally, he's as smooth as Boz Scaggs (that's a big compliment in my books), but can pull a growl as earthy as Leon Russell. There's No End To The Sky has a thick groove, horn stabs and classic backing vocals. The classic horns and strings of the Al Green hits are used for There's A Storm Out There (But It's Calm In Here), Lauderdale equal to the sexy task. He also has no trouble with the more bluesy styles, and Worth The Wait would've made a great Etta James track.
On the Nashville disc, it's another legendary studio session, this time in Victor Studio A, where Dolly, George Jones, Roy Orbison and lots more made hits. This time, Lauderdale and the Dickinson's do most of the heavy lifting, and despite the surroundings refuse to play by the house rules. This set is a tougher-edged batch, with just a couple of country numbers featuring fiddle. Instead, Lauderdale lets the brothers loose for some roots workouts, I'm Just The Lookout featuring a ripping solo from Luther. There are some grand tales and imaginative lyrics, featuring Tarzan Houdini, black widow spiders, signals from space, mermaids and crocodiles. And in the middle of it all is the great question of religion, Why Does God Let That Happen, a jaw-dropper of a tune.
Lauderdale is so creative, even two of the great American music capitals can't contain him.
Sunday, October 25, 2015
Squeeze has kept the flame going when needed over the past few years, touring for the fans (and the pounds), financing the solo careers of leaders Difford and Tilbrook. There have been a few albums too, although no completely new material since 1998's Domino. So this is a pretty big deal for band and followers.
The band is still a vehicle for Difford and Tilbrook, along with a trio of recent additions, although John Bentley, from the hit days of the '80's, played bass on some tracks. The real magic of the band is always the pairing of D&T's songwriting, and after listening to most of their solo albums, it does seem they need each other to hit those highs.
And oh what heights they hit. If you're a lover of the old days, Pulling Mussels and all that, you'll find plenty of moments to cheer. The title track is both catchy and punchy, with all the word play. Big group harmonies pile up on the tracks, and as in the old days, Tilbrook's voice shines, a high-pitched happy sound, with just that right touch of Jack the Lad.
In the early days of the group, they sang a lot about working class young folk in England, but as they've aged, that's been replaced by a lot of songs featuring nostalgia for those days. Some of those songs can come across as rote, with Sunny and Only 15 joining the pile of memories. But as the rest of the numbers show, there's lots of life left in the band to look forward to. On with the show, this is it!
Saturday, October 24, 2015
First came the movie, then the animated series. The movie became known for its primo '70's soundtrack, and surprisingly that has continued for the series, with lots of sharp choices. There's repetition from the movie soundtrack with inclusion of Blue Swede's Hooked On A Feeling, but the rest are different, so if you found the first a cool mix, this one will couple with it nicely.
There's a heavy Joe Walsh flavour, with three of his cuts: the iconic Rocky Mountain Way, plus The James Gang's two biggest hits, Funk #49 and Walk Away. The latter two don't get a lot of play these days, so they are welcome, but Rocky Mountain Way is a staple of classic rock radio, so perhaps that could have been replaced. Same goes for Thin Lizzy's The Boys Are Back In Town, which can be heard in any town anywhere, every day on radio, usually following Rocky Mountain Way.
But they do go deep for Queen's Don't Stop Me Now, certainly not one of that group's biggest, and I can't remember the last time I heard The Hudson Brothers, any Hudson Brothers, featured here with So You Are A Star. And so it goes, a surprise one song, an overplayed yawn the next (I Will Survive). But these discs are fun, and there's nothing here that I mind hearing.
Friday, October 23, 2015
No matter what the reason, it doesn't take away from the pleasure, and Colvin has picked a fine mix of hits and obscurities, all delivered with her own stamp. Her voice is always a joy, and hearing her do Baker Street, ably harmonizing with guest David Crosby, is a mellow treat. Paul Simon's American Tune is pretty much part of the Great American Songbook now, and Colvin is particularly able at hitting both the low and high notes in the song. And if you're doing covers, you better know some Creedence, said every bar band ever, so here Colvin offers up a softer take on Lodi.
On the surprise side, she digs deep into the Stevie Wonder catalogue for Heaven Is Ten Zillion Light Years Away, a grand early '70's album track that showcases his lyrical punch instead of his funkiness. There's a tip of the hat to fellow traveler Robert Earl Keen, with his Not A Drop Of Rain, and a classic country cover for a closer, Tammy Wynette's 'Til I Get It Right. The thing is, Shawn Colvin always gets her covers right.
