Tuesday, October 31, 2017


Well, what to say? This was going to be a tough one no matter what, but I guess it helps to think of it as a last present. The temptation is to read way too much into the words, but certainly there are times that can't be helped. And Downie really did make this personal, with the songs often written as love letters to friends, family and unnamed folks that might be you and me. As usual for him, some are more literal and easy to understand, while others are virtually undecipherable without lots of listens and some major guesswork.

Some of it is just heartbreaking, not from anything related to his illness or mortality, but in those simple moments that define a life. In You Me And The B's, he sings about a conversation that has lasted four decades, that begins and ends with talk of his beloved Boston Bruins. It's noted that his brother plays percussion on the song, by joining him slapping a hockey stick on the ice. My First Girlfriend is pretty self-explanatory, without naming names (he never does that), describing that time in clear detail, like it was weeks ago.

Working again with Kevin Drew from Broken Social Scene, who produced last year's Hip finale Man Machine Poem and Downie's Secret Path, these 23 songs are intimately recorded, mostly just the two of them, with few instruments, piano the most obvious. It's Downie's voice, telling the stories, that dominates, and it has the effect of a series of short stories. We follow along, learning about one important person after another. This isn't a Hip album, so don't expect volume and rock. On A Natural, we hear that classic Downie loud voice on the chorus, but it's one of the few times he lets loose.

These are memories, flashes of a life, the kinds of things that pop back into your thoughts absentmindedly, but one supposes, in sharp focus for Downie in the last few months. It's a gentle goodbye, to important people, including you the fan.

Monday, October 30, 2017


Known for her big personality and fun songwriting (Jerk, 12 Years Old), Stockwood has become a strong song interpreter in the last few years, at least on the rare occasions she steps forward with a new release. Her last one out, 2011's Back To The Water was a tribute to her Newfoundland home. This one started out as a selection of jazz-flavoured vocals, but a couple of other numbers popped up, making it simply a set of six enjoyable tunes, old and new, jazz, country and folk.

The big news here is a never-released song written by Ron Hynes, Sometimes The Moon. It dates back to the '90's, when Hynes and Stockwood met for the first time. He asked her to sing on a demo of it, and over the years their friendship grew, Stockwood describing him as a mentor. Her versions of his St. John's Waltz and Atlantic Blue from Back To The Water are among the best covers of his work. After his passing, Stockwood felt it appropriate to put that song on the collection, and even was able to use his guitar playing, from a recording of one of the many times the pair performed it live.

You can hear the the genesis of the standards project in other tracks, produced with pianist Bill King, who's worked with everyone from Janis Joplin to Linda Ronstadt to The Pointer Sisters, a stalwart of the Canadian jazz scene as well. His piano and her voice are the dominate instruments here, both digging into the emotion of these cuts. Stockwood's choices are surprising and charming, from a lesser-known Patsy Cline gem, Imagine That, to the Frank Sinatra oldie I'll Never Smile Again, written by Canadian Ruth Lowe, to the wartime heart-tugger We'll Meet Again. It's like walking into that perfect hotel bar fifty years ago, with the singer who feels your pain and lifts you up again. Not the Kim Stockwood you were expecting, then.

Saturday, October 28, 2017


As the folks who have been coming out to his shows know, Alan Doyle has put together an awesome touring group, known as The Beautiful Band. On his latest, they are an equal part of the excitement, as the group pulled in on tour to Vancouver's Warehouse Studio, under the guidance of famed producer Bob Rock. To give full credit, the band is Kendel Carson on fiddle, Shehab Illyas on bass, Todd Lumley on keys, drummer Kris MacFarlane, and Cory Tetford on guitar.

The group's impressive energy is all over the insanely catchy Summer Summer Night, with Carson's fiddle leaping out of the chorus. Come Out With Me is a great opener, basically a song that says a good time will be had by all. The band can do it soft too, and Doyle's become quite a ballad singer, able to turn the party down for a love song like Fall.

The modern Newfoundland sound that Doyle helped popularize with Great Big Sea is still part of the show, with Bully Boys the big sea shanty here, with Lumley bringing the accordion out for the romp. Geoffrey Kelly from Spirit of the West lends his Celtic talents on whistle to Forever Light Will Shine to give it that flare. But really, this is a great big mix of styles that Doyle and the Beautiful Band do, more about that energy and positive vibe, and Doyle's personality. This album really captures what the band's live show is all about.

Thursday, October 26, 2017


Smooth-voiced, smart writing singer-songwriter Ian Sherwood has made his name over the course of five albums with his intimate material and personal live performances, able to draw you in and speak/sing directly to the listener. On his latest, the Nova Scotia artist adds some new layers to the music, quite literally, working with producer Daniel Ledwell (David Myles, Gabrielle Papillon). While the pair didn't go crazy, there's more going on for sure, from additional instruments to a wider sonic palette,

If anything, the treatment heightens the intimacy in the songs, with a little more drama to move the stories along, and a little more oomph, especially in the percussion. But still at their core, these are songs that hit you like a sucker punch time and again. "You show me the door, and I fall on my knees/because I don't want to leave," he sings, in the aftermath of another fight, a jarring and real description of that horrible feeling. Sometimes the lines are simply really good, the kind where you have to sit back and smile; "Don't waste your wishes and nickles on broken-down wells," he advises on Know The Darkness. Even with such quality emotional material, there's room for pop moments, and Ledwell's addition certainly helps rock up the cut I'm Not The Boy into a purely catchy number.

