Tuesday, May 31, 2016


"And if you should survive to a hundred and five," croons Dylan, sounding every day that age. Yes, he's just 75, but he sounded 50 when he was 20, so the math adds up. Here we go with part two of his Sinatra phase, another album of Frank-inspired songbook numbers, following last year's Shadows in the Night. The difference here is the mostly leaner arrangements, the sweetening coming from pedal steel or viola. As usual, his crack band is subtle and tight, everybody locked into surprising groove they find for these classics.

The accepted word on croaky old Dylan is that it's his mastery of mood and phrasing, and I'm willing to buy into that. But I'll give you another reason as to why this is fun at least: It's charming. It's not the usual, Rod Stewart-Buble-Natalie Cole take on the standards. Instead, Dylan finds the roots in the music, the legitimacy of the songwriting. He's still a cranky guy, letting us know he thinks this is the real stuff, not that crap all the kids and reviewers are praising these days. And while he might struggle to make that key change in All The Way, by including it he's telling us this is how you arrange a real song,

He's a good curator of the songs, including many more obscure ones. Hearing him sing about Polka Dots and Moonbeams will induce a big smile. The more familiar numbers are sentimental favourites, such as Young At Heart, It Had To Be You and All Or Nothing At All. There are perhaps a few too many in that vein, and some of the best numbers have a little more movement to them, such as That Old Black Magic and Skylark, which liven things up a bit. But he's still committed to these songs, working hard on them, singing several on his recent tour of Japan, part of a big, 21-song show, much longer than he's done for several years. It's always good to see Dylan inspired by a project, and who knows, maybe he has some lyrics of his own ready for the next one.

Saturday, May 28, 2016


Our beloved Skydiggers, no slouches in the songwriting department, throw us a curve ball with their latest, a collection of songs written by the most enigmatic Byrd, Gene Clark. In a band with big personalities (Roger McGuinn, David Crosby), and big hits written by Dylan, in the first couple of years of the group Clark's songwriting still managed to stand out. His pop/folk melodies partially obscured a sadness and sophistication in his lyrics, and his standing seems to increase every year. Even though he quit the band just a couple of years into their run, and languished in relative obscurity until his untimely death in 1991, he was probably the best songwriter The Byrds produced.

The Skydiggers go for stripped down and emotional arrangements of the eight Clark-penned tunes here. For the most part it's Andy Maize singing lead, Josh Finlayson on ukulele and guitar, and Jessy Bell Smith on harmonies, who has been elevated to full band member status. They are ably helped by producer Michael Timmins, sound doctor Joshua Van Tassel on moody "sonics", and the occasional extra guitar and such, but basically it's an acoustic-plus-vocals album, Maize and Smith a moody pair.

The sparer arrangements let us focus on the advanced wordplay Clark was fitting in these songs, especially for 1965-66. Since the songs sat side-by-side with Dylan numbers, they didn't get all the attention deserved then, or now really. Tom Petty covering Feel A Whole Lot Better helped for sure, and we get that cut here without the bounce, pretty sophisticated for the time as a break-up song with the deal-breaker going unmentioned: "The reason why oh I can't say." She Don't Care About Time is another deceptively simple tune, seemingly kid-friendly ('don't' instead of the proper 'doesn't'), but its main theme worthy of the aforementioned Dylan: "And she'll always be there, my love don't care about time."

By not going all jingle-jangle on these cuts, especially the most familiar (8 Miles High), The Skydiggers also play to their best strengths. Andy Maize has an ability to draw us in, entrance us, and hold us on every word. The group has found and highlighted the mysterious blue in Clark's music.

Friday, May 27, 2016


Here's the soundtrack from the new biography of Joplin, as seen on PBS, by filmmaker Amy Berg (West of Memphis). It was a successful but sad look, her problems with drugs overshadowing her accomplishments and talents. But it's important to remember her breakthroughs as a female performer and as an outsider in a conservative world. Oh, and all the tunes too.

