Thursday, August 31, 2017


After his very successful collaboration with Montreal vibraphone player Michael Emenau in the group Sussex, Lutes returns to his roots songwriter role, although there's certainly a touch more ensemble groove stuff going on. Tracks such as Pumping Love and Whistling Past The Graveyard take advantage of a full rhythm and keys section, Lutes' long-time guitar foil Rob MacDonald, and guests like Joe Grass on mandolin, Guy Belanger on harmonica and Ian Kelly on vocals.

By continuing to explore over the years and albums, Lutes has forged his own distinct approach, with albums that combine songwriter numbers, blues and touches of folk and jazz, with room for modern touches thrown in. The title cut is one of his best tunes ever, as well-crafted and heartfelt as a John Hiatt cut. Then comes a smoking instrumental, Spence, a tribute to Bahamian guitarist Joseph Spence, a big influence on players such as Taj Mahal and Ry Cooder. On it Lutes, MacDonald and Grass show off some serious string skills, another weapon in the arsenal. Its an album that deserves awards, if they can figure out which genre to slot it in.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017


The idea that Art Bergmann would be up performing at the Halifax Urban Folk Festival Thursday and Friday night seemed pretty far-fetched just a few years back. Bergmann was suffering through osteoarthritis, and was gone from the music world for over a decade. But a career-saving back operation and some titanium support beams allow him back on stage now, and last year, he released his first full album in 18 years, The Apostate. That was followed this year by the re-release of his 1991 self-titled album, which is now called Remember Her Name.

Bergmann is a founding father of Canadian punk, starting with his Vancouver band The Young Canadians, and then his solo albums. He's been through it all, and come out exactly the way you'd hope, with a social conscience and empathy for those with a hard life. Along the way, he always proved to be a great rock songwriter with an edge, letting that punk energy fire up some decidedly hooked-filled blasts. That really comes to the fore on Remember Her Name, which features the chipper single Faithlessly Yours. and the title cut, which looks sympathetically at a tough case who seems like she could be Marianne Faithful. Latter-day Marianne Faithful, that is, the rough one. Most reissues, especially 26-year-old ones, sound of their time, but there's nothing here that doesn't sound fresh and exhilarating, and with it's new name and new, current cover art, it might as well be. If you did grab this back in the day, congrats, but you may want a new copy to grab the bonus cut Wide On/Hard Body, left over from the sessions.

Bergmann plays a full show Thursday night at the HUFF at the Seahorse Tavern, backed by the Halifax All-Stars, the ad hoc group of local killers that work with visitors for the shows. Then on Friday night, he'll be part of the songwriter's circle with Moe Berg, John K. Samson and Tift Merritt at the Carleton.


Summer may be waning, but festival season is still going strong. One of my favourites is on right now in fact, the Halifax Urban Folk Festival. HUFF took a break last year, but returns with the popular multiple-club format in the city's downtown. Headliners include Skydiggers, Moe Berg, Tift Merritt, Art Bergmann and John K. Samson, and while it's always great to see the outsiders, there are tons of local East Coast artists on parade as well.

Over at the Seahorse on Friday night, locals Floodland will be launching their new album as part of the festival. Always adventurous, the group prizes its ability to be inventive, especially with melodies and harmonies, and still go crazy. Tracks such as Decades, with its explosive opening, still have charming verses, but then things go guitar-nuts. Somehow it all happens in a sensible structure, but it's just barely on the rails at times. Sun In Their Eyes starts out mellow and folky, but also gets more of that twisted guitar, and some huge, stacked vocals, pretty and powerful.

New member Tori Cameron has taken over bass, and makes those vocal blends even more pleasing, her harmonies and softer waves making those moments stand out more against the guitar creations. This is an exciting collection that walks the line between challenging and catchy, quite a thing to pull off. Catch Floodland along with Beauts and No, It's Fine at the Seahorse in Halifax Friday, Sept. 1.

