Wednesday, June 29, 2016


One of the good things about being a drummer is that there's always lots of musicians who need your help. And when you, in return, need some help back, well, you know lots of other musicians. Fredericton-based percussionist-producer Bob Deveau has held down the drum stool at various points for the long-running Grand Theft Bus, does the same duty whenever Olympic Symphonium feels noisy, and back when Michael Feuerstack still went by Snailhouse, help set the snail's pace.

Over several years, Deveau has called in many of his chips for his project under the name Senior Citizen. Working on this set since way back in 2009, what he did was start in with some drum tracks, then start in with the electronic stuff, creating computer files. Then, those were sent out to the mutual admiration society, where vocalists and players would contribute what they do best.

Chaos could have ensued, but if it did, it didn't make the final product. Instead, the posse of pals get moody, inventive, celebratory, hypnotic, loud, soft, but never too much of anything. Nick Cobham of the Symphonium takes the repetitive pattern of Footprints, adds a surprisingly low vocal, but then adds a layer, and then another layer of vocals, dreamy waves of sweet singing along with a thematic synth line. Temporary Madness is an ambitious six-plus minute track, going through a variety of personalities, looking back on great early synth groups like OMD, while leaving room for two different lead singers, Matt Gillis and Erin Breau, to add their own very different elements, his eerie, hers dark and funky. Andrew Sisk (Share, Coco et co.) manages to make things nice and folkie, while electro-notes burble behind him like a trout-filled New Brunswick stream. Kinda blissful really.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016


An odd couple or natural fit? I wasn't sure going in, but it turned out to be the latter, for sure. Colvin's known for making good harmonies with others, and here she blends well with his shopworn and life-hardened pipes. And it is all about duet vocals, with the pair harmonizing almost all the way through. It's all about the sound of this new voice.

There are some pretty nifty covers here, including great update of Ian and Sylvia's You Were On My Mind, and a grateful nation thanks the pair. It's a cool mix of both the folkie original and the pop cover by We Five. A take on Ruby Tuesday is inspired too, but it's their version of Tobacco Road that really takes off, with the roots-grunge production of Buddy Miller giving it an edge.

What really wasn't expected was how much the pair wrote together, with six of the 10 cuts brand-new. You're Right (I'm Wrong) is a dark number, a break-up song that still hurts. Tell Moses is spiritual-based, but modernized to include the Ferguson, Missouri protests. You're Still Gone is a sadder one, from the oft-divorced Earle, and one gets the sense that Colvin understands him, from that, and the whole fine set. Hopefully volume two will come soon.

Monday, June 27, 2016


The beauty of a curated collection of an artist, especially one that doesn't follow the standard hit or chronologically ordered setlist, is the opportunity for magic moments. There are times when two great songs, from different periods, can be placed back-to-back and allow you to appreciate them, and the artist, even more. For me, that happened strongly on the final disc of this four-CD set, when the 1971 Ram album track Back Seat Of My Car moved into the opening notes of 1984's No More Lonely Nights, the under-performing ballad from the flop movie Give My Regards To Broad Street. I've always loved the first tune, it's probably my favourite McCartney song ever. The second I also like a lot, but it gets too produced in the latter half, and Dave Gilmour's guitar solo is way overblown. However, back-to-back, hair stood oup on the back of my neck.

McCartney did the job of picking the tracks himself supposedly, giving us a four-plus hour look at his entire post-Beatles career, or a cut-rate version if you get the cheaper two-disc set. I wouldn't; the bigger set is nicer, with a deluxe book and only $38 right now. Who better to do the job? Well, that's the question. Me, for one. You, for another. Really, it's going to be hard to anybody to satisfy everybody, as we all have a favourite Paul period. So that's the key with this kind of box, did he do a good job for as many fans as possible; will we find our magic moments like the one I mentioned above, and enough of them?

McCartney has included almost everyone of his major hits, for good (Jet) and bad (Ebony and Ivory, Say Say Say). The pattern is pretty much a hit followed by an album cut. There are some strange omissions, including not one track from the critically acclaimed Flowers In The Dirt album, no My Brave Face, That Day Is Done, nothing. Wags are suggesting as it's the next deluxe edition scheduled for release, McCartney wanted to create more demand. I wouldn't doubt it. One might think Picasso's Last Words (Drink To Me) would have made the list. But you have a whole lot of later-period albums to sample of course, and McCartney seems to have wanted to prove their was good stuff through them all. And he's right, there's lots.

Separated from lesser material filling up lesser albums, some of these cuts are allowed to blossom in this format, placed side-by-side with beloved hits. Little Willow from the Flaming Pie album (sometimes called "Flaming pile....") is a lovely cut following With A Little Luck. Band On The Run is followed by Appreciate from 2013's New album, and I hope it gives people a reminder to check out that excellent, under-appreciated release. And sometimes, it's just a matter that we've forgotten quite good songs in his very lengthy career, such as Every Night, Dear Boy and Good Times Coming/Feel The Sun.