Thursday, October 22, 2015
It's true! This album is as romantic as it gets. At a relaxed pace, with and easy-going band, Ellsworth lets his words and voice take over, in a charming suite of ten songs set to swoon. He has that catch in voice that happens in each chorus, that hits you in the heart. Ellsworth picks an important note, goes a bit below it, then slides up into place, slick as can be.
Not sappy-slick though; this isn't "You Don't Bring Me Flowers" material. There are few love songs; rather they are emotional, and observational. Like with Jim Cuddy, it's all in the delivery. Cuddy and Ellsworth could each sing your grocery list with heart-tugging results.
As usual for the P.E.I. native, the songs come with a roots-country glow, with acoustic guitars, piano, and pedal steel on top of subtle bass and drums. Never too fast, never too slow, never too loud, never too soft, Ellsworth's serving up emotion just right.
Tuesday, October 20, 2015
Living so close to Pugwash, Nova Scotia, the name of this band always freaks me out a little, and I have to explain that they are not, in fact, Canadian, but rather a U.K. bunch. Leader Thomas Walsh is Irish in fact, and originally Pugwash was just him, as far back as 1999. In the last few years he's turned it into a quartet, and after being an British-only secret, moves are being made to introduce the band to North America. Maybe Pugwash will play Pugwash some day.
Last year, a compilation album was put together for this side of the Atlantic, an excellent overview of five albums and some singles, called A Rose In A Garden Of Weeds. Now comes the band's first proper album with international aims, and it certainly continues in the style of the best-of. Walsh is a huge fan of the master pop makers of the U.K., and has deliberately continued in their path. He is from the long line of somewhat eccentric, typically British pop writers, that have a touch of the old British music hall in their writing, rather than North American blues. In pop terms, that's Ray Davies of The Kinks, Jeff Lynne of ELO, and Andy Partridge of XTC, from the '60's to the '80's, and all three show up here, friends of the band.
These are actually just cameos from the famous folk though, and Walsh and company don't really need any help. They are more than capable of creating chamber pop gems of their own, one of the best melodic combos since Squeeze came on the scene. Walsh seems to delight in bouncing from influence to influence, able to conquer each and move on. The group never stays in one place too long, so you can never accuse them of being too similar to any of the greats. There's a track here, All The Way From Love, which you could easily stick on a Teddy Thompson album, and fool all, including Teddy.
The songs also avoid being too sweet. Opener Kicking and Screaming has a sharp edge, as the singer drives hate, hurt and fear away, "kicking and screaming, on it's knees." Mostly, you'll marvel at the glorious chord changes, piled harmonies and delightful instrumental parts, each moment a great tip of the hat to pop's past, present and future.
Sunday, October 18, 2015
Let's narrow this down. This box set features only the Small Faces, not the Faces, the band they became when Ron Wood and Rod Stewart joined. Now let's narrow it even further. This doesn't look at the group's entire career, but rather just their first two years, while they were with Decca Records. So, five CD's, ya that's pretty much a comprehensive package.
It's also a time when the group was breaking out in the U.K., but unknown in North America, before Itchycoo Park introduced them here. So while this set is packed with hit music, it will be discovery time for most of us. Here's why that's a good plan. This is one rockin' beat band.
The Small Faces were a band pulled in several different directions, some of them of their own interest, others forced on them by management. With Steve Marriott on guitar and lead vocals, Ronnie Lane on bass, Ian McLagan on keys (replacing Jimmy Winstone) and Kenney Jones drumming, they were a powerful engine, capable of raw blues and pounding mod hits, all at a terrific volume. But since it was a singles game, they also had to manoeuvre around the pop hits they were handed, or came up with on their own.
What's fabulous about these songs is hearing numbers that would normally be light and breezy fare if handled by Herman's Hermits or even The Hollies turned into much more heavy fare. Big British hit Sha La La La Lee is a bubblegum as they come, but somehow it works, even with the dumb lyrics. What'cha Gonna Do About It is a better-written effort, but again the band raises it to an exciting level.
You can hear the group trying to decide what kind of group they should be. There are certainly moments when they rival The Who, and it's no wonder Jones was asked to take over Keith Moon's stool when the latter died. Jones was more controlled but had equal strength. The covers give another indication; Marvin Gaye's Baby Don't You Do It and Sam Cooke's Shake were intense takes on the originals. Then there's the controversial You Need Loving, which is credited to Marriott and Lane but is really just a rewrite of Willie Dixon's You Need Love. That's normal enough, but then Led Zeppelin took most of it and made Whole Lotta Love, without crediting either. Anyway, Small Faces had enough punch to be Zeppelin, if they'd chosen to go that way.