Monday, August 28, 2017


While Celtic and trad and folk and country get mentioned a lot as the core sounds of East Coast music, the foundation of the scene largely happened in the '70's, when the circuit of venues around the Maritimes was established and a gang of bands were in place to put bums in seats. By and large, the sound of those bands was blues-rock, and it's never really gone away. One of the big names, and big voices of that genre is Wayne Nicholson, who was with Truro's Horse, then lead singer for Oakley into the '80's, before going solo. He's now back with this group of veteran players, lured back into the game by a successful weekly matinee gig at Monte's in Dartmouth.

Nicholson got asked to do that slot about three years ago, and eventually the players evolved into a band, The Eastenders, that he just had to get recorded. The band features Brian Bourne (Rawlins Cross) on Chapman Stick (think bass-plus), James Logan (Drum!) on guitar, and Doug MacKay (Sam Moon, Minglewood) on drums.

In case you haven't heard him, Nicholson possesses one of those remarkable set of lungs that have always been the great weapons of the blues rockers, from Paul Rodgers to Steve Winwood to Robert Plant, just full of volume and energy, enough to keep up with a powerful trio. And once you have the right four people, there's an undeniable power. The next step is the right material to dig into, and I think the group has done a solid job picking the songs, including some surprising choices.

The album opens with a somewhat obscure Gene MacLellan track, Won't Talk About Love, and the group looks at the dark edge in the song. An older Johnny Lang track follows, and the Eastenders show they can get a groove on for Stop Pushin' On Me. There are only a couple of classic blues, the standard Key To The Highway, and the old Depression number Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out, both showcases for Nicholson's expressive side. Harder numbers such as So Far So Good let Logan sizzle on guitar, and the most fun choice is a radical remake of Dylan's Watching The River Flow, which keeps the humour but toughens up the tune. It might be just one interpretation of the term, but to me, this feels like Maritime roots music.

Saturday, August 26, 2017


Favourite roots performer Oh Susanna brings her latest out on tour, including a bunch of shows in my Maritimes stompin' grounds. This one is a concept album, and a very refreshing one. She's gone back to look at her teen years, when she was doing all those heartbreaking, crazy, fun, dangerous, and life-changing things so many of us did. For Suzie, it was being a bit of a punk in Vancouver, but it feels like it could be Anytown, Canada, something familiar for almost all of us. "Meet me tonight over coffee and cigarettes, by the neon light of the Varsity Grill." It was the Capitol Gardens for me, but whatever.

There's nothing particularly exciting happening in this view of the Vancouver punk scene, but that's the beauty of the album. It's the journey and the memories that are important, the story-telling we can all recognize bits of, and the shared emotions that inspires. Walked All The Way Home is a simple story of getting carded at a club and kicked out, and heading home mad in the rain. It's the feeling she remembers, as the mood changes on the long walk, "then you see the beauty of being alone." Whether you had good or bad experiences at that age, or probably a mixture of both, there's no denying what an important part of your life they were, and Oh Susanna does a masterful job of describing that time.

You'll see Oh Susanna at the Trailside Cafe in Mount Stewart, P.E.I. on Thursday, Aug. 31. Then she hits the Halifax Urban Folk Festival on Sept 1 and 2, before landing in Pictou at Fat Tony's on the 3rd. A small break occurs, before she's at Grimross Brewery in Fredericton Sept. 6, and the Maritime jaunt finishes up Sept. 8 in Cape Breton at the Iona Heights Inn.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017


You gotta love the friendly, supportive P.E.I. music scene where friendship comes first. It's led to many fine collaborations over the years, and it also helps that the talent pool is ridiculously large, and crazy-fine for such a small region. Hence the team-up between these two, which went from friendship to writing to a full album in no time.

Ellsworth is the more established writer, with several fine roots releases to his name, and Dowling is the new hotshot, having just won Songwriter of the Year at the recent Music PEI awards, for her solo debut as KINLEY. Of course, her violin has taken her to the top with Hey Rosetta!, but this is another opportunity to stretch those new songwriting chops.

