Monday, October 31, 2016


Of course we want it darker, you're Leonard Cohen. You've been a beautiful downer for six decades. How bleak can you get it? This time, Leonard's preparing for the end, signing off, giving up. He's apologizing to lost loves for old sins, and ready to meet the maker he's been talking to all these years. Whatever amends he needs to make, this is the time, while he still has some faculties. As for anyone who holds out some hope, his message is clear: "I'm leaving the table, I'm out of the game." He's gone one further than his pal Dylan, who sang "It's not dark yet, but it's getting there." It's dark in Cohen's world, and he's practically revelling in it.

But quitting? No, he still has music work to do, songs to finish. The lyrics are about the human condition, but he still wants to get them out. And he sounds just grand, in fact stronger than his last couple of albums. Part of that may be the new blood in the mix, blood kin. His son Adam produced six of the nine tracks (long-time collaborator Patrick Leonard was around for the others), and got very effective vocals, that stirring, low, half-spoken style Cohen has used since the 80s. Only this time, its settled among some new ideas, including some choirs and different backing vocals, and more strings than in the past. The album opens with choral vocals, bringing up church/synagogue settings. Steer Your Way has a gently pulsing string section driving the rhythm, and pair of violins swirling around him. It's the most remarkable of a very strong album. Since he brought it up, if this is Cohen's final word, there's lots here to digest and appreciate.

Saturday, October 29, 2016


The remarkably long-lived Headhunters, whose band roots in that state go back to 1968, gravitate back and forth between rock, blues, and honky-tonk, so we'll call it roots then, but with a bit more southern bent. This time out, the rock side is winning, and there's certainly nothing wrong with that. The Brothers Young (Richard, vocals and guitar, Fred on drums) have no problem making it loud, proud and steady with nods to their geographical influences (Way Down Yonder, where we'll see "Hot 'Lanta on a Saturday night".) But they don't make it cliche Allman's/Skynyrd by any means.

This stuff is loaded with early rock/r'n'b influences, with Jukebox Full Of Blues tipping us off to their personal playlist: Suzie-Q, Blue Suede Shoes, Maybelline, the entire Chuck Berry catalogue in fact. Governors Cup caps things off with an instrumental that's half Carl Perkins, half Les Paul. Prime boogie, this.

Friday, October 28, 2016


The dean of Canadian singers tackles the Great Canadian Songbook, and truly we should start looking at it as such. When you're talking the level of writers such as Mitchell, Cohen, Young, Robertson, and Lightfoot, this is top-tier no matter where you live.

Clayton-Thomas does a very interesting take on things, on what could have been a very safe project. Half of it is the standards, from Heart of Gold to Early Morning Rain to Both Sides Now to Suzanne. But his secondary choices are unexpected, adventurous and even oddball. He calls on his jazz chops and a smart arrangement for a brand-new vision of Sarah McLaughlin's Angel, almost unrecognizable but still beautiful. He reminds us of the greatness of Montreal-born Alex Kramer, who along with his wife Joan Whitney from the U.S. wrote the Bing Crosby hit Far Away Places, as well as Ain't No Body Here But Us Chickens, and many more. The master Canadian jazzman Guido Basso joins in on flugelhorn for that one. A couple of other huge hits by later writers are also featured, Sackville, N.B.-born Shirley Eikhard's Something To Talk About, a #1 for Bonnie Raitt, and Up Where We Belong, co-written by Buffy Sainte-Marie.

What makes the album a success is surprises. Heart of Gold with a reggae beat is certainly one, and the biggest is a crazy calypso version of Rush's Closer To The Heart. Pause. Let that one sink in for a second. What could have been the same-old same-old is Canada like you've never heard it from Clayton-Thomas.

Thursday, October 27, 2016


The 50th anniversary of Pet Sounds has already brought us a five-disc box set as well as a new vinyl edition of the renowned album. Now comes this fitting documentary tribute from the much-loved Classic Albums series. The British-made TV series has a great formula: Take the album and dissect it using the original master tapes, with the creators and audio engineers playing various segments and portions of the tracks to show how it all came together. That is interspersed with historical info and new interviews with the participants, plus the best-available archival footage of the group. It's so successful and well-done that usually everyone involved is willing to take part.