The soundtrack is not a greatest hits, but rather a set largely made up of greatest live performances. The film concentrates on stage footage, where she was most accomplished, so we get lots of her show-stoppers, as well as a few studio tracks. There's not much new stuff; the Joplin vaults have been picked through pretty thoroughly, so there's just one track making its debut, a 1968 live version of Piece of my Heart. But you'd have to be a big collector to have all the others, as they come from a wide variety of sources, including box sets, expanded editions of albums, live collections, posthumous obscure releases and even a previous film, Janis, made in Canada in 1974,

Along the way, we get to hear her at the shows that made her famous; Monteray, Woodstock, the Festival Express train tour in Canada. Some of the nights are better than others, depending on her state, and whatever band she had. Big Brother was always energetic, but often notoriously sloppy, and that's shown here on those early tracks in her career. But Joplin almost always rose above it with her powerful, impassioned vocals. Every bit of the joy and the sadness and the blues of her life was on display when she sang, and this set of 17 performances captures that as well as any of her collections.

Thursday, May 26, 2016


The fab Roxanne Potvin is in my neck of the woods right now, playing a festival and some other dates,  She just released her newest, For Dreaming, a couple of months back, which I glowingly reviewed, but wanted to point out the show dates as well.  It seemed like a good way to put the review up again, not write anything new and slack off watching the Mets game.  Except they aren't playing tonight I just found out, so I'm taking Netflix suggestions, or possibly listening to the new Dylan or Skydiggers.  Anyway, those reviews later but really, you should go see Roxanne play too.

Friday, May 27 she's doing a second night in Fredericton at the new Living Roots Music Festival, at the Cinnamon Cafe at 8:30.  Here are the other Maritime shows,

  • Saturday, May 28 - Creek View Restaurant, Gagetown, NB
  • Sunday, May 29 - Barnone Brewery, Rose Valley, PEI
  • Tuesday, May 31 - Baba's Lounge, Charlottetown
  • Wednesday, June 1 - Company House, Halifax
  • Thursday, June 2 - Plan B, Moncton, NB
  • Friday, June 3 - The Port Grocer, Port Medway, NS
  • Saturday, June 4 - Patchworks house concerts, Bedford, NB
  • Sunday, June 5 - Lift the Wind concert series, St. Margarets Bay, NS

Now, that review from back in early April:

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.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016


Bit of a mystery man, this Tannenbaum. For years, I've seen his name gracing projects by The McGarrigle Sisters, Loudon Wainwright III and that whole extended family. A multi-instrumentalist and harmony singer, I assumed he was some kind of master musician Kate or Anna had found squirreled away in a folk club, and drafted into their employ.

Part of that was true, and it turns out he was a teenage friend of Kate's, but music wasn't his main job, he was actually teaching philosophy at Dawson College in Montreal, specializing in logic, that ridiculous math-philosophy hybrid that brought about my demise is second year. If "A" then "B", that's all I remember. You need a brain much bigger than ... well, mine, for instance.

Anyway, was Tannenbaum a musical hobbyist with some cool, connected friends? Hardly. Not only was he a killer player, he was often the subtle third voice making the magical blend with the Sisters, and a fellow traveler in the world of real folk music, recognizing the beauty in old-time melodies, and the importance of continuing traditions, plus making it all modern too.

In all this time, he stayed at the back, almost nameless, until being convinced to make this debut album. And what a joy it is, helping to fill a bit of the hole left after the death of Kate McGarrigle. A mixture of traditional songs and his own, Tannenbaum plays the same kind of parlour folk as his famed friends, with such a warm, lived-in voice. He sounds a bit like Pete Seeger, with a bit of Wainwright thrown in at times, a lovely, wordy, conversational delivery. Not big-philosophy worthy though, just a lot of good ones, with great stories.