Ellsworth has never shied from the emotional, and Dowling's presence is absolutely an asset to that throughout. There's an ease and a lightness even in the sadder moments. In I Tried To Be Your Lover, she joins in harmony and seems to take the weight off a broken heart of a song. While Ellsworth takes the bulk of the lead vocals, her turn on Something Beautiful is warm and uplifting, a sunbeam to his misty summer morning.

Produced with part-time Islander Aaron Comeau (Skydiggers, Al Tuck), there's no tricks or heavy atmosphere, it's all up close and gentle, with two glorious voices helping us just....breath.

Saturday, August 19, 2017


Eagles of Death Metal were, horrifyingly for them, the band playing the Bataclan in Paris on November 13, 2015 when 89 people were slaughtered in a terrorist attack. Vowing to return, the band first appeared as guests at a U2 show a month later, and then headlined their own event at the Paris Olympia on Feb. 16, 2016, resuming their European tour. This is the show of that concert, about 90 minutes over two discs.

Although co-founder Josh Homme doesn't usually tour with the group, he made a special appearance that night behind the drum kit. But as always, on stage this is Jesse Hughes' group, with his oversized personality and enthusiasm. Since the group is largely about celebrating metal riffs mixed with over-the-top pop attitude, there wasn't going to be a big cathartic statement for the city, more like an announcement that nothing would stop the rawk. There was a brief pause right at the start in the middle of the first song, I Only Want You, and then it was Hughes' circus act the rest of the night, except for a shout-out to the group's merch manager, Nick Alexander, one of the Bataclan victims.

The last EODM album, Zipper Down, was surprisingly polished and tuneful, but that hasn't translated to the live show so much. It's still more of a full-on guitar-boogie. and Hughes is happy to keep it slightly sloppy and loud. The memorable melodies here come from a couple of tongue-in-cheek covers, Stuck In The Middle With You, now called Stuck In The Metal, and their beloved take on Duran Duran's Save A Prayer. This won't be the concert of the group's career, but it was a statement that needed to be made.

Friday, August 18, 2017


Here's an excellent way to listen and learn all about the beginnings of the King. This 3-disc set examines all his known recordings from the crucial Sun Records period, from his first two $3.98 vanity booth recordings to his remarkable sides recorded by Sam Phillips, to the incendiary live shows that he put on across the South. Crucially, a 120-page book features a day-to-day timeline that takes Elvis from the first rehearsals with Scotty and Bill to sale of his contract to RCA at the end of 1955, when it all went crazy.

What the combination of the music and book lets us do is explore how that magic came about, the almost-accidental creation of this unique brand of rock 'n' roll. Presley was a talent, but not an obvious one, and certainly Phillips and others had their doubts. Yet Phillips stuck with him, listening to his affected crooning through years-old ballads. Finally on a lark, Elvis, Scotty and Bill started goofing on That's All Right, an eight-year-old cut by Arthur Crudup, and in their foolishness turned it into an uninhabited combination of rhythm and blues and country. All Phillips had to do was slap on the slapback echo.

Disc three, which features scratchy concert fragments from October 1954 to October 1955, shows us what happened when that sound got out in the public. The worldwide hysteria was yet to come, but certainly those crowds knew something was up. These are taken from radio station concerts, including the famous Louisiana Hayride, and even the disc jockeys interviewing Presley knew how different the sound was, and how the game was going to change. Because he was white, he was still operating in the country world, but they were soon going to have to invent a new category for him and the many that would follow.

These live cuts are remarkable, both for the excitement, and for the fact they exist at all. Most have been transferred from the only copies of acetates (one-time only recorded discs, notoriously flimsy), and have had to be painstakingly doctored to save the fragile recording. One acetate was even destroyed during the process. As such, the quality is far less than hi-fi, but this is all about history.

Sadly, the outtakes found on disc two don't really add much to our knowledge. There are no eureka moments, and many of the original session tapes were destroyed, taped over and even thrown out in the transition of ownership from Sun to RCA. As hard as it is to believe, RCA cleaned out their vaults in 1959, discarding completely unreleased songs, now lost to history. These are mostly breakdowns, takes that start and stop after a mistake is made, and as such a bit dull to wade through.

