Wednesday, August 31, 2016
When was the last time you bought an instrumental collection? And I don't mean classical or jazz or soundtracks, something that is commonly vocal-less. Our popular listening habits have changed dramatically in the last four decades, and even Booker T. Jones sings on his albums now. It might surprise folks to realize that back in the late 50s and early 60s, bands often just played instrumentals at gigs, including guitar fans such as Neil Young and Randy Bachman.
There are retro surf bands, and of course, the beloved Shadowy Men On A Shadowy Planet, but they have been so few and far between, and often it's raunchy guitar rock for guitar fans. Subtle and quiet music is darn hard to find, especially if you want something fresh, modern and smart.
This is the thing, then. Aaron Comeau is an up-and-coming producer and instrumentalist from Toronto, with credits ranging from The Skydiggers (the band's go-to touring guitar player) to Sam Cash to Al Tuck. He runs his own studio, and has put together this all-instrumental set in a unique package. It's a box of five EP's, running from 11 to 28 minutes, each with a different style and theme. He handles the bulk of the playing, either piano, pump organ or guitar, but it also includes two sets and one loose cut featuring a trio with upright bass and drums.
Mood music is the wrong term, for all its connotations, but moody is right. Both the first and fifth discs, This Is What It Sounds Like and Hymns For My Father, are contemplative, and feature a familiar, antique sound that includes the full, rich chords of church music, Protestant hymns. It reminds me of what Garth Hudson said of The Band's so-called rural and Southern music, that much of the melody could be found in the Anglican hymnals he played from in his teens.
The Early Winter set features the trio, and tackles that most Canadian of feelings, when we welcome back the winter, with those touchstones of our identity; the first snowfall, the shorter days, the first time skating. Themes repeat, patterns emerge, heartwarming notes and inspiring chord changes feature in music you feel as much as you hear. Reverence, or The Rise & Fall Of The Good Ship Mathilda is the wild card set, a total improvisation with the trio, the experimental piece.
Exile would be a brave release at any time, even more so as a debut. In a world where we've lost some of the experience of actually stopping and listening to music, and feeling what it's about, perhaps it would make a good debut instrumental album for you. You can find it at aaroncomeau.bandcamp.com/.
Sunday, August 28, 2016
We know the drill, it's been the same since the 70s. The Stones make an album, go on tour, then they release a live album, and a live concert film. It hasn't changed, except they don't bother making new albums any more, since they don't sell, they just put out a super deluxe bonus something box.
Well, there was one time when they shook things up. During the huge Voodoo Lounge tour, it was decided they should shake things up for the usual live album they would record. Unplugged was all the rage then, but the Stones weren't about to slouch into MTV like all those others. They had business around the world, after all. So they designed a Rolling Stones version of unplugged, which would allow them to strip down on certain stages, and play some very different tracks in much more intimate venues. Well, 1500 to 2000 is pretty intimate for them.
The resulting album was probably a bit of a flop in sales terms, considering they could have gone the Unplugged route and sold numbers like Clapton and Rod Stewart and Nirvana. But as for quality, well ... it's easily one of the very best of the many Stones live sets before or since, thanks to the concept they created. With some tracks recorded in the studio in Tokyo with acoustic guitars and a relaxed vibe, plus others done at three shows in small venues in Europe, it was the Stones as we'd never heard them before; a bit like the old club blues band, but now perhaps the best rock and roll machine going, without the oversized silliness of the stadium.
This deluxe set lives up to its name, by giving us pretty much everything from the Stripped shows. It's four DVD's and a CD, housed in a very cool hard-cover book, with the whole story in the notes and a ton of great photos. Everything's better in small halls, as both the photos and video shows. All three of the Stripped shows are included, each with widely varying set lists. The fourth DVD is a reworked version of the documentary on the whole plan, something that didn't get a lot of airing in the first place, it was certainly new to me. The CD isn't the original one either, but a compilation of other tracks from the shows, so you can still keep that original version of Stripped too.