He knows his old blues for sure, able to call out numbers by Sweet Papa Stovepipe and Peg Leg Howell, names so classic I was worried they might be made up (they aren't, I Googled.) Ain't No More Cane on the Brazos, that I know from The Basement Tapes, but Tannenbaum and crew are less rough-hewn than Dylan and The Band. Here he's helped out, as on other tracks by pals Wainwright and the venerable stringman David Mansfield.

There's old-time Gospel here too, with a good approximation of Salvation Army backing, with tuba, bass drum and cymbals. The gentle wheeze of keys is a sound featured throughout as well, whether accordion or harmonium, again helping establish that parlour mood.

It would all be great and charming and worthy, but it turns out that Tannenbaum is also a songwriter of distinction, with a singular style that defies comparison. There are three grand examples here that dominate the second half of the album. They each feature a narrator, telling an important life story, as if we're sitting listening to a stranger laying out his melancholy tale in a down-and-out bar. London, Longing For Home sees an ex-pat stuck in that huge city a few decades back, telling those of us listening just how awful Jolly Old England really is, despising that warm beer and the entire neighbourhoods of poverty nobody sings about. Brooklyn 1955 is a classic baseball story, that of the much-loved Dodgers before they moved to Los Angeles, and as a huge ball fan, I can tell you this is the Field of Dreams of baseball songs. Lastly comes Belfast Louis Falls In Love, more of a shaggy dog character this time, and the story the protagonist tells is full of curves and hills as its unravels over its eight minutes, with rich phrases such as "There are men who think the future is all bicycles and ice cream." The poet-philosopher, then.

There are so many cultural touchstones here, geographically and musically, as Tannenbaum takes us from the Deep South to Appalachia to the continent, from antebellum periods and Stephen Foster melodies and light-hearted Broadway tunes. Too often an album like this will be tossed a nice compliment and called roots and folk music, but we're talking decades and centuries and multiple countries and connecting cultures here, plus Tannenbaum's own wonderful, unique creations. That's so much to enjoy and discover, all done within the context of his own musical stamp. There's a bit more here than, say, an album of dubstep, or whatever.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016


There's a little bit of everything St. James can do here, as she continues to broaden her sound past rockabilly. We still get some fiery, uptempo stuff in that vein, but there's more classic country sounds now, although still coming straight out of that fertile late-50s and early-60's period. This lets us hear her more of her writing and singing talents and gives the hot players behind her more freedom as well.

Honeymoon Stage is a sadcore ballad, Patsy-powered, a charmer if you're so inClined. Here Ginger takes the on the wedding bell blues, but with updated lyrics and reality check for those lovebirds who get the blinders taken off their eyes. Somebody Shot Me is a film noir script, St. James putting the fatal in femme fatale. Best of Me and You is more trouble, this twang-filled number about a couple like ''fire and gasoline." Hair of the Blackdog just rips it, rockabilly meets Zeppelin, no joke.

While showing all these sides, St. James still has time to show off her secret weapon too, giving guitar ripper SnowHeel Slim his own instrumental number among the nine tracks. And there's even a little bit of beauty at the end, Merry Go Round a touching number that's about small-town life changing, the horses rusted and abandoned on the ride. With each release, the Hamilton singer gets more impressive.

Monday, May 23, 2016


What did I do in the last four years? Umm, watched a lot of baseball, became addicted to Netflix, and of major note, switched from Raisin Bran for breakfast to a fruit-and-kale smoothie. Lost no weight.

While you're all going, "Woah, better pace yourself there buddy," that's nothing compared to Halifax's Dana Beeler. When we last heard from her back in 2012 with her debut, The Long Goodbye, she was a singer-songwriter doing alt-country, rural, bluegrass-flavoured songs, befitting her small-town Nova Scotia upbringing, in a family of musicians. But travelling a bit of a rocky road after that release (lousy relationships and such), and widening her experiences, she's come out swinging again with a whole new sound, and even a new name. Hello Delaware she calls the band she leads and the music she's made, with the first single now out, I Never Asked.