On the down side, McCartney was a little too taken with his mellow work at times. There are a lot of songs on a similar theme: Jenny Wren, English Tea, and My Valentine are too sickly-sweet, especially since among the hits are Pipes Of Peace and My Love. This needs to rock more. And as much as he loves to promote his experimental side, I'll never cotton to the McCartney II synth sounds of Temporary Secretary, nor the annoying We All Stand Together frog song from his Rupert the Bear project.

I think in the end, this does what McCartney wanted, which was to put the spotlight on the later years. Not many out there will know cuts such as Queenie Eye, Winedark Open Sea, Little Willow and Don't Let It Bring You Down. I think there are some better cuts along the way than some that are here, he had no business including the horrid studio take of Coming Up, it's a rip that he used the edited single version of Venus and Mars/Rock Show which fades way too early, but if you like Paul McCartney, you're going to like him even more after this.

Sunday, June 26, 2016


It's always a welcome move when Al Lerman goes off on his own from the much-loved Fathead for a solo blues/roots album. He certainly has lots of solid material for it, with eleven originals here, plus Kokomo (yes, the blues cut, not the Cocktail-Beach Boys number - whew!). And although he does his share of playing alone at times, here he brings on lots of friends to make a fun, largely uptempo album, with both acoustic and electric tracks.

There's lots of harp of course, but it's more important to know he also handles all the guitar here, showing that he's able to stand up with anyone. There's a clean, sweet, pleasing tone to the whole set, and along with Lerman's friendly and warm vocals,and the great grooves, the album is simply a pleasure.

In the end though, it's the songwriting that takes it a cut above, Lerman a fine storyteller who finds different topics and good ideas. Don't Try To Push Your Mess On Me is about anyone trying to dump their problems with other cultures and religions on their fellow countrymen. Bad Luck Blues is about a true Ontario bank job, which feels like a George Clooney movie put to a smooth groove. Gonna Have To Wait is a singer-songwriter number right up there with some John Hiatt tunes, and Any Way You Want moves with a relaxed pace and positive vibe. When Lerman does end the album with the instrumental title track, Slow Burn (an apt description), where he plays all the intertwined guitar and harp, you remember that he is a great player too, after being taken by all those fine words and vocals the whole way through.

Saturday, June 25, 2016


A one-time guitar player with Dickey Betts and Great Southern, May has all the tools, as a writer, singer and sharp player. Here he zips through a variety of blues styles, Southern and Northern and over to Texas. There's even a touch of funk on the number Boomerang. He's especially adept at the lively stuff, coming alive during fun numbers such as Put Down That Poison, with its rollicking Chicago-meets-jump blues sound.

It's one of several here where May is aided by the Soul Satyr Horns, who really push the good times-level up with some great solos and ensemble work. That lets May shine even more, when he unleashes some of his stinging leads. Plus, his soulful voice never fails to cut through and make each number better. A strong sixth album for this guy out of Ohio.


Two of the original Feat's good ones, which means they are from the Lowell George years, now back and on heavyweight vinyl. No perks here, other than fresh and fine copies. I wouldn't mind a serious reworking off Feats Don't Fail Me Now, which sounds like it got muddy somewhere along the line, but this is a lot better than the CD transfers along the way.

Feat fans like to debate which 70's album was the best, with the live Waiting For Columbus the favourite I think, and Dixie Chicken or Sailin' Shoes usually the studio choices. I waver, but I will say that 74's Feats Don't Fail Me Now has a mighty claim as well. George was still fully committed and knocking mighty compositions out of the park, including the mighty Rock And Roll Doctor and the slippery groove of Spanish Moon. The rest of the band were stepping up too, with Bill Payne's Oh Atlanta a great rave, and Paul Barrere no slouch with Skin It Back. The jam track Cold Cold Cold/Tripe Face Boogie was just that, a boogie, not a jazzy meandering that would wreck stuff in the future.

The group's next, and fifth album, The Last Record Album, was the start of the decline, although still a strong album album. As George's participation and interest was starting to waver, and Payne and Barrere starting to fill the gap, the songwriting suffered. George's quirkiness was missing, those winking, wacky lyrics, and the crazy blues numbers he'd channeled through Howlin' Wolf were replaced by more serious ballads. So it was Payne and Barrere trying to inject some fun, Romance Dance decent but no Fat Man In The Bathtub, let's say.

George's mellow numbers did connect, however. Mercenary Territory is a mighty lyric and performance, George's half-hearted apology for being such a personal mess ("Fool that I am/I'd do it all over again"). Long Distance Love sees him desperate but refusing to leave the road/lifestyle, even though he knows what would be good for him. The other guys do come through with the funky All That You Dream, but after listening to this album for 40 years, I still can't remember what Payne's Somebody's Leaving sounds like 10 minutes after hearing it. So, Feats Don't Fail Me Now, must-own, The Last Record Album, close.