In this case, that means all the surviving Beach Boys, including creative mastermind Brian Wilson, remarkably animated and understandable for this set of interviews (he's known to do one-word answers when he isn't keen). His nemesis, cousin Mike Love shows up, although not in the same room, as there has been contact since the sour ending to the group's reunion tour of 2013. Lyricist Tony Asher is featured, Wrecking Crew drummer Hal Blaine, 60s record company people, publicists, journalists, and everybody agrees, Wilson was simply amazing at his key ability, creating, arranging and producing these masterful sounds. But here we get to find out how he did it, as instrument combinations are isolated (flutes, banjo, bass harmonica, you name it), and studio techniques and inventions are explained by the experts. To a person, these great pros do so with sheer awe over Wilson's talents, even after 50 years of familiarity for the music.

There's a decent amount of previously-unseen footage used, including more of the recently discovered stash of Wilson in the studio with the Wrecking Crew members from around these times. In addition to the hour-long original show, there's another half-hour of out-takes, including a lengthy section on Good Vibrations, which was begun during the Pet Sounds sessions, but left off to finish later. As Beach Boy Bruce Johnston rightly points out, imagine what the album would have been like if Good Vibrations had been on it as well. Considering it's already considered one of the top five or so albums of all time in most polls, and number one in some, it might by now have eclipsed the reputation of its usual rival, Sgt. Pepper. This is a must-have feature for hard-core fans of Pet Sounds.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016


Thom Swift's latest, The Legend Of Roy Black, came out back in June, but he's finally able to launch the album in his old home of Fredericton this Friday.  Of course, he did play as part of Hot Toddy at this year's Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival, so he had to put some space between that group gig and this one.  A Swift show at The Playhouse is always a fun homecoming, as he started his pro career in the city, after being raised in nearby McAdam. 

Since the album was released, it's been hailed by fans and honoured by Music Nova Scotia, where it's been nominated for Solo Recording of the Year, and Americana Recording of the Year.  Those are being handed out the first week of November in Truro.  In advance of this week's show, here's my original review of the new album.

                             THOM SWIFT - THE LEGEND OF ROY BLACK

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.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016


Here's the debut solo album from this gentle Toronto songwriter, now on tour through the East Coast. Moxam makes crisp, clear acoustic songs straight out of the 70s singer-songwriter tradition, built up with pop melodies and a subtle amount of extra instruments and harmonies. He sounds closest to an updated Cat Stevens, with precise, personal lyrics and plenty of sad chords in those heart-tugging places.

The effect is meditative, soothing and seductive, as Moxam has a fine voice and a great delivery. The slow pace lets the lines hit home: "I am a young man in my prime/wasting away my precious time." The title cut is great little tribute to a peaceful time in the outdoors: "The grass is green, the trees are tall and we should all/enjoy this lovely day." I'll buy that.

You can see Moxam in concert in Fredericton on Wednesday, Oct. 26 at Grimross Brewing, Thursday in Halifax at The Seahorse, Friday at the Tide and Boar in Moncton, and Saturday at the Dunk in P.E.I. All shows also feature Blue Sky Miners, with Moxam on bass, with them doing back-up for his shows.

Monday, October 24, 2016


This Toronto melodic rocker delights in clever moves, both lyrically and musically. Great rhymes are backed up by big hooks and classic pop moments. Clark and producer Moe Berg drop in lots of Beatles references, and each song has a catchy, well-built structure, with bridges, instrumental breaks and ear-pleasing chord changes. It's what Neil Finn and Crowded House always excelled at.

The other joy here is the interesting and off-beat storytelling. Clark draws a parallel between himself and the melancholy character of Charlie Brown in Charlie Schulz Was Always In Love, singing about drawing his life. Monica's Harmonica builds an entire song around that one little bit of wordplay, and some Attractions-like rockin'. Closing cut Dorothy is a touching, personal look at his mother's struggle with Alzheimer's. There's lots going on all through the album, and each song is full of rewards.

Sunday, October 23, 2016


The woman with the golden voice returns with the album she so obviously needed to make. Not since Dionne Warwick has there been a singer with the emotional range needed to convey the range in the Bacharach/David catalogue. Bacharach has been the English singer's biggest supporter, and shows up here with a sentimental introduction cameo to This Girl's In Love With You.

While there are plenty of well-known hits in the set, including One Less Bell To Answer, The Look of Love and What The World Needs Now Is Love, smartly Rumer goes a lot deeper into the famed duo's songbook. The Balance of Nature is prime B&D, but was only an album cut for Warwick. Land Of Make Believe was one of the best cuts on the Dusty In Memphis album by Dusty Springfield, and The Last One To Be Loved was cut by the sadly-forgotten Bacharach/David interpreter Lou Johnson, a great soul voice of the early 60's. Volume 2 anyone? Rumer?