There's video about of the band, edgy and tough, with lots of guitar, positively shock and awe compared to what she used to do. The studio single is less raw, but pretty powerful still, with Daniel Ledwell's production letting her voice shine through, but still lots of loud chords in there. It's a good rockin' single with a touch of regret, and some of those lessons-learned lyrics up front. A good taste of what's to come, from the new album due in September.

Meanwhile, Hello Delaware is on the road promoting the single on the East Coast. You'll find them here:

Wednesday, May 25 - Trailside Inn & Cafe, Mount Stewart, P.E.I.
Thursday, May 26 - The Company House, Halifax
Friday, May 27 - Red Herring Pub, St. Andrews, N.B.
Saturday, May 28 - Living Roots Festival, Fredericton

Sunday, May 22, 2016


Here we have the exciting debut album of a group from Jamaica. The Wailers are comprised of Peter McIntosh, Neville Livingston and Robert Marley, who have already had several island hits produced by by Coxsone Dodd and released on his Studio One imprint. We're predicting more big things for this group in 1965!

Of course, this was years before Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer hit the big time, just before reggae too, while ska still ruled, and the sound was much rawer, The recording facilities were pretty limited, but not the playing, singing and spirit though. Here we find the original versions of Simmer Down and One Love, with more bounce before the cooler reggae style came in, but no less inspiring.

The big deal here is this is the first time the original album has come out on CD, with the right track listing, cover and no overdubs. Marley music has been repackaged so much, that's a find in itself, even if this was essentially a repackage of a bunch of one-off 45's in the first place. But there's a great charm to the tracks, even if the fidelity leaves a lot to be desired on several songs. Hearing how all the American soul and Top 40 hits were integrated into Jamaican music is half the fun, with some obvious influences. The styles ranged from the sophistication of Livingston's When Your Well Runs Dry, with its soul harmonies, to the cover of What's New, Pussycat to the doo-wop of Ten Commandments of Love. Behind it all were the great musicians of Jamaica, shining through even the muddiest of productions. Some of us think the '60's were a better period than the '70's for the country's music, and Marley's for that matter.

Saturday, May 21, 2016


Hard to pinpoint a big difference now between Mudcrutch and The Heartbreakers, except a couple of different players, and a bit more of a democracy in the former. Tom Petty steps back a little in Mudcrutch, allowing each other member to write and sing one of their own numbers on the album. Also, things are a little more relaxed as well, with the band having nothing to prove except they still like doing what they set out to do back in the early '70s.

With that freedom understood, the group is free to make your basic rock album, and no worries about radio, hype, etc. Of course, that's exactly what was needed, especially for Heartbreakers Petty, Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench, now able to repeat the old stuff rather than break new ground or come up with a different kind of hit. Petty does a acoustic track, I Forgive It All, in a folk style so simple and nice, he'd be accused of coasting on his own albums, but here it's your basic, strong number. Beautiful Blue is a classic Petty pop number, and would have fit on Full Moon Fever, an instant favourite. Hope is all 60s garage guitar and organ, which is just what you want.

While Petty dominates the album, as well he should, the others chime in with solid works. Drummer Randall Marsh offers up a cool power pop number, Beautiful World, with a bit of new wave influence. Tom Leadon brings the country, always his job in the group, with The Other Side of the Mountain. Benmont Tench gets quirky with Welcome To Hell, actually a great lyric worthy of Petty himself. Campbell's Victim Of Circumstance rocks the hardest, some 50s moments and more guitar. None of others are the best vocalists, but having Tom around for back-up gives it a suitable boost. If Petty said this was his band from now on, I'd have no problem with that.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016


No need to check Wikipedia to find out who this Roy Black is, and what makes him a legend. You'll find no bio, he's actually a friend of Swift's who he greatly admires, but other than that, you'll get no info. You'll have to glean how he earned the legendary status from the themes explored by Swift on his latest, as usual one rich in explorations of humanity and honesty, in small but still heroic terms.