Thursday, June 23, 2016


Well, here's another wacky concept from Neil, and really, he's been getting further and further out there for a while now. But this on, on paper, seemed to take the cake. It's a live album, but heavily doctored, with overdubs, huge amounts of extra vocals from a small choir of singers, some effects, and most strangely, all these added animal noises. Yes, animals. Honking geese, buzzing insects, all manner of hoots and grunts, mostly at the start and end of cuts, often alongside audience applause.

Still with me? One might assume a double-live album would be an opportunity for Young to trot out some hits and get back a little of the sales magic he's lost lately. But instead, the songs come from his recent themed tour, which saw him doing cuts from his career about food and the land. Now, we all know and admire him for Farm Aid, but his last studio album, The Monsanto Years, didn't exactly set the world ablaze in a frenzy of protest. He always seems to forget you need good lyrics to inspire, not platitudes. Anyway, he's written a ton of these Mother Earth-type songs over his career, including the annoying Mother Earth, which kicks off the set. The only one you'd call a hit or favourite would be After The Gold Rush.

Touring with a group of young acolytes, The Promise of the Real, featuring two of Willie Nelson's sons, even their energy gets buried in the tape doctoring. Mostly this is Neil's vocals, the studio-added backing singers, and those damn chirping crickets and horses and such.

Like I said, wacky. And guess what? I'm shocked at how much I enjoy it. Apart from a couple of clunkers, the aforementioned Mother Earth, and a clunky brand new number, Seed Justice, debuted at last year's Farm Aid, it works surprisingly well. There are some welcome old friends returning from past albums, such as Vampire Blues off On The Beach, Country Home from Ragged Glory, and Comes A Time's Human Highway. The new songs, particularly Big Box, come across better sandwiched with other cuts rather than the similar-sounding numbers of The Monsanto Years. And those backing vocals? Well, they do work, adding some harmony to the gruffness, and even a few new surprises to old chestnuts. Even the animal noises aren't a distraction once you are used to them, and there's some sort of odd logic to having them there. At the very least, Young proves that cows kind of sound like his guitar in self-destruct mode.

Don't even start the debate about using overdubs on live albums. Young has been mixing up the two sources since at least the early 70s, taking live performances as bed tracks for albums, sticking live moments in the middle of studio collections, and I'm still pretty convinced that wasn't Crazy Horse singing when I saw them live back in the 90s, but rather some sort of programming. Arguably his greatest moment came from his manipulation of a short series of live shows into the "studio" album, Rust Never Sleeps. And that's just fine, it's audio art, and I'm buying into this song set.

As always, Young could have played it a lot safer. The tour he's collected these songs from featured such favourites as Heart of Gold, Long May You Run, Old Man, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, Down By The River, and plenty more, a wide-ranging setlist with the adaptable Promise of the Real. But damned if he didn't hear a whole different album out of all these tapes and songs, a theme that didn't even come out in the concerts, only back at the ranch when he started playing with the tapes. That is one of Young's oldest strengths, which may be why this works so well.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016


The young man with the big sound, this is the second mini-album from P.E.I.'s Menzie, following 2013's, Heather Avenue. This time there's seven cuts, a half-hour of tunes, enough to satisfy those hooked by the popular cut Kenya. That song has led the way on what's become a breakout year for Menzie, which saw him make it all the way to the final four in CBC's Searchlight competition, and now sits on top their Radio 2 chart.

Producer Daniel Ledwell (Jenn Grant, Fortunate Ones) helps add the epic, from the straight-ahead rock of Talk To Me, to the more introspective but aurally-awesome Surviving Just On Coffee (ace title alert!). Menzie does need to be careful and mix it up, as he can get a little too close to Plaskettville at times, with his vocal hoots and tight rhymes, heard on Julia, so the more experimentation the better. And certainly Kenya is a good step away from the classic East Coast rock sound, and so is the ringing acoustic cover of Led Zep's That's The Way. What I'm hearing most is a strong combo classic troubadour and up-to-the-minute textures, and that's different.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016


Oh boy, a lyric booklet packed with verse after verse, lots of serious explorations of the human condition, bad experiences and deep thoughts. The lines are darkly poetic, the characters in moral crisis. The music mirrors the mood, a strong band recorded raw and sad, kind of an alt-country Bad Seeds to our singer's less dramatic (and less of a showman) Nick Cave. So it's real life then, songs where you learn something about yourself.

BD Harrington is a Canadian better known on other shores, particularly France for some reason, where his previous two albums have gained him rapturous praise from the in-the-know types. He's also originally Irish, and has lived there, Italy, Mexico and London, as well as Toronto, where he was raised. No surprise he has a degree in creative writing and has studied painting.

Harrington's not as bleak as some of the other fellow travelers in this vein, which is actually refreshing and lets you ponder the potential meanings in an easier setting. The better to study characters who can sing "I've got one match left, but there's so much to burn." The language alone is rich enough even if you don't want to ponder: "This is where it ends, this is where it falls apart/this is how the apples fell off the apple cart." The French, they always know...