The five discs here do have some repetition. Disc one is called Greatest Hits, and includes every single, A and B side, plus EP track. Discs two and three are the group's two albums, Small Faces and From The Beginning. There's even repetition there, because Decca decided to include Sha La La La Lee and What'cha Gonna Do About It on both albums. Disc four is called Rarities & Outtakes, and includes different versions, early takes, and session variations. Finally there's a set of BBC recordings, always fun, including some very revealing interview segments with Steve Marriott. So yes, that means Sha La La La Lee and What'cha Gonna Do About It show up on all five CD's (twice on Disc 5 for the first song).
There's a whole great biography about dealing with notorious manager Don Arden, getting all hippy on Ogden's Nut Gone Flake, Marriott quitting to form Humble Pie with Peter Frampton, and Ron and Rod showing up to save the day. This is the British Invasion band that we missed.
Thursday, October 15, 2015
To my ears, this is exactly what the revived Stax Records label should be putting out. Rateliff rips through a set of classic southern soul, from the horn-fired, punchy opener I Need Never Get Old, the gospel-flavoured (but definitely non-spiritual) S.O.B., to the Otis-country ballad I'd Be Waiting. While the retro feel is there, there's no way you'd mistake any of this for 1965. There's a major loud bottom end, and just enough distortion to make you think about The Black Keys as much as Sam and Dave.
The juxtaposition between vintage and modern is found in every song. The crafty production mixes elements of both into one listening experience. For instance, the guitar on Thank You is rough and untreated, without the pedals and effects that are now a must for most. But it gets painted in echo, while the vocals are left alone, a studio trick only available in recent productions. Old and new are all coming at you at once.
Rateliff's the writer, and has the obvious needed love of all that old Stax stuff, as well as similar folks of that era. As for the vocals, he's no smoothy, but there's a great style on the record that sees him singing two parts through most of the album, in close harmony. He's playing Sam AND Dave.
Rateliff, Leon Bridges, Charles Bradley, all the Daptone Records stuff; this is the best era in soul music since disco nearly wiped it out in the '70's.
Tuesday, October 13, 2015
A band that too many people missed back in the '90's, best-known for its cast of almost-stars, super-cool covers and songwriting chops. The group started off in L.A. with ex-members of Dream Syndicate, Circle Jerks and Giant Sand jamming together, and discovering they were in the best band of their lives. Next came a bigger name, Peter Holsapple, once a dB, and recently a sideman for R.E.M. Things were getting serious.
The band set up residency in a Hollywood club, Raji's, and their Tuesday night shows become the stuff of legend. Stars started dropping by to sit in, and some actually loved it so much they stayed; now The Drifters boasted harmonies from the duo of Susan Cowsill (The Cowsills) and Vicki Peterson (The Bangles). Records were next, and over the course of a decade and three albums, they made a set of alt-country and power-pop gems, able to go from sugar-coated to twangy to raunchy at any moment.
Instead of doing the typical best-of, this double-disc collection fills in all the blanks in your Drifters collection. In other words, if you don't have the original albums, rush out and buy them now, then get this. And for fans, this should be almost all new, a real blessing. Disc one is from the early days of the group, when Holsapple was first in the orbit. The gang actually made an entire album, which was subsequently shelved when Cowsill & Peterson joined up, and it was no longer going to be representative. It's pretty much a different band, but still sounds excellent, and the songs are roots-rock with high-quality lyrics. Dallas, by early lead singer Gary Eaton, is a reflection on being a very young kid in small town U.S.A. in 1963, and hearing about the Kennedy Assassination. Such was the depth of material the band was now dealing with that they set such numbers aside for years. Now that full album, plus some early versions and demos of the time now arrive here.
The second disc looks at that other side of the band, where they did all these great cover versions in the live show. Being big music fans, they found everything from obscure but brilliant numbers to big hits that hadn't been heard in decades. The harmonies of Peterson and Cowsill were key to this as well, able to knock home runs on stage with The Mamas & The Papas hit Dedicated To The One I Love, or doing Lucinda Williams' Crescent City way before her wide acceptance. They owned the Gram Parsons number A Song For You, and pulled off a miraculous version of The Hollies' harmony-heavy I Can't Let Go. Also on this disc is the full E.P. Listen Listen, previously unreleased in North America, which sees the group tackle a full set of Fairport Convention/Richard Thompson songs. I hadn't even heard of this before.
