Saturday, April 30, 2016


What a show! Four of the biggest Motown acts, in their early prime, backed by some of the great musicians who made the original records, known in the future as the Funk Brothers. In 1965, Martha and The Vandellas, Stevie Wonder, The Supremes and The Miracles had all scored major hits in the U.S., and the Tamla/Motown brand was starting in Europe as well. This prime package tour was put together to build the brand there, with a lengthy U.K. tour first, and then one night in Paris to finish off.

This 2-disc set is an expansion of the original, single album that came out after the tour, but this time we get the whole two-hour show, even the charming M.C. introductions in French. This is indeed a show, with the compere giving away to band leader Earl Van Dyke on organ leading the musicians known this time as The Soul Brothers through a three-song set of hot instrumentals, before bringing on Martha and The Vandellas. Their solid, five-song set included big hits at home such as Heatwave and Dancing In The Street, and the musicians do a strong job replicating the big Motown production on those numbers, helped out mightily by secret weapon Jack Ashford on production.

Little Stevie is up next, still a rowdy teenager and ball of energy onstage, probably the least-known to the audience then, but a barrel of fun. Riffing and jamming with the band, blowing his exceptional licks on chromatic harmonica, he caps off the first half with the hit Fingertips, as upbeat as you can get.

After the intermission, Van Dyke and the band is back for three more set-up songs, before The Supremes take over. They are given a lengthier set, seven songs, clearly the stars in ascendance for Motown. The group is moving into its more sophisticated, adult concert phase at this time, Berry Gordy seeing them as a Vegas-type act in the long run, so the set includes a couple of show tunes, including People. Apparently the choreography was bang-on, we learn from contemporary reviews, so too bad we didn't get to see film as well.

The night ends with headliners The Miracles, Smokey and the gang in full vocal flight, with all the oohs and ahhs in perfect sync. Tuxedo-clad, they do the smooth thing on Ooo Baby Baby, but then loosen the ties for a big finish on Mickey's Monkey.

Not all is perfect here, especially a technical issue with the lead vocal microphone which mars the first few seconds of both The Supremes and The Miracles sets, but that's minor compared to getting the whole document. This now becomes the best representation of a Motown show in the heyday of the label, and a great addition for fans.

Thursday, April 28, 2016


If this is country, I'm Garth Brooks. I figure after all the abuse the genre has taken over the years from the rigid radio formats and cookie-cutter artists, the inevitable reaction was the most talented of Nashville's newcomers would go somewhere wild and far away. Simpson isn't a cowboy, he's a space cowboy. He's got the right twang, and a killer pedal steel player, but everything else is a mirror opposite of what country has been used to.

This whole album journey, for instance, isn't on the prairie, it's on the ocean. There are strings, but not the Nashville sweetening kind, these are atmospheric layers and swaths, like a good alterna-indie artist would add. And horns? Country horns? Not to mention, it's the Dap-Kings soul section.

Of course, everybody knows that the last decade of corporate country has just been old pop music with a hat. Simpson makes the point, and buries it, by covering Nirvana's In Bloom, and doing it as the most country-sounding song on the album. It's already become legendary.

If that's all not enough (and it should be, good lord this album is good), you'll find all these soul-searching lyrics, worthy of the great country writer/philosophers of the '60's, Merle and Loretta and Johnny, only insanely modernized. His sea stories aren't old shanties, these are about modern, poor Americans with nowhere to go but the Armed Forces, "just another enlisted egg in the bowl for Uncle Sam's beater." Seas, as in overseas, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran, no end in sight. Once again, you can't get anymore anti-Nashville, he's protesting not just a war, but the whole militarism culture that keeps making the weapons, and creating a market for them.

Hard to say if this is game-changing. This is selling, it's the #1 album on the country charts, but you won't find Simpson on country radio. Really, there's no point beating your head against the wall of mediocrity there; at best Simpson's success will let a few more like-minded writers slip through the cracks. But it's going to be a blast to see how he follows this up.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016


Jenny Berkel has just released her new album, Pale Moon Kid, and has set out on a Canadian spring tour, the start of months of road work. She's doing her first U.S. visit in the summer, plus has a European jaunt lined up for the fall. It's probably a good thing she'll be on the road, because it means she won't move.