Wow, watching the band interact with the very close audience is great, and you can see so much better what a truly stupendous stage group they were. They were all around 50 at this point, and on top of their game still. Richards and Wood were both on fired, Wood especially enjoying playing lots of slide and acoustic leads. Jagger is so much more enjoyable without all the huge stage antics, and with everybody so close, they were really enjoying each other's company. There's a joy throughout each show, onstage and backstage, and even Charlie seemed happy to be doing something different, and obviously fun for them all.
Famously, this is where they covered Like A Rolling Stone, and it was a darn good choice, despite the corniness of the joke. But there are lots of songs that rarely, or even never made live playlists; Shine A Light debuted live here, and Keith played Between The Button's obscure Connection. The Spider and the Fly got brought back, and cool mini-sets emerged: the faux country numbers Dead Flowers, Sweet Virginia and Faraway Eyes, the early covers Not Fade Away and It's All Over Now, acoustic guitar-led takes of Beast of Burdon, Angie and Let It Bleed. Even Monkey Man shows up one night in Brixton. As Jagger jokes about having to remember all the old lyrics, "It's like being on Rolling Stones quiz show."
There are a few options of what to buy, including just the documentary, a combo pack with the doc and the CD, etc. But I sure love the big set, with all three quite different shows and the great book. If there was ever a better version of Midnight Rambler than the Paris one, I don't know it. If they ever had more fun on stage, I haven't seen it. And if Keith and Mick ever looked happier to be together on the same set, it would have been acting, because here you can't hide the pure pleasure this brought them. Oh, and Charlie smiled. A lot.
Saturday, August 27, 2016
B.C. blues writer Bill Johnson says on the faux-autobiographical cut Nine Dollar Bill, "Don't call it jazz, it's my West Coast jumpin' blues," but don't let him fool you. No it's not jazz, but there's darn near every kind of blues on the veteran's latest. He's a deft hand at each blue style, and not afraid to branch out by throwing in lots of roots moments as well.
Night Train has some Old West mystery in it, a touch of Rawhide guitar, definitely a sundown song. Cold Outside grabs the dirty 30s feel, where cold doesn't just mean the temperature. In My Natural Ability, he take on a slow, B.B. feel: "I got an inclination for the blues, and a natural ability to lose."
As you can tell by the above line, Johnson has a natural ability with words, and the album shines musically from top to bottom, it's the all-original lyrics that make it all new and fresh. Makes A Fella Nervous is a fun cut about being a little paranoid around the police, which sounds old-time, but could be about today. He saves the
killer lyric for last; Angeleen is about a femme fatale of the heart, someone who brings only pain for those who love her. But he feels she'll meet her match, "If there is on Earth some kind of lover's justice." These are the kind of high-quality lyrics I'm far more used to hearing in the singer-songwriter world.
Friday, August 26, 2016
You wanna rock? Well, how about Mind Over Matter, with its insistent bass line, machine gun rhythm guitar, and those awesome early Beatles answering harmonies ("Do-you-know/do-you-know?"). While the sound is joyous and all-important, the lyrics are a big part of the fun too, these folks love a great couplet: "The sun is up, the rain is gone, why you feeling so put-upon?" starts To Your Satisfaction. And what can you say about the sentimental message of opener Back Among Friends, as great a homage to pop music, their own music, and their friendship as can be: "Maybe we're riding our luck/but from the first chord that we ever struck/rough and a little too tough/it's been easy and natural, off the cuff."
At nine tracks and 28 minutes, this is over way too fast but lets hope that means more songs left over for more albums. I can't remember an album I love start to finish more that this in years.