Everybody has an underdog in their collection, a band you love that most people don't really get or even know. It's pretty cool when years later, you get over two hours of new music, and all of it just as worthy of your love.
Sunday, October 11, 2015
The final find of my recent exploration trip to Halifax was this debut disc from Newfoundland transplant Danielle Smith, now living in N.S. This seven-song collection, available on her website, grabbed her nominations at Music NL's awards, for Female Artist and Country Recording of the year, and relocating has brought her attention such as gigs at the Halifax Urban Folk Festival, and the upcoming Nova Scotia Music Week.
Smith falls in the bluegrass/folk/songwriter categories, and is pretty secure in all of them. Her bluegrass songs are upbeat but thoughtful. Her small combo uses banjo and mandolin to add brightness, but these aren't pickin' and grinnin' songs. Smith's packing emotional punch along with the playing. The song Miles comes in a folk form that has a modern troubadour feel in the verses, but the chorus comes with powerful lines more traditional and direct: "My love is miles from me, that is why I grieve."
Abandon Me is country-gospel, this one with deep rural roots, taking the sound back decades, but Foghorn brings us back to the current, with the prettiest melody on the set, and a bright vocal from Smith. She's a bit of a shape-shifter, seemingly an old soul at times, a young heart at others, and about five strong styles to choose from.
Thursday, October 8, 2015
Continuing on with the finds from my recent fact-finding mission to Halifax, we have this gem from Cape Breton songwriter Appleby. Okay, I say fact-finding, but what that actually means is I hang around in bars for a few days and watch bands. That's a fact, at least.
Appleby is one of the mainstays of music events in the region, involved in the production side of music weeks, awards shows, festivals, etc. I always see him at everything, and the past few times, I'd ask him, "How's that album coming, Bill." This time though, he replied, "Oh, I got one for ya." "And it's good!," chimed the guy throwing darts just past my head.
The dart-thrower was right. Appleby's an old-school writer, happy in roots styles, and not stuck in any of them. Opening cut Steps swings along with banjo, clarinet, Dixie horns and a sizable number of singers. But he turns that on its head right away, with cut two, (Hurricane) Gabrielle a slice of outlaw country. And so it goes throughout, cuts like Red Neon the kind of honky-tonk swing Ian & Sylvia used to do with The Great Speckled Bird. So it's a mixed bag in that good way, lots in the assorted box of chocolates, even some hefty rockers. John Prine does that, Kristofferson as well.
Veteran producer Hayward Parrott has brought in lots of the best East Coast talent for this one, lots of singers and horns, and a crack core band featuring Blake Manning on drums, Stuart Cameron on guitar, Peter Fusco on bass and keyboard king Kim Dunn. Damhnait Doyle is used to great effect on Wild Wind, a sweet foil to Appleby's rough-edged voice, Haggard even (as in Merle).
It's a big production, and fitting, as Appleby's words deserve it. He's a story-teller, with lots of life's mistakes to pass on, but few regrets, and a few pearls of wisdom too. There's a light-hearted wit too: "There's been allegations made, and I know who the alligators are."
Good one Bill, see you next time.
I don't get away enough. I really should travel more, if only to find out about different scenes in other cities. At least I get to Halifax every few months, and inevitably I find out about more music I haven't heard yet. Usually it's at a show, hanging out with music people, meeting someone new, who then gives me their latest. "Oh, you're that guy." Yup, that's me.
My last trip to Nova Scotia yielding three such meetings in one night, so I'll devote the next three columns to that. These are particularly new releases, just new to me, but certainly worthy of sharing, better late than never.
Roxy and the Underground Soul Sound are an r'n'b/funk/soul group fronted by dynamite lead singer Roxy Mercier. Heavy on the horns, the seven-piece put up a smooth sound on their debut, Don't You Know? That came about when they won the Galaxie Rising Star Award at the Halifax Jazz Festival in 2014, and used the prize money to get into the studio.
Smartly, they brought along Erin Costelo, who knows her way around a good soul song. She helped arrange the eight band originals with lots of classic moments: funky keyboards, big Aretha backing vocals, wah-wah pedal guitar solos, and those horns.
Yes, there are similarities to the Daptone Records sound (which is a very good thing of course), but I wouldn't compare Mercier to Sharon Jones, she's her own singular talent, and I can't rightly think of any similar voice. She has a lot of punch, and always seems to be singing with strength, even in the quietest moments.
Yes, the album has been out for a bit, but it turns out my mention is a timely one: Roxy and the Underground Soul Sound will be at Plan B in Moncton on Friday, Oct. 9, and then on Oct. 30, they are playing at home, at Halifax club The Carleton.