Saturday, June 18, 2016


Is there a more joyous music than 50s rhythm and blues? Nothing says Saturday night party better, in my books. It swings like no other. Kevin McQuade returns with his second take on the form, a mix of all those roots sounds, a little rockabilly here, jump blues there, leaning into rock and roll at times, but all coming out infectious and highly dance-worthy.

McQuade has put together a strong team of some of the blues/roots scene's best players, a small but mighty crew featuring producer Teddy Leonard (Fathead) on guitar, John Dymond (Blackie & the Rodeo Kings, Bruce Cockburn) on bass, keyboard player Wayne Dagenais, and Big Wreck drummer Chuck Keeping. It's a cast that moves smoothly through the various styles here, all the while keeping it

The Kat Kings break with the party groove in a couple of spots, with a blues ballad I'm Just A Shadow, and the southern-greasy It Came From The Swamp, Ode To Billie Joe meets a zombie movie. But really, it's all about the party, Late Night Thing a New Orleans number letting Keeping get the rhythm going and Dagenais do some classic piano work. The night comes to an end with Baby You Can't Drink, getting pretty close to a Jerry Lee Lewis flat-out rocker, leaving 'em calling for more.


The Bowie onslaught continues with these two vinyl reissues; remember, this was all planned out way before he passed away, and is just the first phase of massive reissue campaigns. We're still back in the first "five years" of his stardom, the Ziggy years. With these two releases, that era seems to be taken care of now, so stayed tuned with the next bunch, perhaps a new box set for Christmas, something like that, covering the rest of the 70's.

These are two period live albums, from 1972 and 1973, both Ziggy Stardust shows, both first released long after those days but now put in the correct spot chronologically. Live Santa Monica '72 was originally a famous bootleg, taken from a radio broadcast, and eventually made legal in 2008. That boot was so well-known and readily available, I was able to pick it up back in the day in remote Fredericton, from the beloved Little Records at UNB. It was a mind-blower then, real Ziggy, real Spiders, the great Mick Ronson ripping out leads, Bowie covering Lou Reed and Jacques Brel, sitting for an acoustic mini-set, spitting out raw versions of Jean Genie, Suffragette City and Hang On to Yourself. This was miles better than the seemingly tame David Live set, in all its low fidelity and roughness, missed notes and forgotten lyrics. This is why so many record fans grew up loving bootlegs.

Nothing has been cleaned up for this release, simply because it's only ever been a radio broadcast tape, and the whole idea was to celebrate the original bootleg pressing. I'm sure this new heavyweight vinyl pressing will at least stay in better shape than that old bootleg of mine, now long scratched and trashed.

The Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars soundtrack was recorded just nine months later, in July of 1973. You could hear a few changes in the repertoire, the Aladdin Sane album now in the racks, Mike Garson's piano a more important part of the show, and Bowie looking past Ziggy, This was actually the last Ziggy show, Bowie announcing he was quitting the stage at the end of the concert. It was the first of many times he did that, but in this case it was partly true, as he did bury the Ziggy character and, sadly, disband the Spiders.

The original project, the movie and soundtrack album, were shelved when Bowie wanted to just get away from Ziggy. Eventually both did arrive, this soundtrack first showing up in 1983. It's been reissued a few times, as the first mix was bad, some cuts were edited and the order shuffled. This reissue does use the best, latest mix and running order, but frustratingly, it still doesn't include the Jeff Beck guest spot on The Jean Genie/Love Me Do/Round and Round encore. Beck's choice no doubt, but guess what? I've had it on the 70's bootleg all this time. Again, loving the bootleg.

You really don't need to make a choice between this show or Santa Monica, as you should have both. This has the better sound, and some significant set changes. There's a great extended medley of Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud/All The Young Dudes/Oh! You Pretty Things, new Aladdin cuts Watch That Man, Time and Cracked Actor, and another of Bowie's beloved Velvet Underground covers, White Light/White Heat. And as for having them on vinyl, it beats the heck out of the '83 version, which had the bad mix. The movie is pretty cool too, if you ever get a chance to see it.

Thursday, June 16, 2016


Given all that's going on with Gord Downie and the Hip, the release of this album will attract a level of interest in their new music that the group hasn't seen in years. Good, I say, they are one of so many fine veteran bands that have been trying to swim against the current, defiantly putting out vital albums in a faulty system which no longer values quality or craftsmanship. No, you have to have something that makes you move to the top of the buzzfeed in order to catch everyone's attention for a few days.

I think it's great that sales will spike and radio play for this new album will increase, and it's probably one of the group's most nuanced sets, a record that will require repeated listening to absorb, with very few big rock moments, no New Orleans Is Sinking for the masses. It feels aimed at an indie audience; there's no hit producer such as Bob Rock or Gavin Brown, used on the previous efforts. This time, it's Kevin Drew from Broken Social Scene and Dave Hamelin from The Stills on duty.