Thursday, August 25, 2016
While Barr's vocal is always buried and somewhat ragged, it's often contrasted by clear, ear-sweet elements, like the violin part on opener Where Did You Go, or the bit of organ that peaks through the sludge of that track's second, intense part, called !?!. That's the one that goes all nuts with the distortion and chaos at its end. As if in relief, the rest of the set is relatively pain-free musically at least, with the acoustic strumming of Joe, and its gentle admonishment of a friend touching, with actual nice harmonies.Anyway, a lot to digest in a short time, but that's what the repeat option is for.
Tuesday, August 23, 2016
I know lots and lots of record collectors and I can't think of one that owned this album, but that's because in 1967, everybody was buying Sgt. Pepper. But even The Hollies were trying to embrace the new psychedelic sounds, and this was their most serious attempt. They insisted they would only record their own compositions, and they wanted to get far out. The cover art was one of the very first psychedelic designs, and inside the songs were filled with special effects; phasing, distortion, all manner of trippy vocals.
Funny though, despite all the attempts, the best songs here have catchy pop underneath the trickery, with the joyous Hollies harmonies bursting out. They were becoming better songwriters, but not in the psychedelic scene. That was better left to the likes of The Pink Floyd; like The Rolling Stones effort of the time, Their Satanic Majesties Request, good songs were somewhat obscured, and a few dumb ideas were allowed because they were, well psychedelic, man.
There are great pop numbers here such as Have You Ever Loved Somebody and You Need Love, as fine as any of their contemporary hits. On the con side, there's the horrible Rain On The Window, with it's "pitter patter, pitter patter" vocal, and a verse pattern stolen from the earlier hit Bus Stop. Ye Old Toffee Shoppe is lame as well, with its harpsichord and "good little boys" buying sweets. I say, Terrance and Phillip.
In case you are that person who has bought this album at some time (I do not know who you are), this is the British version, not the North American. Like many British Invasion bands, they had their albums chopped down from longer lengths in Europe, and here it's 12 cuts instead of the 10 of the U.S./Canadian set. Plus, the original British album had none of their current 45's present, while here they added Carrie Anne to boost interest.
This package features the full psychedelic cover in all its glory (also edited in the North American packaging, the titles changed and cropped), and comes with both the mono and stereo LP's, so you get to decide which you like better. I find a little more depth to the stereo in this case, but both sound great, re-cut from the original master tapes, and pressed on heavyweight vinyl. As it turns out, it was an album I should have had, and it only took 50 years to find out.
Monday, August 22, 2016
MUSIC REVIEW OF THE DAY: THE BEACH BOYS - BECOMING THE BEACH BOYS: THE COMPLETE HITE AND DORINDA MORGAN SESSIONS
Huge boxed sets by The Beach Boys for Pet Sounds and Smile, as well as the fascinating recording studio scenes in the Brian Wilson biopic Love and Mercy have created an interest in the process of making songs. Take after take have been issued, allowing us to listen to the making of a record like Good Vibrations or God Only Knows, with different parts and instruments added and subtracted, vocals flubbed, and lyrics altered. The Beach Boys are not alone in this either; the most recent of the Bob Dylan bootleg series did the very same for his 1965-66 period, including an entire disc of sessions for Like A Rolling Stone.
This two-disc set takes us back to the very creation of the band, even before they were named The Beach Boys, just some suburban L.A. kids who thought surfing might make a good topic for a hit. It's 1961, and the 19-year-old Brian Wilson had dragged his brothers, a cousin and a friend into a local low-level studio, recording for a couple named Hite and Dorinda Morgan, who pretty far down the ladder when it came to the music industry, but a chance is a chance. With a rudimentary mono recording of the song Surfin', written by Wilson and Mike Love, the group got on local radio, got named by a local radio promotion guy, made it to #3 on the charts in Los Angeles and #75 nationally. It was enough to get them in the door at the big time, Capitol Records, and stars were born, with hits such as Surfin' Sufari, Surfer Girl and Surfin' U.S.A. making them the top band in the States for the next five years.