Wednesday, October 7, 2015
Yes, that Joe Jackson, the one-time icon of New Wave, who broke through in 1979 with Look Sharp! and Is She Really Going Out With Him. He's recorded regularly since, but you never know quite what to expect. His last outing in 2012, The Duke, was a tribute to Ellington. He's done several different jazz styles, jump blues, full classical, and still returns to piano pop and rock when the mood strikes.
This time, it is on the rock side, although he's found another way to mix things up within the album. It's divided into four parts, or EP's, each one featuring a different group recording four songs in a different city. Pretty clever, you get four distinct styles, lots of variety and license for everybody to loosen up and ignore genres.
The first section comes from New York and features two greats who also refuse to be pigeon-holed, guitarist Bill Frisell and drummer Brian Blade. Joining them are Jackson's longtime bass partner Graham Maby, and the renowned jazz violin player Regina Carter. This gang actually provides some of the most pleasing pop of the disc, including the piano-led title cut, plus the chance to really rock on a cover of Television's See No Evil, Frisell giving us one of those off-kilter, brilliant solos.
Next Jackson decamps to Amsterdam, where he suits up with the Concertgebouw Orchestra. Offering the most diverse set of songs and instrumentation, this set sees him incorporate everything from a light Latin touch to moody, thoughtful lyrics cushioned by strings and soft horn playing.
Crossing the continent, Jackson heads to his second home, Berlin, where he teams up with rock players including Tindersticks drummer Earl Harvin. Junkie Diva could have come from his beloved Night and Day album, with rich keyboard moments in between some pretty/loud playing. And while in Berlin, don't forget to pay respect to that beloved pre-war Cabaret period, as he does with the murder song Good Bye Jonny.
Lastly, Jackson goes back to the States, and New Orleans, this time rounding up members of the local favourite funksters Galactic. I like how Jackson doesn't change his music much in an attempt to blend in to the Crescent City sound, but rather adapts the musician's skills to his songs. The groove of Satellite is clean and sharp, with his classic piano chords, with those familiar New Orleans horns joining in rather than dominating. This section also includes the great starting line, "God must think he's God or something, lording it over us," from Keep On Dreaming. What's not to like here? You get some of the sounds you enjoyed Jackson's early music, and lots of new and different places to visit as well.
A surprise national breakout for the understated Halifax band, with significant Radio 2 play on CBC. Release number three sees the band getting more and more concise, the songs featuring solid, memorable choruses, hooks and bridges, enjoyable modern pop that does sound great on the radio. Producer Daniel Ledwell is there with his usual bag of tricks (heard on works by Jenn Grant,Gabrielle Papillon, etc.), and its a good partnership. The band is certainly looking to make the same kind of aurally captivating music as Ledwell.
There is a healthy optimism to the songs, and a real honesty in the lyrics. On Good Advice, singer Trevor Murphy admits "The truth is I'm scared, I've seen all the mistakes worth making." Musically, there are strong roots sounds with lots of harmonies, a kind of rural dream pop, with a healthy dollop of Nova Scotia fog. Murphy's vocals are friendly and comfortable, Julia Weir's answering harmonies right there through much of the material as well, another big part of the overall warmth. When Murphy sings "I wanna buy you a real house" in the penultimate song I Will Try, after complaining about the lousy pipes in the apartment, and vowing to live on the lake, you come to the realization that these are some pretty good people telling us how life is going for them. Glad to know ya.
Tuesday, October 6, 2015
One-third of Blackie & the Rodeo Kings, an in-demand producer for the likes of Bruce Cockburn and Colin James, T Bone Burnett's go-to guy for many of his projects, as well as the performance coach and some-time actor on the TV show Nashville, it's amazing Linden has the time to still make solo discs and write all the songs too. How he's managed to pull off some of the very best of his career in the middle of all this is equally impressive.
A roots guy way before the term was popularized, Linden keeps getting deeper into the good stuff. He follows some classic themes, such as the murder ballad (Delia Come For Me) but comes up with a new twist and a modern take, never sounding retro. His interests are varied enough that he keeps us guessing from cut to cut, moving from the haunting blues of the title cut to the smooth Les Paul innocence of Date With The Stars. Billy Swan would approve heartily of Luck Of A Fool. It's well-known that Linden befriended Howlin' Wolf when he was a mere lad, and it wouldn't surprise me to learn he had his ear to the basement window when Dylan and the Hawks were jamming in Big Pink too.