The album title follows the song of the same name from the last Hip album, 2012's Now For Plan A. It's become one of those rich Downie themes, humanity and machinery, art and nature versus technology, his beloved microphone makes an appearance in the track Hot Mic. The poet stands back and examines his own role: "I write about words .... sing songs to calm the king." I'd like to figure it all out someday, but there's lots of time for that later.

Some of it is easier, such as Tired As Fuck, about being under pressure all the time: "Whatever winds may blow/You don't let your balloon touch the ground/Or get so high that you can't let go." There's a couple of those Canadian references that everybody loves and wants, most obviously the song In Sarnia (humourously subtitled "Insomnia?" in the barely-decipherable lyric sheet). It does rock a bit, including the final cut, Machine. But it's also as experimental as the group has ever been, especially the vocal effects used on the opener, Man, with Downie's lines overlapping each other, and then processed beyond recognition. That's gonna mess with some heads for sure. As much as I love the early days too, I'm really glad this isn't your 90's Tragically Hip.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016


Toronto-to-L.A. singer/keyboardist/writer Don Breithaupt has been running his pop-jazz project at various times since the early '90's, and got some great attention with his last effort, Headquarters in 2012. This is sophisticated, supple, funky, and smart tunes, heavy on the horns, backing vocals, and slick solos, jazz ideas with a rock band in behind. There's only one comparison really, and that's Steely Dan, and in particular, the Aja-Gaucho period. It's not a guess; Breithaupt wrote the book on Aja (his all-time favourite album) for the beloved 33 1/3 series by Continuum Publishing.

And that right there is A-1 okay by me. Breithaupt puts his own spin on it of course, as a less cynical writer, leaning perhaps a little closer to the pop side. But you'll hear the same desire in the music for glorious chords, expert playing, music as luxurious as a king-size mattress with a duck down duvet on a frosty night. The way I see it, I finally found somebody who thinks Steely Dan was/is the best band ever, is talented enough to go that route, and not too chicken to try, damn the comparisons.

Others obviously agree; helping out here as guest soloists are some Dan hands, old and new. Elliot Randall, the original soloist on Reelin' In The Years, takes a guitar lead on one cut, while a latter-day hand in Becker/Fagan's world, Drew Zingg, features on another. Steely Dan musical director Michael Leonhart adds trumpet to a track, (dude also played on Uptown Funk, btw), and let's not forget Jay Graydon, who did the famous solo on the hit Peg.

So that's the company that digs what Breithaupt is putting down, but of course, this is his gig, and he's arranged, plus co-produced (along with Peter Cardinali) a set that merits full attention. Every song has its own strong story, from lead track My Top Ten List ("single malt, double shot") to What Exactly Is It That You Do All Day? ("If you're not missing me?"). Cheeky monkey.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016


Poor Bono. It couldn't have gone worse, really. U2's last album, Songs of Innocence, was supposed to be this major personal statement for the group, with Bono getting open and emotional about their youth and upbringing in Ireland, touching on friendships, family, angst, confusion, young love, all that stuff, plus the Irish stuff too. Then it all blew up in his face with the whole Apple-automatic download fiasco, which pretty much insured nobody would be paying attention to this soul-baring concept set.

Well, maybe that was for the best, as it wasn't among the group's greatest efforts. Two years on though, we can now see the other part of the package, the live event. Here's the thing about being a hugely rich rock band that is still trying to be relevant; you got the money to push the envelope. And U2 sure does that in the concert arena. This is more than just a lavish set, it's a ground-breaking, mind-blowing, holy crap arena blockbuster. It is unlike any rock show you've ever seen, with design features and technical achievement that surely set new standards. I'm not being hyperbolic here, I know a little about the technical side from previous careers, and keep an eye on such things. Plus, I watch a lot of music DVDs in the job, you know. We're talking something on the level of the Olympic Opening Ceremonies.

Honestly, you could hate this band and still watch this show and be excited. The stage splits the Paris arena in half, there are gigantic screens that go up and down, sometimes with the band inside them. At one point Bono is seen walking down the Dublin streets of his youth, as they are projected on the screens, while he strolls down the long thin floor of the stage. The band keeps moving back and forth down the length of the arena, to different set-ups, sometimes Larry Mullen Jr. carrying a drum with him, all the while playing to the audience on all four sides, and up close to them on the floor.

Well. I'm tempted to leave it there, because I'm quite serious that you should see this concert just as an achievement in spectacle. However, there's lots more that can be said about the show. The concept is that the innocence part happens in the first set, and the experience in the second. We get Bono's tales of youth for innocence, including a set of songs from the new album, even one, Iris (Hold Me Close), about his mother, who died when he was 14. Other hits, including I Will Follow and Sunday Bloody Sunday, fit in with the early days theme. Then comes the experience side, which sees the band, especially Bono, in full flight as the veteran rock band with a killer list of greatest hits, and we get hit with them full-bore. There's Mysterious Ways, Where The Streets Have No Name, Pride, With or Without You, and a totally different front man, Bono bringing out his cocky guy routine, the confidence that comes with experience.