Swift's created a song cycle that doesn't have an obvious plot to it, but does explore how strength of character has great rewards. Whether its friendship, loyalty, integrity or just plain goodness, what goes around often comes around. In Swift's lyrics, keeping it simple, and being respectful lead to personal rewards, not big ones but life ones. He chooses a wise cover to end in on, the great hit for Porter Wagoner, A Satisfied Mind, the answer to the question, "Who is the richest man in the world?"

The music side continues to be a great strength of Swift's, as he put together a tight unit for the set. Joining him are his long-time partner in the band Hot Toddy, Tom Easley on acoustic bass. Asa Brosius sweetens things with pedal steel and dobro, and the great J.P. Cormier adds perfection on mandolin, violin and banjo. Swift puts his resonator to fine use throughout, including two instrumentals where the ensemble gets to shine on some rambling, woodsy music.

The album doesn't officially come out until June 3, but you'll be able to pick one up at shows before then, including this weekend at St. Andrews' Paddlefest, where he'll be performing a rare reunion show with Hot Toddy Saturday, as well as taking part in the Songwriter's Circle Sunday. After that, the album launch shows begin, starting with Casino Nova Scotia in Halifax on June 11.

Monday, May 16, 2016


The Bowie floodgates remain open, with another '70's favourite reissued on vinyl. This was a big one back in the day for us fans, as you could finally get the obscure (for Canada/U.S.) John, I'm Only Dancing single, a hit in England. Plus, the darn thing was straight thru classic after classic, from Space Oddity to Golden Years, with the requisite time with Ziggy Stardust along the way. Later best-of's and boxed sets are bloated with the many failed experiments or jaded returns to pop hit-making that exist throughout Bowie's career, but this stuff is the bomb, and a thrilling listen always.

So, what about that old pressing you still have? Well, I have mine, anyway. And I can tell you this beats it hands-down, thanks to the most recent mixes, and the heavyweight vinyl. The off-mic echo on Rebel Rebel is more pronounced, which makes the vocal sound so different on that track. There are guitar parts I've not noticed before on Diamond Dogs. The grooves certainly seem to hold more information and allow for more clarity. The old 1970's RCA pressing was so thin you could see through it. This one? Well, you can see through it too, but that's because it's clear vinyl. Apparently some are clear, some black, you don't know until you open them up, I got lucky with mine. Anyway, I'm selling my original copy and keeping this, if anybody's looking...

Saturday, May 14, 2016


Sixteen years after his breakthrough solo album was released, it's still the one Ryan Adams is best-known for, unless you count the Taylor Swift covers. With music being released fast and furious since, I don't think it's so much a question of him not matching that favourite, but rather too much of a good thing, and some of the better moments getting lost in the flood. However, you can't deny this is still one heck of an album, and now made better with a disc of bonus cuts and a DVD of a period solo show.

Most bonus discs of demos and out-takes present them as single cuts; here Adams lets us into the actual sessions themselves, by letting us hear the tapes rolling. First there's a casual version of The Smiths' Hairdresser On Fire, which spawned the famous opening cut on Heartbreaker, the argument with Dave Rawlings about Morrissey. Then we hear as Adams, Rawlings, Gillian Welch and producer/drummer Ethan Johns plug away at the cuts, learning and recording. This includes learning takes of some of album material (Come Pick Me Up, Sweet Carolina), and songs that wouldn't make the final list. This includes Petal In A Rainstorm, which showed up a decade later on a flexi-disc, When The Rope Gets Tight, which got changed to Don't Fail Me Now for the Jacksonville City Nights album, and even a punk jam when they get bored. Guest Emmylou Harris shows up, and we hear her learning the harmonies to Oh My Sweet Caroline. This alternate, laid-back version of the album is as enjoyable as the original.

Also featured are nine actual demos, down before the recording sessions, and again, new-to-us tracks appear, including the previously-unheard Locked Away, War Horse, and more band-oriented versions of tracks for Heartbreaker before the Johns, Rawlings and Welch acoustic-based album came together.