The magic is disc one, featuring the original Sun sides, which get more and more exciting as Phillips and the trio figure out the kind of songs that work for them, including Mystery Train and Good Rockin' Tonight. Disc three is great to have for anyone who likes to study big bang moments in music, and the book is just fantastic, filled with stunning photos, jaw-dropping facts and the kind of interesting minutiae collectors love.

Thursday, August 17, 2017


I haven't seen the movie, which I'm told is quite good, but the soundtrack is seriously awesome. You can tell when a serious music fan is involved (one Edgar Wright is credited), someone who delights in picking off-the-beaten-track gems that will wow folks, especially rare '60's or '70's cuts. They will also have too much pride to go for obvious, big hits to curry favour with crowds. For instance here, when a Motown cut is chosen, it's not the usual Big Chill soundtrack number, but rather neglected, beautiful Every Little Bit Hurts by Brenda Holloway.

While the '60's and '70's get a lot of cuts on this double CD, more modern numbers from Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Young MC, Blur and Kid Koala make the cut too. It all fits, and the most wonderful aspect is how the selections just keep getting better and better, whether you know them or not. Whether it's the now seldom-heard rocker Hocus Pocus by Focus, the excellent Dave Brubeck cut Unsquare Dance or the long-forgotten soul hit Baby Let Me Take You by The Detroit Emeralds, each one is a delightful surprise. Any fan of the art of sequencing will smile when it goes from T. Rex's bongo-fired Deborah to Beck's Debra to Canada's old Incredible Bongo Band and Bongolia. Even the only two really well-known songs here, The Commodores' Easy and Radar Love by Golden Earring, fit so well it's hard to criticize their inclusion. The best thing is that these great cuts are largely such a mixed bag, you probably won't own more than a handful of the 30.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017


A more laid-back Whitehorse album this time, with mood and lyrics trumping guitar sonics and vocal flights. That just goes to show how well McClelland and Doucet do in those departments as well. There's still lots of edge, and some pretty sharp observations as well. "Boys like you they live with their mothers, forever and ever and ever." McClelland jabs, while in Gracie, Doucet tells us "I can hear the sniffles from behind the bathroom door, is it cocaine or heartbreak, we never can be sure."

There's a significant amount of programming and synth going on to create the dark mystery mood. While they're cool enough to play the Roadhouse in Twin Peaks, they're probably a bit too upbeat, and the couple's natural wit creeps through as well. Just to remind you of what he can do, Doucet lets out a sizzling solo finally on the last cut, Manitoba Death Star. Still, taking an album off from such stuff to throw the spotlight on songwriting is well worth it.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017


Blues bands are a little like baseball teams, I figure. Once you root for one, you always like them, no matter how much the lineup changes or their fortunes rise and fall. Real good bands, like real good franchises, always seem to be able to put on a good show. I think of The Nighthawks as like the Yankees or Dodgers, always putting a good team together. I'll stop the baseball metaphor, hopefully you get my point.

I remember seeing the D.C. band back in the mid-80's, when there was a big buzz about them. They put on a steamy show led by singer/harpist Mark Wenner and guitar player Jimmy Thackery. Only Wenner remains of the original quartet all these years later, but that high quality and intensity still remains on this latest disc. Never purists, instead the group is happy to throw a lot of styles out there, as long as has that electric energy. Case in point, this disc ends with the beloved Dirty Water by The Standells, harped-up but still retaining the garage rock feel. I can't think of another blues band that has claimed that tune. Same goes for the Jesse Winchester cut Isn't That So, bringing more of a roots sound to the fore.

There's no short-shrift to true blues either, with the group's strong originals, such as drummer Mark Stutso's VooDoo Doll, and Wenner's mellow instrumental Blues for Brother John. And the band knows how to make those old rent-party blues numbers like Willie Dixon's I Want To Be Loved just as danceable as it was in the day. It's good to know the Nighthawks still wear the team colours with pride.