This set shows us it wasn't that quick a process, and how important the six months working with the Morgans were to Wilson, and how much growth the band went through in this short period. Hite Morgan was no great recording genius, and didn't realize he had one right under his nose in Brian. All Morgan did was call out for a new take when a mistake wrecked the recording, and it was left to Brian on the studio floor to figure out how to get a full take from his teenage mob. At this point, they weren't great studio singers, nor were they good players. The instrumentation is as simple as can be, all that they could manage. On Surfin', the percussion is a snare drum played by Brian with his hand. But within a few takes, all heard here, they manage to get it together.
After Surfin' hit, the band was back in, looking for a second single. Now, Wilson brought in more sophisticated tunes, including Surfer Girl and Surfin' Safari. These are early versions, not the hits released a year later by Capitol. The lyrics are very different to the latter track, but the basic tunes and arrangements are fully formed, showing that Wilson had in just a few weeks gone from the simplistic to the sublime, and on his own come up with two future smash hits. The band goes through the process again, several takes of working the songs into a decent shape. But wisely, the band and their manager, the Wilson's father Murray, decided they could do better than the Morgans, and started shopping these tracks around, leading to the Capitol deal.
Some of this music has been available for years of course, and back in the late 60s the Morgans sold most of the tracks to other labels for cheap budget-priced albums. They have filled bargain bins and used stores for years, with titles such as The Beach Boys Biggest Beach Hits, confusing listeners with weaker takes of familiar songs, or a limp instrumental called either Karate or Beach Boys Stomp, 15-year-old Carl Wilson's first attempts at lead guitar. But we've never had all the takes, all the material the Morgans recorded until now. There's the rare Kenny and the Cadets single, where the Morgans hired Brian, Carl and even their mother Audree to sing on a couple of tracks to try to cash in on the Barbie doll craze. Brian's pure falsetto sounds great on that one. There's even a version of Surfer Girl where Morgan added an unknown session singer as the lead voice later in the track, which completely recasts the very famous song.
I can't say everybody will be entranced by this process, hearing several takes of the same song, and only nine different cuts over two-plus hours of listening. But if you're into the history of the great bands, and enjoy the unfolding of the important moments, this kind of set is lots of fun.
Sunday, August 21, 2016
A righteous and rare reggae set which even the passionate of fans would probably not have until now. This was a set issued in Jamaica back in the mid-70s, collecting sound soulful covers done up by musicians hanging around the label then. Mostly these are instrumentals, versions of older hits by the label's stars, including numbers by John Holt, Burning Spear and the like, Now a newer generation, one influenced by popular U.S. soul music was folding that into reggae.
The stars here include Jackie Mittoo, who by that time was living in Toronto, and gets the title billing on three cuts. There's Im and David, responsible for five of the tracks; the lone full vocal number is Lloyd Williams, and the final number is credited to The Boss, who was of course label head and producer Clement Dodd, who got to intone the title line in Great Gu Gu Mu Ga.
But the real star was JA guitar great Ernest Ranglin, whose ringing wah-wah rhythm and lead playing is mixed way up, and provides a whole bunch of funk, even in Williams' vocal cut. He deserves to be a bigger name for sure. And since it's the 70s, Dodd's production techniques are vastly improved, and the mix here is vibrant, the muddiness of the 60s sides gone. Although a little slight at 10 cuts and 30 minutes, this is a beauty of a listen for reggae lovers.
Saturday, August 20, 2016
Simone's career was still on the rise when she jumped to the Philips label in 1964, and the three years and seven albums she released with that company are a high mark. This box collects all seven, and while there are no bonus, and no liner notes other than the ones on the original jackets, it's for the most part tremendous music and great value. Thanks to the 'net, you can pretty much do all the research yourself these days anyway.