Sherwood's playing a few shows around the album launch, just back from Folk Music Ontario. He's doing a couple of house concerts in the Fredericton area Friday Oct. 27 and Saturday Oct. 28, at the Lansdowne Concert Series, and you can see about seats there by contacting Paul at pmm56@me.com or 506-457-0826.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017


Fredericton's Sleepy Driver doesn't play live nearly enough (day jobs) but thankfully does release albums every couple of years or so, when singer/writer unleashes his latest bunch of cuts. This time out, it's his catchiest batch yet, with a focus on feeling good, and rocking out. Given Hicks' more serious, and often striking dark numbers from past albums, this seems to have been a conscious decision, and one that works well. Despite the title, Sugar Skull has a great mood to it all the way through.

The other five band members get plenty of time to show off too, from the harder rock side of the title cut, with its guitar and electric piano leads, to the plentiful pedal steel on several tracks from Dave Palmer. Believe/Belong is the only darker number, only because it's meditative, but for the rest of the set fun, either country-rock or straight-ahead rockers, the best of which is Radio Dial, with lots of NYC punk brashness. The albums out now, but the launch shows won't happen until Nov. 24 and 25 at the Charlotte St. Arts Centre in Fredericton.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017


Haters are going to hate, but I have a lot of time for Murray, largely thanks to the recognition she gave to East Coast music, and the accomplishments she made for Canadian entertainers. Murray was a budding star in 1970, already known for success on the Halifax-made TV show Singalong Jubilee, when things got crazy. Her recording of fellow cast member Gene MacLellan's Snowbird became a huge worldwide hit, charting high on the pop, country and adult contemporary charts. It was the first gold record for a Canadian female artist in the U.S., and, get this, in 1971 was named the most-played song on the radio -- in the world. Yeah, pretty good for Springhill, N.S.

Along with Murray was a team of colleagues from back home whom Murray dubbed "the Maritime Mafia." It included MacLellan, producer Brian Ahern, Singalong host/producer Bill Langstroth (they would soon marry), her manager Leonard Rambeau and tons of the musicians. Their footprints were all over the Canadian music scene for years, especially Ahern, who went on to produce Emmylou Harris's first ten albums, and for many more artists. So that's a legacy that goes back to Anne, and her hits.

So,respect. As for this set, it's actually been awhile since a major Murray compilation, and not one since her retirement. She was completely involved in compiling the set, and it shows, as it is a thoughtful set that shows her many sides, especially if you opt for the 2-cd version instead of the basic one disc, all-hits set. Disc one has the obvious, including You Needed Me, A Love Song, You Won't See Me, Danny's Song, 20 chart hits in all. Disc two goes deeper, including several early Canada-only favourites such as Sing High, Sing Low, Robbie's Song For Jesus, and Cotton Jenny. There's a tip to her friend Glen Campbell, who signed her to a huge contract to appear on his U.S. TV show, helping make her a household name in the U.S. They recorded a duets album, and here we get a medley of I Say A Little Prayer/By The Time I Get To Phoenix. There are some of her many duets, including those with Emmylou, Bryan Adams and Michael Buble. Canadian artists especially have always loved to pay tribute to Murray by guesting with her.

There are a couple of live tracks as well, and Murray uses the opportunity to right a long-standing career beef. She includes a concert version of Put Your Hand In The Hand, a song she was the first to record. But the hit version in 1971 was by the then-unknown Toronto group Ocean, and it actually charted even higher that Snowbird. Murray is still mad about it, since it was a song MacLellan had given to her to record, but it languished as an album track. Capitol Records in the U.S. wouldn't put it out as a single, saying it wasn't the right sound for her. Oops.

Anne Murray was not a rock star, and never tried to be. She was caught a bit out of time, an old-school performer/crooner who more in common with the great pop '50's singers. She was so good, her talent couldn't be denied, and her songs stormed the charts and filled arenas, despite being called uncool. But the numbers don't lie, especially the numbers of fans, and there isn't a musician in Canada that doesn't owe her a debt.

Monday, October 23, 2017


When this came out a few weeks back, I ignored it, thinking I'd been burned on Little Steven's solo stuff in the past and aside from the odd track, hadn't ever been inspired. That "Ain't gonna play Sun City," that rocked, but it's been awhile. But lots has changed for the Springsteen sideman in the past couple of decades, including his star turn as an actor (The Sopranos), and his long-running, much-appreciated satellite radio show featuring great garage rock. In the liner notes, he admits it had been too long since he got to be Little Steven, and this time, he came prepared with a bunch of absolute great tracks.

He's always been known as the soul of the E Street Band, and that's because at heart he's a '60's soul man, in love with horns, backing singers and big glorious radio singles. The cut I'm Coming Back says it all, with everything you'd ever hope from him. It sounds like a song that could have made The River or The Rising, one to punch your arm in the air and love forever. But there's lots more than the E Street sound. "I Saw The Light" is a blast of Top 40, with more great horns, and a Cherry, Cherry/Tommy James and the Shondells swagger.

It's not all new meat here; Van Zandt goes back to the '70's to pull out a couple of his best-ever tunes, that he originally gave to his comrades Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes when he produced their first albums. I Don't Want To Go Home was the title track of their debut, and Love On The Wrong Side Of Town was a rare co-write with Springsteen, here getting the big Steven production. He's even ready to have fun, giving us a classic bit of doo-wop on The City Weeps Tonight, and his voice sounds perhaps the best it ever has. The great thing about being proven wrong in your assumptions as a reviewer and listener is that you're left with an excellent disc in return.