Here are the latest Neil Young vinyl reissues, part of his ongoing, ever-changing archive work, mastered for this release from the original analog tapes. The latest news is that he's going to put his entire recording legacy online in super high quality for streaming, but we don't know if that means he'll stop putting out physical releases now of his old music. If so, at least all the great original albums up to the end of the '70's have now been brought back to the market with these five albums. Originally issued as a boxed collection back before Christmas, you can now get each separately.

The weakest of the group here is the Stills-Young Band set, the result of another failed attempt at a CSNY album in 1976. Crosby and Nash left the sessions before the album was complete, so the other two wiped their contributions, and used only their own work. The title cut became a Young classic, but mostly due to its inclusion on his Decade collection. The rest of the tracks pale, with four more Young contributions and four of Stills'. Side two is better, with Young's Let It Shine and Fontainebleau approaching, but not worthy of his On The Beach-era work. The biggest problem is that it was Still's band on the recordings, and it just feels that Young wasn't putting out a full effort. Of all his '70's output, this is weak link.

Young's next two albums were a lot better, and still hold up to play. American Stars 'n Bars was a salvage job of nine songs from four different sessions dating back to 1974, after he scuttled the albums Homegrown and Chrome Dreams. There are different styles, from country rock (Hey Babe) to epic guitar (Like A Hurricane). The newer tracks from '77 are more of a lark, but with Star of Bethlehem and Homegrown on side two, it's an important piece in his puzzle. Comes A Time from 1978 went further down the country road, and was seen as a concession back to the Harvest sound. It's the most produced of his albums, featuring a ton of instruments, from strings to fiddle by Rufus Thibodeaux to harmonies from Nicolette Larson. The title cut and his cover of Four Strong Winds brought back a lot of fans of his softer side, but Young wasn't about to stay that calm for long.

It's hard to remember what a shock Rust Never Sleeps was in 1979, but it forever changed cemented Young's reputation as an unpredictable wild card. The wild, distorted guitar of Hey Hey. My My (Into The Black) out-punked the punks, and the surreal lyrics of Ride My Llama and Sedan Delivery showed he was delightfully out to lunch. Meanwhile, Powderfinger was another guitar classic up there with Down By The River and Like A Hurricane. Getting the concert album Live Rust shortly after seemed like an extra present, and Young left the '70's back on top.

Goodness me these vinyl editions sound great, and I don't think I'll ever want to play these albums in any different format again. The 20 minute sides are exactly the way they should be heard, well-sequenced and for me, full of fond memories.

Saturday, August 12, 2017


Kelly has long been a leading light songwriter-rocker in Australia, and occasionally his stuff gets though to a small but mighty following in North America. It's fad-less and no-nonsense, with great stories and excellent ensemble playing, roots-rock if that's a category Down Under. I'd call it Antipodean Austinian.

Above all, Kelly builds solid songs based on smart, conversational lines and moving melodies. Even the break-up song Petrichor has words and a tune that inspires: "I walked straight, didn't turn my head, the hardest thing I ever did, seabirds wheeling overhead and cryin'." Everything is to serve the song, and Kelly even generously hands over the vocal duties on My Man's Got A Cold to backing singer Vika Bull, since it makes more sense, and she nails the wailing blues. Her sister Linda gets to do the same for Don't Explain. He's brave too; Kelly takes an old Roy Orbison hit and updates the story in Leah: The Sequel, thus seeing his name join the legend's in the writer's credits. But it's a darn good one, and I doubt the Big O would have a problem with an album of such fine writing.

Friday, August 11, 2017


It's no longer the Dave Rawlings Machine, as his first two albums were released as, but it's still the same deal. Rawlings is joined by Gillian Welch all the way through, only he takes the lead vocals. What is different is that this album is a lot more traditional than anything the pair have done, well over half the cuts pure old-time hill music. The songs are said to have been inspired and re-written old numbers, so it's difficult to know where the folk tradition stops and the Rawlings begins, and that is just fine. Certainly numbers such as Lindsey Button and Money Is The Meat In The Coconut sound 150 years old, and that's all that matters.