"I don't know why I keep doing this but honestly, I think I've had between 20 and 30 postal codes since I left my parents' place as a teenager," Berkel admits, sounding exasperated at herself. "If I could tell you why, I would, because then I could tell myself."

Well, at least it has given her lots of material to write. Her new album features cuts directly related to Canadian places, with titles such as Winnipeg and St. Denis, and others that reflect geography or nature, such as Lilac, Lily, Wealth in the Country, and Blue Lit Air. She says she has a lot of affection for the places she's lived, despite the fact she leaves so readily.

"It's funny because I constantly feel this yearning to settle into a home, but I just keep leaving home," she says. "So ya, a travelogue, but a travelogue of my own movement from home to home."

Pale Moon Kid was produced by the classic country monster Daniel Romano. Berkel used to be in his band, and her sister Kay still is. It's an interest dynamic, as Berkel tends towards the calm, while Romano is big and brash, with an in-your-face sound.

"My favourite kind of music is music that feels really intimate, like somebody's whispering in your ear, so that was my goal," she explained. "When I write, I focus a lot on my lyrics because I want to have that as a bit of a centerpiece. So the production is surrounding that, I suppose."

It turned out to be the best of both worlds, as Romano kept the in-your-face vocals, but in a mostly gentle setting. And when the song called for it, such as Winnipeg, Berkel was open to some explosions of sound.

"That one took a surprising turn when we recorded it because it has a pretty grungy chord progression in the chorus, and I wrote it like that, but I don't really listen to grunge music, and I don't do rock 'n' roll, you know?" she said. "But I wrote that chorus and I really liked it, and it essentially had to be recorded the way it was, and it was a surprise, but I'm really happy with how that one turned out."

You can hear how the rest turned out as Berkel continues the early days of her tour. She's touring with Michael Feuerstack, at the following East Coast shows.

  • Wilser's Room, Fredericton, N.B., Thursday, Apr. 28
  • The Seahorse, Halifax, Saturday Apr. 30
  • Doktor Luke's, Sydney, N.S., Tuesday, May 3
  • Back Alley Music, Charlottetown, Thursday, May 5

Tuesday, April 26, 2016


Would you buy a 14-CD, $230 box set from an artist you'd barely heard of?  That's what's being offered here to North Americans, from a guy who barely got out of Europe even in his heyday in the mid-'70's, certainly never had anything near a radio single or Top 40 album over here, and at home was best known for a Tom Jones cover, done tongue-in-cheek.  Of course, that doesn't mean he wasn't good, and maybe great.

Alex Harvey was the leader of The Sensational Alex Harvey Band out of Scotland, a unique mix of glam, proto-punk, hard rock, live theatre and cabaret, working through the 1970's.  I certainly had never heard most of his albums, although available here, and had no idea he'd had quite a long career before then.  Turns out Harvey was a contemporary of all the early British rock and blues acts, met the Beatles while they were still the Silver Beatles, opened for the Stones and was another graduate of the Hamburg school of rock.  But unlike those famous names, the big break didn't come along, at least in those early times.  Like his pal David Bowie, whom he influenced, he had a string of singles and albums that never caught on.  And that's where this massive set begins.

Harvey actually got a recording deal out of his Hamburg residencies, back in 1963, when he was belting out classic early rock, songs such as Framed by Leiber and Stoller, a hit for The Robins and Richie Valens.  Harvey was hardly a conventional singer.  First, he had a rough voice, good for belting but prone to wildness.  Second, he had a great big Glaswegian accent that made some lines undecipherable.  Third, he was as much a showman as singer, putting together all his influences from trad jazz to skiffle to r'n'b to rock 'n' roll to the pub work into a scorching stage presence, helped along by his street-tough upbringing in Glasgow's roughest area.  He was by most accounts one of the very best of his time, but was always the opener, never the star.