The DVD features a solo show at New York's Mercury Lounge a month after the album came out. While it's below-pro level, just one camera, it's watchable and the audio is great. Adams is still fully-invested in the material, and in some cases, the songs are more powerful solo, including the best AMY I've heard. It also features the debut of his cover of Oasis' Wonderwall, and we learn definitively that he thinks it's a great song, that's there's no irony involved. And just to show he couldn't stand still even then, there was already a brand-new song to perform, Just Like A Whore, which has been demo'd but never released. This is absolutely one of those must-own upgrades.

Friday, May 13, 2016


Covers have always been an important part of the Whitehorse world, with their first broad success coming with a raw version of Springsteen's I'm On Fire. The live E.P. The Road To Massey Hall features six favourites, from the likes of Neil Young, Dylan, and Ron Sexsmith. What makes a Whitehorse cover so different, and so successful, is the surprising places they take the well-known songs. The re-arrangements are imaginative, allowing for Luke Doucet to do his guitar magic, and Melissa McClelland to take us some other place altogether with vocals.

Here the duo tackle perhaps the most over-covered genre, the blues. The songs of Willie Dixon, Robert Johnson and the rockin' blues poet, Chuck Berry, are the staples of every bar band good or bad, and I'd be shocked, shocked if anybody could come up with something new to do to them.

Well, colour me shocked. Whitehorse does it again, taking the classics for a ride and ending up someplace else entirely. Johnson's Come On In My Kitchen starts out normally enough, but there's an entire new back half of the song, dominated by Doucet's banjo-like playing (may be a banjo, but he's also capable of doing that on the guitar, so I'm not committing myself here.) Little Walter's hit My Babe gets a new time signature and if possible, is more funky for it. Wang Dang Doodle, one of the nastiest songs ever made, as sung by Howlin' Wolf, gets sped up, becomes tight and tense, and then Doucet blazes away.

Even when they play it straight, the pair come up with something novel. Jimmy Reed's Big Boss Man is played as an acoustic number, but here McClelland and Doucet come up with delightful duet arrangement. Wow, if only these two could write their own innovative, provocative material. Oh wait, they do that too.

Thursday, May 12, 2016


There's nothing better than a musician who knows how to be an individual, and to carve out their own piece of the landscape. Although this Nova Scotian is a beloved sideman for many East Coast artists, when he does get out on his own he has a singular vision for his writing, his vocal presence, his playing, his overall KevCorbettness. He's a deep-thinking folk-rocker seemingly plugged into the land.

A multi-instrumentalist, Corbett basically put the whole thing together with producer Jason Mingo, all the better to let his individualism come through. It's a pleasing blend of rough and ready; his voice is unpolished but true, the playing bang-on but never busy. He'll rock it up sometimes, make it a little bigger, like with the driving beat and keyboard parts in Nowhere But For You, but it still sounds organic and somehow rural. Match it all with the level of thought going into the lyrics, and we have a set of songs here that feel rough-hewn but artistic, like a chainsaw carving.

Rural life does play a big part right across the set, whether its from nature or a canoe trip, or by the tale of life in the Sydney Steel Mill, taken from a 60-year old poem, and turned into a crazy electric blues in The Ballad of Slim McInnis. On the calmer side, Bury Me By The River has the country charm of a Rick Danko vocal. Sorrow On My Mind is the oldest-sounding cut, sounding like a Civil War number, with banjo and guest harmonies and a great big chain gang percussion sound. Eclectic, sometimes electric, it's your basic KevCorbettness.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016


It's always a blast to hear the joyful and innovative playing of gypsy jazz, and Antigonish's Donald MacLennan gives us his own fun spin on his debut disc. Usually found with Ben Caplan & the Casual Smokers or The Modern Grass, violinist MacLennan is a wiz, and, as befits the genre, a risk-taker too. He's not above making whale noises with his bow, or doing a downright shocking cover.