Sunday, October 22, 2017


This is a Blu-ray edition of the American Masters program that aired on PBS in 2016, a look at Cline's too-brief life. What's amazing is how much she crammed into the time she was recording, from 1955 tohher death in 1963. The scope of the amazing music she made is enough to embarrass most artists, but as this documentary shows, it took amazing efforts from Cline all along the way to fight to the top.

There's so much to her story it took a herculean effort to cram it into the hour time the TV series allowed, so it's good there's another hour of bonus clips on the Blu-ray extras. The producers used a hodgepodge of material, old and new, to get at the true story, from archival footage, new interviews, and lots of old ones too. It's a odd batch of people who get to talk, but it works. There are stars such as Reba McIntyre and LeAnn Rimes, who know what Cline did for women country artists, but also more surprising ones such as Kacey Musgraves and Rhiannon Giddens. Somehow, Ricky Warwick of Thin Lizzy shows up too. Contemporaries Whispering Bill Anderson and Wanda Jackson are still about to talk about her, but they also use old clips from important voices such as her friend Dottie West and producer Owen Bradley. Cline's daughter is featured throughout, and so is her late husband Charlie Dick, luckily interviewed many times over the years. Willie Nelson wasn't available for a new interview, I guess, but they use a fine clip of him singing part of his composition Crazy. Along with all of those folks, there are a dozen historians, biographers, filmmakers and writers wading in with all the important points in her life.

Here's the skinny, and it's a roller coaster ride. She came from Depression-era poverty, loved to sing, hung around radio stations and clubs long enough to get noticed, and signed a very lousy record contract. By luck, she got the song Walkin' After Midnight, which landed her an appearance on the Arthur Godfrey show, and made it a huge hit. But that bad contract made it so she barely got any money from the hit, and then she was forced into recording a run of bad material because of that signature. She almost disappeared, and barely scratched out a living, but finally gained her freedom in 1960 and was able to get better songs. The very first one was I Fall To Pieces, and she had a second lease on life. Most of her hits happened in just over two years, and in the middle of that, she had a horrible car accident that left her on crutches and with scars on her forehead that she covered with wigs and scarves the rest of her career. She never got rich, toured constantly, stood up for her rights and those of lots of young women in the business, and became a legend for all those things, just as much as for her incredible voice.

Plus, she wore pants on the Grand Ole Opry stage.


Bigger than a cult band, Max Webster was more of a religion in the late '70's, and still is, especially for its many Ontario fans. Led by the over-the-top dresser and flashy guitar whiz Kim Mitchell, the group balanced off glam, prog, metal and were way ahead of the game on the synth sound too. Then there was the mysterious fifth member, Pye Dubois, the Bernie Taupin of the operation, supplying a remarkably wide range of lyrics, from political to eccentric.

This boxed set is a rare beast in Canadian music, but very welcome. It collects the entire album output of the band, all spruced up in brand-new remastered sound. It kicks butt over any other reissue of the group's work, and was lovingly done with Mitchell's involvement. Along with the five original studio albums, the much-loved Live Magnetic Air is added, as well as the long-out-of-print first Kim Mitchell solo work, a five-track EP from 1982. The final of the eight discs is a completely-new collection called The Bootleg, which features a grab-bag of previously unreleased cuts, from live recordings to five finished cuts, including the awesome Deep Dive, a version of which was first heard on Mitchell's solo album I Am A Wild Party. It's a bright move, sticking the fun new stuff on one disc, and leaving the originals just as they were, without bonus cuts changing that listening experience.

The thing about Webster is either you loved them or didn't bother with them, and hopefully a few more folks will pick up on them with this set. The band has a reputation as a guitar-heavy outfit, and sometimes they did get a little too cranked up. Plus, in those days, Mitchell's vocals weren't pushed to the front, which was too bad, since Dubois' lyrics were always a highlight, as was proved in Mitchell's '80's parade of solo hits. And even though Rush were big fans, appeared on one album, were label mates, and made Max their favourite opening act, it was a bit of a mixed blessing, as it solidified the group's rep as a harder rock band. But there is plenty to enjoy in closer listens, especially on the most-beloved High Class In Borrowed Shoes, with the quirky Diamonds Diamonds, and the protest of Oh War!, calling out the profiteers. Even a sensitive soul such as Ron Sexsmith has professed his fondness for that album.

One glaring negative is the absolutely crappy packaging on the CD box set, which comes in a flimsy outer box, and includes no booklet or notes other than those from the original album covers. It's probably to keep the cost down, but it's still going for $90, which ain't giving it away. The vinyl box on the other hand gets the nice book and poster, so you'll have to shell out twice as much for that. I'm not keen on the black-and-white cover either. But I'm thrilled that the work has been done on remastering, getting the bonus cuts, and doing a full set of the band's albums, and hopefully some other Canadian heritage bands will get similar sets.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017


It's hard to change horses mid-stream, so it's wise New Brunswick's Kathleen Gorey-McSorley is doing it at a young age. An East Coast favourite while still in her early teens, she was following the traditional Celtic path as a fiddler, nominated for an ECMA in roots/traditional, touring festivals in the U.S, Europe and Ireland, and eventually going to school in the Emerald Island. But health issues led her to take a couple of years off to regroup and grow, and she's reemerged as a largely different performer.