There are lots of fine moments during his '60's output, as he tried out various sounds and changed with the times.  A full-on acoustic blues album is included here, just Alex and his younger brother Les, doing classic Lead Belly numbers and the like.  It's a fine showcase of Les's early talents, and he went on to Stone the Crows, an up-and-coming band in the early '70's, but tragically Les was electrocuted on stage.  Alex sounded good in this vein for the most part, but had a tendency to screech off-key at the loudest moments.  Again, it probably went down great live.  There are a full six CD's of 1960's material before he formed his eponymous band.

By the days of flower power, Harvey had still not broken through, and accepted a working wage in theatre, joining the pit band of the new musical, Hair, as the guitar player.  Hardly a starring role, but he loved it and the environment, further increasing his theatrical influences.  Finally, some old bookers from the Scottish scene sought him out, and coaxed him back into the game, believing the mighty singer would work great in the new decade.  After a misstep with one band (including an unknown Mike Oldfield), Harvey was hooked up with some new, much younger Scottish hotshots, and the Sensational Alex Harvey Band was born.

Harvey had been putting away ideas and songs for years, waiting for such a moment, and the right band.  He had some originals, as well as some of his old repertoire, and the first SAHB album was called Framed, after that very same early rock hit he was still covering with passion.  But now, he and the band exploded onto the scene, now Harvey fronting a hard rock band with great players, including a lead guitar guy who appeared in creepy mime makeup. It was a show, along the same lines as Alice Cooper, without the snakes or too many props.  Harvey had kept his working class roots all along, and his songs reflected that at a time when rock stars were getting pretty aloof.  So his fans were coming out to celebrate their culture, one of their own.

Harvey invented a series of characters and stories, in line with his interest in comic books, such as Vambo (eerily similar to Rambo).  Often these story-songs were the highlight of live shows and albums, although never a full concept such as Ziggy or Tommy.  But the albums were never quite up to what the band could do on stage, and that was finally captured in 1975's Live album, which became their most popular.  It was also where the cover of the Tom Jones hit Delilah came from, sort of a soccer crowd singalong version that became the single-biggest moment in Harvey's career.  The group was on the cusp of punk, but had too much talent and showbiz for it, although they were certainly admired by that crowd.

After Delilah, the group did an album of mostly covers, looking for that further connection, and then quickly fizzled out like many others, swept under by changing musical times.  Harvey worked solo for a bit, trying to find a new group worthy of his leadership, but nothing gelled.  He was making a new attempt when he died of a heart attack in 1982, aged 46.

Many of these albums have been out-of-print, or unavailable on CD, and lots of cuts, especially the live material, were unreleased before.  It's not an entirely complete set of Harvey's work, but really there's only some judicious editing to later solo work and the like, and only a taste of the odd Alex Harvey Presents The Loch Ness Monster, where he and family members interviewed residents of the famous Scottish lake about their encounters with the beast, an album done for K-Tel.  The hardcover book is well-done, with a lengthy history and lots of photos, especially some good casual stuff rather than the standard press photos.  So, back to the original question; it's the kind of thing you might pick up hoping to like, and find yourself drawn into the story.  Truthfully, it's a better story than a career, but there was some pretty adventurous stuff going on at the start and middle of SAHB, and you may even join the cult.  You might want to stream a few tunes before the big investment, however.

Saturday, April 23, 2016


Buckley's mother, Mary Guilbert, has been pretty selective with what she has allowed out of the vaults for posthumous releases, trying hard to keep the integrity of his work intact, while the demand for more has been pretty strong. In the liner notes here, she explains that there is a ton of stuff in the archives, but much of it is of dubious quality, simply the nature of the young artist recording everything for posterity. Since his short career featured only pretty much amazing material, it's tricky to put out anything but that.

This batch of recordings comes from the time just after Buckley had been signed to Columbia Records, when he was the toast of New York, doing solo shows in cafés full of remarkable cover versions as well as a few of his own numbers. That was when he was introduced to the rest of the world with the Live at the Sin-é EP in 1993. To start the recording process, he went into a demo studio and laid down a bunch of his many covers and a couple of originals, just him and the guitar, same way he did his shows.