At times, it does feel a bit like an act, and side shots of band show them going about their business, a little distant from the lead singer. But at the same time, this is Bono having to rise to the occasion, a very daunting one. Three weeks before was the terror attack in Paris, where this show was recorded. It was supposed to be the next night, but was cancelled, for good reason. They had promised to make it up as soon as possible, and that they did, coming back to play while the city was still barely functioning. So all the talk Bono offers about love over hate, it's not posturing. All you haters, we can give him a break on this one. The show ends with two cuts featuring Eagles of Death Metal, the band playing the Bataclan club that fateful night.

The DVD version has two discs, the second holding a plethora of bonus cuts from other shows, videos from the last album, a guest appearance by Patti Smith the night before, and some back-to-Ireland film to match the concept. It all fits nicely onto one blu-ray, or you mega-fans can get one of their typically extravagant super deluxe boxes, this one in gorgeous hard-case packaging, individually numbered and packed with pins, stickers, stencils, postcards, an exclusive book, download card, and a USB stick on a light bulb, the chief graphic image of the tour.

Monday, June 13, 2016


With a name like that, you better pay attention. The dude's out of Houston, an electric blues guy with a clear southern rock influence as well, and big on the guitar-organ sound. Plus, he has the big, emotive pipes to go for a large sound. Also handling all the guitar, he's a pretty formidable, and yes, mighty presence.

Except, it turns out he's no one-trick pony, as M.O. has a soulful side as well. Say It With Silence, brought in at cut four, sees him bring out his mellow side on a tune that John Hiatt would like. Next up comes the title track, this time a lover's life story, ups and down, with an acoustic guitar to the fore, organ now joined by piano, and that soulful voice still on display.

Things do return to funky fun with The Possum Song, and Orq gives himself plenty of room to stretch out on guitar. He goes old school on the Son House classic Death Letter Blues, another sound for the varied set. It's all good, with the organ-guitar combo songs the best of the bunch.

Sunday, June 12, 2016


It's the 50th anniversary of the landmark Pet Sounds album, certainly worthy of a special box set. After all, it's often listed as the #1 or #2 album of all time by many compilers of such things, England usually picking it at top, U.S. magazines often #2 behind Sgt. Pepper. Even if not at or near the top, I'd say it's safe to say almost every credible poll has placed it in the top ten, so let's not quibble.

How to celebrate, then. The big problem was that it's probably the most reissued album, like, ever. A mere six years after its original release, the first reissue came out, oddly appended to The Beach Boys' latest release, the strangely named and horribly selling Carl and the Passions - So Tough. Then, it came out on its own in 1974 again. Then it fell on hard times, and for awhile wasn't even in print. Come the CD age, it got cranked up again and Capitol Records has had a field day finding ways to put it out again and again and again, in a variety of ways.

A huge deal was made in 1990 when it came out on CD for the first time, along with three previously-unreleased tracks. Then in 1997, a first Pet Sounds box set came out, with the very first stereo version of the album, plus hours of session tapes and alternate versions of songs, a pretty spectacular effort. Then for the 40th anniversary, there as a fuzzy green box, there'a been a DVD-audio version, and since the vinyl comeback, at least three different issues of thing, including a mono and stereo 2 LP set on coloured vinyl. Original 1966 vinyl copies now go for at least a hundred bucks in good condition, to several hundred for mint.

What they've come up with this time is the biggest box yet, five discs. Four of them are CD, the last a blu-ray pure audio one with 5.1 surround mixes of the album proper, instrumental versions and a bunch of the alternate tracks. The four CD's draw on mostly the same material as the 1997 box, -with one major addition, 11 live cuts of Pet Sounds material taken from shows over the years. Between the sound advances since 1997, the new packaging and those live cuts, it's probably enough to draw in the crazed collectors (hi), and the higher-end purchasers not afraid of the $70 - $90 price tag.

It is a nice package, done up as a coffee-table book style, with a hard-bound cover, big pages, lots of photos, very attractive. However, it's a little light on the content, certainly nowhere as extensive as the 1997 box, with its two separate thick booklets. I guess they felt they shouldn't re-use the same lengthy notes, or maybe that everything has already been said, so stick with the basics. I do like that all the lyrics are here, all the session musicians (the so-called Wrecking Crew, featuring Hal Blaine, Carol Kaye, Billy Strange, Tommy Tedesco, Glen Campbell, etc.), and a few listening hints from producer/leader/genius Brian Wilson (Here Today: "Listen for that trombone part in the middle".)