Simone's reputation as a difficult artist has always hung in the air, and restricted interest to an extent, as some have assumed it means a difficult listen too. That's just not the case. It's been established she was bipolar, which goes a long way to explained her erratic nature in concert and in life, but as for her material in her prime, she's extremely enjoyable, and quite accessible. Unique too, as she fused her classical piano expertise (Julliard-trained) with pop, soul, theatre, jazz, virtually everything. Her genius is easy to hear, as both her vocals and arrangements stress emotion, from beauty to anger.
Her move to Phillips coincided with her willingness to put her strong support of the civil rights movement on her recordings. The first here is a live disc (she released several concert albums in her career), Nina Simone In Concert, which featured her stinging Mississippi Goddam, a condemnation of atrocities in the state. It also features a version of her early hit I Loves You, Porgy, and her arrangements of show tunes were certainly one of her strengths.
The six studio albums that follow are all in the 35-minute range, standard for the day, and considering the brief time span covered, that's a bunch of excellent music. There are a couple that don't quite gel, but there are always at least a couple of amazing songs on each. Broadway...Blues...Ballads is the lightest, but has stellar versions of Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood and See-line Woman. Once Simone did her versions, most others paled.
Then there are albums that never let down, the best being I Put A Spell On You. As well as the title cut, she adapts a trio of surprising, and highly-effective show tunes, the fun Marriage Is For Old Folks from The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, and two from Anthony Newley's The Roar of the Greasepaint. These are difficult songs, they are popular, and Simone plays, sings and inhabits them with immense talent.
Friday, August 19, 2016
Basile reunites with his Roomful of Blues colleague from the 70s, producer Duke Robillard, on a set that features the big horn swing and jump blues they know how to do so well. Basile's a rare bird, a band leader whose instrument is the cornet, and it's such a kick to hear this dynamic, strutting and classic horn take so many solos. It just immediately connects the music back to its century-old roots.
Smartly though, Basile doesn't take too many leads, lest we tire of the novelty. Instead, we get full horn arrangements, featuring another ex-Roomful player, the always mighty Doug James, and Rich Lataille, still helping keep Roomfull alive, on sax. There's some great piano work from Bruce Bears, and lots of guitar, including a couple of guest solos from Robillard. But it's really the great grooves here that make it all special. Listen To The Elders feels like WW II big band, with a clockwork rhythm. Keep Your Love, Where's My Money? is New Orleans, and Big Trees Falling has that unstoppable B.B. King power.
The sounds are diverse throughout, which is a real tribute to Basile's range as a writer. The middle years of the 20th century were a rich time for the blues, and Basile and the players are some of the very best at taking those influences and coming up with new and vibrant material. Forty years on, the Roomful of Blues concept is still bearing fruit.
Wednesday, August 17, 2016
Mullins took Cape Breton to Cuba on his last album, but this time he stays home to craft a straight-ahead, unabashedly catchy and pleasing folk-pop album. It's as warm and warm-hearted as can be, full of strong sentiments, relaxing grooves and welcoming melodies. If the album was a book, it would be in the self-help section: The Power of Positive Singing.
Apple Of My Eye is a chipper, happy-go-lucky tune, like McCartney doing old British music hall numbers, complete with whistling. Oh No is more in the tough love vein: "You said boy, get off your ass." Big Spruce puts a more positive spin on the life of travelling back and forth to Alberta for work: "My girl is holding the fort while I'm up in Fort Mac/She's waiting for me and I can't wait to get back."
Mullins is one of the most adept musicians on the East Coast, often working as a percussionist for several name performers,as well as an educator and workshop leader, plus a multi-instrumentalist. Aside from the fiddling here, and help from Gordie Sampson and friends on the Big Spruce track, he played and sang the whole album. Here, his good vibrations are infectious, and it's easy to be won over to his optimism. It's an 11-track group hug.
Tuesday, August 16, 2016
In 2013, a new Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings was sent out to media outlets a couple of months before its official release date, standard practice to entice some early excitement and reviews. But then word came that the album, Give The People What They Want, was to be delayed, and all concerts postponed. Jones had pancreatic cancer, but there was never any indication she would not return with the album as soon as possible.