Friday, October 21, 2016


Nelson has been knocking off the pet projects like crazy of late, doing Gershwin songs, recording with pals, pretty much whatever he wants. He's 83, you know. He's just showing off now. Nelson's mentor and friend, the late, great Ray Price is the focus here, and nobody can do Price justice like Willie. Price put so much emotion into his vocals, and Nelson has that in spades, using his own killer phrasing. In fact, I'd say Willie's version here of the great, sad classic For The Good Times (written by another pal, Kristofferson) might just be the best-ever version.

Price, although a country legend, just doesn't get the respect he deserves, and isn't as celebrated as George Jones. Patsy Cline or Johnny Cash. But Price had huge hits (Crazy Arms, Heartaches By The Number, and the Nelson-written Night Life), was king of the rock precursor honky tonk, and smoothly made the transition to ballad music of the 60s, predating the countrypolitan sound. Nelson knows all this, having played bass in Price's group in the early 60s, and here he offers up a bit of both styles. He's joined by the Time Jumpers, Vince Gill's honky tonk outfit for the fast numbers, and for the ballads Nelson uses some grand strings and nifty vocal arrangements, managing to make it all seem undated. It's both a fine tribute, and another fine Willie album, to add to the oh, 200 he's already done.

Thursday, October 20, 2016


Most E.P.s are stop-gap releases, a place for a band to put a couple of extra tracks between albums, or a smaller idea between big statements.  Or, they may be used to get something new to the marketplace ahead of a tour, something to attract a little media attention in advance of shows.  On the rare occasion, something full and exciting (albeit shorter) is presented, and this offer from The Once is just such a lucky item.

While the trio have come from a folk place since starting, with a nod to modern songwriting (Leonard Cohen covers next to traditional Newfoundland songs such as The Valley of Kilbride), as they have developed as songwriters they have explored new sonic and harmonic places.  With this release, they've pushed the boundaries further than ever.  It's no surprise that ground-breaking East Coast producer Daniel Ledwell was a fine match for the songs, having already helped shepherd albums by explorers Jenn Grant and Gabrielle Papillon.  On five studio tracks here (there are also two live versions), traditional lyrics and arrangements are swapped for echoed keyboards and vibes, airy textures, and above all, grand sweeping and ringing vocals.  Lead singer Geraldine Hollett, already widely acclaimed, has never sounded so, well, heavenly.  From her double-tracked vocal on the opening track The Blood Inside Your Heart to the choral highs of Tell Me Something I Don't Know, Hollett's singing is soul-warming.  The harmonies and arrangements are just as special, and the boys join in more than normal, giving the cut Last Lemonade lots of playfulness, a merry-go-round of vocal interplay helped along by banjo, oboe and who knows what else.

Lyrically the songs (all originals these days) are equally compelling, and come from a pretty elevated emotional place.  Gonna Get Good is a growing older pep talk, "it never gets easy, but baby, it's gonna get good."  It even has unveils a piece of wisdom: "Go and free the boy you used to be/He knows all broken bottles become sand at the sea."  Not bad at all.  In We Are Love, this time the partner provides the positive words:  "I don't believe you're a liar, I never cared what you think you are."  I'm glad these tracks didn't get diluted in an attempt to fill a full album, there's so much to explore in them, that having some less-powerful work would take away from the listening experience.  The two live versions at the end add nicely as well, showing that other strength of the group, the stage.  This E.P. is as substantial as any album you'll hear any time soon

Wednesday, October 19, 2016


The Ottawa-based Alguire has developed into a strong country-flavoured singer-songwriter over the course of six albums  This one delivers a batch of top-notch songs, with no fancy tricks and everything put in the quality of writing and honest performances.  Aided by a set of top players, including Chris Gauthier (Catherine MacLellan) on lead guitar, Miranda Mulholland (Great Lake Swimmer) on violin, Bob Egan (Blue Rodeo) on pedal steel and P.E.I.'s Meaghan Blanchard on backing vocals, there's an easy, solid confidence to everything, from 70s-era country rock (Long Way Home) to the harder-edged You Don't Write Anymore.

My Sweet Rosetta is a stand out, a haunted ballad with Mulholland's eerie ache and a guest-star duet vocal from MacLellan, in the Emmylou role.  Wasted Ways has the boldness and strength of a fine outlaw country number, with that undercurrent of sadness:  "When the wine tastes like water, then you'll know/and the whiskey's just not doing what it's been told."  More carefree on the surface is Wasting My Time With You, a reminiscence of better times in a romance, a sneaky number where the upbeat tune covers up the hard truth in the lyric.  I really like the mix of honest, classic music and thoughtful lyrics, and the strong ensemble at work on this set.