I guess I should say something about the music; after all I've spent most of my life agreeing that it is the best album ever, at least to my tastes. What you have here is 23-year-old sensitive soul who has in the past four years gone from being an awkward kid to the most respected musician/producer in the game, completely rewriting the rule book for pop music. He has created a suite of music around the idea of moving from childhood to adulthood, struggling with love and heartbreak. As well, he's arranging sophisticated music with melodies, harmonies and instrumentation far above any of his colleagues, working with the very best players in not only rhythm sections but horn and string sections as well. His ability to conceive of instrument combinations that created unique aural final products is perhaps still unequaled to this day: "I'd like to start it out this time with the organ and the Fender bass, then the bongos will come in the second half like everything else. Here we go, organ, Fender bass and piccolo."

Once you get into the album, it is quite fun and revelatory to go through the various session takes, and hear Wilson directing these highly-experienced pros doing stuff they've never done before, The music alone is mesmerizing, but then you hear the singing added, and realize he had this all in his head from the start; where the verses and choruses would go, how each individual Beach Boy would blend in the final product. Some of the alternates include different lead vocals from other band members, as Wilson experiments, or the rare bad idea, like a sax solo on God Only Knows, but for the most part this was pain-staking, time consuming work mostly to get the very best possible performance from the players and singers, in a day when you pretty much had to get most of the take done live off the floor, rather than pieced together in chunks. No matter that this has been issued for the most part before, if you don't have it, I suggest you give yourself a treat. Unless, of course, you don't like God Only Knows ("The greatest song ever written" - P. McCartney), in which case, you're excused.

Friday, June 10, 2016


Interesting fact: We all know about the BBC recordings by now, thanks to The Beatles and many other '60's groups having collections of their live (and not-so live) recordings for the airways made available over the years.. But it was The Zombies who first had their BBC songs released, back in 1985. Since then, the floodgates opened for all the British acts of that decade, and along the way more Zombies material was discovered as well. So now we have this two-disc set of performances and interviews that brings together all known material that's been saved.

In an effort to get everything, the compilers have gone to the hard-core fans, who often have the only remaining copies. The BBC famously recycled their tapes after broadcasts, so many programs have been lost, including the Fabs, Stones, Who, etc. But in some cases, fans taped them off the radio at the time. Some of these aren't the best quality, but I say who cars, bring 'em on. If not, we wouldn't get the group doing a grand version of the Four Tops recent hit Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever. And I'm sure everybody can deal with the occasional muddiness, when most of the songs remain in fine fidelity.

This material comes from the group's time chasing the Top 40, and includes the big hits Tell Her No and She's Not There, of course, three of the first track in fact, in surprisingly different versions, thanks to instrument changes. For the bulk of us, the group's other songs aren't that well-known, so there should probably be quite a few surprises along the way, including the Whenever You're Ready, which should have been much bigger, and Friends of Mine, the only performance of a song from the legendary Odessey & Oracle album that's been found. So, no Time Of The Season, sadly. The only other downside? Those BBC announcers can get pretty annoying after awhile.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016


Last I heard from Salmon River, N.S., piano player Paul Randy Mingo was back in 2014, when he'd just released his second album, Crank It Up. It was a stomper, packed with lots of uptempo, pounding old-school country and rockabilly numbers, pretty much a small town, Saturday night, dance hall party from start to finish, apart from one ballad. Well, that ballad showed he had that up his sleeve as well, and now a new single and video takes the quiet route.

It's a special project for Mingo, something he's known in his life, and lots and lots of other people can relate. Holdin' On (Still Hangin' On) is about mental health and depression, with some very powerful images to match the lyrics of his piano number. Anyone who has known that helpless feeling, has had to get that note for the boss that you won't be coming to work for awhile, has listened to people criticize and offer opinions on how you just have to get over it, this song will ring true.

Mingo has released the one-off single and video as fundraiser for the Canadian Mental Health Association. Any downloads of the song or video on iTunes will see a significant portion of those proceeds go to the organization, and the video and visuals surrounding the campaign all prominently feature the CMHA name. Here's a link to the video:

Monday, June 6, 2016


I always like to see a project coming from the Toronto Blues Society, and before you non-Toronto folks lose interest, I should point out the group has a truly national reach. Really, if it wasn't for their efforts, the national blues scene would be weaker for sure. They put on, among other things, the yearly Maple Blues Awards, which has become the celebration of blues achievement right across the country. I can tell you from first-hand experience, they go to great lengths to make sure all regions are heard from.

They make good collections as well, and this latest one features some of the best up-and-comers in the field. The idea, in celebration of the society's 30th anniversary, is to promote the organization, and get the names of these artists out there as much as possible. In doing that, it also shuts down the perception that blues is a field dominated by veteran bar bands and senior statesmen. This is a bunch of kids, relatively speaking.