That's exactly what happened, and by 2014, after chemotherapy and invasive surgery, Jones was back, the album earned a Grammy nomination, and a new Christmas album followed soon after. Then came news of documentary film by Oscar winner Barbara Kopple, covering Jones' amazing career and inspiring, gutsy battle with her illness. At the film's launch at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival, Jones announced that her cancer had returned, but she would continue chemo treatments, and vowed to keep fighting.
The latest news is that the movie has now been widely released, the soundtrack arrives Friday, and Jones is doing well according to her website, although she's had to cancel her August European tour, as it conflicts with a procedure related to her treatment that must be done. In the meantime, there's this bit of awesomeness to enjoy. The soundtrack disc is over an hour and could be called a best-of set, except that it's virtually impossible to narrow down Jones in such a way. Her recording career suffers from few bumps or low points, and you could arguably take an hour of her music from any of her releases and come up with a best-of just as strong.
What they did choose is a cross-section of cuts that range back to some earlier, harder funk (the non-Lp single Genuine Pt. 1), a couple of soundtrack-only cuts, the must-have favourite 100 Days, 100 Nights, and lots of cuts from her most popular albums from the past decade. The magic of Jones and the Dap-Tone folk is that in their hands, soul music never sounds old-fashioned. They refuse to treat it as anything other than a very current form, yet don't borrow hot production trends or court other recent forms. This is soul music, as powerful as ever.
There's one new track from the film, the appropriate I'm Still Here which closes the set. It's biographical, but not dwelling on her recent illnesses; instead, it's about her family's fight to survive when moving to New York in 1960. You get the picture that her current strength is nothing new.
Sunday, August 14, 2016
A serviceable collection of big hits from JA that doesn't stray too far from the mainstream of reggae, staying away from most of the branches while keeping with the bigger names. So no dub, no dancehall, no lover's rock, nothing overly weird, yet still pretty solid. A safe but unarguable primer then.
Well, the only argument you might have is that the Marley track chosen is a remix of Jamming from a 2013 collection, but really, if you don't have that song already, you'd probably never buy a reggae set. But then the hits come flying. From the heyday, you get Jimmy Cliff's The Harder They Come, Toots' Pressure Drop, and Junior Murvin's Police & Thieves. Next generation stars include Third World, Gregory Isaacs and Black Uhuru , all popular choices. The British cousins are represented by stronger tracks from Steel Pulse, Aswad and UB40. I usually draw the line at Shaggy's Boombastic, but it would be curmudgeonly of me to argue for it's non-inclusion I suppose.
This is probably way too common for the bigger reggae fan, but if you want something to take someone to the next step after Marley and The Harder They Come soundtrack, this is be a good one. It's not for purists, but would let a newby make the decision to follow more pop tracks by Aswad and the like, or get political with cuts such as Marcus Garvey and Ku Klux Klan.
Thursday, August 11, 2016
Surprisingly harder pop-rock from the New Brunswick songwriter on her second full release, at least compared to her first, more singer-songwriter styled release from way back in 2011. She's actually been sitting on these tracks for awhile, and it's good to see strong rockers such as Won't Do This finally arrive. They are all full-band rockers, heavy on the crunchy lead guitar courtesy of Aaron Currie.
Waiting a couple of years to release them probably works out pretty well for Reinhart, as they fit in well with the current 80s fixation. I can think of a few spandex-clad bands from then that would have killed for Liam, Shut Your Mouth or some of the other nasty-edged, emotional cuts. Her short, sharp lyric lines fit with the power chords, and rattle a few bones along the way.
Reinhart will be in Saint John in Kings Square on Thursday, Aug. 18, again in Saint John on Saturday, Aug. 27 at Decimal 81, in Moncton at Plan B on Monday, Aug. 29, and will have a CD release party in Fredericton on Sept. 12 at Planet Hatch.