Famously Live at Sin-é featured a ten-minute cover of Van Morrison's The Way Young Lovers Do, and as future releases showed, Buckley had not only impeccable taste, but a way to reinterpret the great masters that made them his own. Here, he takes on Dylan (Just Like A Woman), Sly and the Family Stone (Everyday People), Zeppelin (Night Flight) and most surprisingly, a couple of Smiths tracks, including The Boy With the Thorn in his Side. Best here was the Led Zep, Buckley showing off his vocal chops, soaring higher, purer than Plant could, while plus cooking on guitar, making it a funky adventure.

There's something missing from these performances compared to the café ones with the live audience. The spark isn't all there, on some cuts he's not going for it as he did when trying to impress the small crowds, such as the Sly Stone number. A version of his own Grace, soon to be the title cut of his debut album, does impress in this stripped-down manner, and the passion in his recording of I Know It's Over by The Smiths is quite something. While Buckley may never have envisioned these seeing the light of day, I think his mother made the right choice, they increase my appreciation as a fan.

Thursday, April 21, 2016


Terence Jack shouldn't have much trouble being on the road through the East Coast over the next few days. After all, he spent the last decade running his own travel company that specialized in exotic places and trips. I guess it's only fitting the alt-tourist guy also specializes in alt-folk.

After a debut album in 2015, the Vancouver-based Jack is back with a generous E.P., six cuts, called Never Get Back. The big surprise is how much he rocks, with some pretty big sounds, production and lots of his electric guitar, including lap steel. The cut She Flies Down South is a great wash of pounding drums, massed vocals and soaring moments that would make Arcade Fire happy. The title cut is a more mellow affair, but equally lush, with a dreamy collage of strums and keys. It reminds me of some great waves crashing the coastline of an exotic locale. I'm guessing he's probably seen that.

The lyrics are pretty interesting as well, a certain spirituality, and searching themes. The core of these melodic numbers should easily translate to a more stripped-down concert setting as well, so this looks to be an interesting show to catch. Jack will be at these Maritime tour stops:

April 25 - Plan B, Moncton
April 26 - Baba's Lounge, Charlottetown
April 27 - The Carleton, Halifax
April 28 - Hollywood Star Room, Ripples, N.B.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016


Hawthorne's certainly no Marvin-come-lately to the retro-soul scene, four albums into a career that goes back to 2008. No wonder he does it so well; Hawthorne started out as a DJ making his own soul cuts so he wouldn't have to pay sampling royalties.

These days he sounds mostly like a Philadelphia soulster, smooth and a bit more modern than your Daptone Records folks, no horns and a bit of dance. Lingerie and Candlewax is all Billy Paul sexy with a William DeVaughn groove. The Valley is production-smart, a little bit of Was (Not Was) and Steely Dan winking in the story-telling.

Hawthorne's a sponge, and knows how to fit anything in to pump up the groove. Fancy Clothes is reggae-soul, and Love Like That has some old-fashioned disco moves. Often Hawthorne builds up the tracks from his old-school drum machine, a giving the tunes a cool combo of some stripped-back moments, in the middle of lushness. He's even turned into a pretty good crooner, not bad for one Andrew Cohen, from Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016


The 40th anniversary edition of an album that came out in 1971. Wait a minute, I'm no math wiz, but I'm counting 45 here. Aha, check the fine print. It's actually the 40th anniversary ABRIDGED edition. See, this came out as a deluxe box back in 2011, with four discs and a vinyl album and cost a ton. Now, it's been repackaged (sans vinyl) in the smaller box used for the rest of the very strong ongoing Tull reissue series, so you can afford to get all the nice bonuses and comprehensive book.

I've written about these reissues before, but to remind you, they are the bees knees, for both Tullists and those with a reasonable interest (me) who wants to explore further. Featuring tremendous sonic upgrades, multiple mixes on two DVD's, and full bonus discs of high-quality material, plus about 10,000 words in various essay, these things are a steal at $36.