Most fans with an ear to the scene will know at least some of the artists, and anybody who's been to a festival must have seen their names. The 24th Street Wailers have certainly become a favourite live band and make excellent albums, Samantha Martin and Delta Sugar immediately grabbed lots of attention with their debut as a band, Martin's big voice and the gospel-influenced sounds shaking foundations wherever they go. Irene Torres & the SugarDevils bring a modern funk edge to the party, as much New Orleans as any other form. Andria Simone comes from the soul side, another big vocal talent.

Now, you may have noticed the first four acts named, the first four on the compilation, are all fronted by women. That's another great thing the Toronto Blues Society helps with, its major concert of the year the annual Women's Blues Revue. There are lots of fine young fellows here too, including The Conor Gains Band, Chris Antonik and Michael Schatte, but starting a blues compilation with four straight women singers? That takes some ... I'm thinking balls isn't the right word.  You can find the disc at

Sunday, June 5, 2016


There's little arguing over Denny's status as the greatest modern English folk vocalist, even in that fractious community of fans. She remains a tragic and controversial figure though, with her checkered history of dashing between bands and projects, her moves from traditional to singer-songwriter material, and her varied attempts at solo success. Then there's her untimely death in 1978, some weeks after falling down stairs. But nobody ever, ever, denies the majesty of her singing, as well as her many songwriting contributions, starting with the classic Who Knows Where The Time Goes.

Because of her restlessness, there's a surprising amount of material recorded during her career of barely 10 years. In addition to her time with The Strawbs, Fairport Convention and Fotheringay, there was the folk-rock fun with The Bunch (featuring pals Linda and Richard Thompson), four solo albums, and several more failed attempts. All that activity meant tons of live, rare and unreleased work as well.

There have been many compilations and collections over the years, and the smart difference here is in the sub-title. This is Denny at her most stripped-down, voice and one other instrument, mostly acoustic guitar or piano. The vast majority is previously unreleased in this form, from demos, BBC and live recordings. So the whole focus is on the purity of her voice, and the incredible world she creates.

There are 40 tracks over two 70-plus minute discs, quite a windfall. We get the original, Strawbs-recorded Who Knows Where The Time Goes, which is simply her and guitar. Her famous Fairport song, Fotheringay, which gave birth to a whole band, is here featured without the guitar and vocals of R. Thompson, nothing against them of course, but fascinating to hear the simpler version.

Denny fans will revel in all the new gems to enjoy, including a trio of demos from The Bunch recordings, when she let her hair down, doing a couple of Buddy Holly tracks, and a duet with longtime friend Linda Thompson on The Everly Brothers' When Will I Be Loved. swapping the genders.

If you are unfamiliar with Denny and want to know what the big deal is, listen to her versions of the well-known folk songs She Moves Through The Fair and Wild Mountain Thyme. You'll hear the difference, how she completely inhabits the song, and makes hers the definitive reading. But that goes for anything she sang.

Thursday, June 2, 2016


Is it that time of the decade again? It seems like just, what, five years ago I was writing a review of the Stony Plain music label's 35th anniversary package, and here they are again with another three-disc set, honouring the 40th. Actually I love this tradition, and it's been going on since the Alberta-based blues and roots label turned ten. Every five years they compile a set of hits and favourites from the wide selection of releases over the years, which continue at a furious pace.

All you need do is glance down the track listing to see how important the label has been through the years, not just for Canadian fans but on an international level. It's the home for top-quality U.S. artists such as Eric Bibb, Maria Muldaur and Duke Robillard. Music legends such as Rosco Gordon, Jay McShann and Billy Boy Arnold have enjoyed late-life success and honour thanks to the label's sense of history and stewardship. When major labels didn't step up to the plate for important work by luminaries Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle, Rodney Crowell and Jennifer Warnes, the company stepped in and scooped them up. And they curated sterling projects, such as the recent collaboration between Telecaster masters James Burton, Albert Lee, David Wilcox and Amos Garrett.

Then there's all the company does for Canada. Would Corb Lund and Tim Hus get played on regular country radio, or have anyone take a chance? The rebirth of Ian Tyson with his modern real cowboy music has been a continuing joy for over 30 years. There's the different talents of Spirit of the West, Jr. Gone Wild and Harry Manx. And the blues and jazz along the way: Jeff Healey, Kenny "Blues Boss" Wayne, Long John Baldry, King Biscuit Boy, Paul Reddick and Big Dave McLean, they're all here, some old cuts, some brand new.

The format has stayed the same, with one disc of singer-songwriter types, one of blues and such, and a third that always rareties of some sort, sometimes a DVD of videos. This time it's twelve unreleased or ridiculously hard-to-find cuts you'd have to spend a fortune for on eBay. There are two cuts from the original delta blues player Sam Chatmon, a couple from Eric Bibb that had only come out in Europe, a new cut from David Wilcox that will be on his next album for the label, and the surprising instrumental version of Amy Winehouse's Rehab from Duke Robillard, that only came out as a download back in 2009. These are great samplers of the Stony Plain 40-year legacy. If you had each one over the years, you'd have a darn good roots/blues collection. But then, you'd probably just want to buy every album they put out.