Monday, August 8, 2016
If you aren't familiar with Van Morrison's landmark live album It's Too Late To Stop Now, you should stop right now and get it. Like many other fans, I'm of the opinion it ranks among the great live documents, the great singer with his best band, and some amazing performances put together from a series of shows in 1973. Morrison is on fire, approaching the material as more of a jazz singer, finding new melodies and different places in the rhythm to inject the lyrics, or scat into the proceedings, an equal instrument in the proceedings. Anyway, go get it, listen, love.
This is not that original album. Instead, it's more and more of it, with no duplication from the original. They've gone back to the original shows, and found a further three CD's worth, over three hours of material from four separate nights. Plus, there's a DVD of 50 minutes of the shows at London's Rainbow Theatre, so we now get to see the magic of that band in action, a very exciting addition indeed.
The band was named the Caledonia Soul Orchestra, a huge band featuring 11 members, including four string players and two horns. They had the groove and energy of one of those great soul revue bands of the past, with everything being played just a bit faster than normal, with a sense of urgency. This wasn't just a show, it was potentially the most important sound in the world that night, and in case it was, they weren't going to let anybody down.
Oh, and there's something else of note. Unlike almost every other live album released, there's no doctoring after the fact. The original album, and these other shows are just as they were played, no overdubs or edits. That makes it all even better, because you know, for sure, this is how it went down, it was that good.
The only problem is that since Morrison cherry-picked the best performances for the original album, some of the songs aren't quite up to those standards. We've heard the very best, now we get the rest. Don't get me wrong, it's still pretty awesome, but there are now some sloppy moments, sometimes Morrison's ad-libbed vocal noises are more distracting than enjoyable, and the concert flow isn't there, since there are gaps where tracks from the original album have been removed. Anyway, it's a minor gripe. I used to have a two-album live set I thought was the best in the world, 80 minutes total, and that's now four times longer.
Sunday, August 7, 2016
Well, who knew that William Friedkin made an even scarier movie than The Exorcist? Back in 1967, the future top Hollywood film director had only done documentaries and TV shows, until he was approached by none other than Sonny and Cher, then two of the hottest stars around. Like The Beatles and Elvis, they wanted to expand their audience by moving to movies, and the team concocted a comedy based on the duo's wacky personae.
Sound familiar? Yes, it was a trial run for what the couple would do on their hit TV show several years later, and as a series of vignettes, it was not far off the whole MTV concept either. The trouble was, is also stunk a whole lot. Not that man people saw it then, or have seen it since. Between the time they started it, and the time it was released, the pair's fortunes had plummeted in the fast-moving pop world, and it would be four years before they would surprisingly reappear.
What was pretty good was the interesting soundtrack album. Sonny composed a group of songs to go with each vignette in the movie, including the decent, although minor hit, It's The Little Things. Since they played a version of themselves in the film, he reprised their big hit, I Got You Babe, but in two new versions, one a take with an orchestra and children's choir, and the other, a cool acoustic version. There were only eight cuts on the original, but they certainly showed how much Sonny had learned working closely with Phil Spector, and that he had come into his own as a producer.
To bulk up the CD for reissue, it now includes three extra cuts: The original, hit version of I Got You Babe, the single Plastic Man from the same time period, and the single edit of It's The Little Things, of the best non-hits by the pair. This is a good one for 60s pop fans and history buffs.
Saturday, August 6, 2016
The Arkells have a couple of big things going for them, that keep them ahead of the alt-rock pack. First, the songs are always interesting. They are captivating narratives, non-rhyming short stories that often immediately grab you. It's off-beat and surprising, with songs such as Round and Round which opens with the line "I had the grace of a diplomat on his best behaviour," which makes you want to know where that song is going to go. And Drake's Dad? Who even thinks about having Drake's dad show up at the start of their song?