Linden always makes great sounding records, but of special note this time are the lyrics, some by him, others in collaboration. Opening cut Knob & Tube, which features guest harmonies from Amy Helm and an all-smiles groove played by Linden on mandolin, features lots of plays-on-word around vintage electronics ("Make these wires sparkle around my bakelite"). The Hurt references the annoyance Etta James felt towards Beyoncè after the youngster sang her theme song At Last for President Obama at his inaugural ball. No More Cheap Wine is just great advice: "Life's too short to drink no more cheap wine." I'll drink to that, and the entire album.
Monday, October 5, 2015
While Marvin Gaye is known for making one of the great albums of all time, 1971's What's Going On, until that time, he was known mainly as a singles artist. All the Motown artists had been; Berry Gordy had focused on the 45 as his money-maker, and it really took Marvin and Stevie Wonder to show him there was bigger money to be made in the long-player by the time the '70's arrived. So most of us Motown fans have greatest hits records or label compilations rather than the albums the '60's stars released. Here, the first seven Gaye studio albums are collected in one box, most of them unknown and unheard even to big fans (like me).
Marvin Gaye actually started out as an album artist, making "serious" music rather than pop hits for kids. One of the earliest Motown signings, his first record saw him trying to carve out a niche as a smooth jazz crooner, in the Nat King Cole style. His album, The Soulful Moods Of Marvin Gaye was only the second Motown LP, released in 1961. A small combo joined the singer, who also contributed drums and piano on this set of mostly standards such as Witchcraft and My Funny Valentine. Berry Gordy produced the album, but didn't really want his new star doing this star. The deal was that Marvin could make his album, but also had to record some r'n'b for the kids. Guess what sold?
With Gaye now a force on the pop scene, his next one featured his current hit singles, Hitch Hike, Pride and Joy and Stubborn Kind Of Fellow. This is a particularly strong early Motown release, with all original tracks and no covers, songs written by Gaye and producers Gordy, Clarence Paul and Mickey Stevenson. So strong was the set that one of the album cuts, Wherever I Lay My Hat, didn't even rate a 45, finally becoming a huge European hit for Paul Young 20 years later in 1983.
Marvin hadn't given up on the adult music though. His third album, When I'm Alone I Cry from 1964 returned to the jazz field. This time he tried for a dark mood, with Billie Holiday's You've Changed, and other songs on the theme of lost love and growing apart. It wasn't bouncy and fun like Can I Get A Witness, and once again, both kids and adults paid little attention.
So it was back to the pop charts for album five, this time a disc celebrating his new partnership. In an effort to boost his career, Gaye was teamed up with Motown's current female star, Mary Wells, who had just hit the big time with My Guy. The Together album was a modest success, with two minor hits (Once Upon A Time and What's The Matter With You Baby), and even decent album sales, easily Gaye's best showing on larger platters to that point.
A mere seven months later Gaye released Hello Broadway, changing tactics once more. This saw him trying out show tunes, everything from My Kind Of Town to Hello Dolly. His version of People was a showstopper, but there was little else to excite, and once again, it failed to sell. So 1965 saw him back with more pop hits. How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You celebrated his most recent hit single, plus several others from the months before that hadn't been collected on album as yet. Gaye had recently begun working with Holland-Dozier-Holland, and they had brought him the excellent, smart You're A Wonderful One, and the lively Baby Don't You Do It, which showed what could happen when Marvin got moving. Despite his natural inclinations, he was always better when he got off the stool and danced instead of sitting on it and crooning.
He would give the sophisticated style one more shot with album seven. A Tribute To The Great Nat King Cole came out a few months after Cole died in 1965, and showed everything the type of artist Gaye wished he could be. Unfortunately, it also showed why he couldn't match up. Gaye needed passion in his performance to sound great (think I Heard It Through The Grapevine) rather than cool sophistication. Nature Boy, Ramblin' Rose, Mona Lisa, Unforgettable, they all fall flat with Marvin unable to put a spark in his performance.
Gaye was famous for being at odds with Motown and Gordy over the direction of his career. It's interesting that at various times one or the other was right. Marvin's version of Grapevine sat unissued for over a year before finally becoming one of the biggest pop hits of all time. Gordy was adamant that What's Going On shouldn't come out, but he was proven wrong immediately upon release. Yet Gaye was completely out of touch with goal to follow Cole and Ray Charles into jazz and supper clubs.