It's his version of the Dolly/Whitney that will set tongues a-wagging, almost unrecognizable until he gets to the chorus, and then only because it's one of only a couple of vocal numbers on the album, and you know the famous words. Once you get it, it'll cause a broad smile. The rest of the set bounces between more standard, frantic gypsy stuff, and surprising excursions into the jazz side of things. I guess "standard" is a poor word though, because the playing is anything but basic, with fast and furious passages at times, with other moments devoted to intricate arrangements with surprising results.

The other musicians here are equally fun folks up to the task, with the renowned Duane Andrews on hand to match MacLennan on acoustic guitar, Andrews being the East Coast's leading light of gypsy jazz. Sharp acoustic bass player Ronald Hynes gets to underpin the whole affair, and Graham Scott's accordion sets the needed mood, putting us in a little cafe somewhere exotic. Whether his own compositions, a couple of Django's, or a skewed take on Cole Porter's What Is This Thing Called Love, MacLennan and crew delight in the fits and starts, the interesting juxtapositions of the combinations of their instruments, and the musical freedom. A final shout-out to Matt Myer from Gypsophilia for grand trumpet work, especially on the cut Ariology. Inspiring, I say.

Saturday, May 7, 2016


The wonderful Edmonton-born singer-songwriter always has deep strength in her lyrics and crystal-clear folk vocals, but on her new album, she gets a beefed-up sound as well. Joining her are producer Steve Dawson, always an artist's best pal, plus the dynamic rhythm section of drummer Gary Craig and bassist John Dymond (Blackie & the Rodeo Kings, Bruce Cockburn, etc.)

The effect of the added colour is a wide selection of styles, and lots of subtle instrumental moments that add a ton to the already-captivating lyrics and charming melodies. A multi-instrumentalist, Dawson drops in highly-complimentary parts such as the pedal steel that winds around Couture's piano on In The Papers. The waltz-time Solid Ground gets an old-time rural feel, with lap steel. But That Little Part Of Your Heart follows those up with Dymond's fluid rock bass, and If I Still Love You has a fun pop groove.

In the meantime, you can get deep into some pretty special lyrics, as Couture winds up a relationship with some wise insights, and tough love. Her use of language is always a cut above, dropping in words such as cryptographer, happenstance, honey comb, and her illustrative powers make each song ring true: "The hallways are neatly lined with boxes stacked/this is what eight years looks like stacked."

Couture winds up her album release tour in Fredericton at Grimross Brewing on Saturday, May 7 at 8:30.

Thursday, May 5, 2016


Lots of tears and memories in the wake of Prince's untimely death, of course. Folks talked about what Purple Rain meant to them and how great 1999 was. Here's a novel idea: Go out and buy this new album, it's brilliant! Serious. Better than Purple Rain, by a long shot.

This is no quick cash-in, the album was actually released digitally at Christmas, part of Prince's recent return to form, and a true purple patch of increased activity and excellence. This album saw him back with the band he dubbed the New Power Generation, a particularly funky bunch, with lots of backing vocals, horns and hooks galore. It's a continuation of the album he released last fall, but much, much better, as good as the 3rdeyegirl-backed album Plectrumelectrum of 2014.

Oh ya, you say? Ya, I say right back. Opening cut Baltimore, which first came out last year digitally, is a breezy slice of classic Prince pop in the mode of Raspberry Beret, expect there's a surprising lyrical edge, it being a protest song about the death of Freddie Gray in that city. Next up comes a pure piece of fun, Rockandroll Loveaffair, with one of those great Prince in-jokes, "She believed in fairy tales and Princes." It's your 1999 song. Another track that appeared digitally before, Screwdriver, finally makes an album, and it's another killer, based of course on the double-entendre, "Eye'm ur driver & u're my screw." Oh, Prince, you were always the best little devil.