The other big thing is that all these songs are ridiculously catchy. How they can manage to shoehorn all those words and story lines into easy-on-the-ears. compact rockers is a wonder in itself, but they always make 'em like hit singles. Although they don't sound much the same, the group's approach reminds me of The Tragically Hip: smart, interesting, catchy.
Friday, August 5, 2016
A largely forgotten vocal group from New Jersey in the mid-to-late-60s, The Happenings scored four Top 20 hits, plus several more charting ones before their sound plummeted out of style. Discovered and produced by fellow vocal group The Tokens, they had a mix of The Lettermen and Four Seasons, old barbershop harmonies and big production, they specialized in new pop arrangements for old, familiar tunes. The group's breakthrough, See You In September, had been a minor 50s cut but a #3 smash for them. They followed that with an update of Steve Lawrence's Go Away Little Girl, landing another hit.
And so the formula was set, with the only change coming when the group went even further back for source material. Covering the Gershwin's I Got Rhythm proved a novelty hit, and then they even went to the Al Jolson catalog, with My Mammy. But they went back to that well too many times, and the old Theresa Brewer number Music Music Music barely cracked the Top 100, despite a Beach Boys-styled harmony opening.
The last gasp for the group came in 1969, when their label tried to drag them into the peace and love generation, getting them to cover a song from the hit musical Hair, Where Do I Go/Be-In/Hare Krishna. Nothing doing, these Jersey boys were too white bread and old-school to pull off that transition. Fans of sunshine pop may find enough joy here, and it's certainly the most comprehensive and well-packaged collection of the band out there, with every one of their chart entries included among the 16 cuts.
Wednesday, August 3, 2016
North Van's bassist extraordinaire, Disterheft recruited a couple of awesome pals for this trio album. 80-year old Harold Mabern is one of the few remaining piano giants, best known as an in-demand sideman for decades, accompanying everyone from Miles to Sarah Vaughn to Lee Morgan to Wes Montgomery. On his own, or in small groups like this, he's a confident, energetic player with lots of blues in his bop, making for melodic and exciting tunes. On drums is Joe Farnsworth, a former student of Mabern's, known for his time with Diana Krall and Pharoah Sanders.
It's her name on the cover, but Disterheft treats this much more as a trio album, with lots of space for both Mabern and Farnsworth to lead. A mix of originals by her, and one from Mabern, plus some lesser-known covers, this is all pretty much fresh music to most ears. It's all lively, even the ballads; as the tempo slows, both Disterheft and Mabern play some of their fastest work, a smart style, and certainly a great way to appreciate the skills. Disterheft also treats us to two vocal numbers. She's a capable singer, and it helps pace the album, making sure there isn't a chance anyone could tire of the trio format. I don't see how that could happen though, this music smokes right along with strong melodies and imaginative moves at every turn.
Monday, August 1, 2016
What's the most fascinating instrument in the orchestra? The one that can do it all, hit every note, make all the chords, and mimic all the other lesser one? The human voice of course, on its own or with plenty of pals. A cappella groups are pretty much always treated as novelty acts, but they are always pretty fascinating too. Toronto's Countermeasure gets placed in the jazz vocal world, but the large group of 14 fabulous singers can handle everything and anything, doing a pretty solid rap-based cut, soundscapes, choral work, re-imagined rock tunes, and show tune styles.
Behind it all are the complex arrangements of Aaron Jensen, envisioning new and wildly different arrangements for the works, several of which you'll know, but certainly not like this. Bruce Cockburn's Lovers In A Dangerous Time is just as much about the tones and sounds, the melody removed. The Beatles' I Saw Her Standing There becomes a mix of elements from several of their songs, bass lines here, little melody moments there. The specialists involved come through with more than just the basic beat box sound; there are saxophones, trains, all manner of percussion, electric guitar, whatever is called for, or whatever comes to mind to surprise. It's no novelty for sure, it's inspired and something to dig into and repeat.