She's still playing fiddle when it fits, but for the most part she's now working as a singer-songwriter, with piano and ukulele her other instruments, singing her own lyrics her focus. So while this isn't her debut, it's the debut of her roots-indie style. These go from upbeat uke songs such as Brianna, to some hard-won life lessons in thoughtful tracks such as Pamplona, having seen a lot and traveled a lot already in her young life. You can still hear a bit of her folk past in Drunk Words, just enough to set her apart from the rest of the pack brought up on Beyonce instead. In fact, she turned to veterans such as Toronto guitar whiz Kevin Breit and former Cockburn foil Fergus Marsh on bass to thicken up the songs, more with needed heft than any kind of alt-edge.

For those who do miss her fiddle, there's a bonus track, an extended take on Pamplona that sees her jamming, trading licks with Breit, and it's actually the most interesting move on the album. There's a groove that doesn't lose the contemporary feel the rest of the album has, and lets her put her fiddle back in this new setting, away from the Celtic. It may be a good way forward for her, finding more room for that instrument on which she still shines.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017


Blues and boogie-woogie piano man Fauth doesn't record nearly enough for those who love his unique style. This is the first for the Juno-winner since 2012's Everybody Ought To Teach A Stranger Right. It's his most straightforward and simple release, mostly played solo, and mostly classic blues and folks songs. These are the heroes and villains and sad cases we've all heard of our whole lives, but somehow Fauth makes their stories fresh. Casey Jones, Frankie and Johnny, John Henry, it's like we're getting the real story behind these legends.

Fauth has found some different versions of the lyrics (Frankie gets away with the murder in this one, for instance) but it's mostly Fauth's delivery and arrangements that bring the songs to new life. With his foot tapping like a metronome, his rolling piano is barrelhouse, Bourbon Street and front parlour all at once, always at a relaxed but somewhat fast tempo, given the songs a feeling of urgency. He adds a bit of organ on top of some sadder songs, some harmonica on some of the folk numbers such as John Henry, and some spare guitar, trumpet and percussion on others. Meanwhile, he's spinning the tales in a relaxed voice, as comfortable as a barber chatting to his Saturday morning customers.

Fauth has given us more original tunes on previous albums, and even though the theme here was classic folk heroes and anti-heroes, he did have three originals that fit the bill. And wouldn't you know, they slide in well right between the well-known ones, with only the language giving them away. Dan was about a Canadian soldier off to Afghanistan, and except for singing about Kandahar, it could have taken place in Gettysburg or Ypres. So Far Down is a true story of someone who saw the horrors of WW 2, forever troubled, close to Fauth later in life. The big surprise though, after hearing The House Carpenter and Betty & Dupree and the others, is his remake of a later student of the same classic material, Dylan, and his Blowin' In The Wind. Here, it has a gospel-flavoured ragtime stroll, easy-going, and totally unlike anyone else's cover. It's actually hopeful, suggesting if we pick up on what the wind is blowing our way, we may find a couple of good suggestions for what ails us. Like everything else here, Fauth fills an old favourite with a breathe of fresh air.

Monday, October 16, 2017


P.E.I.-born Rose continues to blossom as not just an excellent retro-country singer, but as a writer as well. Her last effort, the E.P. South Texas Suite, was a love letter to her new home in Austin, with the appropriate local swing, but this full-length is more of a '60's Nashville set, especially the great ballads that were being written at the time. I Don't Want Half (I Just Want Out) is the update of D.I.V.O.R.C.E., Rose's character happy to leave a big mistake behind. Trucker's Funeral is a classic weeper lyric, straight out of the gossip files of the Harper Valley P.T.A. Here, a loving daughter goes to the funeral of her dad who died young, only to discover her trucker father had a whole other family on the other side of the country. Does she walk away with hate? No, she's left with the notion he had a heart big enough for two families. I thought they couldn't write 'em like that any more.

Rose sometimes surprises me, as she doesn't let loose all that much, and seems to prefer the thoughtful ballads and heartbreakers. But when she does, as on Can't Stop Shakin', she has all the goods, and starts edging into rockabilly, along with some country-soul. Wisely, she doesn't lean too hard on her mentor and co-producer, The Mavericks' Raul Malo, who does do lots of backing vocals, but his distinctive pipes are kept in the back, with her in the spotlight. I like the way Rose has slowly but surely kept playing it cool.

Sunday, October 15, 2017


Rude, crude, lewd and loving it, Moncton's Galpines take everything one step further than you thought anyone would ever dare. This is the outrageous talk you laugh about, but would never say yourself, the kind that makes Trump's locker room look more like pre-school. And that's part of the point; make all those macho dicks do a double-take and hide before they get embarrassed.

As for the rest of the audience, they can simply have a whole lot of fun, if they don't mind a few (well, a lot) of F-bombs and S-bombs and P-bombs and C-bombs and even the occasional Q-bomb (if there is such a thing). The four Moncton women who make up the group were one of the hits at this past weekend's Music New Brunswick conference, winning Emerging Artist of the Year, this debut EP coming out last year.

Red neck culture is the target (not lower class, let's make the distinction), but rather those that can afford an expensive truck purely to "fuck shit up," as they sing on Truck. Drunk Tank is the big crowd favourite, the tale of one woman who goes out drinking, gets loaded and mean, beats up a guy, the cops come, she berates them and by 8 a.m. realizes that she's probably going to be late for work, since "I'm in the drunk tank." I'd call it a cautionary tale, but in truth, they'd do it all over again, and probably will.