Rawlings is a master at the relaxed feel of these songs, almost hypnotic in their pace, the music serving the tales being spun. The song Yup is a laugh, each line of the story punctuated at the end with that knowing title word. Good God A Woman is a twist on the creation story: "That's when the Big Man made the little man, and all the animals too, but he saved the best for last." Most of these tracks keep a string band approach, but the pair do add drums to a couple of cuts, including the decidedly rocky Cumberland Gap, but it too is a classic 19th century story about traveling west. If this had come out under Welch's name and with the vocals more evenly shared, there would probably be a lot of talk about a masterpiece, so I hope this finds a large audience as well.

Thursday, August 10, 2017


Fairport fans will go wacky with this new seven-disc box featuring a whopping 55 previously unreleased tracks. That includes two full live concerts from '73 and '74, and everything from outtakes to alternates to BBC tracks. And since it only covers the group's first decade, that means the glory days of their two brightest stars, Richard Thompson and Sandy Denny are here.

The box does a great job of being a primer as well, and at a price of just under $100, is a reasonable way to begin the journey. You'll discover they actually started as more of a late '60's rock band with a nod to singer-songwriters, covering Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen and Dylan, while Thompson tentatively dipped his toe into writing, while firing off guitar-hero leads. With the addition of Denny and then fiddler Dave Swarbrick they started modernizing traditional material into rock band settings, and invented British folk rock. It differed from its American cousin in that it was a lot more folk, and a lot more rock. But the fragile mix was hard to capture for long. Whenever it strayed too far to one side or the other, defections would follow, starting with Iain "Shake It" Matthews, then Denny, followed by Thompson. The Swarb groups of the early '70's produced some good moments, but it was a relief when Denny returned in 1974, such a great singer.

There's so much room in the box, you can follow brilliant side roads in their career, including a stop at the rock and roll cover band The Bunch that featured Thompson and Denny playing Buddy Holly cuts with their old pals. Or you can see Fairport as one of the truly great Dylan covers bands, with early access to The Basement Tapes demos (Down In The Flood), and their British hit cover of If You Gotta Go, Go Now, done as a Cajun number completely in French (Si Tu Dois Partir).

The downside here is the sacrifice of packaging for price points, meaning only a small booklet and no info on where the cuts first appeared. It's a little too democratic as well, with lesser, later albums afforded the same space as classics. For you newbies, if this catches your fancy, you should just go out and buy copies of Unhalfbricking and Liege and Leaf as well. For you old fans, did I mention there are 55 previously unreleased cuts? You can ever own too many versions of Sloth, can you?

Tuesday, August 8, 2017


These days, it's hard to find an empty night at the Mother Church of country music, the venerable Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. Shows coming up in the next few weeks include Jason Isbell, Father John Misty, Alison Krauss and even UB40. Loretta Lynn had to cancel hers, recovering from a recent stroke. Through the day, you can take tours, or see an audio-visual presentation about the years when the building housed the original Grand Old Opry.

Shockingly, all that was almost lost to the wrecking ball. Back in 1991 when Emmylou Harris took the stage to record this live album, it was so decrepit the balcony was off-limits, and only 200 people were allowed inside the hall meant to hold over 2,000. But Harris's album, and the documentary done to focus attention on the 100-year old building helped spur renewed interest in its fate, and three years later a complete renovation occurred, making it a must-see spot in Nashville.

Par for the course for Harris, who was actually just looking for a spot to record her brand-new old-time group The Nash Ramblers, but turned it into a crusade. In a new second act in her career, she became the spokesperson for classic country, helping launch the Americana movement. The album featured bluegrass players Roy Huskey Jr., Sam Bush and Al Perkins, but with drummer Larry Atamanuik and second guitar/harmony singer Jon Randall Stewart helping bridge the gap to modern sounds. Harris matched old Bill Monroe and Johnny Cash songs with those from Steve Earle, Springsteen and even CCR's Lodi, showing how it all came together, that's it's all great music.