Aqualung is arguably Tull's best, although there are many votes for Thick as a Brick, with Benefit having its share of fans too. It has everything Tull did well, from hard rockers to acoustic interludes, big-thinking lyrics and memorable characters. It's also the group's flutiest album, which is good or bad depending on your belief system. I'm certainly okay with it, nobody blows like Ian Anderson, and indeed, nobody really tried, he pretty much had that market covered save for Ron Burgundy.

Anderson has fought long and hard to get the idea that this was a concept record erased from the official record, but it's easy to see why people thought that. It has a lot of songs attacking organized religion, or at least questioning it. There are also character-driven numbers about the unfortunate and ugly in the world (Aqualung, Cross-eyed Mary the schoolgirl prostitute), and it could be argued these once again assailed an unfeeling, or maybe non-existent god. Yet Anderson said they were just a bunch of tunes on one album. His response was to give the people what they wanted the next time, writing an over-the-top concept piece, the 40-minute farce Thick as a Brick.

No matter what you call the album, it works because the songs are so dynamic, including the monster Hymn 43, the delicate Wond'ring Aloud, and the guitar-riff nastiness of the title cut. No wonder it broke the band in North America, and set them up as one of the top selling and touring acts of the 1970's.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016


When someone has spent five years between albums, you assume the worst; burned out, uninspired, on drugs, frustrated with the music business, writer's block, huge fights with record label/bandmates/spouse, these are just some of the regular reasons. So it's a rare thing indeed when someone like Potvin spends the five years actually growing, and working on their craft, in preparation for the next release.

No, she wasn't just practicing guitar and polishing lyrics. Potvin worked in a recording studio, and took proper courses in engineering. Wow, education! That's pretty sensible. Of course, when all that was happening, she picked up lots of inspiration for making her own records, and kept her radar on for her next batch of writing.

Potvin has changed and grown dramatically since her first recordings, when she quickly became known as one of the young, bright lights of blues. But with 2011's Play, she ventured into power pop with the help of producer Steve Dawson, with lots of playful moments, funky feel, and a surprise with a cover of Right Said Fred's I'm Too Sexy.

For Dreaming sees an entirely new feel, this time with the exuberance tempered for intimacy. although still in the pop vein. This is an album that could only be made in Montreal, with its instrumental experimentation and quirky outlook. Potvin's new production knowledge brings in lots of interesting sound combinations, lots of beautiful moments, and a warmth from her lead and backing vocals.

Her lyrics are just as dynamic, and singular. Prairie Sunrise is a stunning track, Potvin describing a trip by train that served to open her eyes to how closed she had become, compared to the wide-open vistas. Figuring It Out points a finger at someone who can't get their shit together: "Have you figured out your ex/have you figured out dependence/Have you figured out the times you've been rejected/How long are you gonna spend/Figuring it out."

The intimacy of the recording matches the closeness examined in the lyrics, whether its between a couple, or in solitude, the closeness with your thoughts being alone. The beauty, well, that's the sound of somebody who has learned how to make the sounds in her heart come alive.

Monday, April 11, 2016


Dawson follows up the widely-acclaimed 2014 album Rattlesnake Cage pretty quickly by switching gears. That last album was all-acoustic and all-instrumental, showing his wild guitar skills. This time out, everything rootsy-bluesy is on the table, the singing is back, so is the band, and they trot out plenty of electric instruments when needed.

Just to show the difference, Dawson starts off the disc with a big soul number, Loose Ends, which sounds like Bill Withers fronting Little Feat. But that's just one trick for the multi-influenced performer/producer. California Saviour sees him back on acoustic, but with some pretty nifty accompaniment, including a ghostly pedal steel, on a track that could have been on those Wilco/Billy Bragg/Woody Guthrie albums. Over 14 cuts, we get about 14 different styles.

The chief weapon here is the killer band, and the fact they can handle all the curves Dawson guides them through. He has the Blackie and the Rodeo Kings rhythm section of John Dymond and Gary Craig on bass and drums, pretty much roots A-list on either side of the border now. On Top Of The World features fiddler Fats Kaplan from Jack White's outfits, who also adds viola, mandolin and accordion when called on. Keyboard man Kevin McKendree was Delbert McClinton's band leader, and shines on several tracks. Plus there are gospel flavours added from backing vocals by the McCrary Sisters, and complimentary harmonies from Keri Latimer.