There are five tracks on the EP, and the group is getting ready to record a full-length, with the songs already in the set list. That includes a true number aimed at a douche who threw a Tim's coffee cup out the car window at them, and the promise none of them will ever sleep with a litterbug. There's also a crowd-baiting tune about the world's number one problem, which is apparently the restrictive nature of pants, and how everyone should not have to wear them. The audience is instructed during this number to participate in the "pants-off dance-off" in front of the stage.

Intrigued? Not easily offended? The Galpines appear at Grimross Brewing Co. in Fredericton on Saturday, Oct. 21.

Thursday, October 12, 2017


Montreal's Caveboy just jumped a level in the pecking order of up-and-coming Canadian bands. The trio was one of three acts selected as this year's Juno Master Class winners, by a jury featuring Lights, Kardinal Offishall, Max Kerman of Arkells and others. Essentially the group, along with co-winners Quake Matthews and Ivory Hours, have been judged Juno-ready.

It's an honour that has immediate results. The group has been added to some dates on the current Ria Mae/Scott Helman tour, a couple in Quebec, and two in the Maritimes, their first band trip to the East Coast. Lead singer, guitar and synth player Michelle Bensimon says the award is one that's taken seriously.

"Our name is being passed around now, and people are seeing it more and more," she said from Montreal, taking a break from rehearsals for the shows. "Hopefully that sparks something so when we try to make contacts in the near future, people will go, 'Oh I remember that name.' It's something that gets spread around in the Canadian music industry."

The group has just released its latest video and single, Raconteur, seen here, which features their unique mix of '80's synth, a bit of dance pop, and a definite dark edge as well. It's a combination that sets them apart.

"When I think about it, I wonder how did our brains come together and decide this was what we were going to do?," says Bensimon. "Because there was no real conversation of being like, 'Yeah, we want it to be super '80's or super dancey or super intense.' We just started writing together and this is what came out. It really is just a combination of the three of our brains."

Caveboy can trace its emergence back to an unlikely Genesis. "We were actually playing at my little sister's birthday party," says drummer Lana Cooney, of her first gig with bass/synth player Isabelle Banos. "When Isabelle and I got together to play music, it was for covers at first." That included anything from Metric to Pink Floyd.

The band formally came together when Bensimon, who had been living in Toronto, moved back to Montreal's West Island suburbs, where they all were from. "Michelle and I knew each other as kids, played soccer together, went to same elementary and high school," says Cooney. "Michelle moved back, jammed one time with us and never left."

While the recordings and videos have attracted attention, it's the live show they all feel is their biggest strength. "It's definitely a drug that we're addicted to," says Banos. "We come alive on stage. All of our energy goes into our live set, and making it as enjoyable and contagious for the audience, to just forget whatever's been going on that day and just be in the moment with us."

While the synths play a big role, the group is just as happy to switch to a guitar/bass/drums lineup, which lets them mine the dark '80's minor chord/punk rock element more. "Just all sorts of ways for our six hands to play these things," says Bensimon of the instrument switching.

Caveboy will be featured on the Helman/Mae dates starting in Montreal Saturday, Oct. 15, at L'Astral, then Monday at Salle Multi in Quebec City, Tuesday, Oct. 18 at Boyce Farmer's Market in Fredericton, and then Friday, Oct. 21 at the Charlottetown Beer Garden.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017


Nova Scotia's Papillon continues the work she's been doing with producer Daniel Ledwell, but there's been quite a dramatic shift in her music. Previously you could have called her a folk songwriter at heart, yet willing to embrace production and soundscapes. Now her songs are filled with pop, heartfelt intensity, and most dramatically, lots of strings.

Always a strong lyricist, she's proving herself an emotional heavyweight here, lots of turmoil to examine, "trouble around the corner." We don't get the details, but all the mood, and lots of inner strength in the aftermath. With such subject matter, the set tends towards the introspective, and we get beauty in spades, from her haunting vocals to the strings to the fabulous aural softness of the production. Rather than push the elements, everything is placed with great subtlety around Papillon's voice, and when the disc ends with No Paradise, we've been on a pretty fulfilling trip.

You can see Gabrielle Papillon Thursday, Oct. 12 at the Trailside Music Cafe in Mount Stewart, P.E.I., Saturday at the Roots and Soul Music Room in Fredericton, Sunday at the Blacksheep Inn in Wakefield, Quebec, Monday at the Burdock Music Hall in Toronto, and on an on.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017


In an unlikely spot, the bucolic Nova Scotia port town of Lunenburg, the quintessential Prairie band, Saskatchewan heroes The Northern Pikes, have been squirreled away for several days. They are in intense rehearsals for their national tour since the early 2000's. It's actually a convenient space, as the town is now the home of Pikes guitar player Bryan Potvin, and the first dates are on the east coast, beginning Thursday, Oct. 12 in Saint John N.B.

The band, which came to fame in the late '80's, has been active the past 15 years in a limited way, playing perhaps a dozen shows a year, usually festival, casino or corporate gigs, keeping the name alive while working on their own projects. But it wasn't enough, says Potvin. "I found it for years kind of unsatisfying. If we're lucky enough to do two shows in a row over a fly-in weekend, the second night is always dramatically better, we're more cohesive as a unit. I'm intensely curious to hear what we're going to sound like after show 25 on tour."

The other major factor in play is a pretty impressive anniversary. 2017 marks 30 years since the band's debut album, Big Blue Sky, was released, putting them on national radio and MuchMusic, going gold with the help of the hit singles Teenland and Things I Do For Money. Over a few months, a big plan came together. The Pikes put together a plan not just to tour, but also reissue the album in a glorious way.