Monday, October 17, 2016


Leaning left? Looking for the band to soundtrack your protest march/pipeline blockade/yoga class? Perhaps you're a Green Party candidate in need of a theme song? Here's your band. Actually, you don't have to be a full-time activist to love Communism. Anybody with a love of brilliant, fun guitar rock, happy harmonies and crazy chord changes will want to burn their draft cards, or whatever we do in Canada these days, and dance like crazy to this New Deal.

Communism is the project of beloved drummer/producer Don Kerr (Ron Sexsmith/Rheostatics), teamed up with fun-loving fellow travelers Kevin Lacroix (bass) and Paul Linklater (guitar), currently tearing up certain southern Ontario clubs and public broadcasting airwaves. Kerr's harmony/beauty credentials were firmly established in 2005 when he and Sexsmith did the duo album Destination Unknown, northern Everly Brothers. Here, with his own pen, Kerr creates an entire sub-genre of his own, basically a bunch of songs that say what all the sane people have been thinking for a long time: Be nice, for God's sake! Be better to each other, the planet, stop being so greedy, and come on, quit killing all the bees.

Kerr and co. use the vocals as the lead instrument, and the rest of the playing is crafty and quick, bobbing and weaving, with huge HPM numbers (hooks per minute, I invented that, thanks). There's so much great power pop and smarty-pants rock going on, the message goes down smoothly, mixed with so many spoonfuls of sugar.

Sunday, October 16, 2016


It's been hard following Norah Jones, what with her various side projects and style forays. If you haven't been able to keep track of the Little Willies or El Madmo or Puss n Boots records, or whether she's playing country, rock or Danger Mouse-produced pop. You can argue she's tried hard to throw off the jazz tag she got when she started at the acoustic piano, and sold mega-millions with Come Away With Me. At least, she's tried to follow her muse rather than walk a straight line.

Patient fans of that first album will feel rewarded with this set, which sees her return to the piano and straightforward songwriting for the first time in a decade. If anything, this edges a bit closer to jazz territory, but the beauty of Jones' music is that it is a heady, singular mix of so much. Carry On has a mix of country lyric, gospel soul and jazz structure, a cousin of Makin' Whoopee. While the album is filled with her own strong songs, she also sets aside room for a fascinating cover, a version of Neil Young's biographical number Don't Be Denied. She changes the gender and lyrics to make it less, well, Neil-ish, and brings out the fascinating melody that was always there, as well as adding some subtle, Band-like horns. And as always, her exquisite vocals and phrasing are the highlight. I've actually enjoyed all her forays, but there is something about her piano-based music that is so satisfying.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016


Here's the inevitable follow-up album, the obvious part two, the sequel, the no-brainer. Sometimes, you get The Godfather Part Two, sometimes it's Cannonball Run 2. Fear not Blackie fans, this one continues a fine idea.

To recap, we first had the Kings And Queens album in 2011, where the fine gentlemen of the Rodeo surrounded themselves with female singing royalty. Thanks to active friendships, and Colin Linden's large rolodex, the band was able to call on illustrious voices including Rosanne Cash, Lucinda Williams, Emmylou Harris and Serena Ryder. That worked so well, they've now flipped the gender, and brought in the guys. It's an equally impressive roll call, and once again heavy on the country and alt-country: Raul Malo, Eric Church, Rodney Crowell, Buddy Miller, Jason Isbell and Vince Gill. But Blackie has always been more about roots and branches, so there's also City and Colour (Dallas Green), Keb'Mo', their old buddy Bruce Cockburn, and a living legend to some of us, U.K. charmer Nick Lowe. Stephen Fearing, chatting backstage before a recent performance in Fredericton, mentioned that upon meeting Lowe for the session, Tom Wilson was rendered speechless for the first time in anyone's memory.

Not ones to go the easy route with cover versions of classics, or dips into their guest's catalogues, instead the Blackie songwriters do what they do, and came up with newly written tracks, which were then doled out to the best vocal matches. And as usual for their albums, each of them (Linden, Fearing, Wilson) contributed equally, each taking a lead vocal in turn. Oh, and of course, they always do a Willie P. Bennett song, in honour of their spiritual founder, and this time it's This Lonesome Feeling, featuring Gill.