It all makes for an interesting, varied package here, never a poor listen but certainly uneven. It's quite grand to have these under one, cheaper roof. But certainly for a great star, they should have included a booklet with even the basic information, such as songwriters on some of the albums. I do like that $35 price tag for the CD's though. Not so much the $187 for vinyl.
Sunday, October 4, 2015
There's no end in sight to the reissues and repackages of David Bowie's classic catalogue. The guy may not have invented reissue campaigns, but he sure has maximized and monetized the potential. Remember, Bowie's the one who sold bonds which used sales of his albums as collateral. This guy knows the value of Ziggy Stardust.
Each Bowie album has been re-released two or three times each, some with bonus cuts, some in anniversary boxes, some with remixes. What this does is collect everything from his first major period, the 1969 - 1973 era, from Space Oddity to the retirement of the Ziggy persona. Each album is here, all the b-sides are under one roof, the previously-released remixed audio, and some brand-new sonic upgrades, so that each album is now available in best-ever audio.
The packaging is first-rate, with a deluxe cube box holding the CD's, and a lengthy hard-cover book with write-ups on each album, tons of photos and a sincere tribute from Ray Davies to open things. Each CD comes in a mini-sleeve replica of the original albums, including inserts, and even includes protective rice paper mini-sleeves for the CD's. It's nice not to feel like corners have been cut, when you're paying top dollar.
I don't think I have to go through the quality of each studio album, these are well-documented. But many fans won't have the two live albums included here, Live Santa Monica '72 and the soundtrack to the movie Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, and both are tremendous. Santa Monica was from the heyday of the Ziggy era, on the first tour of the U.S. It has a few flaws, as it was a radio broadcast first, released decades later on CD, and has some blown lyrics and dicey solos at times, but mostly this is a band on fire, holding nothing back.
The Ziggy soundtrack was the last-ever show for the Spiders, Bowie surprising everyone, including the band, by announcing the group's demise just before the encore of Rock 'n' Roll Suicide. Too bad, they sound even better here a year later, Woody Woodmansey absolutely pulverizing the drums. Mick Ronson has to be heard live to appreciate his role in the Ziggy sound. These discs should increase the draw of the box for many folks.
The B-sides collection is a double-CD set called Re: Call 1, which hints at further collections, perhaps even further boxes. What you get here is actually pretty familiar to most Bowie fans, songs that have graced many packages, dating back to Changes 1 Bowie and showing up on various reissues, box sets, etc. There's only one previously unissued track in the bunch, and that's simply a mono mix of All The Madmen. You get all tracks such as Memory of a Free Festival, the track from Man Who Sold The World, but reworked into a two-part single. There are several single mixes that differ slightly from their album counterparts, including Changes, The Jean Genie, and Starman, where you can play spot the difference (there aren't many). Sadly, the box doesn't include all the bonus cuts issued on the Rykodisc reissue series of the '90's, which featured demos and unused album cuts. With those out-of-print, this is the one letdown here, a disservice really. They could have dumped the many slightly-edited tracks in favour of this other, far more interesting material.
Sound fans won't get better versions anywhere. Some of the remixes have been out before, such as the Ziggy and Aladdin Sane albums, but others are new to this set, such as Hunky Dory, The Man Who Sold The World and Pin Ups. Now, you can buy these remixed discs separately as well, but there is something about having them all under one set.
So you get 13 CD's here, the fine book, there's probably some stuff you don't have unless you are a big fan/collector, not bad at $169.
Oh, but Bowie reissues never stop. The ongoing 40th anniversary singles campaign has a new one as well. This time, it's Space Oddity, in the popular picture disc 45 format, backed with Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud. Wait, wasn't Space Oddity from 1969? If it's a 40th anniversary, it should be 1975, right? Well, it was also from 1975, because it went to #1 in England that year, as, you guessed it, a reissue. See? Told ya Bowie has always been big on reissues.
Saturday, October 3, 2015
Famous Rock Star: I want to make an album. Will you release it?
Big Record Label: No. Nobody buys old rock star's music anymore. They just go to your concerts.
Famous Rock Star: But I need to feel like a legitimate artist, not a has-been. I'll do anything.
Big Record Label: Okay, here's the deal. Guest stars. Has to be lots of them.
Famous Rock Star: Sure, I got lots of friends. I can get Jackson, Linda, Crosby, Nash, Stevie, Lindsay, the guys in my band...
Big Record Label: No no, they aren't hip anymore. We need country stars. They sell records.
Famous Rock Star: Country? Why country?
Big Record Label: Because you're making a country album.
Famous Rock Star: What? I'm a rock star. I can't do country.