Big Blue Sky - Super Sized (love that title) is a two-CD, or even better, 3-lp reissue out Friday. The vinyl edition features three different colour albums. The original release is on the first, the second features 10 brand-new to us demos from the period, in effect an entirely new album, and the third is a concert recording in 1986 at Toronto's Horseshoe Tavern.

The demos had been carefully compiled and saved over the years by drummer Don Schmid. On his own, he has acted as the unofficial band curator, saving 30 years' worth of Pikes paraphernalia and those all-important recordings. As the one least involved in the songwriting, he always saw the value in what the others had forgotten or discarded.

"I guess I was probably the biggest cheerleader for those songs all these years, because just being an outsider in some ways, I could look at them differently than the other three guys, is probably the best way to put it," says Schmid. "I always felt strongly about hooks and what makes some songs memorable, it's a hidden ingredient, either it works or it doesn't."

The ten cuts are no mere throwaways, or even early versions of well-known cuts. These are gems, pretty much in finished form, that sound so good today it's a wonder they didn't come out then. The band had a backlog, thanks to working hard for two years before getting the first album out, plus a parcel of tunes from their previous Saskatoon bands, The Idols, Doris Daye and 17 Envelope. The stand-out Look Out Below is a Jay Semko tune from The Idols, that goes back to 1982. The ballad Stay With Me Now is Schmid pick for the single that never was, a track he still thinks could have been a hit.

The Horseshoe tape came from a different source. "We'd never heard that recording for all those years until just a few months ago, it was just silent all those years," says Schmid. It came back to the group thanks to recording engineer Doug McClement from Toronto, who recorded them 12 separate times for radio broadcasts and specials.

"He contacted Bryan roughly ten years ago, and said 'I've got these tapes kicking around, I'm trying to clean house, would you like them?' But Bryan didn't have any way to play them, they are on quarter inch master reel-to-reel, so he hung onto them all this time, and thought some day there will hopefully be a chance."

Once the tapes got fixed up, the band realized they had a vault filled with high-energy performances that shows the group's well-loved potency as a live act. "We've always been that kind of a group," says Schmid. "Our live show, the adrenaline in front of people, it's always way more aggressive, and usually the songs are played faster."

So, a tour, the new album, that's this fall, but then the question remained as to what to do after that. Once again, the vaults gave them the answer. It turns out those ten demos were just the tip of the iceberg, and they'll put out another anniversary set for each of their original albums over the next five years, plus take them on tour.

"We have a lot more, that's the interesting thing," says Schmid. "We tried to keep all these ten songs on the unreleased album around that era of Big Blue Sky, 1986 - 1987. Then in the next years to come, with Secrets of the Alibi next year, we're going to pick another ten, then Snow In June and Neptune. It's a five-year plan."

The Big Blue Sky 30 tour will see the group go coast-to-coast, performing the entire album, some of the demos, and lots of their other hits as well. Tour dates can be found on their website, thenorthernpikes.com/gigs/.

Monday, October 9, 2017


When Nova Scotia's Mo Kenney first appeared on around seven years ago, she was a young singer-songwriter finding her way. Two albums of largely acoustic guitar pop showed her to be a writer of rich, thoughtful lyrics, with a sharp eye and an equally sharp wit. With producer Joel Plaskett alongside, you could feel her willing try it all out, and learn new tricks at every turn.

After the second album, In My Dreams, Kenney went from touring as an acoustic opening act to headlining clubs with her own band, returning to electric guitar where she started out as a kid. She wanted to get loud, and work some stuff out. This album, she's stated, deals with her depression, problems with alcohol (she's quit drinking since), and a break-up we hear about at the start. But if you're expecting something bleak, the opener is as disarming as could be; it's a brief, 35-second cut, as oddball as can be, called Cat's Not A Cake, where she imagines the cat having to be split in the separation, and the other person trying to take the bigger piece.

There are several smaller cuts like that on The Details, the title cut as short as 28 seconds, a couple more under two minutes, many of the songs between two and three minutes, and only two above that, 3:36 for the longest. It makes for a cohesive listen, a true album of songs, her co-producer Plaskett as always the master at using a device to glue together a group of songs. It also allows her to bounce all over the place musically, and keep surprising us with short bursts.

The biggest revelation is how great Kenney rocks. On The Roof is wildly catchy, with searing guitar, and her own brilliant harmonies. June 3rd is a more dreamy, with clouds of vocals, which let the guitar go into a psychedelic transistion to the next track, Maybe I Am. That one's an updated '60's number, with more tortured guitar and some of that old Halifax Pop Explosion magic. If You're Not Dead is gutsier, a piece of bravado with a punchy chorus, while Unglued is another gorgeous melody, where she enters Aimee Mann territory, a comparison loaded with praise.

The album might have been born from difficult times, but it sounds fresh and uplifting throughout. It does end on a positive note lyrically, with Feelin' Good, the end of that journey for Kenney, but it's the beginning of a whole new approach for her musically that is already exciting.

Sunday, October 8, 2017


Call it the Working Van's Blues. This is a mostly covers album, featuring Morrison's favourite stuff, R'n'B from the '50's and '60's, with a little jazz and soul mixed in. There are five of his own cuts, but nothing that stands out. The real winners here come when he dives into classics such as Sam Cooke's Bring It On Home To Me, Bo Diddly's Ride On Josephine and a fine medley of Stormy Monday and Lonely Avenue.