Sometimes the guest would get the lead, sometimes they would share verses, and sometimes they'd just join on the chorus, again, the song dictated what was needed. The Nick Lowe-featured number turned out to be so much in his style, it's basically all him, with writer Fearing just doing some harmony. For A Woman Gets More Beautiful, Cockburn does one of his favourite things, and sings some French verses. Linden and Miller, two producers and band leaders with deep knowledge and musical integrity, trade off lines for the fun of it all on Playing By Heart, and you can feel the common bond.

These sets can be tricky though, and there are moments that probably seemed like great choices that don't quite have the results promised. Malo, one of the great voices of our day, fails to spark the somber Fearing ballad High Wire, which doesn't allow his guest to go into his full dramatic style. And many of us love the role Linden has in the country music soap Nashville, and his mentoring of the actors for their performing parts, so it seemed fun to have the "men of Nashville" join him for a cut, but it's just a bunch of indistinct voices belonging to the actors who play Deacon, Avery Barkley, Gunnar and Will. Stunt casting that, but hey, when Van Morrison invited people to sing with him, he got Michael Buble, so I guess having your friends on the record is not so bad.

Monday, October 10, 2016


Gigantic, lavish, expensive, multi-album boxed sets are nothing new, especially in this second life of vinyl. Most of the big collectible acts have them. Usually though, they are career-spanning (Beatles, Queen, Who), or glory years (Stones, Kinks in mono, a/k/a the 60s). Nobody but nobody has got it to the level of Bowie though, and I say Bowie because he apparently mapped out this whole reissue series before he died. His first box, Five Years, covered just 1969-1973 in 13 LPs. Now the second one, also 13 LPs (or 12 CDs), covers just 1974-1976, and the albums Diamond Dogs, Young Americans and Station to Station, plus their attendant live albums.

How does he do it? To quote one of his later songs, repetition. If there's any kind of a difference in any of the songs here, we get them again, and sometimes, entire albums are here twice. Five of the 13 LPs are devoted to the 1974 album David Live. First, there's the original mix, the basic two album set. Then, there's a version that was completely remixed for a CD release in 2005, with four extra cuts originally left off the album. Now, there is a difference between the two, I couldn't say it's a better mix, but it's noticeable. It's more for fun, really. And the four extra cuts? It's longer, for sure. But all four had been issued in different places before.

Don't expect any unreleased music if you're any kind of a Bowie fan. Rare, yes, and you would have had to spend a lot of money to collect all these variations over the years, but the Bowie tree has pretty much been picked clean now. So the rare cuts-only album, Re:CALL 2 (following the first such set in the previous box), includes only 45 rpm mixes, radio edits and b-sides. Now, some of these are very good, including the great live b-side Panic in Detroit, but hey, it's already been added to the David Live album above. See how this works? Repetition. Some of the cuts are frankly interesting for their bizarre edits. The notorious short version of Young Americans, which most disc jockeys thankfully ignored, has the worst chop job ever, to take out the "President Nixon" section. Then there's the strange decision to edit Station to Station into a single by starting the song halfway through. I've always like the U.S. radio version of Rebel Rebel better than the original though, so it shines. I do believe I have that on two or three other sets though. Repetition.

The big selling point to this box is the inclusion of the previously-unheard of album, The Gouster. What, a brand-new Bowie album? Ah, no. What it turns out to be is an early version of the Young Americans album, with some different cuts and different mixes. How serious Bowie was about this being the final version is debatable, and it certainly wasn't uncommon for albums to be "complete" and then called back for major revisions after a few days and sober listens. What we do know happened was that Bowie's friendship with John Lennon at the time resulted in the pair coming up with Fame in a studio session, which obviously needed to be added. Since that happened, his cover of The Beatles' Across The Universe got done, and a whole new album came out. As for the original songs excised to make room from The Gouster project, you guessed it, they've all come out as bonus tracks over the years, including the ubiquitous John I'm Only Dancing (Again). Even the alternate mixes were used on the 1991 CD reissue.

There's a brand-new to most folks double-live album from the Station To Station tour, Nassau Coliseum '76, which is a really good look at how much Bowie had changed in the two years since David Live, with such later tracks as TVC 15, Stay and Word On A Wing. It was only available if you bought the 2010 super deluxe version of Station to Station, as well as the second version of the entire album, another different mix.

Here's what I figure though. From now on, you can save yourself a ton of bother by just getting this box, if you are that kind of fan. I don't mean the average, I love Bowie, I'm so sad he's dead fan. They should and will stick to the regular three albums, maybe get a live one someday too. These are for superfans with big wallets, or those willing to not eat this month. If that's you, my gosh this is beautiful. The heavyweight pressings, the giant, heavy box, the excellent hard-cover, full-sized book with its essays and unseen photos, the higher-quality jackets. This is how you want your hero presented. It may be a lot of repetition, but when its Diamond Dogs, Fame, Golden Years, Fascination, 1984, Wild Is The Wind, or Carlos Alomar making those cool train effects at the start of the live version of Station To Station, it's all worth repeating.