And do it goes, there's not a weak track here, and lots of his best, most famous sounds, little horn blasts and synth bits you'll recognize from his '80's heyday. It's almost like he wanted to show that not only could he still do this stuff, but that he still loved to do it, when the time was right. I truly hope lots and lots of people pick this up in the grief period, and discover that he was making some of his very best music in the last four years.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016


The happiest band in St. John's, N.L., or anywhere for that matter, Repartee are spreading that sunshine across the country as they head out on tour for the new album, All Lit Up.  After spending the last few years building the name and honing the sound, the group has zeroed in on its target, making big fun pop music, with a strong live band behind it, and lots of Top 40 hooks all the way through.

Lead singer Meg Warren is a jubilant and strong presence, bringing lots of the good vibes on record and stage, plus the very pleasing pipes to back that all up.  And while all of this could be programmed and autotuned, that's the exact opposite of how they make their pop.  They can, and do, all this live as well, with Warren's highly-trained voice (did opera, took voice at Memorial) having no need of electronic help.  Nicely though, the group adds lots of production on the album, effects and echo that highlight Warren's lead vocal, and each track is filled with energy, bliss for the both the modern pop fan or retro-'80's devotees.

Repartee's All Lit Up tour takes them literally coast-to-coast, as they make their way to B.C. and then back home to St. John's.  Here are the next few dates:

  • May 5 - Capitol Complex, Fredericton
  • May 6 - The Drake, Toronto
  • May 10 - The Casbah, Hamilton, ON
  • May 12 - Dstrct, Guelph, ON
  • May 13 - Rum Runners, London, ON
  • May 14 - The Moustache Club, Oshawa, ON

Monday, May 2, 2016


Quebec's monster-voiced belter is arguably the country's reigning blues singer these days, having picked up the Maple Blues Award for Female Vocalist three years running. Her vocal prowess will always dominate a song, but here she comes up with a fascinating idea to save some of the spotlight for the guitar player too. Not just any guitar player; there are 11 of them, Angel's 11, as she has hand-picked some of the best Canadian talent to guest.

Much of the magic here is that the songs were designed for the guests. Writing with her partner Denis Coulombe, the pair matched songs with styles. So you get a player who is more of a rocker, Johnny Flash (Jean-Sebastien Chouinard), out of Garou's band and Cirque de Soleil's Elvis show, Viva Elvis, on the big opener, Hangman. Rob MacDonald, long-time performing partner with Rob Lutes, shines on the soulful All The Way. Steve Strongman lets some more jazzy notes come through on Spoil Me Up.

Each song has its own character, and the magic of the release is how Angel adapts to each, while many become a showcase for the guest. Paul DesLauriers, somebody capable of tremendous electric work, dazzles on acoustic for the track Goodbye, my favourite on a set full of highlights. This went from being a good idea on paper to being a fully-developed and very successful concept.

Sunday, May 1, 2016


Halifax's Jont returns with a new three-track single, a taster for his next album,set for this fall. Like his 2013 release Hello Halifax, these are big, sweeping emotional pop songs, with epic beauty in each. The title cut is a rocker with heart, handclaps and horns, a joyful number for sure. The next, Supernatural, feature strings, glorious backing vocals and passionate vocals in a big ballad.

The final cut, This Windshield, has the same major impact while produced as a polar opposite, stripped back to Jont's solo vocal, a delicate guitar, and a far-away echo, this time a calm yet giant moment, the lyric about leaving one's mark on the world.

While we await the album, Jont and crew are hitting the road, with a selection of East Coast and Upper Canadian dates:

  • May 4 - Moncton, N.B., Plan B
  • May 5 - Fredericton, Grimross Brewing Co.
  • May 7 - Toronto, The Rivoli
  • May 8 - St. Catherines, ON., Cafe Mahtay
  • May 10 - Toronto, The Horseshoe
  • May 11 - Montreal, Brasserie Beaubien
  • May 13 - Edmundston, N.B., Cafe Lotus Bleu
  • May 14 - Saint John, N.B., Peppers Pub