He has some help too, some heavyweight guests. While most people bring on a star for a single track, Morrison lets his pals work on a bunch of songs. British hit vocalist Chris Farlowe, who has been touring with Morrison, appears as a second lead singer on several cuts. Another old friend who has often taken that role, Georgie Fame, is back, singing and playing his famed organ. The real big news though is the appearance of Jeff Beck, who takes leads on five cuts. His playing helps spice up a somewhat routine Morrison outing, although Van singing this stuff is always worth a listen.

Saturday, October 7, 2017


There's been an ongoing celebration and reissue series this year to mark the 50th anniversary of the recording debut of The Doors, including the pre-fame live album London Fog, a deluxe version of the self-titled Doors album, with another live show added, an upcoming deluxe version of the Strange Days set, and this double CD. It includes every a- and b-side from each 45 the group released, including the hard-to-find mono radio versions from back in the day. There are also three b-sides that weren't on any of the original albums, although they have been added to various collections and reissues in the CD era.

The Doors lived and died on their singles, surprising for a major act of the late '60's, but they really were a group with a big teenage following. The huge, #1 success of Light My Fire put them on the map, and for more than a year they kept pounding the charts with People Are Strange, Love Me Two Times, The Unknown Solider, Hello I Love You and Touch Me. But 1969 and 1970 were tough years for the group, as Jim Morrison's stage antics brought them legal problems and little radio support. It didn't help that songs such as Wishful Sinful, Tell All The People and You Make Me Real weren't actually very good choices as singles, and the future classic Roadhouse Blues was oddly relegated to a b-side. The band's fortunes were on the rise again in 1971 with the L.A. Woman album, and the hit single Love Her Madly. Riders On The Storm was also climbing the charts when the news of Morrison's death came from Paris, ensuring it would be a hit.

That's disc one, and there's still an hour to go. First, there are five singles from the post-Morrison doors, when the remaining trio tried to keep things going, to zero interest from the public. Those two albums (Other Voices, Full Circle) have never been considered anything but a mistake, and it was an awfully big legacy to live up to. Ray Manzarek certainly wasn't much of a singer, and at best you could say the group took on a kind of Band vibe, along with the blues edge they'd been developing at the end of the Morrison years. I listened dutifully, but can't say I feel the need to return. Then comes a return to better days, a live Roadhouse Blues that was lifted as a single from the An American Prayer posthumous set, the one with Morrison reading poetry over new instrumental bits by the group, released in 1978. A bit of that is heard as the included b-side, Morrison reading over Albinoni: Adagio. The 1983 live album Alive, She Cried, was better, and so is the single here, Gloria/Moonlight Drive, the latter with a particularly effective slide guitar solo from Robby Krieger. The disc is rounded off by four mono versions of original singles, none of them on CD before, including Hello, I Love You and Touch Me. These are pretty punchy mixes, and good to have.

As a collection, it's not the best way to get an overview of The Doors, as it misses some key album cuts, such as The End and Alabama Song, so the still-available Very Best Of, or the venerable Weird Scenes Inside The Gold Mine might be better choices for the newcomer. However, Doors fans will get a different perspective by following the trail of singles here, and pick up a handful of rarities as well.

Thursday, October 5, 2017


Oh those Replacements. Just when things were looking good, they'd screw it up on purpose. That was certainly the order of the day in the group's overall career, and the basic operating procedure for live shows as well. I saw them a couple of times, in front of larger crowds than they normally played for, opening for big stars (Petty, Costello), and both times they did absolutely nothing to impress potential new fans. Instead, they did stuff to amuse themselves and the small coterie of die-hards who had wandered down to the front to egg them on, switching instruments, spotting songs part-way through, etc.

Those live shows have always been the stuff of great stories shared among fans, or traded on bootlegs, as there was no official live album ever released by the group. Finally, this show sees the light of day, recorded back in 1986 for a potential live album, but stuck away when plans changed. Each show was a miniature version of their career. Just when a song or set was getting too close to professional, they'd get bored or sloppy or just make a well-timed mistake to let things go off the rails. Because they knew, and fans knew, they could be really good if they wanted, and make incredible power pop songs. But they knew it was actually better, more rock and roll, to be imperfect. That happens right off the bat here, when the second song, Color Me Impressed, gets messed up when it threatens to be too catchy. Soon after, a really good version of The Sweet's Fox On The Run is brought to a quick halt just when they were killin' it.

It was, and is still, so strange, how we still love them. Some of course just like their drunken sloppiness, but I have always thought the main appeal for the small but mighty fan club was that they could hear how amazing these songs would be if done by expert musicians. If Paul Westerberg's voice didn't crack and strain on those gorgeous melodies, he'd sound like Pete Ham from Badfinger. In other hands, songs like the then-current Kiss Me On The Bus from the Tim album might have had a shot on the Top 40. And although they came out of punk, they were mad for hooks, heard here as they go through a covers string near the end of the show, doing T. Rex's Baby Strange, the bubblegum hit Hitchin' A Ride by Vanity Fare, and Nowhere Man by the Fabs.