Dawson's back in soul mode on Final Words, with some stinging electric slide, and some smooth horns. But all you really need to hear to know that Dawson is an awesome player is the old number Riley's Henhouse Door. Picking and sliding his way through the fun barnyard farce, Dawson proves he's a modern master, understanding how the music got from then to now, and that he can handle it all.

Sunday, April 10, 2016


The crimes of Ike Turner were well-documented later in life by Tina Turner, and he went to his grave vilified. It has put people in the awkward position of not feeling good about buying music with his name attached. I guess the best way to deal with this is to consider it's a lot more about Tina than Ike, and as much as people admire her comeback days, the real killer performances come from the '70's and before.

These single Icon sets aren't meant to be definitive, just introductory collections. They stick to the greatest hits, which cuts to the chase, 11 incendiary vocals from Tina (and oh ya, production and ideas from Ike). Proud Mary is the most famous, with unbelievable energy. There are more covers that rival, and in some cases, surpass the originals, including a charged Come Together, and nastier version of Sly Stone's I Want To Take You Higher.

Because the covers provided the most hits, there isn't enough room for their own songwriting to be fully represented, but the duo's first hit, the Ike-penned 1960 cut A Fool In Love shows how even the young Anna Mae Bullock had the goods. Never a prolific writer, Tina did however come up with a true gem in the autobiographical Nutbush City Limits, hometown pride shining through.

But the very best song features just Tina in everything but name only. Ike doesn't appear on the monumental River Deep-Mountain High, except it was still credited to Ike and Tina. Instead, the producer and co-writer was someone even more notorious than Ike, Phil Spector, who had decided Tina was the perfect singer for his wall of sound, and that he had the perfect hit single. Instead, it was a complete stiff in America, reaching only #88, although it was a smash in England. Spector was so devastated, he quit music for two years. Now it's considered a landmark song, and of course, features one of the greatest vocals ever recorded.

Friday, April 8, 2016


It's no secret there's magic when family sings together, and here's more proof of that. The siblings bring out the best in each other, plus sound relaxed and fully enjoying the experience. That they waited to make the duo album makes the experience that much more special.

Before hearing the album, I probably would have had a hard time imagining what it might sound like, as the two have had somewhat different career paths. But now that the 11 cuts are here, it makes perfect sense, and is a fine mix of what they do, and what their common loves are.

The Barbers decided they wouldn't take this lightly, and instead each wrote new material for the set, plus they spent part of last year touring, and will again this summer. There's a lot of heart and sentiment in the originals, and that fits the family theme. Her One True Love is about fighting for that great love, to show what you're made of ("Your one true love, if you believe in that sort of thing, like I do"). His touching Grandpa Joe traces a family member and the mark he left, while realizing how much the next generations don't know about his life.

The covers chosen match those family themes, and keep an acoustic/folk vibe going. Don Williams' If I Needed You is handled gently, with calm harmonies, almost like a Christmas song. Neil Young's Comes A Time is also taken at about half-speed, a lovely version with piano, fiddle and mandolin, plus the Barber shop vocals.

The great surprise here is how deep the pair went for more inspired covers. The largely unheralded Bobby Charles (See You Later, Alligator) has his sleepy Southern theme I Must Be In A Good Place Now turned into a grand, close-harmony version. Even more obscure is a Gene MacLellan number, Song To A Young Seagull, here with bluegrass vibes. And Ian Tyson's Summer Wages isn't heard much these days, another smart choice.

This could have been a bunch of old favourite songs and obvious choices, made over a weekend, but the care and commitment really stands out, and I think it's the secret to why the album works so very well.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016


Not all singer-songwriters have to be mellow about it, and Cash lets his Dogs loose on this set of guitar rockers. Smart lyrics a big, joyous sound to play along with, with most songs coming in at a concise, three to four minute range, sounding like an album full of singles.