Sunday, October 9, 2016


Morrison has spent most of his career at a frantic, album-a-year pace, fine in the 70s when we somehow could handle that, but by the 90s it caused him to be undervalued. There wasn't pause to consider the releases, and certainly he could have used a little more writing time. Things have slowed down considerably in the past few years, with the last album of new material 2012's Born To Sing: No Plan B, to go along with last year's questionable Duets: Reworking the Catalogue, which featured him digging out chestnuts to perform with odd choices such as Michael Buble, Joss Stone and Mick Hucknall. One expected to see his accounting firm listed as producers.

So it is better news to see this one featuring all new original material, save for one cover (Bobby Bland's Save Your Love For Me), and all produced by Morrison. He's certainly still in control as well, playing guitar, harp, sax and even drums on a few cuts. The songs are all quality, but at first I found it a little safe. They seemed to be leaning towards the Van-lite side, softer fare with piano and crooning. He seemed to taking his own advice in the title cut: "Well I'm singing, playing my songs/Doing just what I know how to do/Right here where I belong." Still doing it, but not saying much, then.

But as the set continues, it picks up, sometimes in tempo, sometimes in topic. Memory Lane sees him walking down that old spot, but turning the tour in a lyric about aging, "I'm stuck here, on Memory Lane." Holy Guardian Angel sees him return to religious imagery, in his Celtic soul style, and it's a good one. Look Beyond The Hill is even better, almost the first half a jazz instrumental with some really interesting vibes, keyboards and horns. Then comes the coup here, a blues called Going Down To Bangor, which Morrison leads off with some solid harmonica, one of his classic travel numbers, giving us a picture of that Welsh city from some time in his past. In the end, it is Morrison, doing what he knows how to do, that is just fine in the long run.


Mid-60's soul artists, for the most part, weren't making major statements with their albums as yet. Motown, James Brown, the Stax artists, they were still treating the single as the thing, and the album was more for adults. Redding however was advancing at such a pace that no matter what he was doing in the studio was treated as something special, and he certainly wasn't going to put filler on his albums. His tremendous Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul of 1965 had been packed with both hits and solid material, and showed the long player format could excite fans as well.

Early 1966's release The Soul Album was more of a patchwork, extra tracks collected to grab some more sales, but later that year came Dictionary of Soul, and this certainly was a thought-out set with hot originals, inspired covers, and even a dip into some raw blues. If you want the Stax team of backing artists Booker T and MG's, Isaac Hayes, the great Memphis Horns and Redding in firm control of it all, this is the set that rivals Otis Blue for studio punch, and Otis's live recordings for fire power.

The big cut here is Try A Little Tenderness, so completely owned now by Redding that it has long been forgotten it's a 30's composition. There's the huge, fun groove of Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song), irresistible and impossible to not sing along to. Following up his popular remake of The Rolling Stones' Satisfaction, this time out Redding got down with The Beatles, managing to make Day Tripper funky. Just to prove he could, he did the same to that most lily-white number, The Tennessee Waltz.

Side two was truly an album side, without hits, and not trying for them either. These were soul ballads and some country blues numbers, with Redding, Steve Cropper, Duck Dunn, Al Jackson and Booker T. getting their groove on in the studio. It's a side of music that seems so natural and effortless, that one must have thought this singer, writer, band, and label would be going for a long, long time. It was the last solo album Redding would release in his lifetime, sadly.

This reissue follows the same format used for Otis Blue's deluxe set: Two cd's, the mono mix on the first and stereo the second, plus bonus cuts on each, although none unreleased previously. Disc one has five cuts, including take one of the Try A Little Tenderness session, and other rare numbers from the sessions found on posthumous compilations. Disc two has the three big album cuts, Day Tripper, Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa, and Try A Little Tenderness recorded live, taken from his various in concert albums. All Otis is great Otis, but this ranks among the very best.

Friday, October 7, 2016


Nova Scotia singer/songwriter Laurenn Marchand is capping off a landmark year heading into the Music Nova Scotia awards with three nominations, in folk, solo and new artist recording of the year. That's for her fine debut EP, called Ghosts In The Garden. Marchand has also been singled out for her writing skills, and was one of the new artists chosen to participate this past summer in the Gordie Sampson Songwriting Camp, which has been busy pumping out the best new talent in that province, including Port Cities, Quake Matthews, Reeny Smith, Mo Kenney, etc.