Harris has been celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Grammy-winning album with a series of projects. In May, she reconvened the Ramblers for a return engagement at the Ryman playing the complete album, soon to be a PBS special seen on every fundraiser. It's been reissued on vinyl, and this CD features two previously unreleased cuts, the song Rollin' and Ramblin' about Hank Williams, and the band instrumental The Nash Ramble.

Monday, August 7, 2017


For anyone who might think there's nothing new to offer from traditional music, I direct you immediately to Byrne's song Adelaide, not only completely new and completely true, it happened to his own family, his father, in 1990. A letter appeared in a St. John's newspaper from an old sailor, wondering if anyone knew what had happened to one Adelaide Byrne, whom he had met and fell in love with in 1947. It turned out to be Byrne's father's sister, who had died shortly after. The mystery had been solved for the sailor of why his first love had stopped writing him back.

Byrne has written a heart-tugging song of that story, fully the equal of the other great traditional ballads offered on his third solo album. Family has always been key to his career, on his own and with The Dardenelles, coming from a family of performers and music historians. With a clear voice that heads straight for your soul, Byrne does a masterful job highlighting the emotion in each song. Nancy From London is a Newfoundland song about that most frightening and common reality for many a century or more past, a sailor's wife having to live for months not knowing if her love would return home. He found Long Years Ago on a tape of his grandmother singing that his mother had made years back. His learned the Scottish number Farewell To Tarwathie from his uncle's repertoire. And his father Joe appears again, this time to sing Kitty Bawn O'Brien. Trad's alive and very well in Byrne's hands, and as it's always been, all about family.

Saturday, August 5, 2017


The folks at Atlantic Records were getting frustrated in 1956, watching some of their R'n'B sounds, and even the songs themselves being grabbed by this upstart rock 'n' roll music. Big Joe Turner's Shake, Rattle and Roll had been co-opted by Bill Haley for one of the biggest hits of the new genre, and while the label's artists were doing just fine on the R'n'B charts, there was much bigger money flowing in rock 'n' roll. So when the company decided to move into the LP market that year, they set up a division for their "popular" records (i.e. non-jazz), and that included a "Rock & Roll Series."

Six albums by six of the label's main stars were created for the series, and have become both collector's items and standard-bearers for the Atlantic sound over the years. Now the six have been reissued in a handy boxed set, at a very handy price, $36 bucks at last check. There aren't a lot of frills, just a slim book and the original decent biography liner notes on the covers, but it's the music that matters here. The six featured are Clyde McPhatter & the Drifters, Ruth Brown, Turner, Ray Charles, LaVern Baker and Ivory Joe Hunter. Each set includes their biggest hits to early '57 on Atlantic, which means some pretty major music indeed. None of these albums really qualified as rock & roll, but you could sure hear the roots of it.

McPhatter's tenure with the Drifters predated their big Top 40 successes, and they were a largely different group, as he was considered the premiere voice of gospel-infused popular music of the day. They had great vocals grooves going on with songs such as Money Honey and Honey Love, and the surprisingly fun and funky take on White Christmas is a nice addition. Ruth Brown was the label's biggest star of the day, the acknowledged queen of R'n'B with hits such as Lucky Lips and Teardrops From My Eyes.

Joe Turner's style was infused with Kansas City blues, and he gave us the immortal Flip, Flop & Fly, Honey Hush, and the more folk-styled Corinne, Corinna, later a pop hit and a song covered by Dylan. Ray Charles, for my money and many others, was at his very best at Atlantic, and that includes here Mess Around, Drown In My Own Tears, I Got A Woman and Hallelujah I Love Her So.

LaVern Baker was grittier than others, best heard on Jim Dandy, and the rollicking, huge hit Tweedlee Dee. Ivory Joe Hunter was the most sophisticated and pop of the batch, crooning his way with Since I Met You Baby and Heaven Came Down To Earth. If you're new to Atlantic, this is a great place to start, and if you're a fan, it's a fine way to make sure you have all these classic sides.