Big Record Label: Sure you can. Jewel did it. Hootie did it.
Famous Rock Star: What does country sound like?
Big Record Label: Oh, exactly like you sounded in the '70's. Just make it like that. Just say that you've always really wanted to make a country album, and you're finally where you belong.
Famous Rock Star: Okay. I got the songs already.
Big Record Label: Great. Just book a pedal steel player.
Famous Rock Star: Done. And, I got Mick Jagger.
Big Record Label: Hmm. Okay. But only if you get Miranda Lambert too. Deal?
Famous Rock Star: Deal.
Friday, October 2, 2015
It's actually quite interesting what Ross has done, trying to present audio that matches the torment of swirling voices Wilson had in his head. He uses snippets of dialogue, some Beach Boys samples and clouds of new instrumental sections. All the while, he keeps a connection to the original music Wilson composed, so there are hints all the way through of that sound, from the '60's surf hits to Pet Sounds era to his time adrift in the '70's.
For full songs, there are key Beach Boys numbers Don't Worry Baby, Good Vibrations and God Only Knows. There's a brief passage of actor Paul Dano in the Wilson role doing a rough version of the latter from the film as well. For Wilson solo cuts, there's a previously-released live version of Love and Mercy, his long-time theme song and concert closer, plus a new track as featured in the film, One Kind Of Love, not much of a tune to be honest, a typical example of his more bland recent ballads. The attraction here will be the overall mix of the heady score pieces by Ross, going back and forth with classic Beach Boys productions, the ultimate mood music.
Thursday, October 1, 2015
The latest two deluxe and super-deluxe reissues from McCartney's past focus on his early 80's albums, a pair done post-Wings, and marking a major shift in his career. A couple of major events had happened: The drug bust in Japan was a big downer, and put an end to his touring days for the time being, and the murder of John Lennon was an even worse blow. He was feeling unloved and unappreciated, and that pushed him both creatively and competitively.
The first move was teaming up with George Martin again. This was risky on the p.r. front, as it invited Beatles comparisons. But it also meant the old habits would return, with the pair sparking each other with ideas. McCartney could go for pop hits again, a place he wanted to be, on top of the charts.
Tug Of War had a checklist of McCartney menu items. There were the fun hits (Ebony and Ivory, Take It Away), the serious songs (Here Today, Tug Of War), the quirky pieces that could have been part of the Abbey Road medley (Be What You See/Dress Me Up As A Robber). At times he hit pure excellence, such as the beautiful Wanderlust. For the most part though, everything was good, not great. The highlights were found in the less-calculated numbers such as Ballroom Dancing and The Pound is Sinking, when his playfulness came out. Ebony and Ivory and Take It Away got tiresome with repetition.
Pipes Of Peace was the quick follow-up in 1983, and continued the formula with some modest changes. Michael Jackson replaced Stevie Wonder as the guest star, perfect timing for both, with the inevitable hit Say Say Say hitting the top of the charts near the end of the Thriller run. The title cut was on the same theme as Tug Of War, another heartfelt but bland number. So Bad was a good little single, quite lovely but hardly a rocker, and didn't do enough to push the album along The hits ended there, and really, McCartney hasn't been a pop star since. He's made better albums in the 30 years after, but nothing that has captured his former gigantic fan club, other than his live concerts.
For the deluxe editions, there are several formats. The two-disc versions contain an extra set of bonus tracks for each. Both include several demos of album tracks, as well as period B-sides. There are also demos for cuts that didn't make the album, unreleased until now. There's nothing exciting among those cuts, but he made good demos, so it's fun to hear the embryonic versions. Best is a Pipes Of Peace out-take called It's Not On, one of those slightly odd tracks that certainly would have improved the final album. There's a totally useless, brand-new remix of Say Say Say that follows the remixer's dictum that if you want to make it different, speed up the original. The thing is, nobody wanted this remix in the first place.
If you shell out for the deluxe versions with the big hardbound book and photos, you'll also get a DVD with lots of content. There are the official videos for the singles off each album, plus there's behind-the-scenes footage that has been freshly edited into new packages. Best is a making-off piece on Take It Away, which has interview bits with Paul and Linda, actor John Hurt, and Ringo and George Martin clowning around. Worst is five minutes of Michael Jackson riding around on horseback with the McCartney children.
As usual with this archive series, the deluxe versions are the nicest, the large book a visual treat that would be cool to have for any fan. But then you have to justify the $63 current price tag, for decent but not deluxe music. The regular, 2-CD versions at $16 are the better bargain.