Ghosts In The Garden is in that place between folk and alternative, with lots of modern production, a bunch of novel arrangement ideas, but basically strongly written songs that would work just fine on acoustic too. Opener Nighttime Mistakes is stripped down to voice, harmony, beats and single keyboard notes, digital age songcraft. Following that up is Storyteller, which shows Marchand can do old school just fine as well, a touching acoustic number with lovely stand-up bass as well, about hearing a senior's life story, very effective. That number, and Young Lover, highlight her vocals, which pack a real emotional wallop, the bend of the acoustic bass on those two tracks matching the sentiment in her voice.

She's Like The Wind takes us back to more modern sounds, full drums this time, electric bass and guitar, nothing too rowdy, the voice again the strongest instrument at first. Then the guitar builds, and we hear how Marchand would sound on the alt-rock side, which is effective as well. The title cut closes off the five-track E.P., this time a banjo-fired cut, and it nicely sums all the strengths here; another great vocal, her own strong harmony, a touch of modern with full-bodied acoustic playing, a bit of a mysterious lyric, and just the slightest touch of life's sadness.

Marchand will be showcasing at Music Nova Scotia week in Truro in November, and before that plays in Fredericton at Grimross Brewery Thursday, Oct. 20.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016


Here's the word: I've always been a lyrics guy, and much of my musical enjoyment over the years has been the turn of phrase, the internal rhyme, the mixture of musical and verbal mood. Because of that, it took me a long time to get to appreciate the instrumental side. Now, don't get me wrong, I certainly love a good tune too, and yes, recognize and love the masters, from Hendrix to Satchmo. But if push came to shove, I wanted to hear a singer too, hopefully one telling me something important.

I've been lucky the last little while to get out of that prejudice, thanks to a number of factors, I've been going through some Stax collections, and hearing Booker T. and the MG's, and the Bar-Kay's again, always inspiring. I've heard a couple of recent sets of Canadian players and writers I admire, such as the recent Aaron Comeau disc recently reviewed, and the reverb-crazy guitar of C & C Surf Factory (Colin Cripps and Champagne James Robertson). And now, a fine addition by some local (to me) Moncton, N.B. players, by the name of Pony Rouge.

It's the project of guitar player and writer Pierre Pitre, ably assisted by bass player John Maher and drummer Patrick Browne. Pitre has been on the scene a bit, but this is the debut for this trio, which he describes as a jazz/rock fusion group, although that limits them a bit. That's there, but so is a lovely classical guitar piece, Raison D'etre, funky moments, and even a bit of what I'll call East Coast surf on Surf des Aboiteaux.

Pitre's no show-off, and realizes that the real value is always in the notes you are playing, not how fast or furious you're doing it. Each song has a story in the melody to follow, interesting changes and structure. Charlie Chaplin, for instance, is fun, lively, and feels like a 1920s Dixieland number, with some banjo-like chords. You can imagine the Little Tramp twirling his cane to it. There's no need for words. If you do want some all-out playing though, just skip to YQM, his tribute to Rush.

Ear Candy Goodness is being launched this Friday, Oct. 7, in Moncton at the Aberdeen Cultural Centre, at 8 p.m.

Monday, October 3, 2016


I'm definitely going have to get this Bruce Springsteen autobiography, as the Boss opens up about his depression, troubled upbringing, the price of fame, and all sorts of other interesting and personal insights. If you've read the sanctioned bio's in the past, the Dave Marsh-authored ones, it has always felt like there's been too much protection of the personal at the expense of the truth, so it will be good to see if some of that has softened with time passed on more delicate matters.

In the meantime, we get this handy companion disc to the book, songs from his life story that follow the chronology, and in some cases hold great personal significance. It's a concept that did well for Elvis Costello's book last fall, but there were two big differences. First, Costello gave himself two discs worth, a much more reasonable amount when you're talking a while live, whereas Springsteen just does one disc. Second, Costello's songs aren't as well known, the tracks aren't burned into most people's consciousness, and he could go deep into some lesser-heard albums, but Springsteen is pretty much stuck having to give us Born To Run, Born In The U.S.A., The River, important songs in his story but oh so popular already.