Producer Ian Blurton does a stellar job on the mix, with a great big bass sound up front, lots of crunch, and great, vintage 70's/80's ambiance. The band has put together some intricate and explosive mixes, lots of imaginative tricks and fun moments that make each song a joy to follow. Those are the moments that make an album memorable, where you can't wait to play it again, to hear that little bit in one place, a favourite moment on the next, and the next.

There's the na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na lead-in vocals on You Can't Hurt Me; the elongated closing freak-out on Radio Waves; the powerful, punching bridge in That Was The Summer, so catchy a rocker that I just can't wait for June to make it this summer's theme song. Cash has already proven himself a strong writer, but on his third album and second with the Romantic Dogs, the bunch of them have made a great band album.

Monday, April 4, 2016


Oh Willie, you old softie.  Maybe all that dope has gone to your head over the years, but you sure are a sentimental one. After all, you did the original retro-crooner album, Stardust, back in '78, way before Buble, Rod and all the smoothies.  Wouldn't you know that craggy voice was just perfect for the classic songbook numbers.  He even did a Gershwin tune back then, Someone To Watch Over Me.

Some 38 years later, everybody and Garfunkel has had their shot at those standards, but Willie still likes them enough to do this full album of George and Ira. He's still the best, too. Phrasing, baby. The very best, from Bing to Bob Dylan, win with phrasing over pitch, every time. These 90-year old artifacts still sound contemporary because of the way Willie sings them, which lets the brilliance of the melody and lyrics come through.

Having grown up with these songs, Nelson sounds natural with even the toughest of Gershwin rhymes, those in that scandalous skeptic's tune, It Ain't Necessarily So, which debates the bigger fish stories in the Bible. Only Willie could today pull off the rhyme scheme "Oh Jonah, he lived in the whale/Oh Jonah, he lived in the whale/For he made his home in/That fish's abdomen/Oh Jonah, he lived in the whale."

Now, Sinatra, he was a great Gershwin interpreter for sure, as well as Ella and a few other fellas. But for a modern sound, Willie will do, won't he?

Sunday, April 3, 2016


Lynn's last album, the Jack White-produced Van Lear Rose in 2004, was a big hit for her, introducing her to a new generation of rock fans, so you would have thought she would have followed that up right away. But instead, the past decade she's been doing occasional sessions with her daughter Patsy Lynn Russell and Johnny and June's kid, John Carter Cash, producing in the House of Cash cabin studio. Over time, these recordings became a kind of musical autobiography, as Lynn went back to some of her old songs, as well as mountain music that influenced her career. As well, she wrote some new ones, and found more current covers. She's revealed these 13 cuts are part of at least 100 recorded, with the next album's songs already chosen.

Bring it on. Full Circle sees Lynn sounding as great as she ever has, her voice full and inspiring at 83. The kids, Cash and Russell, have recorded in her a spare manner; not the bare minimum of many of the Rick Rubin sessions with Johnny Cash, but rather the sound of acoustic music of earlier country days. The old Carter Family favourite, Black Jack David, is just guitars, bass, mandolin and vocals, and Lynn is clearly in her element. The most produced cuts add a little electric guitar and pedal steel, but still retain the acoustic bed.

Everybody Wants To Go To Heaven ("but nobody wants to die") is a remake of the song she wrote and recorded in 1965, but sounds better than ever now, with piano and a bluegrass-gospel feel. Her update of the classic hit Fist City doesn't have the disarming chipper feel of the controversial original, but still packs a punch (sorry) in the less-produced style.

Lynn's picked out a few favourite cuts as well, including a version of T. Graham Brown's 90's cut Wine Into Water, a great lyric which she makes her own. As she's always done, Lynn sings about important issues in her life, knowing they are something her fans understand as well. In this case, it's about dealing with the effects of alcoholism on a family, and as she's written about before, she saw that first-hand with her late husband, Mooney. Lynn's fans have always known she sings the truth, no matter how much it hurt.

There are a couple of celebrity cameos, one from Willie Nelson, a duet on Lay Me Down, plus a humble turn from Elvis Costello, singing the backing vocals on another new Lynn cut, Everything It Takes. If the rest of the hundred cuts in the can match these, it's going to be a joy.