Any live album we would get at this point would be most welcome, but this happens to document an important time for the group. It's at the end of the original lineup, shortly before Bob Stinson was ousted for being too unruly even for them, and at the time when they were still capable of the punk abandon of their earliest material, along with the relatively sophisticated later Westerberg songs. And even with all the rough edges, this is a great listen. Color me impressed.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017


Original these days means the group is fronted by sax player Blue Lou Marini and guitar great Steve Cropper, both from the first incarnation of the band, as seen in the famous first film. While the rest of the current players may not be household names, as a recording act they have put together a first-rate set in much the same musical spirit. Plus, there are a bunch of guest players and singers featured that have ties as well, including Paul "The Shiv" Shaffer, the original band leader from his time at Saturday Night Live with Belushi and Ackroyd. The only reason he wasn't in the movie was that he had committed to working on Gilda Radner's stage show at the same time the filming was scheduled. Here, Shaffer does his famous James Brown impersonation on Sex Machine.

That's pretty much the vibe here, good times and plenty of guest solos. Tom Malone, another original does some trumpet work, and Matt "Guitar" Murphy adds a lengthy solo on another cut. Dr. John takes lead vocals on one of his oldies, Qualified, and Eddie Floyd does the same on a song he wrote with Cropper back in the Stax Records days, On A Saturday Night. Even without the guest power, there's plenty to enjoy from the group's own trio of vocalists, Bobby Harden, Tommy McDonnell and Rob Paparozzi, and with seasoned band vets including SNL regular Leon Pendarvis on organ, all the performances are grade A. In film terms, this album is a lot more like the first movie than the regrettable second.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017


Ronstadt's biggest album from the '70's gets a 40th reissue, although a little subdued compared to others. It's upgraded with just three bonus cuts, all live versions of big favourites, and a brief new liner note from producer Peter Asher. However, it's a good reminder of just how fantastic a vocalist she was at this point, with so much power and perfect tone. If you tried to put auto-tuning on her, the machine would just shrug and turn itself off.

Of course she got lots of flak for being too commercial, and smoothing the edge off the rock songs and writers she favoured. But place her Tumbling Dice beside the Stones, and while the guitars may not have the same grit, she matches or even passes Mick's vocals. She was Warren Zevon's best friend as well, giving him a much bigger audience, and here doing fine versions of Carmelita and Poor Poor Pitiful Me.

Her hit cover of Buddy Holly's It's So Easy was a radical remake, adding guts to the track, but maybe what bugs people is that cowbell. I'm starting to think Asher's more to blame for the overly-commercial moments. But certainly you can't fault her version of Blue Bayou, where she does successfully tackles the operatic Orbison hit. She knew how to pick 'em and deliver 'em.

Oh, and about those bonus cuts, they are actually great versions of It's So Easy, Blue Bayou and Poor Poor Pitiful Me. Her control live is just as impressive as on record, and led me to check on other live material. She's one of the very few stars of that era that didn't release a live album, which is crazy considering how well they sold then (Frampton, Eagles, Mac, etc.). That's what I'd like to see next.

Monday, October 2, 2017


For a great big '70's band, one with an armload of gold and platinum albums and two #1 hits, Grand Funk Railroad don't get much respect these days. Actually, they didn't get much respect when they were topping the charts and filling the halls either. Important critics of the day hated them, and they've never overcome that. They're not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, for instance, but I bet almost everybody knows "We're An American Band."

These stuffed boxed sets probably won't change that perception, but they'll please a particular era of hard rockin' fans when music first moved into hockey rinks. They are called Trunk of Funk Vol.1 and 2, and feature the first 12 of the group's albums, up to the time they were dying out. They include a batch of non-album cuts, unedited takes and live versions, beefing all the originals up to an hour or more in length. Funk fans will know there were two distinct eras for the group, the hard-driving, power trio heavy blues-rock start, and then the much cleaner, Top 40 era, when the band dropped the Railroad from the name, and added a keyboard player.

The earliest work hasn't dated all that well, with the group struggling to find their own voice in the Cream/Hendrix mode. What they add eventually was in the name all the time, a bit of funk and some basic boogie. They became big favourites live, and on the third album, Closer To Home, developed a rep for some heavy lyrics as well. An edited version of the title cut became their first radio hit, and fit in with the anti-Vietnam war movement. That mix of heaviness and party tunes took off with Live Album, which went double platinum in 1970. Two more albums followed in 1971, Survival and E Pluribus Funk, which featured the hit Footstompin' Music, which had the kids rockin'. All that hard work, six albums in three years, was paying off big-time.

The band decided to go for a bigger sound by adding keyboardist Craig Frost at that time, but more importantly, they found out their longtime manager Terry Knight was taking most of their money, so he was let go. A new direction was called for, and in came a top gun in producer Todd Rundgren, for We're An American Band. Another changed was drummer Don Brewer's increased role. He sang that hit, which used to be the sole job of guitarist Mark Farner, and also was allowed to write several of the cuts, alone or with Farner. It was almost a whole new group. Some purists prefer the louder, looser version of the band, but really they were making better albums now, and that was reflected in the charts. Shinin' On brought them another huge success, and featured their surprise hit cover of the oldie The Loco-motion. Then came Some Kind Of Wonderful, and the excellent but soft rocker Bad Time.

But the group was disintegrating, and they had lost their core hard rock audience. Pop fans are more fickle, and when the ho-hum Born To Die in 1976 did just that, without any hits, the group was ready to wrap it up. That's where the second box ends, although interestingly they did regroup later that year for the chance to make a final album with Frank Zappa producing, which isn't included here and wouldn't add much anyway. Various reunions and even a couple of new albums were done in the '80's, and a version without Farner and Frost has kept touring, but the confusing history of the band has kept them from being remembered with the greats.