To make up for that, he has finally allowed the official release of some very old, pre-fame material, known to the faithful thanks to the magic of bootlegs, but hidden away for a number of reasons. Audio quality is certainly one, performance another, but hey, this is a life story, and these were important moments in those formative years, represented by five cuts. His first band, the Jersey-formed Castiles were a typical high school hop band of the mid-60s, but good enough to get gigs and a manager and record a quickly buried 45. From them we have Baby I, their hope for Top 40 fame, which features a somewhat catchy chorus, but crappy vocals, tinny sound and a group struggling with the tempo. What it does have is a guitar that stands out, with a Carl Wilson-type of solo. They were apparently better live.

That's the next track, a cover of the blues band staple You Can't Judge A Book By The Cover from a hoppin' Freehold, New Jersey club, and while the energy is there, the fidelity is sadly missing. It's remarkable that a tape of an unknown, very typical 1967 gig survived, but that's the only remarkable thing about it. Then there's a cut from band Steel Mill, Springsteen's heavy rock outfit that almost landed them a deal out in California with promoter Bill Graham. It's called He's Guilty, and was so typical of the chugging rock bands of the day, I don't know what Graham saw in them. This has better sound, as it was from a demo session they'd done for the label. Too bad it's not worth more plays.

As we get closer to fame comes Ballad Of Jesse James, by what was called The Bruce Springsteen Band, a loose group of Jersey talent that would morph into the E Street Band. It's the best of the bunch here, no surprise as it's from 1972, as he's starting to soak up the influences that would lead him to his more interesting sound and story-telling lyrics, most obviously Van Morrison. It's the cut most worth repeated listening. Finally there's one of those famous Springsteen titles among collectors, Henry Boy, a 1972-vintage track recorded at one of his acoustic demo sessions at that time. It goes along with others of that time featured on his Tracks set, and is one of his wordy numbers of that time, along the lines of Blinded By The Light, which it resembles strongly in a couple of places, and could even be a very early version before a total rewrite.

So after that interesting start, the album then goes into the basic best-of mode, with 4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy), Badlands, Brilliant Disguise, The Rising, an interesting cross-section but still, fans will have it. I dunno, the Bruce squad will buy it of course, for the new (old) cuts, but why not go the whole route? Surely there would have been other methods to present the songs, such as live versions, re-recordings, an all-acoustic set. It just seems like a tease rather than the whole story, and I hope the book doesn't feel like that too.

Sunday, October 2, 2016


Back in 2003, Randy Newman started looking back at his five-decade songwriting career, by re-recording his songs solo at the piano. Always planned as a series (the first came subtitled Vol. 1), it has stretched to three full volumes, the latest having just arrived. Even better, there's a special vinyl edition that collects all three volumes, plus six bonus cuts not found elsewhere in a four-album box. It's a sumptuous set, packaged much like the impressive classical album sets of the past, with a large book printing on expensive paper, protective inner sleeves for the albums, all the care one takes for a special set.

Of course, it is. The quality packaging says "This guy's a treasure," and he is. There's a big percentage of people who feel that's because of his string of soundtracks, especially the beloved music of Toy Story. Rightly so, if you can touch an entire generation, and many of their parents too, you've done something pretty amazing. Lots of those kids and moms and dads would be pretty shocked to hear some of the sarcastic, ironic material from his other, admittedly smaller career. With only one Top 40 hit (the still largely misunderstood Short People), his grand catalog deserves a larger audience these days. This is a great way to hear most of the best.

With just Newman at the piano, the focus is on his brilliant lyrics, with a side of grand melodies. Newman is greatly influenced by his childhood in New Orleans, and you can hear that in many of his melodies and lots of his playing and singing. You can hear stride piano, references to famous characters such as former Louisiana governor Huey Long (Kingfish), and his several songs about racism (Rednecks, Sail Away). Although initially a songsmith for hire in the 60's (Mama Told Me Not To Come, I Think It's Going To Rain Today), his sharpest commentaries proved best delivered by himself. Newman knew how to put just the right amount of irony in the vocal, a pop Tom Lehrer style. His A Few Words In Defense Of Our Country may have been written at the tail end of the embarrassment he felt at the second Bush administration, but it sure feels perfect right now in the Year of Trump insanity.

Sometimes lost in the shuffle are Newman's other skills, including some remarkable love songs, best of which is Feels Like Home. And while Joe Cocker made You Can Leave Your Hat On more sexy, the naughtiness is stronger in Newman's own version.

For those who already own the first two volumes, there might be a temptation to go for the third volume alone, and skip the pricey vinyl box, but I'd advise against it if you're a big fan (with a hundred bucks). You get Feels Like Home, A Few Words In Defense..., and four others, but more, you get the treatment it deserves. It's one of those sets that feels like it should be treated as something special, a luxury in the same way you'd treat a piece of fine art.