Thursday, August 3, 2017


This is the longest period between albums for the collective since forming in 2001, as it's been seven years since the release of Forgiveness Rock Record. I'd call this a more chill set, with many of the tracks smooth and groove-filled. The vocals are still a big part of each track, with the lead singers the stars of each cut, and the usual kitchen sink of performers and instruments in the mix. For the record, there are 18 members credited this time out, with most of the familiar folks returning for at least a cut or two.

The pattern for the album is one male, then one female lead vocal, so it's mostly Kevin Drew, and occasionally Brendan Canning, while Emily Haines, Feist, Lisa Lobsinger and Ariel Engle, with Amy Millan just doing backing parts this time. The women especially bring a great sound to these cuts, along with all the intricate bits and ebbs and flows that go into each song. And yes, the sound is the thing; honestly I can't think of a lyric that stands out. Maybe that's just fine, and certainly strong vocalists like Feist can put a lot of emotion into their performances. Musicians Drew and Canning do a great job sailing this big ship as well, I just find it missing that final element to make the sounds memorable. Like the cover, it's art but it doesn't really say anything.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017


My favourite Little Festival That Could, the Larlee Creek Hullabaloo is coming up, happening Aug. 09 - 13 in Perth-Andover.  The festival is held partly around the village, while the main shows, Friday and Saturday, happen on a absolutely gorgeous part of the Saint John River, with talls hills on both sides and the concert site snuggled in the valley between. 

This is the 10th year for the festival, which each year features one of the best-curated lineups around, especially impressive for a small community a bit out of the way.  They draw mostly on East Coast talent, always are on the lookout for rising high-quality performers, and keep room for one or two Upper Canadians to tempt to the area.  If anything, they've outdone themselves for the 10th anniversary, so here are five shows that I don't want to miss.

1. Samantha Martin & Delta Sugar in an exclusive private show!

If you buy one of the early bird passes for the full weekend mainstage shows, at the crazy low price of $65, you get a free ticket to a Thursday night show at the Castle Inn, featuring Toronto's Samantha Martin & Delta Sugar.  I caught this group a couple of years ago at the Harvest Jazz & Blues Festival, and was blown away by their gospel/blues/soul mix, raw music and powerhouse vocals and harmonies.  Seeing them in a small venue will be intense.

2. Hillsburn on the Main Stage Friday night

These Halifax favourites started out soft but pumped up the volume in the last year, adding drummer Clare Macdonald and switching out some of the acoustic instruments for electric ones.  That's paid off with a dynamic stage show, and rep as a must-see East Coast act, including winning at the Canadian Folk Music Awards and East Coast Music Awards.  Fans love 'em.

3. Christine Campbell Band on the Main Stage Friday night

The first time Campbell played this festival, she had just released her first, independent album and doing a small acoustic set for early risers.  But she impressed everyone with a fantastic voice, awesome guitar and winning personality.  Now, she's just released her second disc, Roller Coaster, produced by Classified and Blake Johnston, and returns to the Hullabaloo with her full band to rock the main stage.

4. Pretty Archie on a boat!

One of the highlights of the festival is the chance to take a boat cruise on the Saint John, while being entertained by one of the main groups.  And seriously, the boat trip alone on that stretch of the river is worth it.  Hearing Cape Breton's folk/bluegrass faves Pretty Archie makes it pretty perfect, the ideal music for a hopefully sunny Saturday on the river, starting at 11 a.m.

5. Gordie MacKeeman & his Rhythm Boys on the Main Stage Saturday

I saw Gordie and the guys last weekend, and it was stellar always.  They do a high-energy, tremendously fun show, really entertaining in the best sense of the word.  Gordie blows you away as soon as his steps on stage with his crazy legs and flying bow, but at the heart of it is a true passion for fiddle music and that great tradition in this here land.  Even if you think you don't like fiddle music, after seeing this group you'll never say that again.

Rats, I only get five?  What about The Wooden Sky? Ria Mae?  Minglewood? Erin Costelo?  The Big and Little Hullabaloo's?  Stupid listicles.  For tickets and info, check out